On Tuesday, the CLCI team went out to be touristy and go to an amusement park and a bird sanctuary. Sadly, as we were driving down the road towards the amusement park, we noticed a large sign saying the park is closed every Tuesday for maintenance - and of course it happened to be Tuesday that we had planned to go! Pastor Jyothi got out of the car and tried to talk the security guards into letting us in just to look around at the park. At first they were refusing...but then our "highest man" Pastor Joel got out of the car. When the staff saw the giant American they called the park manager to come down and see this tall man! The manager then allowed us to get a full guided tour of the park, as long as he could get a photo with Pastor Joel! Pastor Jyothi also said that this was the first time a group of Americans visited their park, so that was the second reason they allowed us in. Nireekshana's son and some of his friends also joined us that day and we enjoyed meeting them and taking pictures with them.
Speaking of pictures, Raven and I joke about the "paparazzi" that follows us around wherever we go. Besides brothers Jyothi and Nireekshana (who both translate our lessons), we also have two other men Premkumar and Solomon who travel with us and have cameras ready at every moment. They've captured just about every part of our days with their cameras and must have hundreds of photos by now. I've been having fun catching them snapping pictures at random moments, purposefully smiling real big at them until they smile back. I especially like trying to make Solomon laugh and smile. Sometimes I pull out my camera and take a photo of him at the same time, and last night as he was getting ready to snap a photo of me awkwardly untangling cross necklaces, I laughed and smiled and said, "You like taking pictures!" and he smiled and laughed back.
At the bird sanctuary, we sometimes felt more like we were the exhibit rather than the birds, as people stood around and watched us and some asked to take photos with the Fleischers. :)
That evening we went to a pastor's house for a meal of fried rice and yummy butterscotch ice cream for dessert. The family was so gracious and kind and really made us feel welcome in their home. They even showered us with flower petals! Pastor Evensen led a devotion with us and the family based on Hebrews 4:14-16: "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." We said a prayer for the family, and Raven and I were asked to sing a song for them...we both turned to each other, trying to think of what to sing. Then I remembered that Pastor Ohlmann had given each of us a songbook with various hymns to use for devotions, so I pulled it out of my backpack and landed on "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" which actually connected really well with the theme of Pastor Evensen's devotion, totally unplanned by me when I decided on the hymn but definitely a great moment from God. :) I asked the guys on our team to sing with us, and Pastor Jyothi even joined in nice and loud.
It was neat to look around at the family's house...one feature that stood out was the lighting in their home. They could change the colors of their lights from blue to pink to purple and more than one color at once. They also turned on a chandelier that also changed colors and even played music!
After taking many group photos and saying goodbyes to the pastor's family, we were off to a church in Tenali to teach VBS. This was a larger building with our largest group so far of children and adults coming to hear the Word. It was a loud and rowdy group of children, but they were also a lot of fun! By the time that Pastor Joel came up to teach the last lesson, the kids were extremely distracted and talkative. Pastor Jyothi began speaking to them in Telugu, but also threw in the English phrase "listen carefully" a couple times before he had Pastor Joel speak. The kids quieted down more after that. :)
There was a table with a tablecloth in front of Raven and me, which was blocking the view of some of the children. The kids kept peeking under the tablecloth to smile at us and make funny faces. It didn't take long for that tablecloth to fall off the table and for the kids to have a clear view of us - and the necklaces we began unwrapping later in the evening.
After gift distribution, the people came up to us with prayer requests. Because there were so many people there that night, each mission helper spent a lot of time doing individual prayers. I had mostly children and teenagers come to me for prayers, most of them asking for prayers regarding their school exams. I also had some older adults request prayers regarding health problems, and several mothers asked me to pray for their little babies. I still feel very inadequate in my ability to say eloquent prayers on the spot, but I have to remind myself that God hears and answers my prayers no matter how they sound, the Holy Spirit provides the words to say, and the people greatly appreciate that I'm praying for them anyway. I always thank God in my prayers for bringing us together so that we can join together in prayer to Him - that bond of fellowship between brothers and sisters in Christ is such a beautiful blessing that I get to experience in special ways over here in India.
After prayers, many people asked us for "selfies" and I posed for dozens of photos with various children and adults. Then one child asked me, "Pen?" and another knew to say "Autograph!" This time I came prepared for autographs, and I pulled out a metallic purple Sharpie to sign my name. Suddenly I had hands and arms of all sizes extended toward me for autographs. I don't know how many I signed, but the requests kept coming for quite awhile! One sneaky little girl tricked me into signing both of her hands, and when I noticed as she was walking away the second time, I said with a laugh, "Hey, you got two!" which made her giggle and her parents laugh. Another girl came back for more, so I embellished her arm with a heart and a smiley face which she couldn't stop staring at and showing off to her family and friends. At the end of the night, the church's pastor was looking at my name written on all of the children, and he held out the palm of his hand and asked for my name. At first I thought he was joking, but he asked again and so I wrote my name on his hand. I thought it was really cool that the pastor wanted my autograph!
As we were walking out to our vehicle to get ready to go, a little girl followed me right up to the car door, so I jokingly asked, "Are you coming in too?" A whole bunch of kids crowded around the vehicle to wave goodbye, and some of the girls blew kisses through the windows. It is always hard to say goodbye to these children - I wish we had more time to spend with all of them!
I was telling Raven the other day that this must be what rock stars feel like...traveling from city to city and hotel to hotel, doing the same "gig" in new locations each night, constantly having photographers around you, and getting requests for autographs. :) Being more of an introverted person who prefers to work "behind the scenes", this has taken some getting used to...but as long as God's love and light shine through us and HE gets the glory, I'm glad to be a "rock star" for Jesus!