Wednesday, January 20, 2010

India Update 4

“During the offerings time, you get up and sing a song by yourself.”

“Um, ok,” I replied.

Though “offerings time” was less than a couple minutes away and I had no idea what song I was going to sing, I was not surprised. Things tend to just happen around here. Sometimes you pull over on the side of the road and just wait, for what you’re not quite sure. Sometimes you think you’re going to be taking a train and end up taking a bus. Sometimes you think you’re going shopping and you end up touring the belly of a submarine.

Somewhere between being asked to sit facing the congregation, standing in bare feet for twenty minutes on a strangely abrasive rug while the congregation prayed loudly in a strange language, leading impromptu songs with the group, the electricity going off (taking the fans with it), and watching the cows (or were they wildebeest) walk down the road outside the church door, I had a revelation.

As I stood in India, literally thousands and thousands of miles from anything familiar, I realized that God could care less about my individual comfort.

When Vijay asked/informed me that I would be “preaching” in church I wasn’t too worried. Having been in front of hundreds of audiences in the last 6 years, public speaking isn’t really a fear of mine. Besides, I knew I only needed to talk a couple minutes and I knew they wouldn’t really understand what I would be saying anyway. Nevertheless I didn’t just want to get up and talk about nothing. As I sat in the warm church, facing the congregation (women and children on the left, men on the right) I still had no idea what I was going to say. Then the electricity went out.

I thought to myself as the heat and humidity slowly settled around me, how nice the air conditioning in my mega church at home was. I wondered what would happen if during the hot summer the AC at my home church broke. Sadly, I realized that as time went on, and the AC went unfixed, the congregation would most likely dwindle. This is not to speak poorly of my church congregation. As a church we’ve done some really great things and I feel we’ve helped advance the Kingdom of God. It is, on the other hand, a commentary on our (myself included) addiction to comfort.

Even though I was excited for this trip, I found myself dreading the thought of leaving Omaha because it would take me so far from my routine and my comfort. I was worried to leave work because I knew I would be behind when I got back. I was worried about the foreign plumbing (or lack there of). I wasn’t worried about dying in a plane crash or getting some strange foreign disease. The things that weighed most heavily on my mind were comfort items.

For lack of something better, I spoke to the congregation what was on my mind at the moment (in short, segmented sentences to allow for translation). I said I loved India and its people and I thanked them for helping me realize and begin to overcome one of my biggest obstacles in knowing God on a deeper level. I don’t know if they got anything out of what I said. I don’t know if the Faceless team got anything out of what I said, but between God and I, I believe something was accomplished.

“We stand and lift up our hands,” I sang timidly into the microphone, “for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” I rarely sing, and never without a guitar, but there I was and there I sang. “We bow down and worship Him now, how great, how awesome is He.” As the congregation searched for the beat to clap to, I tapped in rhythm on the podium. Then a boy joined in on some Congo drums and another started playing a drum kit. I looked back and Cassie from the Faceless team was smiling with her hands in the air, the congregation found the beat and clapped along. Before I knew it, I was no longer timid. I was no longer worried about hitting the notes. What had once been very uncomfortable was now very enjoyable, I sang louder and with more confidence than I ever have in my life.

I don’t think Americans are any less Christian because we like AC. I don’t advocate pulling all the pews and chairs from the churches so that people have to sit on the floor or closing down the church coffee shops. On the other hand, it might not hurt for us to try some things that are a little uncomfortable a little more often so that we can experience God in ways we’re not accustomed too.

If nothing else, this will be a challenge to myself. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Quick note

As of the time of this posting, Geeta and Rada's father has passed away. Geeta was the girl who escaped from trafficking and Rada is her sister. If you could say a prayer for the family, who is now without any men,it would be appreciated.

Thank you.

India Update 3

We’ve been very busy since I last posted. We changed hotels to be closer to the villages we will be visiting and this one does not have internet so I don’t know how many more times I will be able to post.

On Wednesday we went and visited another village, ever further into the countryside. This visit was a lot of fun. Some of the girls from the village sang songs for us and then several members of the village did dances. Some of the village girls even taught the girls in our group how to do some of their dances. There are so many little cultural things you learn to really enjoy about these people and I will miss them when I get back to the states. In the states we nod our heads to say yes, here in India, the motion for yes is a side-to-side movement of the head. It’s hard to explain but it’s very fluid. The best is when you ask a little boy or girl if you can take their picture and the give you the yes motion accompanied by a big white smile. It’s very heart warming.

