Our family has been on several mission trips to India over the past few years. In 2008 my husband Dennis and our son Keegan went on the first family mission trip to India. After Dennis fell in love with the people of India our daughters Selah and Caiden and I accompanied Dennis back to India in 2009 and 2011. Dennis has made another separate trip as well without us. Below are the diary entries from the trips that I went on with the family to visit the mission that includes the Children’s Village and Crossroads English School with the John Gabriel Mission.
Time as Tourist in Delhi and the Taj Mahal, JANUARY 1, 2010
Dennis and I are in India right now on a mission trip with our church. We all left Portland, Oregon the morning of December 28th and arrived in Delhi in the early morning hours of December 30th. The first impression of India hit my nose as we stepped off the plane and into the walkway – the overwhelming aroma of smoke has been present every moment of every day since we arrived. When we stepped into the airport we could see the air thick like a constant fog of smoke and pollution.
There are a total of 18 of us traveling from Portland together – 5 out of that group are children. Everyone has been memorized by the view outside of our bus windows as we tour around town. We have been in Delhi where the population is 22+ million people. We have passed them as cars, buses, trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists, horse/camel/cow drawn-wagons, rickshaws that are motor/human/bicycle powered all share the same roads. Cows, goats, monkeys, blue cows, peacocks and dogs have free reign walking in any direction on the roads with the traffic.
Horns are constantly blowing. I think, after traveling by bus for many hours yesterday, that there is a different translation for the horns than I originally thought. When I first heard the orchestra of horns I thought they were rude angry honks insisting that the roads be cleared for them. After observing yesterday I think that they are a form of communications completely different. It appears that each driver honks to the other drivers to say, “look I am here coming up on your right or left.” There is more to this language of horns than impatience. Everyone seems calm while they drive as if this is simply a daily conversation had with each other.
Despite the mass of traffic we have spotted very few accidents. Most of them have been from overfilled truck loads falling over. The roads appear to be two lane traffic but sometimes 3, 4, or 5 lanes of traffic are moving in each direction. On one occasion our bus was hit by a motorized rickshaw that was pushed into our bus by a police car. No one got out to exchange numbers or insurance information. The police car that happened to be driving by was the first to leave the scene as if nothing happened and then the rickshaw simply dislodged itself from us and moved along in traffic. A traffic cop stood only feet away and didn’t flinch. All of the vehicles show evidence of this being the normal routine of traffic.
When buses pass us we are window to window with each other. The other bus is overfilled with people spilling out of the entrances, hanging on the back, side and sometimes even piled onto of the bus. Every mode of transportation is taken advantage of. When a truck is empty and returning for a new truck load people climb into the back and hang on. They disembark when the vehicles stop some of the time but at other times they just hop off as the vehicle moves. No one moves too fast because the swarm of traffic doesn’t allow for high speeds.
What has struck me most about India so far is the poverty. Not the kind of poverty you can pull yourself out of, but generations of poverty with little hope of change. Everywhere we go by foot or by bus we are surrounded by children and adults begging or selling trinkets. The movie Slumdog Millionaire illuminated the life of these kids but the reality face to face is heartbreaking. The eyes of these children are windows into their desperation. They are not filled with the hope and bright light evident in the photos that I have seen of the kids at the orphanage we are heading towards today. Their eyes are hardened, hopeless and hungry. These kids are more than physically hungry they are starving in the depths of their souls and their eyes reveal it.
The sharp contrast of the classes is obvious in a million little ways. Even the homeless of America live in luxury compared to people who live on the streets, in makeshift tents, and metal shanty towns. This poverty is generations deep and culturally embedded into the fabric of this society. I have seen many places in the world and never seen poverty this overwhelming.
Each and every day the pollution in India is compounded by the millions of people living here. Morning, noon and night the air is visibly thick, gray and toxic. Garbage appears to be burned from evening through the early morning hours. Everything is burned and very little is recycled or composted. The only sign of recycling is in the country side where people dry the cow dung and use it for fuel to burn fires to keep them warm at night. My water bottle doesn’t say recycle please, instead it says “crush the bottle after use.” I assume so it will take up less room while waiting to burn the trash…or to stop the abuse of refilling old water bottles and selling them as fresh water.
It is clear why we can’t drink the water here. Even the water we use to wash is dirty. Outside my hotel window is an open tank that supplies water to our bathroom sink. The pigeons use it to take their baths before it comes through the tap. Standing water that we have seen is thick with scum. It is amazing that anything grows here since the trees are covered with a thick gray film. When it rains the trees must gasp for air.
I am looking forward to getting to the school and orphanage that will occupy most of our time from here on out. I know we will see signs of hope there. Orphaned children who have been rescued from a life on the streets preforming for the passing tourist and begging at every turn. We saw the Taj Mahal yesterday and were awed by the magnificence of it. The Taj Mahal was an amazing sight to see, however, I think after witnessing the life the street orphans here the most amazing sight will be the transformed lives of the orphans at The Children’s Village. Lives saved and transformed is far more miraculous than the architecture of man.
It is early morning here in India and in a few hours we leave for Kottayam to continue our journey.
Selah “Tours” a Hospital in India, FRIDAY, JANUARY 1, 2010
I stopped writing my last post about our trip to India just as I woke Selah up to get ready yesterday morning. She woke up complaining of a little stomach ache, but she thought she just might be hungry. Selah had breakfast and decided that her stomach ache wasn’t related to hunger. We started giving her some over the counter stomach medicine and headed to the airport with our group. Yesterday we were flying from Delhi to Kottayam.
Selah’s symptoms started to get worse while we were at the airport but that was only the beginning our of it all. On the plane Selah attempted to sleep but she was obviously going down hill fast. During the last hour of our flight she started throwing up. We did discovered that there was barely enough room in a airplane bathroom for one full size adult and one child throwing up into an air sickness bag. Thankfully after 17 years doing this mom gig my stomach was able to handle the gag wrenching experience.
