Friday, June 14
Our room in Bangalore has hot water, a shower with hot water, a clean Western toilet with toilet paper, a TV with an English channel, and laundry service! Exciting stuff, these things. I still wish trash cans were more popular.
Bangalore is much more cosmopolitan than Chennai. The roads are paved and many have sidewalks. It is at a higher altitude and the weather is much cooler, in the 80s, and is apparently always overcast. We passed a McDonalds on our way to the LDP camp, but they do not serve hamburgers. Alan told Matthew he reminded him of Toby on “The Office” and asked if he was related to him.
Alan has been educating us on Tamil, Tamil Nadu’s language. It’s one of the oldest in the world, and has a vocabulary three times that of English. One of the most accurate bible translations in the world from the original Greek and Hebrew is in Tamil. In India, all students learn three languages: English, Hindi (spoken across all states), and the state language such as Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, etc.
The LDP camp we attended is a mandatory camp for all Compassion International LDP students twice a year. The theme of this camp was Dueteronomy 6:5, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.” Each day they focused on one of those aspects for the sessions and discussions. For example, on the “mind” day, there were talks on loneliness and suicide; one state has students who do very well academically, but has a high rate of suicide.
LDP students must be at the top of their classes academically and they must boldly proclaim they are followers of Christ. Their is an application process in which they write a statement of faith followed by two interviews, the first conducted by an outside firm and the second conducted by Compassion staff. The 200 student we were going to speak to are bright and ready to change the world. They are not just future leaders in industry, but they are the Church’s future Christian leaders.
It’s always a little surreal when first meeting a sponsored student, but Irene was ready for us. She herself had arrived at the camp just the night before due to exams she had to take so she missed out on the first few days. We sat and chatted for a while, the cursory superficial things, and walked around a bit. We broke through to more personal topics pretty quickly, though Irene was painfully quiet and shy.
We learned Irene is a third-generation Christian which is very rare in India. She grew up in a very conservative family who did not allow TV or movies, but she was happy and well cared for. As Christians, her family was shunned for many years in their small community of 5,000 about 250km outside of Chennai. Her mother invited the neighborhood children to Sunday school classes at their home, and their neighbors slowly warmed to them. Today, Irene told us, there are now two Christian families in her home town.
We talked about arranged marriages as that is what will happen for her. She wants to marry a man who is first and foremost a faithful Christian and secondly who plays the guitar. We talked about our families and jobs. Whenever we meet our Compassion kids, one of the first questions is often, “Where are Caleb and Jason?” We need to start warning them that the boys won’t be with us. We answer: 1) It would be very expensive and difficult for us to bring them. The thought of dealing with them for 20 hours on a plane makes me cringe. Plus, they would hate the food, except for the rice. Caleb and Jason wouldn’t mind a diet of just rice three times a day, but this mama would.
We talked about finding a job you will love, and that money isn’t the most important thing–as is evident by the fact that we are both teachers in private schools making tens of thousands less each year than our public school teacher friends. Each person needs to know what his God-given talents are and then seek to call them out and develop them. When we are doing what God has called us to, we will find joy.
What made me smile most, though, was Irene’s prayer request for this camp. She prayed that she would meet a foreigner. At the time she didn’t know we were coming; she only found that out a few days ahead of time. Little did she know that we were her “foreigners.” God answers our prayers in amazing ways!
We then sat in on a couple of talks about the Church before lunch; church was the theme of the day. The speaker gave an excellent analogy of the work Compassion does with the local church. Compassion is the bridesmaid, helping to prepare the Bride of Christ for her Groom. LDP students are expected to not just become qualified in a vocation, but to become leaders in their local churches.
Before we broke for lunch, we were introduced and they mentioned that Matthew had a Ph.D. in astro-physics and if anyone was interested in talking about faith and science, Matthew would be happy to discuss it (imagine that.) Several students joined us, and the first question was . . . wait for it . . . about the Big Bang Theory. Cue my turn to chat with the students next to me about something else, like dentistry. I love my husband, but my brain is only capable of participating (as in listening but not saying anything) to one in-depth discussion/debate about science and religion once a year. This was number two in less than a week. Big Bang Overload for me. Lunch was excellent–meaning tasty and non-spicy and we had control over how much we ate. No more “love torture” meals, though we do miss Suneetha’s delicious homecooking.
After lunch, the fun began and blew us away. The program began with worship songs, one in English and the other in Tamil. They involved motions and jumping up and down, always favorites of ours, especially for Matthew. We were yet again given flowers and then asked to speak and sing.