After our visit with the village we went and met with a very wealthy Hindu man who has been so touched by the work that Vijay and Faceless is doing that he has donated land in which to build a school and/or church. Over here, land is very very expensive so the fact that he’s willing to donate some is a very big gesture. The land is even more valuable because it has immediate access to a road. Vijay and Prem (our guide and his son) hope to build a free school here to help benefit the people of the villages. While we were in the rich man’s mansion drinking tea he brought in his grandson and I had a chance to hold him for a while. I will admit that, while he was very cute, the fact that he was not wearing a diaper made me a little afraid he was going to pee on me (or worse). Luckily this did not happen.

Yesterday was filled with a lot of new experiences. We started out visiting a family in the city. One of the girls, who we have not met yet, was a victim of human trafficking. We did meet the girl’s sister and the girl’s baby though and today we should be meeting her and her father, who unfortunately is on his deathbed in the hospital. Though we only visited one little block, the entire city was preparing for their carnival to celebrate the New Year. Music was blaring from one of the houses and we played with some of the children and shook a lot of hands. From there we went to a school where we would be painting. The schoolhouse was actually the former home of our guides, and they donated it for the school. The painting here is much different than back home. The paint is watery and the paintbrushes are constructed of a bunch of dried grass tied at one end. Needless to say we did not feel very effective in our painting. It seemed to just slop on the walls and was not consistent at all. Though we didn’t think we were doing a good job, Vijay and Prem said it looked great. Hopefully the school kids will feel the same.

After a long day of painting we jumped back in the vehicles and went to a tourist attraction on top of a mountain that over looked Vizag and the Bay of Bengal. It was a very beautiful sight. After some ice cream on top of the mountain we headed back down and drove through the fishing area where fish are processed. In India, when the fish are caught, they spread some of the fish out all over the ground so that they can dry. As you can imagine, the smell was… interesting. When we got to one of the docking areas we got into a boat and went a ways out into the Bay of Bengal. I thought it was great but some of other members of the group who are prone to seasickness did not feel the same. When we were done with this we headed back to Vijay’s house to celebrate the Indian New Year on his roof while watching the festivities below.

Overall, I don’t think there is a better way to experience India. I really feel like we’ve had the opportunity to see real life and not some false reality derived for tourists.

I have a lot of thoughts that I’ve tried to put down but haven’t had enough time to process yet. I’m going to save those for a future blog when I’ve had plenty of time to think them out. All I know is that I have a new perspective on the world or at least this part of the world that I never would have discovered sitting at home watching Nat Geo.

A few more of my observations:

The ONLY way to experience the Indian countryside is on the back of a motorcycle.

I much prefer the dancing in India as compared to the dancing in the states. Everybody seems to be able to do it well (at least from my observation) and it’s just very fluid and very elegant.

Here they make their coffee with hot milk instead of water. I don’t know if its because I miss the coffee in the states, or if it’s just that good, but instant coffee mixed with milk over here tastes just as good as a Starbucks latte. They also eat cereal with hot milk.

I think the thing I miss the most is my bed. I’ve been sleeping fine but the hotel beds are pretty stiff; essentially a 3-inch mattress on top of plywood.

If I ever build a house it’s going to be Indian style, with a garden roof you can walk up on and have parties. I would spend most of my time up there too.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

India Photos 2

Here are some more pictures for our day yesterday. You can click on them to make them a little bigger.

Indian breakfast.

Washing clothes outside our hotel window.

Construction of some sort of Indian monument.

One of the village girls.

The girls singing Miley Cyrus for the village. Yes you read that right.

Village kids doing the actions for Father Abraham.

Everyone on the team was presented a garland.

Mother and baby.

This girl had never seen a white person before. She was not so sure of us.

Some of the kiddies.

This Chai was the real deal.

Fresh coconut milk.

One of the many crowds that gathered to see us.

India Photos 1

The internet is lightening fast this morning. Here's the first batch of photos. I'm going to try and upload some more.

Sitting on the runway in Newark.

Some of the group in the Delhi airport.

A McDonalds in the Hyderabad airport. There was no beef on the menu.

Sreet vendor food in Hyderabad.

Our welcome banner.

Just one example of the amazing food we're being served here.

Josh and Preem's birthday party.

The view from our hotel window in Vizag.

One of the village girls caring for her little sister.

The tribal dance.

Cassie and Patty handing out crayons and lollipops to the kids.

The kids love getting their picture taken.

One of the nicer mud houses in the village.

Some of the awesome scenery around the villages.

India Blog 2

We made the first of our village visits today. Yesterday was a recuperation day since we’d been traveling for about 48 hours non-stop. It was good to have a hot shower and sleep in a bed for a change. It was the first time I had been able to sleep laying down since the trip began. Thankfully, people are still in good spirits and full of energy as demonstrated by the chorus of Disney songs that were sung on the bus ride home tonight. I think the girls are even starting to trust our drivers a little more as there are no longer as many shrieks when we avoid collision by inches.

