Day One: On the Move
By Savannah Rommel
This past junior year of university has been quite a journey. For those of you that don't know me, I'm a junior student-athlete from Canada who has come to know the love of Jesus in the past couple of years. And anyone that has been on their own journey with Christ knows how messy and hard and emotional it can get, but also how rewarding and freeing it is. Despite the days where I let the enemies lies affect me. Despite feeling restless and the physical drain from my day to day activities. Despite always being quote on quote 'busy,' I'm SLOWLY learning how to be still in who our Heavenly Father is; how abundant life with Jesus doesn't mean a perfect life. The fact He wants to have a relationship full of love with me, an evil and rebellious sinner, is such an indescribable gift. Blessing be to God that I have a new identity in Christ though WOOT WOOT.
I can't begin to express how thankful I am for this opportunity in India. The experience leading up to this has challenged me in so many ways. The Holy Spirit has been helping me examine the depths of my heart and has been filling me with such contentment about the next 3 weeks. I know God is going to use every single moment to show my team the importance of loving one another through Him, serving others, and building His Kingdom.
As I'm sitting on the plan ride to Amsterdam, I already see the work of the Holy Spirit in my teammates. We have a 45+ hour trip (not kidding) till we finally arrive to our first city, Darjeeling. It's quite overwhelming to actually be in the middle of all this traveling because we knew it was coming, but knowing and experiencing is two different things. We have 4 different plane rides with at least 2 of them being 8 hours. Then add in all the layovers, with a 3-6 hour Jeep ride to end off all the flying. Our bodies are aching and we are really tired, and some of us has had little to no sleep these past 32 hours BUT God is faithful. He's more concerned about our holiness / transformation than our happiness. Plus it is totally out of His character to not be faithful and because of that I know everyone of us has trust in Him. This trip isn't going to be easy and we are probably not as prepared as we'd like to admit, but God is. He has strategically placed us together to work for His greater good. That is more than enough for me, and I know I can speak on behalf of my teammates, that it's more than enough for them too.
My hope during this trip is that we will honor The Lord above all else. Romans 12:9-13 was the last passage I got to go over with my church at Mars Hill and it has definitely convicted me. May we be an example of who Jesus is. May we show genuine love to one another. May we hold fast to what is good and have a healthy hate for what is evil. May we be in a constant Spirit of thankfulness for all God has given us and for all He has done. May we out-do our teammates in honor, with a willingness to put our own selves down to serve the other. May we rejoice in the hope we have in Christ, be patience through the tribulations, and be in constant prayer.
Father, thank you for everything. Thank you for your Son. Thank you for the cross. Thank you for the opportunity to make much of your name. Thank you for reaching out and wanting a relationship with us even when we were your enemy. May we pray bold prayers of revival in India. May this trip further our spiritual development and bring us into an even deeper and intimate relationship with You. May this trip be focused around you, Father and that your plan will be carried out in whatever way it looks. We love you and we praise you. It's in your holy and precious name. Amen.
Day Two: Just the Beginning
By Hannah Stokes
I write this with a thankful heart, looking across the train car from my four teammates. We are currently riding the Darjeeling toy train. This train is an icon for tourists to Darjeeling. That mixed with Nathan's deep love for trains, this ride was a must.
Five days in, it is incredible to begin to see God's provision in placing this team together. After 46+ hours of travel to get to our first destination, I truly believe I'm with four of the most joyful, humble individuals. Not once has there been one complaint or cranky attitude- even when we were laying on a marble floor with cockroaches and mice during our layover in Delhi- don't worry, we did not stay there too long.
Wide-eyed, they are adapting well to India. They are flexible and up for anything. Even with little sleep, all I have seen is joy and eagerness as we see God's work in the amazing mountains and wrinkled faces that pass by. Where there is darkness and tragedy, we are finding beauty and hope.
I am thankful. God truly works all things together for good. He is always faithful. I look forward for what is to come. We have only skimmed the surface.
Day Three: Greetings from 7,407 ft high in Darjeeling, India!
By Claire Richburg
It is currently 5:00 PM on Thursday as I write this and your YHM team has been up since 3:15 this morning, so we are tired but thankful for a wonderful time in this beautiful city! There is a unique beauty here, but also universal sights that are comforting. If you've been to any country that is not first world then you know men peeing on the side of streets is not uncommon. Don't worry, it's the same here. Selfies? Very common. Our tour guide, Moa, was surprised that we haven't taken more. Kids? Just as joyful. Drivers? Just as crazy. Markets? Just as busy.
There are some things though that are not found everywhere. Such as the Delhi airport, where we spent 12 hours, and only saw maybe 20 white people total. Or the amount of people who have asked to take photos with us, some kids even climbing in our laps to take a selfie. Then a hotel manager who said he thought we were from Hogwarts.
So far we have toured a famous tea plantation, saw the sunrise on Tiger Hill, rode on a steam train, travelled a lot and ate delicious food. We have not been able to meet anyone yet to have good conversations with or to travel with, but I think there is a reason we haven't. This first city has been easing us into India with cool air, other tourists, a tour guide, and a nice hotel. I believe during this time we are building team unity, becoming culturally aware of do's and taboo's, and preparing for 5 more cities. The Lord is faithful and we are thankful for Moa, our tour guide and sweet memories already made!
By Jonathan Hardy
Our YHM team arrived in Bogdogra on 5-16-16. In Bogdogra, we met up with our guide, Moa, and took a taxi up the mountain to our first destination, Darjeeling. Our total travel time to Darjeeling was 48 hours.
Since arriving in Darjeeling our team has had the opportunity to visit many local attractions, eat some Indian food, purchase souvenirs from the markets, and learned some of the Indian ways with the help of Moa.
