Saturday, February 23, 2013

Country Living...Indian Style!

There's nothing like waking up in the country, especially in another country!  The first sound always is the birds and the second sound is the rooster!!  I was hot.  Sometime in the night we had awakened, freezing, because we had left the air conditioning on.  The bedding here was very light...just a sheet over the mattress (no mattress pad) and just a sheet for a blanket.  But they had thoughtfully left a fleece throw at the foot of the bed.  When I awoke cold in the night, I remembered seeing the fleece and I reached down and felt for it in the dark, pulling the soft warmth around me and promptly falling back to sleep.  Then Jeff woke me and said he was freezing.  I covered him with the blanket and reached for the beautiful wool pashmina shawl I had received as a gift the night before and used that for a blanket, again falling right back to sleep.  Then with the early light of morning filtering through the curtains and the birds and roosters singing their wake-up songs, I realized I was cooking hot.  The air conditioner was off and so was the fan.  I got up and searched for the air conditioning remote control.  On, off, on, off.  Nothing worked.  I tried the wall switches.  Nothing worked, not even the overhead light.  Then I vaguely remembered something being said about only having power for only certain hours of the day.  So, the power was off.  Oh, well.  The dim light was enough for me to gather my clothes and toiletries and head for the bathroom, which was even darker.  I turned the faucet on in the tub and waited for it to warm up.  It didn't.  I vaguely remembered something being said about a bucket of hot water when we wanted to wash.  So, there was no hot water.  Oh, well.  I gritted my teeth and splashed cold water on my feet first, then my face, arms and legs.  I leaned over and wet my hair, shivering as I lathered, then rinsed.  Finally, I did what I was dreading most...ran the cold water down my back.  Okay!  I was absolutely wide awake and I wasn't hot any more!  I quickly dressed and then went back to the bedroom and opened the curtains and the wooden shutters and let the morning breeze cool the hot room while I unpacked and got settled.  Then it was Jeff's turn to discover there was no power and no hot water!  We went downstairs for breakfast, curious to see what a real Indian family eats.  We had spicy rice, fried "doughnuts" that were savory instead of sweet and studded with caraway seed, omelettes, which were eggs with onion and spices mixed and spread thin in the pan like crepe batter and then fried, boiled potatoes, bananas, oranges and grapes, and "milk tea."  We were served, so the portions were huge.  I was stuffed!  Then Jaya took me to her garden while the men visited around the table.  In her backyard, just outside the kitchen door, she had banana trees, grape vines, squash and herbs and many things I didn't know the names of them a "drumstick" tree, which grew long, thin "sticks" off its branches that were cooked and eaten like vegetables.  In her front yard, she had all kinds of fruit trees---lemons, mangoes, and pomegranate among the more exotic varieties!  Around the borders of her yard and driveway were gorgeous roses and other flowers.  I remembered back to when they had visited us in Canada and Jaya kept exclaiming how beautiful Jasper was with flowers growing everywhere...even on the light posts.  She was so inspired that she took home some packages of seeds.  She said to us, "One day I will plant these at Faith City.  I want Faith City to be full of flowers and very beautiful."  I looked around at all the fragrant trees and flowers and the beauty of her handiwork and told her she had made her dream come true!

