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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Smile Caleb, Smile!πŸ˜„πŸ˜„

We have a small smile here at the Puttur Dam.

Caleb teaching his lesson on the last Sunday

In the car

At the mall, deciding to buy cookies or not to buy cookies. Sadly, they did not.

All we asked is for Caleb to smile.

He just didn't want to smile.

Here we have a slight up-turn of the mouth after watching Mackenna try Thumbs Up

Over all, Caleb has been a solid presence in our group. He wasn't the most talkative at first, but we broke down those barriers. We have had so much fun with him and we hope he's had half as many laughs as we had, even if they might be internal. He will make a great Pastor one day. He is a strong warrior for the Lord, and it's been fun getting to know him. Many blessings to you Caleb! SMILE MORE!!
*Mackenna & Lindsey*

Over the course of our time here, we girls have given Caleb a bit of a hard time. He is the only guy mission helper in our group, and we have felt that good Christian teasing is beneficial for his soul. He has truly been such a good sport we feel this blog post should be dedicated to him.

Pastor Todd's wife wanted us to get more pictures of him and Caleb. So we have taken it upon ourselves to capture every moment for our dedicated readers (or Moms).

Sunday, July 24, 2016


On the six hour drive back to Chennai this morning we saw two men laying dead on the highway from a motorbike accident. It was noted that a person doesn't see someone dead on the road very often.

But, truth be told, the streets of India are filled with dead people. With the number of Christians in India at only 5% or so of the 1.5 billion people in the whole country, statistically, almost every single person you see in India is spiritually dead in unbelief.

The Time of Grace for the two motorcyclists had come to an end. While we don't know what their spiritual condition was, we can make an educated guess. But it need not be so. The apostle declares that, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation." -- 2 Cor 5:19.

More than a billion people are walking around India on the broad path that leads to destruction, some of them only moments away from that. We have the Word that can bring them to life and reconcile them to God through faith in Christ Jesus. Some of them can't wait another day, because they don't have another. Truly, for them, " is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." -- 2 Cor 6:2.

How do you preach the Gospel to a billion and a half people? The same way that you eat an elephant, one bite at a time. The Christians in India are the people who stand between them and Hell. We and our Indian brothers and sisters in the faith have the words of reconciliation. And we are together working at eating that Indian elephant one bite at a time through programs like the Mission Helper Program, Project Kinship, and the various other ministries of the Word in the BELC and the CLCI.

The members of the teams for Mission Helper 2016 have spent the last two weeks taking bites of the elephant, bringing the Gospel to the villages of Southern India. Hopefully, through our preaching and teaching of God's Word, we are leaving behind a few more living souls than there were when we arrived, as we trust our faithful God who says that, " the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." --Is 55:10f.

As we prepare to leave, our BELC and CLCI hosts and Missionary Evensen remain behind, continuing the work, one dead soul at a time. And our work, and yours, continues as well. Pray that God the Holy Spirit would bring those souls to life through His Word that they share.

Our prayer is that God would also lead you to consider coming over and take a few bites of the Indian elephant yourself. By the Grace of God, perhaps there will come a day when we no longer walk down India's streets and see dead men walking, but rather, souls living in the peace of Christ.

-- Pastor Joel Fleischer

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Life is but a Teeter-totter

*Lindsey & Mackenna*Our hospitable restaurant hosts for the second day in a row received us into their breezy place of dining. We ate of their food and were refreshed by there Liquid of life. But more important than addressing our hunger or thirst, our childhood spirits were revived. After the meal, we rested in the park out back. Pastor Todd and Pastor D. Paul proceeded to try out the play ground: first the swings, then the teeter-totter. Of course, once two grown men had made sure it was safe to play on, we decided we couldn't let them have all the fun. And so, our glorious ride began.

