Sunday, March 22, 2015

Go India - October 2014

Hello Family and Friends,

I am writing this post to give you all a little insight into the trip I took to India with Crossroads Church last October. You might be thinking, “that was 5 months ago, what took so long…” Sure this is very overdue, but I've written multiple drafts, labored over how much to share and came to the conclusion that whatever I write is better than nothing. So although some of you may lose interest, it is what it is. I hope you enjoy it, or at least the pictures :)
Part of the reason it’s taken so long to get some kind of a newsletter to you is because I’ve had a difficult time processing the things I saw and learned while I was there. When I first got back it was really hard to respond when people would ask me how it went. It can be difficult to gauge how much someone wants to know, and asking how the trip went is kind of a loaded question. Some of the things I saw and learned were really challenging. I’ve learned a lot, and I'm sure in the months ahead I will continue to realize things about the trip and myself.

The main purpose of this trip was to help facilitate summer camp for girls who had been rescued from human trafficking and forced prostitution. We were working with Jeevan Aadhar (in Hindi this means “life support”), which is a non-profit group that aids in the healing and life transformation of girls who have been rescued from brothels. This organization supports women between the ages of 18-24 after they’ve been rescued and provides counseling, therapy, medical treatment, housing and education. Each girl is placed in a living arrangement with a house mom and 5-6 other girls. This gives them a familial support system and helps them start their reintegration into society. They also start attending a local church, which is a key part of their transformation. At first the girls rely heavily on the Jeevan Aadhar program for support and stability, but as their healing progresses, they begin to rely more on their church family. This is crucial because many of the girls unstable or nonexistent relationships with their biological families.
The Gateway of India
For our first whole day we toured some of Mumbai, saw the Gateway of India, ate at a restaurant called The Village (which was decorated like.... you guessed it, a village), and did a little shopping.

We learned a dance after lunch.
Lunch at the Village
Haggling over a drum... I am #NotImpressed
I was not planning on buying one, but he was persistent.
So, my nephew ended up with it for his 3rd birthday.
 Afterwards the Jeevan Aadhar staff gave us some guidelines on how to interact with the girls. We were instructed to talk about things in the present - their goals, dreams, favorites, the camp activities etc… It was important to avoid talking about where they were from, their age, anything regarding their family situation or their past, because of the potential to trigger bad memories and prolong the healing process. This made me a little nervous because I didn’t want to unintentionally cause damage by asking a simple question. We also weren't allowed to take any picture of the girls as a safety precaution.

The next day we met the girls at our breakfast stop during the 6 hour bus ride from Mumbai to the camp. I was shocked to see how full of joy they were. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I wasn't expecting that. It was 6am and they were visibly sleepy, but genuinely happy. The sight of it alone almost reduced me to tears because all I could think of was the fact that they could find joy after going through unspeakable trauma.

The camp was the perfect place for the girls to get out of the city and enjoy the beauty of nature. It was located on the side of a mountain with a river running through it… Talk about a view! The next four days were a whirlwind of arts and crafts, team building exercises, obstacle courses, worship and devotions, dancing, great food and lots of outdoor activities. The camp staff divided us all into teams for the week. I really enjoyed getting to know the people in my team and just playing around and having fun. The girls tried things they’d never had to opportunity to do before - climbing ladders up trees, shooting a paintball gun and a bow, zip lining and swimming, just to name a few things. One of my favorite parts of the competitions was seeing how the girls worked together to figure out how to overcome the obstacles. Their teamwork was inspiring. They cheered each other on (even if they were on different teams) and never left anyone behind.
Best sunrise of the entire trip.
Our team leader, Michael, living up to his nickname, "crazy boy".
The Friday at camp we began our day with a hike up the mountain. The sun was rising as we ascended to the top and it was an incredible sight. For me it was a reminder of God’s faithfulness in helping us overcome the obstacles in our lives. This was one of my favorite days.
I learned how to play cricket in the afternoon, and although I was terrible at batting, I got pretty good at “bowling” (pitching). One of the Jeevan Aadhar staff members, Allwyn, used to play a lot, so I had a really good coach. That night was the last night at camp so we had a bonfire. Everyone had to opportunity to share favorite memories of camp or how it impacted them. It was really incredible to hear the girls talk about working through their fears and the challenges. It was apparent by the stories they told and the looks on their faces that the experience had been empowering. Their self-confidence encouraged me. After the bonfire we had a dance party, which was a little out of my comfort zone, but it was a lot of fun having the girls teach me their dances. The Bollywood industry makes way more movies than Hollywood does, and a lot of them have dances that go with them. It seemed like the girls knew just about all of the choreography for the songs; I couldn't keep up.