The men came out to join us and then Dr. Sam took us for a tour of Faith City.  We began at the dormitories, which housed the male Bible College students as well as male boarding students for the "English Medium School" (preschool, elementary, junior high and high school).  The layout was the same as the dormitories at Portland Bible College where Jeff and I both attended and 3 of our 4 kids have attended as well.  We remarked that the Bethesda Dormitory at Faith City was in better condition than the dorms at PBC!!  There was no school for the next three days because of the conference that was taking place, but all the students were still required to study quietly in their rooms.  Each room we visited contained about 10 bunk beds and 10 boys, all sitting on their beds with their books on their laps, busily doing homework.  Such discipline and diligence!  From there we crossed over to the Bible College and toured the offices, empty classrooms, and beautiful library, and then saw the preparations for the conference that were being made.  The very large upper room of the college building was laid out with mattress after mattress, ready for the many pastors who would be arriving all day that day.  This room was to be their shared dorm room.  Downstairs we also toured the dining hall and kitchen and storage rooms where mountains of bagged rice, milk, eggs and vegetables were piled and huge kettles were stacked, waiting to be used to prepare meals for the pastors attending the conference.  Outside were many piles of fire wood...all the cooking would be done over a big fire.  The students were busy at work...sweeping, stacking wood, weeding, and setting up the canopy and chairs, which would become the outdoor dining hall.  Again, we marveled at the hard work and organization as everything was put in order.  From the college, we crossed over to the orphanage.  Here it was study time as well, because school had been cancelled.  The orphanage of course housed the orphans, but it was also the dorms for the female Bible College and boarding school students.  The kids were thrilled to see us.  They shyly showed us their rooms and gladly lined up in neat rows for a picture.  But the happiest time of all was when they were allowed to greet us.  Then they broke rank and broke into smiles and were all hands reaching out to touch me.  I squeezed their little hands and gave them hugs, and they gathered around me like bees.  Then it was time for them to get back to their studies, and we moved on to the English Medium School.  This is a fully-accredited school open to the public by tuition.  Students who live far away can board, and students from the nearby village walk every day.  The large courtyard in the middle of the building was where the conference would be held, so there was a flurry of activity there as the large canopy was being set up and chairs were being placed.  The school was neat and tidy and contained a small library, a small computer lab and even a small chemistry lab.  The school is special because it is a Christian school.  The Hindu children from the village who attend not only receive top-quality education in English (far superior to the one-room Hindu school in the village), but they also receive the gospel, complete with chapel times, worship and scripture.  It is a powerful outreach tool into the village.  And in order to build a good working relationship with the people in the village, one of the first things Dr. Sam did was supply the village with a bore-well and pump, so the villagers would have access to clean water.  They are praying to reach more families in the village, and the school is a great way to do that in a culture that so highly prizes education.  Dr. Sam took us up on the roof of the school and showed us the land to the north, east, south and west of the Faith City compound.  There was a big chicken farm to our left...they want to one day purchase that, first to expand and second to eliminate the odor!  Next to the chicken farm were brick factories.  These are even a greater nuiscance to Faith City, as they churn out thick black smoke all day, every day.  They are praying these factories will move.  To our right was the village.  Faith City stands out like a jewel...a place of beauty and order.  Such care has gone into the building of this place.  It is truly a natural example of the spiritual transformation of the Lord's touch...something raw and uncultivated changed into something fruitful and beautiful!

By the time we finished our tour, the sun was directly overhead and it was hot!  We made our way back to the house for cold water and another huge meal.  We discussed power and water issues again, now that I was fully awake and paying attention!  There was no power from the hours of 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., and for hot water we were simply to come to the kitchen in the morning and take up a bucketful to our bathroom.

After lunch it was ministry time...and a busy three days it would be.  First was the alumni meeting with all the Bible School students for the past 10 years gathering for fellowship, to share reports on their work in their various regions, take tea together, and have a special service just for them before the official conference began.  Tea time was a quick break before the conference officially started, and then we had service after service with breaks only to eat and sleep.  Again, the Indian discipline and hunger amazed me.  At our conferences back home, everyone wants their free time to go shopping or sight-seeing.  Here, they just want to learn...stocking up all the good things they could to take back to their home churches and ministries.  It was a privilege to minister to them, and easy too, because of their receptivity and eagerness to hear the Word.  I loved preaching to them!  What wonderful, kind, and loving people they full of respect and humility.  They treated us like royalty.  But as the conference continued, we got to know each other.  Jeff and I were so happy to talk to them and hear their stories.  We were honored to pray for and women who had literally sacrificed all for the sake of the gospel.  I noticed that the first day we were together, I was greeted with a handshake, a warm smile, and little bows of respect.  The next day the women greeted me with hugs and were much more talkative.  And the third day, I was mauled!  I was kissed and squeezed and patted and pinched (gently!).  I always thought Indians were conservative and not very affectionate, but I was wrong!  They are very loving and affectionate, and I truly enjoyed every moment with them! 

