Wings in India - Thirteenth Report Friday, March 31, 2006
 

By Ann Edenfield Sweet

 
     

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This is the thirteenth report from India. It was filed by Ann Edenfield Sweet on March 31, 2006.

Email Message #13 - March 31, 2006

Doug just separated from us at Newark, as he is flying home to Ohio, and the five of us are on the flight from Newark to Houston. It is a 757 wide-body aircraft, and since I’m flying space available, I board at the last minute if there are seats available. I counted only two empty seats out of Delhi and it seems like every seat is filled on this flight. I am SO thankful to be on the flight and was especially thankful to be able to leave Delhi with the rest of the team.

The last few days have been so busy that I haven’t even had time to write anything. We flew from Chennai to Delhi. Apparently there was a mix up and no one was at the airport to meet us! I was able to book two taxis, found a phone number for Rev. Samson Nath, and someone in the taxi line called him on a cell phone so at least he knew we had arrived. We thought the taxi drivers knew where we were going, but come to find out they only spoke Hindi and knew of the general area, but not the exact location of the Methodist Home at the Butler Girls School. We drove around and around. Because we had driven there before, I was able to spot some familiar landmarks. After at least 45 minutes of extra driving, I saw the steeple of the Methodist Church across the road from where we were staying. We also were in two taxis and the drivers didn’t have cell phones. I kept imaging our team getting separated, the drivers never finding the Methodist Home in the 11+ million people and huge area that Delhi covers. I can’t tell you how very thankful we all were to finally pull into the driveway of the Methodist Home. The couple who manages the home weren’t there when we arrived. They thought that we were arriving the next night we were later told. So again we were thankful that no one else was staying in the home, that rooms were available for us, and that we had beds, water for showers, and a safe place.

Rev. Samson Nath, the treasurer for the Delhi Conference of the Methodist Church, was kind enough to drive out to meet with us after his four prayer meetings he held in family homes that evening. Apparently every pastor holds four prayer meetings EVERY night of Lent, and we found out that Rev. Sylvester, the District Superintendent for Agra, basically follows this routine year-round, and said he has not had a day off in 27 years!

Rev. Nath had exchanged dollars for rupees for us. He had also purchased train tickets to Agra (Taj Mahal) too. We carefully reviewed phone numbers, contact information, and found out that Rev. Sylvester would meet us in Agra and take us to the Taj Mahal and other sights. For this we were most grateful, as I quickly saw how difficult it is to maneuver in a strange country, not speaking any of the language, and not knowing where we were going.

We got up at 4:00 am and left for the Agra train station at 5:00 am. We arrived at the station in only 20 minutes, because at that early morning hour there was a little less traffic on the road. The train car to Agra was quite nice. We were served breakfast and sat in the air-conditioned car. We were so thankful for this as it was hot, but more importantly, the other cars were packed with people standing body-to-body. Travel in India can be very difficult for many people.

We arrived at the station and Rev. Sylvester at first didn’t come up to us. He thought there were only 2 or 3 of us, and he also didn’t know we were Americans. Although we all were in our Wings T-shirts, it took him about 20 minutes to find us. I tried calling the one phone number I had for a contact in Agra, but had no answer. So I was a little worried until Rev. Sylvester introduced himself to us.

Again, we were SO grateful for his presence and kind attention. His associate pastor, Rev. S. T. Gill, also joined us all day, so we were well cared for and had our own private tour guides.

Cars are not allowed real close to the Taj Mahal anymore, so we walked in along a pretty road with landscaping on both sides. Monkeys were running freely, and of course there were many street peddlers wanting our business. The Taj Mahal is absolutely gorgeous. The white marble glimmers against the bright blue sky and the inlaid designs are intricate and so decorative. The grounds were carefully maintained and flower beds were filled with colorful tropical blossoms. They now required booties for your shoes as you walk inside and there are now fences up so people can’t touch the work inside. The British ravaged the Taj Mahal in the 1800’s. They built fires inside so the gold melted. It is such a shame how often men treat other men and cultures.

But the structure is still magnificent and truly one of the seven manmade wonders of the world. We next visited the Agra Fort which was also built on the river. It is a monstrous facility with two moots around it – one with water and alligators and the inside moot was filled with ferocious animals. We went through room after room, palace after palace.

We drove to Akabah’s beautiful memorial structure too. Baboons and deer with long curved horns ran freely on the open grassy areas covering the many acres inside the walls. He had three wives – a Hindu, Moslem, and Christian woman, so all three symbols cover the walls in the same inlaid methods as the Taj Mahal. He tried to create a new religion made up of parts of each religion, but that religion has since died.

We drove about 60 miles to Mathura, the home to Lord Krishna. This is a very sacred place to the Krishna’s. The security was very tight and they even made me leave camera batteries and my flashlight outside the walls of the compound. The garish decorations around the temple make it almost carnival like, and the Moslem mosque, that was literally about 20 feet from the outside wall, loomed over the grounds of the temple. The tensions are running high between all the religions so it was strange being inside this temple area. We couldn’t go inside the actual temple because it was closed. There were many steps leading up to the temple and there was a large shaded area in the courtyard area. I was happy to leave there. It felt like an evil place.

