A journey from Kutela to America: Lessons from three consecutive canceled flights

Published: September 11, 2018

By Pratik Bagh, current MDiv: Theological Studies student

This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of The Mennonite. Used with permission.

My grandfather, Rev. J.S. Bagh, was a convert from Hinduism and served the Lord throughout his life as an evangelist and later as a pastor. He was the first who said, “You will become a pastor and will go abroad for your studies.” No one believed that from a tiny village like Kutela, in India, where we are the only Christian family, a young couple would go abroad for study. But it happened, and I became the first, in the second generation the Lord called to the ministry.

After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I joined our Mennonite conference (BGCMC), where I served as a pastor for more than three years. In the meantime, I married Shabnam. She has been a great encouragement to me and given more preference to the call of the Lord than her own secular job or career. She and I had never gone out of our country. But after one year of marriage, we traveled to another country, the United States of America. 

With the desire to learn more of the Word of God and with the support of my wife, I prayed about an opening from the Lord. A pastor from Pentecostal background visited our church. After preaching, he said, “God is going to send you to America for studies; prepare for it, and within a year you both will find yourselves in the [United States].” As a Mennonite, I was not familiar with prophecies, but I took his word as an affirmation from the Lord and prayed about it. I wanted to learn in a Mennonite setting to make myself more fruitful for the service in the Mennonite church. I applied to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, and was admitted. The Word says, “The plans he has made for us are not for our bad but for good.” By God’s grace we passed the visa interview and prepared for our first-ever flight to the United States.

Early preparation is not always enough.

Those in our family who had flown oriented us to traveling on a flight. Even though what they taught was helpful, mostly we had to figure it out on our own. They taught us what normally happens on a flight, such as how to get water, be seated and that there is a washroom. But they didn’t tell us what to expect and do when the flight is canceled.

Journeys are unpredictable

For some, the Christian life is easy going. They live a relaxed life without encountering any trouble and bless the Lord. Others suffer hardships and question the Lord: Why is this happening to me? We all have unique experiences on our Christian journey, but the Lord remains with us no matter what we go through.

Our flight was scheduled for Aug. 18, 2015, at 11:20 p.m. from Bombay to South Bend, Indiana. The flight was canceled, and we were kept waiting until 4 a.m. to get the news. The crowd roared at the flight attendants, but we kept patient and waited for whatever would come. We were provided a night’s stay at a Hotel Marriott, where we enjoyed luxurious living for a day. But the next day, we flew to Newark, and the flight from Newark to Chicago was canceled. My father had given me $20, thinking we wouldn’t need money during the flight. But a water bottle cost $3 and a sandwich cost $7 (and looked uncooked to us but now is one of our favorite meals). The little I had made it more difficult for us to survive the journey. I had to choose wisely about how to spend that limited amount of money. The next day, we flew from Newark to Chicago, but the flight from Chicago to South Bend was canceled, and we had to stay there the whole day, since we couldn’t afford a car or a bus or a train with the money we had.

Be ready for all challenges and be watchful

During those three days and nights, I was in a dreadful condition and didn’t sleep for a single minute. I was watchful all the time, taking care of our luggage and listening to every announcement, hoping it might be for us. Our status kept changing, one day in a five-star hotel and the next two nights in an airport, shivering, hungry and anxious. When you have three flights canceled and are flying for the first time, you lose your patience.

Food was another challenge for me. In India, we were used to drinking a lot of tea, at least two times a day. Shabnam craved a cup of tea, so I went in search of one. But when I went to a counter and asked for tea, they gave me a glass of hot water and said to choose a tea bag from the table. I took the tea for myself and got coffee for Shabnam. She tasted it and threw it away. (Now she enjoys it.) It took me four months to recover from this journey. I felt a severe twist in my stomach and could not sleep or concentrate on my studies.

When we finally reached Elkhart, we were exhausted. When our family heard our story, they said it seemed like we had gone to another America, that what we experienced was unusual. Our journey taught us we should be strong and be ready in our Christian journey and that nothing should stop us or break us down. As Paul says, “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak then I am strong.” This journey was a physical practice of relying on God to take us to the destination.

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