Once we landed Selah was feeling dizzy. Stepping off the plane we were greeted by a wall of humid heat. Selah wasn’t looking very good when we reached baggage claim. I decided to take her to the restroom just in case. She started getting that look while we were in line, the look she gets just before fainting, and she stopped responding to my voice. She collapsed into my arms and I dragged her outside of the restroom to set her on the ground and raised her feet. I was outside of the view of our group but several locals rushed to help us and then our group were quick to follow.
From there it is mostly a blur, Selah fainted several more times, as we waited to board our bus. There was a buzz of activity surrounding Selah, Dennis and I as we attempted to cool her down and keep her conscious. Once on the bus to Kottayam Abey called ahead to the hospital so that we could take Selah straight in. Selah was so weak by the time we arrived at the hospital she could barely protest the shot that they gave her or when the IV was put into her hand. Selah hates needles and normally wrestles hard against it and then faints. This time she could only verbally protest and faint.
Selah and I stayed at the local hospital for several hours while she got IV fluids. Everyone was incredibly hospitable. Abey had Selah’s bed moved to an air conditioned room. Normally you would image that that would mean that she was rolled down the hallway in her bed. But it was much more complicated than that. The double bed with its wooden bed frame had to be disassembled and carried next door while Selah waited. It took several men to make the move but Abey didn’t want us to be bitten by mosquitoes. As the night wore on I was grateful for the cool air. Each time the door opened I could smell that the air outside our room was filled with smoke, humid and hot.
Just as the second IV drip finished Lynn showed up and brought me soup. I was starving. She waited with me while we observed Selah to see if she would hold the few ounces of fluid down. Finally when the wait was over Lynn drove us to our hotel. With the aid of Lynn, Abey and myself Selah walked into the hotel but by the time she reached the lobby she couldn’t take another step. The hotel brought an old wheelchair for us to bring her to our room. She looked small, pale and weak which made me question the wisdom of my decision to leave the hospital.
Once we got upstairs Dennis’ face when he saw her conveyed his worry too. We got her into bed and she commenced to throw up the few ounces of fluid she had drank at the hospital. Several moments of second guessing ended with the decision to let her rest and watch her. I slept in bed with her all night and woke up at least every 15 minutes to check her. She never moved and inch for 7 hours until finally she rolled over and said she was hungry. I never thought hearing my child say she was hungry would ever sound so beautiful.
We have spent the day in bed reading, sleeping, channel surfing Indian TV and listening to the sounds of the city outside our window. The rest of the group went out today onto the purpose of our mission trip, but our purpose today was focused on rest and fluids.
India Mission Trip :: Where I Found a Place in My Heart Especially Reserved for India, JANUARY 2, 2010
Today at church many of the people who were on this the 2010 India Mission trip will be talking and as well as others who have been in the past. I’ve included my notes for service below.
“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.’” Isaiah 6:8
I have eagerly answered God’s call with, ‘here I am, Lord, send me’ in so many situations that fit my particular gifts and talents. But when it came to the India mission trip I ducked behind the others who were willing to go instead of me and hid. I never raised my voice, never even asked in prayer; do you want me to go Lord? I stood behind Dennis and Keegan when they left for India on the last trip. I figured I paided my dues by holding together our business and family while Dennis was away. When they came back enthusiastic about the mission in India I just hoped that it would remain their thing.
When Dennis was eager to go again I just hoped the God wouldn’t call me to go along. Dennis wanted me to go, but I felt my girls were too young to leave on another continent half way around the world. I figured I was safe with that excuse. India didn’t sound like a place I should pack my young children up to and travel with, but then Pastor Tom wanted his grandson Ryan to come and Jon wanted other kids along is Ryan was going to go. With all my excuses exposed for what they were I was faced with a decision. I didn’t know if God was calling me to go and taking away my excuses or not. But I did know that my husband wanted me to go. I agreed reluctantly, with no expectations of being used on the trip for anything other than being my husband’s helpmate.
I simply couldn’t see what I could bring to the India mission trip. The girls and I both have asthma and I expected with the pollution our asthma would be a major problem. Caiden isn’t versatile in her eating habits and I expected that to cause issues. I expected that once I went on this mission trip I would find a dozen other good reasons not to return.
I was so wrong. Instead I found 2000 reasons at Crossroads English School to return. I found 35 reasons at the Children’s Village to come back. I found at least a half a dozen or more reasons in the Gabriel family to come back. I discovered a place in my heart that had been unknowingly especially reserved for India and its people – and the longing of that place in my heart will draw me back. But this time it will be willingly. God was calling; I was hiding, but now I will quickly raise my voice to the Lord and say, ‘here I am Lord, send me’ even when I am reluctant.
Kottayam a Vastly Different Place From Dehli, JANUARY 3, 2010
The last few days haven’t been overly action packed here in India for me. I have been taking care of Selah while she recovered from her illness that led her to “tour” an India Hospital. It is now Sunday night and Selah has gotten all of her color back, most of her energy recharged and all of her spunk is in place. She is fired up and ready to go visit the kids at Crossroads English School and The Children’s Village. Caiden has been bouncing back from her visits there full of excitement as she recounts her day to Selah while showing her videos and pictures she took during her day out.
In the meantime while Selah and I have held down the fort at the hotel we have had many opportunities to interact with the people here in Kottayam. When we arrived here it was immediately apparent that the people of Kottayam are filled overflowing smiles, kindness and hospitality. Everyone in Delhi that we interacted with was friendly there wasn’t the same sincere warmth as there is here. It hasn’t only been the people that we came to see that have been abundantly warm, it has been everyone from the hospital, to the hotel and restaurants.