Today was really good. I always seem to over prepare myself emotionally for these kinds of trips but I think I’m finally starting to realize I don’t need to be sad for these people. They earn much less than Americans and own next to nothing. They sleep in grass huts and run around barefoot. Though I do think it’s our responsibility to give them a helping hand, we don’t need to be sad for them. The kids here have a joy that is very rare to experience in the US.

That’s the thing that has hit me the hardest on this trip. We look around at the way things are done here and think they are weird. Their traffic system is different and most in the US would consider it crazy, but it seems to work. The food they eat is different (and delicious) but many would hold their nose and never try it. Their singing is different, their movies are different, everything is different, but that’s just the thing. It’s not weird, it’s not wrong it’s just different. To me, labeling something “weird” is hinting at superiority and though we may have more stuff, we’re not superior. We have everything and are not happy, they have nothing and are. Maybe we’re the ones who are weird.

But enough with philosophy, the experiences today were really amazing. We first visited a remote village that Vijay (our guide) has been working with. We met in their church (a concrete building about the size of a living room) and some of the women stood and lead us in songs (out of a snowman note book). After this we were treated to a tribal dance by some of the men and were then asked to lead something of our own. We sang Father Abraham and tried to get the kids to sing along with us. After this it was back to the church were we handed out crayons and lollipops for the kids and Saris for the women as well as some assorted hand me down clothes for who-ever they would fit. We mingled with the people, ate a quick lunch and then played a game called Coco with the kids. It is similar to duck duck goose but a lot more fun and it even makes you use your brain a little. After our game, we said our good byes and got back on the bus. From here we went to several different villages and met with the people. Though I did feel a little strange pulling up and just walking around and looking at stuff, the people in the villages loved it and a crowd always gathered. Vijay told us that many of these people have never seen a white person and some didn’t even know they existed. Some of the really young children were even a little scared. You could probably liken the experience to meeting a Martian I suppose. We were treated to some REAL Chai Tea as well as coconut milk straight out of a coconut that had just come off the tree. I really don’t think there could be a better way to visit this country.

A few of my personal observations from this trip so far would be:
1. It’s very hard not to eat with my left hand. In India, it’s customary to eat with your right hand. Your right hand is for eating, your left for going to the bathroom.
2. We have all been sitting/standing for so long on this trip, all of our ankles are swollen. They look like kankles really.
3. India has either the best, or the worst drivers in the world.
4. A close call in the US is Sunday driving in India.
5. They need to start selling Tata Motors in the US. If they can withstand the rigors they are put through here, they would last a lifetime in the states.
6. If we had used the kind of ceiling fans in the US that they use here, we wouldn’t need air conditioning.

I don’t know if I will have internet access after tonight, but I will continue to write. Unfortunately the internet here is not fast enough to upload pictures, but I’ll do that first thing when I get back in the states. We’re taking a lot.

Monday, January 11, 2010

India Blog 1

When I was a kid, I was a climber. Trees mostly. There wasn’t a tree I couldn’t climb in my youth and I was very proud of it. Proud enough and confident enough in my abilities that I would climb as high as I possibly could. If you are a tree climber, you know that the bottom limbs are the easiest. They’re usually nice and thick and evenly spaced which make climbing easy. It’s when you get to the top of the tree that it gets difficult. The limbs are thinner and more difficult to traverse and once you’ve reached the top, there is always the matter of getting down, which in my opinion is much more difficult. Often it was difficult enough that I found myself wishing I’d never climbed in the beginning.

Last night, as I reflected upon the events of the day and the events that lay ahead of us, I almost began to wish I had never started climbing.

The past 3 days have been nothing short of an adventure, an all out, Indiana Jones type adventure. It began with a 13-hour flight from Newark, NJ to Delhi, India. Our layover was about 10 hours long and was made all the more interesting in trying to meet up with a couple of the girls who were on a different flight. After a night of delays and sleeping on the marble terminal floors, we made our second flight to Hyderabad, India. This flight was simple as it lasted only 2 hours, but was followed by another 10-hour wait on marble airport floors. Finally it was time to go across town and get on our bus, and this is where the major adventure began.

Initially we were supposed to take taxis to the bus but once we loaded them up with our bags (they were strapped on top) there was only room for 8 people. Our Indian guide felt it important to stay with the girls and knowing it was only responsible of me, I volunteered to ride on the back of our other guide’s motorcycle so that one of the girls didn’t have to. The beginning of the trip was pretty enjoyable. The cool evening air of India was rushing through what’s left of my hair as we made our way down the open road. At this point I was thinking it was going to be a great ride. Then as we started getting into the traffic I realized the bus stop was all the way across the city.

