Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bronner was born this day in 2005

Today is my baby's birthday, May 27. He would be five today. I'm not really sure how old he is in heaven. I think he's probably still two. I hope so. I have this dream of raising him up on the new earth, Rick and I together with our little Bronner.

We wanted to do something really special to honor Bronner today, and I believe we have. The video we've posted today not only honors our sweet baby, but I see it as a sermon in and of itself.

(Click here to watch: )

We had a beautiful baby boy, and we loved him with everything we are. He was taken from us. We praise God anyway. We suffer as Christ suffered, and we are assured of an eternity not only with Bronner but with Christ Himself. Jesus has promised us life everlasting if we put our faith and trust in Him. Our faith not only sustains us and comforts us but empowers us to testify to the goodness and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know Him in a much deeper and more intimate way than we did before our suffering. We have been tried in the furnace of affliction, and as Job said of Himself, "We will come forth as gold." We can never be what God desires us to be without being humbled under the mighty hand of the Father, but... in this we rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of our faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

And after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us. (1 Peter 5:10)

Death has no victory here. Our Bronner lives just as our Lord lives!

Happy Birthday, baby. Mommy and Daddy will be there soon and very soon.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Freeset Bible Study

One of the highlights of my trip to India was the great privilege and honor of being able to lead the morning devotion time for the women of Freeset. As I spoke to the women through an interpreter I saw at times sympathy in their eyes. They were connecting with me and were getting what I was saying. I was overwhelmed by God’s grace and goodness toward me. He has shown me His great love and trust. He called me to women even before I lost my sweet Bronner, and since my little one has been in heaven I have spoken to numerous women’s groups here in Alabama and Georgia. But, to be able to give a talk to women on the opposite side of the globe was just not on my radar, but it was amazing. I am so very thankful to God for that opportunity. I basically said to them the same things I say here just in a little more condensed and simplified version. Plus, I wanted to give them the courage to stand up against evil. There seems to be a prevailing fear of the gods there in Calcutta especially of Kali, the god of death and destruction. I wanted them to understand that one day death will be no more, that this world is not our home, and that one day all of our suffering will cease IF we know the Lord Jesus as our Savior. Here is what I said on Thursday morning at 10 a.m. to 150 Bengali speaking Indian women:

Good Morning, friends. It has been so good to be with you this week. We, Americans, came here from very far away because of our great love for Jesus, and because you are his children, we love you, too. God created each and every one of you. He is the one who knit you together in your mother’s womb. He knows your name, and even knows how many hairs are on your head. He knows your every thought, and He cares about you. He knows every tear you’ve ever cried, and one day He will wipe them all away.

I have a little baby who is in heaven with Jesus. I was very sad when he died. He was two years old and very beautiful, but God comforted me in my grief and spoke tenderly to me. I was very happy before my baby died, but God spoke to my heart and told me that happiness isn’t as important as holiness. He wanted me to be holy like him, set apart for the good He could do in this world through me.

He told me to rise up and stand on my feet. He was going to send me into the world to teach about Jesus. He wants all people to turn from darkness into the light. He wants the world to know that evil will not always be so they will be brave enough to stand up against it. Jesus is more powerful than any evil. Even his name is more powerful. We say the name of Jesus to cast out darkness. He is that mighty.

There is evil in the world today, but it will not always be here. God, the maker of heaven and earth, will cast out all evil spirits and all those who follow them. And death will be no more.

One of Jesus’ apostles was given a vision of that time. John said in Revelation, Chapter 21:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.”

There is coming a day when everything will be made new and good and clean, and there will be no more death or dying or evil or sin. But, only those who worship the one true God will be there. We must accept Jesus in order to live forever on that beautiful new earth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life no one comes to the father except by me.” Jesus paid the price for our sins by dying on the cross for us. He shed his blood for you, because He loves you very, very much. And He grants to you eternal life forever in his presence.

And, if he loves you that much, you can trust him, even when bad things happen. Our bible tells us all things work together for good for those who love God, even the bad things. We can endure any hardship, difficulty, or pain because we know that our life here on earth is only a short time, and then we go to be with Jesus where he is, and after some time in heaven, God will make the earth new again, and we will live here with him forever.

