While on a recent trip to work with our justice partners in Kolkata, I set aside a morning to take a walking tour of the city’s back streets. As Ifte, my friend and guide, was talking, a man carrying an animal skin filled with water walked by. Ifte paused, pointed at the man, and said, “That’s the man from paradise.” Ifte’s words immediately piqued my interest!
Ifte explained that the man was a bhishti (pronounced ba•heesh•tee) or water-carrier. The word bhishti is derived from the word behesht, the Persian word for paradise. For years, the bhishti have delivered water to those who have limited or no access to potable water. Over time, these water carriers came to be referred to as coming from Paradise.
Ifte added an interesting note from Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled Gunga Din, a story about a bhishti named Gunga Din who saved a British soldier’s life. After Gunga Din was shot and killed, the British soldier regretted the abuse he had dealt this kind man. In the final words of the poem, the soldier lamented:
“Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you, By the livin’ Gawd that made you, You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
And indeed, Gunga Din was a better man — a man from paradise. After all, he had risked and sacrificed his own life to save another.
I was seven years-old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to thousands of civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In that speech, Dr. King quoted the words of Amos, the Old Testament prophet who admonished the nation of Israel to fulfill her covenant obligations by caring for the poor and oppressed — “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
Today, the people of my church have joined with other justice partners in our community and around the world to make hope tangible by ensuring that the waters of justice seep into dry and forgotten places. In some cases, like a bhishti, we have had to carry the waters of justice to those enslaved in places where there is no justice, places as dry as a desert wadi. One of the greatest joys has been to see young girls rescued and refreshed by those waters, one sip at a time.
There is, perhaps, no greater calling than to become a man or woman from Paradise —champions for justice who, like Gunga Din, are willing to make sacrifices for the welfare of those in danger. And, there is no better way to make hope tangible than by offering the waters of justice to the oppressed. May we continue to work toward the day when justice and righteousness will cascade through our world like a mighty and ever-flowing river.
My name is Omar C. Garcia. I am the Missions Pastor at Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas. I enjoy leading the people of Kingsland to make meaningful connections with others from Katy to the ends of the earth. Our missions ministry mobilizes more than 3,500 volunteers annually to participate in local and international missions initiatives. Our missions ministry is very engaged in the fight against human trafficking both in our own community and in other countries.
Church Web: Kingsland.org