That day was also fun in a different way.  Our good friends from Canada for many, many years (25 years for me and for Jeff, his whole life) were also guests at the conference.  Harold Steinbrenner has carried Faith City and the churches in Visag on his heart for the last 10 years, and he has funded the ministry most generously.  He and his daughter Tricia were here for the conference and Bible College graduation, and it was fun to share a few days together so very far from Edmonton!

That night after the late meeting, we went back to the house for another huge meal.  I noticed that day that my ankles were quite puffy.  Too much salt, too much sitting, too much heat, I guess.  Tricia's were also swollen, so we lamented together that we looked 9 months pregnant!  After dinner, we all said goodnight.  It was late, and everyone was tired.  Back in our room, we worked the system.  There would be power all night, but air conditioning full blast was much too cold.  So we turned on just the fan to continue circulating the already cooled-off air in the room and then at 4:20 when I awoke, I turned the A/C back on to cool the room for the morning.  Then I shut the bathroom door to keep it warm for bathing.  The reason I woke so early was because of the wedding next door.  Hindu weddings last days, and the music goes on and on and at exactly 4:23 a.m., loud Hindi music filled our room.  I actually liked it.  I felt like I was I was watching a documentary on India with the Hindi background music playing while the scenes of villages, mountains, and palm trees rolled across the screen...only I was in the documentary!  I fell asleep until 5:45 when I awoke itchy.  I knew I had a couple mosquito bites, but my legs were itchier than that.  I got out of bed and stood in front of the window so I could see better.  My ankles looked thinner...every morning I could see my ankle bones then by mid morning they would be fat again.  But it was my feet and calves that were the problem this time.  They were covered in bites.  Bed bugs!  Every night I had slept in my travel sheets, which act as a liner.  But yesterday they had changed the sheets, and when we went to bed my travel sheets were no longer there.  It was too late to do anything, as the laundry lady would have gone home hours ago, so I crawled in between the two sheets and my pashmina shawl and went to sleep.  In just one night of no sheet liner, I was covered with itchy, red bites!  So now I had blotchy red bites on my legs and fat ankles!!  Now I was glad we had to keep our legs covered and was glad for my leggings!  The wedding music was still going strong, and it made me think of my Zumba class back home, so I actually pulled out my resistance bands and did my morning work-out right in my cool, air-conditioned bedroom...and even coaxed Jeff into joining me!  Then at 6 the power went off.  Perfect!  Workout done and the room was cool.  I then went downstairs and asked for my bucket of hot water.  I shared a cup of "milk tea" with Jaya while we waited for the water to boil, and then I carried the bucket upstairs into the warm bathroom and took a bath Indian-style!  They don't use the tub or the hand-held shower sprayer.  They stand on the floor over the drain with a bucket and a pouring cup.  So when in Rome, do as the Romans!  I had a nice warm bucket bath, and it worked just fine!  Happy with our new system, I went downstairs for breakfast and right into Day 2 of the conference.

