Saturday, May 18, 2013
I've been staring at a blank screen for a good 20 minutes because I'm not really sure where to start or how to sum up this past week at Poonthandalam Mission Center. I haven't had the time to process and come up with a really super profound statement, so forgive me if I sort of process this through the blog. A Writing 101 class will tell you that's a really bad idea, but I never took Writing 101, so admittedly, I don't know what they will tell you in that class. I can only assume that's what they would say because it makes sense. Who cares what Writing 101 would say. Let's process.
Let's start with last night, actually, to give you an idea of the mindset of the team. As I mentioned last night, due to the travel arrangements and needs in preparation for next week, we had to take all of the luggage to David's condo last night. David gave the offer that, because a trip was being made to the condo, if any team member wanted, they could go back to the condo to sleep in the air conditioning. After 5 nights in no air conditioning, you can imagine how many of the members jumped at that awesome offer.
Not one of us.
When given the choice between going back to a nice, cool condo or sleeping in the open-air, A/C'less facility surrounded by bugs, every single team member opted to stay at the Mission Center. Even the ones who went back to the condo to haul the luggage preferred to return around midnight instead of leaving the condo the next morning. This is the best picture I can give as to where our heart is right now. We feel such a connection to the people, such presence of the Holy Spirit and such a deep love for what God is doing there that we just don't want to be away...even when greater comfort is offered. That's because the greatest comfort we have is knowing that we are in the presence of God and His Holy Spirit is moving. Make no mistake, our bodies are screaming for rest and we soak up any A/C that we can get. However, compared to the greatness of being with God's people and being a part of His work...all of the comfort stuff takes a backseat. So, that was where our heart and minds were last night.
And that made today even tougher. I think we all knew, as we looked into each other's eyes and shared our desire to stay, that we were thinking the same thing: this is possibly the last time we'll see these beautiful people this side of Heaven. The fact that we WILL see them on THAT side of Heaven is such a blessing – and if that's the first time you meet the people of Poonthandalam, that'll be such a cool meeting.
I want to take a second and clarify something that is pretty critical. In these blogs or anytime I speak about Indian people, I tend to refer to them as “beautiful”. I want to be clear: while these people are physically striking and beautiful, their beauty goes so much deeper. They are gentle in spirit. The are humble. They are the greatest servants I have ever seen. A 15 year old boy, Bubalan, would LITERALLY fight us over our suitcases. Almost half of the bags that the team brought were overweight – yet once we reached India, we never carried them again. And that's not because we're lazy and don't want to. We weren't allowed. When we tried to pour water into our water bottles, Bubalan or Moses or Desilva or David would run over to us, shake their head furiously and insist that they take care of us. They would not even allow us to do the simplest of tasks because they found such joy and pleasure in serving others. The list of ways in which we were served by these beautiful people would fill up weeks of blogs and I have so much more to brag on them about. They love Jesus with an uncommon love. They devote themselves to prayer and worship. They are genuine and kind. One time, one of our young ladies saw a group of girls pointing and smiling – even giggling – at her. Back home, this isn't a compliment. We found out that the group of girls were commenting on how pretty the American women were.
But more than anything, they are content. Listen, if we know each other personally, please don't be offended by this because I clearly am one of the “culprits” as well – but I don't know very many content people in the way the Indian people are content. We have so much and can always find something we don't have. Here, they have very little and they never complain about anything. They have a peace and a quality of life that is not dependent upon stuff or things or status or pleasure of fulfillment. Their fulfillment is Christ and they pour out their worship to Him passionately. We told David that we wanted to do something special – a gift or something – for Bubalan and Sam and all of the other people who diligently served us. I asked David what we should do and he suggested that the best thing that would help them and be most appreciated is a small sum of money: the equivalent of $10. I asked David to give it to them for us because we don't want them to look at the “white men” as throwing money at them or perpetuating an attitude of dependency on it. After the gift was given, the young men (and one of their fathers) came up to me on the volleyball field, interrupted the game to shake my hand, give me a hug and thank me. This killed me and it still kills me right now. Here we spend the entire week being served by people in every single way – EVERY way – and the cost of a medium pizza in America prompts them to pour out their profuse thanks. It felt so wrong because there's so much you want to do to express your appreciation and respect for who they are and who Christ is to them, and yet, they act indebted to us. So often I think, “I just want to pack you up and bring you to America” - but when I think about it, I really, really don't want that. God forbid their purity and humility, their joy and fervent contentment in Christ be challenged by our everyday lives. Instead, we just want to bring you all here and see what life is like when you have Christ and nothing else. Again, the comforts you “need” start to look very small next to the comfort of walking in close relationship with Christ.
So when I say, “beautiful people”, this is what I mean. They are some of the best people I've ever met. I know the group agrees.
