We returned from India on Wednesday – thank you all for your prayers! The journey went as smoothly as possible (if you consider running to gates due to short layovers smooth) and after 30 hours, we had gone from Kolkata to Mumbai to Brussels to Newark to Detroit (phew!).
Our four days in Kolkata were a little different than the south – mostly because we no longer had an Indian with us. Asking for directions usually resulted in funny looks or just head shakes. Taxi drivers jacked up prices 4-5 times what would be reasonable (so we walked everywhere). Beggers entered a new caliber of aggressiveness: children would follow us for 10 minutes at a time, grabbing onto our arms. Sometimes they would grab whatever was in our hand – nalgene, water bottle, and try and run with it.
The highlight of this trip for me was visiting Mother Teresa’s place and volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity. We visited her exhibit and tomb on Sunday, and after reading about her life, including her notes, prayers, and journal entries, we all left a little quiet. I couldn’t fathom the incredible faith this woman had, and the sacrificial life she lived. One of the things that stuck out to me was when she opened her first home, the Home for the Sick and Dying, her and her fellow sisters took a life vow of poverty and service to the poor. There was something about the God she served that allowed her to give up daily comforts (such as food and shoes), relying completely on His provision, to spend her life with those who have nothing.
Monday we volunteered in one of the homes she started. As I was carrying buckets of laundry to the roof to be hung (and with 100% humidity, my clothes were just as soaked as the laundry), I realized how much Mother’s impact extended beyond the people she personally cared for. She had united people from all over the world – Spain, France, England, Mexico, Australia, Italy, Canada, Korea – and of all religions – Catholics, Protestants, curious atheists – to love and serve. I got to serve alongside people of every nationality. We gave massages, fed those who couldn’t feed themselves, and just doted on the woman. It was truly amazing to see the ripples of this woman’s life still going strong and still impacting so many lives.
Our time in Pondicherry was like our mini vacation. We rented motorbikes, ate at French restaurants, and drank fancy coffee. It was a relaxing day and nice to have some freedom. Driving on the left side of the road seemed normal by that time, but I definitely almost crapped my pants driving through busy intersections.
We stayed at a future orphanage outside of the city. It was about a kilometer walk to the beach, so we were able to make it over for the sunrise in the morning. It was the home (and bathroom) of fishermen.
On our way back to Chennai, we stopped in a little village and did our last medical camp. We saw a lot of work-related injuries, as all of the men in that village are fishermen. One man had a cyst larger than a golf ball on his forehead – something you would never see in America, as people have the money and access to get those things removed. This little girl had heart problems. I listened to her heart first and immediately knew something was wrong – and I haven’t even learned about different murmurs yet. She had a patent ductus arteriosus and a hyperplastic aorta, causing pulmonary hypertension. She needed two complicated surgeries, costing $75,000. Since the surgeries were so risky, they were probably not going to have them done. This means that she can drop dead at any moment, and probably won’t live very long.
Last week we sat in on an HIV positive women’s support group. About 13 women and 6-7 kids showed up. Dr. Sheila started this group about 14 months ago, and hopes for it to be a self-run, self-sustaining support group. They meet monthly and charge 100 rupees per person (about $2) that gets added into a joint bank account. When enough money accumulates, women are allowed to take loans at low interest rates to help them get their feet on the ground whether with paying off high-interest debt or starting a new business.
One of the hardest things to swallow was that the women had all contracted HIV from their husbands. The women were virgins when they got married. The husbands most likely contracted the disease from prostitutes before they married. So these women did everything right, and now have a deadly virus. Many of them have passed it on to their kids.
I asked one of the woman how having HIV affected her life. It turned out that she did not have HIV, but her husband did. Because of this, certain people would not talk to her. Her husbands status placed her in a group full of judgement and limitations. Meanwhile, the virus started to accumulate in her husbands eyes. A $45 operation would have taken care of this, but they did not have the money. As a result, her husband is now blind and cannot work to provide for the family. She is stuck with no income, pawning her jewelry to feed her son.
The injustice here, and in any of the other woman’s stories, is extreme. This young woman could be anyone. It could be me. Or you. It seems as though they have all been cut short. Dealt a bad hand. Yet, throughout the meeting there was joy, excitement, giggles, jokes. They were happy.
