Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oh to be the hands and feet of Jesus!

When we were in the planning phase of our mission trip to India we met one evening to brainstorm.  We had to come up with a few games, crafts, and activities to do with all the different schools and homes where we would be.  God orchestrated the most amazing plans all using the different gifts and skills that the team had.

We decided that our main activity that we would do with the aftercare homes would be pedicures and manicures.  First a bit on aftercare homes:

Basically the aftercare homes serve girls from a variety of backgrounds.  Most of them have been rescued from brothels.  Some of them were orphaned.  Some are high risk, meaning that there is a high risk that they would be have been trafficked because of their living situation.  Some have been rescued and are awaiting court dates to prosecute their offenders.  Oh to be a fly on THAT wall!

We visited 6 after care homes.  They were each very different.  The smallest was around 20 girls.  The largest held around 200 girls.

So anyway, back to the pedicure and manicure.  Little did we know that touching someone else's feet in India was a BIG deal.  It is hard to describe what it means over there but basically it is very intimate and you would never touch someone's feet that you weren't very close to.  Does that make sense?  So for us to wash, scrub, lather, rub, etc. someone's feet was very difficult for the girls to receive.  Most of them balked at the idea at first and then once we started the would relax.  More often than not we would have to call over a translator (they were wonderful, Christian ladies!) to explain to the girls that in our culture rubbing someone's feet was one way that we showed affection and humility.

Lauren doing henna on a young woman.  She was a henna rock star in India!
After we washed their feet we would file their toenails, trim if needed, and then their favorite part: foot massage with yummy smelling lotions.  They would always bury their face in their hands and giggle to their friends.  They just couldn't believe that we were doing this!  Then we would hand them the bowlful of different nail colors that we had and asked them to choose a color.  Many times they would hand the bowl back and say "you choose" because it was just too much for them to comprehend.  After we painted their toenails we would ask them if they wanted to choose some toe bling.  They loved the stickers and jewels for their toes!  Apparently toe bling is universal to all females!

We also did manicures, put lip gloss on them, put Bendis on their forehead (the typical Indian bling between their eyes), and even did henna on their hands and feet.  Lauren became the henna queen in India.  She is already a great artist but she really honed her henna skills in India.  On the last night of our travels Lauren finally received her own henna while in Dubai on a Sand Safari.

We basically wanted them to feel like princesses.  After all, we are all daughters of the King!  They felt very pampered and enjoyed the experience very much.

Note: I always thought that bendis meant something spiritual or new age-y.  Turns out that it is just like bling for your face.  

I don't think any of us need to travel halfway around the world to "give a pedicure".  What is He calling you to do right where you're at?  I'm going to pray and ask God to show me ways that I can serve him right here.

Things I Learned Along the Way

Some of these things I already knew but haven't ever considered.  Some of these things were confirmed in India.  And some of these things have never crossed my mind before Kolkata.

1.  Red and yellow, black and white....they are ALL precious in His sight.
2.  There are true heroes of the faith in the most surprising places.
3.  Most American Christians have NO IDEA what persecution is.  You might think that you are persecuted because someone at work doesn't like Christians.  But we simply have no idea what true persecution looks like.
4.  "Hallelujah" and "Amen" translate perfectly between English and Bengali.
5.  I have never been more thankful for God's grace and the gift of salvation.  To watch the Hindus trying to "earn" favor with their gods by all sorts of acts was very sad to me.  32 goats were sacrificed the day we visited the Khali temple.  And hundreds of poor villagers were throwing money they didn't have into a god's temple.  I wanted to yell and scream at them, "Don't you know that our ransom has been paid in full!?!"
6.  Vicks is a good thing.  (We rubbed Vicks under our nose as we walked in certain areas of Kolkata to help mask the stench of trash, etc.)
7.  My faith is so small compared to some of the heroes in India.  They trust God to meet every day needs.  We trust Him for so little.  I think the average American trusts God but is afraid to give total control over to Him (me included).
Just a few of the amazing kids at New Hope School
8.  That all humans have the same basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing.  But we also have a desire for love and affection.  To watch a young girl collapse in a chair as I rubbed her feet was so humbling.  Many of them have never been shown positive physical affection.
9.  Life in India is hard.  Travel, food preparation, etc are all lengthy processes.
10. I will never be the same again.

Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God" — William Carey

Saturday, January 7, 2012


India is so polluted that it turns your boogers black. Did you also know that when you say "chai tea" that you are saying "tea tea" because chai means tea?  That KFC in India serves their chicken with salsa?  When they say that they have a "Western potty" that means that it flushes? You still have to bring water up from the river to flush it, but at least it flushes. NYC may call itself "the city that never sleeps" but they ain't got nothing on Kolkata. In a city of 16 MILLION people it seems that there are always people doing something. Last night around 9 pm there was a very loud and very long parade. We never did figure out what it was but it certainly did freak us out a bit. The 5X/day call to prayer is weird to hear, too.

