Monday, November 12, 2007
The towering clouds on the other side of the mountain appear to be jagged mountains, and they are—the Himalayans. A shimmering strong regiment of legendary peaks splits the sky beyond, dwarfing the vast mountain we stand upon. Winding alley city centres of leaning clock towers and stone staircases that vanish steep down the side of the mountain.
We visit a friend’s church here that meets in the back of a clothing shop — there is a man standing guard at the door, who pushes aside a cloth to let you into the small back room which is filled with light and breeze because it over looks the mountains and clouds and pines below. It feels much like the early church, meeting in secret, because to gather in prayer here is not acceptable. The service was in Hindi (thankfully the pastor translated for us) with only 40 Indians of the mountain squished into a small space. Here everyone knew each other and when the pastor's wife, a native Mussoorie woman, asked, people from the congregation read psalms aloud. The people were alive with connections and friendship and chai tea. There were a few ex-pat families, covered with children. It seems to me, children are the true face of India. David preaches on Returning Your Eyes to Jesus, a word of encouragement to people in such a distant region... however, we are soon to learn that God's heart is beating loudly in this distant place.
After church, we walk to dinner and to the Internet cafe in the bright white sun. During the monsoon season this place is in a constant fog, you cannot even dry your underwear, they say, because the mountain is literally in a cloud. We eat in a small area atop the mountain; it takes our food hours to come out, because the tiny cafe is unaccustomed to so many people asking for banana waffles and omelets. Donkeys and cows slowly mull past as Monika braids a little girl's hair and we sit on park benches with hyper children and thankful parents. I show the kids my dad’s “pet the snake” gag and they LOVE it. “See the snake? Good snake. Nice snake. Pet the snake. OH NO SNAKE, DON'T BITE!!!" I spend the rest of the day being bitten by snakes.
The next day, we go on “a hike” with the churches young Leaders, two 25 year old men from the Garwali Mountains. Our host drives us an hour out of town to show us the real mountain range, where villages are sprinkled among sweeping tea terraces. He looks across them and tells us that the Disciples walk to these villages, which are only accessible by foot just to talk to the villagers and tell them that there is a God who loves them, who knows them by name, who counts the very hairs on their head. His name is not one of the millions of gods they worship; His power does not come from a cow or an idol, but from the Cross. It's a simple message: God loves you and He always will.
The Leaders are extraordinarily quiet; they should have been wearing monk’s robes. They set up a campfire and make chai for us as one of them tells us his story in this clearing beside the mountains. Despite the overwhelming odds, he has a Hindi tattoo upon his right hand a symbolic mark given to him from birth, which he now regrets, the Leader has given his life to Christ, dedicated to understanding and sharing God to the Unknown. The chai we drink on that small perch is the greatest tea we have ever tasted.
After we avoid being trampled by cows descending the mountain, we hike to the peak of one of the mountains. Our host and his family come, we hold the children’s hands telling them “don’t step in the lollipops left on the ground by the cows.” The air gets colder and thicker, the path is steep moss and rock that opens into a theatre of green grass and tall trees. Walking the silent small path, surrounded by peaceful trees and whispering breeze, I begin to understand the Leader’s silence a little more.
We reach the top, a little out of breath, as the Leaders easily carry the children on their shoulders. We are so high up, on such a drastic slope, that to look down feels like the world is upside down. Far down below, huts and villages span out below like tiny pebbles placed among the grass. Freedom up here. We soak in the sun until a small boy waves at us from the top, top, top of the mountain. In a matter of minutes he is down at our side, showing the brave few the way into the clouds.
Our host, his children, and the Leaders help us climb rocks and navigate prickly bushes. The pastor races me to the top, running up grassy slopes and over rocks, altitude starving me for breath until I am dizzy at the very peak. The world is below us. We are above the clouds that float by like an ocean. Stacked mountains vanish in the horizon. But the Himalayans stay steady, mocking our breathtaking climb. The twinkling cowbells of the three cattle that belong to the boy is the only sound up here. The bell's gentle clank, the rolling clouds, the bright mountainside. Peace.