Sometimes I get upset when the shirt I wanted is not available in my size. Or the movie I wanted to watch is all checked out. Or I lose something that is replaceable. Yet an unjustly HIV affected young mother, carrying the burden of her family and her husband’s disease, is happy.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” Romans 12:12
We had the privilege of spending the past two days at Afra orphanage just 20 kilometers outside of Chennai. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw rooms and…beds! The boys and girls have separate rooms with bunk beds and pillows. The orphanage is well established and has produced many professionals who have gone on, gotten married, and started families of their own. There is drinking water (the first time I’ve seen this at any place we’ve gone to), people hired to do dishes and help with cooking, and plenty of space outside for the kids to play cricket, raquetball, bubbles, and any other game they are able to make up.
Afra was a break from the constant heartache we’ve encountered in the other orphanages. These kids are taken care of and have a bright future. The family that runs the orphanage are loving, humble people.
Sarah is one of the daughters of the man who runs Afra. She has a stunning voice and a supernatural light that beams out of her eyes and smile. You might agree.
Tomorrow we leave for Pondicherry – a French city – where we will be doing a last minute medical camp at an orphanage, then taking a day of rest and sight-seeing on Wednesday, and then another medical camp and returning Thursday. Friday its off to Kolkata for the last four days.
This is Dr. Sheila, the woman behind it all. She is a pretty amazing woman and doctor.
Yesterday Mano and Sheila had the whole medical team over for lunch. We all wore our new Indian garb. The food was delicious. Their dog just had puppies so playing with them was pretty awesome.
And for all practical purposes, I am Indian.
The slum we worked in this week was about a 15 minute walk from our apartment. It’s such a weird feeling to be walking in normal city streets, with 3 story houses, and 1 turn later you are in complete slums with hundreds of people, dogs, chickens, and piles of trash.
Walking through the slums
Giving B complex injections in the buttocks.
After our Thursday medical camp, we visited a mission hospital in the same area. We received a warm welcome, much like most of the places we visit.
Where do I begin to describe what it’s like staying at an orphanage for 3 days with 25 kids, ranging from should be still in the womb to 16, who were rescued from being killed by their parents? How do you put into words a heart that is broken and screaming everytime you see a 13 year old the size of a 9 year old, infants so malnourished and weak they can barely cry, no functional diapers resulting in dirtied blankets and clothes at least ever 2 hours for 4 babies, yet such beauty and grace flowing from each of them.
Meet Priya. Priya is the only woman and primary caretaker of the kids at this orphanage. She stands no taller than 4’9 – undoubtably a result of malnourishment as a child. She cooks in a pot too large for the small electric burner in the kitchen, and so uses a fire outside. She does laundry by hand for 25 kids – four of which are under 6 months and have thin rags as diapers. Between constantly feeding four infants – 2 of which looked like they may very well die if they missed a meal – two 1 and a half year olds always hanging on her saree, and everything else it took to make the orphanage run, Priya had zero time in a given day for herself.
Priya is the single most selfless woman I have ever seen. I wanted to stop her and ask, Why? Why do you stay here, in the middle of nowhere – just cows, chickens, hills, and dirt – and selflessly give 100% of yourself to these children. What is keeping you from leaving when everything is chaos. When all the babies are crying, hungry, and wet. When Stella and Rebekah are whining and following you everywhere. Why not just throw up your hands and leave?
How can someone be that selfless? I don’t understand. I can’t understand. I come from a culture where everything is about yourself. Most of my days revolve 100% around myself – my schedule, my studies, what I want to eat, where I want to run. How is it possible to die to yourself so completely. Is this what Jesus was talking about when he said “He who tries to save his life will lose it, but He who loses his life for me will find it.”
What kind of love makes someone choose to live in an orphanage in a remote village in India. Surely this can only be God’s love – the love that conquers the world. Her own wants and needs forfeited, she gives her life and her love – Christ’s love – to the abandoned children of Kolli Hills.
If this does not look like Christ, I don’t know what does.
