On Call sings in India and Nepal

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 8/19/97.

Standing barefoot on the stone steps of an old Hindu temple, the stone and crumbling eyes of a god staring out from the magnificent architecture over a beautiful, poverty stricken land, three young people began to feel a stronger devotion to their purpose.

Ryan Louis, son of Cecil and Mari Louis, Dan Johnson, son of Dick and Carol Johnson, and Mackenzie Merrill, daughter of John and Sheila Merrill, gained a new understanding of their religious beliefs, and a stronger desire to share them.

The three Paynesville area teenagers, members of the Youth for Christ affiliated singing group "On Call"-formerly known as "Carpenter's Tools", spent more than a month in India and Nepal. From June 12 to July 25, the group made stops in several Indian and Nepalese cities, sharing their Christian beliefs through music, skits, and conversation.

The group performed two to four times a day in India, often in Christian churches and orphanages, or at public gatherings. In Nepal, however, where Christianity is little more than tolerated, the group had to keep their evangelizing more subtle.

If it was found out the group had come into the country for that purpose, those who had invited them would have been in danger of imprisonment, banishment-even torture. The last Nepalese Youth for Christ director had been forced into exile.

While visiting various cities in India, especially Calcutta where poverty is particularly prevalent, the group saw how the religious beliefs of people are carried out in society. The Indian caste system was especially eye opening.

With the belief that each person is reincarnated as either reward or punishment for past life behavior, each person accepted they were fated to remain with the lot in life in which they were born, with no hope of advancement.

A child born into a wealthy family would remain wealthy, and a child born into a poverty stricken family would stay that way for the length of their lives. Since each life was payment for the last, there was hope for a better existence next time, if they lived their lives well.

The group was amazed to see the streets filled with homeless and poverty stricken people sitting around fires and playing cards, even at four in the morning, with the acceptance that poverty was their lot in life. When she asked why there were so many people up at that hour of the morning, Merrill was told there are so many people in India, there isn't enough room for everyone to sleep at the same time.

Between concerts, members of the group were sometimes caught off guard by their lack of knowledge about the beliefs of various people they met. Each person chooses an object to worship which symbolizes their god. Louis, Johnson, and Merrill remembered a couple examples.

While transporting their musical equipment in an elevator, a particularly tall member of the group inadvertently touched the ceiling of the elevator with a piece of equipment. The elevator attendant became upset and said the young man disrespected his god. They realized the elevator attendant's god was in the ceiling.

Another group member unknowingly offended a storekeeper when she picked up a statue while souvenir shopping, thinking it was for sale. She quickly found out the statue was the shop-keeper's god. "You never knew if something was a souvenir or a god," Johnson commented.

Even though the Hindu beliefs seemed strange to the youth, Louis noticed some similarities to the way Americans live. He commented that our society often worships money and possessions with the same level of zeal. He also commented that Christians have done a lot to turn people of other religions away, because their actions don't match their ideals.

Louis commented that Christianity is a message of love more than a religion. When the message is corrupted it doesn't work. He quoted Ghandi, an Indian social leader, who himself believed in the ideals of Christianity but would not embrace them because of the hypocrisy he saw. He once said that if Christians lived like Christians, there wouldn't be a Hindu in India.

The three youth felt the particular church a Christian attends isn't what's important, because the basic message of love is the same. Seeing the persecution Christians in India and Nepal faced every day, Louis, Johnson, and Merrill returned home with a heightened sense of dedication to strive for.

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