Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Dana and I are traveling India with the Allen family right now, so we haven't had a lot of time to post updates but we're having a wonderful time. We love you and wish you all a happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thanks for sharing Christmas

Aunty Nancy,
Thanks for blessing the teachers with Christmas gifts this year. We are very grateful that we can now share Christmas with our families!

Love, the preschool, back-to-school, girls club and computer teachers at Doddagunta slum community

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Attending Church with the Dalits

This Sunday Dana and I had an incredible experience. Several years ago we donated resources to build a church for the lowest cast (most neglected) Indians in South India. This week, we actually were able to visit the church and Dana preached a message on Romans 8:28 to the congregation. It was an amazing opportunity to see God’s fruit. The children performed bible verses, songs and dances for us and were adorable, and everyone was warm and welcoming. We were overcome with joy shaking everyone’s hands and taking pictures. We could feel God’s love filling that church. It was the chance of a lifetime to personally witness the end result of one of God’s projects and to get to be used by him to share his love.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fueling Change through Reading

Aunty Padmini,
Thanks for the books! Our school programs are now more exciting and educational than ever. We appreciate your thoughtfulness and the love of so many from back home.

Sincerely, the children from the Doddagunta slum community

“Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books.” - Bell Hooks

Uncle Dana takes part in Operation Banana

Dana is now in India (hip hip hooray!) and he had the chance to come assist at Mother Teresa's orphanage and give out fruit to the hungry as part of "Operation Banana".
He also visited the slums to see the school programs and health clinics that are run by Oasis. It's been so much fun showing him my life in Bangalore!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Helping underprivileged teenage girls discover their Real Beauty

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to take 23 teen girls from the slums to camp. For some of the girls, it was the first time they had ever left their homes except for to go to school or work. It was certainly the first time they’d been out in nature and experienced things like campfires! The girls were so grateful that they praised the comfortable beds (which were just simple cots) and camp food and said it was the best food they had ever eaten and at home they’re not able to eat like that. The whole experience was incredibly humbling for me and I kept imagining how different the experience would have been with a group of teens from the U.S.

During the 2 day retreat, the theme was “Discovering your Real Beauty”. We spoke to the girls about how what makes you truly beautiful is what’s on the inside, not on the outside. I talked about the Fruits of the Spirit and how we should all strive to develop them. A coworker gave a great talk on Sex and Sexuality, and most of the girls said it was the first time that anyone had had a conversation with them about it. I also talked about overcoming Guilt & Shame to start our lives with a clean slate. After myself and another volunteer shared our testimonies, many girls came forward to talk about being sexually abused by rickshaw drivers or relatives, and other things in their lives that had weighed heavily on their shoulders.

I truly felt God at work during the camp, as everything went perfectly, despite only having a couple weeks to plan the event. Several girls accepted Christ as their savior for the first time and overall, I think the retreat was one of the best experiences of each of our lives!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Education is the key to a brighter future

Aunty Nancy and Aunty Kelley,
Thank you so much for sending me to school for a year. I am a 7 yr old girl in the 2nd grade and I live in the slums. My father is an alcoholic and my mother is a domestic house worker who only makes $30 a month. My brother is also very sick, so even though my mother cares very much about my education, it's difficult for her to pay the expenses for a good school.

I could hardly believe that each of you sponsored my school fees, books and uniforms for 6 months! Education is the key to a brighter future, and without your donation my future would look dim.

Thanks for showing me God's love,

Cobras, Peacocks, Camels, Elephants and Monkeys

This weekend I headed off for my last weekend getaway and had a delightful time exploring the northern city of Jaipur – which is also known as “the pink city” because it’s painted pink (but really I think it’s a peach city and wrongly named). I'm now officially obsessed with "doors" too, because the doors here are incredible!

