Mahatma Gandhi
By James E. McEldowney

When you grow up what do you want to be? a doctor? a teacher? a minister? a lawyer? a governor of your state? One time my mother wrote me when I was far away as a missionary for years at a time: "If I had one wish it would be that you would come home and be close to me." Then she scratched that out and wrote: "No that is not my sincerest wish. I wish that wherever you are or whatever you do you will be the very best person you can be." And that is what I would wish for each one of you. Whatever you become, be the very best person you can possibly be.

Among the greatest people I have ever met was a man named Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma was not his real name but it is a word of respect. Only a person who is considered holy and good is called Mahatma. Gandhi is a famous person, so famous that people in almost every country around the world have heard of him. They, too, call him Mahatma, because he was a good and great man.

One time he went to see the Queen of England. You might expect him to dress in his best suit and tie. But he was a highly educated Indian and very proud of his country and now he was trying to win freedom for India from the British Empire. So he went to see the Queen wearing Indian clothes - the clothes worn by some of India's great leaders and by the common people. Instead of trousers he wore what was called a dhoti. A dhoti is a long piece of white cotton cloth that is wrapped around the waist and up between the legs almost like a diaper, but it hangs down along the legs and almost covers them. He wore a common shirt made of homespun Indian cloth. Dressed that way the Queen graciously met him and talked with him, because he was such an important person.

What made him so great? India was a colony in the British Empire and was ruled by people from England. He believed that the Indian people would never become self-respecting, nor India a great nation until Indians were responsible for their own laws and until they chose their own rulers. Not everyone in India agreed with him but he worked night and day and soon hundreds and thousands of other people joined him, working for freedom for India.

That was only part of it. In his religion (he was a Hindu) people were divided into what are called castes. Farmers formed one caste. Those in the army formed another one. The highest caste included religious leaders and also some very favored families. But there were millions of Hindus who did not belong to any caste and were called outcasts or untouchables. The caste people looked down on them because they were forced to do work that was considered unclean. They were denied the rights and opportunities other people had.

Gandhi said as long as the Indian people treated other Indians that way he could understood why people in England might think Indian people were inferior to them. That gave them an excuse to rule India. That condition had to be changed before India was ready for freedom from Great Britain.

So Gandhi broke with the ancient Hindu tradition and began calling these millions of untouchables or outcasts, Harijans, which means "children of God." That began to change people's attitude toward them and gave the Harijans a chance to prove their own worth. This helped make Gandhi a great leader.

You can learn a little from that, too. Like the people of India you want your freedom, to do as you please. Gandhi said in order to gain freedom a person has to prove he or she is worth it. Once Harigans were given respect many of them became outstanding businessmen and leaders of their community. Every child gains the respect of his/her parents when he/she proves able to handle freedom responsibly.

Gandhi believed he had to be an example to others. Many of the people had to live in humble dwellings, so to show that such a house was not a disgrace he began to live in a common ordinary village house. It had mud walls and the floor was carefully swept hard earth. Most Indian people do not have much furniture and it is their custom to sit on the floor. So when we went to his home that is what we did. He also took up spinning. Spinning was so simple everyone could do it. He urged people to spin and make their own cloth and clothing. That way they would not have to buy cloth manufactured in Great Britain and they would earn money when they sold the cloth.

You night be saying, "Come on, tell us about your visit to Gandhi." Well, it was when one of my professors from Boston University came to India. Dr. Elmer Leslie and his son Jim said they wanted to meet Gandhi. We wrote him and Gandhi graciously offered to meet us. So Dr. Orville Davis, the Principal of our College, Dr.Leslie and his son Jim, and I drove about 200 miles to Sevagram, the little village where Gandhi lived and he received us in his home.

We sat with him on the floor in his little house. We felt very humble in the presence of such a great man. We asked him many questions about the future of India and as he replied we could see he had great plans for the country. Then we were surprised when he said this. "I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings." That made us all the more humble. We were impressed by his honesty and his very gracious words. We stayed with him for about an hour and a half in his home and then we drove back to Jabalpur.

He was a great man and people loved him because he stood for what he believed was right and was willing to die for it. A few years later one of the men of his own religion who disagreed with him went to one of his prayer meetings and while there he took out a gun and shot him. Gandhi is now thought of as the father of his country (India), and is among the greatest men who have lived. I consider him the greatest man who has lived during my lifetime. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]

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