“We came here 3 weeks ago,” says the Pastor. “We camped here and sang and danced.” This is the kind of hike these men do every day, just to reach a small hut, just to knock on their door and speak to them as friends and believers. God’s love is real. We can be the vessels through which he spreads that love. Even here, God loves them so much that He sends out these Leaders to the farthest regions — none of this area is in the Lonely Planet by the way — to let them know of His Love. Back in Los Angeles, my world seems so small, work, food, friends, service, but out here, my eyes are opened to the enormity of God’s heart, that He is working everywhere, even in the silence of the hills and across the world, in the brash clamor of Los Angeles.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
We still have more to share about the end of our trip, as well as reflections from a few of our team, so please check back with us in the coming weeks (and possibly months) as we process and share more about our trip, and our response to all we've experienced.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
As we walked the slum, dozens of children began to follow us. They screamed and yelled with so much laughter, you would have thought Shakira had arrived. It was such an incredible welcome and to see the joy and hope in their tiny little faces was mesmerizing. Many of the older folks were kind but their faces expressed concern, perhaps about our nature of business in their territory.
We spent some time meeting Ashu, the child Kirsten and her family sponsor at Sneha. The Dickerson’s have been praying for them for nearly 7 years and it was not only a joy for Kirsten to finally meet Ashu but to see many of the family prayers answered.
Joe and Rod had the privilege of going deeper into the slums and when they got back Joe said, “the smell of death was lurking.” They both said it was much worse than what we had witnessed, which is very hard for all of us to even fathom.
Juliette’s comments regarding the slums were, “I was overwhelmed by the surroundings, and I’m still digesting it.” She also said she was thinking of how to reconcile this with her own life and how the two will coexist.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Even the three and four-year-olds stood patiently at attention - something it would be difficult to imagine seeing at home. In the afternoon the children split into groups and we drew pictures with sidewalk chalk for them to color in, played basketball, jumped rope, made crafts, and enjoyed the Indian version of Duck, Duck, Goose. Which brings me to the balloon hats, while we made strange creations that somewhat resembled intestines, a few of the older boys slipped off and made intricate bouquets of balloon flowers, which they presented back to us, "For you, Ma'am."
We have all been so grateful for the incredible hospitality we've been shown by our hosts. Dr. Reeta gave us a tour of the facilities and we watched as young women worked on embroidery and sewing projects, which will enable them to help support their families. After the children went home, we shared afternoon tea with the teachers of SNEHA - 22 in all. Serving the children here is a true calling. The teachers could easily earn up to four times as much working at one of the local private schools, but instead they spend six days a week encouraging and loving Neha, Arpad, Ashu, Ashok, Rajender...the list goes on. SNEHA means "Love" in Hindi. I am humbled by the love in this place. God's love...changing this community one day at a time. We're headed to the basti this afternoon (slum). It's hard to reconcile the fact that the smart, funny, playful, happy, polite children we've been getting to know live in an atmosphere that most of us can't even fathom. Please pray for them, their families, and for the extraordinary men and women who selflessly serve this community.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Here are a few pics to help show our train travel day.
-Domestic flights. Our Kingfisher airline from Mumbai to Delhi was like an international flight out of the U.S. The 1 hour, 20 minute ride came equipped with a full meal, cable TV (to catch up on Wonder Years and Laguna Beach reruns), and flight attendants who all looked like Indian models. Cool.
-Tandoori chicken: Tender and moist all the time!
-Driving: We do not see a rhyme or reason but I guess everyone here knows the rules to the insane highways. Three family members and a sleeping baby on one motorcycle, crazy rickshaws weaving through the oscillating cars, 5 ½ lanes forming in a 3-laned highway. But alarmingly, fewer accidents than American freeways!
Things that are better in America:
-Train bathrooms: I just stepped into a squat toilet unit with a wet, wet floor. I’m pretending it’s just spilled water.
-Fruit and veggies: Because of the unsanitary water, we’re all dying for just one salad. Please, no more carbs.
-Ecclesia. We miss you.
But we are all having a wonderful, stomach-sickness-free time. In India, monkeys are like squirrels. We saw a gang of them at the side of a road. Converse are only $20, and our time is spent in extreme situations at the opposite ends of the paradigm. One day we’ll be sitting, having a Thai lunch in the luxurious home of one of our friends in Mumbai, then a few hours later, be driven out to the outskirts of the city to visit one small home that houses 23 girls who have been rescued from sex slavery. Tuesday we spent the afternoon with our friends from the faith-based humanitarian organization in the touristy area of Mumbai, seeing the Gateway of India and eating at Leopolds. That same night we witnessed the horror of the Red Light District.