Matthew shared about hope, and I was asked to share about giving. From what Alan told us, Americans are considered very generous in their financial support of the poor in India, but Indians, even among the Christians, are quite stingy with their money. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” -Luke 12:48. We take that mandate very seriously. I also shared Proverb 11:25. “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” We have seen this ring true so often. The more we bless others, the more we are blessed. To assume you can’t give generously is to put God in a box.
We the sang “Amazing Grace” (again) and ended with a short Q&A session. We were asked:
-Describe America’s youth.
-What did we think of India?
-About our India travels.
Next, a student performed an amazing traditional Andra Pradesh dance in traditional garb. After that we dismissed for afternoon tea, and the paparazzi-like photo op began. The last time we posed for that many photos was at our wedding. My face hurt from smiling so much. A few female students pulled me aside to ask how we met, and how do you know when you have found your helpmate. The next question caught me off guard. “We heard that they are implanting chips into humans in America. Is this true?” Ummmm . . . No. These young women were very worried about this. Apparently what happens in America will happen in India with a few year’s delay.
We finally made it to our tea and enjoyed our first authentic Indian samosa. It was delicious, but does EVERYTHING have to be so darn spicy? We looked at some photos we had of Caleb and Jason on my iPad as well as some photos of Caleb as a baby and toddler. There were even a few pictures of my ultrasound with Caleb. Irene had never seen anything like it, and had a hard time understanding how the “scan” could tell you the sex of the baby before it was born. (As delicately as I could, I pointed out the “boy parts” on the ultrasound.)
Before we left, the son of the owner of the camp, the Glorious Promised Land, gave us a tour of the property. It is located in a beautiful area south of Bangalore called Nandi Hills. They have orchards fort heir own fruit, a vineyard, farm animals, dorms, a soccer field, and they are putting in a pool and gym. While this is primarily a camp/retreat center for churches and schools, couples can rent a lovely private bungalow for $50 a night.
It was time to say goodbye. Irene asked us to pray for her spiritual growth as well as for her younger brother, Daniel, who was backsliding in his faith. We prayed together and got in the car. There were no tears this time. Our time was rich and blessed beyond anything. We could have imagined.
We will sponsor Irene for two more years. It is against Compassion’s policies to allow sponsors and students to correspond directly while the student is in the program. I understand this and respect it. Irene really wants to Skype with us, but we will have to wait a little longer. In the meantime, she will remain in our prayers and us in hers. Only through the love of Christ, we will never be that far apart.
On the return trip and at dinner we chatted with Alan about various topics: the state of American morals, is Obama a Christian, India’s attempts at population control, how Indian couples are expected to have a child or at least be pregnant within a year of marriage or there is a negative social stigma placed on the couple as well as the difference between American and Indian children and their knowledge of world events. It was a unanimous decision that Indian children would win that prize.
We also talked about how difficult it is to find Compassion partners/churches in which to host projects. Vinay and Alan spoke at length about Vinay’s starting a project near Naidupet, something he’s very interested in. Alan will help him make contacts with the Chennai office, and then it could take two years to make it happen, if it happens. God willing, we’d like to be the project’s first sponsors.
Our train leaves at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow, and I’m actually really tired. I wanted to go to bed early, but our laundry wasn’t finished till 11:00 p.m. So much for packing and getting a decent night’s sleep. But, we have clean laundry!
Random thoughts for the day:
-There are little PSAs during shows and movies on TV, particularly American ones. For example, during scenes with someone smoking, a little blip will run across the screen explaining how smoking kills. Ditto with alcohol.
-We saw a motorcycle with five people on it (two adults and three children) – a new record!
Saturday, June 15
We had to get up at 4:45 to catch our 6:00 a.m. train back to Chennai. On the ride, Alan asked us if he could interview us for an article in Compassion India’s in-country magazine. We said of course as long as he sent us a copy.
We made it to our hotel which is quite exquisite. We had a delicious and expensive Mediterranean tapas lunch; the nicer the hotel, the more expensive the food. Unfortunately, this area of Chennai isn’t conducive to just walking around outside so we found the movie channel and watched several movies. We originally planned on going to the gym and then for a swim, but we were just too tired (tired = lazy.) We were both asleep by 8:30.
Random thoughts for the day:
-Who knew I liked hummus? Maybe because it wasn’t the cheap stuff people always buy in American grocery stores.
-Always take the free shower caps from hotels. They are great for wrapping things like shoes or stinky clothes in for packing.
-Chennai, from what we have seen, is definitely the armpit of India.