As we rode, I found my mind rushing to many different thoughts. One was “I think the people of India must have a much better understanding and application of physics than people in the US” another was “any Indian motorcycle driver could easily put the cockiest US crotch rocket jock to shame.” All the while I was preparing myself for the taste of concrete.

To give you an idea of what my ride was like, picture New York or Chicago rush hour with no traffic signals or even traffic laws. Lanes that are designed to accommodate 2 cars wide are often jam packed with 3 wide or more and countless other bikes, motor bikes and pedestrians. Now imagine you’re buzzing through the thick of it on the back of a motorcycle with no helmet (sorry mom, it wasn’t an option). I’m glad I’m a calm person. If I were the least bit apprehensive I would have died from a heart attack or squeezed the life out of my driver. There were times when all I could see was a wall of stopped traffic yet we were still full throttle. Somehow he always found the crease and squeezed on through. Cars passed us within inches and we passed them just as closely. I felt their warm exhaust on my sandaled feet. We zagged and swerved and blasted our horn at pedestrians crossing in front of us. Every once in a while my driver would answer his cell phone. The one thing I knew was that if I survived the drive I would have an amazing story to tell that most could never match.

After about 30 or 40 minutes of this had passed, we were at our bus stop and after crossing the street (which I would liken to playing a game of frogger on the hardest level while dragging luggage) all we had left was to sit and wait for our truck. As we waited, our guide bought us some food from the street venders (some ice cream and fried egg and bread served on a piece of newspaper). Finally, our bus arrived an hour late and we piled on. After about 35 hours of constant traveling, all we had ahead of us was another 12-hour bus ride across the open country… with no scheduled bathroom stops.

As I write we’ve reached our first destination and are sitting in the home of our guide. Here we have plumbing and a sink and shower, a nice fan, a cool breeze and AMAZING food.

All the girls have been very strong. I’ve made plenty of cross country van rides and spent hours and hours in the air, but never have I had as intense an experience as our visit to India. Most girls would have thrown in the cards 24 hours ago but they’re still here. They’re still ready to help.

Most of the group is using vacation time for this trip though it is far more work than our 9 to 5 jobs. All have paid out of pocket to be here and all have sacrificed comfort for a cause, even though at our absolute best, we can only do very little.

Tomorrow we will be meeting a tribal village. Many of its inhabitants earn less in a year than the amount I spent to buy the word processing program I’m typing on, but we’re told to prepare ourselves for a people full of joy and charity. A couple days after that, we’ll be meeting girls who are at risk of being trafficked and after that we’ll meet girls who have actually been trafficked. Then it’s a 12-hour train ride and a 13-hour flight back home. I’m sure it will be difficult to put into words what we’ve experienced but we’ll do what we can, and many of us will come back in the future. Even when I was a kid and I scared myself half to death climbing to the top of the tree, I always seemed to make it back down and I always felt the need to climb up again.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tentative Schedule

Here's a tentative day to day schedule of what we'll be doing while we're in India. Of course, change is not only possible but likely.

10th - Arrive in Hyderabad and take a train through the night to Visakhapatnam.

11th - Arrive in Vizag and have lunch with our leaders at St. Joseph.

12th and 13th - Visit tribal villages and girls who are at high risk for being trafficked.

14th and 15th - Visit one of the 2 free schools in India and do some painting.

16th and 17th - Meet girls who have been rescued from trafficking and hear their stories.

18th - Sightseeing followed by a train back to Hyderabad.

19th - Fly back to US.

Natalie, Patty, Cassie in the hotel lobby, ready to take the shuttle to the airport.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Next Adventure

Wow. Long time, no updates. As usual it's been very busy recently but it's all been good. I'm writing from the Kanas City airport as we are waiting to board the plane to Newark. From Newark we will meet the rest of our group and then head out to India tomorrow night.

If you think about it, keep us in your thoughts and prayers, most notably for our health. New countries with new food and different sanitation can cause some interesting problems. Whatever India may hold for us though, we're very excited.

I will try and blog as frequently as possible, but who knows what type of internet connection we may have.

In related news, I will be experiencing a phenomenon most may never experience in their lifetime, a 12 hour birthday. As I will be in flight during my birthday and flying across several time zones, January 9th will only last about 12 hours for me.

"Josh and Mindy at KCI Airport with the snowy airport landscape reflecting off Josh's sunglasses."