Wednesday, June 1, 2011

India Day 1 -- Church and coming to Rising Star Outreach

Background information-- Leprosy is still a problem here in India. When people acquire leprosy, they and their family are shunned from society and sent to leave in very run down "leprosy colonies". They are valued as less than dogs and seen as unclean. They are left to a life of begging in hopes of barley surviving. No one associates with them and thier kids have no school or any other opportunites. Rising Star takes these kids and feeds and loves them while giving them a top-notch education. Rising Star made a deal with Dell and Marriott that if they educated these kids, Dell and Marriott would hire them. Giving them this amazing opportunity to be somebody in the business world will help to decrease the stigma of leprosy families and help them survive. I can' think of a better cause or program. I feel beyond blessed to be a part of it!

Heads up-- I will be adding a ton of pictures later. I have to put them on my computer and then add them and free time is a luxury here that I dont' have much of. Also, this is mostly just to record my experiences so its not in usually blog form...

Rising Star picked us from the Marriott this morning in 3 air-conditioned vans. Air-conditioning in India is the equivalent to manna from heaven. We fell in love with rising star at that moment. They drove us 10 minutes to the church in Chennai. They have a guard that stands outside the building. I guess you need security even at a church. It wasn’t a church though, we just met in the basement of a building. We found out they started out just meeting in someone’s bedroom and now it has grown so much that they are having a church built. They are so very excited!


I was impressed that the men were mostly in shirts and ties especially because I was dying of heatstrokein my chadidar (the women’s outfits that have baggy pants and a short-sleeve shirt that is knee length and slit up to the top of the legs) which is an infinitely cooler outfit. We all wore our outfits that we bought in Chennai and our bengals. We felt pretty snazzy and rather local.

The church is so young there but everyone was so kind and enthusiastic about us being there. It was the most friendly welcome I have ever had at any church hands down. I was surprised how great the talks were when the church is in such an infantile stage there. They spoke English but some people had very thick accents that I couldn’t make out. The branch presidency included a 21-yr old preparing for a mission. I also noticed that the branch presidency didn’t have mustaches which is beyond a rare sight here in India. I think they were just following the church instructions. The sacrament room was kind of divided into 2 and the speaker was clearly on one side of the room. They had a projector up and recorded the speaker and projected him on the other side of the room so the people could see.
The power went out a couple times and turned the place pitch black. Everyone just went right on singing and a boy ran up with a flashlight so the painist could continue playing. It was funny to have normal things in America happen in India too. I was shocked at how many cell phones kept going off. I didn’t even ralize that people had them, but I think they’re more common then I realized.
I have been excited to go to India but it wasn't originally planning on it. When I was in church it struck me so hard that this is where I was supposed to be. It was shocking that the spirit could be so strong and pure in such a simple place with people that were so young in the gospel. I felt so peaceful and happy and good. I absolutely loved being at church and can’t wait to go back.
There was a woman there who was the first to join the church 35 years ago and has been the main one who made this branch happen. They said that people used to listen to her because she was beautiful and no man wanted to turn away. It was funny but I bet it was partially true; she looked like she would have been striking as a young girl.
I sat by some Indian women during part of church and it was fun to talk to them. They were so excited to learn about me and have me ask them questions. Their names are different and hard for me to remember and initially understand. During third hour, a few of us decided to go to young womens. It was pretty fun and I loved watching the girls interact and learn from the lesson. There was a girl who was 12 and getting baptized today. We congratulated her and stayed after for the baptism. It was really neat and we took a picture with her.
They are fortunate enough to have church manuals and pictures. I immediately recognized a few of Del’s pictures.
They also had a bulletin board up saying “what is family home evening?” It’s crazy how we take all that for granted growing up in the church and don’t realize how blessed we are to have the knowledge we do.

I’m starting to learn to really love the Indian people. The only thing I have evr seen about the Indian culture was Slum Dog MIllionare (edited ) and it put a rather bad taste in my mouth for indian men. I really would look at all of them and think they were rapists or evil men. IT was horribly stereotypical and racist, but that’s how I really felt. My mind set has done a complete 180. It’s amazing how the lord is working to really soften my heart. I love these Indian people and feel like I belong here.
I had to go to the restroom really badly at church and asked this girl to show me where it was. She was so kind and walked me right up to the door. I went in and saw the American toilet, Indian toiled (which is just a hole in the floor) and then a little wall with a row of urinals. The Indian culture is beyond proper so I thought it was kind of weird that it was a unisex bathroom but it’s all they have in a rented out building. I went in and did my business and started washing my hands while a man came in, smiled and waved, and then went and started using the urinal. I kept washing my hands and then walked out and heard my girlfriends voices a few yards away. I walked into that room and it was another bathroom! I looked back at the door I had just come out of and it had “Gents” written across it. I had totally been using the men’s restroom while they guy was using the urinal! Definitely mordifying in India and but so funny. Best laugh of the day for sure.
After church, we took the 2 hour bus ride home. Talk about a commute! I can barely make it on time for church when its 2 minutes away. I feel like you cherish church more when you have to put so much effort and time in to get there. It’s almost like it means more because it costs more from you. I zonked for about 40 mins of the bus ride until the super bumpy section of the road. Thanks grandma for the travel pillow—it works great and I am able to fall asleep anywhere. I think I’m starting to get more used to the traffic and its insanity. We showed up at rising star and they gave us a tour of the place. The volunteers stay in the volunteer hostel aka elephant house. We are 6 to a room with 2 bunk beds, and air conditioning and fans. It is fabulous. It makes sleeping doable.