Priya and Stella
Me with Sarah- a very tiny, very sick baby
We journeyed up to Kolli Hills last Monday and Tuesday. At first sight of the “hills,” we asked why they didn’t call them mountains. Everest is a mountain, they replied. These are hills. I guess when you live so close to the Himalayas everything pales in comparison.
We did three medical camps in the two days we were up there. I struggle to put into words this experience. The villages we visited were tribal. They live in the mountains, cut off from the world that we so readily experience with things like internet. Most of them have never seen a doctor before. Most of them have never seen white people. A lot of the older people don’t read or write.
Our interactions with the people there were very unique. Kristy, while managing the BP/blood sugar station, encountered some fear and resistance to getting blood sugar taken. Why in the world does this white girl want to prick me? They had never seen it done before. Giving anti-parasitic meds was also met with some resistance. Some strange white person giving me a pill. Though, with the proper amount of translators to explain our actions, the camps went incredibly smoothly.
To paint a picture: they were all in extremely small rooms. Usually packed to the point where one can barely walk around. Each window is packed with at least 15 kids peering in from the outside, trying to catch a glimpse of the white people. A chicken wanders in. As I’m giving the anti-parasitic to a patient, it drops on the ground. The patient bends over, picks it up, and sticks it in her mouth. Adult bodies are broken and abused due to many long years working in the fields with no shoes or equipment.
The most shocking thing about this area is their use of witch doctors. When a woman gives birth to a child, she will ask the witch doctor whether or not the baby should live. If the witch doctor determines that the baby is an evil spirit, the mother is commanded to kill the baby herself to insure he/she goes straight to heaven. The pastor we were working with in the hills has started rescueing these infants who are determined not worth living. We stayed at the orphanage he started Thurs-Saturday. That will have to be another blog post.
I like to think I’m pretty tough when it comes to using the bathroom in strange places. Heck, I’ve been backpacking. Indian toilets don’t bother me much . Just give me some privacy and a hole or grass and I’m all set. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened last Monday on the drive up to Kolli Hills.
We were a couple hours into the trip and had stopped for chai in some remote area – and I had to pee. None of the huts selling things had bathrooms, so I asked Alex, one of our helpers with FPTL, to help me find a bathroom. He went over to a house that was nearby with an old lady sitting out front and asked her. No, she didn’t have a bathroom. There was no way I was getting back into the car without emptying my bladder, so I asked Alex again.
“I don’t need a bathroom. A place outside would be fine.”
With this new information, Alex went back to the old lady, spoke some jibberish called Tamil, and the lady got up happily and motioned for me to come into her home. A little confused, I slipped off my shoes, as is custom, and followed the lady into her house. We walked to the back, back outside, and she pointed for me to go into a little room which seemed to be attached to the house.
So she does have a bathroom? Slightly confused, I quickly scanned the room from the outside looking for some sort of, well, hole. Bucket. Anything. To my horror, it was simply a small room with a cement floor, some trash in one corner and wood in the other corner.
” This can’t be right. There’s no way…uh…ALEX!!”
Alex started walking towards us, through the house. This did not please the lady, as she started speaking louder and using very large hand motions. “She says,” Alex told me, “that if it’s just urine, to pass it here.”
“But I can just go outside!” I exclaimed. There was some lush greenery just past the room, begging for me to use it as a bathroom instead of a cement floor. My protests and motions to the grass upset the lady even more, and she yelled and pushed me into the room. Defeated, I agreed and was left in the cement floor room to do my business.
A few moments later, I walked back through the house filled with shame. I had just peed on a complete strangers floor. Yet as I met the lady again on the front porch, she gleefully grabbed my cheeks in her hands and spoke some more jibberish. She was pleased. I have no idea why.
Thinking about this experience reminded me of a sermon I was listening to that same day by Francis Chan about living eternally. Francis talked about how when people asked to follow Jesus, he told them he didn’t have a place to lay his head, a hole to sleep in, as the foxes do. And we are called to do the same. We are supposed to be making our home in heaven, yet so many have made our home here on earth. We are comfortable, and if given the option, we would not choose to die today. Why? Because our home is here. We have worked hard to accrue stuff here, stuff that makes life comfortable. Jesus speaks against this.
Jesus was without a hole. Are you?