Friday, July 22, 2016

For the First Time

The countdown begins to when we start our journey home!  Wow, time flies when you have a mission to do. Since the last time we posted, we have seen snakes, monkeys, St Thomas's Mount, and the amazing people at each church we visit.  The days do start to blur together, and it's hard to tell which day we went to which village, but each one has it's own special memory. Today we where in the Chittoor district and a majority of the kids we spoke to had never heard God's Word.  Some had heard of Jesus, but when Pastor Todd asked what the Bible was, many shook their head uncomprehendingly.  That made me excited and nervous. These children had not heard God's Word. We were going to teach them about His love for them (for the first time!), Jesus Christ's sacrifice and their adoption into His family. It was amazing to think about. It took a little while for them to warm up to us. At first there were no smiles or laughter. They just sat there and starred at us. But then as Pastor Todd began to play with them and we started being funny, they warmed right up.  It was magic seeing their faces light up with laughter.   

    We did lose Sister Steffie last night. She flew out from Chennai pretty late to get home to her job. We all miss her, and there's a spot in the lessons, the car, and our hearts where she fits.  But as always, we were thankful for the time we had with her.  She is one amazing lady. 

   Tomorrow and Sunday will be our last two days to teach our lessons. It's a bittersweet feeling to think about. I'm equally relieved to not teach, but sad to not go see the kids and give them gifts.  Even thinking about going home is weird. We've been in India for what feels like a month, when it's only been about 12 days.  It's been amazing.  But I'm not going to write the goodbye post yet.  Much too soon for all that.  

   We did go see a dam today, I'll try and attach some pictures from that.  It was beautiful. It made me think again how amazing our Creator is and how lucky we are to visit such a beautiful place as India.  The breeze was nice and the sun wasn't too hot. We even discovered that we had to watch out for honey bees!  

    Well it's an early start in the morning.  So blessings on your Friday back home! 

"Sister, selfie? Pen? Name! Autograph!"

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 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!

- Becky

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Are you craaaazy about Jesus?"

Hi everyone! Becky here from the CLCI team, writing from our hotel in Ongole. Raven is here reading interesting articles and headlines to me from the Indian newspaper that was slid under our door this morning. She says hello to all of you! Everyone is doing well on our team and are thankful for your continued prayers and well-wishes. I can't believe that there is less than a week left of our trip. I've fallen behind in blogging so I'll try to see what I can remember from the awesome experiences of the past few days so you can get an idea of what has happened and the blessings that you can thank God for with us.

On Monday, we toured the Undavalli Caves, which were originally Buddhist but later taken over by Hindus. There were all sorts of statues and passageways inside this temple, and much to Raven's dismay, there were also tons of bats on the ceilings!! Jyothi asked her "What don't you like about bats, sister?" and Raven gave a thorough description of why they are gross. ;) There was a HUGE statue inside the caves that Jyothi told me was originally a Buddha but Hindus changed it into one of the Hindu gods. It was all very fascinating and interesting, but also kind of eery! It stated to rain very hard while we were up there, so we stayed inside the caves for awhile, watching the rain and listening to a dog howl.

Then we were off to VBS! This church we visited had a bunch of very silly, energetic kids who kept Raven and I thoroughly entertained. Before our lessons, the children sang, clapped, and played drums very enthusiasticly. I think some of the boys enjoyed showing off their skills by playing faster and faster and louder and louder. Then a group of girls came up in front to do some energetic action songs. One of the song recordings started out with a booming male voice saying, "Are you craaaazy about Jesus? How about you, are you crazy about Jesus?" and the little girls lipsynced to it, pointing to the crowd. That particular action song also included some rockin' air guitar! :) Their Sunday School teacher also performed a heartfelt dance.

During Alex's and Pastor Joel's lessons, Raven and I work on unwrapping and untangling packages of cross necklaces to prepare them for the gift distribution that happens at the end of each night. Sometimes this causes a little distraction as the kids begin eyeing the necklaces. There were some boys in the front that kept winking at us and gesturing, trying to convince me to give them necklaces. One of them continued to act silly and started doing random gestures that I didn't understand, so I just smiled and shook my head at him and then directed my focus to the lesson being taught, hoping he'd follow my lead.

After gift distribution, we took some pictures with the kids and then Raven asked people to write their names in her journal. Usually they ask us to write our names for them, so when we ask them for their autographs, we take them by surprise. Their eyes light up and they not only write their own name, but also pass the journal around to their family members. Some names are written in Telugu characters that we can't read, but others are written in English. It's been a fun way to connect even more with our CLCI brothers and sisters.

