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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Mesmerized

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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“Caste and Christ Cannot Go Together”

One of the benefits of travel is learning the stories and the circumstances of people in other places. Today’s activities opened our eyes to horror stories in tragic circumstances.

In previous days we learned that the caste system, which has its origin in the Hindu religion, is active and strong in India. We learned that the lower caste people, long referred to as untouchable, choose to be called Dalit. It translates to ‘broken people’. We also learned that the reality of Dalit life often results in broken dreams and no hope for a better life.

Such broken dreams played out in national news on January 17, less than two weeks before our arrival. A PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide after experiencing what he perceived as Dalit discrimination since the previous July. More sadly, his is not an isolated case. Among other effects, the caste system determines what kind of work one will do. In one real-life story, a woman was a sanitation worker. She died, and her son, who holds a master’s degree, was offered her job. He asked about a better job and was told that his caste dictated that he should do the same work as his late mother, regardless of his high education level. So what, you ask? Let’s dispense with the euphemism “sanitation worker” and the related term, “manual scavenging”. The work this man’s mother performed, and which he was expected to perform because of his caste, was to collect and dispose of human waste by hand from homes and city sewage systems!

To gain further insight into the caste system in India today, I urge you to take 11 minutes to watch a YouTube video, “I’m Dalit How Are You”. Click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBxy1R0jitM or search for the title on YouTube.com.

The information we learned today came from our visit to the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion (CSEI), where we met with Annie Namala, the Executive Director. We also met there with N. Paul Divakar, Chair of the Asia Dalit Rights Forum. Part of the work of the Asia Dalit Rights Forum is watchdog activity to see that funds budgeted to help the Dalit people are spent for the intended purposes.

The weekly news magazine India Today for February 16 included an article, “The Dalits: Still Untouchable”, that coincidentally reinforced the information and stories we learned at CSEI. Statistics include the following: every day, 2 Dalits are murdered, 3 Dalit women are raped, and 2 Dalit houses are destroyed. Dalits are denied entry to police stations in 28% of villages, and Dalit children are required to eat separately in 39% of government schools. They are denied access to water sources in 48% of Indian villages.

CSEI works for justice and equity for Dalits, Muslims, and tribal people, all of whom are discriminated against in Indian society. They also address patriarchy, which operates at all levels of society, and makes the situation of women even more difficult than described above. About 200 million people are affected by the caste system, out of a national population of 1.3 billion, or about 15% of the population.

One might point out that the India Constitution, adopted shortly after the nation’s 1947 independence from England, outlaws discrimination against untouchables. That’s true, but those provisions are not enforced. The effectiveness of those laws might be compared to the effectiveness of anti-discrimination laws in U.S. communities in the 50’s and 60’s where the law enforcement officials were active members of the local Ku Klux Klan. Government officials are usually higher caste people, and there are many reports of police taking part in the violence against Dalits listed in the news article. The human suffering is systemic – a deep, deep stain in the fabric of the culture.

In the afternoon we visited a local slum built on occupied government land. We met with children in a program that supplements their education and promotes their self-esteem and formation of dreams. Some high school students stopped by also. One of them had won a singing competition, and another was well along the way to becoming a teacher. Seeing the attitudes, behavior, and achievement of all the students – hopes and dreams revived – was a breath of fresh air, and a testament to the strength of human character in such surroundings. It is also a tribute to the leadership work being done by CSEI.

A puzzling reality of the slum is that the government doesn’t acknowledge the right of the people to live on the government land, and it provides no services for sanitation, public health or safety, or anything else. However, they send a tanker truck of potable water every several days. Outside the homes (hovels) in the community, 5-gallon jerry can style containers could be seen chained up, ready to take to the entry of the community when the next water truck arrives.

The best summary of a Christian’s perspective on the sobering information we learned today came from Rev. Deenabandhu Manchala, our Global Ministries Executive for South Asia, who said, “Caste and Christ cannot go together.”

The agencies we visited today are related in part to the Church of North India. Your individual donations to Global Ministries, and your congregation’s gifts to Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM) in the UCC, and to Disciples Mission Fund in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), help support the fight against the injustices of the caste system in India.

Dave C.

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Compassionate Work

February 10 was our first day in New Delhi, which was a stark change from both Chennai and rural Mungeli. Much of what we saw of the city is wealthy and modern. However, we also saw the increasing reality of urban poverty in India in the people living in some median strips and in a huge slum (home to more than 11,000 families, we were told) that almost defies description – hovels and squalor that no person should have to endure. It is among Dalit children from this area that the Indian Samaritans organization we visited does very important and compassionate work, providing after school care that reinforces and expands on school lessons.