So, trust and believe in God. Don’t rely on your own understanding, but wholly lean on Jesus and his teaching in the bible. He will lead you down right paths. He has already led you here. He has given you this job, and he will give you so much more if you wait with patience for it. He is good and will do good to you.

Wrapping It All Up

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.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Getting Settled In

Tues. / May 4

Today was such a good day. We felt like we were really on a mission trip today. After working at the Mother Teresa Center for Death and Dying, we went back to Freeset. But, today, we actually worked there. Yesterday was just meeting and touring. Today, we sat down and worked just like the women who work there do every day. I sat in the middle of about four women who found me the funniest thing they had ever seen. I was such an oddity. They could speak a little English since the people who founded and run Freeset are from New Zealand, an English speaking country. So, we could communicate surprisingly well. We were measuring and cutting strips of old saris to be sewn onto the bags they make there, just one step in the process.

They taught me a little Bengali. I can count to ten in Bengali, sort of. But, the best thing I learned was that the way they nod their heads for “yes” and “no” is different from our way of doing it. For “yes” it’s a slight tilt of the head to the right; for “no,” it’s right then left, not back and forth like we do it. It kind of looks like a bobble head toy. I’m learning that Indians really have a sense of humor, and they are very affectionate. They are very touchy-feely. They really are sweet once you get to know them. My first impression of India was horrific poverty and overwhelming needs. I still feel that way, but I’m seeing that there is much more to it than that.

The women I was sitting with, Annapuna (I know that’s spelled right, because she wrote it for me), Josna, Rina, and Anjolie (or at least that’s what it sounded like) were fascinated by my wedding band and my cross necklace. They had never seen diamonds before. Annapuna said she wants a diamond. They giggled about that. I told her that men in America give their wives diamonds to show love. She took her nose ring out and said her husband gave it to her as a wedding gift. They were singing, so I said, “I sing for you.” I sang “You are My Sunshine,” and they thought that was too short. So, I sang all four stanza’s of Amazing Grace, not the Chris Thomlin version, but the one I learned growing up, and that just caused a huge commotion. Everyone on that floor wanted to hear. They sing there in the mornings, but they sing in Bengali. So, I’m not sure how much singing they’ve heard in English.

They wanted to know all about me, my kids, my husband. They knew what radio was, so they were very, very impressed that my husband is on the radio. They were really so much fun to be around. I loved being with them. I tried to keep it light tonight (we worked to 7:00), so they could just get to know me. I am hoping I’ll get to lead their morning devotion one of these mornings. That was kind of the plan before we left, but we have had to be very flexible since none of us have ever been here and because the culture is so different from ours.

When it was getting close to closing time, 7:00, I asked them if they were getting ready to go home. They weren’t. I think they, like me, could have sat there all night. They were having fun. I asked them if they liked to be at work or at home better, and they all said Freeset.

Annie, the owner’s wife, took us around Sonogocci, their community which is India’s largest redlight district. We saw women sitting outside their doors waiting on customers, but my group didn’t get to go down the main street where I’m told they stand shoulder to shoulder. Some others in our group did, but Annie didn’t want to take us all to the same place. She took Ashley and me basically around the block and through some extremely narrow and very dirty alleyways over to a friend’s house. Annie has been living in Sonogocchi for a long time now. I know they’ve lived in India for 13 years, and I think Freeset is two years old. Kerry and Annie live at Freeset in a very small but hospitable apartment. We ate there tonight in fact. This “friend” is, of course, a former prostitute. She lives in Sonogocchi, right? She is 25 years old and has a daughter who is 12. You can do the math. But, she was beautiful, both of them actually. We walked into her home which was only one room, but there was a large bed in it, very tall, that she motioned for Ashley and me to sit on. I was a little hesitant to say the least. Then, she offered us tea, which we were also a little hesitant about. “Westerners,” as we are called here, can’t drink India’s water, only bottled water. We even brush our teeth with it. We have been told very sternly that we should not even get the tap water in our mouths at all. I have been very careful even in the shower to make sure my mouth is shut tight at all times, and here I was being offered tea in the very worst part of Kolkata. Annie told us that since it was hot tea and had been boiled we should be fine. So, we drank it. Tomorrow we’ll know if we have parasites or not. I’m kidding. I really think we’ll be fine.

