Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Return To Our Hearts...India 2011

As the sound of the morning newspaper hitting the pavement wakes me the reality that I’m no longer in India sinks in…

Between this moment & the next time I lay my head down to sleep 12,000 girls in India will have lost their lives because of their gender. By the time I get downstairs to make my morning cup of coffee another 171 will be gone. Between now and when my giddy heart gets to reunite with my girls again, (in 312 days! But who’s counting)  4 million more will have been aborted and 1.5 million under the age of 1 will have been killed.
Hard to picture?

It only takes two years for the intentional death rate of girls in India to surpass the death toll of the entire holocaust.

Sound extreme? Well…It is…
“This is why the Home of Love is so important! Yes it provides the girls with food, clothing, shelter and an education. But it’s more than much more than that - these girls are passionately taught the Gospel. They are equipped with the TRUTH of the Word and as they come to Christ they are filled with the POWER of the Holy Spirit. This is how we change the world - One Girl At A Time Through The Gospel.” –Nirup

This year more than ever I was able to see past the “experience” and what I found has transformed my vision & my heart. I found daughters. Not metaphorically. True, love them more than my life daughters. I found believers. People that so passionately & un-circumstantially love Christ that it’s both encouraged & challenged me to be very honest with myself on where my faith journey is.

It’s hard to put into words all that the Home & India means to us but one by one the girls continue to teach us, love us, pray with & for us, and ultimately change us. Here’s a snapshot of the girls & events that are changing us & India…

When someone asks: “what was your favorite part?” undoubtedly, Bart & I say: “Seeing our girls.” They weren’t huge moments. Just lots of little one’s that catch you by surprise. When they’d genuinely look in your eyes and say: “I’ve prayed for you everyday” or when you make eye contact with a girl and you both just smirk because you’re content & happy. 

An annual highlight for us & the girls is Beach Camp. Are you kidding!? We’re in India. Beach? Yes please! The girls go nuts! They’re crazy excited!

Highlights of Beach Camp:
*Around the dinner table I asked some of the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. Bharati wants to teach English. (Which she’ll no doubt do and be amazing at it, she’s always my little translator)  Thenmuli wants to be a doctor. Pria wants to be a missionary. (Ironically to the US, which goodness knows we need it!) (: Upon asking Mummy what she wanted to be she said something in Tamil & pointed up. Confused, I asked Bharati to translate & she said the girl doesn't know yet God will tell her. This ten year old is wise beyond her years!

(Bharati on Left Mummy in the middle)

Also during that dinner Bharati (Age 12) giddily turns to me & says: "I love God."' I said: "Me too." (:

*The electricity goes on & off quite bit & during our song time one night the lights went off and it was dark. Like your eyes still won't adjust dark. I totally expected kid chaos to break out but amidst the darkness 80 little voices worshiped the Lord all the more loudly the walls shook. I got goosebumps.

*Bart is known in India for his magic tricks. Even at the end of the trip the warden’s husband asked: “Who’s your husband?” and every time I’d say: “Bart” he’d be so confused. He’d then be like: “Oh! Magic Man!?”

*And speaking of “Magic Man.” We’re at camp, & there was a large group of Christian guys there on a retreat. Before we know it there’s a crowd of probably 30 people around Bart while doing some card tricks. One guy in utter shock of the result of the trick just yells out: “America!” I died…Absolutely died. Hilarious! To top it off…I see behind the crowd (In secret) the warden’s husband literally shaking trying to bend a quarter in half. Bart’s trick quarter was obviously still in his pocket. (:  

*It was incredibly hot one day (ironic statement for India I know) so our Beach Camp group (6th -12th grade) didn't want to play in the sun. So instead we sat under a hut and went around sharing our favorite scriptures. Ask any kid in America what their favorite verse is & your likely to get John 3:16 if anything. One by one whether it be in Tamil or English the girls would recite the most meaningful ones to them. They were obscure passages like psalm 119:79 or something from the middle of Isaiah. You could hear it in their voices as they spoke verse after verse. The words were cherished.

