India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 10 – Newark/NYC layover & arriving home in Lafayette, LA!

the one and only Penn Station in NYC

the one and only Penn Station in NYC

My flight to Newark was smooth and uneventful, praise God. And as with Zurich, I had done a little inquiry with a local friend about what I could do with an overnight layover. Turns out that NYC’s Penn Station is a short train ride from the Newark airport (in NYC time that means about 30-45 mins). So on my friend’s advice I did exactly that. I knew that because I was unfamiliar with the area and because of time constraints, my plans wouldn’t be too ambitious. But to be able to say that I was at the infamous (to me) Penn Station in NYC was enough. And as a bonus I even got to see and take a good night-time pic of the Empire State Building which was however many blocks away.

i think this is the Empire State Building?

i think this is the Empire State Building?

My actual destination though was Tir Na Nog’s Irish Pub & Grill. It was the one specifically recommended by my friend. The food was OK, and it was slightly over-priced. Alas, it was in NYC in a prime spot, so the sticker shock didn’t shock me too much. And I was alone. But the flat-screen TV on the wall that was on ESPN gave me something to look at while chewing my food, instead of having to stare awkwardly ahead or constantly shift my gaze. :)

my NYC destination

my NYC destination

But even though it wasn’t completely ideal, I still really enjoyed it. For me, I couldn’t stand the idea of wasting the opportunity of seeing some of NYC. Also, as someone who’s not the most adventurous self-starter, it felt good to go on a little adventure and get outside of myself. There was also the added bonus that as someone who is ¼ Irish, I got to, in an ever so small way, connect with my roots/heritage. :D

 

After that, the end was very near. Napped a little bit once I got back to the airport, underneath some payphones actually. It was carpeted, and at that time of night/morning, a very low foot-traffic area. Plus, the phones served to shield my face from the ceiling lighting in that area of the terminal. Now that I think about it, it’s kinda amazing the sleeping spots we can find in an airport when we’re tired enough and too cheap to go to a hotel.

 

Uneventful flight into Houston, followed by a VERY brisk walk to my connecting flight to Lafayette. My itinerary left me with only a 45 minute layover. In addition to that, I was seated pretty far back in the plane. But, praise God, I made it to my flight just in time. My lone checked bag, however, did not. No big deal though, because it came into Lafayette on the very next flight. So, after hugs from my parents, , and lunch while we waited for my bag to come in, we got my bag and my trip was over, almost.

 

I spent a little time with my parents once we got to their house (where my car was parked), and ran a few errands. Took a shower, got some lunch, and then I headed back home. All in all, I have to say that I really enjoyed my experience, even though coming home was a little bittersweet. Bitter because my mission trip was over, sweet because I was back to the people (and pet cat) that I love. I just hope and pray that what God taught me through all of the experiences I had and all of the people I attempted to serve, would help me to love him more so that I can love others more, and that it would get me one step closer to heaven. I also pray that those whom I helped/attempted to help, are also happier and more joyful because of it, and one step closer to heaven as well.

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 9 – Zurich layover

Tuesday, August 5, 2014, – 3:25 pm – office @ St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church – Abbeville, LA

So you might be wondering why, if I was about to leave Mumbai, that  I still had another leg of my mission trip…. Well, one of my prayers before I left was for divine appointments all along the way, from when I stepped out of the door of my house until the moment I stepped back in. You see, we are supposed to be missionaries at every place, and every moment of every day, no matter what. But it’s not always easy to remember that. So, as is always the case, I used my mission trip as an opportunity to remind myself of this.

the "Flughafen Zurich" (Zurich airport)

the “Flughafen Zurich” (Zurich airport)

 

Anyhoo, so my flight to Zurich went pretty well. For that matter, all my flights went pretty well. I seemed to sleep enough on each flight, not alot, but enough so that I wasn’t TOO ragged out. Ate good. Prayed. Read books. Basically they all went by fairly quickly and didn’t drag on. I was excited about Zurich because i knew I had a 12-hour layover (when’s the last time you heard someone get excited about something like that?).

one of the terminals at the Zurich airport

one of the terminals at the Zurich airport

A childhood friend of mine who used to live in Zurich suggested taking the train downtown and walking to the lakefront and taking a stroll downtown. I mean, wouldn’t it be a shame to have the entire daytime in a place like that and not take advantage of it? I’m glad I followed his suggestion because it ended up being a BEAUTIFUL, sunny day and I had a great time. I did do some wandering/exploring of the airport before and after, because it is fairly big and really nice. Lots to do and see.

took a stroll down the famous Banhof-Strausse to get to Lake Zurich

took a stroll down the famous Banhof-Strausse to get to Lake Zurich

 

Once the sun broke thru the morning fog I decided to head downtown. The train station at the airport was pretty impressive and slightly confusing, but with the help of the friendly lady at the ticket booth, I found my way. The central station was even BIGGER and slightly more confusing, but with the help of a random American tourist and a guy at the help desk I found the road that lead to the lakefront. The weather, as I alluded to, was amazing.

downtown train station in Zurich

downtown train station in Zurich

 

The sun was shining & there was an amazing not-too-hot-not-too-cold-just-right sorta breeze blowin’. It was about 6-8 blocks from the train station to the lakefront but I hardly noticed. Aside from the awesome weather, downtown was incredibly charming and beautiful. Not that my missionary efforts in India deserved any reward, but I kinda felt like that’s what God was doing for me in Zurich. The architecture is beautiful and charming, mostly old-school with a little bit of modern thrown in. Public transport was really good. The city was very clean.

one of the many beautiful scenic views

one of the many beautiful scenic views

 

