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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Looks Like We Made It

We've been in India a week so far and it's strange how fast time can go when you're so busy taking everything in. Access to internet has been rare but we're looking into possibilities and hoping it works out in the next few days.

We're safe and we have lots of pictures to share so please be patient until we can get those uploaded. For now here a few from the places we've been so far:

This picture was taken after the closing ceremony of a village VBS. All the children are first generation Christians and were sad the Bible School was over. They recited all the verses they memorized in the past 10 days, sang hymns and performed skits. Then they asked Chris and I to tell a Bible story--which we had to look up. The best part was at 2:30 that afternoon an anonymous donor dropped off a box of Bibles. In a village that has never seen a Bible now all 50 of the kids attedning the VBS took home a New Testament. We've never seen so many excited kids, you would think Getsi brought out the cake at a birthday party. When the kids who already left heard there were Bibles they ran back to the thatch porch and asked for Bibles to take to their families.

Jessica with Richard and Annie's older girls--Alicia, Lydia and Christina. We've been having so much fun staying with them. They've enjoyed the card games we brought and have an ongoing game of Rummy that will be played up to the moment we leave.
Chris' new best friend. One of the 13 HIV positive orphans from the Lydia Home. We visited for a short time last week and played games--lock and key, duck duck juice--took a tour of the home and played ball in the yard for a bit. We're hoping to find out if they need anything such as school books, balls, or dolls and return in the evening next week. Unbelievable to think all these children were abondoned and living with HIV. They were all so happy and seemingly healthy.
Our visit to the Sahayam home for destitute women has been the most humbling by far. These women were all abandoned by their families. After their husbands dies some of their families allowed them to stay in their homes but forced them to sleep on the front steps, denied them food, absolutely no medical care and were verbally if not physically abusive. Through different ways God has brought them all to this home where they are cared for and live together as Akkas (sisters). The hardest part of their stories to listen to is how heartbroken they are. Not that their families rejected them but that their children don't know the Lord. They pray that God would save their families and that they will be forgiven. In spite of all they hardship these women have encountered they sang hymns with joy and danced and prayed with us. Can't wait to tell the rest of the team arriving on June 12th the plans we have for our return to Sahayam!

And last a picture from our anniversary. It only took two years of marriage to get Chris to India. God is so good! I am so blessed to have such a wonderful, supportive husband willing to go the extra (thousand) miles.

With Love
Jessica & Chris

Friday, May 20, 2011

"So when do you leave?"

So this Monday (May 23) is it. Jessica and I leave for India. I’m still not quite sure what I expect. Jessica must be bursting at the seams to tell me all about India but she’s done well not to say too much. I want to be able to see and experience everything with a perspective that is as clear and open as possible. Not that I want to be ignorant – I don’t want to be the “ugly American” – but it’s so easy to create my own version of what India is based on very little information.
I’m excited to have this opportunity to go to India. There has been a lot of support, both financially and emotionally, from a lot of people. I’d like to say thank you. It means a lot to me (and Jessica) to know so many people who are so willing to give. For Jessica, if you’ve been reading this blog, it means that all the work and preparation she has put into this trip actualizes into making a real difference instead of remaining untapped potential. For me, your support means that I get a chance to experience and share the same passion Jessica has for India. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure what to expect. Along the way, though, I plan on sharing my experiences with you. I hope through my sharing that you can gain a better picture of India and create your own experience.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Going Away Party

Yesterday we braved the storms and had our going away party out at Dad and Leslie's house. The clouds broke from 4-8 for a beautiful sunny party in the country! We had such a great time with friends and family. There was delicious food of all sorts and lots of fun exploring the woods and creek. And I'm sure the kids slept very well. In these last days full of packing, flight confirmations, crossing t's and dotting i's, yesterday was a really great reminder of the love and support we have from so many. Here are some pictures of the beautiful day!

Grill Master Mohammed--who didn't mention this was his first time grilling until after dinner. NOw worries, we all survived and it was quite delicious!

Friends for everywhere

Pretty Family

Pretty Family

Pretty Girl

Another Pretty Family

And yet another :)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Ripple Effect

1 Missions Team trains,
200 Village Health Workers who reach,
5,000 Villagers in rural communities surrounding Madurai.

Last weekend the missions team at Vineyard had an info table demonstrating our health education materials and fundraiser. On Sunday alone we raised $720! Only $6,280 left to raise. I believe God can make it happen, after all everything belongs to Him.
The team did an amazing job taking our vision and sharing it with others in the church! I can't wait to get everyone to India someday to see the ripple effect of their efforts.

When we tell people that our main ministry is training the trainers they get intimidated. The beauty is how simple our materials are, anyone can teach them! For example here's the hand washing station we demonstrated and plan to teach this summer. 1,000 kids die from diarrhea everyday in India, half of those deaths could be prevented by washing their hands with soap. The Tippy-Tapy modeled by Justin Rhorer
We're also teaching the natural refrigerator and solar water purification systems
Low cost, easy to use tools that can save thousands! Can't wait to get to India and see how the health workers respond!