I had the opportunity to talk with a man from Mumbai, India on Wednesday (5-17-17) while visiting the Happy Valley Tea Estate. We talked about where we were from and what what we planned to do while in India. Although our 5-10 minute conversation didn't involve the Gospel, it was still great to talk with someone about our trip and listen to some of their story as well. Every person that our team has came in contact with in Darjeeling has been extremely nice and hospitable to us.
Today, Friday (5-19-17), our team will depart Darjeeling and go to our next destination, which is Kolkata. We're excited about going to Kolkata, but at the same time we will miss Darjeeling and the people that live here. Throughout our time in Darjeeling, the Lord has revealed himself through the respect and hospitality we have received despite our differing cultures as well as the beautiful mountainous views that He created. As we leave Darjeeling, we look forward to the new opportunities that await us in Kolkata.
Day Four: Stepping Out of Your Own World
By Nathan Collier
Stepping out of your own world and into the world of another is an experience unrivaled.
While being an Intercultural Studies major has given me a 'leg up' on understanding how certain cultures work with and conflict with our own, there is nothing like stepping out of the U.S. and experiencing it in person.
It is difficult, though. Before leaving Mobile, I had set a timer to see how long it would take our team to reach our first city. After 46 hours and 46 minutes we finally entered our first hotel. While sitting in the Delhi airport, wrestling with a 14 hour layover, an electronic piano in the corner mockingly played Hotel California. It simply could not have been a more fitting song to fill the background. Some of our team had little more than two hours of sleep during the first 46 hours which started the entire trip off on an exhausting foot. But as always, the Lord provided.
The last leg of our trip, a six hour jeep ride to the top of the 7,000ft mountain, was bittersweet. Exhausted and ready to just be there, much of the team struggled to stay awake. This was probably best, honestly, keeping in mind that we were driving through a relentless rain storm in an almost one-laned road overflowing with switchbacks which always bordered a cliff on one side. As I bobbed in and out of consciousness up the winding mountain road toward our first city, I missed the vast majority of its sights as we made the climb up (though I was able to enjoy them ALL on the way back down from the front seat of the jeep). The next morning Darjeeling greeted me with a view that my words simply cannot describe. At a little over 7,000ft in altitude, we sat proud staring down at the clouds beneath us that dotted the Himalayan 'foothills' (that dwarf every Alabama 'mountain'). Strings of Buddhist prayer flags strung from rooftop to rooftop added to the various vibrant pastels that locals used to paint their homes and businesses - the seemingly sleepy mountainside was revived by these flowing colors.
Looking back, I feel that Darjeeling has been our spring board into something far larger. Darjeeling allowed us to dip our little toe into the waters that are India.
While in Darjeeling we were able to explore many of its most grand sights and ventures. While the days were bustling with excitement and adventure, the early mornings allowed for personal reflection and sweet time spent with the Lord. Gaining a new perspective, both physically and culturally, allows one to view God through a different lens. While God is never changing, He is a diverse God - the various peoples of the earth, His greatest creation, reflect this. In the United States, we often live to work. From 9-5 we have little time for anything other than continuing the business. Whether right or wrong, this has simply become cultural. In Darjeeling, while work is equally as important, most work to live, versus our living to work. I believe that time runs slower in Darjeeling, mainly because of this. Time for relationship and people is valued over time for work in Darjeeling. While work is important and Genesis tells us we were made to work, how healthy are our 9-5 priorities? During our last morning in Darjeeling I climbed to the roof of our hotel - being one of the highest buildings on its side of the hill, we had a nearly 360 degree unobstructed view of the hillsides and cityscape surrounding us. At 6 in the morning much of the town was still silent, so I sat still and meditated on scripture. 1 Kings 19:11-12 says, "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper." Leading up to this point, Elijah, a pivotal Old Testament prophet of the Lord, was being hunting in his own nation for his beliefs. The Lord told Elijah to go stand on the mountain because the Lord was about to pass by. Life, one of the greatest gifts given by God to Man, is often allowed by us to be little more than a distraction from the One who gave it. Darjeeling has helped to remind me to slow down, be still, reset, and refocus - He isn't always in the rock wrecking wind, the ground shifting earthquakes, or the burning fires of life. Spend time to silently listen for the whisper.
We left Darjeeling two days ago and have carried our journey on to our second city! I'm praying that our experiences from Darjeeling will carry over to here! He has a plan, and we're watching it unfold one day at a time! Continue to travel with us by keeping up with our blogs, I ask that you would continue to lend to His plan through prayer. Until next time!
Day Five: Transitioning
By Savannah Rommel
Darjeeling has been a heck of a city and we sure left off with an absolute bang.
The Himalayas were oh so beautiful and breathtaking even though the clouds covered part of them. It was still so amazing to see the buildings and the life the people have built all among the mountains. The roads are VERY narrow, and they twist and turn in ways you could not begin to imagine. Also the honking.... Moa said that the honking is a way of communication on the streets; to either get the heck out of the way or to say thank you. Pedestrians don't have the right away either, which I will put more emphasis in what I'm about to tell y'all later on.
We finished our last morning in Darjeeling with breakfast at Tom and Jerry's, which was a different restaurant that we've been eating breaky at for the last 2 mornings. Anyways, Surrender and Christ Is Enough by Hillsong began to play through the speakers once we finished blessing the food. It took me by surprise to hear the beautiful worship music in Darjeeling. I felt Jesus tugging at my heart to ask the man if he was a believer. Once we were finished with our meal and we had paid him, I went up and asked if he knew Christ. The smile that consumed his face was the most joyful thing I have ever witnessed. Anu was so happy to know that I was a believer also. His one prayer request was over his restaurant, so if you are reading this and have a chance please pray that God will continue to use Anu to future His Kingdom in Darjeeling!
