Saturday, January 24, 2009

Last day in Damoh

Today, Saturday, is our last day here in Damoh. This evening we catch the overnight train to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Then on to New Delhi after lunch. We want to share with you a fond memory or two of our stay here in Damoh:

Mark--Friday night I got the honor and priviledge of speaking to over 300 women. My points simply came right out of Esther which was the text for the women's retreat. I began with reminding them that women have been making history since Eve and Adam in the garden of Eden. I challenged them that if they wanted to be history makers also there were three principles we must adhere to: 1) Learn when to remain quiet--Esther listened to wise advice and remained quiet until the correct time arose; 2) Learn when to speak up--Esther spoke up to Xerxes about Haman when the time was right--also we can't remain quiet about what Jesus has done for us; there is power in our testimonies; 3) Learn to see God in all situations--even the tough ones. I closed with the challenge to change history and for the men to get out of their way!

Suzette--Its hard to pick just a few fond moments. But I guess the one that will stand out the most was coloring with my Asha child. Also when we were at the orphanage seeing the girls bounce up balloons and one of the girls telling me that she did not want me to leave. The overwhelming feeling of hospitality that we receive while we are here will always be in my mind.

Judy-- Watching Bugagee & the elders dance and praise at Hatta is branded on my heart forever. And when he came to Sheela & David's to be interviewed and placed his hand on my head and gave a blessing. AND... watching all the women from all the states of India worship together- loving God. AND... watching the leadership and strength of Sheela Lall.

Tricia-- At the beginning of the women's conference a representataive from each state marched in displaying their state's flag. The colors of the flags were beautiful. It was so much more than I had expected. The flag ceremony made me realize how very important this conference was to those attending. On the first night a young girl probably about 12 or 13 years old sang in English"As the Deer." Her young pure voice resonated in my soul as God spoke to me through the Psalm.

Larry--Experiencing christianity blossom in India has been a blessing. It is reminescent of the first apostles spreading the Gospel to those who had never heard or expereinced the love of Jesus Christ. Contrary to our experience in the United States, the followers of Christ in India are subject to persecution. This brings a whole new meaning to the authenticity and sincerity of these people... It is inspiring.

Lezlie--It's hard to pick just one moment. Do I pick the lizard in Ashley & I's toilet, the lizard I found as I put my pants on one morning, or falling in a hole? Haha! There is no doubt I have made good and funny memories here in Damoh. One moment that definitely sticks out in my mind is our trip to Hatta. I was overwhelmed with the love that exuded from Bugagee as he broke bread with all of us. The welcoming smiles and laughs as I photographed the woman, cows, and sceenery will forever be etched in my mind. And photos of Bugagee standing in a beautiful field will soon be hanging on my walls at home.

Ashley--My memories from Damoh are much more simple than my friends. I will remember walking across the field towards the room where the conference was held watching the children find great joy in playing cricket. When I close my eyes, I see women from across the country of India sitting around a camp fire engaged in watching their friends perform tribal dances and songs. I will remember the sounds of India forever. The cars honking from the street, the songs from the Hindu temple echoing in the distance, and the sound of Subhu's wistle. I will always hold the simplicity and character of India in my heart!

Alan--My second time around has been rewarding in so many ways. From making new friends and bettering other friendships to having the opportunity to see the dramatic change the work being done here has accomplished. To narrow down my experience to a best memory is difficult, but if I must...Gandhigram, the village full of kids who previously had no future, has done a 180 with the support from the mission. This is where my heart was drawn during my first trip and I have been working at home to garner support for these kids. What a blessing to see these kids again, now that I recognize many of them from my work. They are very well behaved, learning so much, and growing up in a Christian environment. These precious creations of God are getting an opportunity to live a good life thanks to the work of the Mid India Christian Services and from the support they are now receiving from my friends and family in Amarillo. Thank You!

Lisa-What great memories! My favorite would be worshiping with the women at the conference. Now I understand why scripture says nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Language, dress, customs, etc; nothing was a barrier to worship. The bridge in our lives is that of King Jesus and that will never fade away.

Brian- my favorite memories have to be the impact that we have made in the Asha childrens lives. for us to come to them and share our time and lives is priceless. You cannot help but leave places like India changed. Once you see India and spend time with its people it forever changes you.

