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Rev. Katy Sundararajan is back at The Twelve today. She is the Th.M. Program Administrator and International Student Advisor at Western Theological Seminary and works part-time as an RCA missionary with her husband, JP. They have the unmeasurable joy of sharing God’s Word with those who cannot read with Audio Scripture Ministries. Katy and JP have two children who beg them daily for pet cats, dogs and now chickens, but these things are too hard to care for when they skip continents. They do have a very likable fish named Spiderman.
I was recently invited to a lovely dinner party for a friend graduating from seminary. Apart from my husband, I didn’t really know any of the other guests beyond being a familiar face from Classis, or a friend-of-a friend situation. I had been suffering from a heavy, springtime head cold that week, and was also preoccupied by out-of-town family guests who were visiting and celebrating a round of birthdays, and Mother’s Day, and the like. I felt justifiably anxious about stepping into this rather foreign crowd. I wondered whether anyone would want to talk to me, and I feared that I if I did find someone to talk to I would develop a tickle in my throat and instead appear to be dying of said tickle. But, I do like my friend, Beth, and I do like a good dinner party, and so we showed up on time with smiles. I need not have worried. It was good food and good, good company.
About half way through dinner, the very delightful and inquisitive guest across the table from me politely, but sincerely, asked me what I like to do. It was a very generous question, neatly lobbed into the comfortable part of the dinner conversation. But, what do I enjoy doing, like as a hobby, or in my spare time? It was such a simple question, but had seemingly no immediate answer. I stuttered a bit, and I nodded my head in agreement with another mom of little kids and area pastor, that I don’t have spare time for doing the things I like. I guess that is true to an extent, but when I finally found a few words to describe myself and what exactly it is that I do like to do, I felt glad about my answer, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. In all of my befuddlement, I managed to say that I enjoy hospitality. It is inherently linked to my deep desire to live out kindness in my life.
Much of my adult life has contained traces of this quest to be hospitable and kind to others, especially those who are out of their element. During seminary, I thought it was important to host Easter dinner at my house for those of us who weren’t able to go home to celebrate with family. Immediately after we were married, my husband and I signed up to be a host family to international students studying at Hope College, though we were barely a family ourselves, and were not even close to being old enough to be parents to the young adults we hosted. I have hosted dozens of Americans in India, assisting them in the wild process of adapting and (hopefully) acquiring an affection for this second home of mine. And, in more recent years, as the International Student Advisor at Western Seminary, I have become a host to those who come to my first home, the US, and seek to adapt and be successful students during their time here. These are broad strokes, but they have begun to illustrate my answer at the dinner party. I enjoy offering kindness to those who need it. I enjoy hospitality.
There is one story that I would like to tell you that, for me, has become a shining example of the essence of hospitality. When I think of hospitality as the ultimate gift of kindness and generosity that I myself want to extend to others, I think of the Mundari people of India. In another part of my life, I work alongside my husband as an RCA missionary, working with Audio Scripture Ministries in Holland, Michigan. We have the incomparable gift of sharing God’s Word in audio format with people who cannot, for a variety of reasons, read Scripture. Being able to participate in this ministry has changed me for good, and has prompted a whole new awe in the power of the Word used by a good and loving God. My husband is the India-Asia director of this ministry, and over the years we have found ourselves distributing audio Scripture players and ministering throughout the vast and varied corners of the sub-continent of India.
There was a season when we talked a lot about the Mundaris. They are a people group who my husband likes to describe as actually existing below the lowest caste in the system, a part of what India calls the scheduled castes and tribes. A good number of the Mundari people had become Christians through the work of missionaries and local pastors, but of course they could not read, and were a people truly blessed to receive the Word in audio format. During a time of intense persecution against Christians, the difficult living situation of the Mundaris only became worse, and they were forced to flee into the jungles that border the states of Orissa and Jharkhand. There they existed in extreme poverty and danger, and there they sent word to our partner organization in India that they wanted more Scripture players. We were invited to the jungles, begged to bring audio Bibles, and promised that we would be cared for well.
Looking back at the day that we drove into the jungle to meet the Mundaris, I often wonder at my relative peace and calm. It was hot, and too many of us were stuffed into too few vehicles, driving along very tough terrain. I might have been a missionary, called to be in that place, but I was out of my element; all you had to do was look at me. And, did I mention that our 1 1/2 year old daughter was with us? Of course she was. You don’t leave a child out of these experiences! We drove through the morning and eventually came to a ramshackle building that was stationed by a cement chapel. (Yes, in the middle of the jungle.) We could tell there were a lot of people, all who had walked, some at outrageous length, to be there. We streamed out of our vehicles and were led to the old building where we would be served back-to-back tea and biscuits and then a lunch of chicken curry and sandwiches. (The rest of the group that had gathered waited until after a lengthy worship service and scripture distribution to eat nothing more than a large pile of plain, puffed rice served on a newspaper square, with a bottle of water shared around.) But, before all of that, before the worship service, the lunch, or the tea, a woman came around the corner with a pitcher of water and a basin. Without further ado she quietly, but with assertiveness and lovingkindness, washed each of our right hands. It was perhaps the most gentle and good thing I have ever experienced at the hand of a stranger. I understand that this is their practice. It is what they do, but it was done in such a way that I felt loved and drawn into their community in a way I would never, ever had imagined or hoped for. It broke me (in a good way) forever to have that experience. Not only was I invited and allowed to be there, I was welcomed and held within the community. I was a foreigner, but I felt kinship. I was an outsider, but received grace. If ever I can offer this type of kindness to another person, especially someone who is an outsider, I feel that I have offered the best kind of hospitality and grace. The Mundaris offered me this shining example, and it is my quest to carry it to the world.
Oh my, wonderful.
Hi Rev. Katy Sundararajan,
Greetings. First let me say congratulations on you new posting. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Rev. Anna Sharma, an Ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago. I live in Trinidad. I was a Th. M. student of Western in 2007-2008. I made many friends there and enjoyed my stay.
I was touched by your message, and your hobby of hospitality Hospitality is something I love to do as well, anytime I get the opportunity, which is a lot, for my husband, son and my own friends.
I was moved by the gesture of the woman from Mundari. We all have ways of greeting and meeting people, whether by a hug, kiss, or a simple hand shake, which are the customary gestures in Trinidad. My concern is that the greeting and welcome must be very genuine, with love and friendship. Thank you for sharing. We can share many such experiences. God bless us all.