Recently a new parish has been created and I was asked to minister to almost 300 families in 13 villages spread around Interior Sindh near the districts of Umerkot and Mirpurkhas. This used to be part of Khipro Parish but because of its considerable distance from the parish centre, the area has been on the margins for pastoral visits from the parish team. There are even some families that have not been met by a priest for the last ten years or more and have returned to their Hindu roots. I am currently doing pastoral visits to these families with the hope of doing some catechesis.
Inevitable in most of our visits aside from meeting the Christian families are the usual acquaintances with Hindu neighbours. In one village in Duro Naru where there are only five families, most of the ones who are present in the mass are Hindu children and some women. The Christians live among hundreds of Hindus. Those nearby attend the mass and they are very much receptive of the stories when the gospel is read. They have no understanding of our Christian faith but their faces lit up when they hear stories from the gospel being told by the pastoral worker using the picture bible (A bible which consists mostly of illustrations of particular events in the bible).
A certain experience that I found remarkable is when one Christian woman approached me and asked to pray for a girl named Chanda. When I saw her she was unlike any other child. She was unstoppably crawling on the ground and looks like she is enjoying it. She looked very happy and healthy which is noticeable if you look at the other children around. Her face radiates positive energy. Then her mother hurriedly grabbed and picked her up as she was about to fall into a ditch. She then told me that Chanda is three years old and is not able to walk. I looked at her and I knew right then and there that she is differently abled. She is with a condition that is commonly known as Down syndrome. The Christian woman asked me if I could pray for her so that she could walk. Without any hesitation, I gently placed my hand on her head as I utter a silent prayer for the girl as her mother intently watched.
A few weeks after, I went back to the same village and the Christian woman greeted me and was very enthused in telling me that Chanda is able to stand and walk on her own. I was surprise by this news. I told them to call the child as I want to see it myself. She was brought by her mother and she put her on the ground. I saw her walking on bare foot. She walked so fast that she had to be stopped in order for her not to tumble down into the ditch. I was so happy with what I witnessed, a sense of bliss from deep within me. The mother thanked me for my prayers.
I understood that the mother does not really know about Chanda’s condition. I asked if the child is able to talk. She said she could make sounds but they haven’t heard her speak words. I knew that conditions such as Chanda’s need special attention and care. I tried to explain what she has but I don’t speak their language so it was difficult. Nonetheless, I was happy that she is able to walk. From then on they are one of the familiar faces among the Hindu neighbours and they come to see me every visit I make in that village.
They must have believed that it is through my prayer that Chanda is able to walk. I chuckled at the idea. In my mind, it was sheer coincidence that I was there to pray for the child at the time when she was beginning to develop the skill to walk. Or maybe it was made possible by prayer, I believe in the power of prayer. I know in myself that I intently prayed as I laid my hands on her.
One thing is certain though; it is in these profound interactions that we make real connections. It makes mission and the ministry of going to the villages fulfilling because we are able to touch people’s lives, not only from our own people but people of other faith through conversations and sharing of our inner-most beliefs and practices.
I’ve always likened the visit to the villages to the massive irrigation system that makes farming possible in a region that is arid like Sindh. It is like the water that intently seeks and gives life to the Christian faith among the Parkari people, a simple gesture that is so significant for people who are deeply burdened. But it goes both ways, I am enormously enriched too having met them during our journey to the villages.