Monday, August 1, 2016

"I thank my God upon every remembrance...."

Saturday, July 23, was the CLCI team's last teaching day, with a pastors conference in the late morning/early afternoon and a VBS session in the evening.

Raven and I were able to sit in on the pastors meeting this time and listen to Pastor Joel and Pastor Peter teach lessons, following along in our English Bible translations as the people read aloud from their Telugu translations. There were some women in attendance as well, and a few of the Sunday School children came in and sat down on the floor to listen and to steal smiles and glances from Raven and me. In between lessons we had a "tea break" and were served yummy cookies and hot, creamy coffee. At first Raven and I only took one cookie, but the pastors made sure we were fed and said, "You can take four!" and insisted that we take three more from the tray. And Solomon got Raven and me seconds on our coffee, so again, we were well taken care of! :) After the break, Raven and I were asked to come to the front of the church to teach an action song to the Sunday School teachers and the children. We decided to teach the song "My God is So Great" (" strong, and so mighty, there's nothing my God cannot do!") and they all caught on to the song very quickly. After the meeting was over, we got a lot of comments from the women and children about how much they enjoyed our singing and loved the song. One girl, as she was shaking my hand and thanking me for coming, said to me with a huge smile, "I am so happy, Sister!" I think I told her that I am so happy to be with her too! A young woman came up to me and spent a lot of time talking to me. When I asked, "Are you a Sunday School teacher?" She excitedly said, "Yes!" and then asked, "How did you know??" Then she laughed and joked, "Is it because of my specs?" and she pointed to her glasses. I told her how the pastors had told me that there would be Sunday School teachers there, but also that she just seemed like she'd be someone who works well with children - she had a very warm nature about her that did just seem teacher-like! :) I told her how I was a school teacher in the States, and later when I was holding a baby, the Sunday School teacher in the "specs" joked to the baby, "Be careful, she's a teacher!" The baby was the first baby I held in India that did not seem to be scared of me and cry. In fact, she cuddled right up to my shoulder and seemed to melt into my arms the same way that she was melting my heart!

I was having so much fun talking to and spending time with my new friends, that I didn't realize that lunch preparations were happening all around me and a table had been set up on the dais for us mission helpers to eat lunch! The other attendees sat on mats on the floor of the church to eat. Someone eventually told me to go sit down and eat, and we enjoyed a really delicious meal of rice and chicken, and a vanilla ice cream dessert.

After eating, some of the women and children came back up to talk with us and take pictures. The Sunday School teacher asked me to "say something from the Holy Spirit" and I wasn't sure what to instead, I asked if I could pray for her. She agreed, and then some other women and girls around her began putting their scarves and shawls over their heads in preparation for prayer. So I held out my hands towards all of them and did a group prayer for all of the dear sisters in front of me, thanking the Lord for our time together and asking Him to bless and guide all of us and to continue to grow the faith in our hearts so that we can more deeply know and love God and share that love and knowledge with others. Standing in front of a group of my beautiful sisters in Christ and having the opportunity to pray for and with them like that is definitely a moment that I hope I never forget, no matter how much time and distance separates us.

I must have lost track of time as I chatted with and took photos with my "sisters" because eventually the pastors were calling, "Sister, it's time to go!" As I was saying my goodbyes, Pastor Jyothi joked to me, "Do you want to stay here?" I think I said, "No, I want to take them all with me!" and Pastor Jyothi played along and announced with a sweep of his arm, "Everybody is coming to America!" which made the people laugh and follow us out the door to continue waving goodbye.

