Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sahayam Home

I've taken a lot longer than I wanted to talk about the visit to the Sahayam Home in Madurai (India). This home is for widows and mothers who have been forgotten - not just by the society, culture, and community but also their own families.

Jessica has been before and met and heard some of their stories. She told me a little bit about it and what to expect. As with so many other experiences in India, there was a big difference between what I thought I knew and actually hearing and experiencing it. Many of their stories were very similar: After their husbands died they are at the mercy of their family [and maybe, just maybe, a small pension fund from the government [like $6 or $7 a month]. Most of these women spoke of how thier children reluctantly took them into their home. Most were abused, either emotionally and/or physically. Forced to sleep in servant quarters or even on the front steps. Beaten. Told daily that they are worthless and their own children wishing they weren't there. Some women left and even begged on the streets.

Let me explain by saying that I had been informed of some of the incredibly sad and heartbreaking stories about the paths these women have traveled. But seeing them tell their own story is what really hit me in the gut. Who am I kidding? Every time I think about these women, much less try to talk about them, I get a knot in my throat, speak with a wavering voice, and I have to fight back tears.

The most amazing thing about these women, though, is the complete lack of bitterness and anger. They actually were sad because thier children are not Christians. These women pray for their children to be touched by the grace of Christ so they can be reunited. Their capacity to forgive is far beyond me.

It's also really important to tell you that these women have a capacity for more than sad stories. They have created a new family at the Sahayam Home. They danced, sang, made jokes, and laughed a lot in the few short hours I spent with them. Here's a clip of Mary showing off her dance moves and Rani giving her a hard time:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Breath of Life

We started the 4th group of health classes today and my excitement has been charged again. Our Breath of Life curriculum covers maternal and child care from prenatal nutrition through home health and water sanitation. Training Rosy and Paulus' staff and field workers has been an incredible learning experience in and of itself. They work in 125 villages surrounding Madurai, which are grouped into 6 clusters, each with 25 villages. There are 2 supervisors for each cluster who manage the field staff and report back to the leadership. Each cluster is also assigned: 5 Animators who visit pregnant mothers and conduct health education classes, 25 Tuition Center Teachers who run after school tutoring programs for children at risk of falling behind in their studies or dropping out of school, and 150 Change Agents or volunteer peer tutors who hope to educate others in their community to improve the overall situation of those they live among.

Our fist class included the leadership and all supervisors. They were a fun group to teach! I know most of them from previous trips and it was easy to talk openly about their doubts and our cultural naivety.

The discussions have been really lively and tested my knowledge a lot. We've learned a lot about common beliefs and practices--and have done our best to understand the reasons behind them. We have so much to learn from one and another and I'm so grateful to be apart of the work here. Our partner's ministries from the top to the bottom, bottom to top are a real inspiration. I love meeting so many wonderful people and working together to come up with local, useful, relevant solutions to their concerns. It's been great to get out of the journal articles and WHO website and work directly with people instead of statistics. Yes there is extreme poverty in India, yes it can be hot, yes the food is different, yes we have very different perspectives on life--but when you really get to know the people none of that seems to matter. We're all just doing our best to provide for our families and communities. I often feel that I'm learning more from them than they from me. Just the number of volunteers and staff that have dedicated their lives to help others is an example we can all learn from.

I can't wait to come back in the next year or so and see how the class has given our partners the knowledge and tools to affect change!! As well as reunite with good friends.

With Love

(Our internet isn't working well--if you'd like to see pictures check out my VTRC album on Facebook!)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fourth of July in India!

Jessica is making me right this blog post. So here it goes...

We are very patriotic people and decided it was a must to celebrate the Fourth of July. Getting out of the clutches of the British is something we share with the Indians so it was fun to share our Independence day with them. Erika, Jessica, and I all wore red, white, and blue for the occasion. We decided we were going to tell everyone we saw happy Fourth of July. Paul, our driver and close friend, met us at our door. I told him Happy Fourth of July and he had the most confused look on his face. He was probably thinking that us crazy Americans celebrate random days of the year. I have a feeling that Indians don't say Happy August 15th on their independence day. I explained what it is to him and he laughed. That seems to be his response to most of the things we say. I'm not sure if its an, I get it or a "just smile and nod." We then proceeded to our very important training with Raymond and his staff. They pretty much had the same reaction as Paul.

