I went to London this weekend, but not to London London.
For a school assignment, we were all split up into designated groups to research different burroughs of London. My group of nine was given Southall–a primarily Indian section that felt nothing like London but was still so fun!
We had an appointment to meet with a Christian environmentalist organization called A Rocha (meaning “rock” in Portuguese) as soon as our train arrived in Southall. The small business located in a house was cozy and very welcoming. Though I really have no interest in environmental work, the head of the corporation was very friendly and interesting, and we all really enjoyed our time there.
After our meeting with A Rocha, we wandered down Broadway Street–the main road in Southall–and found a place to eat lunch. I had no idea what most of the items on the
menu were, so I went with chicken curry, thinking it would be a safe bet. Ehh, sorta. I thought it was delicious at first, but the more I ate, the more my mouth caught on fire. That stuff was spicy. And I don’t do spice. I washed it down with a Dr. Pepper and tons of water, and we moved right along.
We rode a double-decker bus to see a park A Rocha rebuilt. By that time, it was warming up as the sun was coming out, and the park was beautiful. We strolled through the park and came upon an Indian grocery store and began to explore. (For those of you from Dallas, it felt kind of like H-mart). Everything was labeled in another language, and the “sweets” (desserts) were
not so sweet…we found out 60 pence later. No worries, I bought a Twix bar once we got to the train station to ride into actual London.
Before we left Southall, however, we were given the opportunity to walk around to the sights we wanted to see. Eight of us chose to visit a Sikh (monotheistic Indian religion) temple and ended up having one of the best and most unique experiences yet (I know I say this sort of thing way too often….each new experience always seems better than the last, right?).
As we entered the building, we quickly noted that we needed to remove our shoes and cover our heads. Tugging of my boots and pulling my scarf up over my hair, I went with the rest of our group over to a huge window past the foyer area. We stood for a few minutes staring at a large carpeted room that had a red center aisle with people sitting sporadically on each side. There was an elaborate shrine at the end of the aisle, and people were walking to it, kneeling, and then returning to mats spread in various places across the room. There was an elderly woman sitting in a little sound box in the corner chanting what seemed to be either prayers or scripture, and the people sitting on the floor were meditating or talking quietly to a neighbor. As we looked on in awe, a small woman came up behind us and graciously asked if we wanted to go inside. A bit hesitant, we all looked at each other as she said, “follow me” and began walking towards the door. We all looked around with faces saying, we might as well….this could be a once-in-a-lifetime deal and trailed behind her in a single-file line.
The whole time I was walking up that aisle, a mix of should-I-be-doing-this, this-is-so-cool, is-this-really-happening, I’ve-never-felt-more-caucasian thoughts were running through my head until I reached the shrine. I knelt down to the god of the Sikhs, trying to take notice of what was happening. And I felt nothing. I got up and sat on a patch of carpet with the other girls in my group (the room was split into guys and girls) and meditated in silence on what I had just experienced.
Since I placed my faith and trust in Christ, I’ve been able to feel the Holy Spirit working in my life. I go through many dry spells where He seems to be distant and others where I don’t even take notice of His presence. But I’ve experienced His activity enough to know how real He is. And as I knelt down to a god that so many around me were fearing and praying to, I knew without a doubt how much mine is real. I could feel Him in me but not in that room. As I reached this realization, a combination of intense sadness for those people and gratitude to my Savior filled me. I recognized in a completely new way the true reality of Who I believe in, and I was so thankful that my God doesn’t call me to come bow before Him in a ritualistic manner and chant phrases to His image. Rather than demonstrating my belief in the Sikh god, I found that going through their religious motions helped me further affirm my faith in Jesus Christ. We all left the temple feeling so blessed by our experience there–by the kindness and welcoming arms of the Sikh people, as well as by God’s special way of revealing Himself to us even more.
After meeting up with the other members of our group, we branched-off from our professor at the station and rode the 30-45 minute train ride into the city. Once we arrived, we dropped our stuff off at the hostel and walked/tubed to Gloucester Square to buy tickets to see Les Mis. ….uuuuunfortunately, they weren’t selling discounted tickets that night. Not to be defeated, we bought tickets to see Blood Brothers. Though none of us really knew anything about this show, we really enjoyed it! Definitely not my number one choice, but it was a fun experience, and I would give it a thumbs-up.
After the show, we met up with the other half of our hostel group and walked around the town for a while before turning in for the night. My first hostel experience (AKA, a sketchy three-story building with small rooms filled with bunk beds sleeping about 10-12 people) was actually really good! Fortunately, all nine of my roommates were my friends, so we had a good time hanging out together without any awkward strangers trying to go to sleep in the next door bunk. It felt like an old-fashioned slumber party, as we turned off the lights but continued to talk until we all got tired enough to fall asleep.
Waking up to the sound of the iPhone duck, we got dressed, checked-out, and made our way down to the Portabello Road Market to spend a day shopping. I came away with a few treasures but mainly enjoyed walking the crowded street and seeing a whole new side of London. Though the day was cold, it was great and topped-off by a perfect snowfall in Oxford when we arrived (home!). While this past weekend was not the most exciting trip I have been or will be on, it was a blast and another step in the memories of Oxford 2012!