I never wanted to travel to India. As a teenager, I remember clearly saying to God in my prayer time, “Do not send me to India.” I have no idea why I would pray such a prayer. Probably ignorance on many levels. Fast forward to 2017 where I found myself boarding a flight to India.

India, the once feared country in my eyes, turned out to be a land that taught me so much. I have learned that when we limit ourselves from experiencing other cultures we limit ourselves from seeing a side of God which it holds; we keep ourselves from teachable moments. I learned many things while in the beautiful land of India, but the one that holds the most weight in my heart is what I write about below.

India taught me the importance of one person. A little ironic, since India has 1.3 billion people living there. The city I was in had 10 million people. One could easily get lost. I believe many people do. I imagine people are overlooked, become a number, a person to fill a job, or someone you pass by on the street or sit next to on a bus. I saw the people of India doing life quite close to each other, but did they see each other? Daily I watched the people pass by on their bikes, going so fast to a destination I did not know of. I watched people at the restaurants talk with those who sat at their tables. I watched in fascination the people shopping at the markets, walking down the streets. I looked into the eyes of the children I visited in their homes. I encountered the Hijra (transgender community), who stood in our hotel lobby trying to intimidate us into giving them money as they are considered lower class and often cannot find employment. I saw them. I still remember the faces of those I came in contact with.

I remember how one would respond when you acknowledged them or when you gave them a smile. They’re faces lit up. Language was a barrier at times but this hurdle pushed me to find other ways of expressing the importance of each one. I would walk by the the elderly sitting outside their homes, on the street, and I would place my hands together, smile and nod to them, a greeting that often opened the door to further interaction. I found that smiling and saying hello was all I could do at times, but I knew it was something. I sat in a home with a family and heard their story, through a translator, and was able to ask questions that led to more conversation. I offered to pray for them, as that was all I could give. I listened to a young man share his anger about his family’s status, his job situations and his frustration with the roof of their home. What I heard him say between the lines was his desire for a better life for his family. All he wanted was someone to hear him. I was taught an Indian dance by a group of young people who had others and myself in moments of uncontrollable laughter. The exchange turned out to be so important for my heart, but I am convinced those hours brought joy to all those involved.  I often found myself wanting to do more for the one, but was unable. All I could do was just be and see the one.

It made me wonder how often we go into another country with a mission at hand but forget to actually look at the people and see them. How many times do we go to our favorite coffee shop to order coffee but never acknowledge the one serving us? Or those times when we sit beside a person on a plane for 10 hours but never say hello and ask them of their travels. Why don’t we see people? Why don’t we look at a person that has a heartbeat, a story, a purpose?

There’s a scene in the movie, “About Time”, where the main character is given the opportunity to live his days again. His father tells him to relive his days noticing people, things and by doing so he would see how sweet life really is. In this scene, which always makes me tear up, he is able to relive the day where he goes to a sandwich shop, but this time he takes a moment to notice the girl behind the counter and engage with her. He makes eye contact and is present in his conversation with her. Previously he had rushed through his time at the shop, never noticing her. How often we all do this. We are always busy getting from point A to point B and we often miss the most essential part: the people.

India reminded me of the importance to look at the individual. To ask a question. To listen to their story. To encourage them. To help with their brokenness. To laugh with them. To be taught by them. India reminded me that your goal may be to change a city, but we need not forget that a city is made up of individuals and if you cannot connect with a person you will not have the greatest of impact.

No matter what country you live in, I am convinced people want to be seen. They need to be heard. They desire to be valued and human connection is the point where this happens. No matter the country, the status, the wealth: each person has a desire to be noticed.

My view has been refreshed.

And so, when people ask me what my favorite part of India was, well it was the people. I fell in love with human interaction all over again and I saw how important it actually is. This is what India taught me.