Archive | July, 2010

India Through the Lens of a Child

29 Jul

I often pray that the Lord will restore the innocent eyes of my youth, that He will remove the filthy screen through which I see the world, tainted by 21 years of experiences. I never thought that photography would be His means of answering my prayers. Today I sat in front of my computer, browsing through the thousands of photos I have taken in my 26 days here in India. I have certainly been blessed with many opportunities to take some truly incredible photos during my time here, but it wasn’t the National Geographic worthy photos that caught my eye today. It was the photos taken by the children that I entrusted with my camera. They took turns taking pictures while I sat on the porch and played five stones (similar to jacks) with them. They even got some really silly ones of me learning one of their traditional Tamil dances. And they’re nothing spectacular, especially not on any technical level, but they have a raw innocence about them. Through the blurriness and bad exposure they reveal the things a child sees, the things precious to the precious ones. And for whatever reason, they speak deeply to my soul. I hope they speak to yours.


Meet Anita

29 Jul

Her beauty stood out above the rest. I loved the way her mouth curled up at the ends, weakly attempting to conceal her piqued interest. “Who is this white girl with a camera?” she must have thought. Her eyes darted in my direction, her curiosity getting the better of her. She adjusted her powder-blue shawl, busying herself to mask her intentions, but her feigned disinterest didn’t fool me. She was crying out for someone to notice her from the very depths of her being. “Photo?” I asked. She smiled brightly, communicating her approval. I snapped a shot or two and looked at the display to see the results. “Beautiful!” I exclaimed. “You should be a supermodel.” Again, I lifted my camera, but this time was different. She posed for me, confidently lifting her chin, sassing me with her eyes. Her lungs inflated, filled with new air. She pulled her shoulders back and played with her chocolate brown fingers. I showed her her photos and her pride surged. “You’re gorgeous.” I told her, hugging her and shaking her hand, filling her with my approval. She had already exhausted her English vocabulary, so she nodded her head and looked off at the children playing. I walked away, eager to show someone these incredible photos. I found Malega, the director of the orphanage we were at, and proudly displayed my masterpiece to her. “Isn’t she beautiful?” I asked. “That’s Anita.” she whispered. “She has AIDS.” Malega covered her mouth and poured Anita’s story into my ear. A former prostitute, Anita had contracted the deadly disease by one of her many nameless lovers. My heart shattered. I wondered how she came to be a prostitute. Was she forced? Did she feel she had no other options? I thought of her impending death. I thought of the physical pain and mental anguish that has probably defined her as a victim of this life-robbing illness. I dreamed of a day that Anita would know perfect peace, health, and love – a day only possible in Heaven. I prayed that Anita would come to know the redemption and restoration of the Lover of her soul, the Creator of her beauty.

The Reality of the Secret Place

29 Jul

I close my eyes and my vision fades to black, pressing tightly on the brake pedal of my mind, the wheels coming to a squealing halt, the sound of metal on metal paining my nerves. I patiently set up the road blocks, one by one, excluding stray thoughts from entering this precious fortress. Not right now. This time is more precious than any other. Noises awake the stray beasts, piquing their curious nature to investigate the sacred happenings, to intrude on the communion, so I tiptoe carefully, holding my breath as I move through the battlefield, avoiding the landmines of distraction. I expertly make my way down the dirt path, as cars and motorcycles and buses whiz by me in every direction. I turn off at a winding cobblestone trail. There is no marker to indicate the way, no street sign, no landmark, but I know the place well. I check behind me to ensure that I am not being followed. It would ruin everything if they discovered our secret place. They would taint its purity, slander its holiness. I could never let that happen. I ducked under a willow tree, it’s long green branches brushing over me. My nerves tingled with excitement. I’m getting closer. I look up to the sky, noticing the sun setting. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, but then again it always is. The corners of my mouth curl in ecstasy and a knowing smile creeps across my face. My eyes are wide with expectation. I skip along the path, approaching the wrought iron gate with the thrill of a marathon runner reaching the finish line. My hands clasp the lock, and I admire the craftsmanship. The steel feels cool and smooth and I reach for the key. It is an antique, secured around my neck by a golden chain. I would never take it off for fear of losing it. Nothing is more precious to me. I slip it carefully into the lock. As I hear the gears clicking the sky explodes with color. Royal purples, bright oranges, and shimmering golds splash across the perfect blue sky. Expertly placed clouds refract the light of the setting sun. Slowly I enter the garden, my mouth hanging in awe. The scene is familiar, and amazingly new every time. My Lover runs to meet me at the gate. He has been waiting for me here in our secret place. He looks at me and He is delighted with what He sees. Oh how His love satisfies me. I look to nothing else. And though the world tries to deny it, we both bask in its reality. The reality of the secret place.

