He’s 10, maybe 12 years old. He’s bound with marigold wreaths at the wrists, neck and forehead. His face and body are white with ash. You can’t see who’s lifting him above the crowds, just two hands gripping him under the arms. He’s the only clear figure in an unfocused swamp of matted hair, white-ashed bodies and gritty smoke.
He’s the only one looking into the camera. Eyes wide. Lips chapped. Mouth open.
He doesn’t weep. He doesn’t scream. He just stares. And every inch of his face gasps: “Please. Please. Get me out of here.”
I found him when I Googled “Kumbh Mela,” the most important festival in all Hinduism. Millions gather every year to bathe in India’s rivers, believing the touch of these waters will wash away their sins and grant them moksha—release from the cycle of reincarnation. This is year, the Kumbh Mela will be held in Allahabad during January and February.
He’s pinned to a website touting “Food, Fun & Travel.” Snapshots of white, athletic tourists scroll by around him—bikini-clad models lounging in tropical hammocks, simpering couples sliding down glowing Venetian canals. None of them see him.
He’s just another pretty South Asian child, crystallized into just another quaint, National Geographic moment. He’s adorable in his childishly “backward” culture, with his Hollywood, Jungle Book charm. He’s a thread in a “cultural tapestry,” a cute little partaker of an “ancient and otherworldly ritual.”
He’s a child. He’s miserable. He’s terrified. He’s in the slimy grip of a million years of lies, exploitation and demonic oppression. And nobody sees it. Nobody wants to.
A few days ago, I sat sobbing at my laptop in a chilly coffee shop, longing to claw my way through the screen and tear him out of those arms. A friend of mine, filtered grainy and dim through a Skype call, leaned into his webcam and said one of the last things you’d expect to hear: “The pain is gift. Not many people could look at this picture and see what you see, feel what you feel. If you hurt, it’s because you’re being allowed a tiny taste of what Christ feels when he looks at the world.”
Even as he rejoiced over the birth of her son, Simeon reminded Mary a sword would pierce her own soul. Little people cannot get mixed up in the great movements of the world and expect to escape unscathed. If you long for a place on the battlefield, know that you are longing for the taste of sharp iron and cold steel. If you would ask for greater vision, know that you are asking to peer into abysses you can neither fathom nor fill.
I’ve been given a gift. It’s called pain. Not for myself, for that’s easy to bear. This pain is for the fallen world, still tragically beautiful in her rouged cheeks and cheap finery.
I hurt. I hurt because I’ve been given the chance to experience the world the way Christ does. I bear the weight of godly sorrow so that others might never know the sorrow that leaves behind only despair and death.
I hurt — so that maybe someone else won’t have to.
I’ve been given a gift: the gift of pain. And now I’ve shared it with you.
Jaclyn, a graduate of Dallas Baptist University, is serving with Go Now Missions as a media intern in South Asia. Her last name is withheld for security reasons.