But, this woman was so sweet and kind. We learned that she worked at another “business” like Freeset that hires these women to do something to make them proud of themselves. In her factory, they make blankets made from old saris. If I haven’t said before, a sari is the brightly colored traditional clothing of Indian women, so the designs are very lovely. She showed us some of the things they had been working on. I told her I would love to have one. Maybe I’ll be able to before the week is up. Her daughter showed us her school uniform. A New Zealand family sponsors her to go to school. In that little one room home, there was so much hope. She had a picture of Jesus hanging up, and we prayed together, four women and one little girl, all of us so very thankful that Jesus had pulled their family up out of the pit of sin and despair into the light and is giving them hope. This young mother’s face shone with the light of Jesus. You could see it. She couldn’t understand a word I said when I prayed, but there were tears in her eyes when I finished. Annie said they are moving to a little nicer place soon. They seemed so glad to be getting out.

My heart felt so glad to know that in this city with so much poverty and so much despair, the light of Jesus is shining. I saw hope and love and joy today. What a blessing to be a very small part of the good that has been done in Kolkata, at least for today.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mother Teresa Center for Death and Dying

We have spent the morning at the Mother Teresa Center for Death and Dying, an experience I will NEVER forget. The images I saw there are ingrained in my mind. I spoon fed milk to a woman who appeared to have leprosy. She had no eyes nor had she a nose but only scar tissue where they should have been. She could have possibly been injured in some other way. I'm not sure. I fed another woman eggs who didn't want to be fed. She kind of reminded me of my Grandmother Susie who liked things the way she liked them and didn't want anyone forcing her to do anything. I guess I got a little kick out of her as she fussed and pushed us away, but not quite as much as another woman who was doing a little better off than these got out of me. This one was sitting instead of lying on a bed and could have a little more than eggs and milk. I fed her chicken and rice, potatoes, and a mango, and she was loving it. She couldn't have weighed more than 50 pounds, but she ate a whole plate of that food. I kept thinking, "Where is all this food going?" And, every time I fed gave her a mouth full, she would laugh. I don't know if she was laughing at me, or if she was just so happy to be being fed. I couldn't figure it out.

I sat by one woman for a long time who was very young and appeared to have AIDS. I didn't feed her but just sat there with her keeping her company which is really all she wanted. She seemed so sad and so lonely. I've never seen eyes quite so sad as hers. All of our hand signaling led me to believe she was 20, Brandi's age. I could have been her mother. Maybe she wanted her momma to stroke her hair and tell her everything was going to be okay. I hope I was what she needed for that moment in time. She was as thin as anyone I've ever seen. Her ribs were sticking out, and her arms were tiny. She would point to her arm and shake her head. She hated the way she looked and fought back tears about it. She told me her name is Namun (sounds like Na-moon). She pointed at my hand and then rubbed her head. She wanted me to rub her hair. When I massaged her back, she smiled and nodded yes. She pointed at her water bottle when she wanted me to give her a drink. She even asked me about my babies. I held my arms in a rocking position and pointed upward to tell her I had a baby in heaven. She understood what I was saying. She pointed to herself and held two fingers up. I pointed to the sky, and she nodded yes. She apparently had two children who had gone on to be with the Lord. I sang to her and prayed with her, and I hoped for heaven for this poor soul. "How happy would she be there," I thought.

Others weren't as sad as Namun. As I walked through another section where there were chairs instead of beds, the women were congregating together and seemed to be enjoying each other. I saw some smiles. One woman took me by the hand and led me to a picture of Jesus. She pointed to it. I nodded and said, "Yes, Jesus." She nodded back, and we both smiled a smile of sisterhood. She was so glad to know Him. Another woman stopped me and held her hands in a praying position. She wanted me to pray with her. I prayed as fervent a prayer for her as I've ever prayed for anyone. She noticed my cross necklace and wanted to kiss it. She kissed it a couple of times, and I hugged her knowing in my spirit that I would see her in heaven. Many of the women did the sign for Jesus pointing to their hands and feet for the nails of the cross. These people had hope and joy and hearts filled with love even in that place of death and dying. I feel so blessed and honored to see what God can do even in the very worst of circumstances.