The best part is all of the scriptures we found to back up our materials. Who knew there were instructions from God on how to build a latrine! Check it out Deuteronomy 23:12-14.

Here's a few more pictures:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Translations, Visas and Budgets...oh my!

This has been a really productive week. I sent the finished curriculum to Madurai and they seem excited about the content! A couple teams are reviewing the info and going to send thoughts as they start translating it to Tamil!

Chris' visa also came this week! It's official, that boy loves me :) I mean how many girls are lucky enough to have a husband that would fly around the world to support them!?! And agree to a 10 year visa, which I'm hoping means he's open to visiting India more than once. We'll see after he's actually been there outside of my dreaming and scheming. No matter what this trip means the world to me--you're the best babe!

As with most mission trips the last detail to be covered is the budget. I am proud to say we have an official budget with real numbers and line items. Unfortunately we only have a fraction covered. But I'm optimistic!

We started planning a fundraiser yesterday to help cover costs. We start collecting change on May 1. If anyone is interested in helping out here are the instructions, click on the image to make it larger:

All funds will support our health program this summer. Breath of Life is a program development workbook meant to equip people with low-cost solutions that anyone can learn. Here are pictures of some of the things we teach.

Solar Water Purification: all that's needed are recycled bottles, corrugated metal and sunshine

Tippy Tap: No running water? No problem. You can use recycled bottles to make hand washing stations!

Feel free to email me with any questions I'd be happy to show you the curriculum and talk about our process with anyone interested!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Breath of Life

After months of work our Breath of Life workbook is finally complete! I made the final edits this morning and sent it to our partners in India to review and translate.

The workbook encourages interaction with the health workers, journaling, demonstrations, activities and field trips. The lesson plans cover topics of nutrition, kitchen gardens, bonding, spiritual and emotional care for mothers, hygiene, water sanitation and more. Each section has 1-3 scriptures related to the topic to help us bridge the cultural gap and work from a shared foundation.

Recently they sent us our itinerary for a two week course in July. We will teach Breath of Life to nursing students in the morning, health workers in the afternoon and do rounds at a prenatal clinic in the evenings! This will take place in two different areas 30 kilometers outside of Madurai and these health workers cover an area of 18 villages. And that's just two weeks!!

God is opening so many doors. His grace and provision is overwhelming at times. Who are we to be blessed with such amazing opportunities? Whatever His logic is for trusting us--I'm honored.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. John 15:16-17

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Home is Where the Heart Is

Since my first trip to India Madurai has held a special place in my heart. Or rather, held my heart captive. I think about it everyday. Memories flood my thoughts of samosas with Rosy & Nehi at the illy coffee shop, drives to remote villages in the Jeep with Paul Raj, picking up Richard's girls from school, dinner with Paulus' family at the farm, the rich colors and not so rich smells. I can't wait to return! I feel so comfortable in Madurai. Not to sound cliche but theres this peace--a sense of being complete--when I'm there.

In the states I constantly struggle with anxiety, doubt, depression, mood swings, the whole gamut. Sometimes I worry that I keep going back to India in order to "run away from my problems." But if that were the case I think the effects would have worn off by now.

There are few things I've stuck with in my short life. I begged to take piano lessons and lasted for a couple years but never practiced, violin lessons lasted half a semester in the fourth grade, swim team one season, cross-country ended during tryouts, as well as cheerleading, french classes (je n'ai sais pas), I attended four colleges obtaining only one degree, etc, etc.

During junior year of high school dad was returning to India and I begged him to take me along. Over the years my parents became smarter and rented uniforms instead of investing too much in my whims but this time didn't take much convincing. I think he knew this experience was worth the support--thanks dad :)

My intentions were similar to the optimistic start of any new venture but this experience made a lasting impression. Looking back I realize that God was giving me a glimpse into the reality of the world and the beauty of a life that followed Him.

Everyone I met working for the Samuel's was so devoted, so giving, so humble. There was one special afternoon at the HIV clinic that I will always remember. Paulus told me to put my camera away before we went inside. I was nervous because the camera had become my safety net (you don't have to interact with your environment hidden safely behind a lens). Walking through and meeting the nurses and patients I became really uncomfortable. Not because of the frailty of the patients but because of the warmth in their eyes. These people were happy, filled with joy. Laying on there death beds, in a one room clinic, on old cots. I was really confused.

