Saturday, June 30, 2012

What is Normal?

When you live in a city, truly live there, you have to adjust to your culture, your surroundings, or be uncomfortable for a while.  As I settle in for five months of Kolkata living, I have stopped seeing things as unusual, and as such, don't know what would be deemed photo worthy for my friends back home. The hand pulled rickshaws, the goats being herded down a busy street, the brightly lit up neon autos, the food stands on the side of the road, the family that sleeps on the street right in front of the guest house? Normal.

I think I've adjusted well to my new home. I'm used to sweating through my clothes as soon as I leave the house.  I am used to waking up in sweat.  I'm getting better at hailing taxis and riding autos (three wheeled contraptions...although I totally got ripped off the other day due to miscommunication. gr.) I am getting used to walking, a lot.  I'm good at ordering food from a street vendor.

Here are some photos from being out and about with my friend Fabrizio the other day.

Awesome article in the Indian Times. Gentlemen, get your Moochi on!

Now, this was actually an interesting sight for me.  I have seen chickens, cows, and goats wandering around the streets, but I had not seen a pig yet. Lucky me!

Birds on a wire. 

Some political protest on College Street. 

Fabrizio and I finally made it to the Indian Coffee House, which apparently is famous for Indian writers sitting in the seats, drinking their rather plain coffee. 

And then Ahad opened my umbrella inside the store to test it out. I guess it works! 

Last night I stayed out way too late, running errands with Ahad and Shabbir on Shabbir's motorcycle. Kolkata air is killing my lungs, especially while I'm still recovering from the flu, or whatever I had.  So, tonight I am taking it easy, reading, writing, praying, blogging, showering, washing my clothes, then heading to bed. I guess that sounds like a lot, but I've done most of that already and now all that's left is showering and washing. 

I deeply covet your prayers to keep me on the right track.  A few things I would like prayer for:

- Guidance for daily steps, the every day decisions that need to be made, where to spend my time and resources

- Guidance for the bigger picture: I have an opportunity to teach at a school for my entire stay in Kolkata, teaching English to children and adults.  I don't know how jazzed I am about the idea of teaching, but I'm not going to close the door if it's where God wants me to be. 

- To be kept from sin and temptation

- To interact with everyone I meet in a way that glorifies God

- For my prayer and bible study time to be solid and productive, bringing me closer to the heart of Jesus

- For Ahad to have an open heart and open mind to lean into Jesus

Thank you friends for your love and support, prayerfully and financially. It's all appreciated. 

Remember, if you'd like to support this mission financially, please send a check made out to Tarrin McDonald to 4401 W. Wahalla Ln. Glendale, AZ 85308

or donate securely online via Paypal:

By the grace of God alone, thank you.

Monday, June 25, 2012


To be still does not feel like purpose.
To meditate does not feel like purpose.
To pray does not feel like purpose.
To read does not feel like purpose. 

There is a predefined definition of purpose etched in my mind that requires action, movement, physical goals accomplished.

When God tells me to be still, I don’t understand.

What is the point of stillness?
Relationship He tells me.

I am in India, on a mission trip. But there is the word “purpose” disguised: mission.  What is the mission?

I am surrounded by people who are here in Kolkata for two weeks, four weeks, some even six weeks.  They get up every morning to head to the home they are volunteering at for their morning shift, they come back for a nap and lunch, then they head out again for their afternoon shift, they come back after dinner to chat, wash clothes, and go to bed.  Everyday they have a definite purpose, a tangible purpose.   

Can I do that for five months?

Sister Mercy Maria, the Sister who hands out volunteer cards, told me I should start with morning shifts and see how I feel after a few weeks of doing just morning shifts.  After doing that for a few days, I don’t understand how the other volunteers are doing both morning and afternoon shifts.  Then I remember they are hammering out their time, getting the most bang for their buck, since their time here is measured in weeks.


What is my purpose?

If my purpose of being in India is to take care of the elderly at Prem Dan, or the kids at Shishu Bhavan, or even to talk to people about Jesus on the streets of Kolkata, I am failing miserably while being sick.  But that can’t be the end of it. There’s got to be more.

I keep looking for some deeper reason, something hidden, an understanding of God I’ve never had before. But I’m expecting it to be easy, an epiphany, a clear vision, a flipping of a switch that changes everything.

I asked a Muslim man why he believed the Qur’an was true.
He told me because it is.
I asked him what he thought about Jesus.
He told me the Qur’an is the best book…
“Bible also good book,” he said, then tried to sell me a scarf.  

There were many things I was expecting when I came to India: poverty, contrast, being scammed because of my white skin. But, for some reason, I was not expecting to talk to Muslims about Jesus.  Yet, that is what I find myself doing. And I am clueless. 