I have been separated from the group during the day, but each day when they come back to the hotel there is a certain light of excitement in their eyes that reflects the wonder of their experiences. With the humid heat that blankets the area I expected to see everyone return weary, but instead they have come back energized. My daughter Caiden, who often can be shy meeting people, has recounted with great excitement how everyone hugs and kisses her or pinches her cheeks. I am thrilled to see that she has stretched outside her comfort zone by speaking with strangers and letting them into her bubble of personal space normally reserved for people she knows very well.
The land is lush here. Every thing we saw in Delhi was through a gray haze. The trees, the colorful signs, the cars, even we were covered in a layer of gray that the toxic air deposits on every inch of surface there. Here in Kottayam there is lush tropical green trees, grasses and plants everywhere you look. The air is polluted and the toxic area is visible to the naked eye, but the humidity and rain wash it away here more than in Delhi. Here it is possible to imagine the India that everyone has fallen in love with. In Delhi the poverty, traffic and gray haze was so overwhelming and depressing. I longed to find the India I had heard so much about.
I am glad we saw Delhi before we arrived in Kottayam. It put life in perspective. Not only how much better life is in America but how much better it is in the majority of the world, even different parts of India. My young kids will have first hand memories that remind them as they grow up how blessed they are. Now that I have seen Delhi once I have no desire to ever return there, but I am grateful for having had the experience.
Crossroads English School Taught the Value of Showing Up As You Are, JANUARY 4, 2010
Today we left Kottayam and went to Pompady where Crossroads English School and The Children’s Village are located. It was the first day that we spent with the kids at the school. It was really exciting to see the school since we have heard so much about it over the years.
Honestly, I had decided to come on this mission trip because it was important to Dennis, but prior to today I didn’t understand the point of the visit to the school, other than my own curiosity. I totally understood the purpose of visiting and ministering to the orphanage, but I couldn’t understand what a bunch of Americans showing up at a school in India would do for the kids. In my mind we needed to build something or in some way physically aid in order to minister to them. I was wrong.
Today I truly learned the value of simply showing up as you are. We walked through the outdoor hallways of the school and the kids inside the classroom erupted with excitement. As Dennis, Selah, Caiden and I visited classrooms along with our friends Matt, Cheyenne and Jake I was enlightened to the value of our visit to these kids. The delight in their faces proved that giving is more than meeting physical needs.
When we walked into each classroom the kids all stood up in unison and said very politely, “good morning.” They sat down only after we asked them to have a seat. On one occasion we started talking to the class and had forgotten to tell them to sit down so they all stood and spoke to us without complaint until Dennis realized it. Each classroom full of children had a different personality. Most of them started out quietly asking questions of us but once they got going they were full of passion and interest.
We all had our fair share of very eager handshakes, signatures asked for, questions poised and found ourselves completely surrounded by children, but nothing like the attention that the girls Selah, Caiden and Cheyenne were given. Caiden got all of the cheek pinches, kisses and hugs. The kids at Crossroads English School are full of life. It shows in their eyes and in their passionate interest in us. They are amazingly affectionate with each other and total strangers. At one point I asked how to say “I love you” in Malayalam and they all looked at me and sincerely said, “I love you too.” I never learned how to say it in their language but I was blessed by the way that they let us directly into their hearts.
After several hours of visiting different classrooms we road the school bus home with many of the kids. I think that the bus was actually meant transport an tenth of the number of kids that crammed onto the bus with us. Every seat that would have normally had two American kids sitting on it had seven to ten kids. The aisle was packed and the questions were coming at us from every direction. They left no question unasked including how old am I, how many kids do I have, where I am from, what is my full name, what do I think of Kerala State, and so much more. They also shared details of their lives, pointed out their homes, their siblings, the sites in their town and their love for Michael Jackson (they wondered if I knew him before he died.)
At the end of the day we were all covered in sweat and dirt. We were bone tired but more than that we were energized from the depth of our hearts. Our church has been involved in the ministry for 35 years so I have watched the mission teams come home with their eyes lite up insisting that everyone should go at least once…I wasn’t convinced but I came here for my husband. Now India has changed me and I have been blessed more by the people here than I ever imagined possible.
Dennis and I bought the orphanage a refrigerator and they insisted that Dennis turned it on for the first time. The expense of the refrigerator was minor, but the impact that it makes in their ability to feed the children is immense. Coming here helped reveal their needs and showed us ways that we can help in ways that we never would have known before we arrived. I think that is true often in life that we just don’t know how to help someone unless we are present in their life for a bit listening and looking for needs that we can fulfill.
Exactly what all of us showing up meant to these kids I can only guess. They treated us all as if we were foreign royalty. They sang for us and asked us to sing for them, at which time we pushed Selah, Caiden and Cheyenne up front to sing for us all. We came bearing no gifts, we taught nothing today and yet the kids acted like we brought them the greatest gift they had ever received – our time and our attention. After today I will never wonder again what good I can serve by going on a mission trip just to show up.
The Silver Jubilee Celebration, JANUARY 5, 2010
This morning started out as a scramble. We woke up to a bus strike which completely changed our travel arrangements to the school. We had to leave an half hour early but then when we went to breakfast the buffet was running about a half hour late. For me being on time is being five minutes early and I haven’t adjusted to India time which appears to be somewhere between a half to a whole hour late it seems. I had it in my mind that we had to rush or miss the start of the Silver Jubilee Celebration but as it turns out we made it there on time and the event started late.
We all couldn’t fit in our substitute transportation so Matt, Jake and I rode with Zigi in his car. Navigating the streets of India is a completely different hair raising experience than doing so in a large bus. In the car you are face to face with the oncoming traffic that ooze out of the on-coming lane and into yours. It is like playing a game of chicken but as the passenger you have absolutely no control other than how tightly you grip onto anything within reach. I was surprised to see some buses on the road with the bus strike. It turns our the red buses, also known as the elephants, are government run and were not on strike. These buses are also affectionately known as the killers because they pay no regard to the laws. I completely understood where the name came from as one bared down on us with only seconds to spare as they dashed and we dashed out of our collision course.