After that they sang songs for us in Tamil. My favorite song translated:
As a boat is not too heavy for the ocean...
As the dew is not too heavy for a flower...
As a child is not too heavy for a mother...
We are not too heavy for our god.
(Our Beach Camp Group)

Later that night we had our as per tradition Campfire with S’mores. A group of maybe 8 of the girls or so (Jr. High age) wanted me to check on a girl who was apparently sitting in the middle of the sand field (Out away from everyone) by herself in the pitch dark. Seriously, dark isn’t even the word. And I pretended to be brave as they all held on to a different part of me to walk as a pack and since it was true for me, I asked: “Aren’t you scared?” And so matter-a-factly without hesitation they: “What’s to fear? God is with us?” Called out! (: We ended up sitting in that pitch dark field so we could have a heart to heart. They shared for well over an hour about the things in their lives and how they turn that fear to prayer knowing they are not alone. I left in awe of their maturity, and encouraged.

These girls are absolutely amazing! Each has a story; mostly tragic yet miraculous how they got to the Home of Love. But where they’re at now, is such a testimony to how God overcomes. Here’s a few “favorite” moments with the girls….

Prianca- (Age 13) While holding onto her I said: “I love you.” & she said…”I love you…” I furrowed my brow and said: “I don’t think you understand. I love you like a daughter.” She looked up at me with tears in her eyes & said: “I love you like my mom.”

Ruby- (Maybe 13 Yrs. Old?) Ruby was someone that quite honestly frustrated me. She didn’t do anything persay but that was exactly what irked me. While all the other girls laughed, smiled, hugged, and played Ruby always appeared angry, distant, and un-enthused. I tried to engage her, affirm her, include her,  but she just wasn’t havin’ it. That was until one day out of the blue she ran up to me and kissed my cheek. I tried to hold in my shock but you have no idea how epic this was! From then on she’d always run to me with hugs & kisses and call me “mom”. 

(Left: Bhavia Right: Ruby)

Rhamia (Age 13) She was a lot like Ruby at first. Very stand-off ish and always had her tough girl squinty face goin’ on. But somehow we had a breakthrough. She wanted me to call her “Missy” so we made up a game. Anytime I greet her I’d say: “Missy 2!” She would then say: “Missy 1!” and we end with both saying: “High-five!” Sounds so trivial but that little “thing” that just her & I had melted the boundaries. Ever since then she was one of “my girls.”

Asha-  (Age 6) Oh little Asha….I swear this girl doesn’t talk. But there was almost always her cute little hand wrapped in mine. It wasn’t until the end of our trip that I found out that she’s from Orissa (a state where Christians are heavily persecuted) and her family to this day is hiding in the jungle.

Pria (Age 13)- I’ll use what I wrote in my journal as I think it sums up Pria perfectly:
          Right now we’re listening to Mr. Alphonse preach. Pria is so intently listening. Her chin rests upon her fist as she soaks in every word. Only breaking to scurry though the pages of her Tamil Bible. She wants to be a missionary when she grows up. But you know what? She already is one. She shares about her trust in God with everyone she meets. She shares how she desires to bring the Word of God to all people. While most 13 year olds are in a self-absorbent stage of life, she’s grasped what it means to be a follower of Christ in a way that challenges me despite being twice her age. She’s a world-changer. 

Bhavia (12 yrs. Old)- Oh my sweet girl. There’s something about this girl that my heart connects with in the deepest way. It could be that she’s a bit more of a tomboy and wears handkerchiefs Rambo style on her forehead. It could be that she’s sarcastic and absolutely hilarious. It could be that she’s the perfect balance of being silly yet extremely responsible. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s that I’ve held her when she’s had the flu. I think it’s because I’ve prayed with & for her each day. I think it’s because we have secret handshakes that spell out “I love you” and we give Eskimo kisses before I leave each day. I think it’s in the way that we can just sit in silence, have her head on my shoulder and we can just be. I think it’s that God created her to be my daughter even though we technically live thousands of miles apart. I think it’s for these reasons that I’m left with a broken heart. Bhavia feels like my true daughter. Who leaves their kid behind? On our last night I remember holding her cheeks, resting my forehead upon hers and just sobbing. Gut wrenching, hard to breathe, so sick to my stomach I could puke tears. I honestly haven’t been able to talk about it since because I’ll just lose it. She & I would often would joke about her jumping in my pocket, hiding in my suitcase, tucking under my Sari, plotting any excuse for us to sneak her back home with me.  In many ways I wish that could happen but my heart knows she’s in such a great spot at the Home of Love. People ask if we’ll return to India and my polite answer is “Hope so” but in my heart I’m pleading: “I better! I have a kid there!” I love that girl with all my heart. 
(Bhavia & I) 

