Like yesterday, the morning’s session began at 8:30. This time, however, we started with singing. My, oh my, these women sounded like an angelic choir as they lifted their voices to God in the Sema language. I sat in silence, humbled by the passion with which they sang. Frankly, I think they could have continued all morning, and I surely could have listened if they’d chosen to do so!
Their singing drew the attention of the hotel keeper’s two sons and one daughter, likely between the ages of five and twelve. They stood in the hall and peeked through the doorway until one lady jumped up and invited them to enter and sit in the front row. They sat perfectly still, wide-eyed and listening to every word that was sung and spoken.
Several times throughout the morning we stopped for prayer. Again, their simultaneous supplications rose heavenward. I listened in awe to their voices and sensed the Lord’s presence in that place in a very real way. These women were obviously here not to be entertained but to do business with God. Again, I cried out to Him to speak through me and minister to these gals in a way that would be culturally relevant.
The first session was meant to reinforce our value as women in God’s eyes. I believe God really spoke to their hearts. I felt so blessed to have this opportunity to remind them of their worth, and to encourage them to use their gifts to impact their nation for Christ.
This morning, we did a craft between sessions. I’d found a great deal at Michael’s craft store, perfect because of its Easter theme and lightweight foam pieces. So, each woman received a palm-sized foam banner with a gold cord to hang it. They decorated their banners with various foam shapes including crosses, flowers, hearts, and their choice of the word Jesus or Faith. Some added extra pizzazz with gold glitter glue. They had a blast! And you should have seen the kids participate. Their banners were covered with shapes from top to bottom.
Like yesterday, Gene and I ate lunch with the women in their hotel. Rice and lentils, fatty pork, and mustard greens filled our plates. I enjoyed chatting with those women sitting at our table. I learned that each participant had paid about $100 for this conference. That included the cost of an overnight train ride to get here, and a couple of sightseeing trips. Most had never been away from their area, and it was like turning a group of kids loose in Disneyland. Spending $100 for such an event was a huge financial sacrifice for their families, but again, it proved their hunger for fellowship and spiritual refreshment.
At 8:15 I entered the conference room. How can I best describe it? It was 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, maybe. The inside walls were yellow and paint-chipped. The outside wall had two windows covered with dingy curtains. When I opened the curtains, I saw only the grey concrete wall of the neighboring building about 15 inches away. There was no light bulb. Eighteen or so plastic chairs, some red, some grey, sat in rows. And there was one small table on which I could lay my bag and notes. What a stark contrast to women’s conference venues in North America, with their theme-coordinated centerpieces and decorations!
The women entered the room and smiled shyly at me as they took their seats. Some were wearing blue jeans; others wore traditional dress made of woven fabric with the pattern unique to their tribe. A few moments later, the conference organizer introduced me and suggested opening the meeting in prayer. Then he explained that in their culture, they prayed aloud at the same time. Instantly the women began crying out to the Lord simultaneously. I’d never heard anything like it. Some wept before God, pouring out their hearts to Him in earnest supplication. And I cried out to God to encourage these ladies in a way beyond human expectation or ability.
As the first session ended, I asked the gals to split into three groups and gave them two questions to discuss. They hesitated and seemed unsure of my request. That’s when I realized that small group discussion as we know it might be an unknown in their way of doing things. It took a few minutes, but finally a woman in each group assumed leadership and then quiet but sincere discussion began. I circulated through the groups to get a better understanding of their backgrounds and needs, and one woman said that the session’s key verses were her chosen verses for the new year (John 15). Tears filled her eyes as she spoke. Her words greatly encouraged me; the Lord had obviously been at work by preparing her heart for the message and by giving me the appropriate words. Indeed, He was doing something beyond human ability.
Exactly 22 years ago today, I left Nepal after the birth of our second child. Now I’m back in this part of the world and feeling right at home. Certainly there are changes – technology has taken a front seat (internet cafes, public phones, fax machines, etc.), and most people speak English now. It seems strange to see the majority talking on their cell phones as they walk through the crowded bazaar where bartering is still the norm.
Gangtok itself is most unusual. Built on a mountainside, each structure is at least six or seven stories high. Concrete steps connect one block to the next, upper and lower. If you were to fall over the edge of a sidewalk, you’d fall a LONG distance. Gene says it’s a wonder that the city can stay in place.
Gene and I are having a grand time using our Nepalese language again. After more than two decades of not speaking it, the words are coming back with surprising ease. And the look on shopkeepers’ faces is priceless when we strike up a conversation or ask questions.