Later that day we headed to Siliguri to catch our train and this is were the action really starts. I hate being the center of attention, and being a white person in India attracts EVERYONES attention. There were so many people all around us and we had to be on high alert because of all stares. We also had beggars come up to us with persistence and it broke my heart to say no. I'm not going to lie to you, that train station was scary and overwhelming but luckily we got out of there asap.
We were on a waiting list for the trains and unfortunately not all of us were cleared. So as we booked it out of that train station, we ended up taking our first tuktuk to the bus stations in India. Now tuktuk rides ARE SO MUCH FUN, but there is no such thing as personal space. We were all cozy in this tuktuk and the laughter was never ending (also yes we are looking pretty rough at this point). Despite our team dealing with the intensity back at the train station, that still didn't stop us from enjoying each other's presence. After booking the tickets for the bus by us scrapping all of our rupees together, we ran over to a restaurant that was across the road and about 3 minutes away. Well we only had an hour to eat food before our bus left the station, so we took our chances. Our food didn't come out till 6:45pm and our bus was leaving at 7pm. However, we were banking on that fact that things never run on time in India. So we inhaled our food and ran out of the restaurant by 6:59 PM. Well we come back to the crazy street we need to cross in order to get to the bus. Now let me tell you WE WERE LITERALLY PLAYING THE GAME CHICKEN BUT INSTEAD OF BACKING OUT YOU HAVE TO CROSS THE ROAD TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE. There is no cross walk and there is no second guessing yourself. It's all in baby. At some point we almost got hit with at least 3 different cars. It may not sound scary but it for sure dang was! I don't think that even a video could show the amount thrill it was. It's insane how India works. For once, the bus was on time and had already left the station, but was getting gas a block down so we were able to catch it just in time. A side note about the bus also... you would think that the driver would be more careful since we were too heavy but there is no such thing. Add in really poor roads it felt like I was about to rocket out of my seat the whole 12 hours.
Today has been such an experience trying to transition from Darjeeling to Kolkata. It was scary and frightening but oh so thrilling. I've been continually reminded of so so much. Delighting in Christ has transformed me. I was so broken and hopeless and lost without Christ..... yet I had clean clothing, healthy food on the table, a stable roof over head, and safe running water. Majority of the people in India may have only one out of the four things I've listed on a good day. They may hunger for food but their souls hunger for Christ. Do I want to feed ever single person I see? Heck ya but they need far more than that. I had all of those things yet it wasn't enough for me. I continued to try and fill the cracks with anything and everything. I abused the privileges that were given to me. I use to fill my life with alcohol, with partying, with boys. I tried filling them with soccer and my achievements, with friendships and materialistic items. Nothing was ever enough after I've obtained it. Well guess what rocked my world? Christ did. He was and is the only thing that could fill those gaps inside my heart. Chasing after Christ is the most rewarding thing we can experience during this life. He will heals our scars, he frees us from the oppression of the enemy, he brings meaning into this life, and fills us hope for what's to come. He fills our broken cracks with the love of Jesus and uses our broken vessels to overflow with the light that is ignited within.
God is using our broken vessels right now. He is using us to His people in India and He is using us for each other. In community with one another we show what genuine love looks like because of Christ. Well I can tell you one thing, my teammates are doing exactly that.
Day Six: Only All For Jesus
By Hannah Stokes
For those of you who know me well, you probably know that I love and respect Mother Teresa- whether I've brought her up in conversation, or you've seen her books all around my living room. If I have a "hero," it would be Momma T. Though I never met her, her faith, writings, and service has truly strengthened my own. From a distance, her life has been a way of teaching me the truth that my life is not my own.
Last night, my team was weary and experiencing the first bits of culture shock as we ran to catch at 12 hour over night bus to Kolkata. The fact that we were no longer in the cool, beautiful mountains of Darjeeling hit us hard the moment we entered Siliguri.
As we got to Kolkata this morning, we were tired. We were hungry. We were HOT. In addition to all this, the place I booked for us to stay two months ago seemed to not know anything about us coming. They agreed to make it work, so we put down our heavy bags and hit the streets of Kolkata for the first time.
I was instantly encouraged as we walked down the street and saw a sign with Mother Teresa's face on it with a quote of hers. Again I was encouraged as I saw another one several yards down. Then again. And again. And again.
As we wandered, we decided to make our first stop in Kolkata the Mother House, where the Missionaries of Charity still work and live and where Mother had lived, served, and is now buried.
It was surreal to be there as the Missionaries of Charity walked around in their white saris outlined with the blue lines, just as the pictures show. As I walked through, I was reminded of what she lived for- Jesus. In everything. He was truly enough. She urged others to love people because he loved us. She urged others to be quiet and prayerful in humility. Bright orange flowers decorated where her body laid saying it perfectly, "Only All For Jesus."
Her home and life reminded me in my exhaustion, this life is not meant to be comfortable. This life is not for me. I have been called to love, even the poorest of the poor. In my brokenness, God loved me and gave me the miracle of salvation. So, I am called to love others in their brokenness and point them to this same love. Even when I'm tired, hungry, and hot, God has given me a ministry. For these three weeks especially it's my team. And I'm thankful for that. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, my life is not my own. Only all for Jesus.