Our last night of VBS was memorable because the lights went out shortly before we were ready to start! A bunch of the men went to the fuse box to try to get the power back on, and one of the pastors was quick thinking and got the children singing songs to pass the time, even in the dark! It took some time and lots more singing and clapping and tambourine playing, but the lights eventually went back on and we were able to begin the VBS program. At the start of each evening, the congregation would honor us with flower garlands and clapping, and this night was no exception. The local pastor would introduce various members to come up to honor each mission helper, sometimes children and sometimes adults. This last night of being honored stands out in my memory, because three young girls came up to put the garland around my neck. Pastor Jyothi said as I was walking to the center to receive the garland, "And Becky is so special, she gets THREE girls to honor her!" That made me smile and laugh. Pastor Jyothi also had the children shout extra loud "Hello, Becky!" and "Thank you, Becky!" before and after my lessons that night (he did that for the other mission helpers too). I don't know if he did it on purpose, but it made that last lesson feel extra special. The last part of my lesson is about the Ten Commandments, and I would have the kids hold up their fingers to help me count each commandment as I said them. As I was saying each commandment and Jyothi was translating, I noticed that the kids seemed to be saying the commandments themselves after me. By the time we reached the ninth or tenth commandment, Pastor Jyothi gestured to some Telugu writing on the wall to my right and he and the kids read the commandment aloud together. I laughed and said, "Oh, you all had the answers!" and Pastor Jyothi chuckled. I truly enjoyed working alongside Jyothi and Nireekshana to teach the Bible lessons, and I loved that even though we were teaching the same things night after night, each session was slightly different and had its own unique circumstances and memories. And I am thankful for the patience and dedication of Pastors Jyothi and Nireekshana who translated for each of us, especially on our first few nights when we may have been a little more shaky and uncertain, and on the nights when our lessons went longer than we had intended.

Raven and I did not get a lot of individual prayer or conversation time with the children and women that last night, but we did get to have a few bonding moments with Solomon and Premkumar (who we affectionately call our "paparazzi" and "entourage"). Premkumar came to us for cross necklaces for his wife and children, and after I handed them to him, I smiled and asked, "And one for you too?" He laughed, but agreed, and laughed even more when I insisted that I put the necklace over his head and around his neck just like we had done night after night for all the other children and adults. Later Solomon asked for two necklaces for his children, and I asked if he wanted one for his wife....and then I made him take one too, which also got a laugh and smile from him. It made me smile when they wore their necklaces back to the hotel. Raven also asked for both of them to write their names in her journal, and I was able to capture the moment with a photo just as they had captured so many special moments of ours with their cameras. I was sad as we pulled into the hotel parking lot that night, knowing this was the last time I'd be in the Scorpio sitting between Pastor Jyothi and Raven, with Pastor Joel in the front with Solomon driving us to our destination...but it was hard to be too sad when "White Christmas" was humorously playing on the mix CD and the car came to a stop just at the exact moment that the song was ending, "And may all your Christmases be white..." Not a song I would have ever expected to associate with India, but I'm pretty sure it will now trigger the memory of that night in the Scorpio from now on!

As we were making travel plans for the next day to go back to Chennai, and Pastor Peter asked our opinions, I joked "We could just stay another day!" I think he took me seriously at first and said, "Really? And do what?" I gestured to the CLCI men standing around us and said, "Spend more time with these people! Or let's just take them to Chennai with us!" Pastor Jyothi said, "Thank you so much, Becky!" and I don't remember much else from that night, except for saying good night and feeling sad, and Pastor Joel most likely whistled the song "Jesus is happiness..." from the car CD just to get it stuck in our heads before we went to bed, as he did that several nights in a row. ;)

I woke up on Sunday morning feeling very sad that I would not be getting into the Scorpio to go to another church and teach more children that evening. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, and the goodbyes seemed to go so fast that morning as we finally went downstairs with our luggage and said thank yous and farewells to one another. We took final "group pictures" with everyone, and we were just about ready to get into our vehicles when I decided that I wanted to ask Pastor Jyothi to pray for me, just as he and our team had prayed for others throughout the trip. I walked up to him, feeling a little bit shy, and asked if he would be willing to pray for me. He agreed and I bowed my head as he lifted his hand and said a personalized prayer for me. Shortly after, we were all in our vehicles waving goodbye through the car windows until we parted ways, as we Americans headed back to Chennai to reunite with the other mission helpers, and the CLCI men went back to Nidubrolu.