Connie ~ The Women's Seminar is definitely my favorite memory however one of my first impressions of worship at Nokelal's church has stayed in my mind from the beginning. To sit and see the joy on their faces as they sat beneath a banner that said "May the evil go away and the kingdom of the Sacrifice King come!" will be forever etched in my memory.

Day 11--Saying Goodbye

Today was the last day for the women's retreat.  It has been a huge success beyond our wildest dreams.  So many women ready to take charge and bring Christ to their homes and their villages.  Judy had the honor of giving the last session.  Because these women live in a dangerous society believing what they believe, Judy inspired them to go forward with courage.

The men had another day to relax.  I had the great opportunity to observe cataract surgery at the Eye Hospital.  Fifty patients that were screened yesterday at the eye camp had their surgery today.  Dr. Hema Bindu is the ophthalmologist on staff here at the hospital.  She performed the first 8 surgeries, but because she is in her first trimester of pregnancy, another doctor from a local village came to help.  I was amazed at how this facility can do so much with so little.  Dr. Bindu asked if I wanted to help do the surgeries, but I had to decline.  I have it so easy in the U.S. and I take it for granted when it comes to all of the technology we have to perform this delicate surgery.  I feel I would only slow this well oiled machine down.

For lunch we had goat, only this time the goat came to us alive. The unfortunate part of this is that "Blackie", as we lovingly named him, was adorable. He frolicked as he ate leaves from a low tree.  He danced around and smiled at us.  We fed him by hand and then the time came.  We watched with heavy hearts as the butchers led him to the slaughter. Mark watched as they led Blackie to the back part of the lot. The butchers had knife in hand as they knelt over Blackie and turned him on his back.  Mark couldn't take it!  He walked away sad because of the horror that befell Blackie. While I, Brian, again watched with sick pleasure. -Brian

After lunch, we had the distinct pleasure of experiencing a snake charmer.  This time, he brought 4 cobras and they were extra feisty.  Just seconds out of the basket and they were attacking each other.  Hissing and bobbing and weaving at one another.  After the snakes calmed down a little, most of the men had to prove their manhood by holding one of the cobras by its tail.  Dr. Larry seemed to have the most to prove, although he looked good holding the cobra while wearing his new ladies scarf.  He says he bought them for the staff...but he's wearing them too much with his new manbags!

Later, all the women got tattoos...henna tattoos.  A new and exciting experience.  Also, a few of us took a ride around the block on a bicycle rickshaw.  These are three wheeled bikes with a seat for two behind the driver.  

As we all pack our bags and prepare for the overnight train ride, we can't help but feel sad as we have all made great friends here.  We have been pampered and fed well and every day was a new and emotional experience.  I can speak for all of us when I say we all love India.  Our heart felt THANKS to David and Sheela Lall--you are awesome!  Thanks Godfather for everything; every request met with a smile and a nod--until next year!  Thanks to the most amazing, most organized, most hospitable, woman in India!  You are the heart of India! 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 10--Women's Retreat

At the end of our trip last year, God laid the women of India on my heart. Sheela and I visited and by the time we arrived in Amarillo, Sheela had already written out the agenda. I was overwhelmed at the thought of hosting 250 women for three days. Our God is amazing. As the year unfolded, the women's seminar came together. It is bitter sweet that it is almost over. I think we are all tired and ready to head home, yet at the same time we hate to leave this remarkable place and this amazing group of Christians.

Today I realized that to the women this seminar is the highlight of their year. This is a time that these ladies come together without their children and responsibilities of home to fellowship, sing, worship and most of all hear the word of God. I could compare it to HCC women's retreat, however 100 ladies sleep on cots in one large room with very little other accommodations, yet they are elated to be here. I am humbled to be in their presence.

The Lord has blessed all HCC speakers and brought the story of Esther to life. Even though each individual prepared their teachings independently, the Lord drew all His words together for His purpose to encourage the women of India to stand tall and walk boldly with the Lord; to be the women God made them to be yet be submissive to their husbands; to love the Lord and share His love with others.

