Are you ready for this short summary? It turned out a bit longer than I expected. Whoever has the fortitude to endure until the end earns my deep respect! :) Enjoy!
Due to circumstances beyond my control, only now do I find time to make a reappearance on the slippery stage of social networking. This reappearance is executed in cool climate of the southern states, more specifically North Carolina. Yes, we have returned home. To undertake a detailed account of the past few weeks would mean the eternal postponement of posting this blog entry.Not only do I find it incompatible with my skill, or lack there of, as a writer, but the task is of stupendous size and intricate complexity that I now appreciate the apology, proffered in the scriptures, not being able to write the hundredth part of what Jesus did. May I offer the same apology, for Jesus has been the teacher, guide, and father of this adventure, and to express all He has done in imperfect mortal words would positively be impossible. However, I will endeavor to point out some of the key events and happenings, beginning with our departure from Coimbatore.
As soon as Katie had boarded her plane and left us, we collected our senses, and with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and humility we made our way to Chennai, also known as Madras, roughly 8 hours bus ride from Coimbatore. There at the very beginning God took care of our needs, even in simply buying tickets to Chennai. This assistance came in the form of an old friend who found us some reasonable bus fares and we were off, after a wait of an hour or so. The general morale and excitement of our small group of five was vibrant, so much so that we hardly noticed the less than spectacular state of the bus. Not even the fact that I could in no way induce my seat to recline, no matter how vehemently I fought it, and an Indian movie was blaring deafeningly for the first couple of hours of the long ride, I still was sustained by happy and surprisingly optimistic anticipation of the future. Thus we arrived in Chennai on Tuesday morning.
When in Chennai, God quickly proved to us He was still in control and had a plan for us, though, of course, different from what we expected. After booking the cheapest expensive hotel we could find.Actually, it was just plain cheap, but we did not previously realize how expensive cheap hotels really are. Afterwards we felt like we should go to our local church. A common occurrence you will find in our traveling is that whenever we say that we took an auto rickshaw it usually means we got ripped off (at first there were times when we discovered we were paying two to three times more than was just and reasonable, but we learned rather quickly from those experiences). Back to the story, we took an auto rickshaw to the church and when we entered we were a little taken aback at the condition of the church building especially the walls which were smudged, blackened, and decorated by grimy hands, black rubber soles, and little mischievous children that had mistaken the walls for easels on which to develop the artistic inclinations. While there we met a member of our church, Suyash, who tried to help us find other lodging at some orphanage and or other charitable institutions in which we could also render our services, but nothing appeared. As we searched we became more and more focused on finding a place to stay than anything else. When he and his american wife, Cheryl, went out for a few minutes we realized we had our eyes fixed on the wrong horizon. We had been more worried about our personal comforts than God's work. It was decided then and there we would not worry about "where to lay [our heads]" but concentrate on serving, saying, and being where God wants us to be. When our friend Suyash had returned and we had thanked them for their help they unexpectedly offered their home for us to stay for a few nights until something else came up. We were shocked at the rapidity with which God took care our needs so soon after we had decided not to worry about it.Truly when we focus on doing God's work, He delights to take care of us. Suyash and his wife had to leave soon thereafter at which time we prepared our sumptuous raw meal of cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, and baked potatoes (at this church they had a real oven, the first that I have used in India), with a little olive oil and himalayan salt. It was delicious, and destined to be our most repeated meal in Chennai, and since we had wifi at the church and Suyash's house, hardly a day went by without skyping the family. Then right at the end of our first full fledged meal, the branch president, or leader of the members of the church here, showed up and had a private conference with us to determine the who, what, where, why, and how about us. We told him our intentions to serve, and he immediately told us of a place we could go just a couple hours outside Chennai. It seemed like an answer to prayer and thinking that this was it we went there next morning with all our luggage, baggage, and courage.
The 7th Star organization is a very small home for children, providing them a home so they can get an systematic education, food, clothing, shelter, love, etc. However, it did not take more than a few minutes conversation with the director that it became painfully apparent that he had nothing for us to do, not of his own accord but as a consequence of corruption and complications in the local government. For us to stay or come regularly would incite suspicion and invite catastrophe at hands of the local officials. They would demand that we volunteers register with the police, prove that we were not donating money, and pay them a bribe (standard procedure in Indian government). Realizing in ours heads and also in our hearts that this was not where God wanted us to be, we returned to the big city and contacted Suyash, taking him up on his offer to stay at his house. Whether it was that same evening or the next morning that we finally saw God's plan for us, I do not remember, but I do know that we all came to the conclusion that God wanted us to clean His house. That became our mission, with the dawn of Thanksgiving Day we commenced the monumental task of deep cleaning a three story building, which was our focus stopping only for Thanksgiving Dinner (instigated by Cheryl, with some other Americans, to which, of course, we had to bring our own food), the Sunday day of rest (on which day we took an evening stroll on the beach), and a couple hours visit to an 800 year old Hindu temple on Monday morning.By the time we left Chennai Monday night, the church as a whole may still not have been sparkling, but at least the walls were clean. We all were happy about that, and feeling like we had done what God wanted us to do, it was off to Bangalore!
