2019 India Team Blog
Our first trip into India went better than we could have imagined. Faith Journeys has a new partner with Rahab's Rope and we joined one of their Christmas teams to gain a better perspective of where they go and whom they serve.
Dec 27-28 | Travel Days
I met two of my team members for the first time in the airport. Elisabeth is from Iowa and Sarah is from Clarkesville, right around the corner from me. They are both in their 20's and this is their first International trip. They are both good-natured and fun to travel with; we had a short flight to New York followed by a 15 hour flight into Mumbai. I won't lie; that long flight was not nice to my knees, but other than that it was smooth sailing. We arrived in the evening at Mumbai and had another short flight into Goa. When we exited the airport, Vicki, our team leader (and founder of Rahab's Rope) was there to greet us and take us by taxi to the guest house where we will be staying. We are rooming two by two. The beds are comfortable, there is running hot water, and A/C. Frankly, compared to what I'm used to for serving trips, this is the lap of luxury.
Dec 29 | Day 1
We were able to sleep in today, which was good. There is a 10.5 hour time difference that will take time to get used to. I met our other two team members who are mutual friends from Texas. Heather and Sandy work together and are great friends. This is Heather's 4th time to India and has been a long-term supporter of Rahab's Rope. She's never been to Goa and wanted to see more of the prevention side. Sandy has never been on a serving trip but travels a great deal for work and accepted Heather's invitation to see what Rahab's Rope is doing in India. Both ladies are engineers. They are practical, no nonsense, and kind. We have a great team.
Vicki walked us through orientation of what to expect in-country and some of the do's and don't. Mainly, we received a history lesson of how Rahab's Rope was founded, the areas where they work, and some of the stories of hope they've been a part of over the years. Rahab's Rope started in 2004, with the intention of giving women an alternative option to the work they have found themselves in. The rope Rahab made was a tool she used to save herself and her family from destruction. Similarly, these women are being given a tool by learning different trades from Rahab's Rope. Ladies in their care are able to learn how to make jewelry and sew. They are taught life skills like budgeting and nutrition and they are growing in self-confidence. It's so beautiful to see.
In addition, Rahab's Rope focuses on education for children. Girls especially are at a deficit because the typical belief is that women are meant to serve in the home only. Most families only invest in the son's education and a good education is not free. The majority of children who are enrolled in school have dropped out by 2nd grade. Rahab's Rope partners in multiple slum areas across the country in the hopes of changing the future for many of these children. And they are succeeding.
After orientation, we met up with S* and R*, a couple who leads programs in one of the local slums. S* grew up in that same slum and has a huge heart to bring hope and Jesus into that area. R* has a heart for children and teens and leads several after school programs there. Our guest house is near the beach and we hosted S* and R* at a nearby restaurant. This is not what I expected India to look like at all. Goa is considered a top tourist destination and many Indians vacation here. It's quite beautiful.
Dec 30 | Day 2
It was quite a busy day today. We rode the bus into town and visited the house where many of the ladies make product for Rahab's Rope. Syl* and L* live downstairs and product is made upstairs. We met several of the women, who are all sweet and unassuming. Thankfully, none of these women have worked in the red light district and, because of the skills they've learned here, they are able to provide for themselves and their families. Here, they are also taught life skills. L* is very much an Auntie to them and it touched me to see them fellowship with one another as they worked side by side. Sarah (from our team) is very crafty and taught them a new product to make; angels made from corn husks. They are quite intricate but these women pick up quick. I'm looking forward to seeing these sold in the store soon. These women have learned to make bags, sew outfits and make jewelry.
After our visit with the women, we took the bus to visit S* and R*. The slum where they work is one of the largest in Goa. The smell as we walked up was unforgettable but the smiles of all the children greeting us made any smell more than bearable. Rahab's Rope erected a recreation center here and this is where they work with the children. We met about 30 children who participate in their after care program. Sandy and Elisabeth led the kids in a fun line dance, which they loved. Here in India, boys and girls equally love to dance and we could see so much personality shine through as they showed off their skills. Afterwards, they "tried" teaching us a dance as well but we did much more laughing than dancing. I fell in love with these kids so quickly. They do well with what they have and the kids are dressed neatly. All the girls have their hair decorated in some way with clips or braids and some of them have a nose piercing.