The volunteers spent lots of time with the residents of the Center for Death and Dying, but we also did other jobs like laundry and washing dishes. The laundry was so much fun. We did it in assembly line style washing and ringing and rinsing over and over again. There was a wall of sinks that we would put the clothes that had been hosed off and disinfected into starting with the first sink dipping and rinsing. The next person would ring it out, and then it would go into the next sink, and that went on for about five or six sinks. We were so wet after that.

I was standing in the laundry line by a young woman from Mexico who had been volunteering there for several weeks. Paulina was kind of showing us the ropes that day. She told me she had grown up Catholic but that she really didn't have a religion anymore. She admitted that she was seeking truth and wanted to know about all religions. She said she had met people of many different faiths and was trying to decipher which parts of all of them she wanted to make as part of her own faith.

Paulina began to ask me about Baptists and what we believe. She loved how I described our baptisms. I told her that immersion is a picture of Christ's death and resurrection. She wanted to know about salvation and asked many questions about it. She was so pleased to hear how Brooks told me at six years old, "I don't want this black heart of sin anymore." I told her we don't baptize children until they make their own mind up about Jesus.

She was loving everything I said up until I answered her question, "Do you think that all other religions are wrong? Do you think the followers of those religions will go to hell?"

It was a very straightforward question, and I gave it a very straightforward answer. She did not agree with me on that one, and the smiles began to fade. Then we were called inside right afterwards. I was so disappointed. But, thankfully, I was able to talk with Paulina again after we left the Center for Death and Dying walking back to the Mother House where we began our day with bananas and bread, chai and prayer.

I told Paulina that the thought that there is only one way to heaven, through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who ransomed our lives for God by dying on the cross for the sins of all who would believe, may seem harsh at first, but that God set it up this way to test people, to grant salvation and eternal life only to those who really wanted it, who desire a relationship with God.

"We choose to follow Jesus," I said. "We choose to love Him and live with Him forever. Some people don't choose God. They would rather follow their own hearts and desires."

Paulina asked me, "But, what if someone has never heard of Jesus?"

I told her that that was our job. "That's why I'm here in India, because of my great love for Jesus. He told us to take the good news of the gospel to all the nations."

She pressed on, "But, what if you don't make it to everyone?"
I told her of stories I had heard of people having dreams and visions of Jesus in the Middle East and that upon waking they went to find out more.

She asked, "But, what if you don't have a dream or a vision?"

I said that the bible speaks of a time when God overlooked ignorance and that maybe He still will. Then I remembered something Rick likes to say, "But that doesn't really apply to you, does it? You've heard the gospel. How are you going to respond?"

I told her that there are rewards in heaven according to what we do here on earth and that I believe there are also degrees of punishment. "I believe it will be far worse for those who hear of Jesus and reject Him than for those who have never heard."

That really seemed to stir something in her. She said, "I didn't know there were degrees. I've never heard that before."

I told her that if she's not ready to make that decision right now as she had told me earlier, that I would recommend she read the Gospel of John.

She said, "I've read the bible before. I know what it says."

I responded with, "It doesn't matter that you've read it before. You need to read that gospel right now while you are seeking truth. Read it and see what it says to you."

She said she would. She even said, "That is really good advice."

When we arrived at Mother Teresa's Home for our tour, it was closed. I said goodbye to Paulina, and we embraced hopefully not for the last time.

I really have hope for her. She seems so much like I was at her age, a very compassionate person who didn't want to think of God sending anyone to hell especially those who seem so devout in their own faiths. I remember asking Rick about the same thing when we first got married. He read to me John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

That's all it took for me. My own husband reading me the Word of God. I believed from then on that Jesus is the only way. I guess that's why I'm so evangelical minded, and I told Paulina that.

I said, "If I really believe that Jesus is the only way, then shouldn't I be very adamant about telling people about the gospel?"

She thought that was a good point. She was very young but very smart. She was asking all the right questions. I am hopeful for her that all her searching does lead her to the truth.

Paulina wasn't the only young volunteer I talked with this morning. On the walk to the Death and Dying Center, I met a young man named Eric from Georgia. He was Catholic and deciding on a life as a friar. A friar is very much like a monk except friars do not live in a monastery.

"They're more with the people," Eric said.

The way he described life as a friar seemed very much like a Baptist Missionary except for one very big detail, a life of celibacy. As we walked, I was able to describe to him the benefits of marriage. I told him that I am my husband's helper.