Before I end this post, I have to mention that I did get to see some of the BELC pastors the last night we were in Chennai, who are also so very dear to me! The BELC leaders came to Peter Evensen's apartment on our last night and they did their own small honoring ceremony, giving each of us shawls and applause. Pastor Moses wrapped the shawl around my shoulders and then said, "You were here a couple years ago!" and smiled really big. Pastors Sampath, D. Paul, and Bhaskar also gave me really big smiles and nods, and I wish I could have spent more time with them, but the warmth in their smiles and eyes was enough to show me that they remembered me and were happy to see me again. The mission helpers and pastors prayed together, and Pastor Sampath handed out invitations to each of us for his daughter's wedding, which I thought was really sweet! The wedding is in August, and believe me, I'd go back and attend if I could! :)

I thank God for blessing me with two incredible experiences as a mission helper to India. I fell in love with the people and places of the BELC in 2013, and now I feel the same for the CLCI! I don't think words can even truly express the love and thanks I have for the people I met and worked with in India and how they have touched my life!  And I cannot thank everyone at home enough for your prayers, support, and encouragement throughout the trips! Just as I did in my first post, I think I'll turn to words of the Apostle Paul to express what I am feeling as I wrap up my memories of this mission helper trip: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ..." (Philippians 1:3-6)

- Becky

"I've got love like an ocean..."

Becky again...I promise I am almost done reminiscing! There is another Telugu word that popped into my memory "Chalu!" which Pastor Peter taught me means "Enough!" You might be thinking that at this point... :)

Friday, July 22, was beach day for the CLCI team! Some of the area pastors and their wives also came along with us, which was a lot of fun! Two of the women squeezed into the backseat of the Scorpio next to Raven and me for our drive to the beach. Raven and I both wished we knew Telugu so we could join in the conversations that the women were having with each other and our driver Solomon...they were all laughing so hard the whole way there, and we could tell they all have a wonderful sense of humor!
Despite not being able to communicate much through words, Raven and I were still able to bond with our new friends as we enjoyed the Bay of Bengal together. The men went out into the waves to go swimming and body surfing, but our CLCI friends did not want Raven and I to go out too far by ourselves. The women grabbed our hands and had us form a chain so that we could all brace ourselves against the waves. The women went in the water in their colorful saris, which I thought made them still look so beautiful and elegant even when the waves crashed into all of us and drenched us in salt water! There were lots of laughs as the waves sometimes took us by surprise and would knock one of us women over and under, and the rest of the group would hurriedly work together to pull that sister back up on to her feet. We walked back onto the sand completely soaked and sandy, but super happy!

The song with the phrase "I've got love like an ocean in my soul..." was one that played on the mix CD in the CLCI vehicle, and that kept going through my head that day during our wonderful time with our friends at the ocean!

When we got back to the hotel, we were asked to have the women come up to our room to wash up and change their clothes. The Indian women insisted that Raven and I use the bathroom first, but we insisted that they go in first. This continued back and forth for quite awhile, with all of us saying "Please!" and gesturing for the others to go into the bathroom. :) I laughed and said, "Well someone has to go in, otherwise we'll be standing here all day!" Eventually one of the Indian women gave up and went in first. Raven commented on how beautiful their long, thick hair is as we watched them brush out and braid their hair, and they laughed when we commented on how much work it is to put on a sari. We were able to watch one of the women very carefully and precisely fold, pleat, wrap, and pin the sari fabric until she had it just right. I am thankful that we had the opportunity to spend these moments with our new friends and get a glimpse of their lives and personalities outside of the regular VBS settings. 

