A Moment in Time

Taken by my friend John

As I am nearing the end of my journey I find myself struggling with mixed emotions.  My mind if preoccupied with thoughts of back home.  The papers I need to write, the preparations I need to make for school starting back, basically the work I have been neglecting for these past two months.  These thoughts race through my head, and I catch myself worrying incessantly about things which cannot be helped 8,000 miles away.

During those same moments my heart aches.  As I drove the seven hours from Chilakaluripet back to Vizag I watched the countryside fly past my window.  We passed women in their saris working in the rice patties.  Men behind oxen plowing fields, while the mountains graced the horizon.  Going through the villages children walk single file carrying their backpacks home from school.  Most of them are barefoot, and none of them looking over the age of ten.

Rock Quarry worker and child

Everything seems to slow down here.  No one is in a hurry; it could even be said that time is irrelevant.  Plans change constantly.  At first this frustrated me greatly.  Me, the punctual, always planning my days, slightly OCD, type A person that I am.  But I realized in these moments of frustration that instead of trying to change it I should rather enjoy it for its own beauty.

Just because something is completely out of place in our own culture does not make it wrong.  It may be different, but not necessarily wrong.

As I was thinking about these things the words of an old friend came to mind.  He told me that you didn’t need a fancy camera to take great pictures.  At first I didn’t believe him.  I didn’t understand how you could get wonderful photographs with an ordinary camera.  But realized that he was not just talking about photography.  It is the way we view and perceive the world around us that really determines the outcome of not only our pictures, but life as well.

A slum child in Vizag

There is beauty all around us.  But how often are we in such a hurry, focusing only on ourselves that we do not pause long enough to notice it?  How many beautiful and precious moments are we wasting everyday because we are too worried about the details of life?

This is what I will miss the most about India.  The simplicity of life.  The ability, the calling, and the need to live it moment by moment.

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Inspiration

On rare occasions you meet people who despite their seemingly impossible circumstances have still managed to survive.  Not just survive, but thrive.

Stella, 11 year old AMG student in Chilakaluripet

Meet Stella, an 11-year-old student at AMG.  As I walk across the school yard she comes out of her room and yells “sister!” to me.  She has a spirit of fire.  So lively and upbeat, and always smiling.  I watched in amazement as she showed me how she writes her notes in school, holding a pencil between her shoulder and chin.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

She has reminded me that it is not always about our circumstances.  Those will continue to change.  What does matter is who we decide to be.  The attitude we face our adversities with, the confidence we have as we tackle our challenges, and the never-ending journey in the pursuit of life.

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The Great Distribution

Four days, roughly 2,500 people, and around 80 lakhs of goods were distributed this week.  If you are unfamiliar with lakhs, as I was when I arrived here, let me explain.  100,000 rupees equal one lakh.  44 rupees equals $1 USD.  That is honestly way too many numbers for me.  You do the math…

Visually challenged people and the distribution of goods

Each day there was a different group of people that AMG gave goods to.  Monday,

The massive mountain of goods to be distributed

was the children and families of prisoners.  Those whose parents, either father or mother, had gone to jail for whatever reason.  The remaining parent was unable to support the children, especially their education.  Tuesday the blind, and “visually challenged” as they term it here, came.  Wednesday the children of suicide farmers arrived.

The suicide farmers project is particularly interesting.  Several years back in the state of Andhra Pradesh there was a severe drought.  Hundreds of people lost their crops, their only livelihood.  I venture to guess that share-cropping, or something akin to it, is prevalent here since many people ended up defaulting on their loans.  Because of their inability to pay them back, due to the drought, hundreds of farmers committed suicide leaving their wives and children helpless and unable to provide for themselves.

Hundreds waiting for the distribution of goods

Every child that attended received clothing for school uniforms, in addition to notebooks for school.  Every woman received material for a sari, and every man received clothing for pants and a shirt.  Many of the people receiving these goods have travelled from far away, and so AMG also pays for their travel expenses.  This may seem like a big expense, and it probably is.

I realized though that many, if not most, of these people are not Christians.  They are Hindu or Muslim.  By coming here they have a chance to hear the Gospel being preached.  What is the cost of paying for travel expenses when compared to knowing that hundreds will hear the Truth being spoken aloud?  Many of whom it is the only time they will hear it?

AMG Degree College Students helping with the distribution

Seeing the children’s eyes light up as we handed them new clothing, and school notebooks was something that I will never forget.  Our society, where everything is fast paced, high-tech, and ever-changing, is a stark contrast to here.  Can you imagine an 11-year-old American child being excited about getting school clothes and notebooks?  Here the simple things matter so much more than we can ever imagine.