The next morning I got up early and took a walk with some of the people in my group.
When we got back from the hike we had breakfast, and then a morning worship session. Right before it started one of my teammates, Mimi, came over to talk really quickly. She told me that God had put a verse on her heart for me. It was "blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." She then told me that she felt like God was using this trip to heal me of things that had happened to me. At this point I hadn't told anyone on my team why I felt like God put me on the team, and everything that she was telling me about myself was 100% true. As we finished up our conversation, Paul began to play "Beautiful Things" by Gungor, our unofficial theme song for the week. I'll admit, going into this trip I wasn't a fan of this song at all. (I think the message is good, but it sounds a tad depressing to me.) If you aren't familiar with the song, it goes like this...

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
For some reason as we sang Beautiful Things that morning, it hit me in a new way. I closed my eyes for a while and just listened to the girls singing this song and finally believed every word. Up until that moment I knew that God restored other people and could turn them into something beautiful, but I never truly believed that for myself. Singing that song with the girls and hearing the belief in their voices was almost a dream-like experience. I knew they'd gone through unimaginably horrible things, and yet they knew God had transformed each of them into something beautiful. Singing with them gave me an overwhelming sense of peace. Life can be awful sometimes. It is easy to get discouraged and frustrated. People let you down; you get used; things don't turn out the way you hoped or expected. It is devastating. At some point, you step back, look at the wreckage and wonder if any good will come of it. Jesus is only reason I have hope. He doesn't leave anything unfinished and I know he isn't done with me yet. 

When we walked down to the river for our last team building activity, it started to rain a little. We ended up having to build a raft out of inner tubes, bamboo poles and rope. Then the teams raced each other. This activity took a lot of girls outside of their comfort zones, as many of them had never been in a large body of water and didn’t know how to swim. (We all wore life jackets). We were all very cold because of the rain, but the water was at least 80 degrees! It felt incredible. My team didn’t win, but we did have a lot of fun. Afterwards we all jumped in the water.
The moments that followed were surreal and will stick with me for the rest of my life. At one point during all of this, I was just swimming and floating and I thought to myself, “I am floating in a river in INDIA… Next to a mountain. None of this would’ve happened if I hadn’t trusted God”. There I was, floating and looking up at the sky, feeling like a speck in a vast body of water.
Some of the girls were scared, some jumped right in and a couple asked me to teach them how to swim. One girl who had been in my team all week asked me to teach her. I showed her how to kick and paddle with her arms, and as we got closer to the shore I showed her how to float on her back. This really scared her at first, but I told her to put her hands down, because by this point we were only in 8-12 inches of water. As she put her hands down she started to smile and laugh a little. That moment reminded me of how in life when we go through scary situations, we freak out and wonder where God is. At the right moment we get a reminder that He’s there, right behind us, and has been the whole time. It’s hard to trust because we don’t always get to see the whole picture, but God is there even when we don’t see Him, even when we don’t hear His voice or feel His presence.
Later that day we drove back to Mumbai. By the time we arrived, we were all pretty tired and ready to sleep.
Some of the ladies before church.
 The next morning our team was split into groups of 5 and each group visited a different church somewhere around Mumbai. We had been told that the church members would probably ask us to sing a song and share a testimony. Feeling a bit unprepared, we decided on the way there that we would sing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart..." The church service was quite different from a typical Crossroads Sunday morning. The only chairs in the church were on the stage, and they reserved them for the pastors and the guests (us). I felt like I should be sitting on the floor with everyone else, but they were so hospitable. They also presented us all with flowers and offered us something to drink. The service started with a solid hour of worship. There were little kids sitting in the front row playing drums and little cymbals, and the pastor's wife played the keyboard while the pastor lead the song.
Kathy with some of the kids at church.
It was interesting not being able to understand any of it because the songs all started sounding the same. After worship they had us sing our song, which felt pretty short after listening to them sing for so long. They seemed to like it and ended up joining in with the instruments. The staff member that had accompanied us to church wasn't initially from Mumbai and didn't know the local dialect very well, so she was translating it in her head to what she knew, and then translated her understanding of the sermon to English. It felt like we were playing telephone in church, but I think we were able to understand at least some of that. All said and done, the service was about 2.5 hours. By the end of it we were all struggling to stay awake, or really had to go to the bathroom, which was a precarious situation because we were in front of the entire congregation. At the end of the service, the congregation had a quick birthday celebration for a little boy that was turning one. They had a special cake made, and the boy's family shared it with us and then brought in a different cake for everyone else. The church wasn't very big, but at least 50 people showed up. Everyone wanted to shake our hands afterwards too. It was incredible to see the sense of community and fellowship that this church had. It seemed to be a byproduct of being full of the love of Christ, having it spill over into everyone else. It was an intimate and special experience to share with them, even if I wasn't sure what was being said. God doesn't have to use words to speak to you, and coming away from the experience I felt like he was reminding me the importance of community. It's so important to have key people in your life that you can pour into and others that build you up in return.
Later at lunch my group reminisced about all of the funny situations that had come up during the service and let out the laughter that we'd somehow managed to hold in at church. (A few examples... "They offered me a coke at the beginning of church and now, four hours later I really have to go, and they don't have a bathroom." "Drink as little water as possible, because who knows how long we will be here." "I picked up a piece of cake from the platter and the layers fell apart in my hands. Now I'm a mess." "Is this the same song they just played?" "What if I fall asleep in front of all these people?" "That bongo is starting to get on my last nerve.") You have to learn to laugh at the little things.

