Icy white peaks through fog clouds, we are 7,500 feet up in Mussoorie, a mountain town of tin roofs and Buddhist flags and pine trees, donkeys with packs and happy children breathing cold fresh air — a serious contrast to the Red Light District of Mumbai and the Slums of Dehradun where we came from, where traffic lumbers like dinosaurs with crushing exhaust. Up here, in the fresh living mountains are the far reaches of India, mountain faces and twinkling lights below. Monkeys wander the treetops.
The towering clouds on the other side of the mountain appear to be jagged mountains, and they are—the Himalayans. A shimmering strong regiment of legendary peaks splits the sky beyond, dwarfing the vast mountain we stand upon. Winding alley city centres of leaning clock towers and stone staircases that vanish steep down the side of the mountain.
We visit a friend’s church here that meets in the back of a clothing shop — there is a man standing guard at the door, who pushes aside a cloth to let you into the small back room which is filled with light and breeze because it over looks the mountains and clouds and pines below. It feels much like the early church, meeting in secret, because to gather in prayer here is not acceptable. The service was in Hindi (thankfully the pastor translated for us) with only 40 Indians of the mountain squished into a small space. Here everyone knew each other and when the pastor's wife, a native Mussoorie woman, asked, people from the congregation read psalms aloud. The people were alive with connections and friendship and chai tea. There were a few ex-pat families, covered with children. It seems to me, children are the true face of India. David preaches on Returning Your Eyes to Jesus, a word of encouragement to people in such a distant region... however, we are soon to learn that God's heart is beating loudly in this distant place.
After church, we walk to dinner and to the Internet cafe in the bright white sun. During the monsoon season this place is in a constant fog, you cannot even dry your underwear, they say, because the mountain is literally in a cloud. We eat in a small area atop the mountain; it takes our food hours to come out, because the tiny cafe is unaccustomed to so many people asking for banana waffles and omelets. Donkeys and cows slowly mull past as Monika braids a little girl's hair and we sit on park benches with hyper children and thankful parents. I show the kids my dad’s “pet the snake” gag and they LOVE it. “See the snake? Good snake. Nice snake. Pet the snake. OH NO SNAKE, DON'T BITE!!!" I spend the rest of the day being bitten by snakes.
The next day, we go on “a hike” with the churches young Leaders, two 25 year old men from the Garwali Mountains. Our host drives us an hour out of town to show us the real mountain range, where villages are sprinkled among sweeping tea terraces. He looks across them and tells us that the Disciples walk to these villages, which are only accessible by foot just to talk to the villagers and tell them that there is a God who loves them, who knows them by name, who counts the very hairs on their head. His name is not one of the millions of gods they worship; His power does not come from a cow or an idol, but from the Cross. It's a simple message: God loves you and He always will.
The Leaders are extraordinarily quiet; they should have been wearing monk’s robes. They set up a campfire and make chai for us as one of them tells us his story in this clearing beside the mountains. Despite the overwhelming odds, he has a Hindi tattoo upon his right hand a symbolic mark given to him from birth, which he now regrets, the Leader has given his life to Christ, dedicated to understanding and sharing God to the Unknown. The chai we drink on that small perch is the greatest tea we have ever tasted.
After we avoid being trampled by cows descending the mountain, we hike to the peak of one of the mountains. Our host and his family come, we hold the children’s hands telling them “don’t step in the lollipops left on the ground by the cows.” The air gets colder and thicker, the path is steep moss and rock that opens into a theatre of green grass and tall trees. Walking the silent small path, surrounded by peaceful trees and whispering breeze, I begin to understand the Leader’s silence a little more.
We reach the top, a little out of breath, as the Leaders easily carry the children on their shoulders. We are so high up, on such a drastic slope, that to look down feels like the world is upside down. Far down below, huts and villages span out below like tiny pebbles placed among the grass. Freedom up here. We soak in the sun until a small boy waves at us from the top, top, top of the mountain. In a matter of minutes he is down at our side, showing the brave few the way into the clouds.
Our host, his children, and the Leaders help us climb rocks and navigate prickly bushes. The pastor races me to the top, running up grassy slopes and over rocks, altitude starving me for breath until I am dizzy at the very peak. The world is below us. We are above the clouds that float by like an ocean. Stacked mountains vanish in the horizon. But the Himalayans stay steady, mocking our breathtaking climb. The twinkling cowbells of the three cattle that belong to the boy is the only sound up here. The bell's gentle clank, the rolling clouds, the bright mountainside. Peace.
“We came here 3 weeks ago,” says the Pastor. “We camped here and sang and danced.” This is the kind of hike these men do every day, just to reach a small hut, just to knock on their door and speak to them as friends and believers. God’s love is real. We can be the vessels through which he spreads that love. Even here, God loves them so much that He sends out these Leaders to the farthest regions — none of this area is in the Lonely Planet by the way — to let them know of His Love. Back in Los Angeles, my world seems so small, work, food, friends, service, but out here, my eyes are opened to the enormity of God’s heart, that He is working everywhere, even in the silence of the hills and across the world, in the brash clamor of Los Angeles.