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.