Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Heart is Awake

Becky M here...This is my fourth full day back in Wisconsin and it has been a week since we departed from Chennai on our way to London, but my thoughts and memories of India are still as vivid and loud as if I had only left yesterday. I am happy to be in the comfort of my own home and in the company of my family, friends, and church who I missed very much during my trip -- I expected the joy of returning home. But I was not prepared for how strongly I would miss India and the deep yearning in my heart to go back and be with the people I met over there. They are in my prayers before I go to bed, in my dreams when I am sleeping, and in my thoughts when I wake up each morning. It keeps bringing to mind a passage in Song of Solomon (5:2): "I sleep, but my heart is awake." I am thankful that the memories are hanging on so tightly, though I know in time the frequency of my thoughts will probably fade. But India took hold of my heart in such a strong way that I will always remember the work that God has done over there, even if the details start to blur.

I will remember how the Holy Spirit helped me to overcome my fears and insecurities as I embarked on this adventure. Before the trip, I often felt like Moses when God first called him, "But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice...Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent...I am slow of speech and slow of tongue..." (Exodus 4) I spent a lot of time in prayer the weeks before the trip. But God took my tiny mustard seed of faith and used it for His purpose, all the while teaching me great lessons on trust and giving up control, and reminding me frequently of His promises: "Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say." "So I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage..." (Joshua 1:5-6) The peace from God that surpasses all understanding guarded my heart and mind throughout the trip, and I am thankful for the strength and peace He granted me as I traveled and taught throughout India while facing new and challenging experiences.

I will remember the outpouring of prayers, support, encouragement, and love from everyone back home in the US who followed our journey through our blogs, e-mails, and Facebook updates. Your fervent prayers were heard by our amazing God and I saw the power of prayer at work every day that I was in India. It was a comfort to know that God was working all things out for good and that He was hearing the prayers of our family and friends and congregations at home. Thank you to all of you -- your support was a vital part of this mission helper trip!

I will remember my fellow Mission Helpers, who welcomed me with open arms (literally, Melanie hugged me only a few minutes after meeting me at the airport) and wholeheartedly supported me as a team member and friend even though they had never met me before. Their enthusiasm, energy, humor, courage, faith, and contagious love for God and serving His people were inspiring and uplifting. Andrew, Lucas, Melanie, Katherine, Becky, Nathan, Jennifer, David, Todd, Matt, and Vanessa -- you are all truly special people. Thank you for using your God-given talents to serve the Lord and His people with all of your hearts!

I will remember our faithful leader Pastor Ohlmann and all of the hard work and time he contributed to organize, prepare, and carry out our trip. His advice, his leadership, and his dedication and love for spreading the Gospel were so valuable to us Mission Helpers. Pastor Ohlmann, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do to serve God's people around the world. You are a blessing to the Church and I will be keeping you in my prayers as you serve the Lord and preach the good news at home and abroad!

I will remember my team's leader Matthew and his wife Vanessa. God has blessed Matt with a great gift as a missionary, and it is clear how deeply he is appreciated and loved by the pastors and church members in India and how important his work over there is. I appreciated his work in leading our team, taking time for devotions and prayer, explaining things to us when we had questions about India, and cooking for us! Vanessa is a beautiful woman of God who has such a kind and gentle spirit that I know is a blessing to everyone she meets and a great support for Matt. I appreciated having her advice and input about navigating Indian culture when she herself is still learning too, and I am very thankful for having had a "sister" to talk to and experience India with! (And Vanessa, I have to say an extra thanks for doing our laundry!) I will remember the sacrifices that Matt and Vanessa make and the struggles they endure to serve the Lord overseas, and want to remind people to pray for our long-term missionaries. Matt and Vanessa, I cannot thank you enough for everything!

I will remember the pastors who worked alongside us and courageously work in the "fields" of India every day. The harvest is plenty, but God has called some absolutely wonderful workers to spread His Word throughout India. After visiting several churches and realizing that it is only a very tiny percentage of the vast number congregations in the BELC and CLCI, I am in awe of the work that is being done over there to build churches and train pastors and teachers. The CLCI and BELC are spreading the Gospel like wildfire and their passion for God's Word burns brightly! I will remember how welcoming the pastors were when we visited the churches and all the "honor" they gave us. I will remember the beautiful welcome ceremony they did for us and Pastor Jyothi's beautiful speech. I will remember the pastors' faithful studying of the Bible as Matt and D. Paul taught during the pastor meetings. I will remember the beautiful singing and prayers that I listened to when we had the blessing of visiting their meetings. I will especially remember the kindness and patience of D. Paul and Bhaskar, the two pastors with whom we spent the most time during our travels. I am thankful for all of the work, time, and energy D. Paul spent to translate for us every day. I am thankful for the time Bhaskar spent with us when we went sightseeing. Both of these men took care of us in our travels and I hope they know how much their concern and help for us was appreciated. I am also thankful for our evening with Deepak and the sincere love he showed for teaching God's Word. I will remember the stories that I heard about the sacrifices and persecution that the pastors in India have faced because of their faith and work for the Lord. I have so much admiration and respect for these men and feel deeply honored that God gave me the opportunity to meet and work with them. I miss each of them dearly and hope that I will get to see them again, if it is God's will!