Day Seven: 8th Day
By Claire Richburg
It may only be our 7th day, but the name "8th Day" saved us today. We stumbled upon a cafe and bakery called 8th Day and it was our safe haven. Yesterday was hard, I think we would all admit that. Kolkata is so different than Darjeeling, with more people, more stares and more heat. However, today was so good for our team. We slept in, moved to another hotel (4th one so far) and walked a couple blocks down for breakfast. This coffee shop was obviously physically Westernized, owned by a Westerner and had Western food options. We had a wonderful breakfast and even decided to come back there later in the afternoon. When we came back a second time it was booming with people. It made us happy to see how well it was doing and that other people liked it as much as we did! One worker had a cross necklace, while every employee had shirts on that said "Be the Change,' as well as "Love' written on the wall and other encouraging messages. It was bright and clean, with wonderful conversations all around us. People were laughing, catching up and hugging, while we even heard one woman tell her two friends that she was pregnant. We were able to play some games, cool off from the heat and laugh with each other. There was an obvious difference about the people there. The workers as well as the customers smiled more often and just seemed more joyful. And we left there with lifted hearts. So today I'm thankful that God showed us this coffee shop and lifted our spirits through this place.
Day Eight: Home is Behind, the World is Ahead
By Nathan Collier
While culture shock was not so much of an issue, the temperature was. Having lived in Alabama for most of my life I thought I had a reasonable idea of what hot was. I was wrong. Kolkata, a city that does all but guarantee air-conditioning, maintained a steady and comfortable temperature of between 105 and 110 degrees with 80%+ humidity for the three days we were there..
Both Darjeeling and Kolkata were lovely in their own ways; previously, I had referred to Darjeeling as an easy 'toe dip' into the pool of Indian culture, (comparatively speaking) Kolkata was a diving board.
This week was full of challenges and growth from the start, and that is the story I want to tell. Our team's original plan was to leave Darjeeling via jeep, ride to Siliguri at the bottom of the mountain, board a train there and ride to Kolkata, but that's not exactly what happened.. through a series of events we had to adapt and change plans. Moa, our guide who became far more than a guide and part of our family, was invaluable at this point. Sitting in Siliguri, we were surrounded by thousands of people. Needless to say, it is hard to blend in and not draw attention when you're the only five white people in the area, and attention isn't always a good thing. Through a series of events, we were not guaranteed tickets for the next train to Kolkata, which is exactly what we needed. Needing six tickets, our plan was to get three, placing the girls in the nice coaches, and the guys (with Moa) would ride in the free coaches at the back of the train (because finding six tickets was honestly unreasonable). In order to do this we had to stay at the station and constantly check for available tickets. This was in no way ideal, but we needed to get to Kolkata. To make an already long story short, we never got the tickets. So we went with our back-up back-up plan and took a bus, and when I say 'a bus,' what I really mean is 'two buses.' (Mom, if we haven't talked about this by the time you read this... whoops!) Me, being independent and having developed a rather adventurous side over the past few years, and feeling more or less prepared, quickly volunteered Jonathan and myself to take the bus. (I had a flashlight and Leatherman, doesn't that qualify me for practically anything?) After all, we didn't want any of the girls to take the bus without Moa. With an hour left before the first bus was scheduled to leave, we all left the bus station, tickets in hand, to eat dinner together. It had been a VERY long day, FULL of some rather overwhelming circumstances, but the Lord had provided. As we sat around the table, it was a VERY special time together and FULL of laughter. Our team, having gone through discipleship together over the past 14 weeks had already bonded and grown together, but those struggles topped off with dinner upgraded any bonds we already had. We were a family, far from home, but we had each other. Looking around the table, it was as if you could see the flame of the adversities we had faced together begin to die to the power of smiles, and all that was left behind was a newly forged bond sparklingly in every eye.
The food had taken a little longer than expected to prepare. With five minutes remaining until the first bus was scheduled to leave, we all ran back to the bus station together. And then it happened, Jonathan and I stood at the bus station, surrounded by strangers, as the large sleeper bus pulled away with the rest of our team. I set my watch and we waited for an hour. Our bus was to leave at 8pm, and at 8pm it turned into the parking lot on two wheels. We boarded and left at 8:15 (that's how timing and schedules work here. It would suit some of you back home perfectly). Apart from the blaring Bollywood movie that would make your ears ring from the front of the bus, the ride began rather smoothly. Considering we were 8,500 miles away from home, an hour from our team, and nearly 9 hours from our destination. What could go wrong? (So you know, we did have the international phone, just in case - Hannah was more than looking out for us.) At this point, Jonathan and I both drifted off into some much needed sleep. An hour later I feel the bus rocking far more than any wagon wheel and Jonathan says, "Nathan, we're going off-road." We couldn't help but to laugh and eventually went back to sleep. Eight hours later, and after a few phone calls concerning which stop to get off at in Kolkata, we made it to where we needed to be. Like professionals (give or take). I must admit that being back with the team was a sweet reunion. Our arrival landed us in Kolkata around 7:30 or so in the morning. (And this is where the earlier weather report comes into effect..) As soon as we stepped off the bus we began to sweat. Our hotel would not let us check in until 12, and that is how our time in Kolkata began. The city is larger than anything I have ever seen. Some of the sights, such as the Victorian Memorial, were more than grand to behold. But that's a story I will leave for someone else to tell.. over a period of one full day and two half days, we each walked somewhere around 67,000(+/-) steps. The first day, having just gotten off a 10 hour bus ride, was an exhausting struggle. The second day was better, the air had cooled down to just over 100 degrees, and hydration was hardly an issue. Then came the third day. The third day.. after breakfast we headed out to the other side of the city. A measly three miles away. The third day had brought a heat I had never felt before, but we were all feeling it, so I pushed forward and continued drinking fluids. Half of a Gatorade, an entire lemon soda (for the sugar), and TWO whole liters of water were not enough for me. We were all sweating. Absolutely soaked. As we continued on we darted from shade to shade to try and hide from the sun as much as possible. But in Kolkata, I would have wagered that that might not be possible. I will readily admit that I am just as stubborn as my father ever was. I pushed through, not because I wanted to be tough and did not want to admit my weakness, but because I did not want to slow down the team, and this was my mistake. I grew sick rather quickly, and was overcome with chills. Chills. It had to have been over 110 degrees. What happened next is the focus, though. After speaking up and admitting that I simply could not go on, which was the hardest part for me, the team rallied in a new way; yet again. While many prayed silently, Moa pulled out a packet of electrolyte powder and poured it in my third liter of water and made me chug. This was an example of Christian living. We can love one another, but only because He first loved us, and by these actions the world will know. In parts of the world where some secrecy is required for safety, through these actions God opens doors and softens hearts. As I drank the electrolyte flooded water, I noticed there were many eyes watching..