When I got down to the waterfront, I took alot of pictures and then just sat down for awhile to do one of my favorite hobbies, people watching. After awhile, I decided, with the help of my friend’s suggestions and a really good map I got at the airport help desk, to stroll around the downtown area. Very walkable and easy to navigate. And as many good pics as I got, as many scenic views and cool things I saw, I barely even scratched the surface. Things of that sort are a dime-a-dozen in Zurich.

view from my lunch break at the riverside

view from my lunch break at the riverside

Eventually I made my way to CO-OP, a really nice grocery store, and bought some lunch. I headed to a little riverfront dock/seating area which I discovered during my stroll, for a nice, leisurely lunch.  Then I headed back to the airport to wait for my flight to Newark. Was able to spend some time in the airport chapel, went plane-watching, strolled around, found a free internet computer station and that’s about it. I was kinda sad that my time there was so brief. God-willing, I’d love to go back one day and maybe with someone who knows the town better than I do, and explore a little bit more.

beautiful from from the riverside crossing

beautiful from from the riverside crossing

I’d like to end today’s post with a video on missions, which gives you the chance to deepen your faith. 

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 8 – Leavin India

As I said earlier, the extra time I had after the group left was alot more chill. I knew it wouldn’t be as hectic as when the group was there, but I did think it would have been a little busier. Part of the reason things seemed slow is because the full-time missionaries were recovering from helping to lead a 2 week mission trip as well as being at the FMC Asia Mission Summit for the 2 week period before that.  And with the Monday being a holiday, as well as the guys’ day off, that slowed things down too. Part of my perception of the degree of how “chill” it was, was also due to my American mindset of always having to be occupied/entertained/hectic/busy/etc….

However, one part of the “chill” factor that I had complete control over was my laziness. By nature I’m not a self-starter, and i’m sedentary. So several times, when I could have gone with the other missionaries to do whatever, or when I could have taken initiative to do some ministry on my own, I chose to stay put. I remember on several occasions hearing Mr. Frank Summers warn us that if we are not proactive in missions, it becomes very easy to sit around and do a whole lot of nothing, or to become preoccupied with meaningless work. The saving grace of that situation was that God allowed me to experience that and recognize it for what it was, so I’ll be wiser for the future.

terminal at the Mumbai airport

terminal at the Mumbai airport

The only part left to do was the trip home. I was glad that I booked my shuttle ride to the Mumbai Airport a couple hours earlier than normal, because we had some delays! After picking me up, we had to go to another part of Pune to pick up another lady. And when the city is as big as Pune is, and doesn’t have many street signs, it can take a while to get where you’re going. Once we got to Mumbai, it seems like the driver’s sense of direction went caput, or at least that he loved to take the most indirect scenic route possible.

terminal seating area at the Mumbai airport

terminal seating area at the Mumbai airport

 

Another crazy thing was to re-encounter some of the intense poverty that I had seen in Calcutta. Saw alot of homeless people living under alot of the bridges. It was really sad to see that. At that moment, all I could do was pray for them, as well as for myself, that I would never grow indifferent towards poverty and those who are in need. The Mumbai airport was the crossing into a COMPLETELY different dimension from what I had encountered just down the road. It was a very modern airport facility and extremely beautiful architecture.

the gate where I boarded my flight from Mumbai to Zurich

the gate where I boarded my flight from Mumbai to Zurich

 

Once I checked in and checked my bag and headed to my gate, I felt a sense of relief and guilt. I was relieved because a really difficult mission trip was over, and now I’d be able to start unwinding and  reflecting on it. That release of tension also allowed me to relax and be able to start thinking about what I’d learned during the mission trip. I was also relieved because it meant i was getting to go back to my family, friends, loved ones, and all that is familiar, comfortable and a blessing to me. Yet, I also felt guilt. Guilt at not having taken greater advantage of the opportunities God presented to me on this trip. Guilt at being happy to leave behind the poverty and those who are in need. In this case though, I think guilt was a good thing. It helped bring to my attention areas where I need to grow and I think that it will help motivate me to improve in those areas. As the boarding call for my first flight sounded (flight to Zurich, Switzerland) I know what I was about to embark on the final leg of this mission trip.

 

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 7 – Dude’s missin’ an arm!

Monday, August 4, 2014 – 3:35 pm – office at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church – Abbeville, LA

 

So here I am, back home in Louisiana. My body’s still recovering from jet-lag, and my mind still hasn’t totally recovered from the mission trip. The last few days of my time there (I stayed on a few extra days) was pretty chill. The main ministry that I helped with was the RCIA program on Sunday, and helping teach a class at the Cathedral’s Catholic High School on Tuesday. RCIA was even better the 2nd time because there was a bigger crowd and we had it in a much bigger room. Because there was enough space, I was able to stay inside for the whole class and I was really blessed by the talk and by seeing all of the seekers enjoying it. It really is a marvelous ministry that I think will have very far-reaching effects in the weeks/months/years/eternity to come.

I was slightly more terrified at the prospect of helping T to teach the 10th grade class at the school, even though our talk was on a familiar topic (Prayer). But, as usual, God was in control and it was  blessed occasion. The kids seemed very attentive and behaved very well. And maybe being slightly terrified and not trusting God enough was a good thing, because it really helped me to see God’s hand at work and reminded me that if he’s for it, then nothing can stop it.

There was one more ministry experience that really stuck with me that I ‘d like to share. On Tuesday, I was sitting in T and P’s apartment when Stewart, their upstairs neighbor, who also grew up in missions, came knocking on our door. He told us that as he was walkin back home, a homeless guy with no fingers on one hand, and only half an arm on the other side was asking for help. He shared what he could before the apt. security guard made him leave. He told us that the guy was headed in the direction of the bus stop and that if we can hurry and get some stuff together, maybe we can catch him in time to give it to him. So me and T (P was out) grabbed some clothes and food and a bag to put it in, and headed out with Stewart to find the guy.

