It's hard to even attempt to summarize the experience of traveling to such a foreign and fascinating land. This was long before Slum Dog Millionaires (which is a pretty accurate depiction). It literally took trains, planes and automobiles to get us there, and something like 19 hours of travel. When we arrived, we were 10 hours ahead of home. The most difficult part for me, that has stayed with me ever since, was seeing unimaginable poverty, first hand. Our mission in traveling halfway across the world, was to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the forgotten, the least, orphans, and widows, those hurting and in need of God's love.
My Dad (and Pastor) had been taking yearly trips to India and working with area pastors, planting churches and helping support the Grace Ministries Orphanage, since I was about 2 years old. The best part of my second trip, was arriving at the Grace Children's Home and spending time with the girls and boys that live there. They greeted us with quite a welcome - and a banner! (almost spelled Colosi right :)
So many beautiful and unforgettable faces. You can't help but want to take all of them home with you. Talented, loving and grateful children, ranging from toddlers to 18 years old. What a blessing to know that they are taken care of, fed, clothed, educated and taught about Jesus. They are some of the lucky ones.
In some of the very remote villages we visited, families and children were living in unimaginable conditions. My first trip was especially painful because I had no idea people actually lived like this. You hear stories, and see photographs and commercials on TV urging you to donate, but nothing can prepare you to see it up close.
Homes that would hardly qualify as such in the U.S., housed 4, 5, or 6 people. Shacks made of corrugated metal, tarp, and palm branches with dirt floors. Children searching for food among garbage heaps. No indoor plumbing. No electricity. The magnitude of the blessings that I take for granted on a daily basis, intensely overcame me. Repeatedly. My heart ached for these people and what little they had. Yet, you would never know the state they were in, based on their cheerful spirits, generosity and willingness to invite you in and offer you whatever they could. It was incredibly and overwhelmingly humbling.
Our "host" Pastor Rufus and his family were so very gracious. They have a beautiful home in the developed city of Tenali - with electricity, running water and a Western bathroom. They cooked meals for us, were our tour guides, took us shopping and shared their lives with us.
The hotel we stayed at had modern amenities as well and was comfortable. Although the "shower" took a little getting used to. There are so many cultural differences, I could write a post about that alone.
The Indian people are some of the sweetest people you will ever meet. These ladies became my sisters while I was there. I still miss them and try to keep in touch from time to time. They took such good care of us.
We traveled to different villages and met other Christians and attended church services and prayer meetings.
The woman, adorned with such beautiful colors and fabrics, cover their heads during prayer and sit separate from the men.
Girls in their Sunday best
I'll never forget these two adorable girls. We brought candy to give to the kids. The younger sister was trying to talk to us, but she didn't speak English. So her older sister translated for us and said, "The girl wants more chocolate!" Which made us all laugh and reminded us that universally, kids really are a lot alike.
More beautiful little faces
There is still religious persecution in India, especially for those who leave Hinduism and become Christians. I'll never forget this courageous woman who decided to be baptized, despite knowing that she might be on the receiving end of her husbands wrath, and possibly put her life in danger. I took this photo while she was walking to the river to be baptized, clutching her Bible. Such powerful faith and love for God and His Word.
In another village, we were treated like celebrities. Some of the children had never seen Caucasian people, especially one of the girls on our team with blonde hair and blue eyes. They were excited to try out their English skills and talked about President Bush.
Landscapes, farms and rice patties.
We went on a "plant tour" through the banana trees, which have the largest flowers I have ever seen. This photo doesn't do it justice.
We got to experience the real marketplace. Talk about hustle and bustle. So many sights, sounds and aromas. Some good and some not-so-good. Flowers, fruits and vegetables, herbs and incense. There was also "fresh" fish lying in the hot sun, pig (all parts), "fresh" chickens strapped to a bicycle (still in tact with feathers and all), and the ever present scent of diesel fumes saturating the air.
Movie theater and macho movie star - who seemed to be on every billboard.
Laundry day in the country
New meaning to the term "traffic jam"
That's a lot of hay
Hand beading fabric
Door-to-door cauliflower saleswoman. I still can't even imagine carrying that weight on my head, nor as gracefully.
So many beautiful people.
I fell in love with bougainvillea, a stunning fuschia paper-thin flower. I also marveled at some of the brightly painted doors and decorated house entrances.
I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go on both of these trips. And I'm so glad that I got to experience them with my Dad. I couldn't have done it without him - he is an expert on Indian culture.
We went to India in hopes of changing lives and making a difference, but I know for certain that it changed me. I am forever thankful for that. I still have to remind myself of everything that I saw and experienced, and remember all that God has blessed me with. I don't know if I'll ever have the chance to go back again, but I have memories that will stay with me for life. This recap isn't even the half of it, but I wanted to share some of my experience with you.
If there's one thing I learned, it's that God is good. All the time!
If you would like to learn more about Grace Ministries or how you could help make a difference in a child's life, visit http://gracechristianministries.in/index.html