I am now sitting on my bed in a sleeper train - a bed obviously built for someone a little smaller than me. Eleven hours ago as we left the station we waved goodbye to Kolkata, and we are headed for our third city!
Day Nine: Something Inside of Me Broke
By Savannah Rommel
The floodgates opened and the tears streamed down my face as we were leaving Kolkata. None of my teammates knew what was happening in that taxi ride. I have a tendency to completely shut myself off when I start to break.
I don't know why I was crying. Maybe it was just the heat exhaustion that was getting to me or maybe it had to do with the living conditions here. I was okay for the past week. I was fine with the sights I was seeing; the poverty, the homeless and hungry, the dirtiness but now... I don't know. All that was repeating in my mind was "Jesus please heal me." I felt my heart begin to just pour out. I know it sounds selfish to have thoughts like that while I'm in India and everything that it brings, but I felt so broken. I still feel broken. I've been bottling up my past / current pains in hopes of never having to experience it again, but how can I expect something like that if I haven't allowed Jesus to heal me in the first place. It's hard to allow the wounds to be ripped open again. It's hard for me to fully open up to him.
I have always wished for a pain free world as a little girl. I'm not talking about physical pain, but emotional. I get hurt very easily but I try my best not to show it. I don't like vulnerability. I've experienced a lot of emotional pain and I notice that I try to constantly be in a state of happiness to avoid it all. But there will be always be pain as long as we inhabit earth. India is breaking my heart in ways I could never imagine. Jesus is healing parts of me I thought were over. He is walking along my side. Sanctification is in the process and it isn't always joyful or fun, but God calls us to be obedient to Him. A part of me is frustrated and angry. I don't want to let go but I need to surrender myself. He has satisfied me more than the riches of this world. What I want probably isn't what I need in order to draw closer to Him. I need to continue to apply God's armor as I walk through the issues and battles in my life. We are no longer alone in this world. We have a mighty and powerful God. We have Jesus, who wants us to hand over our troubles to him and take up the cross.
I read something from Lysa Terkeurst the following day after experiencing such brokenness. She asked if we are desperately longing to see evidence of God moving in the midst of a heart wrenching situation? The answer is yes. Sometimes it is so evident to see His work and hand on something. Sometimes He is so silent.
She then went on to give some encouragement that God is working. To trust the process, saturate our mind with His truth, and let His voice be the loudest in our life.
The community in my team has lifted my spirits. God has placed us together and they have worked on my heart, through Christ, without even knowing what was going on inside. I'm thankful for their guidance and genuine love on this trip.
Day Ten: Varanasi - A City on the Ganges River
By Claire Richburg
I am writing this blog from my bed with tissues by my side and a fan directly on me.... this trip is hard. As Savannah said, it has pushed us all to limits we didn't know we go to. Please pray for sickness to be healed!
Coming in to Varanasi, I didn't know much about this city except that it was religious. I hadn't heard of it before this trip and I didn't do any research on it prior. When we arrived, it was about 2 hours later than we were supposed to. We came to our hostel and got settled in. We went to get lunch and came back for Chai time here at the hostel. During this time we were able to meet some people from all over and play UNO with them. Although there was no deep gospel conversation, it was refreshing because this is what we came for, but really the first time we have been able to meet other travelers. We asked typical hostel questions such as where you are from, where you are going, and where you have been. We bonded over tea, cookies and beating each other in UNO. Then we decided to go on the Ghats tour with friends from the hostel. This was something I really knew nothing about so I was excited to learn about this part in their culture.
We all walked down to the Ganges River and our goofy tour guide started the tour. He was a Hindu himself and told us every detail about the Ghats and what goes on here. I'll save you a 3 hour tour, but I'll give you the gist. This is a place where Hindus come from all over to burn dead family and friends bodies. It is a long process and there is a modern and traditional way of doing things. Yet as we sat in the boat on the Ganges River watching family members bring their deceased family members, I was so saddened. It was sad to see how this process was done in hopes of achieving Nirvana. They have so many gods, the tour guide didn't even know the exact number, he just googled it. There is no personal relationship with one God. They just worship whichever one they like the most. As I'm looking around at the other travelers, I wonder what they are thinking. I'm sure some of them are on a journey of their own, looking for their own answers, but I'm praying they don't find them here. I hope that we will be able to have more conversations with them, share our faith, and hear about them.
Then we went down the river a ways to a prayer ceremony. This ceremony happens every single night for 1/2 hour or more. Two thoughts struck me as we watched this with thousands of people around us. One was that there are so many lost people, people trying their hardest to please their gods. There were
people everywhere and no picture does it justice. People in the boats on the river, people participating in the ceremony, and people standing anywhere they could. Second, how many people come every night to worship their gods together. This is a beautiful thing in their culture and religion, one that unifies them and shows other people their devotion to their god. It raised the question to me, where is the Christian equivalent? The West is so individualized and there is hardly any communal worship on this grand scale. Our motives would obviously be entirely different, praising God and not trying to earn his favor, but it would be beautiful. The Hindu faith is hard to understand sometimes, but I know that if the opportunity arises I will speak with words from the Lord and not from myself. Please pray for these opportunities, small and large. We are taking time to rest this morning but we will be out in the hot air (108 degrees) later so please pray for us! Thank you all. God bless!