At least 10 minutes had passed since Stewart saw the guy, so he could have been anywhere. But by the grace of God, as we got a couple of blocks down the main road in the direction the guy walked, we found him. That’s when I also realized that the guy was either deaf and/or mute, and couldn’t communicate very well. It didn’t matter though because he seemed like a very nice and joyful guy. We handed the bag of food and clothing to him and helped him to put on the plastic poncho that we gave to him. He was smiling really big and was super grateful. Afterwards we said a prayer with him and then went back to the apt. Stewart and T admitted that it was a really moving experience for them and they almost cried. I didn’t cry but I was really struck by the encounter for several reasons.

First of all, it was a really great example of a fellow brother in Christ being of assistance to our missionary work by alerting us to someone in need, an opportunity for ministry. #2, I was able to avail myself of God’s grace to overcome my laziness, tiredness, and fear in order to help this guy. Last but not least, when we were with this homeless guy, I had a really keen sense that it was Christ in our midst. That, for me, is huge because I usually struggle alot with seeing Christ in others, especially the poor.

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 6 – Pune’s final chapter

giving talks and testimonies at the Cathedral parish's high school

giving talks and testimonies at the Cathedral parish’s high school

We also had opportunities to minister at some of the schools associated with the Cathedral. One main struggle we faced was the “I’m OK you’re OK” attitude. Because India is such a religiously pluralistic society, and because missionary activity is still a taboo thing in some ways, there tends to be a sort of laissez-faire attitude, even among well-meaning Christians. They are afraid to step on toes, they are afraid to recognize the uniqueness of their Christian faith and the sovereignty of the one and only God. In an effort to not offend others, they tend to neuter the power of the Holy Spirit and hinder the spread of the Christian faith. However, God himself knows they are well-intentioned. He knows their hearts, and he knows the difficult condition that they as Christians have to face. And because I am optimistic and because I believe God can make lemons out of lemonade, I know that he will work with this and through this and that he will ultimately triumph. This is where our ability to radiate God’s spirit and joy works to our advantage. It will be in the smaller meetings/assemblies and in the one on one interactions that I believe true progress will be made.

cuttin' up with some of our local friends in Pune :)

cuttin’ up with some of our local friends in Pune :)

 

Another big blessing of ministry here has been on the more laid-back path of building relationships with the locals. There are tons of opportunities to do spontaneous ministry with poor people we meet on the street, as well as locals who work at the various stores/stalls, security guards at our apts, rickshaw drivers, and various other locals. It’s also a huge blessing for us (The short term missionaries) as well as the full-time missionaries to have local friends and families who are friends and contemporaries. People who we can socialize with. We do young adult holy hours, prolife groups, and all other kinds of spiritual and social events. They invite us over and we invite them over for dinners, parties, and hanging out. Having these local friends and family members is a huge building block that helps us to really build a life here and form relationships. We’ve also had the chance to visit the local market and stores/stalls to get whatever supplies and souvenirs we were looking for.

the ride to our Desert Day was quite a colorful one!

the ride to our Desert Day was quite a colorful one!

having some fun on the bus :D found these badboys in one of the seatback pockets.....

having some fun on the bus :D found these badboys in one of the seatback pockets…..

 

For our weekly Desert Day prayer time (a time of prayer, reflection, and sharing) we were able to visit an ancient mountainside fort, dating back I think to the 1600’s. As I have during my entire time here in India, I felt a certain heaviness in my heart due to the strong ties this place has to a non-Christian  religion (in this case, Hinduism & Islam).  Nonetheless, it was still a very mysterious and beautiful sight to behold. The mistiness, dampness, and cloudiness (we were WAY up high, in terms of our elevation) only served to add to the beauty and mystique.

i was hoping this wasn't warning me that man-eating bears were lurking ahead. Since I'm writing this blog, we can assume that it wasn't saying that :)

i was hoping this wasn’t warning me that man-eating bears were lurking ahead. Since I’m writing this blog, we can assume that it wasn’t saying that :)

 

the view from my Desert Day prayer spot, identical to the one you see across the way

the view from my Desert Day prayer spot, identical to the one you see across the way

I was blessed to be able to find a perfect little “cubby hole” underneath one of the archways, about 3ft x 5ft x 5ft, where I had some really blessed prayer time. And everytime I’ve experienced that heaviness of heart, I used it as our opportunity to pray for those specific places, all of the people, and the entire country of India, to experience the love and joy of Christ. God loves them just as much as he loves anyone else, and I know he wants to and WILL touch their hearts. Another part of our Desert Day experience that I really enjoyed was the natural beauty. Yes, India does have over 1 billion people. Yes, at times there seems to be people piled on top of people, along with all of the other difficulties facing such a populated place. But, going to this old fort showed me that there were places of quietness, cleanliness, and natural beauty here in India. I enjoyed that experience very much and it was very refreshing for me, and for that I am very grateful.

some beautiful scenery on the way back from Desert Day

some beautiful scenery on the way back from Desert Day

purty, huh?

purty, huh?

 

Later that day, when we returned from Desert Day, we took turns sharing about our prayer time and our entire experience during our mission trip in India. Then, at 4pm local time, we put 3 of the 5 short term missionary girls on a shuttle to the Bombay airport to catch their plane ride back home. (As I mentioned earlier, the other 2 girls’ shuttle leaves later this afternoon.) And for my remaining time here, I’ll just be relaxing and hanging out, and joining the full-time missionaries in their daily lives, ministry, and activities.

