We arrived in Sohra, the city on the mountaintop and the host of the all-area youth conference, just before lunchtime on our last Saturday of our journey. There was a different air about this town in comparison to the other ones we had visited—the joy of Nongtalang, the hospitality of Shillong, the peacefulness of the villages we drove through. We learned from one of our hosts who was a native of Sohra that many people in that town do not know the Lord and were, in some cases, even hostile towards those who do. And we could feel the heaviness in the air.
Our musical responsibilities did not begin until later in the afternoon so we had some time to walk the streets and talk with the people who were visiting for the conference as well as the locals who gathered to watch and see what was going on. Over the course of the weekend over 15,000 would travel from all over Meghalaya to attend this conference, so the townspeople knew that something was happening.
While our group was gathered and visiting with whomever approached us, I caught the eye of a young boy, probably 7 or 8 years of age. His face was dirty with some sort of white dust, and his attire and demeanor suggested that he was neither from a family of means nor church. He was different than most of the children because, though he stood seemingly curious of the ‘tall, white American visitors’, he did not approach us or even smile; He was by himself, just watching us from the curb. I continued my conversations with the others, keeping this little boy in the corner of my eye. Later, when we began to walk down the street to attend our morning tea with a local family, he followed us. Again, not like the other children, he was not laughing and running alongside us; he had no friends and walked at a distance—just observing. In a quick moment as we walked, it was impressed on my heart—‘Reach out to him, Anna.’ Though he offered no assurance that he would accept my offer, I smiled and reached my hand out to him as to say, ‘come here’. After a few long seconds of an apprehensive look, he smiled the biggest of smiles and ran to me. He held my hand and walked only for a moment, and then he disappeared—he literally disappeared in the crowd. But I remembered him.
After tea and lunch and a very cold, minimal soundcheck, we began our hour-long worship set at the evening service. The rest of our team and our hosts were seated near the front of the crowd. People were gathered outside and in the church. People were watching from the rooftops and hanging out of windows. It was a sea of faces, and somehow I missed one very important face in the crowd who had worked his way to the very front of the mass. Pyniad, one of our hosts, told me this story at the conclusion of the evening:
That same little boy who you reached your hand out to earlier in the day was in attendance this evening. He looked very different than he did earlier; I almost did not recognize him. His family is poor, but he must have gone home to change his clothes into the best ones he owned and washed his face and his body. He came by himself, and during your set he approached me because he knew I was with you and the team. He asked, ‘will you and these visitors be staying here long?’ No, we will be returning to Shillong right after their worship set. With a disappointed face he said, ‘I don’t know where they have come from, but whatever they have brought, I want.’
I was unaware of the impact that one reaching hand could have on a life, and I likely will never know the full extent of it in this circumstance. The entirety of our time in India was spent being poured out—meeting people, kissing faces, sharing tea, praying over families and homes, giving testimonies, encouraging people. There was a weight to our time and presence that I have never experienced before. Every smile, touch, and moment spent with them meant the world to the sweet people of Meghalaya, and I knew it. But this little boy convicted my heart so deeply, for I was unaware of the importance of my very brief interaction with him. Though I never saw him with my own eyes after he let go of my hand on that afternoon, I have to believe that a curiosity and a connection with the things of God were planted in him. He returned the next day to see us play in the Sunday morning service, and in a crowd of over 15,000 he made his way to the back of the stage and stood right behind our drummer, Ben, as we sang songs of worship over the town of Sohra. Again, in the sea of faces I did not see him, but his sweet face was captured in a photograph that I will not soon forget.
Our view playing at Sohra…the little boy was standing directly behind us.
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