The real fun started when the Samuels kids got home from school. We had gone grocery shopping earlier for the special ingredients for our Fourth of July feast. We headed to the kitchen and to the cooks horror began mixing our concoctions and making as much mess as possible. The girls and I started on the apple pie first, since it was the most important. (Alisha LOVES apple pie) Erika mashed the potatoes(with her fist). And Jessica worked on the greenbeans. Someone (I don't remember who) went to the Chicken Cottage across the road and got some rotisserie chicken. We added a big bowl of macaroni and cheese and watermelon to the table to complete our all American Fourth of July dinner. We sat down and all ate like kings, American kings that is. All of the kids seemed to at least like a couple of things and Annie cleaned her plate.

The pie wasn't ready yet so we decided to sing patriotic songs. Luckily the words to most of them happened to be in the back of the Hymnals the Samuels own (weird right). Even with the words I think we made the neighbor dogs howl and Amy covered her ears. They all got a good laugh out of it though, so all in all it was worth the headaches.

In true American fashion, no Fourth of July celebration is complete without playing with fire. Timmy had leftover fireworks from Christmas that he let us use. So we went out into the quiet street the Samuels live on and we played with sparklers. I think us adults (if you can even call us that) had as much fun as the kids did.

Finally the moment we had been waiting for, the apple pie. It turned out amazing!!! We put ice-cream on top and ate to our hearts content. I think Alisha ate two slices :)

It was a Fourth of July I will never forget.



Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Guest Appearance by Mark Lewis

Well Hello Everyone,

I guess you can call this a guest contribution to the Worland’s blog... Jessica and the entire team have been so busy that she asked me if I would be willing to share a few thoughts and experiences from my perspective about the missions team. Be forewarned this is my first attempt at blogging and I’m not a very gifted writer so this is bound to be a little rough.

Let me start out by saying that it has been my pleasure serving with Jessica and everyone on the missions team. It has been my first experience with missions and it has been amazing to see how the power of God works, as vineyard would say, in a naturally supernatural way. For those of you who don’t know me or who I am, I have been acting as a liaison for the team. A communicational hub between India and KY. When I first accepted this part of the mission team it was slightly out of disappointment because I really felt that God was calling me to be a part of the team in India. What I didn’t understand at the time was staying back is an important facet of missions. God has revealed to me how this role has taken some pressure off Jessica’s shoulders, has made the distances seem less vast and less lonesome for the team.

Not only do I feel like this has been a benefit to the mission team, and kept the church more involved, but this has served as a huge affirmation to me that God wants me to be headed towards missions in the future. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I would have told you global missions “isn’t my thing” and now I can’t wait for the day when its my turn to sail across the pond. It has been amazing to me to witness the miracles and even to be a part of some of them from such a physical distance.

When Jessica first started relaying pictures and videos back to me with all the things they were accomplishing in India, I was amazed at how God’s hand was touching so many lives through all of our actions. I have never before been aware of the true power of God and I know that I'm only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

One of the most moving experiences that I have been a part of was when Jessica told me about Annie's mother struggling with cancer. She was in Madurai to schedule a surgery with an oncologist. Annie's cousin, also a doctor, looked over the medical charts and her expectations were very grim. Family was stopping by to say their goodbyes and Annie was trying to arrange for her brother to make a visit from Chicago. When I heard this, I felt that God was impressing upon my heart to pray with this family and for this woman. I have never before felt this impressing need for prayer for anyone, much less someone that I have never met before who lives in a completely different country. Nonetheless, I had Jessica drag her computer in front of this lady at 10pm India time and we said a short prayer together. Jessica told me that the Annie and her mother were extremely touched by the gesture and were so grateful that we cared enough to pray for them. The next day Jessica gave me the update after the DR's appointment. The oncologist called it a miracle. Her chemo was much more effective than they thought. Surgery is no longer needed and they gave a 99% chance that the cancer can be treated with medicine! This may not seem like anything to many people over here, as we have all grown accustomed to DR's getting things wrong and the “miracle of modern medicines” but I really feel that this is a God thing and I am blessed to have God use me as he would from such a distance.

I am so blessed to be as much of this mission as I am, and only hope that God will be able to use me in the future like he has with this trip.