That night at VBS, the children seemed to be sitting extra close to me, right up to my feet. And they had extra big smiles during our singing of "I've Got the Joy." I just wanted to cuddle all of them! On the car ride back to the hotel that night, Pastor Jyothi said, "We are feeling sad, sisters. One more day." I had just been thinking the exact same thing! I couldn't believe we only had one more day of teaching, and I was feeling sad that I would soon have to say goodbye to Pastor Jyothi and the rest of my CLCI friends! I joked that I was just going to stay in India, and I told Pastor Jyothi "You can find me a job here, right? You can find me a job and a husband and I'll be all set!" He laughed, and then reminded me that there are many people at home who are interested in the trip and are waiting to hear my reports. So here I am back at home, with just a few more stories to tell before I say goodbye to the blog as well... :)

- Becky


Becky again, with some more CLCI team memories...and a correction to my previous post: We drove to Ongole on July 20, not the 13! Oops!

On the evening of Thursday, July 21, we went to a reservoir that was nearby a Hindu temple. The sun was beginning to set which made our walk around the water extra beautiful! Pastor Jyothi was very protective of Raven and me, requesting that Raven and I hold each other's hands as we walked down a rocky path towards the shore. He also made sure to hold my hand as I navigated a pile of sandbags that led to the boat we took for a scenic boat ride around the reservoir. My parents were happy to hear that I was in such good hands! :) As we began our boat ride, Nireekshana joked, "Everybody pray!" which made us all laugh...and when our tour guide let Pastor Joel and Alex take turns steering the boat, Nireekshana laughed, "Now everybody REALLY pray!" It was fun to spend some relaxing, quiet time on the waters with our CLCI friends and enjoy the sunset and the waves.

After the boat ride, we walked through some gardens, and then across a long bridge towards a Hindu temple. There were a bunch of monkeys along the road on the bridge, and we ended up spending so much time looking at and taking photos of the monkeys, that the sun had completely set and it was dark when we finally reached the temple. The doors in the temple for the rooms that held the idols were closed/locked for the night, and we commented about the "gods" needing to sleep after doing nothing all day. Since that night, I have been reminded of these passages from Jeremiah 10: "A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good." As I wrote in an earlier post, these visits to temples are a strong visual reminder of the need to share the Gospel and point lost souls to the one true living God, who "never slumbers or sleeps." (Psalm 121:3-4)

That night during VBS, a young couple brought their baby for her first rice ceremony. Before the ceremony, Pastor Jyothi told Pastor Peter that the couple would also like for him to name the baby, so "think of a good name." I don't know what I would have done under that pressure, but Pastor Peter did very well! With only a few minutes to decide on a name, he announced that he had chosen the name "Ruth" and explained how Ruth in the Bible was the woman who gave up everything to follow God. He then blessed and prayed for baby Ruth and her parents. It was very beautiful!

On the way back to the hotel that night, Pastor Jyothi asked Raven and me what we think of the Telugu language. We said that we really like it and would love to learn more, but that it sounds very fast to us and we had difficulty remembering the few words and phrases that Pastor Peter had been trying to teach us. Jyothi nodded and then asked us what we thought was difficult, "The consonants or vowels...?" We said "maybe the vowels," and that turned out to be an accurate thought as he revealed to us that there are 26 different vowel sounds in Telugu!

Thinking back to that conversation, I just remembered something that Pastor Nireekshana's wife told Raven and me that first Friday morning that we spent at the CLCI seminary, having coffee with her. She said, if we only learn one Telugu word, we should learn "Wandanalu" which is the Telugu greeting that the Christians use with one another and I'm told is like "Praise the Lord!" All of us mission helpers used that greeting as we introduced ourselves before our lessons, and I smile whenever I think of all the children enthusiastically shouting "WANDANALU!!!" back at us after Pastor Jyothi's prompting. That is one Telugu word that will stick not only in my mind, but also in my heart!

- Becky

"Oh what fun it is to ride..."

Hi everyone! This is Becky from the CLCI team, now back at home in Wisconsin! I am sorry I disappeared from the blog for the last part of our trip...we were very busy sightseeing by day and teaching by night, and when I had free time at the hotels I would end up falling asleep! I still wanted to share some memories from the last week of our trip with you, so let's see what I can remember from where I left off...

