Watermelon Prayers for the Kewat People

Watermelons by matneym from flickr creative commons

Watermelons by matneym from flickr creative commons

By Lowell Bliss

Sparrow by Mukumbura from flickr creative commons

Sparrow by Mukumbura from flickr creative commons

I don’t remember who first introduced me to this spiritual discipline, but for a few years now, I’ve found profit in tying a portion of my prayers to random items that I might see during the day. For example, whenever I see a sparrow I let fly a quick prayer for financial provision. (Matthew10:28-31 reminds me how a loving Father cares for little birds and little families.) You can also tie prayers to seasonal sights. It’s the height of summer and watermelon are ripening on the vine in our garden. Whenever I see a watermelon, I pray for the Kewat people of Varanasi, North India. While I explain this strange connection, let me invite you to join me in these environmental missions prayers. The Kewat are dear people, badly in need of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Kewat caste are the “boat people” of the Ganges River. In Varanas itself, they occupy a neighborhood just over the wall from where my family lived for ten years. (In other words, they were our neighbors in every way you could imagine Jesus using that word.) For millennia, the Kewat have fished the river, feeding their families with enough catch left over to sell in the bazaar. But in 1975, the Indian government built the Farraka Barrage downstream in the state of West Bengal. The hilsa fish, which used to swim 850 kilometers and more upstream to spawn, were hindered from traveling as far as Varanasi. The hilsa was the Kewat’s main crop and suddenly it was gone. The Kewat had to scramble forother means of livelihood. They tried their hand at weaving silk sarees, a craft for which Varanasi is world-famous, but a different people group, the Ansari Muslims, have a monopoly on saree manufacture and wholesale in Varanasi. Many of the Kewat lapsed into unemployment and widespread alcoholism.

Every year during the summer, right before the monsoon flooding, the Ganges recedes and exposes an extensive sandbar on the east bank across from the city itself. Technically this temporary land is the property of the Maharajah of Benares, but he has granted sole farming rights to the Kewat. The Kewat”men, women, and children”dig rows in this sediment-rich sand. They work in khad, dried cow manure. Those who can afford it, lay irrigation pipe to pump water from the river. Then they plant watermelon, cantaloupe, and long stringy form of cucumber called a khukri. Some of the men and boys sleep out on the sand at night to prevent theft. This form of farming doesn’t provide a great deal of income, and some years the crop gets wiped out early by an unreliable monsoon, but it’s something.

watermelon by Moreno0101 from flickr creative commons

watermelon by Moreno0101 from flickr creative commons

And so when I see a watermelon growing in my garden in Kansas, I remember the Kewat. There are only a handful of Christian believers among these Hindu people. One of our old teammates, a young lady who for her own protection I’ll call Grace, has established a small school program and clinic for the Kewat kids. So please join me in praying for Grace as well.

(As a quick little aside, you may have heard the politics of environmentalists compared derisively to watermelon: “dark green on the outside, red on the inside.” My random prayers for the Kewat are my fun way to turn this saying on its head. I’m not a communist; I’m a Christian. And if I’m a watermelon, then I’ll be a praying one.)

Lowell Bliss is an environmental missionary, the director of Eden Vigil, and the publisher of the Environmental Missions Prayer Digest available at www.edenvigil.org. Just this month, an answer to prayer itself, he has sent the manuscript of his forthcoming book Environmental Missions: Planting Churches and Trees to the publisher.


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