Blessings and Prayers to All and May God’s Hand Continue to Touch Our Team
Mark Lewis

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From My Perspective

Trying to answer the question "How was India?" is difficult. Even when presented with more specific questions like "Did you enjoy yourself?" or "What was the most surprising part of India?", I'm still at a loss in how to explain. There is so much to say (and process) that only small bits and pieces of a narrative seep out.

I will say that the experience itself was incredible, amazing, and surprising.
I've tried describing it in this way:
Before going I had the feeling I knew at least a little bit about India. I've heard stories from Jessica and her dad, I've read about it, I've seen pictures and other media. During my experience I realized that none of that was ever really disproven or false. However, experiencing (the very localized) part of India with all of the senses, all at once, and without the lens of someone else's view, I was completely struck by the overwhelming...otherness...of India. That's not quite right though. It wasn't overwhelming in that I couldn't handle it and shut down due to so much sensory input. And I don't use the term "otherness" to imply any sort of negative or derogatory meaning.

Perhaps this is a better explanation:
Have you ever been to an ocean? Do you remember your first time seeing the ocean and then swimming in it? Think about the entire experience and then think about what it would be like to explain that to someone who has only seen pictures of an ocean.

I've never experienced anything like India before and I'm not going to be able to explain it or my experience in one grand narrative. At least, not anytime soon. Until then, I hope pictures and stories of my trip to India help to create or inform your own perspective.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Team Happenings

We're having an AMAZING time in Madurai. God is alive and well and using the entire team to encourage our brothers and sisters here! Some of you may have heard the team missed their flight in Delhi but your prayers worked wonders and the arrived in Madurai on time and ready for bed. Tuesday morning we hit the ground running. The girl's and I visited the Lydia Home for HIV Positive Orphans. The kids were so glad I returned with friends--and for a whole day visit! We sang worship songs, made crafts to decorate the home and spent quality time with the kids. Wednesday we did a similar program at the Sahayam Home for Widows. They sang for us, we tried to sing for them. We made heart baskets that were easy enough for the blind and disabled and they were so proud to hang them all in the hall! We were also able to buy them each a new sari! You can't imagine the joy on their faces! Since the widows and orphans no longer have families, or family members that claim them, it meant so much that a group of girls from the other side of the world would travel so far to spend time with them and pray for them. It's amazing how such a small gesture can have such a ripple effect.

Thursday we visited a few villages 2 hours outside of Madurai. The team was blown away by the work being done in this area. We visited three different programs run by our partners. First we heard the testimonies of adolescent girls who were rescued from working in match factories (small illegally run sweatshops). The girl's were so happy to be heard and share the stories of how Christ brought the Samuel's and gave them a new life! The second program was a group of women that have been taught to start a community savings program. They have been able to give out loans for home businesses and attend training programs on topics like composting, irrigation, and maternal health. They have even taken the plan a step further and have given donations to handicap women in their village that are unable to contribute to the savings account. These women truly understand what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Friday we spent time with Randy and Mike at the Retreat Center. They were leading a pastor's training seminar throughout the week and have amazing testimonies as well! Pastors searching for answers for years, struggling with their faith and leading a congregation, who found the answer to their struggles in three days!!

Thank you all for your support and prayers! The work here couldn't be done without you! Please continue to pray for the safety and health of the team. We've been busy and have much more ahead of us. Pray that we can serve through the power that God will provide!

I put together and update video for Vineyard. Here's the video so you can SEE what we're up to!

Can't wait to bring you all to Madurai the next time!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Mangoes were in season

It takes a long time to get to India from Lexington. I think I hold up to travelling okay. Unlike Jessica, who can fall asleep in a car ride to the grocery store, I can't fall asleep easily on planes. I also wasn't ready for the heat of a real Indian summer (not to be confused with the colloquial term associated with above average temperatures in the autumn).

The long travel, the lack of sleep, and the heat all conspired to steal my appetite for a couple of days. I ate just enough to keep myself going and Annie was gracious enough to serve some very simple and bland foods. I also drank what amounts to a small lake of water.

Then something happened on the third morning in India. I woke up actually feeling a little hungry. Jessica and I were greeted by a plate of delicious mangoes.

This was my favorite part of breakfast for almost the entire trip. Between all the Samuels', Jessica, and me, we polished off a plate like this almost every morning. While I never got my full appetite back, the breakfast that morning was the start of really enjoying the food and the cooking.