The train station at Mathura was very interesting. The mosquitoes were so thick, we were swarmed by them. I’m sure this was due to the fact that cows were just everywhere. In fact while waiting for the train, Paul kept being nudged so much by one ox that we had to move further down the track. Homeless beggars were everywhere, and this was about the worst that we saw of poverty. Cow dung was everywhere and it was very crowded. Little beggar boys kept coming up to us too, so we were very happy when the train finally arrived and we could return to Delhi. Rev. Nath met us, and I can hardly describe the relief I felt to see a familiar face in the crowd!

The next morning we did a Wings Party for the 70+ teachers at the Butler School. Bishop Christian’s wife, daughter, and granddaughter also attended the training, and we all thought it went very well. Not all the teachers are Christians, although it is a Methodist School. But everyone was open and receptive to us. They seemed to enjoy the singing, Bible study where Paul played Jesus, we taught them how to make paper butterflies and the teachers were very creative in decorating the newspapers before folding them into the butterfly wings. They especially seemed to like when we had them get into groups for discussion. It seems like this concept is not widely practiced in India, as everywhere we shared the model of group discussion around a meal or snack, they really enjoyed it, but seemed like it was new to them. The teachers were also very aware that Paul and Doug helped us serve, and they felt this modeled Jesus teachings so well.

We also taught them how to make Bible book markers out of palm branch fronds. One teacher remarked that a former Bishop’s wife had done something similar years ago and she still had that special book marker. So they were very excited about how we used basic “scrap” items to create beautiful things. They felt that would inspire them to get more creative with the things they had on hand.

I felt like the teachers really grasped the concepts we were trying to share. The Bishop’s wife seemed very enthusiastic and she invited us back to visit many of their churches.

Later in the afternoon Bishop Christian and his wife came back to say goodbye to us. We had a very informative discussion with him, where we shared a more worldly perspective about the influence of Hindu and Moslem religions globally. I will try to pay more attention to national leaders in the future.

He gave us beautiful key chains commemorating 150 years of Methodism in India. They will have a large national celebration in October with key leaders from all over India in attendance. The Methodist Church has been very influential in Indian history, and hopefully we can help build more awareness of their work. One particular project the Bishop hopes to start is helping Christian women either buy a goat for $50 US or an ox for $150. The woman could then sell the milk from the animal, feed herself and her family, and then try to help others. Often when a person becomes Christian, their Hindu family disowns them and Hindu landlords will not hire them. The Bishop wants to find ways to help these new Christians from not starving because of their belief in Jesus.

We had planned on one last afternoon of shopping. Unfortunately, we discovered that the workers were on strike and so most of the shops were closed. It saved our pocketbooks, but I can’t imagine how difficult life must be for the average Indian when shops close with no warning, costs going up, the temperatures so warm, and the pollution in the air.

They have greatly cleaned up the air from ten years ago. But still, there is always dust, fumes, oxen, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, and bicyclists on the roads. I can’t imagine driving in India. It seemed like we were almost hitting someone/something or we were almost hit by another vehicle all the time. One lane of traffic often had 3-7 types of vehicles in the one lane and everyone was trying to be first in line.

It feels good to be on the airplane going home. It is good to get away and experience new cultures, foods, sights, tastes, and smells. But it also will feel good to be home. We have so much to be thankful for, and running, clean water, is always something that I think I appreciate most after being in a foreign country.

We were treated so well by everyone we met on this trip. Everywhere we were honored guests. We received so many garlands of welcome, large friendly smiles on all the faces of people we met, and always were cared for so graciously.

I feel our trip was very successful. We planted thousands and thousands of seeds. We’ll never know what the harvest will bring. All we can pray for is that others will water and nurture what we have sown and that the harvest will be plentiful! I do feel we gave people new ideas and new interactive ways of doing ministry. I feel we encouraged all the women we met to become even more involved in their churches, communities, and families. Bishop Christian mentioned the need for the women to become real active again, as they were in the late 1800’s and 1900’s. I feel we helped this effort.

I am thankful no one got seriously ill and that we all arrived home safe and sound. We have so much to be thankful for, and we are especially thankful for all our new friends in India! “Stowtrem” – Praise the Lord!

One of our new favorite songs says it all –

Yesu navilah, (God is so good)
Yesu navilah, (God is so good)
Yesu navilah, navilah, oonakay. (God is so good, He’s so good to me.)

Yesu navilah, (God is so good)
Yesu navilah, (God is so good)
Yesu navilah, navilah, yahnakah. (God is so good, He’s so good to you.)

Yesu navilah, (God is so good)
Yesu navilah, (God is so good)
Yesu navilah, navilah, nahmakay. (God is so good, He’s so good to us.)

In Thanks to God,
Ann

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