Sunday, September 30, 2012

I Could Love This City

As I settled into the cab's backseat, wind rushing across my face as the driver exceeded the speed limit, watching the brightly lit shops and even brighter shoppers still bustling about long after the sun has gone down, a thought ran through my head so quickly I hardly recognized it:

I could love this city...

But the thought had an asterisk, a condition. I could love this city...if... I spoke the language, or understood the culture, or had someone to share it with. I don't know what the condition was, only that it existed.

A prayer two days ago: Jesus! Save me from myself, my own destructive nature, the parts of me that buy the lie of consumerism and elitism, thinking I am so much more than what I am. 

The days are so full lately. 

I spend my mornings at Shanti Dan, painting nails, helping feed the girls during lunch, changing diapers, washing clothes, making Christmas decorations, doing the Macarena, helping girls memorize their lines for the Christmas play. 

I spend my afternoons either at registration helping the new volunteers get orientated, or running errands for the Sisters, or, if I'm lucky, sitting in bed reading my bible.

I spend my evenings at Holy Hour, praying, then dinner, then washing clothes, shower, and bed. 

That is every day except Thursday because Thursday is our day off, unless Sister Beatina sends me around town all day running errands for the Christmas play, as happened this previous Thursday. 

Last Thursday I got up as usual at 6:30, ate breakfast at 7ish, then waited for Ahad to show up for English lessons. He was supposed to be there at 8, but didn't show up until 8:45. I took the extra time and wrote in my journal and meditated. It was nice to have some quiet time in the morning. 

Ahad strolled up still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. We reviewed the letters of the alphabet, as usual, then went over his most recent sentence, "The cat sat on the mat," while playing with a colorful caterpillar that had wandered over; I'm pretty sure it was the same one that had shown up for the previous day's English lesson. 

He left around 10, discouraged by how much he didn't remember, despite my encouragement.  My friend Elena and I then left for Shanti Dan to pick up the Christmas cds we would be taking to a media production guy named Sunil who would put all the songs and our narration onto one cd. We left for Shanti Dan at 10, got their at about 11, then came back on the most annoying bus ride I've had in Kolkata. I held onto the bar above my head as more and more people shoved their way onto the minibus, forcing me into an awkward position between two men's armpits. I bent my head at a strange angle to avoid being elbowed in the face as the bus lurked forward and back, I held my feet as firm as possible, tightening all my muscles, and gripped the bar above my head until my knuckles were white. Sweat poured from every part of my body, but it was impossible to wipe away with one hand holding a bag of cds and the other hanging onto the bar above me for dear life. The sweat dripped into my eyes, down my neck, my back and finally out the bottom of my pants. 

Our stop approached and we jumped off as the bus continued moving, as you sometimes have to do if you want to get off a certain point. 

We walked the 10 minutes back to our house, changed, showered, ate a quick lunch, then grabbed our two friends and headed out to New Market to find Sunil's office. The auto rickshaws were crowded beyond capacity, the taxis were full, and the buses weren't going our way, so we walked the 25 minutes to New Market only to discover we had walked to the wrong theater. I was told to the Hindi Cinema to find this guy, but apparently he said Hind theater which was another 15 minutes walk. So we walked. 

We finally found his place, about an hour late, came inside, and were offered chai before we began recording our voices for the Christmas play. It was quite the process, recording, editing, keeping ourselves awake...

We ended the evening at 7:30pm, catching a taxi and hoping we would make it back to our guest house before they stopped serving dinner at 8pm. We had signed up for dinner and they make you pay, regardless of whether or not you actually eat the food they prepare, so we were anxious not to have wasted 90 rupees (almost $2) on a dinner we wouldn't get to eat. 

We made it back with only a minute to spare. The cooks gave me a big smile as I rushed into the dining area.  I filled my plate and Santodo, one of the cooks, began picking the cucumbers from the vegetable plate and loading them onto my plate. He's gotten to know me so well that he knows I always just pick out the cucumbers.

Then last night we had a volunteer's night at Nirmal Hriday, Kalighat, Mother's home for the destitute and dying. Here are a few photos from that beautiful night.