The Home got about 8 new girls since last year. All here under tragic circumstances. Some parents died of TB, Malaria, electric shock, just crazy things. A little girl, Debika, (3 years old) She first came to the home a week before we arrived. Her father left the family. It’s not like here where a single mom though difficult can make it. Woman abandoned in India have little to no hope at all. Debika’s mom ended up pouring kerosene over her body, lighting herself on fire, and living! I had an opportunity to see a picture of her mother after the incident. I instantly felt a pit of gag-reflex in my stomach & wanted to cry. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life. Not even at the Leprosy Colony. (Which I’ll get to in a second) She didn’t even look human. But what a miracle that she survived because if she hadn’t who knows what would have happened to her daughter. Though emotionally absent at this point Debika has a chance to live with joyful girls that one day she’ll see as her sisters. She has a chance for an education and to have a safe place to call home. And most importantly she gets to live an environment where she can see & learn what it means to have a relationship with the Lord. Though slow progress it was amazing to see her rare smile. (: 
(Debika after getting her face painted)

The girls were for sure our highlight but some of our other experiences are one's we'll carry with us for life.

Leprosy Colony- I think this is the hardest part of the trip to put into words. For most of us, leprosy is something we’ve just read about in Bible stories which was true for me until we visited a leper colony run by an organization CMCT (Christian Missions Charitable Trust).  It’s an experience Bart & I will never forget for the rest of our lives. We were walking hut to hut hearing people’s stories and what we found was not expected. First of all, the physical toll you could physically see was more than I anticipated. Most lepers were missing limbs, had discoloration of skin, many had gone blind. These were at one time, psychologists, parents, professors, educated people and after contracting the disease credentials no longer mattered. They were rejected by society, family, and their bodies. Their lives would never be the same. Just when you begin to see them through the lens of pity you hear them speak. Speak of THEIR God who is so undeniably real. You hear their heart’s longing to be with Christ in this very moment. God & Heaven were not some far off vague idea, it was as real as their wounds.

This was the oldest woman in the village. (She had 5 children before getting leprosy) She didn't know how old she was but what she did know was that God is real and she wanted to meet him today. I wish you could hear the sincerity in her voice as she lifted her arms to say (Translated) "I cannot wait to celebrate with you in heaven." Are you kidding me!? She has no hands! No feet! Is blind! But SHE can see God's promises? SHE still longs for Him? We had tears in our eyes. She has nothing. But has absolutely EVERYTHING!

Before getting on the bus we met the most amazing man. Just as David danced madly in the king's courts this guy just could not contain his excitement for Jesus. After much singing, and putting his fingerless arm upon our foreheads blessing us he got all the more excited as he loudly exclaimed: “When you die & go to Heaven you’ll be in the presence of JESUS!” He'd then grab your hand and say (Translated) "Do you believe it!?" And when we'd nod yes he'd be overjoyed! Screaming & shouting out praise. He did this to just about all of us. Pretty phenominal!!

We again visited IJM which I love!!
IJM- (International Justice Mission) The stuff this organization does is straight out of a spy movie! Their mission is to stop injustices around the world. India…Has a ton of injustice. Slavery being a huge issue. Right now there’s 40 million bonded laborers in India (Human Rights Watch). That’s 500 less than last year as IJM went undercover at a Rice Mill & saved five-hundred people from continuing on in generations of forced slavery. The ways in which they secretly go about this mission is super intense & unsafe. Once, their undercover mission was blown and like a movie, were chased throughout the city, jumping train car to train car. Crazy! They not only free the slaves, but they have a team of lawyers to fight the judicial system. They are literally changing the culture of India, one mission & court case at a time.

Fishing Village- This community was built in efforts to recover from the 2004 Tsunami. CMCT provides each family with a small home, and a boat to share. Last year we heard from IJM that slave labor in the fishing industry is common. Slave “owners” would make people fish & make nets without paying them. This is community where they can now on their own free will fish, and sell in the local market. 

Sigh… Have you heard yet that we love India? (: It really is impossible to abbreviate life-long lessons that we experience in our time there. Both Bart & I can testify to both the little & great ways that we’ve personally been changed by the girls. So we have no doubt that they will grow into woman of influence; They are today, & will continue to be: Open hearted, Gospel giving, Jesus loving, Culture changing woman. And we love them with all our heart.

Thank you for joining us as we continue to work with the Home of Love.  Thank you for praying over us & our girls. Thank you for your donations of many kinds. Thank you for being a part of our lives. We love you.

Gratefully Yours-
Bart & Missy

I’ll be posting more India pictures on Facebook soon. (:

If you’d like to learn more about the Home of Love you can check out their website at: