Conntecting the Dots

Tuesday, April 10

Mid-morning saw us enroute to meet Ankit. First, though, we bumped our way from the congested bazaar to the town’s outskirts where our convoy of WV vehicles stopped. A group of people met us and motioned for us to follow them to a canopied area behind a shop. These folks were the village leaders, the local committee that works closely with WV, and the team of women involved in the self-help group.

They treated us like royalty, directing us to chairs at the front of the meeting area. They placed garlands of orange marigolds around our necks and gave us bouquets of flowers. The chairman made a speech, expressing gratitude for World Vision’s work in their community and thanking us, as sponsors, for coming to visit them. Then they invited us to speak. It was such a pleasure to tell them that the pleasure was ours, and to thank them for their partnership with WV in accomplishing meaningful goals among the poorest of the poor within their community. I truly felt humbled by their gratitude and hospitality. The time with them ended all too soon, but we had to press forward to reach Ankit at school before classes would be dismissed at noon.

Another five minutes’ drive found us at six-year-old Ankit’s school. Twenty-seven children, grades one through four, were sitting on skimpy blankets on a concrete floor in one room. Grades five through eight sat in an adjoining room.

Ankit knew we were coming, but he was obviously unsure of himself and these white-skinned strangers. When the teacher asked him to stand and we approached him, he responded by looking down and avoiding our eyes. We simply smiled and said “Namaste” to him. He then bent down and touched our toes to show respect. I wanted to pick him up and give him a big hug, but I had to restrain myself because that might have been his undoing!

I’d purchased enough foam shapes to do a craft with 30 children, so this class size was perfect. Within minutes we’d pulled out the supplies and shown the kids how to make a picture with the shapes. They eagerly set to work and completed their craft without further instruction. The kids from the adjoining class then filed in, and we gave the teachers some gummy worm candy to distribute to all.

Next on the agenda was a visit to Ankit’s home. We walked about a quarter-mile with him and two of his older brothers down a dusty road and through a wheat field to their two-room home made of mud and rock. Several cows rested in the courtyard near the house where family and friends had already gathered for the event.

World Vision staff introduced us to Ankit’s parents and nine siblings. At first I felt a little awkward – what are the perfect words to say in such a situation, anyway? With cameras clicking and a video camera recording the event, I suddenly felt overwhelmed. How must the family have felt? The entire moment seemed surreal. Thankfully we were able to disappear into the house with just the family. There I gave them the gifts we’d purchased for them – a baseball cap for Dad, a comb and mirror set for Mom, beaded necklaces for Mom and the girls, toy airplanes for the kids, and peanut butter to spread on their “roti” (bread).

When we exited, Ankit showed us a card we’d mailed to him a couple of months ago. I showed him the picture and thank-you note he’d sent to us in return, and gave him a picture of our family. I think something twigged in his mind when he saw the picture he’d drawn.

By now the courtyard had drawn a couple dozen curious villagers of all ages. They smiled and nodded as Gene and Eric, the Canadian WV rep, demonstrated playing with a Frisbee and with a Velcro ball and mitt set. Mothers and big sisters nudged the younger girls my direction when they saw that I’d brought a dozen wee hair ties. What fun!

With everyone now relaxed, Gene and I walked with Ankit and his parents through the back field. Using a translator, we asked questions about how much land they own, the crops they plant, and the challenges they face on a daily basis. One of their greatest challenges is the danger posed by wild elephants! Ankit’s father told us that an elephant had broken through the protective wire fence dividing their property from the jungle nearby only two days prior. He said that they run for safety if they see a beast coming their direction, but if it comes at night, there’s nothing they can do except remain as quiet as possible in their house.

We spent about an hour with the family. During that time, I bonded with Ankit’s mother. We’re from opposite sides of the earth and possess two very different belief systems, but we share the common desire for our kids’ well-being. There’s no way she can provide for her children’s material and physical needs as I can provide for mine, and my heart ached for her. When I offered her a farewell hug, she immediately responded and embraced me in return. I was finally able to give Ankit a hug, too. I’ll always treasure his shy smile and I make a commitment to correspond with him on a more regular basis.

“Dear God, Your Word contains more than 2,000 references to the poor and oppressed and You command Your children to help those who cannot help themselves. Please impress this day’s memories upon my heart and mind forever. Open my eyes, my heart, and my hands so that I might respond in a way that honors You and that makes a difference in the lives of the needy.”