In my dorm room, someone from weeks gone by had left a book called The Unseen Face of Islam by Bill Musk.  It talks about the lives of ordinary Muslims from their worldview and gives a biblical perspective that alleviates Muslims from their heavy burden of religion and tradition they have been placed under.

Jesus is always the answer.

Some friends who left BMS (my guest house) a few days ago left me some tracts in Arabic and Hindi. Some of the tracts were written by former Muslims who point to places in the Qur’an that point to Jesus, building a bridge from Islam to Jesus.

I am envious (in a good way) of my friend Bekah’s training program that has been teaching her how to minister to Muslims.  She is currently in Bangalore, India right now putting her training into practice.  

Lord, lead Bekah and her team as they reach out to those without Your light and hope. Keep them refreshed and able to do the work You have set out for them to do.

My mind is already planning six months down the road, plans for returning to the US, plans for going to Bible school, or joining a missionary training program, or going to seminary, or… wait, what am I going to eat for dinner? Oh yeah, I have enough worries for today.

Jesus, what do you have for me right now? Not even in a few hours, later today, or tonight. What do you have for me right now?  That’s all I can ask.

What is my life but a mist?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4: 13-15

I am doing a bible study with my Arizona ladies called “Cookies on the Lower Shelf: Putting Bible Reading Within Reach.” It’s starting in Genesis and taking us through the whole bible (intense!).  Well, one of the little sections within each chapter of the study is called Digging Deeper where it gives you a section of the bible to dig into a little deeper if you have time.  This one was on Job.

We all know Job’s suffering. It was pretty horrendous. 

But how often do you think about God’s response to him?

            “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
            Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me…

            Have you ever given orders to the morning
            Or shown the dawn its place…

            Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?
            Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
            Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?

            Unleash the fury of your wrath,
            look at every proud man and bring him low,
            look at every proud man and humble him,
            crush the wicked where they stand.
            Bury them all in the dust together;
            Shroud their faces in the grave.
            Then I myself will admit to you
            That your own right hand can save you.”           Job 38:2,3,12,34,35; 40:11-14

What is my life compared to that?

The commentary of my bible says, “Give God a chance to reveal his greater purpose for you” (sweet, that’s what I’m looking for!) “but” (I hate buts) “remember that they may unfold over the course of your life and not at the moment you desire” (darn).

"Do Everything" by Steven Curtis Chapman keeps going through my head:

            “And while I may not know you I bet I know you
Wonder sometimes does it matter at all
We'll let me remind you it all matters just as long as you

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you
Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face
And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And every little thing you do.

Maybe you’re sitting in math class
Or maybe on a mission in the Congo
Or maybe you’re working at the office
Singing along with the radio

Maybe you’re dining at a 5-star
Or feeding orphans in the Myanmar
Anywhere and everywhere that you are

Whatever you do
It all matters
So do what you do
Don't ever forget to

Do everything you do to the glory of the One who made you
Cause He made you to do
Every little thing that you do to bring a smile to His face
And tell the story of grace
With every move that you make
And every little thing you do.”

Just a whole lot of thoughts today.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Yesterday, my friends Fabrizio, Cecile, and I went journeying to North Kolkata to visit some Hindu temples.

Our first stop was Dakshineswar Temple, a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Kali, an "angry god" as some of my Indian friends have described, on the Hooghly River.

It definitely was beautiful.  We took off our shoes, handed over our cameras to Cecile, and wandered inside to find hundreds of people lined up to offer their gifts to Kali.  I am not super sensitive to spiritual atmospheres, but just the idea of what was happening really hit me.  People giving offerings to a statue, a carved idol, that can do absolutely nothing for them. Thousands, even millions, of Hindus are putting their faith in gods made my their own hands. It made me sad. I prayed. We left. 

Much like the pictures you may have seen of people bathing in the Ganges, people also bathe in the Hooghly River, trying to get a little of the temple's spirituality on them. 


 We then got on a boat to go over Hooghly River and visit Belur Math, another Temple.

I couldn't get any photos of Belur Math because they were pretty strict about their no camera policy, but we did have some fun around the temple. 

He wasn't really...

I really liked the fried potatoes!

This is sexy Ganesh, Hindu god who brings success and money. Fabrizio had to get one for his sister. 

Wrapping up sexy Ganesh. 

Then we headed back to central Kolkata by bus. 

Fabrizio is really tall and likes to sit in the handicapped section of the bus because there's more leg room.  Cecile made sure to get her spot in the senior citizen's section.  I wish I had a picture of that!