Day Eleven: Arrived in Varanasi
By Jonathan Hardy
We arrived in Varanasi by train on Tuesday (5-23-17) at approximately 12 p.m. Varanasi is a much smaller city than Kolkata and it is not nearly as busy. However, I noticed immediately that Varanasi was much dustier and had much less greenery (grass and trees) than Kolkata and Darjeeling. Based on the landscape and temperature, it was like we had entered into a desert, but we were very excited to be in Varanasi, the site of our first hostel.
The first thing we did when we got to Varanasi was go check-in at Stops Hostel Varanasi. Immediately following arrival, we began meeting other travelers from other parts of the world. Our first encounter with the other travelers came soon after we arrived at the hostel during a game of UNO. It started with just our group and before long, 3 or 4 others had joined in and about 5 or 6 more were watching and talking. Most of the people we met were from European countries, but we also met some from the U.S. and one girl from Canada.
On Tuesday (5-23-17) at 5 p.m. we left the hostel and went on a tour of Veranasi. The tour included some walking as well as riding a boat through the Ganges River. Most of the tour was about the Hindu religion, how it began and discussing the importance of some of their gods, rituals, and beliefs. We also had the opportunity while on the tour to witness the cremation of several bodies as well as watch the ceremony that follows. It was all very interesting to see, but while on the tour, Nathan and I both got sick from dehydration and was sick the whole second day in Varanasi.
Although the tour was pretty much all of Varanasi I got to experience, it was worth it because the girls found an awesome souvenir shop and most importantly, we had some good conversations while at the hostel. I talked with a guy named Barnabus and and a couple from Pensacola, Florida. Other members of our team had other conversations and friended some of the travelers on Facebook for future follow-up conversations.
We departed Varanasi by train on Thursday (5-25-17) and are headed to Agra. I am excited about getting to Agra and staying in a new hostel. Hopefully I will remain well and can have a better experience in Agra than I did in Varanasi. I am excited to see what the Lord had planned and the conversations that are to come in Agra as well as the rest of our trip.
Day Twelve: Slow Day
By Savannah Rommel
Today has been really slow. It's our last day in Varanasi and majority of my teammates are feeling under the weather. Jonathan is finally looking better after 2 rough days but he's not back to 100%. While Nathan seems to be doing better also, Claire's health has dropped significantly.
Hannah and I don't feel sick (yet). I definitely do feel tired and weak and drained. No matter how much water I drink, food I eat, or sleep I get, I still don't feel ready to take on the next 10 days in India. This trip has been so taxing on all of us. The list could go on and on with what we are dealing with, which may not seem like a lot but experiencing it all together is a whole other ballpark. With the heat, with the lack of water or food or sleep, with constantly traveling in trains or buses or to new hotels/hostels (so far 5 different places in only 3 cities LOL). We really didn't think it would be this hard but it is, and all of us feel so unprepared but I don't think anything could have prepared any more for India. Yet it's funny because in the end scheme of things I really believe that's the point.
Throughout this trip I've been slowly reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I find it so hard to follow his thoughts as he is an extremely gifted and intelligent writer, but this one paragraph was crystal clear to me.
He said that "nothing good will be attained by merely human efforts and that we must ask for God's help. Even when we have done so, it may seem like for a long time that no help or less help is being given. BUT after each failure ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but the power of always trying again. For however important the virtue is, the process of trying trains us with habits of the soul which are more important. It cures illusions about ourselves and teaches us to be dependent on God. We learn, on one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for all failures are forgiven."
After reading that one paragraph I'm beginning to realize that maybe the end reason for my teammates sickness/tiredness/weakness/etc revolves around a final destination, which is to be dependent on God for their (and my) strength. Whether it's God taking away our health or the enemy trying to interfere with His plan, there is an opportunity to learn about ourselves and more importantly about our powerful God. I'm sadden that I cannot help any of them aside from praying, getting fluids, and keeping them company. I want to take away their sickness. It's bad enough to be sick in general, but in another country while you are on a semi-flexible schedule? Ouch. But they are battling through it like champs and I'm praying that this creates such a need to be dependent on Christ. India is pushing us all out of our comfort zones whether it's the sights, the smells, the people, the food, or our health. We don't know what lies ahead and I know a part of me is dreading it but God was ready for this centuries ago. The best part? We are His children, so we can rest easy knowing that we will be provided for. It may not be in ways we'd want, but Papa knows best and He is still good in all His ways.
Father, praise be that you are God and we are not. May we continue to die to ourselves and accept Your ways. Let us fix our eyes on your never-ending love. It is deeper and greater than we can ever understand, and it knows no boundaries. Your son didn't indulge in sin yet he bore the wrath that was reserved for us, ao that we could be with You again. I couldn't earn this and I don't deserve it, yet You still gave yourself away. (Please go listen to Reckless Love by Steffany Gretzinger).
Signing off until next time, with my grease and all.
Ps. Nathan was half way out of the tuktuk today and had a couple close calls with some vehicles. But don't worry Momma Collier, we are making sure he will come back in one piece!
Day Thirteen: Reflection
By Jonathan Hardy
Our team arrived in Kolkata on Saturday (5-20-17) at approximately 8 a.m. Upon arrival, we were immediately shocked at how different Kolkata is from Darjeeling. The number of people and the busy atmosphere of Kolkata is unbelievable. Kolkata is also the hottest place I have ever been to with temperatures ranging between 104-108 degrees while we were there. It was a completely new experience for myself as well as our team.
