Twenty years ago I spent the month of June on a Rotary Group Study Exchange in Siberia. It changed my life.
People say that a lot, maybe it is true when they say it. I know it is true when I say it. There is a before and an after. It was one of those experiences that if I knew what it was going to be like before I went, I never would’ve gone, but now I wouldn’t take for it.
It was bought at a price.
When I got back, it took me a while to recover. There is a 12-hour time difference between here and there, and I was jetlagged beyond jetlagged when I got home. I would be sitting in my chair in the middle of the evening apparently fine and would suddenly just tip forward asleep. I call that being 58 now, but it was jet lag then.
But it was more than that. This was all before I started writing my column, but at some point it came upon me to start writing this up. I wrote my experiences in different articles. I showed them to the then editor of the Morning Sun: Cindy Allen. She liked them and published them. Printers ink has been in my veins ever since.
One of the articles was called "The God of this Place." It has been years since I looked at it. I will try to bring it up on my blog for those who are interested.
As we were driven through the countryside, we kept seeing places where there were strips of cloth tied in the limbs of trees. We asked what they were, and we were told they were prayers. They were usually in trees that were at the crest of a hill.
Trees are a bridge to God. Their roots are in the ground, but their limbs reach toward heaven. The crest of a hill is a place where the earth itself is reaching toward heaven, and it is also a boundary between one side of the hill and the other. Boundaries are magical places.
What better place to put a prayer?
Once we visited a Buddhist Temple. We walked around the grounds. There were shrines to various gods. People would come in to pray to one or the other and leave a few coins as an offering. We noticed there was a little dirty-faced girl who came after the coins were left and took them.
We were told by the priest that she was getting them to buy ice cream. At that point, those of us from the group--composed of Baptists and Methodists--began leaving coins at the altars of pagan gods.
This girl would’ve been about seven, I think. She is now in her late twenties. I hope she’s still alive. The world is a hard place for children that have to get their ice cream money from the mouths of the gods.
Excuse me, I had to pause a little. I was back there for a moment looking into the eyes of that little girl, wondering about the woman she has become.
While my trips to Paraguay have scratched the itch somewhat, I’ve never attained that level of adventure again. It changed me.
All human beings, all over the world are connected. We leave our pitiful offerings for the gods, for God, and it doesn’t seem like much, but if they can be brought together to put ice cream in the stomach of a little girl, that makes it better.
Maybe this is what the gods want? Maybe we turn from the gods to God by realizing that we all have the same God.
The God of that place is the God of this place.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. He invites you to "like" the National Association of Lawn Mowers on Facebook.