 

To wrap up today’s entry, I have to touch upon the subject of poverty. In Calcutta one of my biggest shocks was the extreme poverty I encountered. It’s the most extreme poverty I’ve ever encountered in my life, even greater than what I’ve seen at other mission posts. And while it’s definitely to a lesser degree here in Pune, it still exists here too. At times it’s intimidating, frustrating, and makes you feel hopeless. You realize that you cannot reach everybody. You realize that your efforts are incredibly small. You feel guilt when you realize that you have or might have passed up someone who was in need of help.

But when I went to confession at the motherhouse in Calcutta, the priest (from Lebanon) helped me to realize that no one indvidual is supposed to do it by him/herself. We are all called to specific duties, tasks, and people, and we need to be open to the Spirit so we can hear the call to help the specific people and do the specific things we are called to do. He also helped me to realize that our other  great duty is to inspire others to do the same. Because as Mother Theresa said (obv. paraphrasing here), “as channels of God’s love we each contribute but a single drop of water in the ocean of God’s mercy here on Earth. But if we ALL do our part, and contribute our drop into the ocean, then there will be a tidal wave of grace that floods the world with his live.”

 

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 5 – Mission: Pune

one of the first things i saw when i got to the guys apt in Pune :)

one of the first things i saw when i got to the guys apt in Pune :)


living room at the apt where i stayed. like the rest of the house, quite humble, but comfy and cozy as well

living room at the apt where i stayed. like the rest of the house, quite humble, but comfy and cozy as well

So our time in Pune was markedly different than our time in Calcutta. While the housing was a little nicer (apts instead of hostel), I did have to re-learn how to take cold-water bucket showers, a skill I had first developed on that Africa mission trip back in ‘97. The weather, however, was way better over here. Now that monsoon season has arrived, the daily rains and cloud cover really cool things off quite a bit. Pune is also further inland, so even though temps can get warm its still not nearly as humid. In Calcutta I’d be pouring buckets of sweat within 10 minutes of leaving the hostel. Over here, I think I can count on one hand with a few fingers left over the amount of times I’ve actually sweated. And while I grew up in the jungle heat of southern Louisiana and still live there, and while I much prefer hot weather to cold weather, keep in mind that A.) I’m used to always having AC, and 2.) less hotness is better than more hotness, in regards to the weather. Now you can see why I like it in Pune so much more, at least as far as the weather is concerned.

kitchen. notice the luxurious 2-burner "stove" :)

kitchen. notice the luxurious 2-burner “stove” :)


it may not be the Hilton, but after a long tiring day of mission work, it was the most comfortable bed ever :)

it may not be the Hilton, but after a long tiring day of mission work, it was the most comfortable bed ever :)

However, to be fair, I have to say that I was only in Calcutta for a week. And whether we’re talking in terms of weather or whatever other factor, I think I could gradually grow to like Calcutta a little more if I had the chance to spend some more time there. Pune has decidedly better traffic than Calcutta, although it still isn’t’ the best. It’s also cleaner and less noisy. Drivers here only use their horns when needed. Calcutta drivers practically lay on their horns 24/7. I even think that if their care horns didn’t work, then brains would go foggy and they just wouldn’t be able to function or figure out how to drive, even if the rest of their car functioned perfectly fine.

common occurence during the mission trip: negotiating with a rickshaw driver to get to/from a ministry event

common occurence during the mission trip: negotiating with a rickshaw driver to get to/from a ministry event

Our ministry in Pune was also different , not better (cuz it’s all good and necessary) just different. Aside from the huge differences in the cities themselves, in Pune things are driven heavily by the lives of the missionaries who live and work here full time. A big part of ministry here is in Ramtekdi slum. It’s a slum where one of our local friends (who is kinda like one of our honorary missionaries) is from. He’s a huge help to us, both in translating to/from Hindi, as well as actual ministry itself. In the slum, we work in a small 2 room building that is rented by the Cathedral parish that we work with. There, we do prayer meetings as well as “tuitions”, which is tutoring the local school kids. We also do home visits, and bring dispensas to people in the slum. It’s amazing to see the relationships that have been built by our missionaries there. As I just mentioned, some of our local friends are a HUGE help to the ministry here.

Ramtekdi slum

Ramtekdi slum

Please pray for 3 of them in particular, who are praying and discerning , and are in various stages of the process of trying to join and come to be with FMC in Louisiana for Intake and to go into foreign missions. We’re also blessed with another local couple who are great friends and co-laborers in the vineyard. They also come to some of our prayer meetings and help to lead music/worship as well as translating. They also have an amazing ministry on their own. They offer housing and assistance to some of the girls from the nearby slum. They tutor them in English, and Hindi (and maybe some other languages) as well as teaching them how to cook, clean, run a house, and all types of other practical skills. They also offer them a life of focus, discipline, and direction. Lest we forget the most important part, they also minister to them by prayer, Bible teachings, etc……

children's prayer ministry in the slum

children’s prayer ministry in the slum


sharing a teaching

sharing a teaching

They are such an amazing, joyful, hospitable, and holy couple. I was really blessed to be able to meet them and I pray that God continues to bless their ministry. I also really enjoyed the fact that even though they were of a different Christian denomination, we still worked together as well. It is definitely a thing of God. In India, Christians have to stick together, because they are such a vast minority. There’s a certain kinship and brotherhood because we are all in the same boat. And I think this closeness and collaboration will one day ultimately lead to the Christian unity that we all seek.

