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My Report about my Trip Around the World (translated into English)

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27th of April, 1976

Dear Friends,

I do not want to write a comprehensive report about my little trip around the world – through Israel, India, Southeast and Eastern Asia, but I merely want to pack some enrichments of my life in this greeting and forward them to you all. I am thankful for the many new friends that I could make in these countries. We live together in one world, and will stand up for each other in the future and have much joy in doing so.

I wanted to be a pilgrim on this journey but I was often only a tourist among the people. Tourists plastered with money from North America, West Germany, Japan, and Australia, from my viewpoint, undermine the cultural values and human dignity of these peoples. One’s pilgrim can overcome the tourist in oneself, especially when one’s money becomes scarce. When my money started running out, I could no longer isolate myself in my hotel room, but I had to count on the hospitality of families and live with them, which was far more wonderful. But in an environment of desperate human poverty and need, it is possible to use one’s money to avoid contact with such people. The euphoria of believing that everything can be purchased for money seems to be the expression of a tourist’s understanding of freedom.

How easy it is to purchase the beautiful wares of these countries and never to invest one’s money in these people themselves. How come it remains so difficult for us to give a poor person in need just a little money, although one has no trouble paying a high price for some expensive silk from Varanasi? This question gives me an uneasy conscience. This terrible corruption seems to develop from our overly stressed human dignity, where one, who knows and has experienced little need, has a lot of money, and one who has incredible needs, has little or no money at all, and therefore does not have the power to overcome his or her needs, and what’s more, can’t ameliorate the needs of their family and neighbors. That is my theory right now and nothing more. When dignity comes to light, then it comes by means of the poor.

Jerusalem is the religious capital of Moslems, Christians, and Jews. Every Christian tradition can not do without a church in this city. The cathedrals in the city to me seemed to be like church embassies, all of which wished to carry out religious diplomacy. They seem to be here less as congregations than as places-holders from strange lands and powers, who, all fervently wish to be represented in Jerusalem. In our Evangelical Lutheran congregation, for example, Propst Glatte, the pastor, reached me with a wonderful German service, which, however, could have taken place in Münich as well. These churches do not seem to have much to do with everyday-life in Jerusalem today. The golden domes seem to point to eternity, and are certainly not in the idea of Jesus, but seem to stand there in contradiction to his Good News. From my point of view, faith in Jesus Christ means a renewal of everyday life that introduces the dimension of the holy into the lives of the people.[1] These shiny domes are oriented to the tourists, I believe, and not to pilgrims – but I was not there for and did not experience one of the Holy Festivals and I do not know if that would have made me change my mind about the ornate edifices; because you see, the difficult situation in which Israel found itself, weighed heavily on my heart. The idealistic youth of Action Reconciliation in the House of Peace, who showed me such cordial and generous hospitality, and who were trying so hard to learn Hebrew, really brought the love of Christ near to my heart.

When I lost my way near Bethlehem, I had a beautiful experience. I walked through the hills below the city in order to find the shepherd fields, but quite abruptly, it started getting dark. I met some goatherds who pointed out for me the way to get back to Bethlehem. As I climbed up the road, I suddenly saw Bethlehem, like an impressionist painting, situated up in the sky. The dark heavens with protruding clouds provided a picture frame around the city. There was the shining city of Bethlehem, set back and set up on a hill, in many different luminous colors – like a gift of God – yes, God’s living work of art before my eyes. I continued farther up the path entering the picture.[2]

India was the most fascinating country for me by far. On the one hand it is utterly primitive, on the other hand one can visit the Taj Mahal, one of the highest perfections of culture. People starve and freeze to death in the streets, but there are also Indians called Rabindranath Tagore, Mahathmah Gandhi, and Sri Ramakrishna. In India one still eats with one’s fingers and very few people use toilettes. One can well imagine that pleasant and very unpleasant smells abound emanating from people, cows, donkeys, water-buffalos, goats, and pigs that eat up everything while their stomachs drag through the slime. The cows walk around as if they are conscious of themselves to be of a higher species than the humans, and they assert their rights in no uncertain terms. In Banares, which can also be called Varanasi, the ancient holy city of the Hindus, where Buddha first preached as well, one can still see every feature of the past together passing by in the street: old, old cars, a Mercedes-Benz, camels and elephants, donkeys, rickshaws, horse and wagon, and ever again the most surprising vehicle that exists. The extreme differences incorporated into India are incomprehensible. Singing, the Hindus carry the corpses of their dead through the narrow alleyways of the ancient city to the banks of the holy river and there they are cremated on funeral pyres made of wood. Now Brahman cows, priests, children, lepers, and small pox victims, who died, are not allowed to be burnt, because they are divine, and are thus sunk in the water of the Ganges with a millstone around their necks, where I imagine the fish eat them. Early in the morning, whether it is warm or cold, the Hindus go to the Ganges to bathe in its holy water, next to them the Dobies are pounding the clothes they are washing against the stones, next to them the water-buffalo, with their dumb expressions above their snouts, stand dreamy-eyed in the river, and next to them one enters the raunchy-sweet smell of burning cadavers. One has to have experienced the holy city of Varanasi!

