A hundred women, beautifully dressed in multi-coloured sari arrived, chatting noisily while picking up a cup of hot masala tea. After several minutes of enjoying friendly greetings, each one found her place to sit on a red plastic chair in the Calcutta India Bible Society office, situated on the second floor of a two hundred year old heritage building. The meeting began.
Then Sahana pulled the extra fabric of the crisp white and royal blue sari scarf over her bowed head and prayed out loud in Bengali. Although I did not understand the language, her powerful voice, clear delivery and sincere approach drew me into God’s presence. I looked forward to her interpreting for the day’s event, and especially for my message.
In spite of the excessive heat sending rivulets of perspiration along my hairline and beyond, chills rippled down my spine as she translated the recited scripture and message on a woman’s value. As I turned, she did also. At my slightest hand movement, hers followed. Words barely left my mouth before she grabbed them and threw them out to the audience. Volume, voice and inflection copied perfectly, challenging me to focus on my words. Although we both had different coloured skin and looked nothing alike, I watched in amazement as I saw myself in Sahana. She became me for that day. Not only were words interpreted but so was I. In doing so, she powerfully communicated God’s word, His love, plan and purpose for women to enjoy their divinely designed role. In a male dominated society, they were timely words.
Sahana Adhikary, born into the highest Hindu caste order, Brahman, excitedly shared the meaning of her name with me. “Sahana means voice, Adhikary means king so I am the ‘voice of the King'”. Accepting Christ as her saviour necessitated leaving her cultural heritage behind. With a bold determination to speak about her newfound faith, she lived out her name.
Meanwhile, out on the streets of Calcutta, festival preparations were under way for the Durga Pujit, one of the biggest annual Hindu celebrations. Ten days of feasts, partying and sacrificing to honour the goddess of all creation. The eight- armed, three- eyed idol is believed to wipe away the miseries and suffering of her devotees. In a culture where caste position still exists, it wasn’t difficult to see that this idol held them in bondage, each dwelling making an effort to display their own shrine or altar, whether simple or elaborate. Daily displays of flowers, incense and food marked every few feet along the sidewalk or road in an attempt to gain Durga’s favour. All were oblivious to the fact that no more sacrifices are needed to enjoy an abundant life.
During our time together, I enjoyed Sahana’s companionship, watching her brown eyes flash understanding as she passed on my words and thoughts. Without her, there was no message of hope that day.
I can’t help but wonder if God felt like that when Jesus became His translator. Language wasn’t the barrier, sin was. When Jesus appeared, He translated the words of the Father, communicating to us the greatest story of love.
The streets were busy the day He arrived on earth too. Many were not aware that the Prince of Peace had arrived. But to those who listened, they heard a voice say, “Behold the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us.'” Matthew 1:23 NAS
“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son.” John 1:14 The Message
There is power in being an image-bearer. For that reason, here is my Christmas prayer for this year: May the image of God, the Son, be reflected in everything I say and do, so that I may translate who He is to others.