Funny story for the evening:  As we were getting ready to walk from the house over to the meeting area, Mercy (Pastor Jameson's wife) said to me, "Let me fix your hair.  You need to look like you are speaking to pastors."  Now believe-you-me, I had taken great pains in preparing for this trip!  I agonized over what to wear, wanting to be appropriate and modest yet cool and comfortable.  I knew they didn't show their legs or shoulders and didn't wear jewelry.  I knew they didn't wear make-up but did wear head coverings.  How was I to dress?  In the summer at home, our legs and arms are always bare.  We wear jewelry and make-up.  I looked and looked and looked for long dresses/skirts that were also brightly colored and cool.  There was nothing.  Anything that was long enough was black and heavy.  Anything light enough was short.  I finally ended up at joke.  I had remarked out loud to my daughter that I hadn't worn a long floral skirt down to my ankles since the early `90's, and that's when it occurred to me...Goodwill sells old clothes from the `90's!  So, the day before we left for our trip, I was at Goodwill, rummaging through the skirt section (found an old skirt I had donated...too funny!).  I finally found two that would do and paid $15 for them.  So that day of the conference I was wearing a lavender floral skirt that ruffled nicely down to my ankles and a lavender cotton blouse.  My curly hair was neatly clipped back.  I wore only light make-up (I do not have the beautiful dark skin the Indian girls do!).  No necklace or bracelets, just my wedding ring and a small pair of pearl earrings.  So when Mercy wanted to do my hair I was surprised.  But of course I graciously submitted!  She led me to Jaya's bedroom and stood me in front of the mirror.  Then she pulled the clip out of my hair and grabbed a comb.  "Uh-oh," I thought.  If any of you have curly hair, you will know that it is impossible to comb it.  I said to Tricia, who had followed us, "Go get my camera...this is going to be good."  Then I gritted my teeth and pretended not to feel a thing as Mercy drug that comb through my tangled curls.  She slicked back all my hair away from my face and pinned it behind me with a big barrette.  "Mercy," I said.  "It's not going to work.  All the hair around my face will start to curl in a few minutes and it'll look like this..." and I scrunched up my fingers and made curly motions all around my face.  "No problem," she said.  And she took bobby pins and little barrettes and clamped down the fly-away pieces of hair around my face.  Wow.  I did not look pretty.  Tricia was stifling her laughter behind me.  "Nothing on Facebook!" I hissed. "Promise me!"  As we walked out of the bedroom, I said to her, "Watch Jeff's face."  He took one look at me and said, "Wow, Hon."  His words didn't give him away, but his facial expression sure did!  Everyone laughed.  Then Mercy tucked her arm through mine and said, "Now you look like a preacher!" and off we went!

Early the next morning, Jeff and I decided to walk to the village.  I had been longing for two go walking and to see more of the countryside and village life.  We were let out through the gates of the compound and turned down the dirt road towards the village.  The little road was already quite busy with walkers, bicycles, auto-rickshaws and trucks, and we often had to step aside to let them pass.  There is no running water in the village, so people were outside in front of their houses with a bucket of water, brushing their teeth, shaving, and washing their faces.  The electricity was off for the day, so fires were going and breakfast was being cooked.  Chickens and dogs ran around as the kids played.  Women walked to the well, filled their vessels with water, and carried them home on their heads.  Men chatted at the tiny "store" or bathed at the public bath in the center of the village.  It was quite the lively place, and we were quite the spectacle.  I tried to be discreet in taking pictures...often not even aiming but keeping my camera down at my waist, pointing towards the direction I wanted and shooting, hoping that I'd capture a few good shots just at random.  People openly stared at us.  They watched us coming and continued to stare after we had passed.  It was a slow walk...too many "obstacles" on the roadside needing to be avoided and having to step aside for vehicles, plus we just kind of matched the pace of everyone else, which was definitely a saunter.  I think a power-walk would have been just too odd for that culture!  Dr. Sam told us later that Jeff and I were the first white people to visit that village!