I will be absent from the internet for a week-ish because I am heading to Shantinaghar, a leprosy center, tomorrow morning to help the Sisters. A few of my friends and I will be spending the week with the Sisters, living with them, eating with them, praying with them, serving with them.

Thank you for your prayers. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

God's Three Year Plan?

"God is everywhere: in the mind, in the heart, in the eye, in the...what you call this? In the ear!"
There is no believing in God...we either know God, or we do not.
This is a blog about the past, the present, and the future.
A little over five years ago my life felt like it was falling apart. I was lost in the destruction of my own life, sabotaging myself for some reason I never really knew, jumping into the dark waves without life support, hoping to drown.
I was raised by Christian parents, but the Christianity I saw around me was fake smiles, people trying really hard to be good and avoid being bad, pastel colors, elevator music, boring people who were nice but not different.
In the midst of some interesting events during my self-destruction process, I came across a book called The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. I found it in a Christian bookstore while looking for a book for a friend. It didn't have the cheery blues and pinks of the other books, nor did it have a picture of a smiling, too cheerful looking evangelist on the cover. I bought it.
This book changed my life. Shane Claiborne was tired of living as a middle class Bible belt kid when he read about how Jesus lived with the poor, served the poor, loved the poor.  He decided that following Jesus meant doing what Jesus did, so he grabbed some friends and moved into inner city Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the top three of America's murder capitals at the time. They moved into a house and started living out the book of Acts, sharing their possessions, giving to anyone as he had need, preaching the gospel through actions like babysitting neighbors' kids, uniting with the immigrants, growing their own food to feed the neighborhood, inviting in the alcoholic and the drug addict and helping him get clean.  
Suddenly one Christian house turned into two and three and four, and soon the whole block was one big intentional Christian community, all living lives for Christ in the inner city. They call their community The Simple Way (
Well, I never knew this type of Christianity. I never knew Christians got their hands dirty, were willing to live with and love the poor, willing to really be a neighbor and a friend to the outcast and the abandoned, the overworked and underpaid. Christians who were symbols of peace in a neighborhood of guns and gangs and racial violence. I never knew this was Jesus.
I handed my life over to Jesus two weeks after reading this book and my heart has been set on building an intentional Christian community like The Simple Way in downtown Phoenix.
As soon as I accepted Christ, I started going to downtown Phoenix with some friends to hand out water to homeless men and women during the hot summer months. After summer was over, my friends stopped going downtown, but my heart was there, so I would bake cupcakes every Saturday and take them downtown every Sunday. This ended up turning into a major operation called The Bagel Ministry. Einstein's Bagels would donate their leftover bagels to me and I would take them downtown with a group of volunteers and we would set up tents and hand out bagels with cream cheese.  
After two years of going downtown every Sunday, I burned out. I was a new Christian, without roots, and I was on fire for Jesus and for loving people, but I was not grounded and didn't have a very big support group or people to help me continue the ministry. I stopped going downtown, focused instead on getting through school, then became a teacher for three years.
Now I am in India.
My passion for the downtrodden in downtown Phoenix has not waned. But the idea of an intentional Christian community was put on the backburner as life happened.
As I have been in India God has been revealing plans to me for the next few years of my life. This was not exactly what I was expecting when I came here, but what has been going through my heart and mind is blessing me, and getting me really excited for the next phase of my life. The idea of community has been burning within my heart for the last few weeks and, step by step, God is showing me the way to begin.
Through The Simple Way website, I came across an organization called Mission Year. Mission Year places 18-29 year olds in already established intentional Christian communities in inner city areas like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. They teach, guide, and mentor young adults on how to build community and live like Jesus in urban areas.
They also have a partnership with Eastern University in Philadelphia and offer discounted rates on Masters Degrees in Community Development.
The first deadline to apply to Mission Year is this November. There is a $2,000 fundraising match as a bonus for this deadline. The next deadline is March with a $1,000 bonus match. And the final application deadline is August with no bonus.
So, here's the plan unrolling before me. Please pray over it with me and feel free to let me know anything the Lord is laying on your heart about it!
Nov. 20: Return to AZ from India
Nov-Dec.: Get back into the swing of things
Jan-Feb: Head to Michigan to be with family and raise support
March-Aug: Raise support in AZ and maybe take a few months to help my friend set up a Christian community in Louisiana
Sept-July '14: Year program with Mission Year
Aug '14-?: Come back to Az, work on Master's program online for community development, and start an intentional Christian community in downtown Phoenix with a rad group of people yet to be determined
I have been praying about this plan for a few weeks and feel such a peace about each part of it that I really do feel it is from God and not simply from my own selfish desires. I know that when I delight in the Lord, He will give me the desires of my heart, because they are His desires that He has placed there for His own good purposes (Psalm 37:4). I have clung to the Lord in India, delighting myself only in Him, feeding off His mercy and goodness, drinking from His living water, breathing in His Presence. And I truly believe He has revealed the plans for the next few years of my life because He delights in me and wants to use little, ridiculous me to accomplish His perfect will.  How silly is that? Using a crooked stick like me to draw a perfect line of His will. But God does things that seem so silly to us.
There is one thing that keeps me from applying right away to the program: my house. Since my parents left for Kenya two and a half years ago, my siblings and I have been paying the mortgage on our house, living there like roommates. The problem is that my siblings cannot pay for the house without my portion, and they have already decided they do not want a roommate because it would be someone moving in with a family, and they all thought that would be too weird.  So I continue to pray about this bump in the road and ask God for guidance.
I know if He has called me, He will take care of the details. I just don't want to leave my siblings without any plan.
Please, friends, pray about this plan, for God's continuing direction of my life, for Him to continue making me small and humble, making Himself greater. And for direction on what to do with our house.
Thank you.
I love you. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Poem