Tuesday, April 10

Words cannot adequately describe today’s experience. The World Vision India staff here had obviously prepared very well for our visit. We enjoyed morning devotions with them and then they showed us a power point presentation of their work in this project. In all honesty, I learned that my understanding of WV’s work was very limited indeed.
I’d always (mistakenly) thought that our family’s monthly cheque went solely towards our supported child’s education, food, and medical care. I had no idea that our finances went towards community development so the entire village could benefit.

In our child’s situation, he IS receiving education and health care, but there’s more. One of his sisters has received a sewing machine and has learned to sew so she can become economically self-supporting. Two destitute widows and their children have received new homes. (Think of a one room concrete house, maybe eight feet wide and 12 feet long, and imagine sharing that with three kids – it beats the mud and rock house that was destroyed by rain). A third has received a toilet and shower facility. (Think of a concrete outhouse in the backyard and you get the picture. It sure beats having no shower facilities, and using the open fields as a toilet.) Mothers are being taught about the importance of child immunizations and HIV awareness, and kids are receiving regular medical checkups. There’s also a women’s self-help group that meets regularly to help participants become economically independent through the establishment of small business and to inform them of their legal rights (ie: they have a legal right to have sterile instruments used during child delivery and can demand to receive this service rather than risk infection through dirty instruments). Amazing! And I also learned that in this particular project area, there are six communities working together and Canadians sponsor more than 2500 children here.

World Vision’s structure is particularly impressive. The WV India team doesn’t dictate who will or will not receive sponsorship. Rather, it leaves that to the local leaders who know the families and can determine whose need is greatest. There’s a committee comprised of locals who also determine the community’s greatest needs (ie: do they have an adequate water source or could they benefit from having concrete water storage tanks to collect a six-month supply during the monsoon season?). The WV team networks to disperse funds but each member spends at least two days visiting projects to follow up and build strong relationships with the locals.

I was also very impressed with the hearts of the men in the WV office. They’re humble and hard-working. They’re passionate about their work and about seeing transformation take place in the lives of those who are the poorest of the poor.

Monday, April 9

Travel day. Enroute to the airport by 8:15, accompanied by a couple of OM women who attended the conference on Saturday. They presented me and Gene with hand-embroidered cotton shirts – a specialty item from Lucknow. We enjoyed a good chat as they told me about their involvement with women’s empowerment, especially among the Dalit women.

I’m so impressed with my Indian sisters. They’re on the front lines of service and their task is enormous, but they don’t utter a word of complaint. They simply dig in and get the job done. They display such humble hearts, but they are obviously women of great strength and passion. It’s hard to say goodbye to them – I wish I could stay with them longer and learn from them.

A 45-minute flight took us to New Delhi where three World Vision reps met us. We drove through bustling city streets for at least an hour, stopping and starting as traffic allowed. Two little girls, maybe ages 5-8, came to our car windows to sell red roses and beg for food when we stopped at a red light. I gave them three bananas I had in a bag, but they wanted more. The WV reps pointed at a woman wearing a green sari lingering on a nearby sidewalk and said that she was probably their mother, keeping a watchful eye over her daughters.

It took four hours to reach the region where our sponsored child lives. I’d never seen so many people anywhere. Even the rural bazaars were crawling with men, women, and children. There were lots of Muslim folks, too – women clad in black robes from head to toe (I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them in this heat), men with their white crocheted-looking hats. We saw dozens of farmers taking loads of sugar cane to the local processing mills, their loads stacked at least six feet high on flat wagons pulled by white oxen or black water buffalo. Our driver skillfully wound his way between the sugar cane wagons, men riding bicycles, horse-drawn wagons carrying 8 or 10 family members, motorcycles carrying three or four passengers, buses, and transport trucks. We finally arrived at our hotel around 7:30 p.m. – sweaty and dusty – and were greeted by the Canadian World Vision reps who’d arrived yesterday.

We’re definitely in a region of India where people aren’t accustomed to seeing white women. The female WV rep, Krista, and I garnered more than a few unwelcome stares from the male population. We were both wearing Capri pants – that might have had something to do with it! Tomorrow I’m planning to wear the Indian clothes I had a tailor sew for me while in Gangtok.

Sunday, April 8

The afternoon rolled on and on….

Yesterday at the conference I met an American woman who invited us to join her family and several others for Easter afternoon. Her hubby picked us up, and we saw more of Lucknow as he drove us to the home where they’d gathered. The moms were homeschoolers and glad for fellowship. It was so hot that we women folk visited in the master bedroom, sitting under the ceiling fan to stay cool.

From there we returned to the hotel and met with Dr. Sanjay Mall of World Vision India. What a joy to meet the man who helped orchestrate our visit to the project in which our sponsored child lives. I began to get an understanding of the incredible amount of coordination it has taken to pull this together. It would never had been possible without him and the India team.

