Friday, August 31, 2007

to not turn away

Today I am tired. Today I am unsure of my place in this big, big city. Today I am struggling with certain passages of Scripture, aware of their straightforwardness and my own disobedience.
"Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done to Me."

"If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?"
"But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes His heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"
I may not like have my neat world ripped apart every five minutes as I walk these streets. But if Jesus is doing some mighty demolition in my heart, it is so that there is room for the new things He wants to build. I want to be unafraid to follow Him, even into places that appear forsaken and desolate. Places unfamiliar to the history of my heart. When the landscape starts to appear foreign, I pray that I will have enough faith to trust that He is still there. To still affirm, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" even when everything looks different.

I think on some days I would rather have familiarity and comfort than growth. There's a little bit of raw honesty.

Jesus, please make me brave. Make me starving for you. For truth.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

like a child

"As a child, I think, you just want someone to delight in you."
-hannah, fellow teammate

Hannah said this yesterday as we sat in a circle in Beth's flat, processing our days together. The boys had a rough time at Kalighat; volunteers brought a man in yesterday from the train station who was, in Josh's words, "pretty much on his way to heaven." They saw him die with slow ragged breaths, and death, no matter how much this city might produce it, is like a punch in the gut. Hannah also had a hard day at the children's home. She is in a room with one other volunteer and 25-30 children, and yesterday, what hurt her tender heart was the great need and her inability to meet it all. "These kids really just want someone to stop, to hold them, to look them in the eye and tell them what they have done is beautiful, that they are beautiful." I think of my own classroom, and I agree. These children ache for someone to delight in them. Isn't that the secret cry of all our hearts? Even a few months past, at my college graduation, how important it was to have the presence of my parents, to feel their hugs and hear their words, "well done." And then I think of our Father in heaven. I want to cry like a little girl when I stop and wonder over His love, because I am Protima, I am Shuily, I am Sangeeta. I am the little child holding out my scribbled picture, wanting Someone to scoop me up in strong arms and tell me I am loved, I have always been loved, and I will forever be loved.

"The Lord your God is in your midst...
He will exult over you with loud singing."
-Zeph 3:17

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

a new bari (home)

Things not unusual to see during the 15 minute walk from Sishu Bavan to the internet cafe:

-A herd of goats crossing the road (this becomes even funnier if you know what Indian traffic is like)
-"Do not urine" spray-painted on the side of a building
-A side of beef hanging from a shopfront, complete with furry tail
-A goat on a leash (Does this goat want to join the others, I wonder?)
-Taxis with very loud horns. Note the horns seem to have no off switches.

One of the key phrases I learned in my cross-cultural classes at college was, "It's not wrong; it's just different." Indeed, India is very different. Some days the differences strike me as funny, while some days, I am annoyed. On those days, India not only seems different, but incredibly wrong.

We met our host family last night, and it was a riot! It's going to be a wonderful time with Aunty and Uncle Das. They're so funny. They speak just enough English (way more than my Bangla), and their hearts are huge. They have no daughters, only one son, so they have claimed us as their new offspring. The house is kind of like a cottage. If you think British countryside cottage, that's probably the wrong picture, but it is a small, brick house set behind a brick wall...and Uncle grows roses in the front. They live several streets off the main road, so the noise of traffic is remote, and the whole place is very peaceful. And it's officially confirmed: Aunty is a great cook.

In the last dozen days, I have several times experienced an overwhelming feeling settling in my heart. Maybe it's there because of the huge need of Kolkata, maybe it's because I am tired and a little sick, maybe it's because so much of this culture is a complete 180 from my own. Whatever it is, I start to get overwhelmed, and then I want to hide. But yesterday afternoon as I was feeling this way, the phrase that kept ticker-taping through my mind was:
There is no one like our God.
In the heaviness, God speaks, and He says, "I am not overwhelmed, my child. This is my world, and I am God."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Scraping the dead skin off my heart

Things I've learned after one week of teaching Indian children:

-The Hokey Pokey is universal.
-The skill of not sharing: also universal.

I just finished my morning teaching at Shisu Bavan. I know all the children's names now. Golapi, Raju, Sangeeta, Ashka, Pural, Anita, Manju, Protima, and Shuily. Nine little squirmy bodies and precious hearts. I am really enjoying my time with them; it's a much different experience that some of my other team members are having at Kalighat, home for the dying. While my patience is being expanded, and I am daily reminded that it is not my strength, but Christ's, I'm not seeing death and sickness. I'm seeing life and hope in these children.

The Lord has been so gracious to give me many pictures of hope these last few days. Thanks to those at home who have been praying for that. Aside from the children, here are a few more proofs:

-Celebrating teammate Hannah's birthday with the blessing of true Indian hospitality. Our Kolkata friend, Upen, opened up his tiny home to us and fed us an awesome meal, complete with a pink iced cake. We crowded into the 5x5 room where he lives with his wife and two children, and as we sang "Happy Birthday," I thought of these words of Jesus: "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Oh yes, Jesus, continue to teach us! Back in the dark corner of a narrow alleyway, there was so much joy.
-Walking to language lessons and seeing a Kodak moment in brief. A man was carrying his small child, and as I passed, I saw him bend his head and kiss her face. It spoke of tenderness and compassion, and I was reminded not to write those things off as exstinct here. If I have eyes to see, I will see.