But boogers aside, India is truly an amazing place.  This definitely will not be my last trip here.  I have so much respect for the missionaries and safe house volunteers that are trying to create a new life for victims of sex trafficking. It's so hard to put what I've seen into words. I just can't do it justice.

In the last few days we have visited numerous safe houses in and around Kolkata.  The darkness and heaviness on the streets are palpable but the attitudes inside the houses are like a breath of fresh air.  These girls are so thrilled to see us!  I love hearing "Good morning, Auntie!" It's so humbling. We gave the girls manicures and pedicures and really got to love on them one-on-one.  Touching someone else's feet in India is the ultimate show of respect. The girls would sometimes quickly pull their feet away and we had to remind them (through our expression or with the help of a translator) that we are here to serve them. The concept is completely foreign to them.  Many of them have never been shown love or affection.

On the 1st day we forgot our paper towels for the pedicures so we all ended up using the edges of our shirts to dry their feet. That act was almost more than they could stand. They would say "No! No!" but we would insist and soon they would relax. It was very humbling for me when I realized that they were having a hard time accepting love and affection. It made me sad that they don't know HOW to accept it. 

India has taught me so much. There's no way I could blog and explain it to you. I'm not even sure I could understand it myself. 

Here's just an example of an experience:
Today we met with a group of rescued girls that are being taught sewing skills as a way to earn an income. Many of them are Christ followers and it was so nice to be able to encourage them in their faith. But it turns out that this "divine appointment" was just as much for us as it was for them.  At the end of our time together the translator said, "the ladies would like to pray for you". They insisted even though it was us that was supposed to pray for them. The 12 KBC ladies sat inside a large circle of tiny little Indian women, all whom have walked through unthinkable tragedies. The main girl (I'll call her "Barnabas") began to pray in their native tongue (Bengali) and they all began murmuring prayers along with her.  Their prayers are bold, and loud, and heartfelt.  Honestly it puts our shallow, quiet prayers to shame.  I don't know what to say or what to call it but I'll just say that we had CHURCH up in there!  The Holy Spirit blew through that tiny little room and His name was praised in multiple languages. It was one of the holiest moments I have ever had. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'm an Auntie!

I am "Aunt B" to 2 nephews, 2 nieces, and 1 baby yet to be born. I have loved being an aunt for almost 16 years. But today I earned a title from 60 children that has changed me forever. I became an "Auntie". The kids at the slum school call the teachers Auntie. It's hard to put into words what I saw today. Those kids have left me speechless. The slum that we walked through was the most eye-opening sight I have ever seen. 

We taught letters, math, hygiene, and played games in the morning. In the afternoon we met the girls that are being taught sewing skills on sewing machines donated by Kingsland. It was a wonderful day. The pastor and his wife that run the school are AMAZING. 

The highlight of the day came from a young girl that was coloring a worksheet with me. She flipped her paper over and wrote her "non" (name). I pointed at her and then pointed at me and wrote and said my name. Then she said my name and we giggled and high-fived. Then I drew a picture of a heart and she said "love". I did the same thing with the word "Jesus". She was a great reader and could read anything and definitely recognized the name Jesus. Then she took the crayon and paper from me and wrote something next to her name, my name, and Jesus. 

What did she add to the paper after those 3 names?  = LOVE

My heart is full. 

Our arrival in Kolkata

Wow. Just WOW. Kolkata is like nothing I've ever seen. Nothing like I thought it would be. And so much more. And words can't do it justice. But I promised I would blog about my trip so I will do my best. 

First of all, I will generalize as say that the Indian people are quite pushy and have no regard for personal space. From the moment we stepped off the plane I have felt pushed and shoved in every which way. I don't say that to be rude, it's just that there are cultural norms, and personal space is not one here. 

First of all I was very surprised at how small the airport was. I kept looking for other gates, more terminals, different airlines....but as they say "what you see is what you get". Then we all checked in through customs. Our guy was so happy to see me!  We even had a nice conversation about New Years resolutions. NOT. He examined our passports and visas for a very long time. He was really irritated with me about putting both Lauren and I's passports and visas on the counter when he only wanted to do 1 at a time. He made me really nervous but he finally stamped the passport and let us proceed.

I was elected as our group's porter for baggage claim. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I'm the tallest and can see the bags coming. Or maybe because I was dumb enough to volunteer. Or maybe because I can push back.  At any rate, collecting 23 suitcases from a conveyor belt while fighting off 75 Indian people felt less like travel and more like Fear Factor. When it was all said and done we had 23 suitcases and 21 carry ons that overflowed 5 heaping carts. I just found it so odd that when the people around you saw you getting a suitcase off, no amount of " excuse me's" or obvious glares would promote them to move out of the way.  It was very weird. Another thing we all noted at both airports is that because there are so many different cultures nobody walks on the same side. In America we drive on the right and obviously therefore walk on the right. But in the Dubai airport there were so many different nationalities that walk and drive on different sides that it was difficult to know where to walk. 