Kolkata is home to many different tourist attractions such as the house of Mother Teresa as well as the Victoria Memorial. Both of these attractions are now serving as museums for the public to come view and appreciate. We also got the opportunity to try more delicious Indian cuisines while in Kolkata and experience the marketplace in a much bigger city. Our guide, Moa, was extremely helpful in helping us navigate through the city.
Throughout the last 3 days in Kolkata, I believe the Lord has used this time to bring our team closer together. The extreme heat and large crowds were tough to deal with, but we always managed to find a way to laugh and enjoy one another's company despite the uncomfortable conditions. Tonight, Monday (5-22-17), we depart Kolkata by train and head for Varanasi. We are excited about heading to a new city, but are deeply saddened by the fact that Moa left tonight to return home and will not be traveling with us throughout the rest of our journey. We are extremely thankful for everything he has done for us during our first week in India. We will arrive in Varanasi on Tuesday, 5-23-17. Please pray that the Lord would continue to be with us and bless us throughout our time in Varanasi as will as the rest of our time in India.
Day Fourteen: I see God today
By Hannah Stokes
Today we arrived in our fourth city. It is truly amazing how quickly this trip is flying by.
This morning started off a little rough, with us, through a series of miscommunication and unfortunate events, missing our stop at the train station. Once we realized this, we got off at the next stop and hired a taxi to our hostel an hour in the direction we had just come from.
As soon as we got settled into our rooms, the boys made a new friend and were quite enthusiastic about it. In addition to that, we saw a friend from our previous hostel and made plans together for tomorrow.
We rested a little bit and the five of us hit the road in search of some food and nourishment. We made our way to Sheroes Hangout where we were greeted by smiling and scarred faces of survivors of acid attacks. These women have taken their tragedy and made a welcoming resting place for the weary. As we sat around the table, awaiting our burgers and fries (so American, I know.. we needed it), I asked my team what God has been teaching them thus far. If you've been following along with our travels, you have heard by now of sickness and heat that we have been facing. Unanimously, we have been learning that Christ is the one who sustains us. Our strength, power, and health will fail us, as we have seen. Whether in a place like India, or the States, we must look to the hope within us and find strength in the One who is truly our refuge and strength.
I expressed how I have been asking myself daily, where/ how do I see God today. I know God is always with me, but very rarely in the comforts of home and the Bible Belt do I have a need to look for him. However, here in the midst of exhaustion and darkness, I need to look for him, teaching me to that and be dependent on him even when I'm comfortable.
In Darjeeling, I saw Him in the mountains and the clouds as they rolled over the mountainside. He is truly the amazing Creator.
In Kolkata, I saw him in Moa, our guide who took such good care of us, always with joy and wearing a smile.
In Varanasi, I saw him in the fellow travellers we met. They may not know Him, but he knows them. As they wander her knows every step they take.
And all throughout, today and every day, I see Him in my team.
I see Him in Nathan as he walks behind all of us making sure no harm is coming our way and carries our bags when we feel too weary to.
I see Him in Jonathan's quietness and humility as he makes sure we are cared for, steps up to lead when needed, and as he looks for good in people and places around him even when he feels weak and sick.
I see Him in Claire's laughter, even when she chokes out a cough with every laugh. She is constantly looking for opportunities to cheer up those around her.
And I see him in Savannah's compassion and loving spirit. Whether it's a cow, goat, human or mange covered dog, she looks at each one with so much care and compassion. She would leap to clean up and love on each of these if I would let her.
My team has truly been a gift, and in them, God continues to reveal bits of his character to me.
Day Fifteen: Arrived in Agra
By Jonathan Hardy
The team arrived in Agra on Friday (5-26-17) at about 12 p.m. after a series of umfortunate events including our train being delayed several hours and missing our train stop in Agra. We were forced to get off at the next station and hire a taxi to take us to our hostel in Agra. After our rough morning, we were hopeful that the Lord had big plans for our team during our short stay in Agra.
While in Agra, we were blessed to see some amazing tourist attractions and eat at a really awesome restaurant called Sheroes. This cafe is ran by a group of ladies that have survived acid attacks. Although I do not know their stories of what happened, the scars on their hands, arms, and faces told most of it. However, despite their circumstances they were some of the nicest and friendliest people we've came in contact with while in India.
On Friday (5-26-17) when we got back to the hostel from lunch, I had the opportunity to have a really good Gospel conversation with one of the fellow travelers staying in my room. His name is Max and he was really open to Nathan and I from the moment we met him. Later, when it was just Max and I in the room, we began talking about our travels and why we decided to make the trip to India. As the conversation continued, he seemed to be opening up more and more. I shared with him that we were Christians and that we came to India to experience new cultures and interact with other travelers. Max seemed sort of intrigued by our journey, so I asked him, "Do you have any religious beliefs?" He shared with me that he is a Christian, but doesn't really practice anything regularly. He also told me that he needed to begin reading his Bible and praying more often and that maybe he would start while traveling. Our conversion ended shortly after because Max had plans outside the hostel, but before he left, Nathan added him on Facebook so we could keep up with each other's trips the rest of the way. Please pray that the Lord would use something in our conversation to draw Max close to him and that the Lord would begin working in his life.
We also got to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Saturday (5-27-17). The Taj Mahal and the complex surrounding it is absolutely magnificent and it is no wonder that it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Those two attractions are about the only things to see in Agra, but they made the two days spend in Agra worth it. Honestly, those two attractions are two of my personal favorites since arriving in India.
