Conntecting the Dots

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.

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!