New friends – one from the States, one from Poland
The day’s highlight for me was speaking to the women in the morning session. Being over-busy is a common struggle to many women, and this group could relate to my message on that topic because of the additional demands on their schedules due to ministry. I encouraged them to keep their relationship with Jesus as their utmost priority – that abiding in the Vine (John 15) is what matters most, and that doing so will result in a fruitful life.
Today I discovered the answer to a question over which I’ve puzzled for nearly 25 years. When we lived in Nepal, I struggled with culture shock, illness, discouragement, isolation, and homesickness. Over the years since our return to North America, I’ve often wondered what that experience was about. What was the purpose behind our living there for three years, struggling with those issues, having no visible results for our labors, and then returning home to NA? The answer? Maybe, just maybe, it was to give me a heart that understands these missionary women and the issues they deal with on a daily basis. After I’d presented my message, several told me that it was nice to hear from someone who truly understood their situations. All I can say is, “Thank You, Lord, for so beautifully knitting Your design into Your children’s lives.”
Along a lighter note, we were served wieners for breakfast this morning. Three weenies each, with a slice of cucumber and tomato. I love these cultural differences!
The International Messengers conference began this morning with heartfelt praise and worship music and a message that encouraged us toward personal revival. What an amazing time – the room was filled with missionaries who share the same Lord and purpose but who come from various backgrounds and countries. There were folks from the Ukraine, Germany, Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Canada, and the U.S., to name a few.
As we mixed and mingled with various individuals throughout the day, Gene and I realized afresh that our new responsibilities have thrown us onto an ever-increasingly steep learning curve. Being effective means understanding the various projects into which these people have invested their lives, and capturing their vision and passion. It means learning to understand various cultures and why certain evangelistic efforts will or will not work within them. It means carrying our understanding back to North America and sharing it with others with the hope that they will capture the vision and passion, too, and choose to get involved here as kingdom-builders either on a short-term, long-term, or support basis for those on the frontlines.
Personally, I’m challenged by the passion I hear in the missionaries’ voices as they speak about their projects. One gal is running a horseback-riding therapy program for handicapped orphans and she needs someone with wrangler skills to come alongside her.
One couple is holding weekly evangelistic children’s clubs for at-risk kids in the government’s social service program. They’re trying to follow a scouting-type program but have no such manuals in their language. They asked us if we could find something of that nature and mail it to them. They will translate the manual into their own language. They also asked if we could find a team of helpers with scouting experience to help them run a 10-day summer camp for these kids in 2008. The Polish government is aware of their efforts and will pay the children’s way to camp because it recognizes the long term benefits of this couple’s efforts.
Some missionaries are working with kids who literally live in the sewers of Odessa, Ukraine. Others are conducting prison ministries for men and women. Some are caring for homeless women, while others are providing care for children with HIV/AIDS.
I have the highest respect for these missionaries. Some are nationals struggling with limited finances for personal living expenses. Others are North Americans who have said goodbye to family and familiarity and stepped into a foreign culture and language that means facing a daily challenge. They’re dealing with issues such as loneliness, meeting their children’s educational needs as best they can, and trying to establish relationships with nationals who sometimes regard them with suspicion or distrust. I feel so honored to come alongside and encourage them in their work.
We spent last night with Brad’s family. What a delight to chat and share a meal in their home. After breakfast we hopped into their car and drove about an hour to the hotel where the IM conference would be held. Along the way I noticed numerous roadside shrines – mostly celebrating Mary, the mother of Jesus. I couldn’t help but think of the uncanny similarity between them and the roadside shrines in Nepal and India. Their focus is different but they’re all built to worship someone other than God.
Sad news arrived in the late afternoon. Four Christian young people, all with associations to IM, were driving to a youth conference in Romania earlier in the day. They were traveling with other vehicles headed for the same destination but had fallen behind. In their hurry to catch up, the driver lost control of the car. It crashed into a tree and exploded into flames; everyone died instantly. One of the passengers was a 20-year-old girl – the same age as my youngest daughter. Another was a youth worker – an only child to his parents. His girlfriend also died.