We had a great visit over dinner. Our menu was somewhat turned around – Gene and I ate Indian food while he ate a chocolate ice cream sundae!

Sunday, April 7

This was an Easter Sunday to be remembered for the rest of my life. A group of about 50 men, women, and children met in the same facility as yesterday’s conference. They sang several English songs that we know from back home, and those were okay, but their enthusiasm rose to a new level when they broke into a Hindi chorus. I couldn’t understand a word but I could understand the joy that flowed from their hearts. With guitars and a bongo-type drum accompanying, they sang for probably five or six minutes. I just closed my eyes and joined them in spirit.

A group of about eight children participated in the program by doing a pantomime to an English song. The lyrics may be familiar to some: “Thank you for giving to the Lord…I am a life that was changed….Thank you for giving to the Lord….I am so glad you came.” The oldest child was perhaps 10 years old; the youngest was only three. It was so touching that I couldn’t hold back my tears.

As the song went on, I was challenged afresh to be faithful to God’s calling on my life. Life is about loving others, not collecting stuff or a bulky bank account or even building an impressive platform. It’s about serving and encouraging and building up. It’s about leaving a legacy that impacts others for eternity.

Minutes later I was given the privilege to encourage through the spoken word. I spoke from Psalm 138 and listed the reasons for why we can celebrate God: His unfailing love, His faithfulness, His answers to our prayers, His care for the humble, and His mighty power. A skilled translator interpreted everything in Hindi for those who spoke no English.

Afterwards we enjoyed an Indian lunch with several OM leaders and their wives. These wonderful, talented men and women are passionate about serving their own people. While Gene spoke with the men, I learned more about the work being done among the women. One of the most effective things they’re doing is called Women Empowerment. They send out teams to rural villages to educate women (especially Dalits) about their legal rights, literacy, health issues such as immunizations, family planning, TB and HIV awareness. They also visit women in prison and have had the opportunity to present Christmas programs to them.

The women in these prisons are there because of the dowry issues. For instance, when a girl marries, her family must pay a demanded sum to the groom’s family. The payment is made, but the groom’s family often returns to ask for more. These demands are not small; they might even include land, a motorbike, or even a new car. If the bride’s family cannot pay, the groom’s family will seek revenge by torturing or killing the girl. That’s what the bride burnings are about – dousing a woman with gasoline and burning her alive to punish her family for not meeting the dowry demands. The prisoners (the bride’s female in-laws) might have been directly involved in the killing, or they might be paying for the crime committed by the male members of the household. In any case, the living conditions consist of an outdoor facility (no protection from the chilly winds in the winter), and a concrete floor to sleep on. Bathing facilities are practically non-existent and the food would be less than sufficient. Whether they committed a crime or not, their hearts are heavy and they’re hungry for someone to show kindness.

Saturday, April 7

Our flight finally reached Lucknow about three hours late last night. Three Indian women and one of their tenth grade daughters greeted us with two bouquets of gladiolas. Bless their hearts, they still wore big smiles and gave me hugs despite waiting at the airport all evening.

The conference began at 10:30 this morning, and approximately 50 women came from various local churches. Remember how I keep saying that flexibility is the key word? Well, put another tally mark on the wall! I’d prepared to teach in English but when the MC used a translator, I knew I’d best switch mental gears immediately. Two gifted Indian women took turns speaking as my translators. It was a ton of fun to work with them, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The sessions went well, I believe. At the end of the last session, we had an open discussion time with questions focused on each of the three topics covered. I was delighted to see the ladies freely share their thoughts about how they’ve grown in their spiritual journey. I think they could have gone on for at least an hour but we ran out of time.

Harvest House and OM partnered to donate 70 copies of 10-Minute Time Outs for Busy Women to each participant. What a joy to see these women eagerly receive their own copies of the book!

I think I had my most embarrassing moment of my speaking career this afternoon. The heat here is about 105 degrees F. The electricity surged many times throughout the day, knocking out the air conditioning and leaving us sweltering in the meeting room. One lady gave me a cold Coke before the third session. I opened it while the ladies were singing a song a few minutes later. To my chagrin, the soda fizzed and overflowed all over my lap. There I was, desperately digging through my bag to find something…anything….to soak up the puddle of soda. The only thing I could find was a roll of toilet paper (one carries a personal roll of TP here because one never knows what to expect re: toilet facilities). I cleaned up what I could and got up to speak again albeit the huge wet spot across my middle. Oh well! The heat was good for something—it dried up the puddle while I hid behind the podium! The ladies enjoyed a good laugh when I told them what happened.

