Unexplainable! India!

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Guest post by a recent vision team member, pictured here with some excited school kids who wanted to pose with the American.
I’ll never forget my first day in India.

As we left our hotel I saw things the darkness had kept hidden when we’d arrived several hours earlier. To be seeing what to this point had only been described to me as unexplainable was truly… unexplainable. I saw cars and cows, trucks and motorcycles, shacks and shops, pigs and goats, men and women, boys and girls, and that was only within the first minute.

Everywhere I looked was color, motion, congestion, haze, confusion, and beauty. Yes, beauty! The memories I had of other people’s photos were now images coming to life in the lens of my own camera. I assumed I looked conspicuous with my phone always at the ready for photo-ops, but no one seemed to notice. I was just more visual noise in a very overgrown visual landscape. Unexplainable! India!

 

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Quiet is never an option in any of the world’s cities, but in India the sounds assaulted me exponentially more than anywhere I’d been before. Mostly what I heard were horns and the engines behind them. I quickly learned that horns are primarily a greeting, but sometimes a warning.

Drivers beep as they approach (“Here I come”) as they pass (“Here I am”) and whenever they think their presence has been forgotten (“I’m still here, in case you were wondering”). On the other hand, they honk when they’re warning (“Get out of my way”)! It only took a day or two to discern the difference between the greeting of a beep, and the anger of a honk.

Periodically throughout the day, a different sort of sound cut through the whine of engines and the beeps and blares of horns. It was the sound calling people to prayer. Reminding them to stop, to gather, and to bow. It wasn’t that the other sounds could no longer be heard but rather a new layer of sound was added, and a new texture temporarily joined the already over-grown audio landscape. Unexplainable! India!

And then there are the scents, or as some would say, the smells. I’ve never experienced anything comparable. Occasionally they pleased my senses but more often, the opposite was true. I’ve heard people say that India has its own scent, and they’re exactly right. I’d describe it as being more blended than singular, and mostly an exhaust of one type or another: cooking, vehicular, biological, manufacturing, and agricultural. Unexplainable! India!

That was Day One. But I will never get over what happened on Day Two. That was the day I visited my first slum.

 

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As we pulled into this slum my senses were assaulted and my heart was bruised. We were in what appeared to be a small parcel of leftover real estate, filled with all the same sights, sounds, and scents that I’d already experienced but in a more concentrated space, and in a more concentrated way. We parked in an open section of mud surrounded by trash that was being foraged by wild, black pigs of all sizes. I was not expecting pigs!

As I got out of the vehicle I tried to be careful about where I stepped, and then I realized the futility of my caution. I had no idea what I was walking on and in. I still don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know.

I was part of a team visiting a Good Shepherd school, so in a matter of seconds I was surrounded by uniformed school children greeting me with outstretched hands, warm greetings, bright eyes, and sparkling smiles. Oh those smiles! In the midst of the harshest conditions I’d ever seen were smiles. I was not expecting smiles!

I stood. I watched. I listened. I breathed in the harshness of the air. My mind was racing. My eyes were seeing, but not believing. The bruise on my heart was hurting. And then I heard it.

 

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It was coming from behind me. From inside a small, dark room filled shoulder-to-shoulder with those uniformed children. They were singing. In the middle of a slum they were singing. With pigs roaming the “streets” and raw sewage flowing across “walkways” they were singing.

This is the day
This is the day that the Lord has made
That the Lord has made
I will rejoice
I will rejoice and be glad in it

I was done. No, I was undone! My heart was no longer just bruised it was broken. But it was alive. One of the reasons I chose to visit India was to see if my heart was still alive. It was. But I was not expecting it to happen like this!

Hearing those precious, innocent children sing those words with such joy and energy while surrounded by such poverty and need wrecked me in a most beautiful way. I still find it hard to explain why a loving God allows there to be such tremendous pain and need in the world. But I also find it hard to explain why that same loving God brought my heart back to life. Unexplainable! India!

Since I’ve been home each day that I write in my journal I close with: This is the day… rejoice! My life has renewed meaning. Purpose. My heart is alive!

I can’t get them off my mind – those children I met in the slum. There are thousands more in other locations.

Thousands who need a good education.

Thousands who need a reason to smile.

Thousands who need to learn a song.

Thousands who need the opportunity to rejoice!

 

 

 

 

 

An Accidental Mission

A Music Teacher from Pennsylvania Tells Her India Story

My first trip to India was unplanned, a last minute opportunity.  In 2011 our church had a summer trip planned, but I knew nothing about it. Six weeks before the trip departure, a team member dropped out, and I was asked to fill in because I was a teacher. I already owned a passport, so I quickly got my shots and jumped into training with the team. 

I had been on church trips in the past, and I have traveled to many countries for leisure, but this trip was different. For some reason, God broke my heart for India.  As a teacher, I saw the difference that the children’s English education would make in the trajectory of each child’s life. A multitude of jobs and opportunities would be available to them because of their education and additional English skills. In India, the parents will eventually live with their adult son, so I knew the increased job opportunities these children would have would positively affect the entire family.

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In addition to seeing and understanding the educational and spiritual benefits these children receive, I simply fell in love with the students.  Despite language barriers and cultural differences, I observed that children are the same around the world. In any classroom, you can pick out the class clown or the shy student. As an educator, I felt my heart connect with these students, teachers, and administrators. As I left the school for the first time, I felt like I was not saying good-bye forever, but “See you later”, knowing I would return someday.

In the summer of 2013, my husband and I brought a group of high school upperclassmen to India. We had an amazing time serving the school, doing songs, games, crafts, science experiments, and stories. During this second trip, I built a stronger relationship with the principal of the school.  Because I had completed my Pennsylvania principal’s certification training, we shared a common bond. One day during the visit, I sat in her office and asked her to dream financially about what she would love to see for their school. One of the dreams was a computer lab with a Smartboard that the entire school could use. Other schools in the area had a Smartboard, but their school could not afford one. Right before we left for India, my husband’s grandfather died, and soon after we returned we received a small inheritance. We learned that the amount would exactly cover the cost of four computers and a Smartboard, just what the school needed! We also rejoiced to see the principal’s dream of a computer lab come true. 

On my next trip in 2014, I provided training to the teachers and students on how to use the Smartboard. It was rewarding to use my talents as an educator to bless a school on the other side of the world.

This past summer I was able to bring my high school daughter along with me to the school. It was so rewarding to have her see for herself the many experiences I had described to her over the years.  As we were winding down our days at the school, she said words that warmed my mother’s heart, “I don’t want to leave.”  I was delighted that my daughter had also gained a heart for India.

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When I picked out my first two children to sponsor seven years ago, I would have never guessed it would have led to this adventurous journey.  I have wondered “How could God use a simple teacher to make a difference in India?”  We pray for our sponsored children regularly, and now we pray very specifically because our family’s visits have allowed us to know the children, the faculty, and the exact needs of the school.  I have a connection to India which I know only God could have created in my heart, and I look forward to seeing the future opportunities to assist this school with our prayers, donations, and future visits. 

You can make a difference in a child’s life through child sponsorship. More info here.