This is a series of posts - you should probably read post number one and two before this one for much of this to make any sense.
So after all that previous business, I finally boarded a plane to India, I couldn't believe after a year that I was finally doing this. The journey was super long. We flew Miami to NYC to London to Mumbai to Hyderbad then took a 5 hour train to Tiruvuru (in South India)over 36 hours of travel time.
The minute our feet touched the ground in Tiruvuru, we were running. The pastor who hosted us had never hosted a team before. We were in small villages, no electricity, no phones and he had promised we'd visit many villages and our time was limited, so there was no time to waste. They had been looking forward to and preparing for our visits to all these villages for months and months. Most villages had never had visitors before, so it was a big deal to them.
Because the pastor had not done this before, he promised we'd visit so many villages and none of us beforehand understood the amount of time we'd need to take in any village. Because of this, we literally were visiting villages constantly for weeks, traveling and visiting for about 20 hours a day with maybe (if we were lucky) 4 hours rest. Most nights we'd go to bed at 2AM to be up and leaving by 6AM the following morning. Initially we had no rest from the 36 hours of travel, we went straight to villages and for days and days did not rest over 4 hours a night. It was the most exhausting thing I've ever done.
We also could not cancel a village, that was just not an option. It would have seriously offended the Pastor and let down the people who had prepared for our visit for months. I can't even really do this part of our journey any justice without going into detail and there's just not enough space here to write it all. I have never been so tired in all my life. I loved it, but emotionally and physically we all were wasted.
After days and days of this, every single person on the team got physically sick. For me, this was my first experience on a trip like this, with international missions, and it shaped me a lot. (My philosophy on missions has changed throughout the years - my time in sudan significantly changed my viewpoint - but I'll get to that eventually). Through all of this I got to thinking about those people who serve full time, internationally. How for me, this was just a temporary thing. I could push through it and in a few weeks be back home. But my mind kept thinking of those people, who this is their life. And I was seriously burdened for them. How often we never even give them a thought. How they need us praying for them daily, for God to provide them with the energy, endurance, and health that they need to get through each day. During this trip, God broke my heart for the full time servant in other countries, and it's still there. My first instinct when I meet someone serving in this capacity is: "How can I serve you? What can I do to help? How can I pray for you?" I don't see this changing in my heart any time soon.
(I also learned as I became a team leader/organizer for many future trips how important preparing the people on both ends of a trip to make sure the experience/expectations is as best as it can be for both parties).
Fast Forward: During this time visiting villages, the Pastor's Brother and Nephew were our drivers. We were in jeeps on long journeys every day, so we had developed a great relationship with them. One night, in the middle of the night the police came to the house and informed the pastor that his nephew was killed on his way home. He was on a bike and hit by a big truck. Devastating. I can't describe this any other way.
The mourning period and burial for this (while we were there) was extreme culture shock. In this part of India, it was customary to have the body out near the road in front of the house (remember he was hit by a truck) for the family and everyone in the village to come and mourn with them, which was in a form of intense wailing. We were asked to stand next to the body during this, because he died as he was in service to us while it happened. Even typing this I still can't believe we went through this.
This was also so fresh for me as I was still grieving the loss of my best friend to cancer the week before I left. (Read first post here to understand this more). In my journal that day I wrote: "This reopens that wound and brings back that fresh pain of deep loss. Dear friends are like angels, I lost one just a couple weeks ago and now this family has lost their loved one. I hope God shows me something special to say/do for them. If anything I can just relate. I'm so sad. I was reading today in Psalms, looking for comfort and strength to get through this day - Psalms 18:30-32 - "As for God, his way is perfect; The word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect." God promises us strength to meet challenges, but he doesn't promise to eliminate them. If He gave us no rough roads to walk, and no mountains to climb, and no battles to fight, we would not grow. He doesn't leave us alone, He is beside us, to teach us and to strengthen us to face them. So I'm facing this day, no matter what it takes. God is with me."
FF: After our time in India, we flew to Nepal to spend time in Kathmandu in an orphanage. The American missionary was there when we arrived at the airport. He took one look at us and said he was driving us straight to the orphanage and putting us to bed. I think we all slept over 20 hours straight from the exhaustion (mentally and physically).
Nepal was gorgeous. The Everest region was breathtaking. We spent most of our time in Nepal prayerwalking over the city. We went to a Buddhist temple where they sacrificed animals, we went to see the Kumari (Oh my goodness if you have time, read about this - I could type it here but it's too long. What we were told locally is almost exactly what's in the Wiki.)
We spent the 4th of July at the US Embassy in Kathmandu - which was super interesting in itself. Oh gosh, there's so much and I'm leaving nearly all of it out :( Ask me if you want more details. There's so much history on the house mom of the orphanage where we were - her father was one of the first ever missionaries allowed openly in Nepal (because he befriended the king). He spent lots of time trekking with people on Everest. There's this amazing story of the former Hindu man who ran the hotel we stayed at for a few days inside Kathmandu - how he accepted Christ. I don't even have room to share about how before we flew into Nepal, we went to New Delhi and our bus blew up, an airplane blew up in Nepal, and how we took a 10 hour drive over to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and back. How I saw Ghandi's tomb and was super challenged by Ghandi's words that he would have been a Christian had it not been for Christians. This man was such an influence over billions of people... Ugg - I just can't fit it all here.
I will end this by sharing this one last thing. We were in one of the many villages in India the first part of this trip, and a Christian family was in one of the villages (the only Christian family in the midst of a hindu village). They had just given birth to a new baby girl. They asked me to hold her as they held a ceremony. I had my friend, Keri, take a picture of me holding her. This little girl's photo has been on my nightstand for the past 10 years and I pray for her every single night before I go to sleep.
One of my dreams is to go back to this part of India some day to find her. I want to tell her that I fell in love with her and her people on this day, and that her photo has been with me for over 10 years and how I've prayed for her, for all these years. I want to hear her stories and I want to hear about her life, as she's been a part of mine daily for all these years.
You know, my missionary friends tell me that often a family will never forget us. That after we leave, we become a very important memory for the family. That often, if they have a photo of us or something we've given them, that it is a much talked about thing with the family for years and years to come. A treasured thing. I want the people with whom I've had the honor of getting to know and visit, to know...that it's exactly the same with me. That's why there's specific photos on my photo wall. That's why I come into my office regularly to look at them, think, pray, remember. They are a part of who I am. They've shaped my life. And I wouldn't trade anything in the world for it.