I took a great bus tour and saw many majestic palaces and forts (Laxminarayan Temple, Hawa Majal, Observatory, City Palace, Jaigarh Fort, Nahargarh Fort, Amer Fort & Palace, Kanak Vrindavan, Jal Majal and a star show at the Planetarium). Each place held many intriguing discoveries, and the palace/fort courtyards were filled with snack charmers playing their music for dancing cobras, decorated elephants and camels giving tourist rides, wild peacocks and monkeys.
At one fort, I saw a monkey steal someone’s bag of Frito-Lay chips, run off, tear it open and start snacking! I thought the marketing dept would appreciate this shot...
Later one big monkey scared the heck out of us when it jumped right on our table at lunch and stole Ashwi’s bottle of juice!

We did some fun shopping and as usual - ate a lot of food and drank a lot of tea! One night at dinner we were offered a kitchen tour, which was a cool experience until I saw them refilling the Aquafina water bottles (just like in Slumdog Millionaire). I think that some things you're just better off not knowing...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bananas GOOD, Sweets BAD

Visits to the orphanage and “Operation Banana” have continued and are going well. Today when I distributed the fruit at the slum, everyone was so grateful and kindly thanked me with big smiles and handshakes.

After distributing the bananas, I came across a cute group of young kids. Since I was out of fruit, I decided to open a pack of gum and share it. BIG MISTAKE! The kids completely mauled me, and even drew some blood on my hands because they pinched and clawed so hard over one another to get a piece. It was a miserable experience and a good learning experience. Lesson learned = Bananas GOOD, Sweets BAD. But how can I be upset at children who are so desperate to get a little piece of gum?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Some more interesting cultural differences

- Some Hindus hire female “professional mourners” to cry and wail at their funerals while the men celebrate.

- Some pregnant women in India consumer saffron in an effort to have lighter-skinned babies. I was asked if women ate A LOT of saffron during pregnancy in the US : )

- Even though dog food IS sold in India, I only see people feeding their dogs people food. Each day they put out bowls of rice and leftovers from their dinners for their pets.

- In Tamil Nadu (one region of India), “Have you had your breakfast?” is a common greeting. Since I work mostly with people from this region, I get asked this many times each day. It seemed a bit strange at first that people would care if I had eaten breakfast (and then ask what I’d eaten), but it’s really the equivalent of “How are you?”

- “White People” seems to be a perfectly acceptable, widely-used term here. A few times people have said to me, “I’ve told my family all about you and I hope you come to my house someday because my kids really like white people”. It always takes me by surprise and makes me chuckle as I try to imagine saying to my African-American friends back home - "Hey, want to come over to my house for dinner tonight? My family really likes black people". Too funny!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A few dark nights

I’m not sure what is happening this week, but I’ve been having a series of nightmares that have been waking me up each night. Other than one week during my first month here in India, it’s quite unusual for me to have nightmares and so I’m finding it unsettling.

First, I had a dream that I didn’t check my calendar and missed some key meetings my first week back at work and got in a lot of trouble with my new VP. Then I dreamed someone was trying to kill me (or maybe a friend?). Finally I dreamed that I accidentally discovered that a good friend of mine with a seemingly perfect marriage was having an affair. (That last one may have actually been inspired by all of the media coverage this week on Tiger Woods’ ordeal)

We’ve been really busy lately and had some late nights at Oasis this week, so maybe the stress is getting to me. But more likely, I’d bet it’s just a combination of things I’ve seen and heard in the news lately combined with stress from knowing that I have to leave here in just a few days and go back to the frantic world of my “real” job.

Either way, I’m really looking forward to a fun weekend of sightseeing in Jaipur, a northern city that is famous for it’s pink palaces. I’m leaving tonight with Ashwi (one of my “host family’s” daughters) and it should be a great time!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Take time to remember the real meaning of Christmas

Today our Jacobs Well girls put on an amazing Christmas Performance for the staff. It was truly wonderful! I love them so much - it was all I could do not to cry as they danced, sang and performed a skit on Jesus' birth. I spoke on "the meaning of Christmas". I'll share that message with you as well...

Every birth is a miracle, and every child is a gift from God. But ~20 centuries ago, there was the miracle of miracles. A baby was born, and he was the son of God.