We went back to our hotel that night with the children's songs in our heads. I think Pastor Joel said it best when he noted, "It's the type of song that doesn't just get stuck in your head, it gets stuck in your body too." We can't help wanting to bob our heads and dance along! :)

- Becky

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

More children coming to hear God's Word!

Twenty seven children were gathered and waiting patiently on the roof of a three story building when we arrived at this Chennai district BELC congregation. We were expecting many more. Then about ten minutes later we could hear little feet and giggles coming up the stairs. Thank You Lord for bringing these 75+ precious children to hear the Good News of Jesus!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sup-ahr πŸ‘Œ

Morning from Chennai! 7:39am, Tuesday

Yesterday morning was Pastor Todd had a meeting with the pastors in Tiruvalur. Once we were introduced, we went to a Hindu temple and were allowed to see their prayer ritual. The temple was intricate and majestic, sporting all the colors of India. After that we did a bit of shopping and each of us girls bought a Kurta, which is the traditional casual tunic outfit for the ladies here in India. All of the saleswomen were supah helpful and patient with us as we found colors we liked and that looked nice for us lighter toned girls.πŸ‘Œ

After picking out our tunic, leggings or pantaloons, and shawls, we left the store much more informed about Indian casual wear than when we went in. Then we went to meet our Pastors for lunch. Once filled with spicy Indian delicacies, we drove to the village where we would teach our lessons. We arrived earlier than expected, but still had quite a turn out. So many adults as well as children came out to hear our lessons. It gives my heart joy when I look out at the kids we are teaching, and I see that some of them have the bindi on their foreheads and yet they are here listening to God's Word. Our lessons do seem to be going smoother and we are starting to memorize our teaching styles. One of the best parts, is right after we give our gifts, we can talk for a short time with everyone. A majority of the children speak very good English, and they all want to know our names and how we are doing. We answer, and then ask them, which when they answer they are so excited and usually laugh. It's tricky hearing all the parts of their names because they are so different, but each is so beautiful. However, some of them do have more western names like Jocelyn, or Markus. Everyone wants pictures with us too, but they call them selfies, even when they actually aren't. We have caught on to a cultural fad while here in India. When something is really good they say "Sup-ahr" and make a πŸ‘Œ. We started to do it, and when we do, they think it's funny.

So good morning to everyone!
*Lindsey, Mackenna, Steffie*

Monday, July 18, 2016

"I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy..."

Becky and Raven here again (Becky typing)! We're hanging out in our hotel room at the moment after eating a big Indian buffet-style/continental breakfast and taking our anti-malaria meds. :) Raven told me I did the Indian head wobble this morning when I was responding to a question she asked me (they sort of wobble their heads back and forth to say yes instead of nodding up and down like we do), and I didn't even realize I had done I guess I am acclimating well to my new environment! ;)

Yesterday's church service was such an awesome experience for me. I definitely had some emotional moments, being so filled with joy and gratitude for being there. We taught VBS before church to an adorable group of children of various ages, and many women came to church as well. There were very few men, and Pastor Jyothi said the men were out working in the fields and couldn't attend. We also met the pastor's son and he introduced me to his sister. I told him how my father is also a pastor and he smiled. He seemed to enjoy talking to fellow PK Alex too. :)

Raven and I teach the song "I've Got the Joy Down in My Heart" to the children before our lessons, and we both cannot get that song to stop running through our heads. But I don't mind too much because it's exactly how I feel when I'm with my Christian brothers and sisters in India - "I'm so happy, so very happy!" I definitely felt the joy in my heart as we sang and clapped to the song and I looked into the smiling faces and big, beautiful eyes of the children singing and dancing along with us. These kids fill my heart to overflowing, there's no other way to describe it!
I found myself going into full school teacher mode in the middle of my lesson yesterday, when I noticed a group of boys chatting away and disrupting some of the kids around them. While Pastor Nireekshana was translating something I said, I leaned down towards the boys, gave them the "teacher look" (but with an immediate smile) and held my finger to my lips to quiet them. I don't think they expected it, haha. But it did the trick. ;) I was waaaay more gentle in my approach than the Indian adults are....the other night, rowdy kids got a swat with a stick by one of the men! For the most part though, all of the kids have been very attentive, especially for sitting through 4 different lessons and having to listen to English first and then the words repeated in Telugu.

