Friday, May 7, 2010
It’s Friday here in Kolkata, and we are about to leave for the airport. There has been so much happen since I last blogged. We just spent the morning at Freeset. I sat and worked with the same group of women all week, so I feel like I’ve made some new friends. Annapuna, Rina, Anjolie, Joshna, and Pritty are my newest pals. I will never forget them. They “tell” me today, “You come back. Bring husband, children.”
Annapuna is only one year older than Brandi. She spoke the best English in the group, so I guess I got to know her the best. She was absolutely beautiful, inside and out, and I am so happy that she has a productive job right in the middle of the largest red light district in India. When I left today, we hugged many times and kissed each other on both cheeks. I told her she is beautiful, and she said, “You too.” I am sad to leave, but I am so looking forward to seeing Rick and the kids. I heard Brody was a smash hit in his church play. I can’t wait to see the video of it.
But, leaving this place is harder than I expected. There’s just so much work to be done in Calcutta (Kolkata), India. I met and prayed with so many people this week, and I have felt used of the Lord. It hasn’t been an easy week, but it has been a productive one. Eyes have been opened, mine especially, and I hope that my life leads me back to these kind and beautiful people one day.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I’ve been home for several days now, and I am still not feeling back to normal. Our group decided that we had thought that jetlag was something people made up, but we stand corrected. I’m a little better now, but sitting down at this computer to try to wrap up my thoughts on India was difficult since I felt like I was spinning every time I would begin. And for all that caution at not getting parasites in India, wouldn’t you know that it would be when I got home that I would catch a stomach bug? Brody had first caught it at school while I was in India. Then, Rick got it and passed it to Brooks. Brooks was still feeling bad when I got home, so I caught it from him. So, getting back to normal is something that has eluded me as of yet, but maybe I’m not supposed to get back to “normal.” Someone posted a comment on my last blog entry that included Psalm 119:37, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”
On the flight home I watched a few movies, and yesterday when I was too weak to do much of anything because of the stomach virus I had caught I looked at a Far Side book of Rick’s we had picked up at the beach one year, a pretty worthless thing I guess. I hadn’t watched anything on the way to India but mainly read and studied my bible in preparation for the mission I had been called to, but we were so emotionally drained on the flights home that we just wanted to watch a few funny movies to lighten our mood. In light of that verse, however; I’m not sure that was the right thing. People talk of spiritual highs and lows. I don’t want to “come down” from my spiritual high. I want to remember and process what occurred in India, and I want to continue to be led by the Spirit to things and places unseen.
But, if it has been hard to describe what I saw in India, it would be even more difficult to describe the elation I felt as I was driving down Indian Crest Drive on my way home with all the green trees and green grass and everything so clean and beautiful. It was like a dream. The contrast from where I had been and where I was going was stark and drastic and surreal. When the church van dropped me in front of my beautiful, clean, and well landscaped home, I just couldn’t believe it. I felt relief and excitement and just plain gladness of spirit. I was so happy to see Rick. I felt so appreciative for him and the way he holds me in such high esteem. That is just not how it is in Calcutta and probably not in all of India. Women aren’t valued around the world the way they are here in America. My husband values and cherishes me, and his friends treat me with respect. I am not made to feel second-class. I have worth. I wonder how many Indian women have that.
I told Rick that in light of all I’ve seen and heard that I realize that he is unmistakably one of the great men of the world in this generation. I believe that with all my heart. I didn’t get to see Brooks and Brody until the next morning as we arrived in the middle of the night on Saturday night, but I was there for Mother’s Day!!! And, I couldn’t get enough hugs.
“Mom, you were gone for so long,” Brody said.
“We missed you so much,” Brooks said.
