Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Dear Friends and Family,

We just returned to the Bishop’s House this morning after a wonderful 10 day trip through north India. There are two words that continually went through our minds the entire time: unbelievable and amazing! The sights, the sounds, the smells are all so intense. We tried to capture all of it on our camera but realized that the only way to truly undertand India is to see it for yourselves.

After traveling for two days on a train we arrived first in Jaipur. Donna began to experience “sensory overload” as you cannot begin to imagine the intensity of all the different sights, sounds and smells surrounding you. First of all, the people. There are so many people in India. It is predicted to be THE most populated country in the world very soon ~ more so than China. The traffic ~ not just the cars, but the scooters, the rickshaws (both motorized and those by bicycle) and all of them tooting their horns and going every which way! The animals ~ EVERYWHERE ~ cows, monkeys, goats, camels, elephants, chickens, dogs, wild boar! Unbelievable! The heat, the dust, the smog, the beggars. The smells are not all bad. There are some amazing spices in India and much cooking is done in the markets which do smell wonderful!

We took our first elephant ride in Jaipur when we visited one of the many palaces. That was quite an experience! After dinner we “crashed” a wedding. Apparently, this is a very acceptable practice and visitors are encouraged and warmly welcomed! We were even invited to sit down and eat with them (we had just been to dinner!). But, we did meet the happy couple and had our photo taken with them! We’ll be in their wedding album! How about that?

We journeyed by train on to Agra where we were able to see the beautiful Taj Mahal. It is by the far the most spectacular sight we have ever seen! We just wanted to stare at it all day! Just magnificent!

On to Delhi (again, a long train ride). New Delhi has much more “order” to it than Jaipur and Agra in that the roads are better for traveling and we did not see as many animals wandering about. New Delhi has a wonderful bazaar for shopping which, of course, we took advantage of. Not so much to make purchases but to see all the different vendors and just experience life in Delhi! The shops were amazing with all the variety, the colors and shop owners eager to bargain with us to make a sale! Our guide had family living in Delhi so Harold was able to attend their church service on Sunday (Donna was feeling a little under the weather that morning). The service was entirely in English and was conducted very similarly to our own worship service. Men and women sat together, and shoes were not removed. They sang some familiar hymns and had a children’s choir. Someone played the guitar. After this church service we arranged to meet with a CSI missionary who works primarily in the slums of South Delhi. We found this to be an entirely different world from New Delhi. Our original plan had been to just simply drive by the slum area to get an idea of what life is like in this area. We were told that it is not a safe place for westerners to visit. However, the missionary decided at the last minute that we would accompany him into the slum area itself to see for ourselves the ministry he is doing there. We took many photos but again, photos cannot even begin to describe what we experienced that day. We left our car and were quickly escorted by our missionary friend down a very narrow alley with many people hovering nearby, garbage everywhere, sewage running down the sides of the walkway, and flies everywhere. We then quickly entered a small room ~ no larger than Kyle’s bedroom ~ where about 40 people were all seated on the dirt floor, all very quiet, awaiting our arrival. This was their church!!! All they seek to do is to worship God and this is where they have been gathering. They have no other place to go! We were invited to sit in the front of this room as they began their worship service. They started with song, and then prayer. Harold was asked to give a short message which was translated by the missionary. As I looked at all of these faces, some old, some young, I spotted a young mother holding a newborn baby. I motioned to her and she brought that baby to me and allowed me to cradle him in my arms. That little baby was so tiny and so thin. I just could not believe that I was actually sitting there in that place with this little baby as I watched these people worshipping the same God we worship. We could only stay a short while ~ not even a half hour as the missionary was worried about our safety. As we were preparing to leave, all of these people wanted to touch us, shake our hands, thank us for coming to them, to remember them. The missionary took us ever so briefly into a home ~ again, no bigger than Kyle’s bedroom, which housed 6 members of a family. No windows. No walls dividing kitchen from bedroom from living area from toilet area. Just one small room. This is where they live. We then hurried back down the alley to our car, and quickly drove off. It was very quiet in that car as we left. I just sobbed as I could not believe what we had just witnessed. These are all human beings, just like you and me, just trying to survive. They have no where else to go. And yet, the smiles on those faces especially the children! I wish I could bring you all here just for a day so you would know exactly what I mean.

We left Delhi that evening and traveled another 2 days to Chennai (formerly Madras). We first noticed a change in the weather ~ much more humid. This was to be just a brief visit as we had wanted to travel along the coast to see some of the tsunami relief camps that have been set up. We stopped and spoke with one woman who shared some of her story. Many of the people who have been relocated to these camps would like to settle there but the government is insisting that they return to their former locations to rebuild (most, if not all, of the homes were destroyed). Many do not want to do that as they are very frightened to live so close to the sea again. It is quite uncertain as to what they will do. We then traveled further south to Vellore so that we could visit the Ida Scudder Medical College and hospital. Many of you are aware that the Scudder family comes from the Reformed Church and it was the RCA which started this hospital. The Scudder family were missionaries and started this hospital back in 1924. We were given a brief tour of the hospital and actually saw some patient rooms as well as the physical and occupational therapy rooms.

After dinner in a lovely outdoor garden setting, we boarded the train once again for another nights travel back to Kottayam to the Bishop’s House. (we now know what a sardine feels like after all the traveling on Indian trains!). We now consider this “home” and it was good to be back among some familiar and friendly faces. We are totally exhausted but also thrilled to have had this opportunity to see so many different places. Every place we visited was so different. And all of it so very different from Kerala.

When we arrived back in Kerala we discovered that the Bishop’s daughter was in labor and had been taken to the hospital! At 4:00 this afternoon (March 1st) she delivered a healthy baby boy! He was around 6 pounds and won’t be named for 3 months. They will give him a nickname for now, but Indian tradition does not name their babies until the time of baptism, usually 3 months after birth. We may even get a chance to visit mom and baby in the hospital. Average length of stay here is about 3 days!

It is hard to believe that we have been in India now for 6 weeks and have just another 5 left. It will go by quickly and realized today that we can now say to our family and friends, “we’ll see you next month!”


Post a Comment

<< Home