Christmas is the time we remember the birth of Jesus Christ – which was the greatest gift that man has ever received. This gift is something that should be celebrated each and every day of the year.

Rather than Christmas being a time that is focused on giving and receiving earthly gifts, this holiday should be a time that is focused upon the gift of God and the real meaning of Christmas, which is the redemption and reconciliation of man to God through the LORD Jesus Christ.

We have allowed the world to take over Christmas and make it a time of man-made traditions. During the holiday season, we are bombarded with ads that urge us to spend money.

To turn that around we need to remember that the true meaning of Christmas is that God gave us a gift that we did not deserve and could not earn. It is the gift of eternal life, through choosing to accept God's gift of grace.

As we are reminded in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life"

So this Christmas season, I urge you to do 3 things:

1. Rediscover the joy of giving. If you do give gifts, try to give gifts with eternal importance rather than earthly gifts. See if you can find some small way to further God’s kingdom. (if you need ideas, consider giving to Partners International through the "Harvest of Hope" program or Women and Children's Fund)

2. Make the season really magical! Find ways to start Christmas traditions with your family or friends that reflect on the true meaning of this holiday.

3. Spend some time with God reminding him that you do know the real reason for Christmas and thanking the Lord for the enormous gift that he gave us so long ago.

I praise the Lord that we all can share God’s gift of grace and that we will forever be sisters and brothers in God’s wonderful kingdom. That is a truly wonderful gift.

Merry Christmas!

An Indian wedding in Kerala

Monday I had the opportunity to attend a beautiful Indian wedding in Kerala. My friend Sarah, who has also been a guest at the house where I rent a room, married Sunil. The "parents" of my host family helped to arrange the marriage since they are her local guardians. The entire process - from meeting to marriage - has happened during the 3 months that I've been in India!

It was a Christian wedding so even though it was in a different language, I was able to follow most of what was happening. However, there were still a lot of cultural differences that kept it extremely interesting! They seem very, very happy and I think they'll make a good match. I wish them the best of luck and much happiness in their marriage.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lunch with a dear friend

I was invited to a delicious lunch at a coworker (and friend's) home this weekend. Indian hospitality can't be beat! Even though she lives in a slum, it is one of the nicer ones and her home (a 2 bedroom with 3 families) is quite comfortable. The food was delicious and her family was extremely welcoming. I had a very nice time and was so grateful that they invited me over! I think I could actually live in some of the nicer slums here and be just fine - although I'd be even better if they had running water and it was just one person per twin bed. After awhile, you realize all of the things you don't really need and how loving family and friends can make up the difference.

New Shoes

Dear Aunty Jill,
Thank you so much for the new shoes! The 7 of us live on the streets and before today, we ran around everywhere barefoot. The shoes we picked out are perfect because we'll be able to wash them when they get dirty. We felt so loved today!

Thanks for blessing us,
the children who live outside the East Bangalore Train Station

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sharing the Word and Love of God

Dear Aunty Nancy,
Thank you so much for the new bibles! Bibles are considered so valuable here, that sometimes they're even stolen from others.

Today Christine led a bible study/devotion time for us and she taught us how to look up scriptures in the new bibles. We were so excited!

Thank you for sharing god's love with us-
The children of Doddigunta slum community

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nutritious Treats

Nutritious Treats - and no... I don't mean Smartfood! : ) "Operation Banana" continues - but today Apples were given as a special treat. Apples are relatively expensive here, but the kids go crazy for them!

Sharing Thanksgiving with others...

Aunty Nancy (or "Momma" as the girls are calling her),

Thank you so much for the very special Thanksgiving Party. We had never heard of Thanksgiving before today, but Christine told us all about how Americans takes a day out of their hectic schedules to slow down and and appreciate everything in their lives. We read some great bible verses on thankfulness (1 Thess 5:16-18, Ephesians 5:19-20, 1 Chronicles 16:8) and then all wrote down things in our life that we are thankful for. When we shared these things out loud, we realized how blessed we all are!