I read a great deal about Hinduism and I talked a lot with Brahman students. But if I had stayed in the Hindu environment of Baranares over Christmas, I would not have noticed any signs of this Christian festival. Thus I decided to travel to Calcutta in order to celebrate Christmas with Mother Theresa. And it seemed like every possible obstacle dissolved along the way and I made it! At eight o’clock on Christmas morning, I arrived with my back-pack and baggage at the House of the Missionaries of Mercy just as she was coming down the stairs. She invited me to join her in carrying out her Christmas program. I discovered that this woman who brought so much hope to the poor and dying of Calcutta was a completely practical woman, who was not at all taken with her own importance. The Christmas mass was celebrated in the Home for the Dying and Destitute behind the Caligula Temple. Many had been gathered up from the sidewalks and the streets in order to die under a friendly face. Although those who are gathered are dying, more than half of them recover, because of the surprising love that they experience. In a Land-Rover we drove from one institution to another that Mother Theresa had founded. I cannot get the thrown-away children that she gathered up from the streets out of my mind. A little baby with skin like leather, looking out of an old face, so little that it seemed to be but two months old, but was really two years of age. A feeding of the masses took place at noon. Massive amounts of curry and rice in vats as large as huge garbage cans were emptied providing the hungry with a Christmas meal. I handed out the banana leaves that served as plates. When the food was gone, the gates had to be closed on the huge crowd still trying to get the meal. Thereafter thousands of school children received cookies and apples, which I had to put together and press into Mother Theresa’s hand as she pressed them into the children’s hands as they passed by in lines. We then gave sweets to the patients of a mental hospital. As we returned into Calcutta in the evening, the headlights of our Land-Rover looked on a river of people before us flowing through the streets, while loud prayers filled our automobile with new strength. A Lutheran and a son of a Lutheran pastor, I participated in praying the rosary with them.

I was able to make many friends in Calcutta and I was sorry that after getting very sick, I had to travel hurriedly to Thailand to recover. Getting a lot of rest and taking a three day “jungle tour” through the mountains of Chiang Mai, up by the borders of Burma and Laos, I finally was able to shake a cold that had weakened me and that I had not been able to overcome for three months. The tribal people up there in mountains, the Lihu, Lahu, and Lisu, among others, are very interesting. In Bangkok, a city with incredible traffic jams and with air that reeks of exhaust, I celebrated New Year and learned how to say, “Happy New Year” in Thai, “Chati Bi Mai!

Bali was the most beautiful place of all. Even in the rainy season it is like Paradise, although it is already overrun by Australians in the south. Motorcycles sounding ear-shattering decibels thunder through the streets, where tropical calm and human peace had reigned and prevailed before. Indonesia has become mostly Moslem, but Bali remained Hindu. The Balinese are culturally very creative in the practical arts, that is, in dance, wood carving, painting, sculpture, etc., and are not at all philosophical and theoretical like the Hindus of India. The people of Bali try to maintain their cultural values, but the Island is changing anyway, which to me seems so sorry. My body yearned for this kind of a tropical climate and later the cold weather of Korea and Japan was very hard for me to take. There in Bali I recovered my health completely and I experienced a level of health I never knew before, never in my whole life. The many different kinds of tropical fruits provide such enjoyable nourishment. They were like heavenly gifts. It was dangerous, however, to go swimming at the beach, but glorious, nonetheless. The people of Bali are very proud and they were never subjugated in colonial times. The classical dances and the performances of the stories of the Ramayana in the little villages under the tropical sky, will never cease to provide me with wonderful memories. To entertain the kids, I can imitate the monkey chorus of the Kezack dance and not tire of telling the stories of the Ramayana.