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Chirala – The Fisherman Community

A fisherman making his net

This past week I went out to Chirala, which is along the coast and roughly an hour drive from Chilakaluripet.  Being mainly a fisherman community, and so close to the Bay of Bengal, the smell of fish permeates the air.  Pungent, and incredibly overwhelming, and amplified by the humidity in the ocean air.

Here AMG has established a school specifically for children of fisherman families.  The Ichthus English Medium School provides free education up to 10th grade, the end of their high-school, for roughly 400 hundred students.  Many of these children are the first generation to speak English, and receive an education.

Ichthus English Medium School children

On campus they have a small hospital and clinic where bi-annually all the children receive medical check ups by the doctor.  Any medications they may need are also provided free of cost to them and their families.

After their medical clinic where the doctor and I examined the children we headed to the fisherman community itself.  Here I developed an immense appreciation and respect for fisherman as I watched them make their nets by hand.  It is exceedingly slow work, using only a simple tool and nylon string, working row by row.  I am amazed they are able to make any progress at all.

A Fisherman and his child

I am reminded that many of Jesus’ disciples were fisherman.  After seeing how hard they must work to simply survive I understand why now.

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Medical Camp

This past week AMG put on a medical camp in a local slum community for the children and their families there.  It was hosted at a daycare center, that AMG also runs, providing free education to the children that would otherwise be sent to beg or work in manual labor.  Below are just a few pictures from this event.

Medical Camp

 

Daycare children waiting for the medical camp to begin

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
Galatians 3:26

 

 

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Words are useless…

A picture can convey what words cannot.  The following photo is of a six year old boy I met while attending a rock quarry school.  He suffered 3rd degree burns on the lower half of his body.  He lost both his feet.  The majority of his arms were used as the harvest sites for skin grafting to both his legs, and lower back.  With access to prosthetics being difficult here there is little hope for him to learn to walk again… 

With no access to prosthetics will this boy ever get the chance to run, walk, and play alongside his classmates?

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TB Hospital

Chest X-ray of TB patient

 Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  Airborne, acid-fast bacilli.  Lipid-rich cell wall.  Aerobic.  Can survive in a dry state for weeks.  Takes up residence in your lungs and multiples unchecked inside macrophages.  Approximately one-third of the world is said to be carrying TB, but not everyone is in the active phase of the disease.

TB can be exceedingly difficult to treat.  Here the incidence of MDR, or multi-drug resistant, TB is growing.  As I sat with the doctors in the hospital we saw patient after patient.  Each one’s story similar to the next. 

TB Hospital in Chilakaluripet

They had developed a persistent cough.  Maybe presenting with hemoptysis, or an afternoon fever.  They sought care in a hospital, where a sputum smear was positive for pulmonary TB.  Being admitted to a hospital they were started on antibiotics.  After the first course of treatment they were discharged and given the medications to continue taking at home.  Their symptoms went away.  So they stop taking their antibiotics…

Now, two months…six months…one year later their symptoms return and they seek treatment all over again.

Female Ward in TB Hospital

Again, lack of resources is an issue here.  There is no such thing as “airborne precautions”, N95 masks, or negative pressure rooms.  There is only one private room in this hospital, and it is reserved for the most severe respiratory cases.  Here they treat anywhere from 700 to 1300 people a month, who are seeking treatment for not only TB but other respiratory disease as well.  The nurses and doctors that dedicate their lives to this are truly to be recognized.  For going above the call of duty, working 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.  Helping those in need, without thought of the consequences to themselves.

Nurses at the TB Hospital

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The Prosperity Gospel

For me, the prosperity gospel doesn’t mean a lot.  In other words, it does not change my faith.  I know that God is not going to give me a BMW just because I pray and ask Him for it.  But I also grew up without ever needing anything.  That’s not to say I didn’t want the newest American Girl doll, or the fashionable clothes that all my friends wore, because I did.  My parents can attest to that.  The difference is that I never had to go without.  We always had at least three meals a day, I always had more clothes than I could wear (even if they were hand-me-downs), and a nice house, with air conditioning and a roof that didn’t leak.

How can they not hope for a better life?

But imagine if you didn’t have any of those things.  Your children were always hungry, and there were no shoes.  Your house is a hut, covered in palm branches.  You cooked rice and dahl three times a day, outside, over an open fire.  You swept the dirt floor as the children played outside with empty water bottles as their only toys.  No showers.  No toilets.  No running water.  No hope.