After teaching, it was time for the church service to start. Pastor Jyothi had a few Sunday School girls come up front to do an absolutely adorable, energetic action song. I got a video of it that I will upload and share to the blog when I get back home next week. I had only been to one other church service in India besides this one, and I saw similarities in this service to the one I attended in 2013. Lots of repetitions of what the Pastor says (like a congregational response, but because they don't have bulletins/service folders to read from, they repeat each phrase as the Pastor leads). There was lots of singing and clapping, accompanied by a rhythmic drumbeat, played on bongo type drums by Pastor Nireekshana. I was able to pick out the "traditional" aspects of a Lutheran service... invocation, confession of sins, scripture readings and sermon text, offering, benediction, etc. Pastor Fleischer preached the sermon with Pastor Jyothi translating. It was based on the text of Matthew 18, about the disciples question of "who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Pastor introduced it with the story from the previous night of when the political leader came in and everyone stopped what they were doing to honor him. He talked about how being so great and important is appealing to all of us, but that Jesus used the example of a little child to show us that believers should be trusting, believing, humble, and follow what their heavenly Father  tells them to do, just as very little children are and do. Pastor Fleischer had many sweet little children in front of him to use as visual examples of his preaching!
Communion was very similar to what we do in the US, except the congregation formed more of an assembly line and grabbed their bread from Pastor Fleischer, their individual wine cup from Pastor Evensen, and received a blessing from Pastor Jyothi ("May this eating and drinking strengthen and preserve you..."). He put his hand on their heads and then traced the sign of the cross. Everyone then takes their bread and wine to their own spots on the floor and consumes it there. I got a little teary-eyed and emotional as I received the Lord's Supper from these three wonderful pastors and took part in it with CLCI church members. Such a blessing to have this unique experience.

After church, we distributed gifts to the children and adults. The kids then repeatedly came up to Raven and me, saying "Hi! Hi!" and shaking our hands. There was a group of little girls that kept crowding around me, just beaming with joy and just wanting to stand near me and smile their gorgeous smiles. I asked if I could take a picture with them, and as soon as I brought out my camera, a few more girls came running up to the join the picture. Later, one little girl gestured to me that she wanted to take a picture with me, and as I kneeled down beside her to get ready to take a "selfie" with her, a bunch of the others ran up and gathered around me. I thanked the kids for the pictures, telling them that I would look at them at home and be able to always remember them and pray for them. They all just smiled and giggled and covered their faces in glee and embarrassment. :) One of the girls said "pen" and pretended to write on her palm, and I figured out she wanted my autograph when several other children held out their hands. Alex loaned me a pen and I began to fulfill a dozen requests for hand autographs, feeling like a celebrity. The pastors began telling me, "Sister, it's time to go." So I began saying goodbye, which prompted all the kids to repeatedly shake my hand and say "Bye! Bye!" Pastor Jyothi said something about "They want to take you home with them!" But I didn't catch if he meant the mission helpers wanting to take the kids home or the kids wanting to take us home. Either way, I would agree to it if I could! The children were so precious and smiled their ways into my heart...."down in my heart to stay!"

The sweeties also ran back to our vehicle just as we were about to drive away, carrying a bottle of Mazza (mango juice drink) that I had left in the church. They didn't want me to forget it. Aww. :) Part of me thinks they just wanted an excuse to see us again though! ;)

Today (Monday) we are planning to tour some Buddhist caves and then go right to our teaching location after. However, we learned this morning that the CLCI's vehicle broke down and had to be towed to a shop to get please pray for that! In the meantime, we are hanging out around our hotel and relaxing. The wifi has been having issues so not sure when and how often Raven and I will be online, but we'll update when we can!

- Becky

"No one is looking at the statue, Brother, they are all photographing you!"

Becky from the CLCI team reporting from a hotel in Vijayawada. It's Monday morning here. But I have a weekend of events to catch you all up on, so let's go back to Saturday....