I will remember our driver Kumar who drove us safely to our destinations, patiently spent hours in chaotic and noisy Indian traffic, kindly stopped for bathroom breaks upon request, offered to buy us poori every morning, turned the AC on for us, warned us to be careful of the monkeys, answered our questions about locations, never wanted to indicate that he was tired even though he likely was exhausted from so much driving, took our meal orders and talked to waiters for us at restaurants to make sure we got what we wanted, and always insisted on helping me carry my backpack in and out of the car. He and his family will also be kept in my prayers.

I will especially remember the hundreds of children and adults that we met during VBS. I will remember the joy of the children, their smiles and laughter, their waves and hellos, their hallelujahs and amens, their singing and dancing and clapping, and their wide eyes of wonder as they listened to four Americans tell them about God's love and grace. I will remember how eagerly they introduced themselves and their family members to us, how tightly they gripped my hand, how deeply they stared into my eyes with sincere admiration and thankfulness. I will remember the little babies that were put into my arms by their parents, who were so eager for me to hold their children. I will also remember the people's deep hunger for the Word of God, their intense desire for us to pray for them, and their overwhelming displays of love and appreciation. While the Indian congregations may appear poor in the world's eyes, they are abundantly "rich in the Spirit" as Brother Andrew said one evening. They shine their lights for Jesus beautifully and inspire me with their love for God and their desire to learn about Him and share His Word with others. It is exciting and encouraging to witness the faith and fellowship of our Indian brothers and sisters in Christ!

I ask that you will remember all of these in your prayers. I realize that because the CLCI and BELC are so far away, it is hard for people in the US to feel connected to them and pray for them. But now that the names and places I read about in newsletters are more than just words but now people I have met and places I have seen, thinking about how far away they are pulls at my heart, prompting me to pray even more intensely for them. I hope that in some way, sharing my experiences with people at home can somehow help bridge the gap between the CLC here and the churches over there. There is a real bond that holds us together -- our love and faith in the one true God -- that is an incredible miracle and blessing of the Lord! I pray that the Lord will keep all of our hearts "awake" to seek and serve the needs of the Church whether God is calling us to serve near or far, at home or away.

Thank you once more for your prayers and support and for sharing in our mission experiences by reading the blog.

In Christ,
Becky McKenney

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Team 3 - Recapping our Experiences Part 4 (July 5-7 in Madanapalle)

This post is going to be a long one because it is all about our wonderful weekend in Madanapalle!
On Friday, July 5, we loaded the car and started the long drive to Madanapalle. We picked up Pastors Bhaskar and D. Paul along the way, who both squeezed into the back of our vehicle with our luggage, which made Bhaskar laugh and comment, "Tight squeeze!" We stopped at a hotel restaurant about halfway during our trip to "take lunch" as our Indian friends would say. While chicken fried rice was on the menu, I just couldn't bear to eat it one more time. So I decided to venture away from the safety of our "usual" and I ordered chicken biryani which is not too different from fried rice, only it is Indian and has a lot more spice to it. Vanessa ordered it first and the waiter paused and said, "That is spicy!" and tried to talk her out of it. We asked him how spicy it was and he replied "Medium spicy" with a head wobble. Vanessa and I took on the challenge and didn't change our order. We ate as much as we could, but eventually our tongues did start burning a bit and we found ourselves adding more and more onion curd to cool down the rice. :) Andrew ordered some prawn and Matthew had lemon chicken which were significantly less spicy than our biryani. At the end of the meal, Matt and Vanessa convinced us to order an Indian drink called Lassi, which they told us was really good. Andrew and I tried it but didn't find it as delicious as Matt and Vanessa seemed to...they couldn't understand why we weren't as enthusiastic about it. The drink was okay, but Andrew and I were craving something like a cold, creamy, sweet milkshake and Lassi tastes more like lukewarm sour yogurt to me. My stomach wasn't too happy with me later that night, so I decided I should probably go back to my steady diet of chicken fried rice and naan again (which my Kindle Fire hilariously auto-corrects to "manna" - naan was sort of like our manna from heaven during the trip, haha!)