S* took us on house visits to pray for families and I loved that experience too. His heart for this community is so evident and they love and respect him here. He brings Jesus into most conversations and is bold in his faith. I have great admiration for this man.
Dec 31 | Day 3
We left early this morning to visit a different part of town. We met M* who works in this area to disciple women. They have 12 women learning how to sew and learning about Jesus. It's a dangerous thing to teach about Jesus in India but M* and her husband H* are very upfront with their intentions in this community. Rumors can easily spread that Christians are somehow bribing others with promises or treats in exchange for becoming Believers so it's important to be very clear about your motives from the beginning. M* is an encourager by nature and a prayer warrior. I loved seeing her faith for what God can do and to watch her encourage the others working beside her. Sh* is a volunteer who loves the Lord and has been a great help here. She was my translator as I taught on nutrition and allergy prevention.
As you can see from the picture, the women were very enthusiastic. We had about 40 women crammed into a tiny 10x10 space and we loved every minute of it. By the way, I know nothing about nutrition. I was asked ahead of time if I would teach on it so I reached out to some friends and did research online. I also found a fun nutrition game for ages 4+ that I brought with me. So often, people are hesitant to sign up for a serving trip because they don't know what "skills" they bring to the table but I'm a living example that it's far more about your willingness than it is about your skill set. I ended up teaching on nutrition 4 different times on this trip. Believe me. You are able to do far more than you think.
After our class, we went out to the Spice Plantation which is a popular attraction here. We toured 2 acres of land filled with medicinal plants and our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the various properties of these things. Sarah was especially excited as horticulture is her job back home. After the tour, were were invited to pay for an elephant ride. Most of us declined but Sarah rode and enjoyed it. We headed home for dinner and Sarah and I spent an hour or so cutting strips of fabric for the Angel craft. By 10 pm, we were exhausted and any plans we had for going out on the beach for New Years Eve were quickly shut down. Happy New Years 10 hours early!
Jan 1 | Day 4
This morning, we went back out to M's* and H's* where the kids showed us a dance about Goliath and then Elisabeth shared the story of Esther. The kids sat quietly and politely and then we gave out small gifts to all the children who attended. Heather swears she is not a kid person but everywhere we go, a child gravitates to her lap. It's quite cute.
After our morning session, we headed back to L's* (that's us stuffed in the car). Her team offers an after school tutoring program there and we had the special honor of taking these kids to the beach via a hired bus. Some of the moms came along and we planned for a picnic on the beach. These moms know how to picnic! At lunch time, the kids had rice and chicken with some lentils and other veggies. I loved seeing the community around us. The women were chatty with each other and each one loved on and cared for the others' children. The loving nature between parents and children here is really beautiful to watch. I've witnessed it on the bus, on the beach, and everywhere in between. I will admit that being on the beach fully clothed was challenging for me. Even in winter, it's well into the 90's here in Goa and I was getting overheated. When the boys were ready to jump in the ocean, they stripped down and jumped in...but the girls remained fully clothed. I struggle with the inequality of it but to them it's very normal. I would venture to say most girls here would be quite uncomfortable if they were told to wear bathing suits. It just isn't the cultural norm and I respect that. All the kids were sweet and smiled a lot. I shook at least 50 little hands who wanted to wish me a "Happy New Year" in English.