I did learn several facts of interest about India and Kerala State on our trip to Crossroads English School. Kerala is the most literate state in all of India as well as the most densely populated. There are 1.2 billion people living in India…wow that is a lot of people and I think I saw them all on the road with us, honking their horns of course. The schools are attempting to change the way people drive in India by educating this generation on the dangers of many of the driving habits in India. For instance they have a sign up where the motorcycles park that says “two wheels for two people only.” I know to you and me that sounds logical but entire families ride on one motorcycle together. The man wears a helmet. The woman sits on the very back and then two or three kids sit in between them, sometimes infants are being held by the mother as they navigate this insane traffic. I hold my breath every time I see family go by.
The Silver Jubilee Celebration was to mark the end of the 25th year of Crossroads English School. Last year when Keegan and Dennis where here they had a celebration to kick off the year. The celebration today had about 2000 people in attendance, however, it is estimated that another 1000 were unable to make it due to the bus strike. The school answering machine was filled with voice mails from people who planned on attending but could not make it without the buses running.
Our group sat on stage with the politicians and dignitaries during much of the ceremony. Many of the teachers and staff from Crossroads English School were honored. All of the politicians got up an spoke in Malayalam, each of the Americans in our party were introduced and given flowers and Pastor Tom spoke about the school that started 25 years ago with 35 students that now has over 2000 students. Dennis announced and opened the brand new Crossroads English School Magazine. I announced the establishment of a multi-year student scholarship fund.
There were many ceremonies and announcements but the ones I found the most moving were by John and Ryan Burgess with the unveiling of the Esther Burgess Music Hall. Ryan (age 8) played Amazing Grace on his violin, which was the song Esther’s family and friends were singing to her as she passed away in February. Esther lost her beautiful singing voice to cancer in 2004 and passed away in 2009. John told the students to carry on her music for her in the new hall in her honor. He talked about how cancer took her voice and then her ability to play the piano but that through these kids her music will continue.
When the ceremonies ended the kids from the school sang and danced for us. It was an amazing show full of color, life, animation and history. Their dances told stories. We didn’t always know the history behind the dance and we never understood the words to the songs but even without translation their program spoke of tradition and culture. We loved every minute of it.
After the Jubilee was over we met with many of the ministers and families of the churches that have grown out of John Gabriel’s ministry. It was amazing to hear some of their stories and then spend some time visiting with them afterwards. Everyone is so genuinely interested in talking with us and grateful for our visit.
We ended the day with a shopping trip in Kottayam. I gave up on my ill planned wardrobe and decided when in India dress as the Indians do. I’ve been melting in my American clothes…look for all future photos from India of me to be in a Sarwar.
Crossroads English School Carnival, JANUARY 7, 2010
Each night as I sit down to recount the day I find myself getting progressively more tired. Our days are packed full and I am beginning to think we are going to need some stay-cation (vacation at home) time when we return to America to rest up before returning to our world. During the day all the weariness is replaced with pure joy and today was no different.
We spent the day at the Carnival at Crossroads English School. It was the first time that they have ever held a Carnival. The morning kicked off as we followed the marching band to the courtyard in the middle of the school. The kids were all waiting patiently for the Carnival to begin. It was cool to watch all the ceremony that took place to kick off the event.
Dennis had gone to the bakery next to our hotel and bought what we estimated to be about 6000+ cookies. Two tables were quickly set up so that the kids could come through the lines and get cookies, hand stamps and stickers. What happened next was controlled cookie chaos. Over two thousands kids stood in a line that zig zagged through the courtyard one grade level at a time. I was impressed with the how the teachers and staff quickly organized a system that worked quickly and efficently.
The teamwork on the handing out and giving side was pretty impressive too. Caiden, Cheyenne, Jake and Ryan joined the adults in handing out every last cookie, sticker and hand stamp. The heat was oppressive and the adults and kids alike were red faced and sweaty by the end. Selah had trouble with the heat during the early ceremony and had to sit this part out. She was so disappointed but after drinking lots of fluids and resting while she cooled down she came back out to join the event. Some of the older kids from Children’s Village Orphanage decided to step in and help too.
We spent many hours at the carnival just talking to the kids and taking pictures. Several of the girls stuck with me most of the day. I noticed a trend that I found fascinating. The kids would start off being polite and reserved. They very polity came up to shake my hand and said, “What is your name” and then progressively as one student dared to get more personal they all followed along. First their questions would become more personal and then they would open up more to my questions. The next step was for them to ask me to take their picture, which I did, and then they would want to see it. From there they started to ask me if they could take a picture of me and of course see it afterwards.
Then one little girl wanted to give me a kiss which then was followed by about sixty little kisses from other kids. Then one asked for a kiss from me…which was followed by about sixty kisses given. Once we were family then they wanted to share my water and quickly sip by sip 1 liter of water was shared by everyone. The cycle repeated itself with different degrees of familiarity with different groups.
I also cherished the opportunity to speak with some of the teachers and staff at both facilities. I learned so much about family, tradition and the lives of many women in India (but that is another blog post altogether.) We spent time with the school children and the children from the Children’s Village.
We toured the orphanage. The kids opened up their homes and their hearts to us. They gave us handmade cards and even gave us some of their personal items as gifts. For instance, Caiden was given a bracelet, a balloon, a handmade flower and lots of cards. The kids delighted in showing us their home, giving us gifts and posing for pictures. The stories of the orphans lives were all at once heartbreaking and miraculous.
The relationships that are growing from this mission trip are precious. There were four girls that stayed with me during much of the Carnival. They asked me if I would pray for them when I return to America and told me what they dreamed of becoming. Lima wants to be a doctor but when she was younger she wanted to be the President of India. Reyona wants to be a teacher in America. Ansa wants to be a doctor in America. The ring leader of the group was Soumia and she wants to become a teacher at Crossroads Christian School in Portland, Oregon. The girls also promised to pray for our school in America.
