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Neidert's Passage to India

Thu, 2012-07-26 11:14 -- univcomm
Spending 16 days in India, David Neidert witnessed firsthand the country's miserable poverty, unhygienic living conditions, breathed smells of blood, sweat, smoke and sewage and saw animals running astray everywhere. And if he had a chance, he'd go back again tomorrow. Neidert, a professor of theology at Anderson University, spent Jan. 5 to 24 on a trip to India with five other men as part of Christians Broadcasting Hope's Viewpoint radio program. CBH and Viewpoints, which is broadcast around the world in eight languages, is produced in Anderson. The show mainly keeps a local focus, but annually travels abroad to produce a program in the field to capture on radio the sights and sounds of the places traveled, said the Rev. James Lyon, pastor at North Anderson Church of God. Previous trips have been to the Middle East, Russia and the Amazon.

The trips are not designed necessarily to work on the ground, but to expose the listener to the broader world.

"But we're always listening to stories of God at work."

Besides Neidert and Lyon, the six-man team included the show's producer, John Walters of Anderson, Gary Campbell of Virginia, Joel Workman of Ohio and Al Green of Anderson. Lyon, who has now traveled to India eight times, served as the show's host. The others, including Neidert, Lyon said, were the "everyman," first-timers to the country who could reflect on their experience.

The group traveled to the provinces of Tamil Nadu in southern India, Maharashtra and Orissa in central India and Meghalalya in northeastern India. They visited some of the few Christian and Church of God-affiliated sites in the country. This was the show's second trip to India. Walters said this particular trip traveled to some of the extremes of India.

"We covered a lot more territory, saw a lot more diversity in the country," Walters said.

The goal, though, was "really, just to immerse ourselves in the culture and see what's happening in the church," Neidert said.

Neidert said Lyon had asked him to join previous India trips, but he declined.

"He (Lyon) only said to me 'you'll just really like it,'" Neidert said. "And he lied to me. Because I loved it. It really got in my heart."

Traveling wasn't easy. For one thing, Neidert doesn't like airplanes.

"I am very nervous about flying," Neidert said.

So the 14 flights the group took didn't thrill him. Two flights were trans-Atlantic, others were connector trips from Europe to India, and the rest were commuter flights within India.

"But I got used to it," said Neidert, who was able to sleep more on the airplanes in the latter legs of the trip. "I began to trust that aviation marvel."

It was once Neidert and the group started circulating around India that the professor's eyes opened to life in a truly different culture.

"It's a deeply impoverished country," Neidert observed.

This, he said, is partly due to the governmental structure that has no property or income tax structure to support public services such as road repair, sewage systems or garbage pickup. If a road disintegrates, it stays that way. Garbage-littered streets or sewage running through open gutters is a common sight. Only in religious temples does one smell incense and spices that might be associated with the Eastern nation.

"The other smells are the smells of humanity in all states of wealth," Neidert said.

Because it also is common for people to live in the streets, often with nothing more than a piece of cardboard or metal to act as a lean-to shelter, Neidert said the smell of smoke from home fires is heavy and constant in the atmosphere. Animals -- cows, pigs, dogs, cats, etc. -- freely walk the streets.

"They just roam," Neidert said. Although explaining in detail the sights and sounds from memory, Neidert still struggled a bit to fully recount the trip.

"I cannot explain it adequately, because I have no reference point," said Neidert. "I walk out of my door and I am engulfed with people who are impoverished.

"You can't go anywhere where you're not just engulfed with people," Neidert said. By the end of the decade, Neidert said, India is expected to surpass China as the most populated country in the world. The 350 million school-age children alone make up 50 million more people than the whole United States population.

"When you put it in that perspective, it just overwhelms you of how many people there are in the world," Neidert said.

As a white American Christian, Neidert was very much a minority in a country that is 97 percent Hindu.

"You realize that you're not like everyone else," Neidert said.

A scholar of history and religion, even Neidert found it difficult to find analogies to compare and contrast Christianity to Hinduism. While many Christians practice faith in groups at churches, Hindu worship is very individual and people only go to temples for specific needs. What he found the hardest to grasp was Hindu belief that falling out of favor with a god could literally mean having a curse placed on their life.

"I don't have an experience that goes with that," Neidert said.

Walters said that in the sparse areas where Christianity is practiced, even that is slightly different than the way it's practiced in the West.

But he also found Indians very hospitable and kind.

The group boiled down its trip to five radio segments, the first of which aired Sunday. One segment is about a leprosy feeding, in which hundreds of people with leprosy gathered at a place to receive a meal. Lyon said one man approached his group to tell his story about being a leper and how finding Christianity helped him cope. Leprosy, a crippling, disfiguring disease, is rampant in some parts of India, Lyon said. Those who have it are ostracized from society.

The 55-year-old man said he became a leper at age 15 and knew it would mean physical and emotional suffering. But finding Christian faith changed his outlook enough to make people comfortable to talk with him. He is now the leader of his village.

"In each program we discovered stories like this," Lyon said. "At every level I think this trip was a success, because I think they are all deeper, and more appreciative, not just of home, but of the good God is doing everywhere."

---KATE HOUSE is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.