Because this conference’s organizer didn’t arrive until late afternoon, we had time to hire a taxi and do some sightseeing. We visited a flower show – for Rs 10 each (24 cents) we gained admission to a small hall filled with orchids of every color and description. Many locals were there, snapping photos galore with their digital cameras or cell phone cameras. Afterwards we drove to a scenic waterfall, navigating hairpin curves through a residential area, dodging little children playing in the street for lack of anywhere else to play. The road was so narrow that we passed oncoming vehicles with about two inches to spare. It was so steep that my nerves just about came undone. Talk about white-knuckling in the back seat. I was very thankful to reach the waterfall safely. It was pretty now, but it will be magnificent during the monsoon season. There were huge stone carvings leading to the waterfall – reminded me of idols we’d seen in Nepal years ago.
Gangtok is a potpourri of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. For instance, I saw a massive Catholic cathedral with stained glass windows. Beside it stood a shrine as large as a house, featuring a statue of Mary in the center. Strings of Buddhist prayer flags decorated the shrine. Go figure.
The conference begins at 8:30 tomorrow. Originally, 70 women were expected to attend and I was to speak through a translator. Because of church political situations, only 17 have come and they all speak English – some more than others. Like I said, flexibility is the key!
A driver fetched us at 5:00 a.m. so we could catch our flight to Delhi. The day’s temperature was already rising. At this hour, traffic was nowhere near as hectic as on Friday afternoon. Still, the air was already thick with beeping horns and the smell of diesel. Enroute we dodged countless Indian “autos” – small open passenger vehicles with three wheels – whose drivers used neither headlights nor tail lights. Needless to say, they were a wee difficult to see in the dark. So were the pedestrians.
At the airport we navigated security and were pointed upstairs toward our departure gate. Within 20 minutes we boarded our plane and I was seated next to a sari-clad Indian woman who appeared to be several years older than me. We made small talk until I told her that I was interested in hearing about the lives of Indian women, specifically the challenges they face. That topic grabbed her interest. She immediately began telling me about her past (“I’m the only one in my family who attended university”), her arranged marriage (“compatibility doesn’t exist”) and how she has financially supported numerous extended family members. Then she told me how her husband grew jealous of her business success and began beating her. “Daily abuse is the greatest challenge Indian women face,” she said.
When she finished telling me her story, I asked her if she had a dream for her life. She smiled. “Oh yes,” she said. “I want to make a difference in the lives of other people.” I smiled in return. “I share your dream,” I said. She extended her right hand toward me and said, “We are friends. If you ever come to Hyderabad again, please visit me.”
Several hours and another flight later, we landed in Bagdogra where a pre-arranged driver met us. Then we began a four-hour Jeep journey to Gangtok, Sikkim. The road wound through tea plantations (the home of Darjeeling tea), and a wildlife sanctuary where homes stood on stilts. “This keeps people safe from elephants,” explained the driver. Eventually it began its upward climb around hairpin curves.
Higher, higher, higher we climbed until we could barely see the bottom of the ravines below. And then darkness fell. And boy, did I pray! “God, there’s no safer place than in the center of Your will. Please…keep us on the road!” We had to stop at a police checkpoint and get special permits to enter this part of India, enjoying a 10-minute respite from the bumps and turns. But a half hour later, poor Gene, physically exhausted from the travel of the past few days, got sick to his stomach.
As the drive continued, we were surprised to find electricity everywhere. Teeny lights twinkled from hillside huts and tiny bazaar shops. And when we finally reached Gangtok, a city built on a mountainside, everything was lit up. Much different from our past experience in rural Nepal, when the brightest lights outside came from fires or flashlights.
As always, God’s strength pulled me through. Fifty Indian women from various backgrounds attended the conference. The audience was comprised of seminary professors, pastors, OM staff, and lay women. Young and old alike from India, the U.S., Australia, and Europe. What a privilege to encourage these women in their spiritual journey! Several asked me to pray individually for their family concerns, and again, I felt blessed. I have much to learn from these humble and loving Indian sisters.
I’d been scheduled to speak for 10 minutes to a congregation of nearly 600 at the Sunday service. At breakfast, one OM staff lady asked me if I’d like to wear a sari for the service. How could I refuse such a sweet offer? Bless her heart, she dressed me in one of her own saris, a purple silk creation. Then she gave me a pearl necklace and earrings, saying that these were a gift by which she wanted me to remember her. Later, when I returned her sari, she insisted that I keep it, too.
The day’s highlight was visiting this Indian sister in her modest apartment. She warmly invited me in and we chatted about the prior day’s conference, which had been her idea. Then she said, “Please pray for me. Pray that God will help me be most effective as I mentor younger women.” With pleasure I honored her request, and then she prayed for me. Our hearts were knit.