We then grabbed some lunch and walked around New Market and Sudder Street. 

I then spent some time at Ahad's store as the rains came down. Ahad was deciding whether or not to buy some Jujubes (I think that's what they are), sweet fruits. 

He then had to bring in all the clothes from the rain. 

And now, the grand finale: I got sick yesterday after all that traveling around. I was up coughing all night (my poor roommates) and then woke up with a fever and body aches.  Mother Teresa has a dispensery at Shishu Bhavan where people can come to get free medical treatment, so I went there this morning and the doctor gave me some pain pills, antibiotics, and cough drops. I will be taking it easy for the next few days while my body recuperates. 

Prayer requests:
- For God to completely heal and restore my body and my energy.
- For God to keep me from sin and temptation.
- For God to work mightily in Kolkata, bringing His freedom to Muslims and Hindus in the city. 
- For God to move Ahad's heart, to bring him visions of God's love and life. 

Thanks for your love and prayers, friends. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Taxis, Puppies, and Heat Rash

Day 8 in Kolkata. Really? Only eight? Whew.

The good thing about living in a dorm room: constantly having new people to talk to and get to know.
The bad thing about living in a dorm room: constantly having new people to talk to and get to know.

For now, I'm enjoying the dorm room experience. I'm hardly ever alone, which I consider to be a good thing right now, and since I'm staying so long, I'll eventually get the hang of things around here and can be very helpful for the newbies.  And, I've only cried once since being here, which I consider pretty significant. It was today actually, because I took a taxi back to the guest house and we agreed on 100 rupees.  We got there and I only had 95 rupees or a 1000 rupee bill, which I was pretty sure he could not break.  So, since he didn't speak English and I did not speak Hindi, we had some issues.  He got mad because he thought I was trying to cheat him (even though we both knew 100 rupees was already well above what I should have paid by meter) and all I wanted to do was go into my room and borrow 10 rupees from my roommate to pay the guy.  Thankfully the guard for the guest house came over and we got it settled.  I ran in the office and they were able to break the large bill I had gotten from the ATM. I think I was so frustrated with the whole language barrier that I came back to the empty dorm room and shed a few tears. But that's all done with now and everything's fine.

Here's our eight bedded dorm room. The room in the upper right is our bathroom.  There is another bathroom in the upper left that I couldn't get in view. We really use one for showering and the other for hanging our laundry.

The showering bathroom. Only cold showers of course. You'd have to be crazy to want a hot shower at this time of year without A/C.

Here's where we hang our clothes to dry.

This will mostly be a photo blog. 

Walking to Sudder Street, Mary Catherine needed a shirt tailored. 

Becca and I took a picture with a creepy wall painting. 

Some kids washed themselves and their clothes in the street bathing area. 

And a cow hung out on the side of the road as if saying, "What are you gonna do about it? I'm SACRED!"

On Sudder Street we ran into our usual friends and sat and had some Chai.  Everywhere they offer Chai while you are shopping, or sitting, or hanging out.  

This is Shabbir.  

I decided it would be a good idea to write down the names of my new Indian friends, since they are difficult for me to remember. I enjoy my mini dixie cup of Chai while doing so. 

This is Ahad with Mary Catherine and Becca.  Ahad and I discussed God again yesterday.  "The Buddhists give you stories and then want money.  The Hindus want money. The Christians want money.  Everyone sells their gods," he told me.  Despite the slight language barrier, I totally understand where he's coming from.  I pray that I can show him that not all Christians are the kind who want money. I just want to be his friend. Please keep Ahad in your prayers. 

This is Kailash. He has been explaining a little bit of Hinduism to me.  

And this little girl, well I probably shouldn't even tell you the story because you'll end up getting mad at me, but this is Kolkata.  You have to take life (or death) as it comes.  

The owner of a shop has been taking care of this puppy since week one.  Stray dogs in the streets of Kolkata are as pestering to the locals as pigeons are to Americans, so I was surprised to hear that this guy was actually taking care of this dog. Everyone thought she was the cutest thing, which she was. However, a few minutes after these pictures were taken, she ran into the street and was hit by a car. One of the girls in our group grabbed her up and brought her in front of the store to breathe her last breath. We covered her with a little towel and let the shop owner take care of her.  

It was a lesson in life and death on the streets of Kolkata.  

I pray to be somewhere in the middle of being calloused and being overwhelmed. 

On a lighter note, the girl holding the puppy also does fire dancing, and we got a little show last night. 

Today as we walked home from Mother Teresa's home for the elderly and disabled, I snapped a couple of shots through the slums by Prem Dan.

And now my friends, I think I will settle into bed, under this fan, covered in baby powder to counteract the heat rash, and read. 