Jan 2 | Day 5
We're at the halfway mark and I have hit a wall. I didn't sleep well and woke up grumpy. These aren't things I shared with my fellow team mates but something I shared with Jesus. Thoughts of "why am I here?" and overall grumbling internally filled my morning. So I prayed. I prayed A LOT. Because one of the things I'm constantly wanting to work on is my ability to surrender all things to him. This morning, we went back to L's* so that Sarah could walk the rest of the women through how to make the angels out of corn husks. She's so talented at this and several from the team helped as well but I was feeling overwhelmed. There were about 20 women stuffed in this room with glue guns going and my anxiety was high. So I started humming. Jesus Loves Me,This I Know. It is Well with My Soul. Open the Eyes of My Heart. About 10 minutes into it, several members of my team thanked me for doing that. They said it brought peace into the chaos. I was humming to sooth myself and God used it to help others. Even in the midst of my grumpy, God used me. During one of the breaks, one of the women did henna art on my arm and I loved that. These ladies are talented.
After lunch I had a deep conversation with Heather and Syl*. He asked about our families and was quite interested to know our stories from divorce. Divorce is becoming more common in India but it is a foreign concept to Syl* and he was seeking to understand. Heather and I both could have chosen to give surface answers but we chose to be brave instead. We spoke about faith, disappointment, forgiveness, and Christ. it was a beautiful time of honesty and inquiry. I shared about my current husband and how we do marriage differently with Christ at the center. I'm convinced God was very much orchestrating that conversation because I found out later that Syl* is still exploring his faith and what that means. God used my testimony as a witness of his goodness and I didn't even know it.
Jan 3 | Day 6
Today was a good day. I slept well and I woke up in gratitude. We went back to L's* today and I taught on nutrition again. I spent time talking about how our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit and that when we are taking care of ourselves, we are making a sacrifice to God. This was significant as several of the women aren't Believers and do not have an understanding of scripture. I pray the seed planted takes root in good soil. I taught the basics on nutrition and gave out prizes at the end. I thought the women were really receptive and the game was a hit. Afterwards, Sarah taught one of the teachers here how to make an angel ornament out the the same corn husk. I would definitely buy these. They are so cute.
In the afternoon, we headed back to the first slum we visited with S* & R*. Heather led an inspiring class on self-confidence using glass beads. The teen girls were able to make a life bead bracelet while thinking through their past, present, and future and our team made some too. Some of these girls have already had to overcome great adversity and trauma. The fact that many of them have dreams for their future is a testimony to the work God is doing in this place. Girls in India are often told they are a burden on their family. Girls cost the family money because they will owe a dowry to her future husband's family. But today it's no longer true that someone born in the slum is destined to live there forever. Today, it's no longer true that girls are only good for cooking and cleaning. And these girls are starting to believe that.
Jan 4 | Day 7
Today was a sightseeing day. We went into "Old Goa" where Goa was initially founded. There is a strong Catholic influence here with 8 churches within a square mile. The buildings and architecture were beautiful. S* and R* brought their young son and spent the day with us. As I watched them lovingly care for their boy and buy him mentos "just because", I was struck with how drastically different their sons' life is from the life that his father has had. This little boy is already living his best life and I think it's safe to say that the cycle of poverty has been broken for this family. Praise God.
Jan 5 | Day 8
Today is Sunday and we started the day off with a late breakfast at a restaurant on the beach. Vicki led us through a devotional on the story of Rebekah. It was a sweet time of gratitude for us all and sharing what has struck us most about being here. There is a lot of peace as we sit on the beach and it is a good respite after a long week of serving. Abut 3:45pm we started our journey into town via bus to attend church. The bus is an interesting experience but not scary. There are women only benches and the scariest part is getting on and finding a seat before they take off at high speed. I quickly learned to not be the last person on if I can help it. We arrived into town and found the church. It is in a rented space within a hotel and we squeezed about 60 people in a room meant for maybe 30. Thankfully, the sun was going down so it wasn't too hot in there. There was worship, a scripture reading, more worship, a message, more worship, communion, and more worship. They translated the message for us from Hindi into English which I greatly appreciated. What struck me most was how engaged the children were. They sat on the hard floor and were quiet and attentive throughout the service. This picture is of one of two hallways where shoes are removed before entering the church. Taking our shoes off is common when entering most places and the majority of people wear sandals.