We were met with Omar and we all shouted "O"! When we saw him. It was SO NICE to see a familiar face. We pushed our 5 heaping carts to the 3 awaiting Jeep-type vehicles. Don (our guy here) hired a man to help load luggage. He crawled to the top of the car in about 1 second flat because there was no way all this luggage was going to fit in the 3 cars. So he tied a bunch of them to the roof. There were beggars everywhere. We were somewhat trapped since we had to wait while they loaded all of the luggage. The beggars are relentless. One lady just kept saying "chocolate". I assumed she was selling chocolate but really that was just the only English word she knew that meant "food" and she was asking for food. Lauren's eyes were as big as saucers as she soaked all of this in and I just prayed fervently for her for so many reasons. I'm sure any of you parents know what I mean. 

The car ride. Oh, man....the car ride. I recorded some of it on video. I've never seen anything like it. You know the whole personal space thing I mentioned earlier?  Yeah, that goes for vehicles, too. I sat in the front seat next and just tried to take it all in. I asked Don a million questions on the way to the house. Just a few examples of interesting things we saw: 
-grown men peeing (actually that's not a big deal anymore now that's I've seen it 6-8 times). They have no regard for privacy. Not all if them were homeless men, either so it's not that. 
-more spit than I've seen in my lifetime combined. Did I mention I'm 40?  The men here spit relentlessly. And again, no regard that some of it might have landed by you. They chew beetle nut tree tobacco. Whatever THAT is. 
-dead body riding in the back of a flat bed pickup truck. It pulled up next to Lauren's window at a stoplight. She didn't say anything and none of noticed. Finally I glanced over and said "What is that?" and Don replied, "Dead body. They're on the way to the crematory." It was covered in flowers but the feet were sticking out. 
-Children. Children EVERYWHERE. And many of them alone. Just wandering. 

At one point during our trip we abruptly pulled over and Don got out of the vehicle. We were in a very busy part of the street and it looked and felt dangerous. But Jana and I and the girls assumed that we had arrived at the house so we jumped out and walked to the back of the car to begin unloading the car. I kept saying, "This doesn't look like the pictures!" Then all of the sudden we heard Don say "Where are my girls?" and then we realized that we were NOT at the house but instead had been pulled over by the police.  All was well and we jumped back in the car to pressed on to the house. 

So in the middle of a VERY busy street in Kolkata and large security guard stands behind a gate that swings open just long enough for vehicles to slip in and then I knew we had arrived at the house. The grounds are impeccably groomed and the whole place is just an oasis in a dirty, crowded city. 

A little guy that's an employee at the BMS dragged all 23 suitcases up 3 flights of stairs, sometimes carrying 1 on his head and 1 under his arm. We tried to carry some and it took the 12 of us 3X as long. Most of these bags weighed around 40 pounds. 

We took about 45 minutes to get settled and freshen up. Then we left headed to lunch at a little diner. We all tried some Indian food. It was good!  

Then we came back to the house to unpack supplies and see what all we still needed to get. Then Omar took us on a field trip that I'll never forget. We visited the place where Mother Teresa worked and lived. It was amazing and interesting. Then we walked further down the street to Sishu Bhavan, Mother Teresa's home for orphans.  I wish I could bring them all home with me. Their smiles were so big and their faces are so sweet. They held their arms out and really just wanted to be touched. We rubbed their arms and played peek-a-boo and just generally fell in love. Funny side note: the nuns are all like little grandmas in so many ways. They are so patient and kind. And they always think the kids are cold so they dress them very warmly. The temperature was comfortable, probably around 80 degrees and yet the kids were all wearing flannel and polar fleece. Then we went outside to their playground. Omar told us the story about how it was donated by some wealthy woman but I'm a little fuzzy on details right now.  The kids on the playground were so sweet.  The kids I was talking to We're fascinated by my watch. 

Then we decided to walk down to a shopping area. When we were told that it's a 40 minute walk we all decided that we were just too tired to walk so we rode in little taxis called "rickshaws". These were not the 2-wheeled kinds with a man pulling them.  These are gas powered, 3-wheeled vehicles. They don't have doors or sides. They drive them very aggressively and at several points along the way I was pretty sure I was going to die.

We did some shopping Omar took us out for McDonalds. We all took funny pictures of the menu. Not a single beef item on the menu. Hindus do not eat meat as there is a chance that they could be eating Grandma since they believe in reincarnation. 