We sat in some of the classrooms, and while the language was foreign to us, the children’s smiles were not. The Samaritans, led by Rev. Santosh George, also provide training and employment opportunities for young women, especially in sewing. Two of us had sari tops made by the young women from fabric we had purchased elsewhere. We also visited a Samaritans’ education program in the slum itself and enjoyed talking and singing with the kids. We taught the younger ones “Itsy Bitsy Spider”!

In the evening, we met with the General Secretary of the Church of North India, Alwan Masih, who taught us about the persecution Christians face there, including mob violence resulting in many deaths and great property destruction. He said there is a rally March 10, 2016 about this issue, and I assured him we would be praying for CNI that day. Afterward, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner hosted by Mr. Masih and continued our conversation about many things. It was another long and full but very satisfying day on our pilgrimage.

Rebecca D.

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A Day Full of Blessings

Our last day at Christian Hospital Mungeli started off beautifully with 7:30 am chapel service. Sweet melodies of songs, combined with tambourine and drums, filled the air as we clapped to the beat in unison. Two first year nursing students led the entire chapel service, which also included responsive reading from Psalm 119:41-48 and scripture reading from John 14:25-31. Phyllis was asked to give an impromptu message in which she so graciously obliged. At the conclusion of service, Mr. Mohammed Latif, a representative from USAID, graced us with flowing words of appreciation for the work that is being done at the hospital and the work that the Lord is doing in India and at mission hospital like CHM.

Following chapel, we all gathered together at the location where construction will soon begin for the Ground Breaking ceremony of the new hospital block. It was a joy to have an opportunity to be a part of this special event which was made possible through the international support given by USAID. After Mr. Latif’s moving remarks, Kahala offered a prayer for the new construction. Our spirits were high as we then walked over to the Springer Ward for the Ribbon cutting ceremony of the newly renovated staff quarters. Lorna offered words of blessings and a prayer of thanksgiving before cutting the ribbon of the lower floor of the building. Then, Dave was given the honor of cutting the ribbon for the upper level.  The ceremony ended with a song of Thanksgiving and sharing of snacks among friends.

We then had the opportunity to join in the distribution of the Personal Energy Transportation (PET) carts. The hospital distributed about 20 PET carts to those who do not have the use of their lower extremities due to various disabilities or injuries. The recipients were very grateful and beamed with joy as they received their carts and rolled away.  These carts will allow all of the recipients to enjoy a new life of independence that they did not have before.

After experiencing a day full of blessings, it was finally time for us to leave CHM. We loaded up the ambulance for a road “adventure” from Mungeli to Raipur.  The special memories that we shared as a group will truly remain with us for a lifetime.  We continued to reminisce about our day at CHM during our journey to Delhi.  Here in Delhi, we will begin another phase of our pilgrimage in the morning.

Kahala C.

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Early Start

We a had a very early start to an incredible day as Sarah, Dave and I Todd the 6:00am school bus for nearly 2 hours. We drove through villages and countryside, gathering 105 students for the Rambo School. Before long, there were 5 kids joining me in one seat! Each child boarding the bus was sparkling clean, and I marveled as I saw the houses they emerged from. It was chilly this morning and we passed a field where several families were homeless – just pieces of plastic or cloth, sitting around a small fire in the open for warmth and cooking.

Arriving at Rambo School we joined the 920 students and their teachers for opening ceremonies. One young boy stood out as he was the only one not wearing a school uniform. We learned it was his birthday. Later in the morning, everyone gathered for a celebration and inauguration of the new water treatment/filter and drinking fountains for the Rambo School – a gift made possible by the Brady Endowment Fund of Saguaro Christian Church in Tucson, AZ. After the ribbon cutting, Niraj, the birthday boy, was selected to take the first drink.

We had time later to go on our own to areas of special interest. I was able to spend an hour in a classroom with Anil’s mother, Nancy, and 15 first year nursing students as she taught English class. She is delightful and a story all her own. She want to India as a missionary nurse when she was young, met and married Dr. Henry, and together they served the rest of their lives in India. Dr. Henry passed away this December, and she continues to serve as an important part of the Christian Hospital Mungeli.

Dave and Rebecca enjoyed their opportunity to teach in a 5th grade classroom, and I spent more time with the nursing students, hospital wards, and baby time in the nursery. Lorna, Dave and Rebecca also joined a group of students putting together PET carts that had been donated, shipped and will be distributed tomorrow. We ended our day with a large gathering at Anil and Teresa’s house for dinner and celebration.

Phyllis H.

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