If you were to forsake your Hindu gods wouldn’t you want to believe that by becoming a Christian and knowing Jesus that God would change all of that for you?

“God will give you a good life.”  These are words that I have heard pastors tell the congregation.  “You will not have any problems with Jesus” are lyrics to songs that young women have translated for me.  These things only scratch the surface of this complex issue that I am only beginning to understand.

God is enough.  Not in our prosperity, but in those moments where there is nothing else.

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Reunion

I apologize for the long absence.  I have spent the last several days traveling a lot, without much or any access to internet. 

Monday, I drove all day to Chilakaluripet to the AMG Headquarters and main office.  What was supposed to be a 7 hour drive really turned into over 9.  With only one bathroom break.  Thank goodness I brought my own toilet paper.

Upon my arrival I was greeted by my long lost American friends Aneesa, Justin, and Chris!  Sarcasm, jokes, and laughter proceeded as I again had the wonderful opportunity to speak English like I do back home.

Tuesday the four of us spent the day going to Veda, one of AMG’s schools here where we spent some time watching the children’s procession as they sang the national anthem, saluted, and read passages of Scripture.

We proceeded out of town after this to the rock quarries.  Here it is very common for children to come with their parents to work alongside them, earning wages for the family.  Besides being rather dangerous, these children have been deprived of an education, or a chance at becoming anything other than what their parents are.  But thanks to some generous donors AMG has been able to set up a school near the quarries for the children to attend.  At this school you have children who are the first generation in their family to learn English, or to even get a regular education.  It was so encouraging to see the bright smiles and faces of these young children as you knew they were being given a chance their parents never were.

 After being forced to eat a huge lunch that included soup, pasta, rice, potatoes, chicken, two desserts, and mango we had a long, fast, and bumpy car ride where I sat in the back.  Not a good combination.  I got pretty sick.  Once we got back to the house I still didn’t feel better.  I ended up getting sick three times that night, and had a fever of 99.5 (which everyone was worried about because apparently in India only a temp of 98.6 is normal).  They also wanted me to eat more food (just what I needed!), drink warmed milk (also not great for someone who is terribly nauseated), and eat chocolate (ok, I’m a HUGE fan of chocolate, but seriously?  It doesn’t taste great coming back up).  I stuck with my Sprite and Cheerios.  They don’t have plain crackers here.

Wednesday we drove to Chennai (Madras) for Justin and Chris’ flight back to the states.  Again, the 5 hour drive turned into 7.  Saying goodbye for the second time was not as hard as the first.  I hope you are enjoying a nice cheeseburger and fries, you traitors.

Now I’m back in Chilakaluripet staying at the AMG headquarters and school.  Back to living a life of charades as I mime my way through communicating with people.  Just three more weeks…

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Unwanted

How do you change culture?  Can it start with one person?  How do you change the norms and values of millions of people without tearing apart who they they are?  Without  stripping them of their identity along the way?

Some things are not wrong.  Just different.  But some things are more than that.

It is a society where women almost go into confinement during their pregnancy, and modesty during labor means no family members are present.  Eighteen year old wives give birth for the first time, terrified.  No one offers them comfort.  Husbands cannot be in attendance.  The mother and aunts wait outside until after the labor.  No encouragement is given by the nurses or doctor.  No one holds her hand as she grips the bed for her life…and her child’s.

A beautiful child, who lives in the slums

How can we change the mindset of a society that views women as second class citizens?  A world where parents hope only for sons, because daughters require a dowry, and they cannot carry on the family name. They are a burden.  Sometimes even unwanted.  Sex determination clinics for the sole purpose of aborting female fetuses are all too common, despite the fact that it is illegal.

Are these unborn children, who’s only crime was being female, not beautiful in God’s eyes too?  Do they not deserve the same amount of love as any other child?  Do they not deserve a chance in this precious life?

Are we not all beautiful in God's eyes?

I watched the numerous births at the hospital these past three weeks and only one was a boy.  I couldn’t help wondering if God is trying to bridge the gender gap that India has struggled with.

As the newborn girls cried I looked on in amazement as they opened her eyes for the first time.  My heart was heavy.  Would they have been more loved if they had been born a boy?  Would they have received more respect?  More opportunities in life?  I knew the answer to that.

But I prayed.  I prayed they would be loved.  Loved for who they are.  I prayed they would be respected.  Be given opportunities.  And that they would realize that they have a Father who loves them because they are His children.

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