Let the Dreamers Dream…

29 Jul

She’s 19 and she has big dreams, dreams too big for a woman they tell her. “It will never happen. Just marry and be satisfied with the life your parents arrange for you. Maybe you’ll even get to marry a doctor.” they say. “Women were made to serve in the home, to please their husbands, to raise their children well. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will be happy.” She smiles half-heartedly and bobs her head. With each line they chip away at her hope, they strip her slowly of her ambition. So she studies harder, diving head first into her school books to drown out the noise of their cynicism. And she prays harder, meeting at 3:30 every morning with over 50 other women in a room the size of most people’s closet to intercede for her town. Though there’s no air conditioning, no chairs, and food and money is scarce, there’s no shortage of the Holy Spirit in their midst. The prayers of these saints are powerful. They have scraped together enough rupees to build a new church building for the local congregation, healed barren women, and saved their village from the devastation of alcoholism. These women are powerful because their God is powerful. So who says she can’t be an engineer and move to London? Who says she has no hope of bucking culture and arranging her own marriage? Who says she has no chance of marrying a good Christian man and starting a legacy of spirit-filled followers of Christ? When I heard their cutting remarks, my fists clenched tightly. I wanted to go to battle, but I followed her lead and listened patiently. Her name is Sunmathi. “It means ‘sunflower’.” she tells me. And I think it’s no coincidence. Sunflowers can grow even in the harshest of conditions to be some of the tallest, brightest, strongest beacons of beauty in the world. I believe she’ll live up to her namesake. I believe in her. And I pray to God she makes it to London. “Keep on dreaming, girl.” I tell her, “God smiles on dreamers.”

How Great is Our God?

22 Jul

Last night was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in my life. Pastor Caleb, our ministry contact here in Vellore, India, took us to a slum outside the city. I had no idea what to expect, and as I walked through the slum, my heart broke for the extreme poverty I witnessed. The dirt paths winding through the slum was lined with raw sewage. Everything I know about sanitation screamed inside of me as I saw vases filled with drinking water laying in puddles of human excrement. The smell was enough to knock you over. I pressed  forward. The buildings were rotting, pieces of the critical structure crumbling to pieces, and the thatched roofs had giant holes in them. What do these people do when it rains? I pressed forward, noticing children with scabs on their faces and no clothes on their bodies. Boogers were crusted along their noses and flies buzzed around their drooling mouths. I pressed forward. Tiny women with no meat on their bones carried huge loads of food and firewood. I watched them as they passed by and I noticed their spines, bent like boomerangs and I wondered how much pain they suffer through, day in and day out. I saw very few men. I wondered where they were. Were they still working? Or were they out satisfying their lust with other lovers, leaving their wives to carry the heavy burden of the household? I pressed on.

And then I saw her, a brilliant ray of sunshine in the slum heavy with darkness, her sparkling orange punjabi shining brighter than the rest of the colors swirling around me. Something is different about her, I thought. I didn’t even have to approach her. She wasted no time, sticking her hand out to shake mine. She spoke perfect English, asking my name. She told me hers – Jusibiya. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl. She pointed out her twin and I pushed through the crowd to meet her, doing my best not to step on any little toes. I pulled the two away and quickly snapped a photo before the mob found us again.