Saturday night (5-27-17), we departed Agra at 10 p.m. to go to Jaipur. We are excited to get to Jaipur because we trust that the Lord has something planned for our team there. Thank you for all the thoughts and prayers that you've prayed while we've been in India. Please pray for Hannah and Claire because they are not feeling well and continue to pray that the Lord would keep working through our team throughout the remainder of our trip.
Day Sixteen: Fan the Flame
By Nathan Collier
Our fifth city has been drastically different compared to the first four. Unfortunately, half of our team has been sick over the last few days, and while this changes the dynamic of the trip in some ways, we are thankful that it in no way hampers the Lord's work. While we have come to India to share with others, the Lord has been sharing with me, and I intend to share these lessons with you. This nugget is something that the Lord has been teaching me and reminding me of throughout the fourteen weeks of discipleship leading up to this month in India, and yesterday, He capped it off in a beautiful mountain top experience.
I ask that you visualize this with me as I explain. 8,311 miles from home, I have been blessed with the opportunity to roam the streets of a city that I cannot yet name. While the city is full of tuktuks, jeeps and buses, it still feels as if it were a geographical and anthropological time capsule, dating back to the BC - AD transition. Men and women alike take to the streets with sandals and long flowing robes. Goats and cows forage throughout the city, wild dogs accustomed to the city scavenge, and a 15km long stone wall (that is several centuries old) rises and falls with the natural curves of the mountains surrounding much of the city. The lame, blind, and sick sit at strategic points along the road. And various temples to various gods dot the surrounding landscape. Without a great deal of imagination, it is easy to look around and realize that this is the closest I have ever come to experiencing the same surroundings that Jesus would have. The dusty feet and sandals remind me of the scriptures telling of Jesus' washing the disciples feet - which begs for a different perspective in 110 degree heat that radiates along dusty roads (compared to that of our first world understanding of feet washing). Jesus, living in an Israel run by the Roman Empire, would have experienced the various temples to various gods dotting the surrounding landscape. He healed the lame that I have stepped around, He brought sight to the blind who never saw me pass by, and He gave hope to the beggars who have wrestled with my sleeves while pleading for rupees. This land and its people are His beloved creation. It was as if I could envision Him standing across the street, breaking bread with the tuktuk drivers.
Before leaving for this trip, I spent 14 weeks discipling with my team, I attended evangelism seminars, I memorized scripture in regards to specifically pointing others to Christ, and of course, I packed my Bible. I was prepared, prepared to meet people who had never met Jesus. I was bearing a gift to an unreached people. While good intentions were at the heart of my preparations, my heart was out of place. I felt as if this gospel that I bore was my gift to give, which simply isn't true. This gospel is a gift that was given to me, and all I can do is show and share this gift with others. In doing so, all attention is pointed back to the Creator. This is a lesson that the Lord had begun reminding me of weeks ago. Each week it seemed that in some different facet the Lord was reminding me that I was never taking anything NEW to anyone, for He was already there (Romans 1:20). Our job is not to save, but to fan a flame that was kindled over 2,000 years ago. Small symbols of the Lord have shown up all along our path. Whether it be a small cross in the corner of a taxi window or a cafe in the middle of Kolkata named "8th Day" with the word "LOVE" stenciled in massive letters across the wall, it is obvious that He has already been here. It's just our job to fan the flame.
Yesterday, I climbed to a Hindu Monkey Temple that sat at the crest of a small mountain. Like a scene from a movie, I walked through the large wooden gates at the end of the footpath and was greeted by a priestess. Out of reverence to the culture, I removed my shoes and walked through the temple, passing the large statue of a Hindu god that was the temple's centerpiece, I proceeded to the balcony on the other side. This balcony was positioned on the peak of the mountain overlooking the three million inhabitants of our 5th city. A breath taking view wouldn't even begin to describe the sight. As I stepped back into the temple, something caught my eye.. no, it didn't catch my eye, it whispered to my heart. Just inches to the left of the statue sat a small wooden table. Completely insignificant. In strands, draped across the top of the table, lay long thorns. Just like those twisted into a crown for my King.
In one fell swoop, His lesson came full circle. This revelation felt like an Old Testament mountain top experience.. Our job is not to save, but to fan a flame that was kindled over 2,000 years ago. The thorns laying beside the statue of a Hindu god spoke volumes to me - though I had come to bring the gospel, it was already here.
Day Seventeen: Enjoyment
By Hannah Stokes
During months of planning this trip, I have been looking most forward to visiting Jaipur. I looked at pictures and read articles about the beautiful, ancient, "pink city."
Little did I know, the night we arrived, I was too sick to do anything but sleep. My body was exhausted as fever came and went. Next to me, also sick in bed, was Claire.
A common theme in all my posts thus far has been my team. Being blessed my them has not changed. They rose to the occasion and took the best care of us. They carried our bags, stood guard so we could sleep in the train station (as we awaited our very delayed train), and made many trips to the store and pharmacy as needs would arise.
As we continued to heal and pray for more healing the days passed quickly. I looked forward to the evenings where we could go out as a team to eat close by and catch up on the happenings of the day. However, it had just about come time for us to move on to our next city and last city, so I pushed that trip back a day in hopes that we could have one day all of us felt well enough to explore Jaipur together.
We woke up that morning and decided we were all well enough to go out and ride elephants at the Amber Fort (something we had all really been looking forward to for a while). It truly was an amazing experience. The morning was beautiful, the weather not too hot, and finally, our whole team was out together again.
I can't quite seem to put my feelings into words as I climbed on top of the elephant with Sav and Jonathan on one two in front of me, and Claire and Nathan on the elephant in directly in front of me. My heart swelled as I watched them enjoy this experience as I turned to look down at the valley behind me. Elephants are truly gigantic and magnificent creatures.