The day started with a visit to a private school for children with autism. The life and social skills that they are taught are wonderful and inspiring. We were all very impressed with the school. The people of Vietnam are clearly trying to learn more about and understand autism. The doctor that started the school was extremely grateful to receive information and donations from us. He was very thankful for the members of Geist Christian Church in Indiana for all the donations and love, and they gave us some love to deliver.

For the second part of the day, we visited the school for kids with disabilities. This school works with kids with mental and physical disabilities and malformations. The children prepared a program for us and we were all blown away by this. There was a little girl who was clearly shy and nervous but her teachers talked to her, and she became less nervous and performed. When we gave these children toys, they were extremely happy. Seeing the kids happy made the whole trip worthwhile. Those who visited the center last year saw significant improvements, which was great to see.

Holly S.

Helping in the present and reflecting on the past

Today was a day full of so many emotions. We started out the day by attending the orphanage. When we got there, the children were watching a movie. Some of us joined in watching the movie while others helped in the kitchen to prepare lunch. Prior to lunch, the children put on a performance for us. Although Tet (Chinese New Year) is over, one of the performances involved the children wishing us a happy new year and many blessings. The children then invited the group to dance with them. This was our first interaction with the children and everyone was dancing happily with smiles on our faces.

Before we had lunch, we presented the kitchen equipment to the owners. We also gave the children the donated toys. They were very grateful and thankful. We gathered around our lunch tables and joined hands in a prayer. We then had lunch together and the kids were ecstatic that we had French fries and Pepsi with the meal.

After lunch came the hardest part of the day, the good byes. Although there was a language barrier between the children and us, the emotions that we all felt throughout the day were universal. I think that everyone in the group and most of the children shed a few tears as they walked us out to the bus. The experience today had a life changing impact on every single one of us and we have all thanked God to have such an amazing opportunity and to be thankful for the many blessings that we have.

For the second part of the day, we went to Cu Chi Tunnels. Cu Chi Tunnels is a series of tunnels that were used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam war. The tunnels are over 250KM, which is close to 120 miles.

After we returned back to the hotel, everyone in the group was exhausted. We relaxed for a few minutes before having dinner. During dinner we discussed plans for tomorrow. We will be leaving the hotel in the morning for the Autistic center. We are looking forward to tomorrow’s adventures, but are certainly anticipating another emotional day.

Holly S.

Last Reflection

This was our last day in India. We started our day by gathering to pray and offer words of appreciation for an amazing time together. The van was waiting to take us to Old Delhi, a section of the city that is mostly Muslim. It was a market day and we found crowds of people on the streets getting produce, carpets, shoes, and many other things. The crowded market streets took us to the entrance of the oldest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. This mosque had an open concept and it was impressive. The females from the group had to wear robes to cover ourselves in order to enter.

Later, we visited Mahatma Gandhi’s burial site. He was cremated there and some of his ashes remain on site. The grounds were clean, peaceful, and beautifully kept, and the colors of the flowers were very intense. It was a sharp contrast from the noise and the slums just outside of it. We also visited and took photos of the India Gate, a war memorial to 82,000 soldiers of the Indian Army who died in the First World War. The gate has been compared to the arch outside the Coliseum in Rome, the Arch of Triumph in Paris and the Gateway of India in Mumbai.

Before heading to our last sightseeing of the day, we said goodbye to Sarah Williams, Kahala Cannon and Ben Lyvers. Sarah and Kahala were going back to Christian Hospital Mungeli and Ben was heading back to the Evangelical Hospital Tilda, both in the state of Chhattisgarh. We were very sad to part our ways, but deeply appreciative of their time with us. We promised to keep them in our prayers for the remainder of their time in India.

Our last stop was the Qutb Minar, the tallest brick minaret in the world, and the impressive Lotus Temple. This temple, like all other Baha’í houses of worship is open to all, regardless of religion, or any other distinction. Soon after, we made a quick stop to do some last minute shopping and headed to our hotel to rest before our flight home at 3:30am!

I found myself with mixed feelings as I packed my suitcase and reflected on my experience in this magical place. On one hand, I am ready to go home to my family, but on the other hand, I am sad to leave behind all the beautiful people that we met along the way. You see, India is a country of extremes, of contrasts and contradictions. In many ways, India can be an assault on your senses, from the vibrant and intense colors, smells of spices, flowers and sewage, to the street noise and incessant honking. However, you cannot help but fall in love with its people. The people of India are extremely welcoming and hospitable. They do not know what personal space is! Honestly, they know how to make you right at home with their delicious food, coconut water, spellbinding music, and colorful traditions.