And another story of hope, although the ending is still being written for this one...
There is an old woman who has been sitting outside our door the past few days. No family to claim. She is sick, and because of her sickness, she lost her job of cleaning houses in our neighborhood. Now she has no home, and the sidewalk has become her bedroom, her bathroom, her living room. She lies in her own urine, and when I pass her, my mind reels. What does radical love look like here? To invite her in? To feed her always? Seeing this woman everyday spins a thousand questions in mind and uncovers another layer of the selfishness and hardness of my heart, because I also ask "What if she becomes dependent on us? What if she takes advantage of us?" But I have a feeling that my boundaried love is not the love of Jesus of Nazareth. Her name is Asha. In Bengali, Asha means hope. What a beautiful promise of what Jesus longs to do with her life and with the lives of thousands of other Kolkata sidewalk dwellers. Pray that we will know how to love this woman.

Which is an excellent seque into another thought that has been heavily pressing on me. Love, when love equals hurt. Do I know how to love like that? I forget that the love of Jesus meant being stretched out across two wooden beams. That love hurt. I read this yesterday from Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet:

When love beckons to you, follow him,
though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

It's such a paradox, this idea of love and hurt. Pray that I will surrender to love, that I will not fight for my own preservation and protection. Pray that I will continue to understand the mystery of finding life through death. I want to allow the hands of Love to crush me entirely, if that is the way to becoming a sweet smell to this world, a fragrance that will beckon the broken into the Kingdom of light and truth, the Kingdom which will someday conquer all darkness.

Okay. I'm off to the flat, where we're packing up our stuff and getting ready to move in with our Indian host families! Tonight I meet my family for the next four months. :) I've heard my mom is a really good cook. :) I'll let you know for sure when I find out.

hope and love...


Friday, August 24, 2007


Hope. It's a precious commodity in this city.

I have been thinking about hope a lot lately. Romans says that "hope does not disappoint us." A few chapters later, it says that we hope for what we can't see. That's what makes hope hope.

And so I'm hoping for Kolkata.

My team leader says Kolkata wears its brokenness openly. It is true. Whereas in other cities across the world, one might have to dig a little harder to find the brokenness, here it is painted across the canvas boldly. You meet the hurt right away; it's an instant introduction. But then, she said, you find the hope. Slowly. Certainly. You begin to see with new eyes, and you find that the cup of suffering is also the cup of joy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

back in india

Oh India.

I am back, and you are still beautiful in many places and still broken in so many more.

So I have been in Kolkata now for five days now. I was walking the crowded street yesterday and Waterdeep's song "Everyone's Beautiful" was the soundtrack in my mind. I don't know if any of you are Waterdeep fans, but that song...I love it. I can't remember all of it, but the chorus is the important part: "Still they were beautiful, everyone's beautiful, all of us falling on hands and knees in need of You."

It gets me that there are millions of people in Kolkata, and yet God knows each person's name and story. That is not a profound thought, but I when I walk these streets and look into eyes, it becomes incredible. That man. The lady with the pink sari and a long black braid. The boy who sleeps under a tarp next to a building. The older gentleman who stopped me last night as I bought corn from a street vendor. "You are coming from America, yes?"

So where to begin? We're living with Beth, Kristin, and Sarah. These women are brave and compassionate and funny. They are all single, and Kolkata is not an easy place to be a single white woman. They live in Kolkata because they love the women trapped in the sex trade. They love freedom. They love Jesus, and Jesus is here with them. Their flat is on the fourth story, and they're graciously hosting our team until we move in with our families next week. From next Monday on, we'll be paired off to live with different host families for the rest of the time. We started volunteering at Mother Teresa's homes today. My roommate, Sheila, and I are working at Shishnu Bavan, a home for children. When we registered, they asked us if we wanted to teach. We said sure, thinking there would surely be a real teacher in the room already. Nope. Turns out we get to be in charge of a roomful of children who speak mostly Bengali and a few pieces of English. :) I'm actually really excited. The room is well stocked with supplies and curriculum, so we can take it wherever we want to. From my three-hour understanding thus far, we're gonna sing a lot of songs with motions, learn the alphabet, dabble in some colors and shapes and numbers, and color. We're gonna color a lot. :) The kids are beautiful. So, so precious. I wish I knew Bengali, and I wish I knew their stories--where they've come from and why they are at Shishnu Bavan.

We're trying to learn Bengali. Yesterday we visited the sewing business where the women work who have come out of the sex trade. Sitting with people but having no words is always incredibly frustrating. It made me want to learn the language as fast as I can. I squatted next to a patient and warm woman who taught me the words for needle and thread as I pointed. I'm not sure if those are really going to be helpful on the street, but it's a start. :)

Thanks for all your prayers. Continue to pray. Pray for a softness of heart. India threatens to make my heart hard. Because I meet a beggar, or because I pass twenty crude men who all turn and stare and perhaps comment, or because I see poverty on every corner. Sometimes my heart just wants to close up with the pressure of it all. Pray that Jesus will continue to be the hope in the midst of all this, and that I will believe more fervantly in Him and the redemption He brings than in anything else around me.

Someday this will all be made right. He makes all things beautiful. I've got to keep believing.

thanks for reading, and i love you all...