We are all looking forward to spending as much time as possible with the kids at both the school and the orphanage. Each night I am exhausted but find my energy level overflowing when I’m with the kids.
The Backwaters of Alleepy, JANUARY 7, 2010
Our travels today were different In a thousands ways than the gray depressing streets of Delhi. We went by boat down the backwaters of Alleepy. The river was rich with life and community. As we traveled down the river early in the morning we watched the people living along the river in their morning routines. We saw people bathing, fishing, doing laundry, traveling and swimming. We passed several boat bus stops where school children were waiting to go to school as well as public transportation boat bus stops filled with workers waiting for a lift. The river was teaming with life and activity.
We left the river and crossed a very large lake. It was still early enough that the morning fog hadn’t fully lifted leaving the lake to mirror the pale gray sky. As the temperature rose so did the gray skies leaving a perfect image of blue on blue with a heavy dose of green all around. The land was lush and coconut trees grew in abundance along the river. In many places the river banks were dotted with homes and in others rice fields grew just feet from the river’s edge. The rice fields were the color of green that is only found where water and sun are abundant; they almost appeared to glow green just behind the homes and trees.
The lake was dotted with small boats. The boats pulled up to poles that could be seen scattered all over the lake. The man in the boat would vanish into the waters below him to swim down to gather the mussels that had attached themselves to a rope hanging from the pole. The mussels are eaten and then the shells are ground into what is called a white paint which is then used to paint outdoor stone fences.
The boat ride to Alleepy was breathe taking. We then arrived at port and several members of the local church helped transport our team to their church. The church was colorful and charming. Lunch was being cooked in the outdoor kitchen when we arrived. The members of the local church were warm and inviting. It was a very special treat to witness them worship in their native language. We didn’t know what the words said but their passion was universal. In India the women sit on one side of the church and the men sit on the other. The women cover their head when praying and worshiping. The service was a treat to the sense as I had a sea of color in front of me, beautiful foreign yet familiar songs being song and the aroma of spices simmering just a few feet away.
After service I had a chance to speak to a few of the women who spoke varying degrees of English. I have discovered that asking, “What is your name” with an outstretched hand is understood by even those who don’t speak English. Sometimes the conversation was able to be carried beyond that and other times an exchange of smiles spoke for us. The people of India smile not only with their lips but with their eyes and the gentle manor in which they bounce their heads in response. Everything about their mannerisms is inviting and endearing.
Lunch was served to the entire church and a milder version had been prepared for our lunches. The food was amazing and Lynn brought us a sample of one of the spicy dishes being served to the Indian people – it was amazing. Everything we ate was a treat. We haven’t had a bad meal in India yet, but this one was extraordinary. We also were served pineapple, mandarins or tangerines and green and yellow bananas. We left with full tummies and hearts.
On our boat ride back to our bus the driver took us on a scenic route back (as if the way their wasn’t amazing enough.) Along the river he pulled over to a stand that was cutting open the coconuts and serving them fresh to drink and eat. With each passing hour in India the heat and humidity seems to raise significantly. The wind created by our movement across the lake was refreshing. The trip back was very relaxing filled with incredible conversations with the John Gabriel, Zigi, Liz, Abey, Lynn and each other. Many conversations were paused for photo opportunities as each mile along the river revealed new and amazing sights. A highlight was when we passed the rice boats bringing their harvest down the river.
Everything about today was a treat from the relaxed paces, the unique sights, the fervent prayers of the church, the easy conversation between our group and the team we came to support, to the sounds of our children playing joyfully together and the peace of knowing that we will return again to build upon these friendships many times over the years.
The Wedding of Benoy and Lini, JANUARY 14, 2010
On Monday the India Mission group had the incredible honor of attending the wedding of Benoy Thampi and Lini Babu. The wedding was set to start at 11 a.m. so some of the ladies and I wandered up to the church to get seats at 10:50 a.m. since we wanted to get good seats. When we arrived the choir was practicing, the flower girls were having last minute preparations done and all of the chairs were empty. We had heard that there would be over 1000 people coming to celebrate this wedding, so we were confused. Our education in India wedding edict began from this point forward.
Our friends Lynn and Liz insisted that we sit in the front row so that we would get a good view of the wedding. We argued that the front row should be saved for family, but quickly lost the debate. In India tradition the women sat on one side of the church and the men sat on the other side. When Lini’s mother and sister showed up and sat down behind us we attempted again to give up our seats, to no avail.
With our front row seats we enjoyed the ceremony. The majority of the wedding was done in Malayalam so we couldn’t understand a word other than when Pastor Tom came up to give the vows with John Gabriel translating. Honestly the language barrier didn’t matter much; we were mesmerized by the entire wedding. There were many similarities and just as many different customs throughout the wedding.
What struck me was the expression on their faces. Caiden put it in words best when she whispered to me, “Why do the people getting married look bored?” I chucked and told her that they were not bored but they did look very serious. At the end of the wedding we found out that in India they take marriage very seriously and if they had been smiling people would have assumed that they were not paying attention. For them it was a serious affair and the wedding ceremony is not meant to be taken lightly.
The other difference we noticed again was pointed out by Caiden when she whispered, “When are they going to kiss?” as the bride and groom were making their way back down the aisle to the exit. I had to laugh out loud because it was so cute to hear the view point of an 8 year old. I knew the answer to this one. In India men and women do not show public affection, even if they are married. Benoy and Lini never touched other than when their hands were placed momentarily into what looked like an extended handshake.
When we left the church and headed towards the food hall we found all the people who were expected to attend the wedding. The 25 people who were there at the start of the ceremony had multiplied into hundreds, if not the entire 1000 by the time we reached the food. The food was served with amazing proficiency. Benoy and Lini arrived at the hall to kick off the ceremonies with the cutting of the cake and to eat the first meal. Lini had changed into a beautiful red sari. We learned that the husband chooses the first dress that his wife wears after the wedding ceremony. Smiles came easy from this point on.