Today was a totally weird day, so doing a recap of the events would be really tough. Be here are the highlights. Today was the final day and the Mission Center throws on a huge program complete with many dances, skits, Bible verse recitations (in Tamil AND in English) and gifts to recognize their commitment to the weeklong VBS. We had very few responsibilities today (I'll close with one of them), and yes, we did end up on stage having to “freestyle” again. This was awful because, up to that point, the kid's dances were wonderful. And then David made us go up and we had to try and do something for four minutes. But when that happens, your mindset becomes, “Ok, I can't actually do anything they were doing...but can we get them to laugh.” They did...so we walked back to our seats, apologizing the whole way. The programs are amazing because on the last day, all of the girls wear their absolute bests. Beautiful outfits, hairstyles, flowers, jewelry, makeup – like they're going to Indian Prom...but really they're going to church. At the end of the celebration, David brought up the whole team for us to be honored. Again, this feels so bizarre – we literally feel like we've done nothing but play with the children and do some demos. Yet, they honor us. It hurts, it really does. But I'll come back to this.
One of the two highlights of my day (both occurring at the program) was the final song some of the kids/teens danced to. The song was a beautiful anthem – sort of like a “We Are the World” pop song – but David explained its significance. He said the song was a Christian song encouraging the kids to not forget that their country is India and they have a responsibility to be missionaries to their own country. The song culminated in the call to “take the Gospel to India”. When the song was over, our team was cheering and clapping. Rajan just sat there, quietly applauding, with tears in his eyes. I say that because David looked at me and said, “This song moved me. Look at my eyes.” And that's when it hit me. This song was basically the anthem of David Rajan. Here is a man who God called to go to America, he built a life there, and then upon God's call, brought him back to his own country to share the Gospel. I was sitting next to the man, in the first of three Mission Centers he established in 13 years, who has committed his life to serving God faithfully and with faith and he has seen things that I honestly probably won't ever see. God doesn't play favorites, but sometimes I think He makes exceptions for David Rajan. As anyone who has served here on mission in India will tell you, if you only know David Rajan from a church or Americanized setting, you don't know David Rajan. And you need to know him. You need to come here and see how one man, who committed his life to God, has been used by God to establish churches and Mission Centers all over southeast India. As one former mission team member told another team member this year in preparation for their trip: “Your appreciation and respect for David Rajan is about to go through the roof.” He was right. That's totally right. And David gives every bit of that glory to God. But for me today, it was such a humbling experience to catch that moment with him and know that the room we were in with the 200+children who were singing, dancing, learning and loving all possible because one man was faithful and obedient to God's calling on his life. Praise God for this.
Today just kept getting harder. After saying “I'll see you later” (because for Christians that's true), we gave huge hugs, sang with the most energy we've had all week and just worshiped loudly and with the dance. So great. Then, after lunch and a volleyball game that has no business being played in that oppressive heat), it was our turn to say, “I'll see you later” and give an encouraging word to all of the families involved in serving us that way. We gave hugs and prayers, looked them in the face and expressed our love and Christ's love for them. We waved good-bye after stalling to talk because we just didn't want to leave that much. We hate leaving these people here because they are so amazing and we consider them our family.
But to close, I want to go back to my most favorite moment of the day. David asked the team to all come to the front where we were honored and given an amazingly intricate, HUGE floral necklace. As he presented this, he had the kids say our name (Uncle Jeff, Auntie Betty, Auntie Leslie...) and say the phrase, “Please come back next year (and then they'd say our names)”. I was third in line; first for our team. It was such a blessing to look at these children and honestly say, “Yes, we're coming back next year – maybe even sooner”. This is only possible because Faith Baptist Church unanimously decided to partner with David and his mission for 5 years. In an upcoming blog, I'll touch on missions philosophy and why this relationship is so important, but for tonight, let me just express my thanks to all of you who support this mission work through your physical partnership, your financial support, your fervent prayer help and your encouragement to the team during this team. This partnership is just beginning and it is only going to become more meaningful as we see develop our relationships in this area.
Before I list the prayer needs, there is one that came up today that I want to make you especially aware of. We received word this morning that the bottled water/water jug company where we get our drinking water from has gone on strike. We're praying for a quick resolution, but at this point, all of the water we were anticipated is looking less good at this point...which means that it's time to pray. Please come alongside us and pray for these things:
1)A quick and fair resolution to this strike
2)The return of lots of bottled water!
3)That God would meet the needs of the Poonthandalam children and villages.
4)That God would strengthen and restore us tonight for the hard road ahead.
5)For our families back home who are pulling their weight. And ours. We love them and miss them terribly.
Again, thank you for your partnership and ministry to us and to all of those in India who are benefiting greatly from your support. You are amazing.
And finally, Annette Spain. I mean, where to begin. Matt he..just...wow. That was fast. Still in shock.
Love all of you guys.