“Touching the untouchable” in India
by Norm Miller
JAIPUR, India, (TMNews)– Looking at beggars, dirty and hungry, Lillian’s heart melted.
Lillian fed the beggars.
Lillian hugged the beggars.
Lillian loves the beggars.
“We were touching the untouchable,” she said. “People just stopped and gawked at us. They took pictures of us with the beggars because, in India’s discriminatory caste system, you just don’t associate with beggars, much less touch them.”
Then there were the prostitutes — the daughters of beggars’ families. When the girls reach age 12 or 13, their parents put them on the street to earn money. “Complaining about anything is pretty much out the window for me because those young girls are forced into prostitution every night,” she said.
Some parents injure their children permanently, hoping to engender compassion from passersby, Lillian Cottingham told TMNews.
After holding one of the beggars’ babies, Cottingham wept. She said, “It weighed next to nothing.”
Cottingham is a sophomore at Truett-McConnell College. She, along with eight other students sacrificed their spring break for a mission trip to India to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his love on the streets of Jaipur, in local coffee shops, at a university and elementary school, at an orphanage, and in a local mall.
Truett-McConnell students engaged some of the 35,000 who attend the University of Rajasthan in conversations about world religions, culture and Christianity.
“One of the very first people we encountered accepted the Lord,” said Eddie O’Brien, adjunct professor of Old Testament, who accompanied the students.
“That was a big deal in a culture that is predominantly Hindu, and especially significant on a university campus,” he said.
The university population is “very politically motivated,” O’Brien said. “And we made several contacts among many political-type clubs, who invited us into their classrooms. We even were interviewed by the campus newspaper.”
“Three guys on our team addressed 40 of the university students in a courtyard on the campus,” O’Brien added. The guys also went into the men’s dorms for more discussion. “This was an unusual privilege to be invited into their personal lives,” he said.
O’Brien told TMNews that some of the students expressed deep apprehension about ministry in India, “but they did it anyway,” he said. “I was impressed with their courage.”
Cottingham, however, said, “I was really ready to share the gospel. There was no fear because I had many people praying for me. I had no anxiety in sharing the Gospel. It was really amazing to see the Lord work that way in my life.”
“The trip showed me another world religion, and it gave the opportunity to tell others about Christianity,” Cottingham added. “It was a learning process in effectively sharing the Gospel with Hindi people. They are very open, and they are the sweetest people you will ever meet.”
O’Brien echoed: “It is unbelievable how receptive people truly are. They are glad to meet new people and are very open to talk about spiritual things.”
Openness to the Gospel was supplanted by spiritual warfare, Cottingham said, when the team visited a Hindu temple.
“Spiritual warfare is real,” she said. “When you go to the temple, people are kissing the ground, kneeling before idols. I felt uncomfortable, but it was a good uncomfortable.”
Cottingham said she sensed the resistance of Satan, “but my heart and soul love the Lord. And when you visit a place like that, you can know that your salvation is secure in the real God. My faith is unshakable,” she said. “That’s really comforting when in situations of spiritual warfare, and when the devil is throwing darts of doubts and negative thoughts.”
A Hindu temple “is the only place I know where you can talk about Jesus with someone whose only job is to burn incense and polish idols,” O’Brien added.
Answering God’s call
“Ever since I became a believer, I knew the Lord wanted me to do some sort of missions,” Cottingham said. “Then, in a chapel service, I recall hearing from the Lord, ‘You need to go to India.’”
God used the chapel sermon to tell her, “I just don’t want you to give part of your time to me. I want it to be everything,” said Cottingham.
“I answered the call to India out of obedience,” she said. “And I have answered the call to go overseas after graduation. I just want to be obedient to God in all of my life on a daily basis. India taught me that the Lord is going to be faithful no matter what. He will provide as needed.”
Cottingham also answered God’s leading to change her major from Early Childhood Education to Christian Studies, with a concentration in missions.
“So, missions, that’s what I want to do right after graduation,” she said. “That’s my immediate career goal.”
Recommending missions to others, Cottingham advised: “A student who truly loves the Lord will go on a mission trip. It increases your faith and gives you the opportunity to grow in the Lord. Sometimes we tend to rely on the Lord partially, but the mission field makes you realize that God is faithful in every life situation. You might feel challenged or unsafe, but the Lord is going to be with you no matter what.”
Writing in her journal, Cottingham offered this thought to God: “I am still amazed at the boldness you gave me. I could not have done it without you.”
To learn more about earning a degree in missions at Truett-McConnell, click here.