When the wedding was over we made our way down to where we were scheduled to be picked up. My head started spinning and I was feeling weak. The heat had been oppressive so I downed some water in an attempt to recover. Within moments things went downhill. I left my wedding lunch along the side of the road between Pompady and Kottayam. A few hours later Caiden joined me, which confirmed that it was the chicken that was making me sick. I had tasted her chicken to make sure it wasn’t too spicy and now both of us were sick and sat out the rest of the groups plans for the day.
Praying My Way Down the Roads of India to Church, JANUARY 15, 2010
On Sunday we were guests of honor at a growing church in India. I arrived in the perfect state of mind to praise God in any language. I had made the half hour drive through the chaotic streets of Kottayam and surrounding towns in the front seat of a car. There is nothing like praying your way down the road in India to put you in the mood for praising. I attempted to capture the insanity of the roads on my camera as we crossed back and forth over the center line with apparently no regard for on-coming traffic.
The road we were travelling on had one lane going in each direction but I think that is just a suggestion in India. We weaved in and out of the 2 to 3 lanes that had been created out of the single lane in each direction. There were buses, trucks, cars, animals, people, rickshaws and bicycles going at varying speeds which caused us to accelerate, slow down, play chicken with on-coming traffic, slam on brakes, honk our horn and zip down the road as if we were the only car on it.
We arrived at the church late, but according to Indian time we were completely on time. As the guests of honor they had set up chairs behind the alter facing the crowd. The praise music was beautiful. I have no idea what they were singing but their visible passion and worship drew us into the music. I sat facing the men’s section of the church which gave me a broader view of the women’s side. Their colorful sarwar’s and sari’s stood out in contrast to the white walls and thatched carpet. The colors, music and sincerity of praises were breath-taking.
We were all asked to give our testimony in place of a sermon. Seven from our group had gone to a more remote area of India over the weekend, which left thirteen of us in Kottayam for the weekend. Once you have travelled with people to the absolutely opposite side of the world you think you really know them, but listening to everyone’s testimony revealed that we had only scratched the surface.
After church we prayed our way back to our hotel as we seemed to challenge most every truck or bus to a new game of chicken. We discovered even more amazing new foods at the buffet served at our hotel. I discovered a whole new depth of hot, salty spicy food. There was a dried pepper that for some reason called out my name from the buffet table. I had never seen anything like it served any place in the world. It was so hot that my tongue and lips went numb….so numb I could have had dental work done. If ever technology comes to an end and can’t have dental work done with Novocain come see me because I can point you towards this pepper. Amazingly with my numb tongue I convinced my friend Jake (13 years old) to eat one too! I needed someone to understand how extreme this pepper, both Jake and I agree that we will never eat that particular pepper again for the rest of our lives.
I spent the rest of my day getting my second of three Ayurvedic treatments. I spent the majority of that treatment trying to convince myself to come back for the third one. Before treatment number two my opinion of Ayurvedic medicine was on the fence, during and after it I was firmly convinced that I was done with this experiment. The day of the third treatment I talked myself into completely the series and toughing it out. I promise I will cover Ayurveda medicine and my experience in an upcoming blog. All I will say of the second treatment is that I needed Essential Wholesale Muscle Jelly from head to toe that night in order to sleep through my discomfort.
Perfume, Goodbyes & Traveling Smelling Ayurvedic, JANUARY 16, 2010
Every day in India was packed full of activity, and our final day was no exception. We were planning to go by bus to Cochin at 10 p.m. on our final day since our plane was scheduled to leave at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday. In retrospect it would have been wise to take a nap instead of filling every moment, but sleep is overrated.
I had food poisoning the night before so I started out the day slowly but once things started going I felt just fine. We got to Crossroads English School early enough to watch the morning assembly. The assembly is held in the courtyard in the middle of the school. All of the kids quietly line up by class in perfectly straight lines. Announcements are made, songs are sung and then they just as quietly file back into their classrooms. It was an impressive show of self discipline on the kid’s parts and order.
I was scheduled to teach a perfuming class to the girls who signed up for it while John Burgess taught a safety class. My objective was to teach the kids how to use their amazing natural resources that are abundant in India. The subject of perfuming is pretty broad but I tried to narrow it down to the basics of blending and a bit about how the chemistry of the human body interacts with perfume. We used Sandalwood, Rose Otto and Jasmine that I purchased there in India at a local store. We also used a vanilla bean which I cut open and we extracted immediately for the aroma.
I wanted to use Vodka for the perfume since I knew I needed to get a quick extraction of the vanilla bean for aroma. Over the weekend I went to the local liquor store to buy the vodka and brought a couple of gal friends along. We noticed that there were only men lined up at the liquor store (more of an inside/outside counter) and it had a long line. We decided to run another errand first and come back to see if the line was shorter. On our way back there was no line so we bellied up to the counter and I asked for a bottle of vodka. The man took a step back towards the shelf, turned back to me and shook his head “no”. A few men had joined us in the line and I told him I just needed a small bottle of vodka and pointed to where they were on the shelf. He said, “No” and turned his attention to the men behind me. It was clear he wasn’t going to sell me the vodka, despite having plenty on the shelf.
Thankfully I ran into Abey when we got to the hotel and he made arrangements for me to buy the vodka through our hotel. Later that night we asked our waiter if women could buy alcohol in India. He told us that in Kerala State (where we were) that a woman would have a hard time buying alcohol, not because it was illegal, but because it was a matter of pride for men. I think the guy at the liquor store saw the other men get in line behind me and that is what made him stop in his tracks and tell me no.