Arguing and bargaining to buy just about any commodity is very commonplace in India especially for foreigners, since almost every Indian has the mistaken idea that every foreigner is absolutely loaded with more money than they know what to do with.For that reason, Monday night found us at the bus station pleading, leaving, returning, insisting, with the ticket salesmen, just to reduce the bus tickets to Bangalore to a reasonable price (usually about half the original price they demand). They obstinately held their price just out of what we thought an affordable range. During the confused struggle I realized that I did not have enough cash to pay for even the price we were fighting so hard to secure. Besides myself, no one, except Arjun, had money, and when he had emptied his pockets there we still found ourselves lacking, and there were no ATMs in sight. I thought to myself that if it is truly God's will that we go to Bangalore something would have to happen to get us there. Then the miracle happened when almost simultaneously they agreed to our price and Arjun found the few remaining rupees to pay the agreed amount. Coincidence? I faithfully doubt it! One thing that has been made abundantly clear to me is the concrete reality of a powerful merciful interceding providence. Daily, God displays His wisdom, love, and grace providing for our needs, teaching us important lessons with almost audible clarity, and opening or closing doors to lead us in the way he previously prepared for us. Thus in the hallow of God's hand we commenced the six hour journey to Bangalore, only to wake up half way through and discover that we were the privileged occupants of a commercial clunker, which was living up to its full potential, that is, leaving us on the side the road. In reality it was not all as bad as that, because they somehow provided, with miraculous rapidity (instead of the usual attempts at duplicating eternity), another bus to convey us to the desired location. This one was even an AC bus whereas the first had only a natural cooling system. If it was not evident before, it became unmistakably clear, that we were supposed to go to that crowded capital of the state of Karnataka, Bangalore.
Our stay there was definitely full of unanticipated lessons, miracles, mistakes, and revelations that we had not before considered. Of course Bangalore started with a bang. A warm overbearing reception by a self delegated committee of autorickshaw hawks greeted us as we stepped off the bus early Tuesday morning. Then, due to a lesson we learned in Chennai we, despite the two drivers' repeated suggestions that we let them find a hotel for us, went straight to the church, hoping to find our next step there as we had in Chennai. Apprehensively we entered the church daring not to look at the walls, but a general sigh of relief escaped all of us when we observed that not only were the walls clean but made of an imitation wood that conceals dirt and dents and is easily cleaned when necessary, not like the temperamental paint in Chennai that seemed to love and soak in unsightly marks and scars, almost preferring to peel itself off the wall, when we scrubbed it, than to relinquish its ignominy. Then, with than reassurance, we set our bags down and prepared to plan, and just as we were about to ask ourselves the beloved well worn question, "Okay, what do we do now?" we saw someone drive up to the church door on their motorcycle and alight as we made out way to greet him. Turns out that he was the branch president and he was curious, maybe even concerned, about why five strange young men, with too many bags, too little information, and just enough of everything necessary, would just show up at the church. To his inquiries we replied that we wanted to serve in any way possible. Immediately, to our surprise, he told us of a government school for slum children, with which he was affiliated, where we could offer our services, and if we wanted there was an empty house where we could stay as long as we wanted. Shocked at the swiftness of God's answer we agreed to check it out. We were pleased and encouraged by this singular event and proceeded, pretty confident that God was directing our steps. After lunch we introduced ourselves, with the branch president, at the school where they told us to come back in two days, since the next day was a holiday. The school was relatively clean with a large ground and cute children, from ages 5-15 (give or take a couple years due to my questionable powers of accurate age perception). It appeared to be a worth while project, and the vacant house was within easy walking distance. Looked like a perfect set up for us, at least something we could be absorbed in for a couple weeks at least. The empty house was exactly that, unenigmatically empty, but a little cleaning and then purchase of a few kitchen utensils and a couple of good old Indian floor mats served to cozy up the place a little. The only thing that remained unsolved was the questionably murky water that we had to shower with...oh well, that is what makes traveling so thrilling.Imagine if it was always comfortable, there would be no good stories to exaggerate. From then on it was from these comfortable headquarters that we conducted our affairs.