Please let your friends know about my blog and what God is doing in Kolkata! Love you all and thank you for your prayers! 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Jesus and Ahad

"Those who love want the objects of their love to experience it fully.  Anything less is disappointing, to both the lover and the loved." - Experiencing God's Presence daily devotional

Before heading to Prem Dan for the first time this trip, this morning I prayed "Jesus give me wisdom to experience the depth of your love for me, for those around me, for the unreached, for the unbelieving, for the elderly women you will reach out to today through my hands.

When I began typing this blog earlier today, four of my six dorm roommates were passed out on their beds for a nap after working at Mother Theresa's home this morning. We are all exhausted from the heat, losing energy constantly from sweating so much.  The humidity is unreal.  We walk around with handkerchief's to wipe our face, arms, neck as the water pours out of us.  I can no longer tell when I have been splashed with water because my body is constantly wet.  I gave up on wearing sunscreen because it doesn't last longer than five minutes in this humidity.  Even the locals are having a difficult time with the weather.

While at Prem Dan, the volunteers first wash clothes.  We washed and rinsed, singing hymns and repeating the Our Father and Hail Mary.  Near the end of washing, I had to sit down.  The heat was stifling; the humidity was unreal; I was exhausted. I drank some water and walked into the room of women waiting to be loved on.  There was lots of hand holding, washing, bathing, lathering up with lotion, feeding.  I don't know if she spoke English, but while giving a hand massage I told a woman, "Jesus loves you. He really does." She looked up and smiled.

After Prem Dan, it was nap time. I was pretty set on staying in the rest of the day, getting a bit of relief in my dorm.  We don't have AC, but the fans do a pretty good job of drying us off.  However, God had different plans.

I talked with my roomie, Brandy, about God.  We discussed whether there was one way or multiple ways to reach God.  It was a lovely conversation.  She needed to get some stuff on Sudder Street, so off we went.

Oh, first, I have to tell you about yesterday. Yesterday, as my friend Sam and I were walking along Sudder Street, a man comes up and asks if we want to go see his shop.  On an adventure already, we said yes and followed him through a maze of a mall type area to a small, colorful, air conditioned shop. His nephew was also there, a young guy maybe in his twenties, name Shahib.  They were both related to the owner, Abi, a textile importer who has lived in Japan for the last 18 years (he's totally fluent in Japanese!). Shahib told me about an American girl he had met a few months earlier. We discovered that it was the same American girl I had met on my last trip to India, became friends with, and may be bunking with when she comes back to Kolkata in a few weeks! Strange, small city.  He actually had her number and we called her and talked for a few minutes. After that, we all became immediate friends.  For the next three hours we drank Chai, talked about Japan, India, and Abi's plans for building a school for underprivileged children on a piece of property he owns.

Now I've told you that story, I can continue.

On our way to Abi's store, I stopped to buy a Shalwar (baggy Indian pants which seriously look like pj bottoms).  I've begun introducing myself to shop owners as I find it makes them look at me less as a tourist and more as an acquaintance, so I introduced myself to Ahad.  I forgot how we got to the topic, but Ahad tells me his family is Muslim but he is not, nor is he Hindu or Christian.  He is himself. He seemed lost, confused about his religion, his life, where he lived, where he wanted to move, whether or not he wanted a wife and family. I asked him if I could pray for him to Jesus, the God I follow and pray to. He agreed. I know I will run into him again, as I'm sure I will be going to Sudder St. a bit.

We keep walking and make it to Abi's shop where the ladies I am with are not finding what they want (more interested in buying and going than in building relationships), and the friend I walked with goes with a new family member down the road to their other shop to look.  I sit with Abi and Shahib talking about Abi's plans for the guest house he wants to make in Kolkata, the crazy heat none of us can deal with, and then we talk about about Jesus.  Shahib tells me there was a group that came by and told them about Jesus.  He said he went to mass once because he was invited.  "They gave us wine and sweets.  I didn't drink the wine, but I did take the sweet," he told me.  I laughed and asked if he knew what those two things meant.  He said he did, but I'm not really sure if he did.  We then had to get going because the girl I was with had to catch a train.  Our new friend Shakil (like Shaquil) walked us back the way we needed in order to get to our guest house.

I'm sorry for the lack of pictures.  I've found bringing my camera out gives away a definite "tourist," but keeping it away, wearing the right clothes, dodging cars the right way, and learning the little nuances makes it much easier to befriend the people around, especially if you're willing to give up a few hours to have Chai and chat. This is a culture built on relationships.  The best things take time. I could have quickly bought some shirts from a street vendor for almost half as much as I paid at Abi's shop (I still only paid less than $5 per top), but I would not have developed the relationship. I'm going to be here for five and a half months.  It's good to have connections.