On Saturday we went out for lunch and ordered a south Indian thali meal, which is a bunch of rice and then a whole bunch of tiny dishes of curries and sauces and things to add to the rice. It was like a merry-go-round of flavors as we went around the plate trying each dish. Raven and I have had fun coming up with American comparisons to the flavors of the new foods we try... so far we have compared things to French toast, Bugles, and sour cream and onion chips (a "runny version", haha).

We did some sightseeing that afternoon. We went to a Buddhist temple with a HUGE statue of Buddha on top of it. As were standing in front looking at the statue, Pastor Jyothi turned to Pastor Joel and said, "No one is looking at the statue, Brother, they are all taking pictures of you!" Pastor Joel and Alex draw a lot of attention with their height. Many people have asked to take pictures with them. One of the women referred to Pastor Joel as "the highest man" and Raven and I got a kick out of that. :)
The temple is still under development and the inside is closed to the public, but Pastor Jyothi got us access inside  - VIP pass! There were Buddhist carvings all over the walls that were very interesting and elaborate. As we walk around temples and view the elaborate carvings of false gods, I find it a solemn reminder of how truly important it is to share and spread the gospel and help people to know the one true living God and the only path to heaven.
We also went to a museum that had a whole bunch of ancient artifacts - I enjoyed seeing ancient jewelry and coins. There was even ancient eyeliner!

That night we went about an hour outside of Guntur to a village to teach VBS at a church. There were around 70 very excited, energetic, and loud children packed inside the little building. I loved their enthusiasm! While we were in the middle of our VBS program, a group of men came in with a political leader who was campaigning. He's favorable to Christians, according to Jyothi, so our VBS must have made for a good campaign stop. Everyone stopped to honor him and take pictures. Then we got back to teaching...Our lessons went very well and gift distribution went smoothly and we were all done by 8:30.

We left Guntur on Sunday morning to go to a Sunday church service. We'd be teaching VBS there and then getting to participate in a communion service. I was so excited to go to church and worship with one of the CLCI congregations! But that's a story for my next blog post.... :)

Thank you again for your prayers and the messages you have sent me on Facebook! Your prayers are at work over here and a huge blessing to our trip. Everything is going very well so far. I didn't think it was possible, but I think I night be enjoying this second trip even more than my first time in India! I am just so happy to be back here, I wish I knew how to explain it! :)

- Becky

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Parades and Teaching the Simple Gospel Message...

The BELC Team had the privilege of teaching the simple Gospel message to more than 160 children today and the honor of being welcomed by a parade!
A Parade through the streets with six boys playing the drums as they lead the way!
More than 160 children hear the simple Gospel message!

"Come, sisters..."

Becky from the CLCI team here...

Friday was our first day of work, as we drove back out to the CLCI seminary that morning. Pastor Peter and Pastor Joel were instructing a large group of CLCI pastors. Alex went out to explore the area with Nireekshana, Jyothi's brother. And Raven and I were asked to teach a small group of Sunday School teachers some Christian children's songs that we had planned to teach in our VBS lessons. Pastor Jyothi had asked me to email them to him ahead of time so that he could transliterate the lyrics into Telugu. He made a little song booklet that we could hand out to the children and teachers with Telugu on one side and English on the other. We went up to a chapel room to practice the songs with  the teachers. They knew some English, but Pastor Nireekshana's wife Annie (not sure if that's how she spells it - she compared her name to Anna from the Bible) translated when things weren't understood. After Raven and I went through the words and actions of the songs several times with the women, we sat with them and they asked us questions about our lives and families. They wanted to know all about our jobs, how many siblings we have, whether we were married or not, etc. They asked us to share our "experience with God" and Raven and I talked about how our experiences in church, Sunday School, and Christian day schools (especially the influence of our teachers and former mission helpers) inspired us to become mission helpers. The women were very interested in Raven's trip to Africa and asked her to tell them more about her experiences there. Throughout that morning they repeated how much our coming to visit them was appreciated, and how we are bringing glory to God with our work. I made sure to emphasize how much they encourage and inspire us, and I told them how so many CLC members in the States are praying for them. It was so wonderful to have these intimate conversations with these Christian "sisters," it was an experience I had not had on my past trip. We don't always get to hear about the great work that the women in India also do for the Lord, and spending a morning with some of these dedicated Sunday School teachers, wives, and mothers was a very uplifting and inspirational moment that I will treasure for a long time! I asked the women if we could get our pictures taken with them so I could capture this special moment in my trip and remember their faces. I'm not sure if I'll be able to get my camera photos uploaded while I'm here, but I will be sure to share photos to the blog when I get home!