Jan 6 | Day 7
This morning we visited H's* preschool. It is a a Christian preschool but they have no problem getting students. H* tells us that Christian schools in India are known to give the best education so parents prefer these schools over others (even if they are not Christian). They begin every day with a Bible study and I was asked last night if I would lead it for one of the classes. Again, I have never led a Bible study for 3-5 year olds in my life, but God rarely asks about our experience. He asks if we're willing. I did some research the night before and found an age appropriate teaching on the story of Rahab. The kids were engaged and my translator was so sweet. She was sad to see us go and so was I. I really enjoyed our short time in this place with these precious littles.
After leaving the preschool, we went back to L's* to say goodbye to her and Syl* and the women there. One of the teachers surprised us with our own little corn husk angel ornament and we were so touched. I'm naming mine after her. This young lady is smart and joyful. She isn't yet married and doesn't feel she needs to be. Rahab's Rope has helped her become confident and independent and now she is in a position to help other women in her community be the same. I teared up leaving this place that offers so much hope. Tonight Elisabeth and Sarah head home and the rest of us head to Mumbai.
Jan 7 | Day 8
We arrived in Mumbai late last night to quite the culture shock. It is a city that never sleeps and packed full of people. 4 of us loaded into 2 taxis and I was introduced to true Indian traffic. Vicki calls it "make a lane" because each car literally makes their own path. I liken it to joining a stampede of cattle; it's truly a miracle accidents don't happen more than they do. I call Mumbai version 2.0 because I think most first time travelers would have a panic attack just getting out of the airport. The air quality is very poor due to the smog and your ears become dull to the noise of constantly honking cars. This morning, we took rickshaw's to our first destination. A rickshaw is a 3 wheeled motorcycle fitted with a bench and it operates as an open air taxi. There are no seat belts but if you're up for the adventure, it's quite a fun ride. We stopped near a red light district and walked in as a group. It was mid-day so there weren't an customers that I could see. We went to a small building rented by our partners, and it is here that the local women can come for prayer, life skills, and an opportunity to earn a small income making bracelets. Today, again, Heather taught on self confidence using the life bracelets. There were about 8 women who joined us and it warmed my heart to hear their laughter and fellowship. Each day, these women service 60-70 men all for less than $2 each. Most of them were brought into this business as unwilling young girls and now believe there is no way out. This building represents hope and peace to them and I'm so grateful for the brave people who run it each day. By doing so, they most definitely put their lives in danger but their response is always that it is God making a difference through them. Their humility is inspiring. In this space, we also met a long term volunteer. She is 77 years young and has been traveling to India for 11 years. This woman is a firecracker and has such a beautiful heart for the women and children in this place. One of the staff members based in India calls her their spiritual mentor and named their first son after her. I'm telling you, if you believe you're too old to make a difference, you are deceived. God can use you at every stage of your life. You're job is simply to discern how.
As Heather was teaching her lesson, I got to hold a 3 week old baby girl. She was born to one of the women here and her father is one of the many customers her mom serviced. You should see how her mama dotes on her. This is her 2nd daughter and there is no limit to how she loves them. Unfortunately, if the mom stays in this area, the chances of her daughters being forced into the same line of work is pretty great. As I held this baby, I prayed and prayed and prayed. May her life look different than my fears. Many women have been rescued out of this area. It is dangerous and scary but it is possible. Please join me in prayer for this mama and her girls. Join me in prayers of protection for the women who keep this center open. They are being a lamp set on a hill in the middle of great darkness.