Journal Entry
September 8, 2012

Suddenly sad I'm swayed by the weather:
overcast and orange hued;
children playing in the garden,
barefoot and ragged,
their ashy grey lives forgotten 
in the technicolor world
inside the gates,
running for shelter 
from the fresh rain
that blankets the earth
with a sigh,
while the City of Joy
Mud and floods,
poisonous water 
that rushes over my sandaled feet,
bloated rats,
yesterday's trash,
swim past
through these puzzling streets;
The family's outside laying cardboard boxes
over a layer of bricks
a step higher 
than the flood,
covering themselves 
with a homemade tarp,
their plastic shelter,
always waiting.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Do I Justify Love?

"God only shares His secrets with little ones." 
-Sister Mercy Maria 

I have moved rooms for the third time in the last three and a half months. My good shoes have a hole in them. I love sitting in the dark chapel at Mother House, surrounded by Sisters singing and chanting, gazing on the face of our crucified savior. The kittens are gone. I bought the street family a stove. Then Asmirah and I danced and she taught me how to exercise with bricks. 

The BMS street family, as I call them, chooses to be on the streets. They have a house in a village, but the money and daily supplies they get from tourists far exceed the amount they could get on their own with hard work in the village. So, they stay, with their dirty clothes, children, and empty bottles crowding the sidewalk in front of the gates of my guesthouse.

They have caused me many a spiritual dilemma as I think about the words of Jesus, the actions of Jesus, and the path chosen by the adults of this family.  They don't ask for extravagant things. They ask for rice, for milk, for a cooking stove, for soap. 

But when they ask, I think, "Where is all that money you have received from tourists? Where is the money that French lady gave you, enough money to pay rent for eight months on your village home? Why do you ask me for things when you choose to be here? Why do you not work?"

Do I give out of charity even though I know I am contributing to a cycle of poverty? Is it really loving to give them things when they choose to stay on those streets and beg? How can I help them, really help them? 

I have prayed a lot.  It's a complex issue and what I feel God telling me to do is not necessarily what He tells everyone to do.  I have examined my intentions. Why do I feel my giving has to be justified? 