Tomorrow we will physically leave these ladies but they will ALWAYS be in our hearts and prayers.--Tricia

Day 9--Women's Retreat

The day finally arrived. For months we have had our speaking assignments and have struggled with "what can we say to these amazing women?" Fortunately our fearless leader, Judy Stallwitz, started off the morning with expressing the love that we brought from Hillside. Although she felt yucky from a bug that is going around amongst the foreigners (us), God spoke to all of us through Judy. She talked about the seeds that we can scatter in our own fields and watch as God helps them grow. The Aggies may not be scoring well in football, but our own Aggie Queen scored a win and gets the trophy!

Our seasoned mission trip extraordinaire, Tricia Hemelstrand, treated us in the first session by outlining the story of Esther. Connie Garrett went next and blew us away with thought provoking questions and amazing perspective. Connie claims to not be a speaker, but we have learned otherwise and she now has a second assignment Friday night...a reflective time of her experiences here in India. Sic 'em, Connie!

We have seen and heard so much here. My head spins from all that goes on. If you are a person that likes calm and quiet, India may not be top on your list of vacation spots. But if you want to be around people with hearts of gold and love for their country and countrymen, this is definately the place to be. I am one of the strange ones that likes quiet at home, but I have learned to listen hard to the sounds here. The cackling of the car horns makes me laugh and I'd love to have one of them for my car. I might describe life here as ironic. Again with the contradictions. It is noisy, and yet, it is quiet. Chaos reigns in traffic and yet the drivers are calm. The noise from the horns protect other drivers, biker and those walking including the cows; quiet on the street is eerie.

A sound that has brought inexpressible and glorious joy to my heart is the sound of the women praising our one true God. Can there be a sweeter sound? We came half way around the world and find we have more in common than not. It all makes me crave Heaven more but being here reminds me that the crops are ready and workers still few. I hope I never quit signing, "Pray for India, Pray for India, Pray for India; won't you join me? -- Lisa Bradshaw

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day 9--Supper for 325

It is so hard to put into words what really went on today. But Ron and I will try. Today the menfolk started out the morning by heading to the market to buy fresh veggies for our chicken fajita feast. As before, we were the circus at the circus. The farmer's market opened about 10:30 am and is not comparable by anything we've seen in the U.S. They weigh the produce by a handheld scale and the produce is somewhat different than what we've got. The eggplants are green, the garlic is much smaller, etc. As we began to purchase our items, a crowd began to form. I guess you could say we kinda started a riot! We had to be sent back to the car so the crowds would disperse. Not many white boys at this market! We also bought water in 30lb bags. About 500 lbs worth. They came in a nylon bag and inside they had individual bags of water, kinda like an i.v. bag. We've never seen anything like that--they take the bag and tear off a corner and drink from it! Guess it is their version of the plastic bottle.

When we got back to our cooking site, and began to layout our menu items, we discovered that they had bought only one gallon can of pinto beans for our estimated 300 partakers. They don't do pinto beans here and weren't sure what we were going to do with it. Mark headed off with Max and Shireesh to another store to buy some dried beans. The closest thing we could find to pinto beans were Indian "rajma" beans, but they worked. We threw in some bacon , garlic, spices and cilantro and they turned out really great!

Around 1:30 pm, our dinner arrived on a motorcycle. 15 live fine specimens of the poultry variety. We were expecting around 150. Eventually we were told that we had received the honor of "killing" these 15 and thank God, they had already taken care of the rest. The chickens were tied together in three bunches of 5. They laid them on the ground for us to take care of. They stood back to watch us city folk make fools of ourselves. Finally, we begged for some direction. None of us had done this before. Then Mannee showed us the proper technique of chicken killing. He slid the knife cleanly across their neck and then with two or three quick strokes, the head came clean off. The head and eyes moved a little and then went lifeless. Also the blood began to squirt out of the neck as they flapped and flapped until finally they moved no more. Now it was our turn. Disturbingly Brian Nistler willingly grabbed the knife and went to work with no hesitation and I swear we could see blood lust in his eyes. He seemed to enjoy it as he took care of all but the last two. Then they told me (Mark) it was my turn. I have to admit, I don't think I've ever killed anything beyond an insect or two. If you know me at all, you know I am an animal lover. My biggest mistake; I never should have looked them in the eye. With one glance, I could see into their souls...they looked at me with sadness, begging for mercy, knowing their fate. I couldn't do it. But I knew I had too and yes, I bowed to the pressure of the moment...peer pressure...of Alan videoing and everyone saying "come on, you can do it!" Yes, I admit, I am weak! So I covered my eyes and slit the chicken's neck. And then the next. And now I will live with the guilt of being a "chicken killer" for the rest of my life. I snuffed out their lives so that I could eat a fajita or two later than night. I must confess, I would rather my chicken come in the nugget or tender form than live and in person. I don't think I will ever be able to look at a live chicken again without feeling like they know what I have done to their avian Indian cousin! I should now walk around with the scarlet letters CK on my chest! But I won't. I will hide my blood letting from all others...except those that read the blog :)!