The grounds are huge—probably like 50 acres. There are huge mango trees, vegetable gardens, a huge water well, the children’s school and house, the hospital, the kitchen, the playground with equipment and a basketball hoop, and just some big fields. It’s a pretty amazing place. They have ground tiles that are on a path that have inspirational quotes. I almost feel like this is hallowed ground and I can feel the lords hand in making this place come to fruition. Also, we have a communal kitchen, and then bathrooms with indian toilets and bucket showers.
They have one American toilet but that’s for emergenices only because it uses so much water and that is a valuable thing around here in themiddle of nowhere. I can only imagine what emergenices entail ;). There is a laundry room full of chadidars that we wear everyday. Then there are 2 house mothers that clean and do all the laundry for us. It’s actually a pretty sweet set up and I am surprised at how clean the place is.
They gave us a little run through and this place has super strict rules. You can’t ever go in the room of someone of the opposite sex, you can’t be behind closed doors with a child, don’t touch any of the animals, ask if you can touch or a hug a child, etc. This last one about asking if you can touch a child is to teach them that they have free will and are in charge of their bodies. I guess a lot of them come from abusive situations or other things and we are teaching them that their bodies are their own. Some of these rules are crazy sad with the reasons behind them . They have stray dogs running all over the campus but we aren’t allowed to go near them and they only keep them here as guard dogs against the other animals. There is one sheep named lola that is the pet and we can touch her. She has a collar and everything and has been to the vet. Say no to rabies  We’re also supposed to drink at least 4 liters of water daily because we sweat SO MUCH!!! It is so stinkin hot. They say its suually around 100 degrees with 100% humidity. We literally sweat all day, non stop. And I’m not talking like a little drip running down your face. I mean like just jumped out of the pool sweaty. I wouldn’t be surprised if Im chaffed up the wazoo here pretty soon.
We had our first Indian meal here. At night, the staff all eats on the roof because it is bearable. We eat on banana leaves (they say they’re the most hygienic thing) and go around and say our highs and lows. My high was going to church and my low was that my open sores and blisters still have not healed on my feet and I have to start wearing ym heavy duty sandals tomorrow. The food was absoulutely delicious. IT was spiced potatoes with a chiken in a spicy sauce with yellow and red rice. The yellow rice was very good but the red rice was rather grainy. I bit into my first piece of chicken and there was a huge bone! All fo the chicken was filled with them. Welcome to India—no more boneless, skinless chicken breasts from the grocery store. Also, we had fresh pnieaplle and pomegranates that were so yummy.
Tonight was our first night with the kids. There is a group of same gender kids, probably about 15, that are assigned to each little house with a house mother. We go and work with them from 7:30-9 pm. Our main job is to help them with their homework, read stories, and play with them. There are 3 of us assigned to each house and I am really excited because my friend, Kim, is with me. Moral of the story: I LOVE THE KIDS! I am sure they are going to be my absolute favorite part of this whole thing. They are so cute and sweet, especially the little ones. They run up to you and say “auntie, auntie, what is your name?” I didn’t know what to do at first but then a little girl ran up to me with her book and we read it together. I can tell they are yearning for touch so we constantly touch and cuddle witht hem inspite of the heat. Those kids are like little furnaces! I was cuddling with one girl and I took my arm off of her to hold the book because it was falling. She immediately grabbed the book with her arm and then put my arm back around her.
But before I touch any of them, I always ask if I can touch them or give them a hug. Once they say yes, then your fine to touch from then on. It was hard learning and understanding their names. When I was reading stories to the kids, I would deliberately say their names and tell them to trun the page to help me remember them. I brought my flashlight and the kdis loved it! They wer fighting over it and wanted to have it on. Luckily, there is a solar setting so I could let them play with it without killing the battery. They wanted to put it on the the high LED setting but I told them no.
I initially read stories with j-mary and another girl, but then they weren’t as interested. They kind of did their own things for a few minutes and then I offered to tell them a story but they didn’t’ care. I asked this little girl to tell me a story and then that opened up a million doors. Her name is G-davy, and then another girl told me a story. Then a few of them sat by my feet and I told them the story of Mulan, Beauty and the beast, and Rapunzel. They LOVE the Disney stories and asked me to tell them Rapunzel but I didn’t know it and got confused and was about to tell them rumplestilkzetn. Kim quickly told me to just tell them the tangled version and that was a hit! They also wanted sleeping beauty and I didn’t know that one either! I need to catch up on my Disney stories for sure. W ealso played patty cake and I just messed around with them for a while. The woman in charge said that they can be a little tenetavie at first but within a few days, they will just love you, especially because we are assigned to the same house every night. I think the consistency helps to really build the friendships and love. We were told that 15 new kids had just arrived recently. I saw a little girl crying and asked her what her name was. She din’t respond and another girl translated it into indian for me. IT turns out that she had just gotten to the school today and missed her mom. I tried to comfort her but she didn’t really want me too. It was really sad. Also, when the kids first come here, they don’t usually speak English. They just pick it up when they get here. Hanging out with the kids was great and I can’t wait to go back tomorrow. Something tells me that I am going to be completely exhausted by the end of this trip. We work to the bone and that is how I want it to be. I want to give it my all and know that I made a difference.
I took my first bucket shower tonight. I don’t think I have evr been so excited to take a cold shower before. IT felt awesome and I even provided a little show for a frog in my stall. IT feels great to be clean but I don’t think that muggy feeling really ever goes away. I also peed in the hole for the first time and definitely nailed my pants. Don’t worry, it was before the shower  Today was awesome and I can’t wait for tomorrow!


  1. Oh I really loved reading this. So good to hear about your adventures.

  2. Oh Laura how you make me laugh. Love the blog and can't wait to hear more about your adventures! You go girl.