Becky from the CLCI team again...
The quote in my post title comes from Pastor Jyothi's welcome greetings from Thursday night's welcoming ceremony that the CLCI did for us. It certainly WAS a day of blessings and full of so much joy! We had a long drive (about 7 hours, but it took longer because we stopped for lunch) from Chennai to Nidubrolu, which is where the CLCI seminary and orphanage is located and where the welcoming ceremony was taking place. But once we arrived to our hotel and were greeted by Pastor Jyothi, we instantly felt the joy and excitement of being warmly welcomed by our brothers and sisters in Christ! We were given an official, fancy invitation to the welcoming ceremony and a special badge to wear. After resting a bit at the hotel after our long drive, we got back in our vehicles to go to the ceremony. When we got there, we were met by a long line of children who greeted us with lots of hellos, handshakes, "what is your name?", and "praise the Lord!" They threw flower petals at us like confetti as we walked past, and we definitely felt welcomed and loved!
We were given a very fast tour of the seminary and orphanage, stopping for group photos in every room. As we mission helpers followed Pastor Jyothi around, the children kept trying to get glimpses of us and catch our attention with waving. At one point when we walked past a group of children who had lined up along the wall watching us, a little boy smiled up at me and held out a small cookie for me to take. He looked so eager and excited for me to accept the gift, and it melted my heart for sure! What could I do but take the cookie with a thank you and carry it in my hand for the rest of the tour? :) Sweet little moments often are the most memorable blessings!
The ceremony itself was an amazing experience. A group of Sunday School children performed an action song for us about being in God's family. Each mission helper was honored with a garland of flowers, a necklace, a colorful shawl, and an abundance of gifts, including coffee mugs with our names and faces on them! There were words spoken and prayers said by the Indian and American pastors, and the girls of the mission helper team were asked to teach a song to the children. We did "I've Got the Joy Down in My Heart" which worked wonderfully as we could tie it to the words about joy in Pastor Jyothi's greeting. I can't really find words to describe the joy that I felt while I was singing alongside my mission helper "sisters" and looking out at the beautiful smiling faces of my Indian church family! I was just "so happy, so very happy!" :)
A really unique experience we had during the ceremony was watching the celebration of one of V.S. Benjamin's great grandchildren eating his first rice/solid foods. It is a ceremony called Annaprasana. Pastor Ohlmann was given the honor of giving the baby the first spoonful of rice, and then numerous family members came up to feed the child. It was very special to watch this celebration and get a look at the family interactions through this interesting ceremony that we do not have in the US.
After the ceremony, the children crowded around us to shake our hands, learn our names, and get our autographs (most asked for us to write on the palms of their hands, but a few had notebooks). They were all so sweet and energetic, with the most beautiful names that sadly I could barely pronounce, contagious smiles, and big hearts. The girls kept showering me with compliments: "You have beautiful hair! Your dress is very beautiful! Your earrings are beautiful!" I always returned the compliments to them as I admired their gorgeous dark braids, intricate jewelry, and vividly colorful clothing. They blushed and disagreed with me when I told them I thought THEY were beautiful, but I hope that they took my words to heart and felt like the beautiful princesses of the King of Kings that they truly are inside and out!
The night ended with what they called a "love feast" and we were served a delicious and filling meal. The next morning the BELC team would be leaving to head to Nellore for their first day of teaching, while my team would stay and return to the seminary the next day. Pastor Evensen and Pastor Fleischer would be teaching the pastors, while Raven and I were asked to teach songs to some Sunday School teachers.
I'm off to bed, and will write more tomorrow! Keep the prayers for us going, they help a lot!