"God made woman out of the rib of man," I said, "and there are a lot of men walking around with a missing rib."

But, we did discuss the benefits of being single as well.

"I can't stay in India for as long as I want," I said. "I have to go back to my husband and children to take care of them, but you can stay as long as you want."

A single person has the liberty to serve the Lord in a very free way. "You can go wherever and do whatever the Lord calls you to do without having worry about your family back at home," I said. But, we know that a life of celibacy is very difficult and many who choose that lifestyle fail.

I told Eric that failing as an unmarried person in a leadership position within the church is so much worse than getting married. He completely agreed and was very torn. I told him that if God was truly calling him to a life of celibacy, then God would give him the strength to walk in it, but if not, then he should get married. We both agreed that marriage is holy and that God uses men and women together to do his bidding. Eric read to me from the bible and seemed very well versed. He seemed to truly love God and His Word. I was impressed with him and told him that he would make someone a very good husband if that is the way he chooses.

I thought we had said everything that had needed to be said, so when we arrived I walked ahead to where the women were going. But, he called me back and asked me to pray with him saying, "I may not see you again."

So, I prayed for his decision, and I continue to do so. He seemed very special and good and had so much heart and love to give. Whether all that love is poured into a wife and family one day, I may never know, but Eric will love and care for God's people either way. I am sure of it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A First Glimpse of India

Saturday, May 1, 2010
(First day in Kolkata, India)

Oh, Jesus… now I know why you love the poor so much. I know why you brought me here. Father… bring your Spirit into this land I pray. Give unto this land your mercy and grace. Please Father, touch and heal. Restore a right Spirit unto this land. Dispel the demons here, I pray. Send them out of this land. Take away the idols and give unto India the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

My heart is so full of the sights and sounds. We have just landed in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta. Getting off the plane, there were several men who just walked ahead of us instead of letting us get out of our seats into the aisle of the plane. There is such male dominance here, and we have already seen it. Men here are the exact opposite of men in America. I think of Rick who would never stay seated while a woman was standing. He would always give up his seat for her. Men here would make a woman sitting get up to give him her seat. When we left Mumbai this morning on the other side of India where we had stayed the night, all we saw were men along the streets going to work and such. There were men everywhere. But, then just now when we landed, we walked into the airport and saw a sweet family who wanted to take their picture with us because we are so different. We wanted our picture with them, too. One of them told Kristi as she touched her arm, “You are so sweet.” It seems our hearts are already mending together with the women and children of India. I looked around in the airport in Mumbai and saw beautiful Indian children smiling and laughing and playing. But, as soon as we walked out of the airport in Kolkata, the scene completely changed. We walked quickly to the cars that had been arranged to take us to the Baptist Missionary Camp, and as we walked young men, maybe teenagers, walked alongside us, probably looking to pick-pocket. We were surrounded for a moment until they realized that we were on to them.

But then… my eyes looked down for a moment and met the eyes of a little girl who had walked up to me. She was holding out her hand and saying “Please.” We had been told this would happen, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it so soon. Everything had been an adventure until then, a layover in Amsterdam, Indian food on the plane from Mumbai to Kolkata, the nine of us deciding on buying saris to wear while we’re here, but everything stopped when I looked into the face of this beautiful child with dark skin and dark eyes saying to me, “Please, ma’am. Please.” We had been told not to give handouts, so my heart just broke in two for a moment. I looked at our team leader with tears in my eyes and just said, “Kristi.” I wanted to know again why we shouldn’t/couldn’t give to them. I already knew why, that we had come here not to give anyone a temporary fix or a handout but to change lives, but I needed to hear it again that we don’t want to encourage begging. That should not be a viable life-style. I know in my heart that Jesus can and will lift some of these street beggars up out of the pit they are in unto Himself, but those big brown eyes and that sweet voice… I just wanted to pick her up and take her away with me forever.