My heart broke when I heard the news. Four young people were ushered into heaven, leaving loved ones behind wondering why God would allow such a tragedy and crying out to Him in their pain. I can’t imagine what they’re feeling.
Rolling green fields dotted with farms and villages greeted us as the plane descended into Kosice (ko-SHEETS-sa). As we waited in the customs lineup we watched as a gypsy couple and their teenage daughter handed over their documents to the official behind a plexiglass window. He snapped at them. They didn’t understand his question, so he snapped at them again. And again. And again. I felt sorry for them, but the incident backed up what we’d heard in the past – that gypsies are not well-liked. The official allowed the parents to go to the baggage claim area but he ordered the girl to stay put while he processed our passports. We’re not sure why he kept her back – perhaps he was checking for the possibility of human trafficking.
Brad, one of our Canadian IM missionaries, met us at the airport. He took us to see an abandoned former college facility that IM is hoping to purchase for use as a conference center. It’s in desperate need of TLC, but it would be ideal once remodeled. On the same grounds was another building – a castle of sorts – that’s more than 200 years old and in the process of being restored for ministry use. Walking through the facility made me feel like I’d stepped back into history. I imagined grand parties held by royalty – ladies in poofy ballroom gowns, gents in their fanciest attire, feasts prepared by the servants in the kitchen downstairs. Wouldn’t it be great to see the building useable once again, especially for ministry purposes?
My oh my, what a day. Gene and I woke up yesterday morning facing a never-ending to-do list. We were still organizing our household after moving a few days prior, and now we had to run last-minute errands and pack for our trip. The day wore into evening, the evening rolled into nighttime, and still we hadn’t come to the end of our list. At 3 a.m. we decided that whatever tasks hadn’t been completed by then wouldn’t be completed, so we piled our suitcases into the car and headed for the airport.
The early hour meant no crowds so we easily passed through security and found a seat in the waiting area. We’d already been awake for 25 hours when our flight left at 8:20. The flight took us to Toronto, another took us to Vienna, and the last leg took us to Kosice, Slovakia.
Overseas travel sounds glamorous, but glamorous it is not. Imagine the screaming toddler behind us from Toronto to Vienna – three hours of non-stop crying until she fell asleep exhausted. Imagine reaching Vienna after being awake for about 40 hours and then searching for a place to rest during our four-hour layover. We found one waiting area with about 150 other people who looked equally exhausted. I crashed on a bench while Gene guarded our belongings. Then we switched places and he caught a short nap. At this point we felt like total aliens – we couldn’t read a word on the signs, couldn’t understand a word of anything spoken, and had no local currency to buy a snack. We’d entered another part of the world in which nothing was familiar.
We’ve been home for a few days, busy catching up on business that fell by the wayside in our absence. Plus, we celebrated our youngest child’s 20th birthday on Tuesday!! No more teenagers….I’m getting soooo old!!
Jet lag hit me a little harder than I’d expected. I had an interview with my publisher’s publicity team on Monday afternoon to gear up for my next book (Moving From Fear to Freedom: A Woman’s Guide to Peace in Every Situation – coming in August), and oh my….I struggled to come up with intelligent answers to their questions. I know that book inside and out, but I just couldn’t think clearly enough to give them an overview in a nugget. They were very patient with me. Sigh.
But this morning I’m feeling much better; the achy fatigue is gone. And good thing. I’m flying to Manitoba shortly to do a TV taping for “It’s a New Day” and speak at a Baptist women’s conference this weekend. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go.
But first, I want to say thanks to all who followed my blog over the past few weeks and prayed for our safety and strength. Several of you emailed to assure us of your prayers, and that meant a lot. I’m still processing everything that happened, and I’m sure it will take time.
