I am writing to share with you about our recent trip to India. First, let me say that this trip was indeed a blessing and God’s purpose in sending us on this mission was confirmed to us in the response of the people we were able minister to in our travels. Your prayer and financial support made this ministry possible and for that we are grateful!
Travel to India was long but included a stopover in London both on the way there and back. This little overnight break helped to make the trip less grueling and we are glad our itinerary allowed for the rest! On this trip we were also more immersed in the culture than on some of my previous travels. We fared well, although there was some adjustment for me and my traveling companions, Steve Wilent and my son, Liam. Food proved to be a challenge as pretty much all Indian food is spicy and my system doesn’t do so well with that! We found that the word “mild” is relative and all of us have our “too hot to eat” stories. We also experienced eating without the normal fork and spoon we are accustomed to! So the phrase “dig in” when it comes to eating has a new meaning for us-as does the phrase “finger-licking-good!”
The first half of our stay was in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras). Here we stayed in guest rooms at the Inter Church Service Center. Pretty much dorm style rooms with hard mattresses (I could not get my sleep number dialed in!) and lukewarm showers the norm. It is summer here and temperatures are in the 90’s and quite humid. Thankfully our rooms are air-conditioned!
We have a free day before our first workshop begins. We are able to sightsee a bit. Chennai is the city where the apostle Thomas was martyred and we are able to see the shrines and churches that commemorate his life and death. We also visit Marina Beach, the second longest beach in the world and one of the places that was hit by last year’s tsunami.
We are hosted by Dr. C.D Jebasingh and his associate, Abraham Anand. They are part of a ministry called Galilean International Films and Television Services (www.giftsministries.org). Their mission is to spread the gospel through visual media and they have invited us to India because of their vision to see the dramatic arts used for evangelism and ministry throughout India.
On Monday we begin our three-day workshop with a group of about 30 leaders from a wide variety of churches and organizations. The meeting room is not air-conditioned and over the course of the next three days we find the heat stifling but we are able to manage (we consumed copious amounts of bottled water). Our students are eager learners and we were amazed at how they clung to our every word. The vision for visual communication in spreading the Gospel is readily accepted. We were concerned about them understanding us but that fear was laid to rest. However, the ability to speak English on the part of our students varied widely-leaving us to say “would you repeat the question?” more often than we wanted. Liam opened each day leading worship on guitar and Steve shared a devotion to start the morning. Both Steve and I shared the teaching time throughout each day.
At the end of three days we were honored and humbled by the words of encouragement in a closing ceremony where we handed out certificates to the participants and they honored us with a garland of sandalwood and gifts. They made it very clear that this training is much appreciated and waste no time in inviting us back in the future!
On Thursday we travel to Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In Mumbai we are put up in a hotel-nice but not the Ritz. We do have slightly softer mattresses and this time hot showers! The restaurant in the hotel also offers some western fare, so we get a break from the hot and spicy food!
Friday is a full day. We conduct a one-day workshop for about 30 people and again are impressed with their eager attitudes to learn and utilize the training. On Friday PM we have our only performance of the trip. This is the only part where we are a bit disappointed in the numbers. Our audience is about 30 people and we had been expecting over 150 people. Dr. Jebasingh confided that a key employee that was responsible for much of our arrangements here, resigned just a couple weeks before our arrival and the ball got dropped on some of the details. Still we give it our all and the audience loves the performance. I am particularly proud of Liam, as he sings a closing song and truly sells it like an artist beyond his years and experience. In fact he has been quite the trouper this whole trip. Where other teens might have grumbled about the lack of creature comforts or succumbed to homesickness, Liam has had a wonderful attitude and demeanor the whole trip.
On Saturday we are privileged to visit some of the work that World Vision is doing in India. As you may recall, our ministry is in partnership with World Vision and when I travel outside the USA I like to visit and learn more about their work and also encourage the workers who are doing so much to help the poor. In Mumbai we visit projects that are working against the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus that is devastating so many third world countries. We hear the stories of women who are living with the disease. The cycle is so sad. While women are expected to remain faithful in marriage, it is expected and accepted in this culture that men will have extra-marital affairs. Also, the concept of family is quite different. Where we would encourage our adult children to move out and establish themselves on their own, here the adult males will marry and move in with their parents to be a support to them in their old age.
So the man has multiple partners, acquires the HIV/AIDS virus, passes it on to his wife, who then may infect her child. As the disease progresses the husband may die, the wife is often blamed for infecting him and then booted out of the home by the rest of the family, along with her children. She becomes an outcast and a pariah to her family and community. The really sad part is that the truly innocent victims in this scenario are the children. World Vision is working to educate men, women and children to end this cycle. We visit a Drop-In Center where women can get support and encouragement. We visit a classroom where women are being taught to sew in order to get work to support themselves and their children.
A special treat for Steve and me is to visit a group of youth that perform street theater on HIV/AIDS. How affirming it is to see that the arts, especially drama, is a front line tool in fighting the war on this disease. Through drama young people are being presented with truth and challenged to be responsible in their lifestyle! Awesome!
Sunday is our last full day in India. We attend a three-hour church service and all the sudden appreciate the shorter services that we are accustomed to back home. Some last minute shopping is required to complete our time. We return to London and then to Oregon. Home sweet home where Lorie awaits her husband and her youngest child. Steve is also anxious to connect with his loved ones.
It will be about a week before our internal clocks reset themselves-but we know that the time spent in India was worth it. Our lives are better for seeing and experiencing this country. Most importantly we feel the ministry was well worth the time, expense and energy it required to get us there.
This is only a short synopsis of our experience, but I want you to know that your prayers and support were not in vain. We are so grateful to be sent by you to do this work. We continue to pray that the seeds we have sown will bear much fruit in the lives of the people of India! Thank you for being a part of that!
Until the next time!
P.S: If you would like to sponsor a child through World Vision we would be most happy to help you get started! You can change a life for as little at $30 a month. Click on the World Vision link below to select a child and transform a life!
Posted by Chuck Neighbors