Speaking of sisters, that is the title that Raven and I are given over here, and we know to simply listen for that word "sister" to know where to go and what to do. :) The people here are so respectful, caring, and protective of us. It's very touching and wonderful - Moms, we are in good hands and are well taken care of over here! ;) We daily hear "Come, sisters" when they want us to follow them somewhere, and "Sisters, have a seat" and "Please sit, sisters" when they want us to stop wandering around and sit and relax. :) Much of our morning at the seminary was spent sitting inside with fans blowing on us, while the women kept us company and served us coffee. Nireekshana's wife sat with Raven and me for a long time, and we were able to have some more conversations and get to know her better. She asked about the meanings of our first names, and then we learned how deeply thoughtful naming children must be here...We asked about her children, and she gave us these beautiful descriptions of the Biblical symbolism behind her three children's names. After asking about her children's ages and learning about their schooling, Annie asked me more about my role as a public school teacher and about what kindergarten is like in the States. She had just asked me to explain how I teach my students how to read, when we were interrupted by someone else. Later in the conversation Annie shared about the difficulties Christian churches in India face because of the predominantly Hindu political leaders. She mentioned some of the persecution, including how churches in other areas have been burned. She talked about how important it has been to India to have foreign missionaries come to share the Gospel with people. I also thanked her for all of the work that the CLCI Christians are doing to continue to water and grow the seeds of faith that have been sown in the fields of a nation that is so covered in idol worship. I consider it a beautiful blessing to have met this strong and kind pastor's wife and have had a heartfelt conversation with her. I wish I could bring her back home with me to meet all of you!

We had a delicious lunch there that afternoon with ice cream for dessert! We were asked to take group photos with the pastors on the roof, and the mission helpers talked with each other about how being up on a flat roof like that really helps you imagine some of the Bible accounts such as David watching Bathsheba on the roof and people lowering the sick and lame man through the roof to get Jesus to heal him. After the photo taking, we stayed up there for awhile to look around and enjoy the breeze.

We had our first VBS session that night...and it was quite the late night session! We arrived around 8:30 pm, but no one was there yet because it had just rained earlier and there was a delay. I think we started around 10, and all of our lessons went longer than we had expected, and by the time we wrapped everything up, it was close to 1 AM! We all tweaked our lesson plans to condense them and Saturday's lessons went much more smoothly and efficiently. We started VBS earlier on Saturday night and were done by 8:30. I want to write more about Saturday's sightseeing and teaching, but will save that for a separate post.

It's 7:30 AM here in Guntur, and we are leaving for a Sunday church service at 10. We'll be doing our VBS lessons at church, and it sounds like we don't have anything scheduled for tonight so we can rest. Thanks for your continued prayers!

- Sister Becky and Sister Raven

"What a day of blessings! It is just full of joy..."

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!

- Becky 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

List of Today's Experiences...

List of today's experiences:
πŸ“Žtried Papaya
πŸ“Ž ate rice for breakfast and lunch but not dinner (yay!)
πŸ“Žhad dominoes pizza in Chennai
πŸ“Ž took pictures of monkeys

