Once you’re aware of them, you see them everywhere. They’re in the streets and markets of Dhaka, on the Metro in Kolkata, waiting for buses in Delhi. The red beards and hair on the faces of distinguished Muslim men begin to stand out and you become more and more conscious of those who wear them.
At first it seemed like a strange vanity, these otherwise unremarkable individuals going about their business with a rich henna colour through their carefully combed hair or religiously shaped beards. I asked one of our staff about the phenomenon. “I think it’s like a badge of status,” they explained, “I’ve been told it is the mark of a Hajji, a devout Muslim who has completed their pilgrimage to Mecca.”
I was intrigued; what was the protocol? Who decided who could colour their hair, and who could colour their beards, and at what point could they do both? I pondered these things aloud while in Bangladesh. Julian, one of our staff there, pointed out that the simplest solution was to ask – so we did.
Sitting on a ferry, he casually leaned forward to speak to a man in front of us and respectfully enquired about his bright red beard. What transpired surprised us all – the henna colouring wasn’t a sign of Hajjis, but simply a choice these men had made. We asked again in a village and the answer was similar: “The prophet coloured his beard and so we do the same,” the man explained. Had he completed his pilgrimage to Mecca? “No.”
This experience is an example of one of the most enduring lessons of this trip: Don’t assume you know anything about people or places until you immerse yourself in them. Every expectation and misconception I had about Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Macau and China has been stripped away in one whirlwind visit. The beauty and majesty of the people, the hope and heartbreak of their plights and the colourful splendour of their landscapes all mean so much more when experienced first-hand. If I wasn’t already, I am now a committed advocate of the short term mission experience to challenge people with God’s call and to remind us all that our world is not the world.
There will be a lot more to come from this recent expedition. We have some great material that I cannot wait to make available to you, to encourage and inspire you to mission.
There is still a great deal of processing required too, both personally and professionally, as the bits and pieces of these experiences are slotted into their respective niches. I walk away from this trip richer and humbled, and reminded that my limited perspective needs to be ever widened to accommodate the world God has called us to reach.
– Paul Dunn, NZBMS Communication Specialist, shares initial thoughts on his first tranzsend media tour.