Jan 8 | Day 9
Today , we took the train out to one of the garbage slums. The train experience is everything you see in the movies. They are packed to the brim and the doors never close. People hang out the doorways and about 2 people a month die because they are hanging out the door and don't see a pole along the way. Riding the train is an easy experience though. There are women only cars so you don't worry about being harassed during the journey. We arrived at the slum, after a 30 minute journey. Rahab's Rope has started a preschool program here to help prepare kids to enter regular school. They've also started a women's class for moms who want to learn how to sew and learn English. Their main motivation is so that they can help their children with homework. About 8 children joined us for the morning class and I played the nutrition game with them. I bought that game on a whim and we've gotten such good use out of it. The kids stayed with us for about an hour and then they were dismissed so we could begin the women's class. 3 new moms came in today so some of the women who had already been coming were able to help the new ladies. This is discipleship. It was cool to watch. We sat around as they asked us questions in English just to practice their conversation skills.
After English practice, I did a nutrition class for them with the help of a translator. The women were all very attentive and thanked me afterwards for the information. I taught on a balanced diet and the food pyramid, (things we learn in grade school), but for these women it was the first time they had heard this information. It is limitless how many things we take for granted in the States. Among them is the basic education we all receive. It's a privilege. E* was my translator and she is a young girl who grew up in this area as the daughter of a pastor. She went to college to be a teacher and is now helping in this classroom. What a beautiful way to give back and to be a living testimony of what is possible. E* took a liking to me and we had great conversation about faith and relationships. Her mom had a stroke several years ago and E* is her primary caretaker. She is grateful for this job as a way of getting out of the house and having another purpose. She asks for prayers for her and for her mom.
After class, one of the long-term volunteers invited 3 of the older children to lunch at McDonald's. It's a 10 minute walk from this area but an unattainable experience for most of these kids. They were ecstatic. In India, it is illegal to eat cow so the "All American Cheeseburger" was actually made out of chicken. These kids loved every minute as did I. They were so joyful and polite. As they were ordering, they let the man know that the 77 year old volunteer is their grandmother. Precious.
We headed back on the train and I had a great conversation with another long-term volunteer. We spoke about our identity in Christ and the importance of knowing our own value. I felt like the conversation really encouraged her and it definitely encouraged me. She is 30 years old and convinced she wants to live in India for the rest of her life. What a beautiful calling. She has a great attitude and a beautiful presence.
Jan 9 | Day 10
Today was a sightseeing day before we head home tonight. We took a train downtown and arrived in Victoria Station. We then took a taxi to see the Gateway and then walked to the Taj Majal Hotel across the street. Afterwards, Heather, Sandy, and I took a taxi tour where we saw the 2nd largest laundry mat in Mumbai. It is outdoors and several stories tall. Men are in their underwear scrubbing clothes in buckets and along stone walls. Apparently, even the posh hotels send their laundry here. Although I found it fascinating, I didn't like being here. It's not meant to be a tourist attraction and I felt like an intruder while these men worked so hard. We visited a few other sites, but my favorite was the Ghandi museum. It was a former home of his and did a great job of telling his story. Such an amazing man; one who loved his wife, His God, and his people. There were quite a few letters of his on the walls but the letter to Hitler impressed me most. And this last picture is of us with our taxi tour guide.
I went on this journey to India out of strict obedience. I was afraid I would not like the food and I was worried I would not connect with the people. There was fear in me that I have forgotten how to follow well and that I would struggle with that. And you know what God taught me? Food in India is fantastic. There are so many options way beyond curry. He taught me that the people in this country are gracious, loving, and beautiful in spirit. He helped me see beyond the poverty and the traffic and the smog and into the absolute beauty that exists within the people. And God showed me that I am as humble as I choose to be. I believe I followed well on this journey (you'd have to ask my leader to be sure) and it helped that I had a great leader in Vicki. Sometimes, I'm looking so hard on ways to improve that I miss the "that-a-girl" God is trying to give me. I think, in part, this trip was to show me I'm doing alright by Him and this ministry he has given us. My heart has grown bigger on this trip and I am indeed in love with India. God is always on a mission to surprise us and I am grateful for this life journey he has us on.
Thank you for all your prayers. I felt them. They mattered. Be praying for the people I've shared with you. Those serving in some way and those being served. God is doing a mighty thing in India.