So Mark cooked the beans, Larry Schaffer cooked the Spanish rice, and Ron sauteed the chicken fajitas, onions and green peppers. Alan, Brian, Mannee, Saboo, and Shireesh chopped and diced, tended the fires that we cooked over and did whatever we needed. It truly was a team effort to cook fajitas for that many people. But we desire to bring something Texan to them. What better than a Tex-Mex meal. We also had a team of three ladies and three other men that made the 600 tortillas and grilled them over an open fire. They were amazing. And it took them most of the afternoon. I will never complain about Hillside's kitchen again! I truly missed my luxurious work space. The warming oven, the gas cook tops at counter height. It was fun and challenging, but cooking facility was outside and the cooking utensils were primitive. The cast iron ladle/spoon/stirrer that we used weighed at least 15 lbs each. The cast iron wok and pans were absolutely huge and heavy and the fires were low to the ground. Our backs were feeling it by the end of the night.

The last thing we did was serve the women the meal. They weren't use to men serving them. In this culture it is usually reversed. We fixed their plates and handed it to them. They smiled but weren't sure what to do. They had never eaten a "taco" before. We showed them how, but most just ate them with their fingers as they do most meals here. It must have been good, because most came back for seconds and some even for thirds. Ron and I noticed that the smaller the lady, the more trips through the line they made! We enjoyed our time getting to serve them and they took time during their campfire to give us a round of applause. Then they asked what we were cooking tomorrow!?!? Tomorrow is goat, and I know I can't and won't kill and cook a goat. I'll eat it, but not if I have to do the slaughtering of it! Maybe we will leave that to out Amarillo for the chicken mass murderer Brian Nistler! :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 8--Khajuraho

We left around 7:30 this morning for Khajuraho. It was about a 3.5 hour drive northeast of Damoh. It is an absolute must site to see. Mark Twain’s quote is running through my head: “India is the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.” Khajuraho helps make that quote oh so true. The temple compound is a UNESCO/World Heritage site because of its artistically sculptured temples. The temples were built around 900-1200 a.d. The remaining 25 of the original 85 temples are a true work of art. Today we got to enjoy the outcome of dedication, courage, and patience with a hammer and chisel. Who would of thought with such primitive tools they could produce such magnificent sculptures. Yes, they are also known as the "erotic" or "Kama sutra (technique of love)" temples. Of course, the small percentage of the more erotic sculptures garner the most attention and photographs. But as our guide reminded us, it is pure art. The guide said that the temples stood beneath the jungle growth until 1925 when they were "rediscovered" for all the world to see. Today Khajuraho hosts a plethora of 5 star resorts, and is one of the three stops on the golden triangle along with New Delhi and Jaipur. It was well worth the drive to see.

On our way home one of the cars had a flat tire. While we waited on the street side, we became quite the spectacle. People began to gather to look at the lighter skinned folk. And I was once again reminded that we don't blend in; we are the "circus at the circus." That saying came from last year's trip when we visited a traveling circus here in Damoh and the locals were watching us "the circus" at the circus. It is really fun to watch the locals watching you. And we just know they are laughing at these crazy white people taking pictures of the strangest things to us but the most everyday things to them. I mean, how often do you get to see a water buffalo galloping down the street after her baby, who is being held by a man on the back of a motorcycle. Or a goat with a knit scarf being lead into a restaurant. Guess who's coming to be dinner? Dogs and birds picking off the last pieces of several cow and buffalo carcasses. A black faced monkey sitting on the stone bridge abutment. A panther darting across the road. Boys on bicycles strutting for pictures. A cock fight in between two vividly painted TaTa buses. A gorgeous pinkish hued sunset behind a jutting jungle mountain. The list of today's possible photo ops is endless...but 'tis everyday life in India.