Monday we went on a prayer walk. We were split up into smaller groups and paired up with a local pastor. Each group did their prayer walk in the slum where their pastor does ministry. It was an eye-opening and unforgettable experience. I got a little nervous when we first pulled up to the edge of the slum. I was still wearing the clothes I'd worn to church and felt very over dressed. There were wild pigs covered in flies, that were squealing as they chased each other through mounds of trash. Next to the neighborhood on the right was a stagnant body of putrid water. Parallel to that was a cement slab on the left where a bunch of kids were playing. I learned later that it is used as a place to burn people who have died. A lot of kids started following us and pointing. I smiled at them and when they offered me their little hands for a handshake, I gave mine in return. It quickly became apparent that this community had a lot of physical and spiritual needs. One of the main things our pastor told us to pray for was clean water. There is one main water spout where people can get water and it randomly gets turned off by the city. As you can imagine, not having a reliable water source would make your life very complicated. There is also a lot of sickness and disease. We were able to visit and pray with some of the people in their homes, a lot of them asked us to pray for people who were sick or HIV positive, and others asked us to pray for family and friends who are not yet Christians. Some of the women we prayed with were widows who had their husbands to AIDS. It is very difficult to wrap your mind around what it is like to live in that kind of situation. I cannot begin to explain how humbling it is to take your shoes off and walk into someone's 10'x10' home and have them offer you their only chair or couch. What I've mentioned here is just part of what I experienced and the afternoon as a whole was difficult to process. It raised questions that started with why.... "Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?" "Why are these young children running around unsupervised?" "Why don't more people help them?" "Why have I been given so much?" "Why do I take it for granted?"
This day was probably the hardest for me to process and I didn't have much time to do so before coming home. One thing that really helped me get a better perspective on the situation was when the Jeevan Aadhar staff member that had gone with our group said, "Don't be sad that they are living in those conditions. Yes it is sad, but it is worse that they don't have Jesus." I'm not going to lie to you, I have my moments of doubt and despair, just like anyone else. Despite that, there is always this feeling deep down in my soul and reminds me that He is here for me, working through every "crappy" situation in my life for His good plan. I cannot imagine how empty my life would be if I didn't have that reassurance.
At the end of the walk we drove to the Pastor's house. He, his wife, three kids and a widow live on the first floor of their church - three total rooms between the six of them. Even though they live in what the vast majority of Americans would consider cramped quarters, they know they are blessed and they were quick to share what they had with us. The pastor's wife served us cookies and Pepsi and before we left, the pastor insisted on giving us each something. He gave me a pair of earrings.

The next day we came home. I didn't feel ready to leave. I didn't want to come home and face my life. I'd been dating someone and going on this trip made me realize that I probably shouldn't be dating anyone, and definitely not someone who isn't a good match for me. Sometimes it doesn't take much time apart to realize that something isn't quite right in a relationship. I knew he probably wouldn't understand my reasons. Fast forward 4 months, he still doesn't understand and thinks that this trip made me a little crazy, "and that's all I have to say about thaaaat" (borrowing a phrase from Forrest Gump for those of you who didn't get the reference).

Its kind of funny that we went there to help girls on their journey of healing, but I didn't realize how much it would help me with my own. Going on this trip helped open my eyes to areas in my life where I've been held captive... Captive to perfectionism, captive to my past, captive to social expectations, captive to feeling the need to please everyone, captive to pressure that I put on myself. All things that God wants to free me from. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen overnight. It's a daily choice to walk in this freedom. Galatians 5:1 says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yolk of slavery." Yes, you read that right, "do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yolk of slavery". Wouldn't it be nice if we could just flip a switch and give God all our problems? It kind of works like that, but it isn't so simple. For me it's a daily battle to give God control, to let Him help me work through the areas where I've been held captive. I'm still on this journey, I am confident that He who started a good work in me will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6).

For those of you who read to the end, thank you for sticking it out. This is a lot more vulnerable than I've ever been on the internet, so I appreciate your grace in advance. I'm human and I make mistakes. I'm not going to have perfect grammar or be able to flawlessly express what I saw and felt, but I hope that I was able to provoke some new thoughts and encourage in some capacity. If you have more questions about my trip, my life or what having a relationship with Jesus is about, feel free to contact me. I'd love to continue the conversation. Again, thank you to everyone who financially supported and prayed for me. This trip has been life-changing and I could not have done it without you.

With love,


Mumbai Sunset

Our Crossroads Group
Saw too many little kids like this sitting somewhere by themselves.
Saw lots of motorcycles...
The river near camp
A picture doesn't do it justice.
Wildflowers at camp
My first sight of the Ohio River on the journey home.