After we finally arrived in Madanapalle, D. Paul stayed at the hotel to "take rest" and Bhaskar went with us to a tourist resort-like area called Horsely Hills. It was beautiful there and the weather was cooler. The only downside was that there were mosquitoes up in the hills that were having too much fun biting my ankles! We saw a mini zoo there that had peacocks, parakeets, rabbits, deer, crocodiles, and monkeys. Seeing the monkeys caged up made me particularly sad because we had just passed dozens of wild monkeys along the road up the hills and there were these sad looking monkeys caged in this little zoo in a park -- it seemed so odd that they should be in captivity when there were monkeys running free just a short distance away.

We ended up climbing some rocky hills which gave us a breathtaking view of the hills and buildings surrounding the area. There was a fence along the hill, but Matt noticed a torn down part of the fence which he decided to climb over -- as did Vanessa and Andrew. I eventually followed them and we journeyed higher into the rocky hills. Bhaskar called out to us to come back...I sort of listened and walked slower and eventually lost sight of my other team members when they ventured up a huge rock and disappeared out of sight. Eventually everyone came back down from the rocks and we went to look at the crocodile enclosure nearby.

Before we left, we enjoyed some coffee at a restaurant there and then drove back to the hotel, with Kumar excitedly pointing out a different type of monkey that was all over the road on the way back. These monkeys were white and black unlike the tan monkeys we had seen previously.

The next morning (Saturday), we went to the church in Madanapalle to go to the pastor meeting with Matt. The pastors sang songs and they honored us with flower garlands. Andrew decided to go back to the hotel with Kumar, but Vanessa and I stayed to listen to Matt's lesson on the gospel of John. It was a very interesting lesson and I enjoyed watching Matt and D. Paul work together to teach and also see and hear the pastors learning with them and asking questions. It is encouraging and inspiring to get to know these leaders in BELC and see the work that they are doing to understand God's Word and share it with the people. Please remember these men in your prayers as they study and preach the Gospel!

In the middle of each pastor meeting, they take a "tea break" and stop their studies and enjoy some tea and biscuits. Indians serve their tea in tiny cups that are about the size of shot glasses, and the tea is usually very sweet and milky and extremely hot. You have to grip it with the tips of your fingers and hold the cup just by the rim so you don't burn your hand. I loved sipping the tea and coffee (which tasted like cappuccino) and I don't know if I will ever enjoy American hot drinks the same way again -- in fact, on the plane ride back home I found myself asking Andrew if I could use his extra packet of sugar to sweeten my coffee because one packet just wasn't doing it for me. :) At the church they also served us some coconut flavored biscuits (cookies) that Matt and I loved. Later that weekend I had Matt help me find the same biscuits at the store when we went shopping for snacks.

At the church, there was a bright blue vase decorated with swirls of glitter. For some reason, I was really drawn to this vase and took a photo of it. Later that night as we were walking back to the hotel from supper, we stopped at a shop and I found an identical vase. I bought it for only 50 rupees and was so excited to bring it home with me as a remembrance of my trip to Madanapalle. Sadly the vase did not survive the journey back home to the States -- when I opened my suitcase of souvenirs, the vase was smashed into tiny pieces. :( Thankfully the rest of my souvenirs were all in one piece, and I have to be grateful that I at least have a photo even if my vase is broken.

After the pastor meeting, Kumar kindly drove Vanessa and me back to our hotel just so we could use the bathroom -- we thanked him many times on the way back to the church! We then had lunch at the church...we were served spicy chicken biryani which was even spicier than the dish at the restaurant. We struggled to eat it, with our lips burning, curd pouring profusely over the rice, water and soda being gulped down, and faces turning red. (That is only a very slight exaggeration of what happened!) Andrew finally asked D. Paul and Bhaskar, who were almost finished with their own rice, "Do you think this is spicy??" They said yes, but then said it is "medium spicy" and they recommended that Andrew use more onion curd to cool down the meal. If that was medium spicy, I dare not even imagine what the most spicy Indian dish must taste like! I was sad that I couldn't handle the spice, because the food was very delicious and I feel like we wasted so much of it. I always tried to express how good the food was, even if I couldn't finish each serving (Indian food fills me up very quickly)!