RCIA ministry at the Cathedral

RCIA ministry at the Cathedral


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Another big part of the ministry here was based at the Cathedral. Our missionaries here help out with the RCIA program. To American Catholics, this doesn’t sound like a big deal because RCIA is so prominent and common place in our parishes. But in India, it is one of only 3 RCIA programs in the entire country! What is even more unique is the approach they take. Back home in the US, most people coming into the Church are from other Christian churches. But here, most people coming into the church are from non-Christian faiths, mainly Hinduism and Islam. So the program was developed by a convert (forget if he was Hindu or Muslim or whatever else) and is tailored to teach the Catholic faith, in an orthodox manner of course, to people who for the most part come from a totally different faith and mindset. It’s a truly amazing and unique ministry and I pray that it continues to bear much more fruit and that many more parishes would adopt this program.

Bible passage in Hindi and in English, the 2 main languages of India

Bible passage in Hindi and in English, the 2 main languages of India

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 4 – Train Trip To Pune

Saturday – July 26, 2014 – 11:02am – Cafe Coffee Day – Pune, Maharashtra, India

platform at the Howrah train station in Calcutta

platform at the Howrah train station in Calcutta

Praise the Lord. Two days in a row that I get to come to this cafe and unload my thoughts into this little journal. Before I forget, I gotta mention the vision Mrs.Genie Summers had before I came to India. At FMC’s weekly Mission Formation at Our Lady Of The Bayous retreat house in Abbeville, the Wednesday before I came to India (July 2nd), they all prayed over me at the end of the meeting. After they prayed over me, Mrs. Genie told me that she had a vision of me and Jesus with our arms around each other’s shoulders, dancing in India. I was happy to hear that, but not sure exactly what it meant. I’m still not totally sure what it meant and think it might take some more time to reflect and pray about what it meant.

here's a little "appetizer" leading up to the train ride stories. Can you guess what it is? :)

here’s a little “appetizer” leading up to the train ride stories. Can you guess what it is? :)

Anyhoo, later today I have to run by a couple of stores to get some stuff for T and P’s house, and then I’m gonna go visit at S’s house with the 2 remaining girls from the short-term group before they leave today. Oh, and I saw this pretty little flower arrangement at one of the roadside vendors on the way here, and since flowers are pretty cheap here, I think I’ll buy it and bring it to the girls. You know, just doing something nice for the girls and helping to spruce up their place a little more than it already is, add some more womanliness to their apartment. Not that it’s not spruced up enough or womanly enough already. Just figured the gals might like it. (addendum: didn’t get a chance to get those flowers. Hopefully the girls won’t read this journal entry and realize they were supposed to get flowers but didn’t. :D )

waiting for our 33 hour train ride to Pune!

waiting for our 33 hour train ride to Pune!

So now I guess I’ll talk about my time in Pune with the short term group. I still have 4 more full days in India before I leave, but there’ll be 2 VERY long layovers in the Zurich, Switzerland and Newark, NJ airports to write about that. Not to mention two very long plane rides. But I digress….. To get to Pune, we took a train from Calcutta’s Howrah train station to Pune. Thank God we were in the A/C sleeper car because it was a mammothly colossal huge ginormous 33 hour train ride! That meant leaving at 10pm on the night of Thursday July 17th and arriving in Pune at 6am on Saturday July 19th. I was a little bit fearful of the train ride because it was going to be so long, but my saving grace was that we had beds to sleep in. So after a little bit of stress because of a delay in getting to the train station, and the train being delayed in leaving, we were settled into our “cabins” and off by 10pm. And in all honesty the train ride ended up being pretty enjoyable and passed by pretty quickly.

this is what meal time looks like when you're trapped on a 33 hour train ride

this is what meal time looks like when you’re trapped on a 33 hour train ride

As you’d expect, a large portion of our time was spent sleeping both at night and during the day. We brought food with us for our 3 meals on Friday, so that took up a good chunk of time also. Alot of the remaining time was spent praying and visiting with each other. In fact, one of the good things about being in such cramped quarters with the entire group was the fact that it gave us no choice but to bond. It was kinda cool too because I experienced a bit of deja-vu from 17 summers ago. That was the summer of 1997, when I went on a summer mission trip with TMI (Teen Mission Int’l) to South Africa and Zimbabwe. When we were in Zimbabwe, my team took an overnight sleeper car train to Victoria Falls. It was also one of those great bonding experiences. Good times, good times. Dear Lord, I hope and pray that wherever my African mission trip teammates find themselves in life, that you would draw them close to your heart and give them peace. If we get the chance to visit again, praise God. If not, then I know that I will be reunited with them in heaven one day.

At last! We have arrived! The train station in Pune never looked as good as it did that day :)

At last! We have arrived! The train station in Pune never looked as good as it did that day :)

But as much as we enjoyed and were blessed by the train ride, we were all very happy to finally arrive in Pune. Once we arrived, we were met by a friend of our missionaries who live there. He loaded our luggage and some of the team members and brought them to the girls’ house and the remaining guys’ luggage to the guys’ house. The rest of us caught a ride with rickshaws (small motorcycle-like cabs) to our respective houses. By the way, I can’t really name the missionaries who live here because of prudence. Again, it’s a little frustrating to not be able to freely admit who we are and what we’re doing, but if that’s the price we have to pay to be here and do what we do, praise God, we’re gonna do it, because the people here are worth it. On a more comical note, a missionary brother of ours, who serves here in Pune along with his wife in a group called YWAM (Youth With A Mission) were using the new code word that me and another missionary brother decided on. Instead of “missionary” we started using the word “monster”. Now we may find a better substitute word in the future, but for now this one will suffice. So you can just about imagine our smiles and laughter when talking freely and unhindered about monster trips, monster work, monster life, monster kids and families, and many other matters pertaining to monsters. :)