Our reunion was so sweet. I snuggled up my boys and was just so, so, so glad to be with them. After only ten days away from them, holding them in my arms again was so wonderful. To be separated from the ones you love for any amount of time is hard, but the coming home is almost worth it. I remember when Brooks and Brody were just little guys, Brooks only about two or three, my parents keeping them for a weekend. I can’t remember where Rick and I had gone, but my dad said after watching me love my little ones so much, “It kind of makes you want to leave just to come home again.” That’s just how good it feels, so I cannot even begin to imagine what my reunion with Bronner will be like. I’ve been separated from him for over two years now, and there’s really no telling how many more years I will continue to be so. So, if coming home to Rick and Brooks and Brody was as sweet and glad as it was after just ten days, I can’t begin to imagine how wonderful it will be when I see Bronner again. I hope it will be then as my dad described those many years ago, a reunion so sweet that the separation will be almost worth it.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
While my life here in Birmingham, Alabama has certainly not been one without difficulty or pain or trial and even heartbreak, as you know, the living conditions are overwhelmingly better than those in Calcutta, India. Even in the midst of great trial, I experienced both beauty and comfort, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and the peace of God filled my spirit having been given the knowledge of the purpose of my suffering.
Early Thursday morning in Calcutta, Freeset Founder Kerry Hilton took all of us on a walking tour around his community and down by the Hooghly River, a sacred river for the Hindu religion. There were gods everywhere along that street, some set up in a little temple where they could be worshiped and given gifts and others discarded or laid in trash heaps after being sunk in the river. I don’t know how they know, but when a god leaves an idol, they sink it in the river as it is of no longer use. I saw children playing on some of the discarded idols. There were people bathing in the river and living in little huts along its bank. We saw some business going on. For instance, some men were unloading hay that had been brought there by boat. There was some other cargo being hauled from the river into the city. We saw mortar and garlic and rice. This is the day we stopped to have chai on the street in what Kerry called a teahouse but what was really not much more than a little shack. Many of the businesses we saw had a back wall and maybe a sidewall and a roof but no front so that it was open to the street. This walk was where we saw some of the strangest sites of the whole week. I still can’t understand how people can just lay around in the street. Yes, there’s overpopulation and not enough housing, but my goodness, I wish they could do something besides just lay there in all that filth.
On this morning, I saw a grown man lying flat on his back on the side of the street with a shirt on and nothing else. He was completely exposed. Apparently that didn’t bother him a lick, because he was sound asleep. It was utterly unbelievable, but I am beginning to believe. We saw things this week that made us all weep. I think I saw each person in our mission team cry this week. We were emotionally assaulted. It was horrible. I looked along that road by the Hooghly River with all its idols, trash, poverty, and squalor and was struck by the thought that the difference in Calcutta, India and Birmingham, Alabama, the only difference, is Jesus. Jesus is the difference. We know and love God, and they worship what is no god. They know not what is good, but it has been revealed to us. Our ancestors fought and died in order that they and their descendents could worship the only true king, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And, since we have been given the knowledge of truth, it is our duty and our privilege to take it to places like Kolkata.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
We had visited some of the other ministries and businesses trying to lift these impoverished people up out of their blindedness like Freeset was doing. There were several like the one who had hired women to make journals and cards from old saris. They were beautiful. I love my journal I bought from them. Another was a daycare for children whose parent or parents had AIDS. Grandma’s is an organization started in Ireland to help families affected by the disease. The woman who started this facility had worked with Grandma’s there for several years before being led to Sonogacchi. Her building was painted white and had baby blue banisters and even had a tree! We went on top of the building and looked out at its neighboring structures. It was like an oasis in the middle of a dry desert, a place of light in the middle of great darkness.
This was not my favorite place simply because I was thrust in the middle of a bunch of children Bronner’s age. I was assigned a little boy just his age and was told to help him cut out his Mother’s Day card. When Sumit (Soo-mitt) was finished with his cutting exercise, he pulled out some wooden puzzles and started playing with them. I was there by his side offering encouragement, but it was so hard for me. I remember so distinctly being in Bronner’s room with him and the two of us playing with wooden puzzles. These two years I’ve tried to avoid preschoolers. It’s just too difficult for me. But, here I was at a preschool even though it was such a good thing and the circumstances very different from a regular preschool it was a preschool nonetheless, and my heart had not been prepared for that. But, it was good. I made it through even if I couldn’t hold back my tears.