When I asked God about it, I felt in my heart this answer: That money isn't yours. Why are you afraid of giving it away? That money belongs to Me, and I will provide for that family through You, and I will continue to provide for You. There will never be a shortage. I am God of plenty. If they have hundreds, thousands of rupees on them, but ask you for rice, buy them rice. 

I am greedy and selfish, wanting to cling to money and things, and justifying this by saying giving to certain people isn't helping them.  It's a discernment thing and not all situations are the same, but for this one, God tells me to give without questioning them or trying to justify my giving. It's His money and I need to stop trying to hold onto it when someone asks for something, for soap, for rice, for milk. It's not mine. 

Speaking of money, I felt that I should give a financial update. Everyday I write down the amount of money I spend and what I spend it on. I haven't made a pie chart or anything, but I can tell you how much has been spent thus far on this trip. The amount is approximate since the exchange rate changes daily. I use an exchange rate of 55 rupees to 1 US dollar because that is generally the rate I get.  This goes from June 9 to September 9. 

Total Spent (combined expenses in India and bills back home in AZ) = about $3,840

Total spent in India alone since June 9 = $1,740 
- from this amount, about $600 has been on rent
- $56 has been on international ATM charges. I take out a good chunk of money at a time so I don't have to be charged often, but I am charged $7 total for each transaction on the US side. 
-$480 has been on traveler's health insurance
- the rest is food, travel expenses (bus, taxi), donations (including items bought for street families), minutes for my Indian SIM card, and personal items such as soap 

Total spent on bills in America = $2,100 
- this includes rent on my house (which I share with my siblings), phone payment (I'm on a family plan so there was no way to get rid of my share of it while I was gone), and donations to Saved By God's Grace. My car insurance was able to be dwindled down to about $2 because I took almost all insurance off of it before I left. 

So that has been for 3 months of living in India. I have about two and a half left, which we'll just round up and say it'll be the same amount, so another $3,840. I have about $6,000 in my account from donations and also from two unexpected checks from my last job. So, hopefully that leaves me about $2,000 to live on when I get back to the US. I don't exactly know my plans when I return, but God is definitely formulating something. But that is definitely for another blog post. 

And now some pictures to keep you entertained after that bit of business talk! This is from dinner the other night, our goodbye dinner for our friends Sam, Fouad, and Wissam. 

A strange man...
What were we so intrigued by?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Shanti Dan

On Saturday morning I was talking to Sister Mercy Maria, telling her that I love working at Mother House but feel like I should get out and see the other houses, maybe go back to working at Prem Dan a little more. "How about you go to Shanti Dan tomorrow?" She asked and wrote out a pass.

Shanti Dan, meaning Gift of Peace, is not one of the houses I had originally wanted to work at because it is a home for girls and women with mental disabilities, not a group I thought I would work well with.  I love working at Prem Dan with the elderly women, but they are cognizant and able to communicate fairly well with me to tell me what they want. Shanti Dan is very different. The youngest girl at Shanti Dan is 12 years old, but looks like she's four. The oldest is 50, but looks like she's 12. Their physical and cognitive abilities vary widely. Some girls are bed ridden, contorted in painful looking positions because of their muscle spasms and stunted growth. Others are in wheelchairs, most of them with very little ability to communicate.  Still others will grab your hand and walk you around the yard, like they are giving you a tour everyday, speaking to you in English along the way. But most all of them have smiles that will shatter your heart.

When I arrived at Shanti Dan on Sunday morning, I met the Sister in charge who had just gotten back from two months in Sri Lanka. She asked if I knew of any long term volunteers, and I told her that I happened to be here for the next three months. She smiled wide and said, "Good! We need to get ready for Christmas!" It takes the girls a long time to prepare for Christmas because they have a hard time remembering dances and songs, so they get everything going in September. Sister then gave me a box of face paints and I walked around painting hearts and flowers on the girls' cheeks.

We then got everyone ready for the dance, tying sashes around some of the more able bodied girls and wheeling the girls in wheelchairs onto the playground to watch. When the music started, the girls didn't seem to be too into it. But then they turned on The Macarena and all the volunteers began doing the popular dance moves, getting even some of the girls in wheelchairs to raise their hands up in the air, dancing with us!