rickshaw ride from the Pune train station to the apartment

rickshaw ride from the Pune train station to the apartment

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 3 – Calcutta wrapup

the New Market in Calcutta

the New Market in Calcutta

Our evenings usually consisted of adoration with the MC sisters at the motherhouse, supper time, and chill/prayer time with our group. On a few occasions we also got the chance to go to the local markets(where I scored a sweet India corta[traditional shirt] and paijama [traditional pants] combo) as well as a nearby grocery store. All in all, our time in Calcutta was what it needed to be, both amazing and difficult. Being a religious minority was difficult, because we had to be very careful about how we shared our faith. It is legal to be a Christian but it is illegal to evangelize. We even were advised to try and not wear our missionary crosses or any overtly Christian stuff during our time there ((which has also been the advice here in Pune). It’s also a situation where the “m” words (mission, missionary, ministry) are not to be used and our missionaries can’t say that they are missionaries or post anything online or on social media about being missionaries.  And while we never had any problems and were never in any real danger, it was still very taxing on my mind and heart to be in a place where i did not feel fully free to express my faith. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the religious freedom and protection which I have back home.

 

It even got to a point where I was even letting myself become a little bit fearful. I’m ok with being cautious but I hated feeling fearful. But as my time here has gone on, I have become less fearful. While I am still prudent, I am learning to be less fearful. For example, I’ve begun to wear my mission crosses on the outside of my shirt more and more I feel that for the sake of the Gospel, and the sake of souls I have to have a little bit of boldness, because ultimately my concern is to not let prudence degenerate into fear, or to control me, but to let God use me as a channel of his love and to bring people closer to him. It was also interesting to see how in this country I felt a certain closeness to all my Muslim brothers and sisters. We are both in the vast minority when compared to the 80 – 85 percent majority of Hindus. And in a country that is not always friendly to any non-Hindu faiths, we kinda have that bond I suppose. Not that I don’t want them also to come home to Christ, but I’m just stating that God allowed me to feel that closeness to them. And whatever bond I felt with them I felt to an even greater degree w/my fellow Christians, seeing as how we were even moreso in the minority. Again, I long for all my separated Christian brothers and sisters to come back home to the Catholic Church. but in a country like India, we are often co-laborers in the harvests, working side by side. We have to stick together. We can’t bicker and fight like we tend to do back home in the states.

 

The massive amount of people in Calcutta (15-20 million-ish?) also highlighted other difficulties I experienced. The city is extremely crowded, with very little free or quiet space. And as someone who enjoys his quiet/chill time, this proved to be quite difficult. There’s also a big problem with cleanliness. Pollution and smog are really bad. Animals (stray and otherwise) sometimes roam the streets and shall we say, make “deposits” on the streets and sidewalks. Litter is a really big problem too. It’s also extremely hot and humid. We were ALWAYS sweating (thank God for our AC-ed sleeping quarters). Because it’s monsoon season, things never really dried out. I was utterly amazed at the amount of sweat that poured out of my body during the week we were in Calcutta. Utterly amazed. However, even these difficulties were used by God to help me grow in humility and thankfulness, and I hope that that fact will allow me to be a better missionary and a kinder person.

one of the Spanish (Spain) volunteers who was working at the same MC house where we volunteered

one of the Spanish (Spain) volunteers who was working at the same MC house where we volunteered

Another part of volunteering at the motherhouse that I really enjoyed was getting to meet people from all over the world. I met people from the USA, Italy, France, Spain, Argentina, Korea, and Lebanon. I got to speak to fellow volunteers in 3 different languages (English, French, and Spanish). And as short as my time there was, I made some great friends and really enjoyed their company. It reminded me very much of my experience as a pilgrim at World Youth Day. I’m pretty sure I can also say that I now have a place to stay in at least 3 different countries if I decided to visit. :) You could also say that I now have even more friends from all over the world who might come and visit me.

one of the "chai-wallas" on the street in Calcutta, whipping up a deelish tea/milk/sugar combo drink called, yep, you guessed it, "chai" :)

one of the “chai-wallas” on the street in Calcutta, whipping up a deelish tea/milk/sugar combo drink called, yep, you guessed it, “chai” :)

On our last full day in Calcutta, we were able to visit Titagarh, a leper colony that was started by Mother Theresa. Leprosy has a horrific stigma attached to it and even though there is now a cure for it, and many times it can be stopped before any outwardly noticeable signs appear, lepers here still have a difficult and almost impossible chance of being accepted by their families and society. At Titagarh, they are given a place to live and as at Nabo Jibon, access to 3 meals a day and basic medical care. They also have various ways that some of them can learn basic vocational/work skills to try and be self-supporting. One really neat thing is that all of the sarees that are worn by the MC’s worldwide are made right here at Titagarh. If I ever get the chance to return to Calcutta, I hope to be able to return to Titagarh and spend some more time there visiting and praying with the residents. When we got back to BMS that afternoon, we had time to eat, shower, and rest before beginning the next chapter of our mission trip in Pune.

