The Untouchables


words and images: Jessica Sowards

I used to imagine living a sacrificial life for God entailed being a good girl. Follow the rules, try not to sin. Give up R-rated movies and don’t drink too much wine. So I did. I followed all the rules. Then one day, at some point between milking the goats and sharing my heart from my kitchen table, God started talking to me about His heart on the rules. And He began showing me that He paid for sin on the cross. Giving it up wasn’t a sacrifice but a grace.

The real sacrifice was to live entirely for Him.

So I started asking what that looked like. I stopped looking for a formula and started asking the real, living, breathing God to walk me through the purpose He planned specifically for me. And I relinquished the death-grip with which I’d been clinging to my idea of security. In short, I said yes. And He took me at my word.

The seasons of my “yes” are something of a blur. It’s too messy to illustrate by timeline or sequenced events. However, I can tell you that in this season, I have learned to pack a suitcase with impressive efficiency. I’ve learned to get through TSA lines without heart palpitations, and I’ve become rather comfortable on airplanes. I no longer want to throw up when I speak in front of large crowds, and I’m no longer surprised when my “yes” requires one step further into the realm of walking on water.


We began to interact with the little girl, and I watched her mother surveying us. I thought how extraordinarily like me she was. Her son in a fabric sling, her daughter apprehensively approaching a
smiling stranger…


So it didn’t entirely shock me when the invitation to leave the country came. It didn’t shock me that my first international trip came with short notice and a bunch of details that unexplainably fell into place. In fact, aside from one initial emotional outburst that involved binge-eating an entire bag of caramels, I’d say the process that led up to me boarding a plane for India was really pretty smooth.

It was a short and life-changing trip. I missed my boys and my farm and my goats the entire time, and it was, without a doubt, a sacrifice to leave them and go. For eight days, I traveled with a group from Heart of David to India, encouraging those who have been laboring in the underground prayer and worship movement in a country where the Gospel is illegal.

The first two days in India, I decided that I was never leaving home again. I hated that country with its stench and its filth and its wildly alarming, sucking, screaming lack. My heart was being broken, and there was absolutely no escape. It was everywhere, and I couldn’t un-see it.

I was undone by pervasive poverty. It assaulted me from the moment we left the airport. It took the form of half-dressed families living in tents on sidewalks. It knocked on the windows of our cars in the form of young girls selling knick-knacks or their bodies, whichever you preferred. It pulled on my clothes as I walked down the street, with its hands the exact same size as my son’s.

I came to terms with the reality of my naivety by day three. By day four, I resolved that I could not raise my boys in a reality that ignored everything aside from what was directly in front of them. Days five through eight found me crying and laying my heart bare before God as He deconstructed the many walls I’d erected to keep myself safe.

On our last day in India, our group went shopping at a market in New Delhi. As everyone else scoured the shops for souvenirs, my dear friend Daniel and I turned our eyes to a young mother begging on the sidewalk with two babies clinging to her dress. We began to interact with the little girl, and I watched her mother surveying us. I thought how extraordinarily like me she was. Her son in a fabric sling, her daughter apprehensively approaching a smiling stranger, she nodded at us, giving her approval to our interest in her little family.

Daniel ducked into one of the shops and returned with a small, carved wooden turtle and presented it to the little girl. She lit up and immediately transformed from a little beggar into a two-year-old as I know them. She flopped to her belly, zooming the little turtle across the filthy ground. Her mother’s face relaxed, and I recognized the expression. It’s the same one that covers my face as I watch my sons on Christmas morning. And in her smile, I realized how small the world really was after all.

They followed us for a while, warming up the farther we walked along together. Eventually, the girl allowed us to hug her and kiss her matted hair. The mother began to tear up and we asked a translator to help us speak to her. He informed us that she was moved by our physical affection because she belonged to a Hindi social class called “The Untouchables.”

They are considered outcasts be- cause they do not fit into the caste system, a thing on its own which is hard for me to fathom. These are the people who are responsible for the unclean jobs of slaughter and dealing with the filth of their social betters, and therefore, they were called Untouchable. They are born into this class and will never, ever leave it. Even now, in the modern age of iPhones and commercial flights that could carry an American girl across the ocean for only 1,500 dollars, there is a woman living on a street, relegated to poverty by birth, undone by the fact that a clearly clean and well-off man and woman would kiss her baby.

On the airplane home, my prayers were very different. I realized that in all the struggles of my life, even on the days we ate ramen noodles in our air-conditioned dining room, I have only ever known abundance. I wept with a new gratitude, and with genuine repentance for my small thinking. And somewhere in this process, my view of my farm changed. I stopped seeing it as the staging ground of my life’s call, and I started to see it as a soft place to land.

The mother in the market was the flourish at the end of one of my most powerful life lessons. We left her with prayer, some money for food and a small, wooden turtle, but I’m certain we took more from the exchange. I’m certain I will remember her smile and her daughter’s piercing eyes for the rest of my life. She taught me that I was never called to stay put. I was called to sacrifice, to sacrifice my comfort, my ignorance, my fear, my control. I was called to pop the bubble of my carefully constructed reality and dive headlong into the brokenness of this world, all the while trusting Him to help me breathe in it. I was called to touch the Untouchables, and it’s the most worthy heartbreak I’ve ever said yes to.

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