She stood at our van window while our bags were being loaded, and “Fish” talked with her so sweetly and played with her for a few minutes. Fish had some chocolate in her purse from the plane, and I had some raisins I had brought from home. We waited until Kristi got finished talking to our contact here in Kolkata and asked could we give her those, and she said that we could. So, as we were driving away, we handed the little girl raisins and chocolate out the window. That seemed to satisfy her. But, my heart was broken. Then, as we drove through the streets to the mission camp where we would be staying, the sights were completely unbelievable. It’s hot here, very hot and dirty and exotic in that it’s completely and utterly different from anything I’ve ever seen or imagined. I’m not sure I can adequately describe to you what we saw. There were women washing their clothes in water that bubbled up from some sort of faucet in the streets, their children splashing in it. There was trash piled up along the road with little hut like shacks where people were selling things, and the people… We saw naked children standing on the sidewalks bellies extended, maybe from malnutrition. Jennifer said, “Did you see that naked man?” Thankfully, I did not. She also had seen someone urinating on the street as we zoomed by. I thankfully didn’t see that either. Our driver took us through a little alleyway “shortcut” and what we saw was just unbelievable. I looked over at “Fish,” and she was crying. She had been here before a long time ago, and when she saw a woman holding the hand of a little girl, memories started flooding back in. She said, “My friend I told you about… I got to leave, but she had to stay.” Everything is so old, run-down, and dirty, but these people are some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. I kept thinking about Mogli from Jungle Book.

We’re at the mission camp right now where it is clean and cool, but right outside our windows lies a slum, a slum filled with not only an earthly poverty that is almost indescribable but also a spiritual poverty. Jesus is not known unto these people. There are only about 2% of Indians who are Christian. We want that to change. We are praying for Jesus to lift these people out of this pit of poverty, idolatry, and sexual immorality, for we know there is nothing impossible for the Lord, absolutely nothing.

I noticed in my travel book some very old sculptures that are extremely erotic. There’s a naked woman with her legs wrapped around a standing, almost squatting, man, others in provocative embraces and poses, and a woman with one hand covering her private area and one hand covering her mouth almost in a coy way. The travel book says they date back to the 10th century and hails them for their “immense outpouring of creativity, devotion, and sensuality.” We have come here to work with women who had formerly been trapped in the sex industry. There are about 35,000 sex slaves here in this city. They stand along one particular street almost shoulder to shoulder there are so many of them. Some of them are mere girls sold into this by their own families. We are going to go on that street to see them and hopefully talk with them. But, from my perspective so far, there seems to be an ongoing thread here from the seductive saris the women still wear to the erotic sculptures to the huge red light district. There seems to be a long-standing demonic stronghold upon this land that is sexual in nature. I pray in the name of the Lord Jesus to take away that stronghold, and I ask that you pray along with me for that.

I need to rest now. There will be so much more to say as this week unfolds I am sure. We don’t know what to expect, but we have come here as willing vessels to do or go whatever or wherever the Holy Spirit leads us. We are clay and pray that Jesus will mold us into whatever he needs us to be. We have asked for malleable spirits and know that Jesus will lead us all the way.

…after resting a while we went to dinner and rode a little motorized vehicle to get there, but we could not get one for the ride back. So, we walked, and again the sights upon those streets were strange and sad and severe. There were goats and little dogs along the sidewalks and people lying asleep right in the middle of the sidewalk, garbage heaps, sewage running down the sidewalk in places, dirt, piled up bricks, and old, dirty, and dilapidated buildings. The nine of us women walked in a very purposeful way back to the Baptist Mission through those dark, dirty streets. We were power walking in a single file line trying not to make eye contact with anyone. It was so hot and humid that all of us were soaking wet with sweat by the time we got back, but, you know, it was kind of fun. Our meal was good, and we got a kick out of this woman sitting next two us with another woman and two men, two couples out for dinner. She was the first woman we had seen that seemed completely confident in herself. She would tell the waiters what to do and laughed and talked with the others at her table. We saw nice families eating together. All are not impoverished. Some Indians seem to have a fairly nice life despite having to walk around in filth. This has to be THE nastiest, dirtiest, stinkiest place any of us have ever seen. Even the poor places I’ve been in the Western Hemisphere like Jamaica are nothing compared to the conditions here. Their poor are nothing, nothing like this. If you want to get an idea of what it’s like here, watch the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. In it, children are maimed and blinded in order for them to get more money while begging. That is what really happens here. I think that has to be one of the most evil things anyone could do, gouge out a child’s eyes just to get more money. I would rather starve to death. Nothing could be worth doing something so horrific. There is such a weird mindset here. They worship everything and anything, and they want to make sure they don’t get one of their “gods” upset. If a child is exceptionally beautiful, they might maim or cut his or her face so the “gods” won’t think they are more beautiful than they are and get jealous and hurt them. So, they go ahead and hurt them first? What can they think they are accomplishing by doing that? These lost and spiritually blind people need the truth so desparately. They need to be set free, and that is exactly what the missionaries we will be working with are doing, trying to set these people free, free from the demon gods they worship, from the poverty they have lived with all their lives, and bondage to sexual slavery they have been in for so long. Only Jesus can do all of that, and we are His hands and feet in this world. I pray for my own hands and feet to be those of Jesus this week. Will you pray that along with me as well?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