After this, Sister gave me my first craft assignment and I went to work. I thought about the irony of my situation. I had gone from being alone in a room at Mother House working on crafts and writing down information to being alone in a room at Shanti Dan working on crafts and preparing to write out a Christmas play.

Lord, You work in strange ways. 

After being at Shanti Dan and thinking about the lives of these girls and the women who look after them, I think about the friends I know who have children with mental and physical disabilities, parents who do everything possible to give their child the best life they can, even at their own expense: sleepless nights, rearranging your entire schedule so you can pick up your kid in a wheelchair accessible van, accommodating every aspect of that child's life. My heroes are the parents of disabled children. I don't understand how you still have energy, but I love you and am so grateful for you.

That night, after Shanti Dan, a few friends and I visited my friend Ravi's church. The church is a two story house with peeling Pepto Bismol pink wallpaper in the high end of town where the highest caste lives. The service was full of the Holy Spirit, genuine people, a lady preacher who preached a fiery sermon, and a testimony by one of my friends. It was one of the best services I have been to. And it was all in Bengali.
On our way to Salt Lake for church

Afterwords, my friends decided to take a rickshaw driver on a ride in his own rickshaw. He was pretty amused by this.

On our way back from church we were all a bit tired, so I gave my friend Jes a massage, and Sam decided that was a good idea, and Ravi apparently thought that was a great idea!

And a few more pictures because my blogs have been lacking pictures lately:

The new kittens outside my bathroom window

Some of my current and previous roommates

Updates: Ahad is now reading small words on his own, is being impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and is trying to find meaning and purpose in the events of his life. Please keep praying for him. 

Thank you for your love and prayers, friends. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Do Not Believe Me

The Jews (like myself so often) tell Jesus, rather annoyed with all His parables, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." We just want a straightforward answer, Jesus. Are you or are you not the guy?

Jesus, knowing their deceitful hearts, replies, " do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hands. I and the Father are one."

After getting this reply, which essentially says, "Yes. I'm the guy!" the Jews accuse Jesus of blasphemy (claiming to be God) and attempt to stone Him.

Jesus answers this reaction with a beautiful, stunning reply, "Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does." *

If only that were our answers when people ask if we are Christ followers: "Yes, but do not believe me unless I do what Jesus does."

I pray that will be my reply. Do not believe I am a Christ follower if I do not behave like Christ, if my love is not sacrificial, if my concern for self overrides my concern for others, if my heart has grown cold and weary. Only believe I am a Christ follower based on my actions, only if they are out of love.

Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Gandhi also said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ."

With all this political stuff I see and hear from my friends and loved ones in the States, I feel that Christians, regardless of how we vote, cannot call ourselves Christians unless we can say to people, "Do not believe me unless I do what Jesus does." Whether you vote Obama or Romney, if you do not love your neighbor as yourself, if you do not live to make a change in this world, your vote counts for nothing. Doing your "patriotic duty" of voting one day every four years will not change your neighbor or yourself. It will not stop the alcoholic from being lonely, it will not stop the motherless child from worrying, it will not stop the pregnant teenager from fearing neglect. You know what will stop those things? Neighbors, people like you, who will seek out the alcoholic and befriend him, take in the orphan, be a comfort and confidant to the pregnant teenager, showing her she doesn't need to abort that baby out of fear.

The government may pass laws, but they do not change people's hearts. God does that. And God chooses to use you and me to bring His love to the dark places, to the lonely, the abandoned, the neglected, the ridiculed, the misused. To the prisoners, the death row inmates, the mother who thinks she has no other option but to abort that precious child being knit together in her womb, to the drug addicts, to the gay teenager being abused every day at school, to the single mother thinking she is all alone, to the television and movie stars drunk on fame, to those who are lost. The love of Jesus reaches beyond your political ideals and touches real human hearts. And that is what He calls us to do.

So whether you vote left, right, up, or down, I couldn't care less. But I would like to see a few more Christians who will say, "Do not believe I am a Christian unless I do what Jesus does."

*Passage taken from John 10:22-42