Christine explained that the 2nd part of Thanksgiving is eating a lot of special food with family, so we were thrilled when she gave us the special dinners you donated to take home to our families and share with them the things that we're thankful for.

Thank you for blessing us Nancy.

We love you,
The Tailoring Girls

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Many things to be thankful for...

It's (already) Thanksgiving over here and I have a lot to be thankful for! Today I have 2 Thanksgiving celebrations - one "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner with the Overseas Womens Club and one special Indian dinner that my mom is hosting (long-distance) for the girls in the vocational training program. I am looking forwarding to teaching them about this US holiday and about remembering to stop and appreciate even the little blessings in our lives.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Small reminders that make me smile

I think of friends back home often, especially when I use my thoughtful going-away gifts. I read the bible verses in my quiet time journal each morning and pray for my church community group. I use my notebooks and pens from Marissa and Mary everyday. I’ve enjoyed reading Dave’s book on Tales of India almost every evening. My notecards have come in handy when I want to thank someone for their hospitality. Using my scented hand sanitizers from Nicole and others always gives me a pick-me up – it’s as good as aromatherapy and everyone in the office enjoys the smells. On cool nights I use my warm, fuzzy, moisturizing socks and think of Katherine. I eat Preeti’s and Rachel’s granola bars every morning (to make it through to their late lunches in India) and try to share them with the girls in the vocational program as well since they don’t seem to get much to eat. The last time I shared a small Quaker chewy granola bar, the young woman came back the next day to say she broke it into 4 pieces to share with her entire family, because she won’t eat anything without first making sure that her kids are fed. Wow. I think of Nicole and others when I use the face wipes at night to wipe the dust off my face. I packed far too many wet wipes than I’ll actually use, but the orphanage is going to be thrilled to have them when I leave! And I absolutely can’t wait to enjoy the mani/pedi from Graybill and my work team and champagne from Rich when I return. I really miss these treats!!! So just know that all of you are in my thoughts all of the time and I look forward to our reunion : )

A lot to be thankful for...

Aunty Jill,
Thank you so much for your generous gifts. We can hardly believe how blessed we have been this month! Today Aunty Christine came by our school to bring us the new books, World Atlas, shoe organizer and colorful floor mats that you donated.

Before our shoes were everywhere and we had to sit all day on the dirty floor. We like this much better! And we were excited that we now have some books that are appropriate for some of the older children.

We saw the kids musical sing-along CD that Christine bought for the children at Mother Teresa's orphanage too. We think they'll love it!

We hear that there is even more coming from everyone back home, but this week we definitely have a lot to be thankful for!

Love, the kids at Doddigunta's back-to-school program

Tough Choices

Today we went shopping for more school supplies. Along the way, we ran into a 16 yr old girl who had recently dropped out of school to work at a shop. She is getting paid $30 a month, which is more than our teachers! We stopped to have tea with her so that we could try to talk her into going back to school, but I'll admit it's a difficult argument when your parents are unable to provide and your family needs food on the table.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A relaxing weekend in Goa

After a 45 min flight, I arrived in Goa on Friday afternoon. I took a 1½ hr taxi ride to Palolem Beach, which is quiet, pretty and away from the party scene – so my kind of beach! I’m staying at Camp San Francisco (beachfront huts right on the water) and “camp” is a good way to describe the accommodations (my hut doesn’t even have a mirror and the shower is this tiny trickle of cold water). That being said, the location can’t be beat. Even though the place I wanted (and that Lonely Planet recommended) was booked, I had to do a ton of research on my own and take a gamble and I actually think in the end I picked the perfect beach and the perfect beach huts. Camp San Francsico is in the center of a beautiful, long beach, and I have the best room (closest to the water). While the accommodations are quite basic, I haven’t seen even one creepy-crawly thing (amazing) and it looks to me like the most appealing spot on the beach, with the best view, an incredibly attentive staff and a restaurant with terrific food. I enjoyed a relaxing dinner at a little candlelight table under a thatched umbrella (that was right in front of my beach hut), about 50 feet from the waves rolling in from the ocean.