Jusibiya, the girl on the left, grabbed my hand and led me through the crowd to where we were to have our program. We had planned on singing a few songs and sharing a story or two, but when we heard that most of the people in the slum were not believers we decided to take advantage of the perfect situation to share the Gospel message. My leader Jessica looked around for volunteers and I immediately said “yes.” I closed my eyes in prayer and asked the Lord to help me know what it was that He wanted me to say. Instantly the fear of the Lord was upon me. I knew this was an important task. My previously calm state evaporated instantly and my eyes were as big as the moon. I stood in the back as my team performed, asking the Lord for direction. And there she was. Jusibiya. She looked at me with a wide grin and asked me what was the matter. I told her I was about to speak about Jesus and I asked her to pray for me. She happily obliged. As she began praying in Tamil, her native tongue, I struggled to keep my footing. The Holy Spirit was so thick, so tangible and it seemed to flow from her lips as she spoke, her soothing voice calming my nerves. My confidence returned, yet this time it was not confidence in myself, but confidence in the Lord. I knew He had great plans for this night. He whispered another gem to me, too. He told me that my friend Elizabeth was to heal an arm that night. I shared the Lord’s instruction with her and she smiled brightly. We knew God’s glory would be revealed.

It was my turn and I grabbed the microphone. I quickly became frustrated. Everyone was talking to each other. No one seemed to be listening. I was failing. I cried out to the Lord in my mind, asking Him to help me. Instantly my friend Lindsay let out a loud “Shhhhhhhh!” and a hush fell over the crowd. The timing was perfect. “You need to listen to this, it’s the best part,” I said. I was about to reveal the truth about the greatest miracle in history. I shouted, “The grave could not hold our God!” My words shook with the power of the Lord. I finished my message and asked if anyone wanted to commit their life to Christ. A wave of people stood to their feet, raising their hands in beautiful surrender. I have never felt so weak, and I have never felt God so strong. I led these new believers in prayer and they asked for forgiveness, accepting Jesus as their Savior. I could not believe my eyes. Souls being saved is the most precious sight to behold.

Afterwards we prayed for everyone individually and rushed to the slum church’s meeting place to have a drink. And there she was. Jusibiya. She sat down next to me and held my hand, gazing into my eyes. I asked her to write her name for me in my journal. She wrote her number as well. As she was doing so my friend Elizabeth came to me to tell me that Jusibiya had blood cancer. She has been diagnosed for three years. Jusibiya handed me my journal. “You will call me, won’t you?” she said. I couldn’t handle it. I began sobbing, and she held even tighter to my hand. “Yes, of course I will.” I said.

As we left the tiny hut, people were shoving me from all sides. Someone accidentally shoved me into the sewer and human waste covered my feet. I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm, but she saw me. She knew what had happened and she rushed me towards one of the huts. I didn’t know what was happening until a woman emerged carrying her only vase of drinking water. The woman took the only clean water she had and washed my feet. I struggled to keep it together, but I was shattered. How could she do this? She has nothing! And she gave this life-giving water to me. For my feet! Unbelievable. I looked at Jusibiya, my eyes welling with tears and asked her if she was an angel. “Yes.” was all she said.

I hugged my angel goodbye, marveling at the faithfulness of God. I’m speechless. And I’m forever changed. Angels live in slums and God is in India. And He is doing amazing things. I know more is on the horizon, and I’m waiting expectantly.