We've been discussing this trip how India seems quite the land of contradictions...erotically sculptured temples, but no public displays of affection allowed on the streets. Fat goats in sweaters walking beside naked hungry children. Digging hand dug trenches to lay fiber optic cables. The worship of cows because they give you food and clothing amongst other things; but you don't kill them because they are holy! India is the world's largest free democratic secular society that is in essence run by the Hindu religious elite (which is a small percentage of the population). Billboards of "life-giving water" next to the world's dirtiest (so dirty nothing lives in it) river. And I could go on and on about the apparent contradictions; but I pause and wonder what is said of us and our "normal" way of everyday life?

Tomorrow starts the women's conference. Judy, Tricia and Connie will all be speaking on Day 1. Ashley, Lezlie, Lisa & Suzette will all be speaking on Days 2&3. The men folk will be cooking chicken fajitas, beans, Spanish rice, tortillas and salsa for about 300 tomorrow. I hear that most of the chickens are already "dressed." Shouldn't that be "undressed" if they are without feathers at that point? But the remaining few will be "prepared" by us...can't say I've ever killed my food. A city boy I am! This should be fun and we'll take lots of pictures and report our successes or failures tomorrow! A wonderful goodnight to my family and friends! --Mark

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day 7- Hatta

We began another glorious day in India by heading out to Hatta. The morning drive was... interesting, because of an intense fog, a one lane road & tons of cattle, bikes & pedestrians everywhere. Welcome to India! When we arrived at Hatta, we were welcomed by our dear friend Bugagee, who announced "the darkness of this region is being overtaken by the Light." He also compared himself to a bulldozer, Mark as the engine to it and Hillside as its fuel. He made sure we knew that everyone attending had made a pledge to worship only ONE God and it was his goal for this movement to spread throughout India. He believes that Hatta, being in the center of India, is the heart of India- and will spread the love of God throughout India. What a proclamation!

However, the most touching moment was Bugagee thanking us for keeping him in our hearts. He looked at us with such humility and quietly said "If I cannot have a place in your hearts, please let me have a place at your feet." How humbling to have such a spiritual warrior asking for the pleasure of taking the dust from our shoes.

The children were amazing and so well behaved. We clowned around, made them laugh and shared the story "You are Special." Their faces reflected the hope of their hearts... that God loves them as much as He does anyone else.

After the movie, Bugagee brought out flat bread and coffee to our team. I was so surprised when he broke the bread and motioned for me to open my mouth. My second thoughts to accept were chased away by the warmth and love Bugagee pours in every direction. As I ate the bread, he began to dance and asked me to return the favor. When I fed him the bread, he began to dance and laugh even more. He did this with every team member, celebrating the "breaking of bread" with us.

Bugagee is at least 80 years old, but he doesn't really know for sure. He leads about 55,000 people in several districts as a spiritual leader. But it isn't himself he is asking thousands to worship- he is telling them all about the ONE God. There is no mistake that he loves the Lord, because God's joy is ever present. We believe this village has so much to offer in spreading the gospel in India, and also believe it is the next village we are to adopt and support. So get ready Hillside! There are about 175 beautiful, eager children who want to learn more about God! WE have a chance to be a part of this beautiful emancipation from a long legacy of religious bondage and caste abuse.

Before we left, Bugagee, some of his closest elders and leaders led us in worship. It was unforgettable. I looked up to heaven, the fog had broken and my heart soared with joy, agreeing with their worship and exuberance. He blessed us, said a prayer over our group and shared the church's immense appreciation for all Hillside is doing to support. It is humbling, because this beautiful, 80-something year old gentleman has put me to shame with his faith, wisdom, joy and commitment.

The church was surrounded by a wheat field, just like it is surrounded by a field of lost souls... so we hope you enjoy seeing Bugagee in the midst of God's harvest. This church is making an impact in a very dark place and we are so grateful for the chance to witness how they shine the Light. Jaijmasihki! (Praise the Lord) - With Love from India, Judy.