Gene put together an 8-minute Power Point presentation for me to use this weekend, and tears fill my eyes each time I watch it. It’s hard to believe that less than a week has passed since those pictures were taken, since I hugged the village kids and they giggled in response. Their lives are so very different than ours, so difficult in many ways. I never want to slip back into comfortable North American complacency, content with having my needs met and forgetting about those who struggle to survive.
A quote sits on my desk this morning. It says, “Be as great in your acts as you have been in your thoughts.” My thoughts wander back to those people we mingled with in India and Nepal and they nudge me to pray for them and to support them as I can. It would be so easy to get caught up in my busyness here again, and to let those thoughts dim over time. But this quote encourages me to act upon my thoughts. Don’t just think about praying and giving. Do it. I want to be as great in my acts toward the needy as I have been in my thoughts. As James 1:22 says, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”
We’re heading home. I’m writing this at 39,000 feet, somewhere over eastern Canada. We’ve already flown nine hours from New Delhi to London. Another nine hours to Vancouver will put us on the tarmac by six o’clock.
How does one process the past three weeks’ events? While waiting in Heathrow, Gene asked me if the experience has left me emotionally drained or emotionally charged. That’s an easy question. While I’m exhausted physically, the emotions are running on high. . .
I’ve been challenged to re-evaluate priorities and values. I’ve been blessed beyond words by the kindness shown by the World Vision India staff. I’ve been thrilled to meet Ankit and his family and numerous other Indian friends. I’ve been encouraged to see God at work in pockets all across this Asian land. And now the question is: How does God want to use this experience to accomplish His purposes in and through my life? My heart’s desire is that coming home and re-entering the North American culture and life’s busyness will neither erase the memories nor hinder His purposes.
Bless the hearts of the World Vision staff, they arranged for vehicles and drivers to take Gene and me and the two WV Canada staff to New Delhi. As if that wasn’t enough, two of them decided to accompany us. The round trip took them about 12 hours and believe me, the driving conditions are anything but safe. These fellows have such humble, servants’ hearts. They work so hard with no complaints and consider it all joy. “God, pour out Your blessing on these men.”
By mid-afternoon we arrived in New Delhi and booked into a YWCA. With the temperature soaring to about 112 degrees, it was ‘way too hot to sightsee. We walked a few blocks to find a restaurant for supper and that was almost too much.
Strange thing – we ate at a McDonald’s. Imagine – only a day prior we were in rural India where the villagers struggle to survive for lack of water six months each year. Now we sat in an air-conditioned restaurant eating grilled chicken burgers as families celebrated their kid’s birthday parties a few tables away, just like at home. Outside sat vendors selling chewing tobacco to eek out a living. A block away, convention guests and tourists checked into hotels that cost more than $300 per night. To say that India is a land of extreme contrast is an understatement!
Our hotel was a 45-minute drive from the WV office and Ankit’s community. We returned around 7:00 p.m., our bodies begging for a shower to wash away the sweat and dust.
We had the evening to write a feedback report for WV, pack, and grab a bite to eat. At midnight, the WV staff returned to pick us up and drive us to the train station. Now THAT experience was another story…
We had to make two trips from the hotel to the train station because the vehicle couldn’t hold everyone and their gear. Gene and I were dropped off first. There we stood in the dark, eyed by curious and perhaps suspicious nationals. I was the only woman in sight; my white skin and short, fair hair drew stares like a magnet. A wee bit unnerving, to say the least. Suddenly, like a guardian angel, a WV Indian staff member appeared. “Hi! I’ve been waiting for you inside the terminal!” Whew. Relief swept over me as he took my suitcases and directed us to a safer place to wait.
The others showed up about 20 minutes later, making us a group of seven. We transferred everything to a waiting area immediately beside the tracks where we stood for the next hour. Now I became the one who stared.
Two police officers with a prisoner between them walked past us and climbed aboard a darkened train car. A rope joining the three at the wrists kept the prisoner from escaping. A man with only one leg hobbled by, using one crutch to steady himself. A family with four small children slept on the bare concrete about five feet from the tracks. An elderly man sat a few feet away, watching the goings-on in silence as his wife slept on the ground beside him. A stray dog scrounged through garbage and then curled up to sleep. A train employee holding an old-fashioned lantern with a light that glowed like a 30-watt bulb stood at the edge of the platform as one engine disconnected from a row of cars and pulled away.