Because of the possibility of jeopardizing existing ministry in this part of the country, I’m not free to share everything that we saw and learned over the weekend. Suffice it to say that God is at work in amazing ways. In time, I hope to be able to tell you more about ways that you can participate in one particular area, making a difference in the lives of young women at risk of being sold into the sex-trade industry. I’ll be free to tell you more as the project comes together. Prayer is the key, both now and always.
Flexibility is the keyword, I believe. Within minutes of reaching our destination, we were ushered into a dining room where we were served a meal of rice and lentils – the first of many on this trip. That’s when I learned that I was scheduled to speak at a women’s conference the next day and for 10 minutes in the Sunday church service. Surprise!! By now we’d been awake for nearly 48 hours and our bodies were ready to collapse, but there was no time to rest. A wedding celebration was planned for that evening and we were invited to attend. We had a few minutes to shower (no hot showers here, but then, who’d want a hot shower in this heat??) and don fresh clothes.
The wedding bulletin said the groom was scheduled to arrive at 4:30. Some folks told us the ceremony would begin at 5:00; others told us we could show up at 5:30. When the ceremony actually began, there were about 20 people present. Within a half hour, another 40 or 50 had wandered in. The bride, a converted Hindu, wore a white satin sari with gold embroidery and the groom looked handsome in his black suit. They celebrated their marriage with a western ceremony, complete with signing the register. Midway through the service, however, Gene and I began nodding off.
Rather than embarrass ourselves by snoring through the reception, we excused ourselves and stumbled to our room that was, thankfully, air-conditioned. We bid each other goodnight and collapsed in bed, stared at by a curious five-inch gecko on the wall. If I was to be bright-eyed, or at least coherent, for the next day’s conference, I’d need a good night’s sleep.
Guess what? Even with the help of a sleeping pill, I slept only three or four hours. Jet lag was doing its thing on my body and my brain. Wide awake in the middle of the night, my thoughts flitted from one thing to another. And I began to worry about having enough energy to last the day. Only by God’s strength would I be able to speak for three sessions on Saturday morning.
On my desk sits a perpetual calendar filled with wonderful quotes. Today’s quote is from composer Joseph Haydn. He said, “When I think upon my God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”
Sometimes we allow real-life problems to weigh us down and steal our joy. But Joseph’s words remind us that thinking upon God gives us a cheerful heart. I’ve found that to be true. When I focus on circumstances that are less than desirable, my joy fizzles. My spirit is left feeling like a withered balloon. And what does my countenance reflect? Let’s just say it ain’t a pretty sight. A woman with a positive influence? Forget it.
But when I think upon my God and His control over my circumstances, my heart is once again filled with joy. It’s never a bubbly, giddy feeling. Rather, it’s a deep-settled sense that everything’s under His control and I can rest. I can know that He’s at work in my situation, and I’m at peace. My countenance reflects my heart condition, and a smile is a natural overflow.
The next time we feel empty or discouraged, let’s think upon our God. Guaranteed, those thoughts will fill our hearts with cheer and enable us to serve Him with a cheerful heart. Therein lies the secret to being women of influence.
(Maybe this God-talk sounds foreign to you. Perhaps the only reference to God you’ve known is negative. Let me assure you, that’s not the case. If you want to know more about who God is, drop me a note!)
We’re a week into the New Year, and I’m determined to fulfill at least one of my resolutions. So here I am, nosediving into the world of blogging. This is yet another learning curve for me, but that’s okay. Learning curves make life interesting, right?
As I’ve thought about my blogging topic, one theme comes to mind. I want this to be a project that encourages women worldwide to discover their giftedness and develop their God-given potential so they can impact the generations to come. I envision including thought-provoking quotes, short interviews, and stories about women whose lives have made/are making a difference. I want to explore the character qualities their lives possess and learn how to emulate them. I want readers to share life lessons that others will find valuable, and for all to be challenged to a deeper faith walk.
Join me in this venture! I’ll kick off with a quote from Mother Teresa: “Let’s be willing to smile at one another, because a smile is the beginning of love. And once we begin to love one another, the desire to do something for one another more naturally follows.”
Imagine that! Sometimes we think we have to do something noteworthy and grand before we’re considered a woman of influence. But Mother Teresa’s words indicate otherwise. We simply need start with a smile. Sheesh — that’s easy. And it can be life-changing for a child whose home is filled with anger, an isolated senior, a frustrated teenager, or a lonely neighbor.
Whatever our schedule holds, let’s be sure to include a smile for those around us. The simple gesture might just lift someone’s fallen spirit, and it will fan the flame of love in our hearts.
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