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 2 – Calcutta ministry

Welcome to Kolkata! :)

Welcome to Kolkata! :)

After a 5 hour flight from Singapore to Calcutta (which made for a total of 26 hours of flying) I finally arrived at my destination. Originally I thought that I would be by myself until the next morning when James and the rest of the short-term group would arrive. But sometime late that night the India missionaries returned from FMC’s 1st ever Asia Mission Summit. After everyone else from the group arrived the next morning, we loaded onto our 2 “buses”, which in places like India usually means “van”, we headed to the Baptist Mission Society (BMS), which was to be our home for the next week. It was also the first of several experiences I had with the mind-numbing madness which is Calcutta traffic.

our ride from the airport to our hostel

our ride from the airport to our hostel

Calcutta traffic is crazy, and the lines in the street and the traffic signals are more of a suggestion than a command :)

Calcutta traffic is crazy, and the lines in the street and the traffic signals are more of a suggestion than a command :)

Once we arrived at BMS, which is very nice but still affordable hostel, we got settled into our rooms and had a little time to rest. Since India has so few Christians, whether they be Catholic, Baptist, or otherwise, it was nice to be at a place here we felt at home and knew that we were also supporting a Christian facility which also supported missions. Another really nice part about staying at BMS is that it’s just a short walk down the road from the Missionaries of Charity (MC) motherhouse (where Mother Teresa lived and worked, and where her tomb is) which is just down the road from another MC house, Sishu Bhavan, where they do volunteer orientation 3 times per week. Our orientation later that day was basically the end of our day. The rest of our days in Calcutta were essentially the same.

The original Motherhouse of The Missionaries of Charity, started by Mother Theresa in Calcutta, and now they are located worldwide

The original Motherhouse of The Missionaries of Charity, started by Mother Theresa in Calcutta, and now they are located worldwide

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Mother Theresa's tomb at the Motherhouse of The Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta

Mother Theresa’s tomb at the Motherhouse of The Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta

We would wake up early each morning and head to the motherhouse for 6:00am Daily Mass with the sisters. After Mass, we headed down to the Volunteer Room. This is where volunteers assemble daily for breakfast and prayer before heading out to their various locations. The guys from our group were assigned to Nabo Jibon, which is run by the MC brothers. It’s a home for the disabled and handicapped. The accommodations are basic, and they are given a bed to sleep in, 3 meals a day, and basic medical care. During our time there we assisted a little bit with manual labor such as helping to feed the residents. However, most of what we did was to spend time with the residents. Walk with them, talk with them, sing with them, play with them, hold their hands, hug them, and pray with them. One of the MC brothers who is from England said that their greatest lack was that they don’t have anyone to just come and love on the residents and share God’s presence and love.

Nabo Jibon, a home for destitute and handicapped men in Calcutta, which is run by the Missionaries of Charity brothers, the male religious branch of Mother Theresa's order.

Nabo Jibon, a home for destitute and handicapped men in Calcutta, which is run by the Missionaries of Charity brothers, the male religious branch of Mother Theresa’s order.

The brothers are so busy with running the home (which also doubles as a novitiate for the MC brothers) that they rarely have time to spend with the residents. Knowing that these handicapped and destitute men were Jesus in disguise and that they are very near and dear to his heart, I made sure to make my prayers requests known to/through them. On the Sunday we volunteered there, we also had the chance to help bathe and feed all the kids from the surrounding neighborhood. That meal was probably their only meal of the day, and one of the brothers told me that it was the only bath they’d get all week. It was quite a humbling thing to realize, and one of many instances that helped me to appreciate my blessings. Yet, as poor as they are, those men and children are some of the most joyful people in the world. They do not have the comforts of this world to trouble them or weigh them down, and whether they realize it or not, they only have God to rely on.

Another memorable part of our time at Nabo Jibon were the bus rides to and from, and everything in between. That home was the MC house that was furthest from the motherhouse. This meant 2 separate 45 minute bus rides through the maddening Calcutta traffic to get there. But as you already know by now, it was well worth the ride/effort ;) It was also a little but good chance to be one with the normal, everyday people. It was also a good chance to just be immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of Calcutta.

a typical bus we would take on our numerous bus rides to and from the handicap home where we volunteered

a typical bus we would take on our numerous bus rides to and from the handicap home where we volunteered

hordes of people at the Howrah train station in Calcutta

hordes of people at the Howrah train station in Calcutta

The subway/bus station at Howrah was the halfway point of our journey each day to and form Nabo Jibon. This was where I truly got a sense of the massive sea of humanity that is India. As I descended for the 1st time into the subway station to make my way to our next bus stop, I saw this 40 – 50 foot-wide section of stairway leading from one area of the station to another. I also saw people. Lots of people. Lots and lots and lots of people. There were so many people descending those steps at such a constant non-stop rate, that the best way I can think of to describe it is to imagine lava cascading down the side of a mountain. Or imagine someone stepping on a large ant-hill and seeing hordes of ants spilling over the side. It was the first time I’ve ever witnessed that and it was like something straight out of a movie. I dunno if I’ll ever witness something like that again in my life.

Our daily afternoon ministry consisted of breaking up into small groups of 2 – 4 people and bringing dispensas (bags of food) to people on the street and also praying and visiting with them. Because of the language and religious barrier this was a bit intimidating for me. And in spite of almost 3 years of prior service as a full time missionary, I’m still not very good at approaching people. But in the end, all of the effort was worth it. We had some amazing and blessed interactions with people during this particular ministry. I pray and I ask you to pray that all of the seeds that were planted would be watered and grow, and that these people would come to know more of God’s love.

one of our many encounters while distributing "dispensas" (bags of basic food items). we would also visit and pray with the people as well

one of our many encounters while distributing “dispensas” (bags of basic food items). we would also visit and pray with the people as well

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India Mission Trip – July 2014 – part 1 – The Journey There

Friday – July 25, 2014 – 10:45am – Cafe Coffee Day – Pune, Maharashtra, India

I feel like this is my first chance during my entire time in India where I can finally take a breath and relax. To journal I have to be able to relax and not be rushed, to be able to collect my thoughts. And up until this point we’ve been so busy with the mission trip that I haven’t been able to. But praise God, here I am. I’m thankful too that there are little tastes of home, of Western culture, such as this nice coffeehouse, to give me a bit of respite and to know that God still spoils me sometimes.

