Here in India the chunni is used for everything in life. The chunni, a scarf draped low around my neck is a sign of my modesty. I am a respectable woman with my chunni. As I walk to the dosa stand each morning, I wear it, and when the dust flies in the hot wind, I guard my face with it. We – Katie and I – eat our dosas on a bench with our fingers. Then, we wash them with water from a spout and dry them with the edge of my chunni. Returning to our flat, I use the chunni to guard my face from the sun. We dodge yellow auto rickshaws and a cow. I walk up the thin, uneven, marble stairs ahead of Katie, and she yanks my chunni. I tell her she’s choaking me. So, she does it again. And now, we pull eachother’s all the time like little girls pull eachother’s braids. In our chunnis we laugh.
On the road to the children’s home I see a woman sheltering the baby in her arms from the heat with a chunni, and once through the gate of the the children’s home, the chunni is the first thing the children grab. One of the girls bites my chunni. Another climbs into my arms and pulls the chunni from my head. She wraps it around her own, puts her right palm on my head, and prays for me in Telugu. When she is finished, she returns it to my shoulders. I wrap it around my own head, rest my palm on her black-as-midnight hair, and pray for her. Prayer transcends language. And our eyes smile because we feel the presence of God in our prayers. The children who can speak try to speak to me, but I can’t understand. Our communication is reduced to smiles, kisses, hugs, and prayers. And when the smiles, hugs, and kisses cease to be enough, I pray. Wrapped in my chunni, I pray over one child and then another and another… The Spirit leading prayer and feeling so near, so present. Some don’t understand; they push my hand away, confused. Most do, though, and they light up as I pray over them – prayer transcending language once again. One girl, afraid I would skip her, grabbed my hand as I passed and pressed it to her hair. Soon, I had prayed for all of them, every one.
I was filled with a joy and a hope for these children. Through prayer, doubt and despair dispelled. I had compassion and at the same time a conviction that these children in their physical brokenness, like us in our spiritual brokenness, would bring glory to God our Father through the blood of Jesus and the power of His Spirit in them.
Overwhelmed, I hugged a little one – held her tight. In my joy, I began to cry. And I hid my tears behind my chunni.