We went to church this morning, and it was just wonderful. We went to the William Carey Baptist Church founded by the first Baptist Missionary to India. It was so wonderful to see Indian people worshiping God and singing praises unto Jesus. We ate the Lord’s Supper with them and celebrated a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. The sermon was rock solid preaching that I enjoyed and praised God for. Interestingly the pastor had been born in India but his ancestry is Chinese, and he had spent the last 20 years in Canada. I love the Chinese. There’s something really wonderful going on in that land. I hear of person after person in China coming to know the Lord. You don’t hear of that here. There is no revival going on in India, but there are a few Christians who are working in this dark place. My prayer today is that the William Carey Baptist Church can spread its light beyond its church walls. The church itself has a cross steeple on top with the words “Jesus Saves” in big, bold lettering just under it. The grounds are fenced and gated, but the gate was wide open on this Sunday morning in Kolkata. And, as soon as you walk into that place painted in crisp white, you feel peace and joy and love and excitement. After the service, we stood around outside talking and meeting new people and taking pictures. I walked to the roadside to take a few of the people outside the walls, and as soon as I passed over the threshold of that place into the street, everything changed. My light heart dropped a million miles. The men on the streets looked at us with hatred in their eyes knowing what we were. You could feel the change from light to dark so quickly, and my happiness and elation from the worship service turned to sadness almost immediately.

We walked those streest to a Kentucky Fried Chicken of all places for lunch, and after lunch the missionary women who make their home here in Kolkata took us shopping for some Indian clothes and for coffee in a place comparable to Starbucks. Its is utterly amazing that you can be in a nice bistro one minute and walk outside and see street people lying around everywhere right outside the doors and immediately be hit with the stench of garbage and sewage. Being jet-lagged, the shopping wasn’t good for me, and after trying on a few things and going into the bathroom of a department store in the nicest part of Kolkata where the smell was even worse than the smells on the street, I became dizzy and light-headed. But, our team leader had no sympathy for me. I told her I was going to start calling her the sleep nazi, because she would not let me go to sleep. But she was right. I held up until about 9 p.m. and went to sleep and had the best sleep I’ve had since we we’ve been here.

Now, it’s Monday morning, and we’re about to go to our first real work. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Monday, May 3
Today was our first day at Freeset, and it was such a blessing. We participated in their devotion time in the morning. We didn't understand a word of it because it was all in Bengali but we clapped along when they sang. We were able to meet and talk with the women throughout the morning. They were so happy to see us. They loved shaking our hands and trying to learn our names. One hugged me for a very long time. They were playful and happy for the most part. They have been taught a skill and have value and worth for the first time in their lives. There are about 150 women who work there sewing handbags and t-shirts that are very well made. We watched them sew, and they really do a great job. They can't speak English, and we can't speak Bengali, the common language of India, so there was a lot of hand motioning going on. But, love is a language that can be spoken in smiles and through the eyes and through touch.

The women who work at Freeset are all former prostitutes, but not by choice usually. They may have been sold by their families or taken, but most of them belong to someone else and have no way of breaking free. But, Freeset is doing that. We are just amazed at the vision of these wonderful families who have devoted their lives to helping break the cycle of prostitution here in Kolkata. Getting to know them has been a real treat. The boys wanted to teach me to play cricket, Aaron and Adam, boys about Brooks and Brody's age that I got a huge blessing out of being with and talking with today. They told me all about cricket at lunch but when we were just about to go out for a game, our team had to leave in order to go sign up to work at the Mother Teresa Center for the Dying tomorrow. I have been told that this is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have.