One of the biggest lessons we learned in Bangalore, among many others, was the purpose of our travels. Thinking our work was already cut out for us we decided then next day to go food shopping, visit a locality with free wifi wherewith to call the family, and basically spend the day for ourselves. That was our mistake. Needless to say it was a tortuously slow and rather frustrating day, which was the usual feeling when we were focused on the wrong objective. We did Skype with the family, and that was a boost. The next day we were told by the school to forget this week and come back next week on Monday. The rest of that day was spent contacting everyone we knew, half knew, were familiar with, heard about, and even random people we did not know. Strangely nothing worked out, the only thing that felt good was meeting and talking to a group of catholic young men, studying to become jesuit priests, who came to the church to play basketball at the church court. That was fun, but even they did not want help with learning English, which is uncommonly unusual for those studying this labyrinthine language. The rest of the week was spent more or less searching for some organization to help. Every time we focused on ourselves we felt terrible or some tragedy would befall us. An example was the time we when to an artificial snow gym. Basically a gigantic freezer kept at -5 degrees Celsius, with lots of dry snow. It was fun to show Mani and Arjun what snow is like, having only ever seen it on TV, and they enjoyed themselves. Mani even tried to make snowballs without gloves thinking it would not be that cold, but one or two balls was more than enough to convince him of is icy error. During the course of the activity their boots, not the best quality, were filling with snow causing their feet to go numb. So much so, that when it came time to take them off they were afraid that if they pulled too hard their feet would come with the boots. It was comical to watch especially when they used the hot air dryers, normally used to dry the feet, to thaw out the boot and foot together. They finally figured it all out and we were happy to go out into the warm sunshine once more. Now it became out turn to feel the heavy hand of misfortune, However, when we got an auto and he dropped us off, because we were busy bargaining for a good deal, we completely forgot our bag in his auto, paid him, and he had already been gone a good five to ten minutes before we realized our careless blunder. Losing the bag was not the problem, the house key and everyone's sweaters that were in the bag for safe keeping was a catastrophic loss. If it was not for unlocked window we would have had to break into the house and then repair it. As it was we already had to replace all the locks, not because there was not an extra key to the house, but because there was only one extra key, and copies cannot be made of these kinds of key and more than one key was necessary. So we bought new locks with multiple keys and placed them on the doors. Horrible is a horribly inadequate word in describing that day. Horribler is gooder! :) after reading that story listen figure put this one: during the week we kept having the thought that we should go to the Bangalore Palace, an old palace in which kings had lived but is now a museum. We would brush the thought away thinking our purpose here was something other than sightseeing. Finally, we went and though it was small and not much to look at, it was there that we met a good friend from Coimbatore and as we talked about different things I realized, and the others felt also, that our job on this trip was not to be volunteers at charitable organizations such as orphanages and schools since that never worked out, but to be missionaries of truth. We felt like we should be willing to go anywhere and focus on meeting and talking to people making friends and sharing the truth we knew about Jesus Christ, good nutrition, good government, and so forth. That was the difference between the snow gym and Bangalore Palace; at one we served ourselves by playing, at the palace we were intent on finding pit God's will and trying to serve and talk to people. It was an exciting revelation, when before we has struggled with disheartened confusion, we now felt enthusiasm, and at the same time we felt like it was time to move on. On to Delhi, though it was a few more days until we could find and book tickets to that destination.
Booking the tickets was also in itself a miracle. We had to go early in the morning, Mani and I alone, and stand in lines waiting half the time just for the ticket sellers just to come to the window and talk to us. We turned our application in, and it was rejected, we tried someone else's line, too slow and she did not seem very pleasant, convincing us to try a third person, who actually tried to help us by booking three tickets for us foreigners, because a special tourist quota or something. Moreover, she also told is how to get Mani and Arjun a ticket, which, about an hour or so later, we had purchased. We were so grateful and amazed again by the mercy and power of God, for we were now completely set to initiate the very next evening the 38 hour train ride to New Delhi.