We even tried to eat in the same fashion - without utensils. We used our hands. And you know what? It actually felt pretty normal. I wasn't very good at it, I was only slightly less messy than Amy, who is 18 months old. But it made sense and it worked to eat like that while I was there.

I've already forgotten most of the names of many things we ate, but I think I'll be able to recognize it when I see it. I'm hoping it won't be too difficult to find authentic southern India cooking here in Lexington.

Here's Amy, who proved that children are just as adorable and mischievious no matter where they live.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You want me to do what?!

Saturday night I was playing Rummy with Richard's kids, their new favorite card game since Chris and I taught them how to play, when Annie got a phone call. It was Getzie. Getzie is an incredible woman that has worn many hats in the local ministries here. She's got a lot of spunk and we've always gotten along really well. Currently she coordinates the VBS Programs and village ministries. We attended a village VBS with Getzie a few weeks ago and it was wonderful to see the children who were the first generation of Christians in the area recite chapters from the Bible, sing worship songs they learned and perform skits they wrote themselves! Getzie called to confirm I was attended church with her in the morning. Since I said yes she asked if I could give some testimony or small message. I agreed and she had me right where she wanted. I'm still in awe of the directions that followed, "Great! A thirty minute message should do. We're looking forward to hearing your sermon in the morning! See you at 10."

This is why we've started telling teams to prepare a message or testimony BEFORE they get to India. Because you will be asked. Honestly a 12 hour heads up was very generous. Too bad I don't take my own advice and had to prepare something early Sunday morning. I just tried to ignore the fact that I was expected to give a SERMON in the morning. My pep talk was repeated several times that night: "It's no big deal. Think of it as a testimony. That's less pressure..."

Since Chris left India I've had a lot of alone time, which I've spent reading "Radical" by David Platt. It's incredible!! And everyone should read it!! But that's another blog. By no coincidence, this book talks about the responsibility ALL Christians have to preach, not just pastors. This realization helped so much in preparing for the service. While I'm not a trained pastor and there are many more well equipped inspiring speakers, sharing the love of Christ is something I try to do everyday. This day would just be with a microphone.

The service had already begun when I arrived at church and Getzie met me outside with a big smile and a hug. Then she asked me for the passage I would be using for my message (it was no longer disguised as a little testimony or short something lol). Though I haven't experienced such a thing firsthand I've seen many other missionaries go through similar situations. 1 Peter 4:7-11 provided the context for my ramblings, which were surprisingly very calm. I even noticed one woman was still awake!

While preaching to a group of 20 widows, 11 HIV positive orphans and a small group of nearby villagers was not on the agenda when I set off for India--I'm glad it's been checked off the to do list. God is so good. And so generous to allow me to be used in such a way!

I won't put you through the sermon but I will leave you with the same challenge I left the widowers and children. Salvation doesn't stop at our spiritual wellbeing. As Christians we are responsible to share the love of Christ with those who have never heard. The challenge: step out of your comfort zone and share Christ's love with someone this week. Leave a comment and let us know what happens!

With Love

Monday, June 13, 2011

Welcome to India

Late in the flight from Brussels to Chennai, while over India, I took a small walk inside the plane and ended up by the bathrooms in the back to do some stretches and wait in line. I was standing behind an Indian woman holding her baby (I'm guessing about 12 -18 months old). I do what a great number of people do when a baby stares - I smiled.

She smiled back and moments later the mother smiled also and handed me her baby so that she could use the bathroom.  After a few very blank and stunned facial expressions exchanged between the baby and I, we started smiling and playing. She only needed some movement to start laughing.

So here I am on a plane holding a mother's child that I've never met and the only way we can communicate is with smiles and head nods. I assume she thanks me as she emerges from the restroom and reaches to take back her daughter. 

In retrospect, what I'm going to do, run off with her baby?

I tell Jessica about it when I return to my seat. She smiles and says "welcome to India" as though I'm in for many more of these types of encounters.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A short video update

Hey Everyone

The trip has been incredible. Chris is out with the librarian from the Peniel Rural College visiting a local university and preparing his guest lecture on critical thinking and resource evaluation--if you know Chris, this is exciting! I stayed back and put together a short video update of our trip so far:

More to come!
With Love