a passage to India: part 1

October 7-8

6:10 pm: Leave Philadelphia for London. Read a ton, watch “The Bling Ring” and eat what seems like every two hours. Bliss.

6:20 am (local): Arrive in London. Matt is bleary-eyed and I’m wired.

6:53 am: Starbucks. Soundtrack is Bach on harpsichord. Consider how much harpsichord music makes me want to punch someone.

7:00 am: Three-hour layover begins. We try to nap while someone’s small child runs screaming throughout the otherwise-empty terminal.

8:36 am: Wake up to him standing in front of me, staring.

10:20 am: Flight to Delhi. Sleep followed by a bizarre breakfast of cheese pizza, raisins, and tea.

11:33 pm (local): Arrive at the front of the customs line at the Delhi airport and discover the Indian government is, in fact, quite serious about wanting an address where you’ll be staying before they’ll let you into the country. Try to explain to the agent that we don’t have the local address, our friends are waiting for us outside with a sign, and we don’t have our cell phones so we can’t show him email confirmation of any of this. To say he’s a bit unhappy with us is like saying Nina’s a bit addicted to Snapchat.

12:01 am: Finally through the line and meet three CICM representatives who drape us with necklaces of flowers and drive us to the mission’s Delhi location. Bed, sleep, hallelujah.

October 9

8:00 am: Breakfast with the team, none of whom we knew were coming and none of whom knew we were coming. Flexibility is the short-term missionary’s greatest gift! Fortunately it’s a great team of other fun and flexible people, hailing from several churches including Crossroads Christian in Newburgh IN; Current: A Christian Church in Katy, TX; Jefferson Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, NC; and Compass Christian Church in Colleyville, TX.

10:00 am: Meet with two dozen Indian pastors from throughout the country who have experienced persecution and who have traveled to Delhi just for this meeting. Several share their stories. One’s daughter was kidnapped; she was dropped off on his doorstep, unconscious, after three days. One was beaten almost to death and woke up in the hospital to discover his wife had died in the attack and her funeral was over. I’m asked to pray for this sweet woman whose husband had been doused with kerosene and lit on fire while she watched, and who then was raped by more than 40 men. How do you pray? HOW DO YOU PRAY? With tears is how I did it.

2:00 pm: Afternoon outing to mall for some of us, naps for others. There’s a Starbucks, a Sephora, and American pop music playing. Other than the airport-like security at the entrance, it’s just like a mall in the States.

5:45 pm: My turn to nap. Wake up to reverberating Indian praise music and wonder why since the evening service doesn’t begin until 6:30.

6:30 pm: Realize it started before 6. The rest of the team is already on seats at the front of the stage. Begin the missionary version of a walk of shame.

8:43 pm: Kentucky Fried Chicken (curry flavored!) and bed.

October 10

3:49 am: Up super early to leave at 5:00 for a 6:15 train to Agra. On impulse, do one last walk-through of the room before heading downstairs and discover my entire bag of toiletries and makeup hanging from the door. Thank you, travel gods.

6:48 am: Breakfast on the train. Apparently Indians like their cereal with hot milk.

9:17 am: To the Taj Mahal, a marble mausoleum built for emperor Shah Jahan’s second of three wives. Matt: “This is how second wives should be treated.” We take all the necessary tourist photos.

I'm not sure why I'm leaning away like he has cooties.

12:03 pm: Tour of a shop where artisans hand-carve marble and add semi-precious stones to create intricate designs, much like the original workers did to the walls of the Taj.

2:30 pm: To lovely hotel where Ajai and team have worked it out for us to relax and spend the day. I splurge on a Balinese massage in the spa, visit the tea lounge for hot Darjeeling and basically have a lovely time. Matt sleeps. 🙂

India is a great place to be a cow.

7:00 pm: Dinner and trip to train station for overnight train to Damoh. The station is unlike anything I’ve ever seen—thousands of people scurrying to the platforms, people asleep on every flat surface, sometimes entire families bunking down on a blanket, cows wandering everywhere. With our faithful guides supervising the luggage, we crowd into our train and find six open bunks. After a quick trip to the bathroom (TIP: do not ever use a bathroom on an Indian train), Matt and I fall asleep on our two top bunks in our clothes and shoes.

October 11

5:00 am: Train arrives in Damoh. We’re met by a dozen friendly Indians with more ropes of flowers, then driven to the CICM center to rest and regroup. True to his word, Ajai has managed to get a hairdryer in our room. Thank you, friend!

8:00 am: Breakfast, followed by devotions for all the CICM staff and nursing students. Matt speaks and does great.

10:00 am: Meet with Indu to learn more about her work with child sponsorship. More than 4500 kids are sponsored; $30 a month provides clothing, shelter, food, education AND medical attention.

11:00 am: Meet with Abhijeet, Ajai and Indu’s son, who leads the youth and children’s ministry. In addition to hosting a thriving weekly youth gathering, the mission is putting the finishing touches on a gorgeous new youth building which will include a library, coffee shop, and classroom space.

11:35 am: Meet with Katie, Ajai and Indu’s daughter-in-law, who runs the K-9 school. They just opened the new building and need curriculum, books and other supplies. More on this Friday!

12:20 pm: Meet with Lashi, Ajai and Indu’s daughter, who runs the children’s home. Hundreds of kids—some orphans, some abandoned, some the children of missionaries in dangerous places—live in this “Bal Bhavan,” or “Children’s Palace.” The little ones are very excited to see us and VERY excited to have their pictures taken.

1:15 pm: Lunch in the dining hall with the whole group. George, the head cook, feeds us wonderfully all week, Indu bakes us apple pies and muffins, and we feast like kings.

2:17 pm:  To the gift shop! The team has assembled a collection of items from village merchants, marked them up a smidge, and created an attractive store in a spare room of the center for tourists like us. All the profits go to a fund to help the kids who live at the center and attend the school go to college someday.

5:00 pm: Kids’ program; each of us is invited to join a small group and share a Bible story. I choose the first and second graders, who are much less excited about Jesus walking on the water than the noodles and rice that follow.

7:00 pm: Youth service

8:00 pm: Dinner, early bedtime.

October 12

5:11 am: Hello, Delhi Belly. Where are those prescription pills I packed?

10:00 am: Meet with Josh, Ajai and Indu’s son-in-law, who leads many of the leadership training and discipleship initiatives. This team has a plan to tell everyone in India (that’s over a billion people) about Jesus in the next 20 years.

11:30 am: Tour the CICM hospital, maternity ward, and dental clinics. Matt suits up to watch an appendectomy.

2:00 pm: Ajai invites me and Matt to talk in his office. In the midst of everything going on, it’s exceedingly kind of him to make time to connect with us. We talk about everything under the sun and also our messages for the youth conference—as our translator he likes to know what’s coming.

5:00 pm: Opening session of the youth conference. Drew Sherman does a great job telling the story of David and Goliath and challenging the 1500+ teens to have a moment of courage for God.

Kids making decisions after the first message

7:03 pm: Mobbed by Indian teenagers wanting to shake our hands, take pictures with us, and get our autographs. I’ve never been so famous for doing so little.

8:23 pm: Cricket match. Matt learns all the rules and enjoys getting his sports fix; I sit and ponder the wonder of being in India and my excitement about preaching tomorrow.

We’re just getting started—don’t miss part 2 on Wednesday which includes a cyclone, copious amounts of IV antibiotics, and more!

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