After the conference we had a few minutes to wander the street and buy bananas and oranges for tomorrow’s breakfast. On the nearby corner, a vendor sold marigold leis and teeny dishes filled oil and a candlewick. These were used by customers in a room across the street for a certain Hindu ritual performed only on Saturdays. We watched as men and women filed into the little room that held a golden idol that stood about three feet tall. They dabbed red powder on the idol’s face and set the burning candlewicks before it. Another idol sat in the room next door, flanked by two friendly Hindu priests – father and son, I learned.

Watching the idol worship reminds me of Scriptures that describe idols fashioned by man’s hand. Why do human hearts worship inanimate objects crafted by human hands? How does one find spiritual fulfillment by performing rituals on a rock? I’m also reminded of Scriptures that declare God as being above all gods. There are millions of false gods across this land but there’s only one true God – the One who loves mankind and invites relationship with anyone willing to believe in Him.

Friday, April 6

The morning began early with another meeting to learn more about human trafficking. One gal with whom we met has been working with sexually exploited women for several years. She told us that human trafficking is now a bigger international money-maker than the illegal drug industry. The evil and greed of man’s heart is hard to comprehend.

What to do about it? Well, I think I have my homework cut out. I need to do a lot more research and reading to ensure an accurate understanding of the complexity of the problem and to be able to suggest practical solutions.

We noticed something unusual when we left out guesthouse at 7:15 this morning. Hundreds of people had already lined the sidewalk of the nearby main street. The crowd grew as the morning passed. By 10:45, buses and taxis were having a difficult time getting through. We managed to get out and to the airport, but after arriving there, we heard that the riot police had come out and streets were being blockaded. The reason? A cell phone company was featuring a good deal and everyone wanted a piece of it.

Today w flew from Kathmandu to Delhi, arriving in time to find that our connecting flight to Lucknow would be delayed for two hours. So here I sit in the airport, catching up on blogs and working on an article.

I’m looking forward to the conference tomorrow. Seventy women are expected to attend. On Sunday I’ll speak at the Good Shepherd Community Church. We’ll meet with OM leaders for lunch, and with the World Vision Program Manager in the evening. On Monday we’ll fly back to Delhi where we’ll meet World Vision reps who will take us to visit our sponsored child.

I’m not sure what our email access will look like after today, so I’ll blog each day and post when there’s internet availability. Happy Easter weekend to all!

Thursday, April 5

We started the day by meeting with several men who serve on the Board of Directors for an NGO whose goal is to rescue and rehabilitate women sold as sex slaves into India. They described the means by which these women are sold: Sometimes attractive men visit remote villages, find beautiful young girls as young as age 12, and either marry them there or take them away with the promise to marry them later. They take the girls to large cities such as Bombay. Once there, they take the girls to a brothel, saying that these women in the house are relatives and they’ll (the men) will be back shortly. It doesn’t take long before the girls realize they’ve been lied to and are now enslaved in prostitution. If they refuse to comply, they are tortured and raped.

Sometimes the girls are sold directly into the sex trade by their own parents or even their husbands because of the income potential. Sometimes young girls are lured to the big cities with the promise of a cleaning job in an office or for a wealthy family. They get the job, alright, but they’re also forced to give sexual favors to their employers and then sold by the same into the industry.

Rescuing these girls is risky because so many people appreciate the income earned through this business. The police are often involved, taking bribes to keep their mouths shut if a girl seeks their help. We’ve heard stories of girls going to the police station for assistance and being raped there.

In many cases, these girls contract HIV. If they’re kicked out of the brothel when they’re too sick to function any longer, they often have no place to turn. Their village folk don’t want them back – being ill only makes them a financial burden. If they can’t work, how will they earn a living? They’re left destitute. If they’re still able to function to a degree, they often return to the brothel for lack of other options.

We listened to these men describe the work that’s taking place in their organization and sat in awe of what they’re doing. They own a house where these women and their children live. While there, they receive food, clothing, education, life skills training, and much needed HIV medication. If the girls marry, the organization looks after the details. If they die from AIDS, it takes care of those details. The Board expressed the desire to become self-supported by leasing or purchasing land to run a pig and poultry farm. They’re hoping to raise at least $3000 to help them purchase the above. What’s that to a North American? If 30 people donated $100 each, the farm could be purchased and the work could advance to a whole new level.

This issue of human trafficking looms larger than my imagination can comprehend. How can a little organization like this even make a noticeable dent? By faithfully doing what it can, one life at a time. And I want to help.