After several tries at trying to get a taxi, we gave up and started walking to the trolley lane. We were so glad that we had Omar and our trusty guide S. the trolley barely slowed down for us to get off or on. It was quite comical. We were also so exhausted that everything seemed funny. 

Needless to say we were all asleep by 8 pm. Talk about a long day!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Dubai to Kolkata

From Dubai to Kolkata....
Longest. Flight. Ever. Not sure if it's because I'm totally exhausted, the anticipation of literally hitting the ground running, or (insert a 3rd possible reason...come up with your own...too tired to think straight). I haven't been able to sleep. NOT ONE BIT. What the heck is that about?!? It's technically 8 pm my time, so I've been awake for 19 hours. Lord give me strength for today!

Our 1st flight from Houston-Dubai = 14 hours
Dubai layover = 8 hours
Our 2nd flight from Dubai - Kolkata = 5 hours
Add up all those things and you get 12 loopy women that will laugh at any joke (no matter how stupid or sophomoric)!  God has put together a perfect team for His trip. So many different gifts and talents in 12 unique personalities!  On a side note I had typed "this trip" but inadvertently left off the "t". That's's really HIS trip anyway. I'm just a vessel. Pour me out, Lord!  I wanna leave it ALL in India!

Today will be a busy day. We will arrive around 9 a.m. Kolkata time with a FULL day planned.  We will navigate the Kolkata airport, head to the guest house that we will call home for the next 10 days, and then head out for a few supplies that wouldn't have packed well in a suitcase. Another important item on the agenda for today is to visit Mother Theresa's Home.

We are all looking forward to seeing a familiar face at the Kolkata airport.....Pastor Omar will help the 12 of us and our 42 bags to load up in vans and head to the guesthouse. I'm sure the husbands will be happy to hear that we will have an extra pair of eyes and ears at the Kolkata airport. Having never been there I can only attest to the fact that others have had a hard time describing it, only saying that it is crazy, confusing, packed, little, and nothing like an American airport. It was not in the original plan for O to be there to greet us but I am so grateful that he will be there. I have a lot of respect for Omar. Who DOESN'T want to be him when they grow up?!?

Gotta run!  We are landing in 30 minutes!  Oops spoke too soon. Pilot just came on the PA to announce that at 50 meters visibility and foggy, we will be circling for quite awhile waiting for conditions to improve.

P.S.  Lauren and I have been reading Kisses From Katie (thanks, Mom!) and I was moved by something I read on the flight:
"My candle is lit; I am on fire for God, for this place, for these people. My purpose here is to spread His light. One candle can light up an entire room. Jesus can light up this entire nation, and my flame can be a part of that. I am blown away that my God, who could do this all by Himself, would choose to let ME be a little part of it."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Almost There!

We have arrived safely in Dubai.  The Houston-Dubai leg went very well on the plane but man it was a really long 14 hours!  That is a long time to be in an airplane chair.  Thank you all so much for praying for travel mercies and safe flights.  So far everything seems to be going very well. Our fearless leader and friend even received a free bump up to Business Class. She has worked so hard to put this trip together so I'm glad she was blessed with a bonus.

We are here in the Dubai airport for the next eight hours.  We fly out at 3 am Dubai time. A very gracious KBC member donated money for us to stay at Marhaba, which is a fancy lounge here at the Dubai airport.  It's been so nice to hang out in our own private "cabana" complete with WiFi, free food and drink, and clean restrooms. It's been great!  We've all been able to check email, update blogs, post to Facebook, and FaceTime with our kids. We are being well taken care of by the staff.  Some of the ladies are downstairs shopping, some are sleeping, and some of us are just hangin' out and getting to know each other better. If you are the one that donated, THANK YOU!

A few things that I have found interesting about the Dubai airport:
-What a melting pot of religions and cultures!  I have seen so many skin shades and heard so many languages spoken here. It's been really cool!  Red and yellow, black and white...they are PRECIOUS in His sight.
-As we were walking down the mall a weird singing came over the loudspeakers. It took me a minute to realize that it was a prayer/song. Felt kinda eerie. I took a video so you could all hear the audio. I will check to see if I can find a way to post audio.
-There were several women that were COMPLETELY covered (excepted for their eyes) during the 14 hour flight. The weird part is when I realized that they are unable to convey basic human, sadness, weariness, excitement...that just really struck me. As I was waiting in the restroom line on the plane a woman walked up to get in line behind me. She had a little boy around 3 years old with her that obviously needed to go really badly. I said, "Please, go ahead of me. I have kids and know what travel is like when they're little!" She quietly whispered, "thank you" but was unable to truly exhibit thankfulness because I obviously couldn't read her facial expression. I'm sure she was smiling and she was grateful but I felt oppressed for her.

I feel so blessed to be here. When I think too hard about all of this I get overwhelmed!  God clearly has His hand in all of this.

I will try to update again when we land in Kolkata!