Our fourth day in India had so many funny moments. Firstly, we had way too many monkey sightings. Our fantastic driver gave us the whole experience. On our way out of the first village, we saw a group of them. They were playing in the trees, on the fence and in the road. We even stopped the car and backed up so we could get a good picture of a mom and her baby.
We visited the church and after Pastor O gave a lesson, we ate lunch in our generous Pastor's house. He and his family were so kind and welcoming and the food was delicious! However, I felt very disrespectful because I didn't eat the chicken on my plate and when our host asked why, I said I was vegan and he was appalled. He felt bad because I had meat on my plate, but I felt so bad because I couldn't eat everything served and I didn't want to be a disrespectful guest. But it was all okay. Then Pastor O said the the son of our host was single, and said one of our helpers should marry her and that Pastor O would give a good dowry. Everyone laughed at that. Eating and having fellowship with all the helpers and our fellow Christians was an amazing and wonderful time. I personally feel so blessed to be surrounded by such beautiful people.
I especially loved and had a good experience with today's children in the second village we visited. They were all so beautiful and well behaved. During the lessons, I was "talking" to some of the girls with my eyes and facial expressions, even though I probably should of been listening. We would laugh or make a face about the story at an interesting part, or I would give a thumbs up when they quieted the younger girls. By the end, all I wanted was to be able to just talk with them for a bit. And play with the young kids. The language barrier is so hard. All you want is to give love, but sometimes you feel hindered because you can only communicate with your eyes or a smile or your hands.
Most of us are still coping with time change. But we can usually make it to about 4pm or 5pm before we really feel crashed. Hopefully we will adjust soon. Your many prayers are a blessing to us!

"A short time in presence, but not in heart..."

This is Becky from the CLCI team (Pastor Peter, Pastor Joel, Alex, Raven, and me) finally finding some time and trying to work up energy to contribute to the blog. We are just waking up to our fourth full day in India, and there have already been so many incredible experiences, I'm not sure where to begin! But those of you who know me from the 2013 blog know that once I do get started, I am bound to ramble here we go... :)

This is my second trip to India as a mission helper. I went in 2013 and worked with pastors and churches in the BELC. This time I will be with the CLCI, so I will have the blessing of meeting new people and seeing new places. I am thankful for the opportunity of being a mission helper for both church bodies in India!
I have been praying about and thinking about returning to India since the night I got on the plane to come back home in July 2013. So I felt no hesitation this time around when the time came to apply for this mission trip. God was saying GO, and I was ready to be sent back! Before my first mission trip, I had related much to Moses in Exodus 4, when he was feeling anxious and inadequate to fulfill the task that God was calling him to do. Now, as I prepared for my second trip to India, I found myself drawn to words of the apostle Paul in his epistles. I connected to Paul's feelings he describes in 1 Thessalonians 2:17: "But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, but not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire." Although I've been separated from the congregations in India by both time and distance, they have never left my heart or my prayers. After deeply longing to be with them again, to join again in fellowship, worship, and prayer with my dear Indian brothers and sisters in Christ, I cannot stop sending up prayers of thanks to the Lord for blessing me with this opportunity to return!

It is my hope that I can share with everyone at home the stories of your fellow Christians in the CLCI so that those of you who are following our journey through the blog and supporting this mission through your prayers, donations, and encouraging words can get at least a glimpse of the joy, hope, and love that we experience when we work alongside our beloved brothers and sisters in India. Thank you for your prayers for our work! To God be the glory!

I will write more later, we are off to another city this morning! All is well so far with our team! :)

- Becky

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Visit to the CLCI and a Welcome Ceremony to Remember

Hey hey from over the way!
Last night we mission helpers visited the CLCI compound, which houses the orphanage and seminary school, for a welcome ceremony. Everything was beautiful, and Pastor Benjamin, his family, and his congregation's love for the Lord was inspiring. The buildings were lit with Christmas lights, but the light from everyone's smiles was even brighter. God's word was shared in Telugu and English, some of the children sang a welcome song, and we all shared the gift of fellowship. After the welcome ceremony, there was a feast in our honour. And the food was delicious! It was amazing that though our culture and language and lives are vastly different, what we all shared was the Lord, and His Word.
Today our groups separated and we drove back towards Chennai, and visited our first village. We were fortunate to meet people with such a love for life and Christ.
Preparing for today, we were nervous about teaching in front of so many kids and with an added language barrier. Nothing went quite as we planned. However, God's Word was shared and His Spirit was definitely with us. Going into today, we found a verse from 1 Corinthians that really helped to encourage us. Paul writes, "When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith, might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
We found that even though we may not feel fully prepared to share God's message, we are only the mouth piece. What matters is that God's words were taught and those who were present learned of His love, sacrifice, and forgiveness for them.
*Mackenna, Steffie, Lindsey*