Finally our train arrived. The WV staff directed us to the sleeping car for which we had reservations, but within a few moments we realized we had a problem. Apparently there was a booking mistake and our reservations had been made for the previous night! The train employee in charge of that car simply shook his head and told us that if we could get our tickets changed right away, we could ride. Unfortunately, the train began to move away from the station before we could get to the ticket booth and back. By now it was nearly 2:00 a.m. With only one clean and safe hotel within an hour’s drive or more, I silently prayed that our rooms were still available as we loaded our suitcases back into the Jeep.
The hotel’s security gates were locked when we showed up. I whispered another arrow prayer. Our driver honked and honked the horn while our guardian angel searched for and found an opening in the fence. He roused the night security guard and reception clerk, and they greeted us with unspoken questions written over their faces. Thankfully our rooms hadn’t been claimed by anyone else. It was 3:00 a.m. before everyone had returned to the hotel. Our best laid plans had fallen apart, but we slept with the confidence that, for whatever reason God had allowed this, we were in His care.
Today was another forever etched on my heart. The WV team drove us at least an hour into a remote area before parking the vehicles on the roadside. As if on cue, about 18 men, women, and children appeared from around the next bend wearing smiles a mile wide. The women, clad in their finest saris, carried marigold garlands and floral bouquets with which they welcomed us. Then they joined us for a long uphill (and very sweaty) trek to a village that has been greatly impacted by World Vision.
Three-quarters of the way up the hill, another group welcomed us with more marigold leis. They held a banner that declared themselves as the “self-help women’s group” – those benefiting from the economic development program made possible through WV sponsorship.
When we rounded the last corner, we saw the rest of the village waiting for us. They’d planned a welcoming reception for us to say thank-you for the impact that WV has had on their community. Every child (about 35) in the village is sponsored by a Canadian, and WV has supplied each household (7) with a concrete tank that collects 8,000 litres of water during the rainy season to provide the valued resource for six months of the year. Although this doesn’t solve the water supply problem year-round, it has provided immense relief to these precious villagers.
They ushered us into a makeshift outdoor meeting area, shaded from the searing sun by a tarp. They gave us seats of honor and again presented us with marigold leis and floral bouquets. A pre-teen girl sang a song she’d written about the value of education, and a toothless grandma stole the show with a song and dance. We were able to say a few words of thanks and encouragement, and then they served us chia and crackers. I estimate that 70 people were present. Some had walked a long distance from surrounding villages for the event. Doing so in this scorching heat was no small effort on their behalf.
The people’s warmth overwhelmed me. They lack the material possessions that North Americans enjoy, but they’re rich in hospitality and gratitude. They were eager to communicate despite the language barrier, and I enjoyed a good chat with a WV volunteer who helps coordinate the women’s self-help group. She told me that they’ve benefited through the purchase of cows and the subsequent ability to sell the milk for income.
This village’s size and remote location reminded me of our experience in Nepal. It felt like I’d come home to long-lost friends. Again, when departure time came, I found it difficult to say goodbye. In Nepalese I told them the women that they were my “sottees” (friends); the word was close enough to Hindi that they understood. They nodded and smiled and lined up for goodbye hugs. While most stayed on the edge of the village and waved farewell, those from surrounding villages walked the path with us. One by one they eventually veered onto other paths enroute to their own villages, and again we exchanged hugs.
As women, our lives are a universe apart. These gals climb trees to cut leaves as fodder for their livestock. They walk kilometers to collect one or two containers of water for household use. They live miles from the nearest clinic or bazaar where they can buy the simplest staples such as bar soap. They’ll never have a driver’s license, let alone own a car. Despite the differences, we all understand the meaning of friendship. Smiles and hugs transcend language barriers.
A part of my heart remains in rural India.
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