Meet Christina adul Jessica

22 Jul

Her beautiful brown eyes captivated me from the second I first saw her. She stared at me and smiled, believing from the depths of her tiny heart that I was special. Her face shone with radiance glowing from her chocolate brown skin. I watched her as our team sang and she clapped along enthusiastically. I saw the wheels of her mind turning in awe as I shared the story of Daniel in the lion’s den, and when our program was finally finished we were drawn to each other as if by magnetic force. I grabbed her tiny hands as we began to dance to the music. I spun her around and her tattered dress twirled with the motion. She clung to me, squeezing my hand tightly, believing that I offered her something more. Instinctively I took my bright pink scarf off and wrapped it around her bony shoulders. Her eyes lit up and her stature became taller, her heightened confidence on display. Purpose, identity, and value enveloped her in iridescent pink. She raced off to show her friends, skipping proudly across the dirt path in front of the orphanage. I smiled and my throat tightened as I watched her spirit fly. Her name is Christina adul Jessica, quite the regal name for an orphan, but I believe it is well deserved. Despite her poverty she has a rich inheritance. She is a daughter of the Most High King, a princess in His eternal Kingdom. The pink scarf was nothing more than an outward symbol of her inner royalty, buried deep under her 7 years of experience in a world defined by caste. I watched the beautiful moment unfolding before my eyes. For just a minute there was no brahmin and no dalit, no rich and no poor. She was just Christina adul Jessica, a beloved daughter of God. I prayed for her, my heart bursting with pride as I saw her eyes tightly shut, her brow furrowed, and her hands clasped tightly together. “Stotrum, stotrum, stotrum,” she repeated as I prayed, praising the Lord in her native  tongue. As I was about to leave, she hurriedly removed the scarf, bunching it up in her tiny hands and extending it back towards me. “No,” I said, “It’s yours.” She didn’t dare to believe me, so she asked Charles, the orphanage director. He looked at me and I nodded my head. He smiled and told her again that it was a gift, hers to keep. She ran to me and jumped into my arms, hugging me tightly. Was this the first gift she had ever received? My heart broke for her and the floodgates struggled to keep the tears from falling down my cheeks. She deserves so much more than this, so much more than just a pink scarf. There will be a day, I thought. Her Father has so much for her, more than I could ever give. Until then, I’ll pray for the orphaned princess and her pink scarf.

Meet Sudipriya

14 Jul

One of my favorite things that we have had the opportunity to do since being here in India is to visit the girls’ orphanage run by our amazing ministry contact, Pastor Daniel, and his wife, Joyce. The orphanage is two stories above the church, just around the corner from our home. Our team of twelve showed up around 5:30 PM on Friday night, very excited to meet these wonderful girls. They were shy at first, so we performed our recently-learned Hawaiian dance, the pate pate. Ripples of laughter cursed through the crowd of girls as we publicly humiliated ourselves. Anything to make the kids laugh, right? We played a few rounds of “Red Light, Green Light” and “Simon Says” before busting out our trusty cameras. Photos are quite the hit in India. The kids love posing and looking at the LCD screen to see their picture. I hit it off instantly with 13-year-old Sudipriya. I could tell by the way she walked across the room that she was a dancer. She just had an extra swing in her step. So I asked her to dance for me. Embarrassed, she covered her face, giggled, and said, “No, no. Not a dancer.” I could tell she was just being modest, so I smiled and begged her to dance for me. Eventually she relented.

As she danced, the atmosphere changed. The drab orphanage was transformed into a royal ballroom and the air was full of life. As she breathed it in, the most beautiful smile spread across her face, dimpling her young, round cheeks. Her orange skirt ballooned as I twirled her around and around. With each twirl more and more cares were cast off her young shoulders, leaving her free to embrace her youth. She showed me several different traditional Indian dances, performed with the ease of an expert. She’s definitely a natural. My body awkwardly tried to copy hers, bobbing my head and moving my hands in tiny circles. She laughed as I tripped over my feet. I was so entranced with her smile that I barely noticed my own.

Though I’m sure I brought immeasurable joy to her young heart, my youth was being restored as well. I laughed, not a care in the world hindering me. I danced, unashamed and unafraid. Eventually our time there came to a close. I was dripping with sweat from all my dancing and the clock showed half past eleven. I hugged my new friend goodbye and she clung to my body. I promised her I would come back soon. I honestly couldn’t wait to see her again.

As I walked home I reflected on the father heart of God. What a generous Daddy to give both of His daughters such an incredible night. Whoever said being a Christian is boring needs to get out and serve more. I’ve never had so much fun in my life!