DELHI, India – Delhi is a sprawling, energetic intersection of old and new, wealth and poverty, religion and science. People from across southern Asia come for jobs, education and asylum. Delhi is massive, teeming and heaving with people.
Even though I’ve lived and worked in India and elsewhere in the region for years, I am easily overwhelmed by this city of nearly 17 million people and want to know it better. Join me on three prayer journeys in Delhi.
The best place to start this journey is in my own neighborhood. Calm is rare in Delhi, but on Sunday afternoons in my upper-middle-class area, things are generally tranquil. As I prayerwalk, I hear the hum of air conditioners, a sign of prosperity, and catch the sounds of snacks and tea being prepared. I pray for these families – it’s a general plea to the Lord for their salvation, for their awareness of His presence.
One house fascinates me. It has big windows and a rooftop garden above the third floor. The small courtyard is filled with Hindu symbols and small idols. I never see anyone here except a guard. I ask the Lord for the opportunity to meet this family. I ask Him to create dissatisfaction in their hearts with vain rituals. I ask Him to open their door to me or another believer so that we can share the Good News.
Photo by Kelvin Joseph.
A child pauses from studying on the steps outside the Jama Mosjid (mosque) in Delhi, India.
I encounter people dressed for parties carrying a small box of sweet treats for their hosts. Sunday evenings are a good time to visit. I thank God that relationships are so important to Indians. I ask Him to make my heart oriented more to people than tasks.
Several apartment buildings are under construction. The workers and their families live in these building shells. I pass a group of women sitting on sand piles watching their children play. I stop and ask what they are doing. One woman replies that they are resting before beginning evening meal preparations. As I walk away, I ask God to bless them in a special way, to give them dreams and visions, to unmistakably show them that He is the one true God.
I sorrow over their kids with the sweet smiles and ragged clothes. They play among welding sparks and precariously-piled bricks. It’s hard for them to go to school since their parents’ work is migratory and their families need money. I ask God why these kids have to live this way. I ask Him to show me how to wisely help them. I pray that they will go to sleep with full bellies and know love from their parents.
Passing a park, I stop to watch neighborhood boys play cricket. They are dressed in Western athletic gear, including shorts, which indicates a high social status. The boys ringing the edges of the game have darker skin and pressed jeans and shirts. They watch on the sidelines and are allowed to throw stray balls back, but the neighborhood boys do not invite them to play. I ask God to break the power of the caste system in India. I pray that all of those boys would have a hunger for righteousness and justice.
Nearing my apartment, I ask God to awaken my neighborhood, to show His power and might to these walking in darkness. I pray for open doors and that I can be someone who proclaims truth to them.
A couple of days later, a colleague and I journey to the Kalka Mandir. This temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali. My friend and I pass through the first set of gates, asking God to protect us spiritually.
There are beggars along the walkway. We pray for them, asking God to provide and to ease their suffering. We enter the main veranda that encircles the shrine and are assaulted by filth and chaos. We are pushed along with the devotees as they press forward to worship.
I find that my prayers are coming quicker and quicker, matching the tempo of the activity.
“Oh Lord, have mercy on these people. Make the scales fall from their eyes. Shake this place. Show Your power. Show mercy. Clean out this temple. Send a flood of righteousness to wash away this evil. Show mercy. Stop this madness. Roar with justice for these oppressed people. Break Satan’s power. Have mercy.”
People offer sweets and flowers to the idols. Bells ring to awaken the gods. Children’s eyes are smeared with kohl, an ancient eye cosmetic. We pray for the noise and clamor to cease and for peace to reign in their hearts.
As we exit, a woman prostrates on the ground. She reaches out her fingertips and utters something. She gets to her knees and then throws herself prostrate again. She inches her way to the main temple, humbling herself before these powerless idols. We pray that Satan’s hold would be broken and that she would know the sweet presence of Jesus.
We find a quiet, shady spot to rest. At a temple, the degradation and humiliation of false religion hits hard. I ask God how to show these people that they can be free. How can they understand Jesus’ atoning sacrifice? How can someone cut through this madness to reach them?
As we walk down the street from the temple, I’m reminded of how Delhi’s diverse population contributes to this jumbled bustle encountered each day. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Muslims and others vie for opportunities.
The Muslim neighborhood that we are now in has a distinct culture and feel. As the evening call to prayer blares, I ask God to break the hold Islam has on so many. I pray that Delhi would be a city united in Christ. I pray for the Muslims who are a 400-million-strong minority in a land of 800 million Hindus. I pray they would know freedom and liberty in the Messiah.
Prayer journey #3
Today, I am out early to find an auto-rickshaw to drive me around Ring Road. This road makes a loop inside Delhi and I want to make the loop interceding for the city.
We start off by passing through familiar suburbs. Traffic is minimal. I thank God for the neighborhood He placed me in and ask that He shows me how to dig in and get to know more people in the area.
We arc north, passing pedaled carts filled with vegetables and other deliveries. I pray for these men who do hard manual labor each day for low wages. I pray that a spark of joy would lead them to Jesus.
We pass near the embassy district. People from throughout the world live here serving as official bridges between their countries and India. This triggers thoughts about the believers’ role as an ambassador for Christ and I pray that I would be a worthy emissary for Him to the people of India.
As we move around the city, we pass neighborhoods I have only seen on the map. I pray for the people inside apartments.
People emerge from their slums to wash at the pump on the sidewalk. I pray for access to clean water and pray that they will taste Living Water soon.
More and more people are out now, running to catch buses, hailing autos and walking to the subway stations. I think the only time I am not looking at another person in India is when I am in my own apartment. People are everywhere here – they are people who do not know the purpose for which they were created. I ask God to show me how to tell them.
We drive past Delhi University. Students are out, clutching books, buying snacks and chatting with friends. I ask the Lord to reveal to them that their hope and future is with Him.
Traffic is thicker now, buses belching smoke, workers hurrying to their jobs. We are near the Yamuna River, and men, mostly older ones, are strolling along the road with only a sheet wrapped around their torsos. They are on their way to bathe, taking ritual dips in one of the sacred rivers of India. I pray for their enlightenment, for understanding that only through Christ can they be washed clean.
We arrive back at the spot where we started. The driver excitedly asks how far we traveled in 90-minutes. The meter shows 54 km (33.5 miles). I think he is just as interested in this as me. I am thankful for an honest, kind auto driver, and I pray for his family.
Will you pray for Dehli?
Delhi can be frustrating and fascinating. Most of the millions here live without hope, yet there is so much potential in the city, so much interest in spiritual matters, so much desire for progress and growth.
These prayer journeys remind me of the tremendous needs for spiritual ministries and physical ones. God has placed me in this city for His purposes, and even as I intercede for its inhabitants, I am changed.
God prods my soul for those without hope. He reminds me that only He can change their hearts. I am His ambassador to people who are curious, indifferent, angry, welcoming and, ultimately, seeking meaning and purpose. The Lord will be glorified among the peoples He created and I want to be a vessel He uses.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cinda Ingram (a pen name used in this article) is a longtime International Mission Board worker in southern Asia.)