On any other day, Jesse might have sat next to this man in a restaurant or stood next to him in line at the grocery store. He would have been dressed in western clothes. He might have been on his way to the office where he is most likely a software programmer. While Jesse was just guessing about his profession, the man’s good English betrayed him as someone who was likely well educated and probably had a good-paying job.
It was the second day of a 3-day Hindu holiday called Thaipusam. During Thaipusam, devotees pierce their mouths with skewers. Others thread hooks through their skin. These hooks are attached to lemons or miniature milk pots. The devotees carry auspicious burdens called kavadi through the streets. Rather than feeling revulsion at these displays, Jesse felt incredible sadness to see an Old Testament story repeated in modern day: They shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18:28)
What Jesse witnessed that day was spectacular in its devotion, and tragic in its emptiness. It didn’t even feel dark or oppressive. Just empty. Over a period of two hours, Jesse watched about 30 pierced men walk down the road. There were skewers through their lips and mouths, needles in their shoulders and hooks dangling from their backs and chests, all in attempt to get their gods’ attention. They were that desperate for favor.
Jesse mostly spent the time praying and taking pictures, but there was one man who came to his attention in particular. He was sitting in a chair, resting with his burden. Every time Jesse started to walk away from him, he felt a strong pull to return and pray for him. “OK Lord,” Jesse finally said, and then he turned around, went over to the man and asked, “Do you speak English?”
In an educated accent, the man replied that he did. Surprise! Jesse then told him, “I am not Hindu, but God told me that I should pray for you. Can I do that?” He agreed, so Jesse did. He prayed over the man in the name of Jesus that God would hear his prayer for divine guidance and help, and that God would answer him and reveal Himself to this man. It was thrilling, and kind of crazy. The man had a skewer pierced through his mouth and hooks threaded through the skin on his chest in order to appease a nonexistent god, while giving Jesse the privilege of praying for the real God to reveal Himself to him.
Jesse’s intent in telling this story is not to glorify the gruesome, but to fuel your prayers. About 2 million Tamils live in this part of South East Asia. Most are locked in darkness, thinking that it is their job to somehow please the gods through their worship and devotion. They have never once heard that God became the sacrifice so they don’t have to. They have no idea that redemption is possible. Pray with Jesse that God would birth a new movement of Jesus-devotees among the Tamil peoples of South East Asia and the world.