Before continuing with our journey North, I must tell you of a couple life changing, faith enhancing decisions that we made in Bangalore. As I had said before we were having some cooperation struggles, and after a long discussion we felt like we should stop Skyping with the family because it seemed to draw us away from each other. It seemed like we would take our problems to our parents instead of learning to work them out among ourselves, by ourselves. This decision did help immensely to improve our verbal communications and consequently our relationships. We became more united and dependent on communication with the Father of Lights to understand and solve our problems. The other decision was as unexpected as it was unusual for us.When we sat down for one of our daily group scripture studies we spontaneously started talking about our budget.I always loved these spontaneous discussions. During the course of our discussion I brought up the concern that I wanted everyone have enough to eat yet stay within a reasonable budget. Up until now we have used the general fund to buy food for everyone everyday. It was okay, but it was always on my mind and occupied many of my thoughts, even though we all worried about sharing and making sure everyone else had enough. Moreover, some people wanted different food than others, though no one had complained. As a consequence of our inspiring discussion we thought to undertake an experiment. We decided to give everyone a certain amount of money every week to buy what ever food they want whenever they want. That way we had a budget and the responsibility would be on each individual to feed himself. The general feeling was that of excitement sprinkled with a little anxiety at the prospect of perhaps overspending, yet we all jumped feet first into this experiment. It worked too, because I stopped being so hungry now that I had to buy my own food, and we even ended up with extra food by the end of the week, which never happened before. These decisions made us more excited about our next step.
Apropos, after over 204 hours in Bangalore we were back on the road, or I should say back on track, the train track, that is. We boarded in the evening so one of the first things we made sure to do was take advantage of our sleeper coach to sleep, intending to eat up as much of our projected 38+ hour journey in the delightful abyss of REM oblivion.This ingenious strategy work, on my part at least, cutting my conscious traveling time to about half the total. Unfortunately, that still left us with a remainder of 19 hour to mock our attempts to occupy our time productively and effectively. By the way, have you ever gotten your teeth into a piece of sugar cane? No? well that is not a problem, for it is getting all your teeth out of it that posses an impressive obstacle only to be tackled by the most simpleminded gustatory addicts. Like us! Thankfully, we still all have out teeth. Because sugar cane is a rather cheap and long term commitment Graham, Isaac, and I bought fifteen to twenty foot longers with which to literally eat up our time. It really is a perfectly sweet experience, to tear off the hard purple shell with your teeth and attack the thickly fibrous, dangerously juicy, densely sweet, and slightly softer core, thoroughly mashing, crunching, squeezing, and pulverizing the fibers into a shapeless dry mass and extracting the maximum quantity of juicy natural liquid sugar. Not forgetting to eject from the overworked mandibles the useless prickly pulp. A good stick of sugar cane can take anywhere from a half to a full hour annihilate. If I had just taken 19 sticks I would have been set, and even set back in some other ways. After about two sticks, three to four if you are hardened pro, the mouth feels completely lacerated, and the jaw begins imitating jelly. Thus one can effectively eliminate any desire or capacity to indulge in other food. In other words we were not hungry on this multi-day journey. Okay, enough of the food tangent. Let me see, where was I (food is such a consuming subject)? Oh yes, it was a very long train ride, made interesting also by the continual stream of beggars, food vendors, and eunuchs. The first being pitiful, the second tempting, and the third not worth commenting about. Now you know the manner in which we made it to Delhi, but still we are trying to figure out how we made it to Delhi.
Upon our arrival in the capital of India, we called a friend who directed us to the nearest church where we could make some kind of plan on how we could be missionaries of truth in this particular city. Contrary to what usually happens, that is meeting someone to help us almost immediately, we were eating, discussing, and planning for a couple hours before we decided to go somewhere else. Nothing was coming up. At about that time a friend of Mani's heard we were there and came to help us find a place to stay the night, but it so happened that when he arrived, many other church members arrived and were just starting their Christmas party so we joined in. Bad idea. The children were doing a live manger scene and they needed a donkey. Well, they looked around for a strapping young candidate, and they looked and they asked.Whom did they ask? I admit, I think I made a perfectly wretched donkey, and a bunch of adults gawking and staring with those condescendingly patronizing looks, remarking on the utter cuteness of the scene, did nothing to ease my agonizing embarrassment. Its a good thing Christmas comes only once a year, though it makes for a good story. That was our contribution to the church. I hope they appreciated it.