India's flag

India’s flag

In a way it’s been frustrating that I haven’t been able to journal until now because I feared losing some of the details from my time here. However, I think the delay has also given me some time to sit back and reflect on what has happened so far, remember what I’ve learned, and what’s truly touched me and not worry about all the little details. Before I get down to the story of my time here so far, I would like to thank all those who have supported me both financially and spiritually. Without your help, I would not have been able to have this mission experience. In no particular order, and hopefully not forgetting too many people, I’d like to thank David Wyble, Logan and Jennifer Lirette, Momma Lisa, Mrs. Kristy Lattier and Lauren Latter, Paige Patout and Mrs. Vicky Patout, Fr. Bill Melancon, and Mrs. Kim White.

thanks Mrs. Kristy and Lauren for this awesome journal!

thanks Mrs. Kristy and Lauren for this awesome journal!

And since God transcends space and time, please pray retroactively when you read this post, that my fingers will not tire out as I write this journal entry. There is so much to share and write about! :) The first part of the journey was the packing up and leaving my family, friends, loved ones, and yes, even my pet cat. Leaving that which is familiar and comforting, that which is a blessing, even when it is for the sake of something good, is always difficult. But I know God is taking care of them while I am gone. It also gives me a whole new respect for those who are full-time missionaries and the sacrifices they have to make.

see that chicken scratch? that's gonna take awhile to decode and type up :)

see that chicken scratch? that’s gonna take awhile to decode and type up :)

The next part of the mission trip was the journey to get here. While not necessarily horrendous, traveling can still be difficult for me. Even though I love to travel, go on mission and see new places, the journey can be lengthy and taxing at times. To get to Calcutta, my first part of the trip, I had an 11 hour flight on Singapore Airlines from Houston to Moscow, Russia. In Moscow, we deboarded the plane, passed thru customs, and then headed to the gate to wait for the next leg of our flight. After a one and half hour layover, I had a 10 hour flight to Singapore City, Singapore. Surprisingly enough, these 2 flights went by quicker than I thought they would. Since I don’t sleep well in vehicles of any kind, I thought the flights would drag on forever. But between the meals, snacks, naps, movies, reading, praying, and conversations, things went by fairly quick.

the Merlion National Monument in downtown Singapore City

the Merlion National Monument in downtown Singapore City

Once I arrived in Singapore, I knew I’d be ok. My itinerary (all w/Singapore Airlines) left me with a 15 hour layover. I don’t think that’s an accident on their part though. They know that the longer they have you there, the more money you’ll spend and the more things you’ll do. But that was ok with me. I know that would give me a good chance to unwind and rest. You also have to realize that the Singapore airport is the nicest airport in the world. Seriously though it has been voted as nicest airport in the world several times. There are tons of places inside the airport to rest, eat, shop, and be entertained. I was pleasantly surprised that time passed by as quickly as it did. First thing I did when I got there was use the free internet computer station to email back home and touch base. And since I’d been able to do some research on Changi Airport beforehand, I knew that they did free bus tours of the city every 3 hours. So I went and signed up for a spot. the bus tour passed thru a few main areas of the city and proceeded to make a 20 minute stop at the downtown waterfront area. I was able to get a good picture in front of the Merlion National Monument, thanks to a fellow traveller from the states who I met. She was also on a long layover before her flight to Borneo. Wish I could remember her name. She was headed there for 3 weeks to do an internship at a primate research/sanctuary facility. Super nice girl. It’s amazing the people God puts on your path when you travel…

see the "cruise ship" on top of this hotel?

see the “cruise ship” on top of this hotel?

I was also able to get some good pictures of all the beautiful architecture, including this one waterfront hotel in particular that had a top floor/terrace that was built to look like a huge cruise ship. When I got back to the airport, I headed to Subway for lunch (nothing like some comfort food from back home). Besides, I didn’t wanna order some strange dish from one of the ethnic restaurants and not know what I was eating. At some point I made my way downstairs to the koi pond. That’s right, I said koi pond! I told you this airport was nice. :) I went down there b/c there was a massage chair that massages your calves and feet for free. You don’t have to pay a gajillion quarters like you do with the ones they have in US airports. And it felt GOOD! Yet another reason I like the Changi airport and wouldn’t mind travelling thru there again at some point. While I was getting my massage, I saw some airport employees go to the koi pond for the 1st of the twice daily feedings. As they fed the koi, they also let the kids nearby help with feeding. Since I’m a big kid myself, I decided to partake in the fun as well. They told me to take a handful of food and close my fist, but leave an opening where my thumb and pointer finger are. Then I put my fist in the water and sure enough, the fish would eventually swim up to my hand and suck the food pellets right out of it, same way you see them do it in a normal fish tank. And since they have no teeth, it was like being attacked by a horde of old geezers with no teeth. :)

yet another reason why the Changi International Airport in Singapore is the coolest in the world

yet another reason why the Changi International Airport in Singapore is the coolest in the world

Later on I passed by an area with several large screen TV ‘s they had specifically set up for the World Cup soccer matches. Got to see the exciting end of the Argentina-Netherlands game, which Argentina won in a shoot-out. Then I checked out the 2-story butterfly garden. The plants and butterflies were absolutely beautiful and it was so peaceful in there. After that I made my way to the Sunflower garden on the outside tarrace/obervation deck and got a few good pictures and some much needed sunshine out there. Sprinkle in some reading time, a little bit of souvenir shopping, and some much needed nap time, and that pretty much wraps up my time in Singapore.

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