It is is interesting to note that our pastor friends always declined our offers to join us at our favorite restaurants that serve foods like fried chicken, sub sandwiches, and pizza or pasta. Matt said he once convinced one of them to try a sub from Subway and the pastor didn't like it...maybe all of our favorite foods (Indian and American alike) are acquired tastes? :)

We did not realize that we had VBS that night until the pastors told us they would see us that evening (Matt had told us that VBS was going to be on Sunday morning). Oops! We didn't mind though because it gave us something to do that evening - but it did mean that our last VBS lesson was going to come sooner than expected. I had mixed feelings about teaching for the last time -- I was somewhat relieved that we made it through all the teaching days, but also sad that we were not going to meet any more children or visit any more churches. I tried to really soak in the experience that night and "ponder it all in my heart" - and the children gave us a fun last night of teaching! We taught at a different church than the one that Matt had been teaching at that morning. Many of the children knew some English and replied to us with English words. I was delighted when one of the boys told me that his favorite food is pizza! We told him several times how much Americans love pizza after that, which seemed to please him. :) Some of the kids were extremely focused on our teaching -- they stared at us with such wide-eyed wonder and mouths open in awe. Then there were other children who were not so focused...one little girl came in late, sat down, and would not stop talking. Even when Bhaskar came over to her several times and told her to be quiet, it didn't seem to phase her. She just kept chattering on and didn't even pause her conversation (which she seemed to be having with no one in particular) to acknowledge Bhaskar. Bhaskar eventually stayed seated by the noisiest kids and kept trying to quiet them down -- which we all appreciated as we pushed through our last lessons.

As we were handing out the gifts to the children, we ran out of the puzzles. We had only about 20 children left who needed gifts so we started handing out boxes of 8 crayons that we had bought as a backup plan for when we ran out of the puzzles. Well, this turned out to be a problem...we were getting ready to go, feeling very satisfied with how our last VBS session wrapped up, when suddenly the children began to return with their puzzles. They held their hands out, demanding that we also give them the boxes of crayons. We tried to explain that even though they only had two crayons with their bags of puzzles, the other children didn't get ANY puzzles and that is why they got the crayons. But these children were very unhappy with only having two crayons and kept pestering us for more. Finally we retreated to the inside of the church and dug all the crayon boxes out of our suitcase. We handed them to the pastor of the church, who then went back outside and was mobbed by the eager children. They pretty much chased him around until they each had a box of crayons in their hands...it was such a commotion, but everyone was smiling the entire time. I guess we really "went out with a bang" that night!

Sunday morning, we went to the worship service at the first church we visited in Madanapalle. It was interesting to experience a worship service that is so different from the traditional Lutheran services at home. Although there were also elements that were the same as our services, such as the Lord's Prayer, the Benediction, and the offering collection after the sermon. The women and girls were dressed up in such beautiful clothing -- it seemed they all brought out their best for the Lord! They had us sit in chairs in front of the church and they honored us again with garland. The only time I have ever sat in front of a church during a service and faced the congregation instead of facing the pastor and altar area was during the children's Christmas programs when I was in grade school, so sitting that way felt a little awkward. I tried not to think about my feelings though and instead focused on the worship. Even though I could not understand the majority of the words that were sung and spoken, my heart swelled with joy as I thought about how God DOES understand their language and hears their praises and prayers. I did my best to participate in the service by clapping my hands and tapping my feet with their singing -- since I couldn't sing the words, clapping was my only way to worship with them! It was interesting to experience such a different form of worship from my conservative Lutheran upbringing -- I know there are some people who feel like there is only one "right" way to worship, but belting out Telugu praises to God and clapping as a form of musical accompaniment is just as beautiful and pleasing to God as singing the liturgy with organ accompaniment -- just different! They also used a keyboard to play musical beats for their singing while the pastors led the congregation in clapping, and Pastor Bhaskar even played a tambourine from behind the pulpit. Matthew preached a sermon in English about Elijah and the prophets of Baal as D. Paul translated in Telugu for the congregation. Matt also spoke on the "still small whisper" of God and how God speaks to us through the quiet of His Word, not in strong winds, earthquakes, or fire (as found in 1 Kings 19:11-18).

After we made the long trip back to Chennai after church, we met up with Pastor O's team (Melanie, Lucas, and Katherine) at Pizza Hut. It was so exciting to be reunited with them and we enjoyed sharing some of our experiences as we ate our pizza and later went out for ice cream. We prayed that Team 1 (David, Becky H, Nathan, and Jennifer) were having a safe train ride back to Chennai that night and looked forward to seeing them in the morning. Matt had a busy day planned for us of sightseeing and shopping for our last day in India!

Becky McKenney