We continued to the back of the clinic and sat down with Paulus & Daniel in the office, where I snapped the photo seen with permission. Here we gave them the 8,000 Rs ($200) we raised to send the staff on a weekend vacation. Expecting big eyes and dropped jaws we were surprised by their response. "Thank you but we don't need a vacation. Can we give this to the children?" After an awkward silence, the sound of your ego being graciously deflated, dad started to talk openly with Paulus & Daniel. He asked me to take notes of the conversation so we remembered what was discussed. I opened the journal Paulus took me to get a week early that had yet to be written in. Dad asked what they needed from us. Their ministries were impeccable, organized and run well by locals. How could we truly serve them instead of our ego? Over chai and biscuits I scribbled some notes that set the course for our "mission."

This conversation changed my life. I started to realize life wasn't worth living for myself. The novelty of the violin wore off once I realized I wasn't going to be in Mr Holland's Opus but the excitement of living for a greater purpose to partner with those in need has kept me going.

It's not always easy. I don't want to encourage the idealize concept of humanitarian work in an exotic land (to others or myself). But it is so rewarding. Especially when I remember the work has nothing to do with me. Pressure's off. No anxiety about messing up or making the wrong decision and sending history spiraling off course. Just the beauty of being one small piece of the puzzle and living a life outside myself.

I hope that everyone can discover their own Madurai and have conversations that direct their path.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rule #1 in traveling to India: Be Flexible

Over the years I've learned that you can't really "plan" a trip to India. You just have to be patient, communicate as the internet connections and time difference will allow and take a lot of deep breaths.

Coming from my American background, I want everything to be scheduled and confirmed as soon as the idea pops in my head. I know this isn't feasible.  I obsess over everyone's Visas, increasing airfare, lack of funds, logistics, etc. Even if this was all taken care of and arranged, by the time people decide not to go last minute, our flights are delayed, the train breaks down, someone gets sick upon arrival, or we're booked in two villages at the same time...plans change.

While I'm struggling not having all the details nailed down I am appreciative of our Indian partners, the Samuel Family, more and more every day! They answer my frantic emails with encouragement and patience and gently guide me to see the beauty in allowing God the time to work things out. Their outpouring of love is at time too much to handle. I mean their the one's struggling with 'real' problems and we're coming to help them this summer...right?

I had a 'lightbulb' moment this week talking with Chris about my struggles and disappointments of being rejected by yet another grant, having to edit my IRB application again, etc. I used to think my struggles were taking things too personal. In the spirit of preventing problems before they start--thank you public health--I'm trying to shift my focus. Maybe my true struggle is placing expectations on myself and my efforts and when they don't work out I feel like I did something wrong, sending my thoughts spiraling into "I can't do anything right." "what does it all mean?" "where do I fit in the world?" Extreme, I know.

Sure we have responsibilities and a role to play but in the end "everything under heaven belongs to God" (Job 41:11). So why should I worry about where the funds will come from or what everyday will look like in Maduari? "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."(Matthew 6:25),

While it's easy to read I hope that I can truly trust and live by God's expectations for this summer and cut myself (and everyone else) some slack.

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and stead fast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 5:6-11).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Movie Night

Last night was India Movie Night! We had a great time setting up and watching Slumdog Millionaire. I'm so grateful for my volunteers!! Chris made AMAZING gulab jamun, fryums, and paneer. Samantha and Tiffany were great chaiwalas and Mark's missions previews were a total hit. Thanks to everyone who came out on a Monday night! Here's the second preview:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

10 weeks and counting!

So I looked at the calendar and realized we leave for India in 10 weeks!! While this may seem like a long time it feels all too soon. I can't wait to get to Maduari but hope I can get everything that needs to be done before on time. Now that midterms are over my other assignments, term papers, etc feel like a big Spring raincloud. However, the reward at the end of this semester is well worth the effort! 

I've been so encouraged by the support from our family and Vineyard! I don't know how all this would happen without them and the flexibility and understanding of the Samuels in Madurai. They're an amazing family that welcomes my questions and concerns in regards to missions and life. I'm so blessed to call them my extended family :)

On another note the missions team is showing Slumdog Millionaire this Monday night 7pm at Vineyard. We will try our hand at cooking Indian snacks for concessions to raise money for our trip! Anyone is welcome to come! Here's a missions preview our tireless volunteer Mark Lewis made to show before the movie, it's the first of three. I love it and can't wait to see what else he comes up with!



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Missions Model

I've recently started my role as Missions Coordinator at Vineyard Community Church in Lexington. While sharing my heart for India with others and getting people excited in missions is easy for me, leading a team to develop our missions strategy and goals is completely new territory. I am honored that the leadership at VCC trusts me with this role and that God trusts me with this role as well. Trusting myself has been more of a struggle and instead of letting doubt take over I've been spending some time in devotion trying to find direction. This morning as I prepared for our missions team meeting tonight I had a breakthrough and would like to share.