Back to my perfume class…since it was very warm out my vanilla aroma was very quick to get started. I had the girls smell each of our raw materials and then started to blend. I had made a perfume a few days prior with the kids at The Children’s School Orphanage with the same supplies. What I love about blending essential oils is that you can use the very same set of supplies twice and get completely different results depending on the percentage of each the oils used. Our perfume turned our very exotic with an earthy note from the vanilla bean and jasmine as the dominate aroma. The rose and sandalwood played a nice role as well.
Many of the kids had vanilla growing in their yards and wanted to know how to just make a vanilla perfume. Can you imagine having vanilla growing in your backyard? I promised them that when I returned I would bring more supplies and teach more about perfuming. I left the supplies so they could experiment more. I found out later that the girls from the class decided to bring in spices from their backyards to extract see what other aromas they could add to their collection.
Dennis and I did our last minute shopping and then I took a rickshaw back to the Ayurvedic Hospital for my third and final treatment. Ayurvedic oils smell very herbal and medicinal. I tried to convince my therapist that I didn’t need any oil poured in my hair since I was going to be traveling for many hours. She went and got the doctor who insisted that indeed I did need oils poured into my hair. I decided to be obedient and give in. So a few hours later I left the Ayurvedic Hospital smelly and oily. I went back to the hotel and washed and washed and washed in an attempt to not travel smelly. As it turns out those Ayurvedic oils just absorb right into your hair and skin and no attempt to remove the odor has any chance of being successful. Just ask those that traveled with me, I smelled, and not like aromatherapy.
It was hard to say goodbye to our friends in India. It seemed like we had been there a long time just from the depth of the friendships we had formed. Lots of hugs and pictures and goodbyes were said and then we piled into our buses (and I mean piled literally with lots of luggage) and headed to Cochin. Abey, Liz and little Esther accompanied us to the airport to say goodbye there. When Liz gave me her final hug, just before she turned away, she said, “You smell Ayurvedic,” and smiled with a final squeeze.
Our trip home was long. It started out with our very first flight delayed. We got to Dubai late but they had held the plane for us. There were 25 people that were scheduled to make that connecting flight and we were the majority of those people. The security traveling was very tight. I lost most of my batteries in Cochin to security and then the rest of them in Dubai. I never knew you couldn’t fly with extra batteries. Maybe it was because I smelled…who knows. In keeping with leaving something in every airport I flew through I lost one of my spices in San Francisco to the USDA, but that made sense since they showed me a little weed seed that had hitched a ride with my cumin seeds.
We made it home safe and sound, but changed by our experience. I didn’t imagine that I would fall in love with India before I left. I went because it was important to Dennis and I’ll go back because it is important to us.
India Mission Trip 2011, OCTOBER 12, 2011
India Mission Trip 2011 was a whirlwind experience. We left Portland, Oregon on the morning of October 29th and arrived in India in the wee hours of October 1st. The first impression of India always hits me as I exit the plane into humid, oppressive heat mixed with the smoke of burning garbage. For an instant I wonder, why am I here? In the next instant I see the faces of the Indian people and my heart is filled, I remember why I am here.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday
We were in India during a holiday week and a heat wave with record heat. During a heat wave in India it actually can get hotter than I remembered being in my life. The local newscasters were telling people to stay indoors and do nothing if possible. We didn’t come to India to do nothing so we braved the heat – it slowed us down, but it didn’t stop us.
We were jet lagged when we arrived, but we have a very full schedule ahead, so we squeezed in a trip to the local Ayruvedic Clinic on day one. If you have ever had an Ayruvedic treatment in India you know what I’m talking about. I brought three people with me for their first ever treatment.
Our host giggled and asked me if the others knew what they had to wear for the treatment – I promised her that I had already given them a detailed description of the lack of modesty required and they still came along. She blushed and translated for us. Next stop was a nap that extended until we dragged ourselves out of bed just long enough to eat dinner and go back to bed.
The transition is rough on the body, but by morning we were all up and ready to go. We loaded onto a bus and headed to Angel Valley Church. It turns out the church isn’t in a valley at all. We climbed up and around through green lush hills. We were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I wondered how the bus driver knew how to find his way, just in time to discover that we were lost. The entire bus ride was one big four wheeling experience – even on the big roads.
The trip was breathtaking – both out of beauty and the white knuckle experience of driving head on in blind uphill curves into traffic going the opposite direction. I have traveled in many countries, but none are quite as frightening as the roads of India. They waited for us to start the church service.
I couldn’t understand a word of worship and praise but my heart sang Amen along with them. The entire church welcomed us with open arms. The kids were mesmerized by us and the feeling was mutual. We mixed and mingled with the kids and women. Everyone felt an overwhelming desire to reach out to and touch Caiden’s cheeks. She blushed but never stopped the invasion of the cheek pinchers. A group of women pulled her close and through broken English and gestures they told me that they wanted to keep her.
They fed us a generous meal and then some of the men took us for a ride down the river on their boat. Some of the local girls held our hands and led us to the river. They glowed with excitement. One of the girls reached up and kissed me on the cheek — only to discover that I don’t sweat gracefully. I sat on the boat between Selah and Caiden. Selah dug her fingers into my arm at varying depths depending on the sway of the boat. Caiden was oblivious to the sway and often the cause of it. It was overall an amazing experience.
Dennis and I took a side trip into town to try to gather as many local supplies as we could find. I taught kids from Crossroads English School and The Children’s Village Orphanage, as well as teachers and adults from the community how to make Melt and Pour soap from scratch, lip balms, lip stick, ointments of all types, bug spray and so much more. We had 6 teaching sessions over 5 days.
I had some extra time when I arrived so I wandered around the school. I popped my head into a class where Duane Bigoni had just finished talking about 9/11. I shared my experience with the kids as well.
On my last trip to India I taught how to make perfume. As just a side note I ended up teaching them how to make a sanitizing cleaner. It turns out they won awards at the science fair with that little side note class. You just never know what is going to be helpful so I try to cram in as much information as possible while I am with everyone.
