Conntecting the Dots

Wednesday, September 5

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?

Tuesday, September 4

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.

Thursday, April 19

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.”

Friday, April 13

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.

Only four hours left ‘til touchdown…..

Thursday, April 12

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!

Wednesday, April 11

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.

Wednesday, April 11

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.

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.