Since I’m traveling solo, I struck up a conversation with a young local girl who was hanging out on the beach. She’s 19 and pregnant with her 2nd child. She has never been to school and was married at 17. She confirmed the message I hear often, which is that in India you’re really expected to have babies IMMEDIATELY after getting married – or else everyone assumes there is a problem. She reinforced to me (once again) that I need to get started with my family! (I get this message here several times a day) Anyhow, she works at a local shop selling souvenirs to tourists and her husband sells sarongs on the beach, with her sister who sells jewelry and does henna tattoos on the beach. Sweet girl…

After dinner I laid in bed listening to a really great mix of reggae/ dance /bollywood music on one side (coming from the laid-back bar next door) and the sound of waves rolling in from the ocean on the other. It was so nice.

Even though it was forecasted to thunderstorm all weekend, Saturday the sky stayed blue and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Thank the Lord!!! It was pretty hot out, but the water was clean and refreshing. I spent the day reading on the beach, eating at beachside cafes and buying jewelry from the beach vendors. At one point I took a boat cruise to a remote cove where I enjoyed a private “Butterfly Beach” (with 3 others who wandered off) for 2 hours. It felt like a piece of paradise.

I’ve met many Caucasian tourists here, but not a single American! Everyone is Russian, Canadian, Estonian, German, Israeli… everything but American – it’s so strange. The boat operators say that very few Americans come to Goa.

Later as the sun set, I walked along pristine Palolem beach and listed to Sarah McLauglan and Enya on my ipod. It was like the dream version of my perfect day, except for the fact that I kept thinking “Dana would LOVE it here”! It doesn’t feel fair that I’m living this adventure while he’s home working on PDRs and Business Reviews, but I guess I’ll have to remember that “I owe him one” (my words, not his) one day when I’m going into labor : ) I felt a bit guilty laying on the beach today drinking Kingfishers while he is actually volunteering and cleaning up trash in Dallas. What can I say other than my husband is pretty amazing and we are very blessed!

For dinner I ate on the beach again under a starry sky. A very talented Estonian singer (who is apparently recording his CD next week) performed with an acoustic guitar while all of the Camp San Francisco guests relaxed around a campfire.

Sunday I bought some jewelry on the beach from a 15 yr old girl named Nikkita. I thought that was a beautiful name and asked her how to spell it. She said she didn’t know how to spell (her own name!) since she had never been to school. That is so sad. I also took a dolphin boat cruise out to “Honeymoon Beach” – we didn’t see dolphins but the beach was gorgeous.

This weekend confirmed to me (once again) that you don’t have to stay at a 5-star hotel to have an amazing vacation. For about what we pay for parking when we stay at fancy hotels, you can really live an amazing life and have quite an adventure. I think that’s why D and I really love to explore developing countries. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in less than 3 weeks!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An usual way to commit a crime...

For the most part, I'm going to miss India terribly. Life here is a thrill everyday, and the people I am surrounded by are so full of hospitality, compassion and love!

However, there are definitely some weird things that go on in India as well. This week on the news they were talking about autorickshaw drivers who prey on single female passengers and spray them in the face with some chemical that makes them pass out. Then they rape and kill them. Fascinating....

Then my friend Karen said that it's actually a common enough occurrence that there's a term used for it in India (which I can't remember), and burglars do it too (use the spray to make people pass out, then rape and rob them). I'm actually pretty surprised that this strange way of committing a crime has not spread around the world yet (to the best of my knowledge anyways). Craziness!

In light of all that please know that I'm being careful, and if any of my day-to-day activities sound a little dangerous, accept that there is a certain amount of danger everywhere and you have to pray and trust the Lord to protect you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Education: the key to a bright future

A huge thanks to Ron, Judy, Kelley and Carl for donating much needed school supplies and books for the children at the Oasis back-to-school program and preschool. We were able to get 135 notebooks, 70 reading books, 5 dictionaries, craft project materials and a ton of critical supplies! The teachers are thrilled and I can't wait to see the look on the childrens' faces when they see their new library.