While the majority of my time in India has been spent having things done for me, the one thing I’ve been repeatedly asked to do is pray. Prayer is received as a gift, and as a deeply religious people, Indians of all faith traditions accept that prayer is what changes things. Prayer is woven into everything that happens at CoF. Rosie calls the kids her little prayer warriors, and I’m sure I’ve been sustained through this trip by their prayers.
We’ve put a lots of miles–I mean kilometers–on Anand’s Tava SUV to pray inside homes and churches, and to stand on top of the foundation and pray the church yet-to-be-built. I even prayed for a gym!
Of course we also prayed for the future site of Hope Academy. Where a grove of cashew trees now stands, the dream of a top-notch school will be realized. By creating a great school with a curriculum and teaching model similar to what we have in the US, tuition-paying students can create a sustainable way for CoF kids to get the best education possible. Hope Academy will be another way to provide a Christian witness.
Because of CoF’s influence, another orphanage is being built as well!
About five years ago, Anand got an email from a young man in the UK named Michael Cadge. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, and wondered if he could come to CoF and spend time working with kids. While here, Jesus got hold of him and he was baptized in Rosie and Anand’s church. Mike felt God’s call to live in India permanently and serve children. He returned to the UK to start university. On his second visit, Mike asked if CoF would help him start an orphanage of his own and Anand agreed. With CoF’s help Mike made plans.
Mike went back to the UK, this time to establish the Children of Grace non-profit with some of his friends. Together they raised the needed money and, on his third visit, the CoG Orphanage was established in a rented facility. When the owner of that building decided to sell it, Anand and Rosie agreed to take the 12 boys into CoF temporarily, and Mike’s organization provides monthly support while they raised the money to buy land and build an orphanage of their own. The land is just a few yards from CoF’s boys dorm. And yesterday they broke ground.
Not bad for a 25 year old and a bunch of his buddies!
When Hope Academy and Children of Grace Orphanage are completed, Faith, Hope, and Grace will be physically manifested in this community.
Anand and I walked to the CoG site prayed over it, with its nine 5×5 squares chalked out on the ground. Yesterday this brother and sister team arrived to start digging the five ft deep holes. This is where the supporting pillars will stand. And this is how the work gets done–by hand!
This is Harika. She can do this:
This is Vijaya Lakshmi. She can do this:
This is Anusha. She can do this:
This is Shanti Kumari. She can do this:
This is Anjali. She can do this:
This is Pavani. She can do this. It’s hard to tell what she’s up to, but she could hold a piece of straw perpendicular to her palm so it looked like a magic trick.
Because they are part of the Children of Faith Mission, there are things all of them can do. They can get a good education (including English). They can go to college and get professional training. They can see their marriage day postponed until they are in their late teens, and they can look forward to a better marriage match. And through it all, they hear the gospel and experience the love of Jesus in a caring Christian community.
This is Snoopy. He’s a good dog. A smart dog. He’s always trying to get away with something, but no one minds because he’s so cute and he knows it. He knows that nobody can stay mad at him for very long, which is why he’s so carefree.
This is Bunty. He’s a smart dog too, in his own way. He’s smart enough to know that life at CoF is better than life on the streets. So he hangs around here as much as possible. Done some hard living, Bunti has. He doesn’t get as many pets as Snoopy because, let’s face it, he’s a hot mess. But he’s also welcome and at peace.
There should be a picture of Styly here. He’s a German Shepherd. Styly’s old, and he’s old school. He still thinks that if someone takes your picture, they steal your soul. This must be the case because whenever someone wants Styly to leave they say, “Photo!” And he hussles away. When I started taking pictures, he vanished.
This is Sandy. Whenever someone walks by the girls dormitory, she makes a big noise. It’s her job to lay down the intimidation, and she does it well. Frankly she’d do it even if it wasn’t her job. But of course she really just wants to be a snuggly puppy lapdog, just like every Great Dane I’ve ever met.
These are the buffalo. I don’t know their names, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that their milk makes for a great cup of coffee in the morning, a great cup of chai tea in the afternoon, and great yoghurt for meal time. If you think it’s a good idea to pet their calves– well it isn’t, even if the babies tell you it is with their eyes.
These are the turkeys. The tom never lets the hen get more than a couple feet from him. He seems to think everyone is trying to steal his girl, because he flashes his plumage constantly, even though there probably isn’t another turkey for miles. He does have good qualities though. Rosie says that when the duck laid eggs, Tom guarded the nest 24/7.
These are the chickens. They do chicken stuff.
Shopping day! Got to see more of Vizag, and get my souvenir fix. I came to India with just a backpack and a carry-on bag. I might have a problem on the trip home!
On the way into the oldest part of Vizag we drove past the oil refinery where Anand’s father worked for most of his life. Anand’s brother works at the Steel Manufacturing plant we pass going to/from CoF and the church. Both facilities are enormous. Not only is it a big industrial city, it is also the state’s only port. Recently there was a Fleet Week in which ships from over sixty navies were present. The occasion prompted lots of beautification projects, which Rosie greatly appreciates!
Rosie and Anand first took me to a department store, which would remind an American of Macy’s, that is if Macy’s also sold dish soap and toothpaste across the aisle from jewelry and if Macy’s had a four-to-one associate-to-customer ratio. In three departments we were helped by at least a dozen people. Much of the merchandise is behind the counter, so one asks to see an item then the associate brings it out for you. Once you’ve chosen your items, the associate leads you to the cashier. While he rings you up (“We take Visa.” Whew!) another associate is waiting to fold your clothes and place them neatly in the bag. Then, when the receipt is printed, yet another associate staples it to the outside of the bag and hands it to you. Oh and the elevator? Two attendants! One for the buttons and one to hold the door.