Mrs. Ebu Gedong Oka of Denppasar, Bali, was inspiring for me. (“Ebu” means mother.) She leads an Ashram and gives many who come to her a direction for their lives. They get up at 4:30 in the morning, which is not hard to do in Bali, and sing the Upanishads and thereafter Christian songs, to make me feel welcome, and then they do Yoga before the rising sun, after which we immediately become conscious of fresh strength. But Bali itself can give a person such new strength. Only the tourists with their shameless and crude ways made me unhappy there. Ebu Gedong gave me a great deal to take along for my life. In just a few days there I read five books. Our conversations were Hindu-Christian dialogue. She radiated dignity and she had a thirst for justice. She had just translated Gandhi’s Autobiography into Indonesian. She also gives room and board to students in her house. I could study and understand Hinduism far better after my staying in Bali. She tried to introduce the concept of a pet to the people there and bought a dog. Everyone who came up on her porch kicked it.

As the time came for me to travel on, it was very hard for me to leave Bali. But all the new impressions started to become somewhat much. Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Honolulu, and further over the Pacific Ocean back to the U.S.A.

In Hong Kong I started reading the history of China and was very inspired by the Long March of the Chinese communists, many of whom sacrificed themselves so that the main force could get away. I also noticed how the Chinese think in a much more practical and political way than the people of India, who hardly can deal with their state, community, and public problems, probably because priests and rulers have always been in different castes.

In Kowloon, which is on the continent across from the Island of Hong Kong, I came to know Pastor Ho from a congregation of refugees, named Nathan Road Lutheran Church. On Sunday morning a guest preacher from Taiwan spoke in Mandarin, Pastor Ho translated his words into Cantonese for the congregation, and a young woman beside me, translated the Cantonese into English for me. The sermon was powerful even after traveling through all these languages. Hong Kong is somewhat like West Berlin, because it borders on the People’s Republic of China, but it does not find itself boxed in and isolated like Berlin, because it is a world class harbor. When one takes the cable car up a steep mountain there, in what seems like a vertical climb, one can see Hong Kong and Kowloon lying below lit up with all their lights glowing like a Christmas tree.

I had a great deal of difficulty with the language in Japan. It took me two expensive and impersonal days in Tokyo, before I could find Pastor Tanaka, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Japan. In Japanese it is pronounced the “Ruthelan” church. Family Tanaka put me up in such a friendly way and with that introduced me to a genuine menu of Japanese food: SUKI YAKI, NIGIRI, SUSHI, TEMPORA, etc., with which I had absolutely no trouble, not even using the chop sticks. The pastors there earn very little money, about 500 DM a month (That would be about $250 at the time.) which actually turns out to be even less, because Japan has been suffering from a high rate of inflation. The bullet train from Tokyo through Osaka to Hiroshima, etc. travels at 200 kilometers per hour, and because of that one sees very little of the aesthetically manicured landscapes and gardens of Japan through the window. Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, was a glorious city. In the industrial city of Osaka, I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with a German missionary, who was very critical of the church in Japan. Lutherans in Japan seem very conservative to me. But how can I allow myself such a judgment after only spending eleven days there?

All too quickly I arrived back in Springfield, Ohio, with a trip around the world and many an experience in West Berlin behind me. I’m still trying to land a position as a pastor here, in order to continue my pilgrimage through God’s kingdom of love, which I was able to view from so any different sides on this trip.

(Translated November 24-26, 2008 )

[1] Now I can see that these cathedrals do that, but I could not see it back then thirty-three years ago. I’m translating this report November 25, 2008.

[2] Ever since having that experience Bethlehem has felt special to me. It means “house of bread” because “Beth” is house and “lehem” is bread. There the bread of life was born in a food manger to provide daily bread for the world,( and the word by whom we live) because we do not live by bread alone. There is the city built on the hill, because you do not put a light under a bushel, but on a lamp-stand where it will give light to all in the house. And the light of the world was born in that city, so God made special light illuminate the city, David’s city, to light up the world forever. And now I am ministering in Bethlehem Lutheran Church!


Written by peterkrey

November 26, 2008 at 6:38 pm

Posted in 1

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