On Wednesday, July 13, we left Vijayawada to drive a few hours out to Ongole, which would be our last big destination of the trip. We would stay in Ongole for four nights and travel out to surrounding villages for teaching. It was a bright and sunny morning as we ventured out to Ongole, but we were slowed down by some heavy traffic leaving the city, and by the CLCI's vehicle breaking down several times along the journey. Half of our team rode in the CLCI's Scorpio (usually Solomon, Pastor Joel, Pastor Jyothi, Raven, and me) while the other half rode in a rented vehicle with a hired driver (usually Pastor Peter, Alex, Pastor Nireekshana and Premkumar). Our team handled the vehicle issues very patiently and calmly...our driver would carefully guide the vehicle to the side of the road, all of the men would hop out of their vehicles to work under the hood and sometimes push the vehicle to get it going. Then we'd be off again for awhile before we'd repeat this process, but eventually we made it to our destination without too many problems or delays. By the grace of God, the Scorpio kept coming back to life and got us to all of our destinations safely for the rest of our travels! The CLCI would very much like to get this vehicle replaced, so please remember this need in your prayers!

During this road trip, Solomon kept us entertained by turning on a mix CD of hundreds of Christian songs that also included a bunch of familiar Christmas carols! Raven and I laughed and smiled as we sang along to an upbeat version of "Jingle Bells" as we drove through the sunny and hot landscape of Andhra Pradesh! Pastor Jyothi asked to turn the volume up when songs that Raven and I had sung during VBS came on (My God is So Great, I've Got the Joy Down in My Heart, What a Friend We Have in Jesus). It was a lot of fun to hear and sing a variety of songs, some of which were old Sunday School classics that I hadn't heard since I was a little girl. Pastor Joel, Raven, and I would come back to the hotel each night humming or whistling the songs as we walked up the stairs to our rooms, sometimes purposely trying to get certain songs to pop into one another's heads. The next morning, Solomon had the hip-hop/techno beat Christmas medley at full blast and I could hear it as soon as I got to the hotel parking lot. So when I opened the car door and heard "Feliz Navidad" was playing, I started singing it really loud and dancing outside the car door, which made Solomon laugh!

Wednesday night's events included a brief visit to a little girl's birthday party and a VBS session at a nearby church. We gathered with some children and adults at a church building near the birthday party. The children sang some songs, and Raven and I were asked to sing a song for them so we changed things up from our usual and performed "This Little Light of Mine." Then we were asked to distribute necklaces to each of the children. After I put a necklace around the neck of a teenage girl, she pointed to her cheek and said, "Kiss my cheek, please" with a smile. At first I thought I misunderstood her, but she repeated the request, and I kissed her cheek. She smiled really big, and excitedly placed a coffee flavored candy into the palm of my hand, saying "Take this!" She then ran over to Raven and gave her a candy too. Her excitement to be with us really touched my heart!

We walked outside to where the birthday party was being held, and were introduced to the birthday girl who was a wide-eyed little girl of three years old. We did a general prayer for all of the children, and in the short time before and after, many of the women and children introduced themselves to me and asked me to sit down with them for awhile, asking me if I came from America and wanting to practice saying my name. I was able to snap a few photos before we were told it was time to go, and we jumped back into the vehicles and waved goodbye to the kindhearted people who were just so welcoming to us in the few minutes we spent with them before we went on to our VBS lessons at another church.

Besides the Christmas tunes in the car, it also felt like Christmas in July as we were asked to present delayed Christmas gifts of shirts for men and saris for women at some of the churches. It may have been Wednesday night, I can't remember now, but a couple of the women that we presented Christmas saris to were women who had grown up in the CLCI orphanage. It was very neat to meet those women and see them continuing to serve and worship the Lord!

We had several requests for prayers that night, and one that stands out in my memory was a young man who came to me. He told me how he had just finished his schooling/training (I couldn't catch the exact details) and he asked me to pray that he would find a good job. That prayer request hit close to home for me as I too am currently looking for a new job. I don't think that young man realized that praying with him also brought me great encouragement. I trust that God will answer both of our prayers in His perfect ways and timing!

- Becky