The past few weeks I've been looking through manuals and workbooks for new missions departments to work through. Like so many other times in life, reading someone else's opinion on what God would like us to do--or what they've done with no mention of God being involved--sent my head spinning. Overcome with thoughts of insecurity and inability I decided to forget about the manuals.

The next idea was to wing it, which I abandoned quickly. God definitely can make things happen without our doing but doing our part is an important preparation. Logically, I went to the Great Commission where God directs us to "go and make disciples of all nations." Good advice. But how?

Why not look at how Jesus carried out ministry? Looking through the Gospels I found the following model:

He encouraged others to understand his beliefs by inviting them to come & see. (John 1:37-39)
He focused on the growth of key Christian through building relationships with these people, building them up in their faith to witness to others.  The beautiful part, he chose normal healthy Christians to be the leaders. (John 1:43)
He appointed them to lead others in their community and surrounding areas by equipping them to duplicate his ministry. (Matthew 4:18-20)
He made these leaders his apostles 2 1/2 years after his ministry started. He didn't say I'm the Messiah, Make others believe. He took his time. Allowing the apostles to witness, understand, and practice ministry alongside him. (Luke 6:12-16)
My favorite part--Through this model everyone is given their role in the body of Christ building on their personal strengths. In turn this encourages unity amongst believers (Ephesians 4:11-16)

Crazy to think our NEW methods of facilitating change, developing sustainable programs and encouraging ownership through experience was exemplified by Jesus and the apostles thousands of years ago. Even more encouraging that God knew we would be at this crossroads, confused on how to move forward, and gave us the answer through Jesus' example!

I'm really excited about tonights meeting. While the nerves are still present I am again reminded that my role is a very small part in the big picture and I'm just here to carry out one part that God has graciously shared :)

With Love-

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Online Giving

We are so grateful for all the love and support you've been giving us as we prepare for India!

A quick note. Some people have been trying to give on the Vineyard website and the place to specify your funds is hard to find. 

As you are donating there should be a "Special Instructions" link, if you click on this you will have the ability to type in Worland Missions. If you have any problems feel free to email me or the church

Thanks again for helping us make our plans to help those in India a reality!
With Love 
Jessica & Chris

Want to donate now? Copy and paste this link to your browser and look for the "click to donate here" link:

Photo from my last Community Health Workers Training in Madurai 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


As with all trips abroad our plans for this summer continue to develop. I was able to Skype with Richard yesterday and we locked down several logistics and new ideas emerged.

The latest? Chris and I are going to teach a 3 day photo-graphy class!!! In India there is a distinction between photo and graphy. I chuckle every time.

This will be my third photo class in Madurai but with Chris' fresh ideas I think it's going to be the best yet!

Our students will be a mix of fieldworkers who are responsible of taking photos of ministry events. These photos are used as accountability to donors and buzz for future events. Unfortunately, they evoke little inspiration.

We're hoping to have a small class (5-8) so we can cover the basics quickly and practice throughout the city. Getting outside the classroom is a very unorthodox way of teaching but I think our students will really enjoy it. This way the students will get hands on experience and Chris and I will be able to give back to our host!

I'm excited to work on a mutual project with Chris and think this will be an awesome opportunity to get to know some of the Samuel's staff better and get their view of Madurai. I'm hoping we can work a few field trips into the budget. While many of our students have grown up in Madurai they've had little opportunity to enjoy the city. How cool would it be to pay their admission to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace (40 Rs each/90 cents) and organize a picnic in the courtyard!!!!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Where in the World are the Worlands?

As many of you know God has shared His heart for India with me & this has become my life’s passion. The return trip this summer will be the best yet, as Chris & I travel to India together for the first time!  The opportunity to experience missions together has been a dream since meeting & God has graciously opened doors this year. On May 23 we will go to Madurai ahead of our church mission team to prepare for the Vision Trip. Chris will return home as the team arrives on June 10.
I will lead the team to capture the heart of missions coordinated by a local Indian family. During this time, the team hopes to follow God’s leading & determine our church’s future commitment to India missions. The team will head home on June 25 to share this vision with the entire church.
My plan is to stay behind as a group of local health workers have asked for help. They are concerned about the number of malnourished mothers giving birth to malnourished babies. For the rest of the summer I will facilitate a maternal and child nutrition program. The program will equip the health workers to teach girls of marriage age (15-19) how to have healthy babies through a Biblical perspective of nutrition, home gardening, hygiene & bonding!
We are so excited about God’s call to India as a couple! This summer comes with a lot of responsibility, expense & time apart & we cannot do this on our own. Please pray with us as we prepare for this summer & what God has planned!
Love Jessica & Chris

Help Us Get There
We’ve saved a portion of the cost but need an additional $4,000.
Donations can be sent to:

Vineyard Community Church
1881 Eastland Parkway
Lexington, KY 40505

Or made online via PayPal:

Be sure to specify
“Worland Missions Trip

Stay updated and follow our adventure here!