When I set out to film Global Child I really don’t know what life lesson will be presenting itself during the show. Honestly, I believe that we can only and best share our own experiences by being truthful and genuine with the way in which we lived them. For me, that means speaking a lot about God and how things are pointed out to me. You don’t have to believe as I do and that’s alright, but if I didn’t share my experiences as I actually lived them I’d be doing everyone a disservice.
So, when Global Child struck up the partnership with Taj Hotels and Oberoi to sponsor and help us craft our India episode, I soon thereafter realized the seeming conflict that presented itself to me: on one side we’d be able to showcase the most majestic experiences that India has to offer through two of the top luxury brands on planet earth. On the other hand, I did know that India has extreme poverty that is also prevalent throughout the country. If I chose to showcase luxury and ignore lack, I’d become just another plastic show without soul or purpose… and if I only showcased the lack we’d become another doom and gloom documentary about the heartbreaking issues that affect a lot of humanity, but I’d be doing so at the expense of showing the wonderful experiences that India also presents. Ultimately, I think that Global Child is unique because we don’t force you to choose; we want to enjoy wonderful experiences but we also desire to give back. I prayed a lot and I asked for guidance and here’s what happened:
A couple of weeks later an Indian pastor I had met a year prior reached out to me and asked me to stop by and participate in his charity work in India. The itinerary had already been set and I’d be visiting eight cities with Tridah Choudhury during the course of twelve days. I’d be joined by Syama Reyes who invited us to a Royal Indian wedding, helped with the logistics and her brother who was working the camera for us. Knowing how grueling these shoots can be I really did not want to do any additional ministry work, but I do know a sign from God when I see one. They usually look like opportunities to do good, especially at the expense of our comfort or in spite of our fear. Typically we don’t feel like doing the service in the beginning, but then it ends up being the moments that we actually remember most.
I asked Pastor Reggie where in India he was based and it turns out that he was in the South, about only a six hour drive from Kochin where I’d end my filming schedule. Coincidence? They say that “man’s coincidence is God’s evidence.” I remember I had a moment where I debated going to help or not. Reggie runs a girls orphanage and also supports leper colonies. From the Taj Lake Palace ranked a top ten hotel on planet earth with a stunning Bollywood actress to a Leper Colony is quite a leap so forgive me, but I hesitated. Ultimately, I do remember that my whole life has been quite an adventure that has shown me that when I put energy and effort into helping others things seem to also open up… and honestly it was the right thing to do.
I mean Jesus did say to “love my neighbor as I love myself and to treat others the way I’d be treated”… pretty straight forward stuff. So, I decided to go. I didn’t know at that time that empathy would be the life lesson. The shoot was amazing and then I was in a car, dozing in and out of sleep as we barreled past villages on our way to Reggie at dawn. Highway, crowds, dust, highway, crowds, more dust. It was a bit of a blur but then I was holding back tears, looking at my fellow Indian brothers and sister’s struck with leprosy as they hobbled out to greet me with missing toes, their hands also missing fingers yet still posing them in “namaste” shape to greet me with smiles. I did the same. They showed me around their dilapidated concrete quarters which are several rooms without doors where about sixty-five of them live at a time. I tried to give smiles, love and whatever little I had to offer. I prayed for them, gave some gifts and did my best not to show pity because if you’ve ever been down, that’s the last thing you want to see in another person’s eyes.
We all want to be seen with dignity and empathy helps us to do that. I helped to distribute spice lathered chicken and rice. It didn’t take long on the silent car ride back to the hotel before I decided through our BIG Foundation to give a gift that would enable that leper colony to have food for an entire year. Interestingly enough once the time to edit our India experience came, it was that charitable moment that made the entire India episode make sense. Luxury is enjoyable if we can also unite it with positive purpose. Traveling with purpose is the best way to travel.
In our lives, being blessed and affluent is not the problem and neither are enjoying great vacations. Conversely, focusing on the terrible situations of the world also doesn’t help to encourage others to rise up; the key and the excellence of empathy is being able to use our resources, talents, imagination and time to both enjoy the blessings we’ve been given while we leverage them to help others along our path in whatever way we are called to do so. Empathy is putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and when we do so we’re able to love them better. That’s our job, especially if we call ourselves people of faith or in my case a follower of Christ. God wants us to empathize with all humans of all races and religions because they’re all His kids. When we do so we are able to give to them what we truly have to offer: our humanity… meaning our ability to love. Namaste.