Prayer requests:
- For Ahad's salvation and more chances to talk with him

- For the salvation of Shahib, Abi, Alam, and Shakil (all Muslim) and also more opportunities to talk with them

- For my digestive system! I'm gradually trying to get my system accustomed to Indian water. Slowly slowly. Getting sick is bound to happen in six months, so I figure I'll try and introduce it little by little so maybe my body won't be so angry when I do get sick.

-For my energy levels.  The humidity is really getting to me.  I bought some Gatorade type stuff today and hope that will help, but I really need prayer for strength so I can be the hands and feet of Jesus at Prem Dan with the elderly women.

Thanks for your love and prayers friends!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

SIM Cards and Cow Heads

WARNING: At the bottom of this blog there are pretty gross pictures of animal brains and a cow's head being chopped up.  I gave you fair warning.

Last night, my roommate, Solfrid (from Norweigh) and I went for a stroll to Sudder Street, an area where tons of folks set up shops and you can find pretty much anything you're looking for.  Well, on our way, the clouds started rolling in and the sky darkened.  We kept our pace as the rains began.  We though it would be just a little bit of rain, but that rain soon turned into full blown monsoon.  Lightning cracked across the sky above us and booming thunder pierced our ears.  We took shelter on the steps of an entrance to a nice bank with several other people escaping the downpour.  This is where we met this kid, a student from elsewhere in India doing a tour in Kolkata.  He wanted pictures with us.  Feeling like rockstars, we obliged.

The rain let up, so we decided to head back to BMS, our guest house.  On the way I saw a stand that sold Indian SIM cards, so I decided I'd try to get one (I had heard they were difficult to get).  After a while of taking photos and making copies of my passport, I finally got one. Solfrid got some of the action on camera.

After my SIM card fun, we passed through an obviously Muslim part of town.  How did we know it was Muslim? Men with big knives were chopping up cow heads to take out their brains. Delicacy?  I stopped to take a picture and the man with the knife was so proud he posed nicely for the picture, then pointed toward the table of brains next to him so I would take a picture of those as well.  

Well, after that experience, we headed back to the guest house and showered up for bed. Not that showering helps. You remain dripping wet at all times because of the humidity. 

The lunch bell is about to ring and I am heading out with a group at the guest house to buy some Indian clothing. 

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dubai and Beyond

Here's what 6 months and 45 pounds worth of luggage looks like.

Some of you are looking at that and saying, "She had to take that much?!" And others are saying, "Oh man, she's not taking anything!" I'm pretty stoked I simplified it to that little, but I still wish I could have gotten rid of more.  God will work on that in me while I am in Kolkata. Simplify. I have a love hate relationship with that word. I love having so little with me, but I hate the process of purging.  I love to cling to things. God has quite a work to do in me. 

Two of my siblings took me to the airport and hung out with me until I just had to leave and get it over with.  Last time I visited India, I missed my first flight because of how long the check-in line was.  This time I showed up three hours and early and breezed through check-in and security and had about two hours to just hang out. Better than missing a flight though.  

After 34 hours of travel, I have arrived safe and sound in Kolkata.  I was expecting to have to negotiate my fare for a taxi, but the police have a booth set up where they have a set price you pay for a cab depending on your destination.  I was expecting to spend 250 Rupees for the ride, but I ended up paying 240 and didn't have to deal with any hassle, except for that cute little begging boy who told me, "Sit here miss," pointing to the back seat of the cab.

Ah, Kolkata travel.

The guest house had a bed ready for me.  I'm waiting to unpack until the other girls I'm sharing this dorm with arrive because I don't know if they have a system of how they have things set up in here. For now, I'm going to lay on the bed under the fan and try to dry off.  It's about 90 degrees F with 60% humidity, so it feels like 110 degrees.

I can also hear Rend Collective Experiment and other worship tunes blaring from the window in the dorm room outside my window.  This is going to be awesome.

I am going to try and stay up until it's a decent time to go to bed (it's only 10:50am right now), but sleep has been sporadic over the last 48 hours. Had a two hour nap before heading to the airport, then a 4-5 hour interrupted nap sitting up on the 13 hour flight to Dubai, then I curled up on a couch at a Haagen Dazs shop in the Dubai airport, then I took a few minutes nap on the flight to Kolkata.

Here is what a tired, shiny, happy girl looks like in her new home. Sidenote: what's up with my feet swelling up to look like hobbit feet? Oh humidity.

Stay tuned for upcoming adventures ;)