This was a hard pilgrimage in many ways as we encountered a lot of poverty, pain, and suffering. However, in our encounter with the people of the margins, the abused and oppressed, the Dalits, we experienced the most honest and pure joy, inspiring hope, and incredible resilience. We experienced God’s love and hospitality from the margins, a love that surrounded us as we shared a meal, danced and worshiped together.

Our partners in mission in India are doing very important and difficult work through initiatives and collectives of people trying to make a difference. We will be forever grateful for their hospitality and gifts, and for arranging opportunities for learning wherever we visited. It is up to us now, to tell these stories of hope in our own communities at home, and most importantly, to have the capacity to see our communities with a different lens.

Lorna H.

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Breathtaking Sights

Today was a day of travel and sight-seeing. We started at a hotel in Jaipur with breakfast, then we boarded a bus headed to Agra. The beauty of the Earth God created was phenomenal. We drove through wealth and poverty, this was another display of what is all too common throughout the world, especially in India.

After our four hour drive, we arrived in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. As we approached these incredible monuments, the excitement was building on the bus. So many dreams were about to come true! As we walked through the gates, everyone was taken aback by the breathtaking sight of the Taj Mahal. We took plenty of photos and learned some of the history. We crossed paths with Santosh George from Indian Samaritans, and founder of the We Teach, We Transform, and We Grow projects, that we learned about earlier in the week. He had brought 90 impoverished children to see this world wonder. It was rejuvenating to see their joy and appreciation, also to visit with them again.

Later, we went to the Agra Fort which was splendid. The tremendous beauty of these structures and the history that must have taken place in Agra is profound.

We then boarded the bus and headed back to Delhi. We all are trying to unwind from an educational, emotional, and inspiring two week trip. It has been a blessing in so many ways. We will carry our experiences with us and share them with others. We have all been graced with God’s presence of joy, sharing, and beauty today and every day of this journey together.

Sarah W.

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Toward the end of our trip we were really fortunate to be able to see some of the beautiful sights India has to offer. On February 12th, we traveled to the city of Jaipur also known as the “Pink City”. As the name suggests, Jaipur is a beautiful city filled with historical culture.

One of the monuments that stuck out most to me was the Amber Fort – built to its current magnificence by the Hindu King Raja Man Singh in 967 CE. And wow, was it magnificent! Built on top of a large hill, the fort overlooks Maota Lake. It is surrounded by 8km of walls that snake up and down the hill side, like its own mini Great Wall. To even get up into the palace, some members of our group took elephants up a narrow passage through the “Sun Gate”. A rather bumpy and uneasy ride, I did feel bad that this elephant had to carry me on its back up such a steep hill. I found some reassurance that I was the last ride of the day, as all elephants only make around 5 trips to avoid over working them.

Inside the palace, it was hard not to be mesmerized. Everywhere you looked there was a new stunning piece of architecture. One room was covered in glass paneled artwork so that it sparkled in the sunlight. Entrance ways were colored with ground up jewels in the paint for same effect. Stone carvings of elephants and flowers etched with great detail. Interestingly, the elephant was always on the top, the lotus flower on the bottom. Man Singh was Hindu, and the elephant is a great symbol in the Hindu religion. However, he was confronted by the great Muslim conqueror Akbar. When confronted, Man Singh was faced with a choice, surrender or die. Man Singh chose a third option. He befriended Akbar, married him to his sister, and became one of his most trusted generals. Akbar went so far as to even call the Raja “son”. But Man Singh never forgot his religion. So throughout the palace you will find elephants, a symbol of Hinduism at the top and the lotus flower, a Muslim symbol, at the bottom. That was just one example of the complicated, rich and ancient history of India. Just trying to understand how old this city and country is makes my head hurt!

We also had time to visit some of Jaipur’s biggest industries of rugs and fabric. Jaipur boasts of everything being handmade. All in all, it was an incredible city that I wish I had more time to explore. That night, as I was going to sleep, across the street from a palace built on a lake, I could hear loud drums and music filling the air. I assumed this happened every night, the city’s way of singing its visitors to sleep.

Ben L.

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