Collecting water in the village
We returned home, picked up our bucket of hot water, and got ready for the day.  The conference ended at lunch time, as the afternoon and evening was given to the Bible College graduation ceremony.  We were surprised that we, too, would be wearing gowns and marching in the procession.  With great pomp and circumstance, we lined up in our places behind the flags and before the graduates and marched from the lane, up to the school, into the courtyard and up the center aisle.  It was a great service, full of worship, song, prayer, speeches, inspirational messages, commissioning and blessing...and pictures!  I think we spent a good hour after the service standing with the students and their families for pictures.  Then we exchanged Facebook and email addresses and hugged goodbye.  We had a long and leisurely dinner, as the end of the 3-day conference and graduation marked the end of ministry for everyone, except me who would be speaking to a woman's group the next day.  We ended the meal with a wonderful dessert of buttery, sugary, almost caramel-y squares that none of us could stop eating.  We all liked it so much that we were promised to go shopping for some the next day to take home with us.  Then it was goodbye to Jameson and Mercy and Harold and Tricia and off to bed.  When we got to our room, we realized it was only 9:00.  Usually we were just sitting down for dinner at 9, so we were wide awake.  I studied for my ladies message the next day and uploaded my numerous pictures and Jeff read for awhile and then went to sleep early.

Our last day in India dawned the brightest and hottest.  I was glad we had a gradual heat up, because it made it easier to adjust to the warm climate.  I had my early morning "milk tea" with Dr. Sam and Jaya and then took my hot water upstairs for my last Indian bath.  We spent the morning packing and then came down for a late breakfast of a unique wheat and banana dish that tasted a lot like banana bread.  Then of course, there was all the other accompaniments, like omelettes, porridge, oranges and grapes and more tea.  I was sure I was going home a good 5 pounds heavier (and probably 2 of those pounds were in my ankles alone!).  After breakfast, we toured the English Medium School, now back in session, and then joined together with Dr. Sam and Jaya in their prayer room, which was a whole room of their house completely dedicated to prayer.  It was beautiful.  I want one.  We all prayed for each other, sealing our time of ministry together and blessing each other as we continued the work of the Lord in our separate worlds.  Then we loaded the car and drove back to Visag where we had another huge meal at Jameson and Mercy's before I went upstairs to the church to speak to the ladies.