That night we spent the night at one of our church member's home. Unfortunately, they were not the typical friendly warm indian family. They were reserved and civil to the point of hostility. Needless to say, the next day saw us out early on the street looking for the next step, and to complicate matters Graham was sick from eating an old cabbage and too much oil the night before. We called another friend thinking he could help us find a place to shower or, better put, take a bucket bath (something we had not done in three days). However, this friend was an old friend of Katie's who we did not know to well, but we got to know him alright.Probably the most intense, overbearing person I know, for he basically tried to take command of our stay, and since he had a car he loaded us up and the time ticked merrily by as we traveled to and fro. He was trying to get us a room at a hotel and in the end we found ourselves back at the church empty handed, and poor Graham was still suffering silently. Finally our friend left and we involuntarily heaved a sigh of relief, made some ginger tea for Graham, and just enjoyed being able to sit down without anyone rushing us. He was nice and just trying to help in his own peculiar way, but it was just a little too much I think. As Mani and I talked that evening we had the strange thought that we might be done in India. There had always been a drive to go to Delhi, but now that we were there no feelings or direction came. Yes, we wanted to be missionaries, but no direction has been forth coming. We really felt good about going home and so we thought we would try buying tickets. Up till now God has been really creative in the variety of ways He uses to stop us when we are headed down the wrong road. Confiding that He would stop us if it was wrong, I emailed Mom and Dad to see if they had money to bring us home, they answered almost immediately (not normal) telling us they had almost the same thought and had even looked up tickets before we did. That encouraged us to proceed. Half an hour later we had the tickets and were scheduled to leave in three days on Tuesday 17th. It was sudden but we all still left good about it and I, at least, felt confident that it was right, though I have no idea why we came to Delhi. With that in mind the next couple days went pretty fast.
First of all, we found a hotel near the church and paid double what we wanted to pay, but we were too tired to worry about it. The next day, Sunday, brought a miracle. During our run around we did not have time to buy food for Sunday, and when we did have time all the shops were closed. Sunday was a problem because we have made it a point to keep the sabbath day holy by not spending money except on transportation. Here was another chance to prove God's merciful care of us. To further complicate the matter, our alimentary life style alienated us from all Indian dishes. We were so excited to see how God would handle this situation. At church our answer came. A Canadian couple invited us to eat lunch at their place, but I warned them of our peculiar eating habits. In all previous scenarios the conversation (and the invitation) usually died right there. She just looked over at her husband for a second then turned and said we were welcome to come and eat all the vegetables and fruit in their home any way we wanted.Stunned silence! What an answer prayer! When you place your trust in God and do His will, He never fails you! By the way we thoroughly enjoyed the raw fruits and veggies, and there was even some to spare.It was so unexpectedly bounteous and perfect we could not help but be full of gratitude. That basically was our Sunday, for we kind of relaxed and enjoyed the day of rest for the rest of the day. Monday we went souvenir and food shopping practically loosing ourselves in the gigantic outdoor market. It was enormous, and there we met another of Katie's old friends and he was a good friend to have in a megapolis like Delhi. He immediately got us a cheaper hotel and helped us to know how to get train tickets back to Coimbatore for Mani and Arjun. Next morning he took us to go see some of the sights like the aesthetically and architecturally impossing Lotus Temple, owned and meticulously maintained by the Baha'i religion. Accompanying the awe inspiring beauty, there existed a serenity and peace not easily found in the oppressing hustle, bustle, and confusion of most Indian cities, both great and small. Beside that we were able to share some of the truth we know with one of the ushers. After answering some of my questions, he commented on some false rumors about our faith and we were able to help put him straight. It was a great discussion, in which we both left knowing a little more than before. Then afterwards we took a stroll through the Gandhi museum and were edified by the inspiring life of this personification of simplicity so inflexible in defense of liberty and truth. After quitting the museum we proceeded to our intense friend's house for our last meal in India. Already aware of our eating habits, they had prepared a good quantity of fruits and vegetables, another miracle, and we met our friend's father, mother, brother, and sister who were all a little more laid back then excitable our friend. The end of our visit with him rang the death nell of our adventures in India, for we proceeded from there to the New Delhi Airport, and a couple hours later we were rumbling down the runway fighting to get enough lift under our wings, when next moment we were airborne. Fifteen hours later we touched down in New Jersey, were a suspicious Customs officer thought it was peculiar we would spend three months touring around and visiting friends. But he thankfully did not impede our entry. From there we got our next flight to Greenville, North Carolina, and literally fell into arms of our waiting parents and sisters. It is always fun to travel, but coming home supersedes adventure. I cannot believe this ultimate adventure is over.
Some of the things I have learned in that three week field trip of faith, were life altering.I learned more about being a leader, serving others, and how to effectively communicate with other. All of these areas are still begging for improvement, but I feel like it was a personally significant step forward. However, the greatest overshadowing, most appreciated experience I had was being, feeling, walking, and talking with God on a closer, more personal, intimate relationship. I have so few times felt such a tremendous power and joy in following, in faith, our Heavenly Father's directions step by step. I loved this trip with an intensity that leaves me bewildered in trying to convey it in words. Truly, there is nothing like putting yourself in God's hands.
Here again the Post Host, David, leaves you at the conclusion of another adventure in India. What the future holds in relation to further travel to India is as unknown to me as the knowledge of the next time I will write upon this blog, because you nor I will ever know when I may post again