The chemical store shopping trip was fascinating. I tried to capture the chaos of the stores in photographs for you.
I had brought beeswax, essential oils and iron oxides with me so that I had something to get started with if we had troubles finding supplies. I am so glad that I did because I ended up using those along with palm oil and virgin coconut oil that they had in the kitchen for the first day of teaching. I explained to the kids that when I work with coconut and palm oil in America it is solid, but because of the heat in India it is liquid. They were stunned because they have never seen either oil turn solid.
I love teaching children how to make products. They are such eager learners. I especially love teaching in India where I know that they can use what I teach them to earn extra income and use the vast resources of India to support their families.
Selah and I ended the school day at Crossroads English School by walking with the Children’s Village Orphanage kids back to their home. The kids made this video to say hi to everyone in America.
Caiden and my mother-in-law Fran rode on the school buses to take the other kids home. That is an experience in-and-of-itself. I wrote about it when I went last year here.
I taught more classes and loved every moment of it. Our host, the Gabriel family had us all over for dinner. There is nothing better than pineapple freshly cut from local trees. We enjoyed friendship, laughter and stories. Afterwards Dennis and Abey drove back to the airport (2-3 hour trip) to pick up Clay and Renee Crosse.
I woke up early to prepare the Bible study I planned to teach on Thursday and Friday. We had been so busy that I didn’t have much time to get organized. In the past they had used this kit to make soap. They were my only my fourth crowd that I taught this the technique for making Melt and Pour Soap from Scratch in person.
I taught a class on making soap for several hours. It was really fun and exciting, even for me. The heat and humidity, along with having an extremely effective heat source really changed the pace of our soap experience. Every reaction happened really fast and I was thrilled to see it all work out despite the changed conditions. Really proves that the recipes in my book, How to Make Melt and Pour Soap from Scratch really are no fail recipes.
While we waited for the soap to cure I taught them how to extract materials that were abundant in India. We used fresh Neem right from the trees. The girls taught the younger kids at the orphanage how to make bracelets with string. Selah and Caiden had made 50 bracelets to give them as well. My mother-in-law Fran joined us in India. She loved every minute of it. She is a nurse and spent time with the students teaching them important women’s health information.
After a great morning of teaching we all took a boat ride down the backwaters of Alleepy. It was our second time taking this trip. But what made it fresh and exciting was having new friends with us and deeper relationships with our friends in India too.
It is so exciting to do new things with people who have never done them before. The trip to Veegaland in Cochin with the kids from the Children’s Village was that kind of experience on steroids. The kids are so expressive and their eyes light up with excitement from the littlest things. Imagine the delight of watching 47 kids go to an amusement park for the very first time. My heart will smile from the experience for the rest of my life.
The kids were dancing in the aisles of the bus on our way there – they were thrilled to have Renee Crosse join them in the party.
I didn’t take many pictures because cameras were forbidden in the water portion of the park. No one wore swimsuits, but wet clothes are too indecent to allow photography in India. We really had an amazing time. I think my favorite part was dancing in the waterfalls with strangers and the kids. I smuggled in my water camera and got this video as the water started to fall on us.
We even danced in a Rain Disco. Everyone squeezed every ounce out of the day possible – we were so tired that no one danced on the bus ride home.
Family Camp started. The family camp included all the kids from Crossroads English School, The Children’s Village and over 30 church plants from the John Gabriel Mission. Everyone was busy. Dennis, Rene Cross and I all taught separate Bible studies. I taught another class teaching everything I could think of making with the ingredients we had left and especially focusing on the ingredients available in India. Clay Crosse gave a concert as well as a Bible study. Selah & Caiden dance to I Can Only Imagine
Selah and Caiden danced to the song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me. The girls were a huge hit. Their dance was so popular that they were asked to come back on stage and do the whole dance again. We heard that the girls dance was the talk of town. Everyone was talking about girls flying through the air at Crossroads. The kids in India dance too, but they keep both feet on the ground. The kids in India thought that the girls had no bones after watching their flexibility. We were really proud of them. They worked hard to learn the dance in a short period of time, were both sick while dancing and the heat was amazingly oppressive. But they are performers and gladly danced three times at Family camp.
Our day was filled with Family Camp events. The heat was incredibly oppressive. We were all starting to drop like flies. Fran was extremely sick and back at the hotel. The girls were dragging and sick, but they danced again despite it all. There is no air conditioning anywhere on the Crossroads campus. Being there always reminds me that we don’t need fancy facilities or schools to do great things. I am so impressed with what the people of India do with what they have.
We were dragging by Sunday morning. Fran had recovered, but was staying back to rest. Selah and Caiden were really dragging, but we didn’t want to miss the church service. We made it through two songs in the heat before Caiden was too sick to stay in the heat. We headed to the church office to sit under a fan and let Caiden lay down. From there we could hear Clay Crosse singing in the church service and the kids worshipping upstairs in kid church. It was an amazing glimpse of the songs of praise lifted to the heavens in multiple languages around the world.
We left for the hotel for both the girls to rest in the air conditioning, but our hosts really wanted them checked out at the hospital to make sure they could make the trip home late that same night.
No trip to India is complete without a trip to the local hospital. Two of the women from Alaska who joined us were there already at the hospital. Caiden had a respiratory infection, so I was glad they insisted on the check-up.
It was time to say goodbye. At 11 pm we loaded into a bus for the two hour trip to the airport. We flew out in the wee morning hours and started the long journey home.
It took us one bus ride and three plane rides to reach home. Exhaustion mixed with elation is the best way to describe how we feel today. We are thrilled to be home, but even more we have grown in so many ways from our experience on our mission trip to India. Our hosts, the Gabriel family, call us Uncle Dennis and Auntie Kayla and truly we are family. We are separated by nationality and distance but we are truly family in the body of Christ and by a deep love for the people of India.