Now this may seem absurdly inefficient to Americans who live the majority of their lives in a “self-serve” manner. But to me, it felt very honoring. In the time I’ve been here I’ve seen people constantly serving one another. It is beautiful in the way it keeps people connected to one another.
We had lunch at the beautiful Novotel overlooking the Bay of Bengal. I finally discovered where the Americans hang! It must be the buffet. We Americans are always up for a good buffet. We also happened to run into a leading local educator who oversees one of the best Christian schools in the area. She has agreed to mentor Rosie as Hope Academy gets off the ground. Divine appointments all around!
This was the last day of the Pastor’s conference. It was a treat to be led in worship by Rosie and Anand’s nephews!
Over these past three days, we have learned about the discipleship triangle, the kairos circle, and the abiding/fruitfulness semi-circle. These “Life Shapes” have been developed by Mike Breen and 3DM, a ministry that works to help churches raise up disciple-leaders. I wanted to make sure whatever I presented wouldn’t just be interesting, but would be good resources and tools they could really use as they prepare sermons and lead churches.
The pastors were deeply appreciative of the conference. Their educational experiences have largely been based on rote learning. As a result, it was an experience of “firsts”. It was the first time for them to have material presented this way, first time to receive handouts with the information laid out for them, and the first time to be invited into a small group discussion – where they could work out the content for themselves. Anand remarked that even though this material is widely available online, only one or two of the pastors present use the Internet.
As with the Church Without Shoes pastors, this group meets once a month. It will be exciting to see if they are able to bring back stories of how these tools helped them in preaching, discipling, and leading. Judging by the way they dove into the material, I believe they will learn a lot more from one another than from me!
At the close of the conference, I was deeply honored with a garland of flowers, a gift given at special occasions. They were beautiful, not to mention substantial (heavy)!
So I didn’t see the wedding, and what we attended really can’t be called a reception. It was more of a weddingpalooza. One food server said they were expecting ten thousand people. And we saw most of them, flooding into the village in auto rickshaws, on motorcycles and on foot.
We entered the reception grounds through a long, beautiful tunnel that led to a huge open space filled with loud music, fireworks, and people. I even saw a drone buzzing overhead to capture the sheer scope of the thing. There were video monitors stationed throughout the grounds giving a live feed of the bride and groom seated on a couch under an elaborate gazebo, while throngs of people hustled onto the stage to get their picture taken.
We got in line to pay our respects, and were eventually greeted by the groom’s dad (who is up for reelection in June). He was eagerly shaking hands and making sure the right people were seen together in the right shots.
There were two huge lines for food, one for men and one for women. I shot some video of the ladies’ line just to catch a glimpse of all the beautiful saris. Every one of them was sparkling, vibrant, and one-of-a-kind. Then lines were so long I figured, never mind let’s go home. Then Anand saw someone he actually knew. This guy led us through the crowd to the VIP section, which could only be entered via one small arched pass through that had three bouncers jammed into it to keep the crowd of “guests” from forcing their way through. When they saw me–you guessed it–the seas parted. I think this was the point at which Rosie overheard someone remark, “Oh, he even invited foreigners!”
Inside, we enjoyed an amazing meal and could actually sit at a table. Up to now Rosie has always made sure I had utensils to use at meal time, but now I would have to eat like everyone else–with my hands. So Rosie explained how to scoop rice onto my four fingers and then push it into my mouth with my thumb.
When it was time to leave, the road leading back to the CoF Mission site was choked with cars and people. The 2 min eastbound trip back was abantdoned as impossible in favor of a 40 min trip that started out westbound and circled back.
Rosie and Anand had never seen anything like it. Obviously, neither had I!
I’ve been in India for a week now, and I’ve seen lots of people. LOTS. (Americans spend their time indoors, often alone. Indians spend it outdoors, always among others.) But with all the fun I’ve had people watching, I haven’t seen one non-Indian. No Asians. Certainly no Europeans. And while southern Indians tend to have darker complexions, I don’t think I’ve seen any Africans either.
So while I’m as ordinary (and pale) as they come back home, here in Vizag I’m downright exotic!
I do get stares from time to time, but mostly I get smiles too. The uncomfortable part is that I also get special treatment. At Anand’s birthday lunch, I was seated at a table with eleven Indians, yet the staff made a point of turning on the TV and switching it to the only English speaking channel. We sang “Happy Birthday” while “Live Free or Die Hard” played in the background. When I had to replace my torn Levi’s while visiting Rosie’s hometown, the clothing store owner wanted to take a picture with me. Next time you’re in Semiliguda, don’t be surprised to see my face on a billboard for Patro Cloth Store.
Then, when we got back to the CoF Mission, I got invited to a Hindu wedding!
To be fair, Anand and Rosie got invited. But the invitation was hand delivered by the groom’s cousin and included a request that they “bring the white guy too.” The groom’s father is the leader of the village, wealthy and respected, and he made a point of waving to Anand and me while Anand was taking me on a driving tour. The success of the Mission has raised the profile of the community, so the Thandu’s were definitely on the guest list. I’m just going for the “wow” factor.
The actual wedding ceremony already took place in the bride’s community, at the “auspicious time” set by the Hindu religious leaders. Through their careful astrological analysis they determine to exact best moment–down to the second–for important events to take place such a weddings and the opening of a newly constructed home. This means couples may tie the knot (literally) at exactly 11:23pm on April first. CoF staffer Nadir had to be present for his new home opening at 4am.
Because of auspicious timing, there may be several weddings taking place at the same time in a community. And because auspicious times happen at odd hours, it is common for the actual wedding ceremony to be attended only by the immediate family.
Next episode: The reception!