My goodness!  What a beautiful sight to behold!  I walked into the church and the women had already gathered for prayer and worship.  There were no men, just row after row after row of 300 women in gorgeous saris of every color.  It honestly looked like a flower garden!  No wonder they noticed that North Americans wear so much black.  It is such a contrast to the vivid hues worn here.  Such brightness and beauty!  I loved it.  I had a wonderful time speaking to the women, and afterward again I prayed many "prayers of blessing" over each one and then there were more pictures!  We went back downstairs to Mercy's house and had yet one more meal before gathering in prayer again to say goodbye.  Then we got in the car and headed into downtown Visag for some last-minute shopping before flying out...more spices, the sweets we had eaten the night before, beautiful silk scarves for my girls, wood carvings for my boys, and then finding places for everything in our luggage!  By now it was dark, and our trip was over.  They saw us off at the airport with many hugs and blessing and we boarded the plane and took off at 11 p.m.  We were both able to sleep a bit, but the flight to Singapore was only 4 hours, so we were off the plane at what felt like 3 a.m.  We had a 3-hour lay-over, so Jeff bought his first Starbucks coffee in a week and a half and I had a chai, not from Starbucks!  We walked the shops until it was time to check in to our gate and then, lo and behold, I spied a foot massager...and it was free!!  In total bliss, I slid my fat feet into the slots, leaned back, closed my eyes, felt the sun on my face through the big windows, sipped my chai and let the machine roll away 10 days of foot and leg abuse!  I think I was there for a good 30 minutes, until I felt perhaps someone else may need it as much as I!  From there, life was pretty uneventful.  We flew to Seoul, we flew to San Francisco....long, long hours in the air, some of it spent dozing uncomfortably, some of it spent studying for the next message we both had to prepare, some of it spent trying to watch a movie. (I say "try" because I started 4 movies and finished none of them...content and language was too bad.  It used to be they would clean up movies for the airlines; not so any more.  Rated R stay Rated R, only they don't display the rating so you don't know until you're into it and then...)  When we arrived at San Francisco, there was no room to land so we circled the city for 45 minutes.  This made me nervous because we only had a 2-hour lay-over and we had to clear customs along with the other 300 people on this international flight.  We booked it for customs as soon as we could break free of the people, but the line was still so long.  Then we had to collect our luggage.  There was so much luggage they had to move part of it over to another carousel, so Jeff and I split up so we could watch each one.  Finally, we had everything on the cart and rushed out of customs.  We were told by one official it was highly unlikely we'd make our flight and by another that if we ran like "heck" we could make it.  We decided to run like heck.  Just as we started to throw our luggage on the check-in belt, I noticed one suitcase was missing.  At the same time, the guys loading our luggage noticed we were at the wrong airline.  The girl at the door had waved us over this way and we had obeyed.  Wrong.  We were supposed to go to the opposite side of the airport...after we retrieved our missing suitcase, in customs, which was {forbidden} to re-enter.  So then I had to find an official to escort us back into customs.  We split up again and ran through the piles of luggage, scanning everything as quickly as we could for our missing suitcase.  Aha!  I spied it and grabbed it, and then we ran just like they do in the movies....oh, my, what an adventure!  I had planned to use our San Fran lay-over to change clothes and freshen up, but there wasn't a minute to spare.  So not only would we be arriving home in 2-day unwashed clothes and bodies, we were now adding sweat on top of it all as we huffed and puffed our way to the other end of the terminal.  When we got to security, we split up again.  I went straight through with my carry-on and Jeff went the other way to check our bags.  We were chancing it that if I got through I could convince them to hold the plane for Jeff.  But in our confusion, I grabbed the wrong carry-on (they are identical bags), which was the one holding our beautiful Swiss Army knife (an expensive one, too!  I had won it!).  Sure enough, I was pulled aside and my bag search, my knife confiscated and then I was let go to run some more.  By the time all that had taken place, Jeff was just minutes behind me.  Now I was almost certain we wouldn't make it, but I ran anyway.  I got to the gate as they were closing it.  Breathlessly, I told them my husband was right behind me.  The agent said they would hold the plane for exactly one minute.  They sent me through and called his name on the intercom.  I sat down in my seat with physical relief, but I anxiously scanned the doorway to see if Jeff would make it.  The flight attendants were closing the overhead compartments.  The motor roared to life.  "Oh, come on!  Come ON!" I willed Jeff in.  And then, there he was.  We weren't sitting together for this flight, but it didn't matter.  We made it!  And so our adventure ended...and I fell asleep and slept pretty much the entire flight, even though I hadn't planned to do that and didn't think I would.  But we both did, and then woke up to landing in cold, rainy Portland...but the rain stopped as we began our drive home.  I took a hot shower as soon as we got home and then spent the evening unpacking, doing laundry, and telling stories of all our wonderful adventures in the exotic land of of contrasts, people of dignity and desperation, place of beauty...forever in my heart.

The entrance to Faith City

Boys Dorm
Students in their room

Mattresses ready for the pastors to arrive

The Bible College at Faith City


Fire going, cooking big pots of rice

Our room

Love the windows

View from our bedroom

Indian bath
The driveway into Faith City

Beautiful vegetables ready for preparation

Rice pots!

Canopy going up!

Saying hello to the orphans

Dr. Sam and Jaya's house

I love the windows!

Banana grove

Faith City lit up at night...this is the view from
Dr. Sam and Jaya's roof, which is like a big patio

The chicken farm next door!

Pastors and wives lined up for lunch

Huge spice grinder...smelled wonderful!

Peeling mountains of potatoes

The kitchen

My "cankles"  (calf and ankles that are one,
in case you didn't know!)

The road to the village.  The fence on the left
belongs to faith city.  Each section has a
scripture verse printed on it.

Village scene

Grocery store in the village

Public baths

Village street

Village woman

Ready for graduation

Diplomas and gifts

Praying a blessing on the students

The women's meeting at Mercy's church

Store full of beautiful fabric

Sweet shop!

Blessing the babies!
 P.S.  I just have to add that of all my mission trips, this one was the most bug-free!  I never saw a cockroach or a spider the entire time I was there!

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