Wednesday, April 4

My friend K. is truly a woman of influence in her culture. The 20 additional children showed up at the orphanage for an initial visit while we were eating lunch in her dining room. Without a word, she slipped outside and made sure their arrival was a smooth one. While we were there, she also checked the previous children’s arms for their TB skin test results. Seven kids showed positive. Now they’ll have to take one pill on an empty stomach every morning for a year – accomplishing that will take nothing short of an act of God.

The facility was spacious but very modest: A three-storey concrete building provides a sitting room, kitchen, bedrooms, shower and tub, a covered deck on which to play during the monsoon rains, and a study room. The eating area is a separate building that holds four wood tables and enough benches for 42 kids. Where the other 20 will eat is anyone’s guess. A third building, a narrow brick structure with a bare concrete floor provides indoor play space. It’s a far cry from anything seen in North America, but it’s more than what some of these kids have come from, and their smiles show that they’re happy to be there. One little fellow, maybe four years old, sidled up to me and slipped his hand in mine – he stole my heart in an instant, and then we had to say goodbye. Sometimes I wonder why life seems to be so unfair, especially to these innocent ones.

We spent the remainder of the day traveling across the city and then visiting a training institute for Nepalese church workers. There are 12 students presently enrolled in the five-month program. Again, talk about a modest facility! The director has to walk through the men’s sleeping quarters (a bare room with four bunk beds) to get to his office. Three female students share sleeping quarters on a different floor. The dining room has one table meant for four people – perhaps the rest spill onto the adjoining outdoor deck. The teaching room has six narrow tables barely long enough to accommodate two students each, and a small whiteboard on one wall.

Nevertheless, good things are happening in and through the lives of these young people who have decided to follow Jesus. Several have overcome drug addiction and are now helping others who are struggling with various issues in their lives. They remain steadfast despite persecution. It’s obvious they’re following the Lord because they love Him, not because of a false notion that He’ll make their lives peachy-keen.

Tuesday, April 3

An American gal who works in Katmandu told us about a coffee house with wireless internet access. We discovered that it’s only two blocks from where we’re staying! So, this morning, I sifted through my emails while sitting on a comfy sofa and sipping a vanilla latte. Nice!

God fulfilled one of my personal dreams today. Through divine networking, yesterday evening I located the woman who was my language helper when we lived in Boudha in 1982. We saw each other for the last time in January 1984 and have had no contact since then. We spoke by phone this morning and arranged to meet for lunch.

K. is a beautiful, strong woman who has endured much. For instance, she lost her husband five years ago when he was killed by Maoists rebels during a major countrywide political upheaval. Her family’s vehicles were burned the same night, and she was forced to flee with only the clothes she was wearing. K’s life flipped upside down, and understandably so. While weaker folk might have thrown up their hands in despair, she has chosen to persevere and try to make life better for others.

K. is now involved with a local orphanage that cares for 42 children. Another 20 will join the facility within the next two weeks. Recently she discovered that most of these kids aren’t really orphans. Some parents lie about their children’s status to the government-run Children’s Welfare Organization in order to secure a guaranteed education for them. Others have one parent who works for 12 hours a day while their child or children sit alone at home or run the streets. The CWO then labels the kids as orphans and places them in facilities such as the one on her property. Granted, the kids are well fed and educated, but under false pretenses. They’re also filling space that should rightfully belong to children who honestly have no one to care for them. What to do when the needs are so great?

K. told us how strangers visit rural villages and tell parents that, for a price (about $300), they will take their children to the big city and place them in a boarding school to receive a good education. The parents believe them, pay the price, and bid their kids farewell. The strangers then deposit the kids at an orphanage and walk away with the money in their pockets. Sometimes those orphanages sell the kids into the sex trade industry or pass them along to another facility. Meanwhile, back home, the parents are thinking that their kids are being well cared for. Only when they try to contact their children do they realize they’ve been duped. Tomorrow we’ll visit the orphanage where K. volunteers and get an up-close-and-personal peek at what’s happening there.

Thanks to technology, K. and I can now stay in touch via email! With all my heart I believe God has reunited us for a reason.

The day ended with dinner with an ex-patriot family we’ve supported for more than a decade. What a joy to hear first-hand of their work and to see that they’re doing well. They spoke about the cause of the political unrest here – simply put, the Maoists want to throw out the existing government and establish their own.

We saw results of that unrest while trying to travel through the city today. Mass traffic jams resulted when Maoists demonstrated their displeasure at the massacre of 29 of their comrades last week.