And, I’m so glad I met the sweet young woman who founded this facility. Emma said she had a vision of Jesus walking through the streets of Calcutta lifting one by one by one up out of the pit of destruction and despair unto Himself. Emma was the one who told us that Calcutta had been named for a god named Kali who reigns here. I asked her what it was, and she said, “Death and Destruction.” That made a lot of sense. Calcutta definitely fits that description. If we were to paint a picture of what we saw in most of Calcutta, India, Death and Destruction would be an apt title for the painting. But, again, in the sea of all that fear and despair, the light of Jesus flickered in various places, and I hope Emma's "picture" of Calcutta visualizes as Jesus walks those streets picking up one by one by one.
I pray for the little baby we saw sitting on a mat outside the BMS where we were staying who as we walked by held out his hand. This baby couldn’t have been more than one year old, maybe less. He didn’t appear to be walking yet, but he had already been taught to beg. I pray for the little children who walked around naked making the streets their home. I pray for Sumit and all the children at Grandma’s and for Annapuna and the rest of the girls at Freeset. I pray for their safety and for their continued growth. I pray for the little boy who came up to the window of our taxi asking for a handout who knew the words to "Jesus Loves Me." I pray for Namun (Na-moon) at the Mother Teresa Center for Death and Dying, and I pray for all in Calcutta to hear the great name of Jesus.
Aside from the spiritual depravity there in Calcutta, with their archaic religious beliefs, I learned there is a societal reason for all the poverty there. I sat by an Indian man on the plane from Mubaii (formerly Bombay) to Istanbul, Turkey who was well dressed and friendly. He asked me where I had been in India, and when I told him, he said, “Oh, you need to see the rest of India. Calcutta isn’t an indication of what India is really like.” He seemed almost ashamed of it. I asked him why Calcutta is so different from the rest of India, and he said that it began with labor unions and strikes. He said the environment became so hostile toward industry that they all left. The city’s government is socialist, he said, whereas the rest of the country is not. Calcutta is one of the world’s largest cities with more than 15 million people living there, but the government doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help them. I saw no visual signs of a sanitation department anywhere, and given the many pickpocketers that by the way were successful with one woman in our party law enforcement is lackluster at best.
Raj, the man on the plane, told me that the new Nano car that is sure to be a sought after automobile in India given its low price of only about $2000 had tried in recent years to set up a plant there in Calcutta because of its high population of jobless people. He said that the government had been so hard to work with that Nano gave up their idea of setting up a plant in Calcutta and went to the Western part of the country instead. Raj told me the rest of India is primarily progressive and the way he described the two predominant political parties there sounded very much like our Republican Party.
Kolkata is located in the Indian state of West Bengal which is the world’s longest running democratically elected Communist run government. Raj believes the reason is that the government swoops in during election and gives hand-outs for votes enslaving the people to their rule. I happened to meet Sarah Palin on Tuesday night as she was in town to speak at a fundraiser for Rainbow Omega, a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. I told her that I had just returned home from Calcutta, one of the poorest cities in the world, and that its government is socialist. She said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if more people made that connection?”
As Brooks would say... true that.
Raj also said that Calcutta, as he still called it, is “very conservative.” I knew what he meant by that. He meant that they are still very religious, and I got a picture in my head of the scene down by the Hooghly River with all its idols and gods. Yes, there’s a governmental problem in Calcutta, but there’s an even worse spiritual depravity. I would love to see Calcutta come to the Lord, rid itself of its idols and the Communist party, clean itself up, and rise to a better standard of living. I know this world is not our real home and that heaven is where our citizenship is. And, I am well aware that suffering isn’t for naught, but for my friends in India, I can hope for a little peace and a little beauty even here in this fallen, fallen world.