I leave India in 14 days. It’s really hard to believe that I’ve been here for six months - sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever and I can’t imagine a different life and then other times it feels like I was home only yesterday. In some ways, I’m really glad to be going back to the old U S of A starting the next stage of my life, but then I remember how much I truly love these kids. I can’t imagine not watching them grow up and seeing them every day. To say I’ve gotten attached is a vast understatement, for 6 months I’ve been with them almost 24/7 teaching, discipling, caring, and laughing with them. Now I have to face the very real possibility that I won’t ever get to see them again (or at least for a very long time - plane tickets to India aren’t cheap). I’ll miss the vibrant culture and maybe even the crazy traffic and cows on the street. I’ll so dearly miss all the women at Daughters who I’ve gotten to know and the Tamil worship songs they sing in the mornings. I’ll miss a community that makes following Jesus their number one priority. I’ll miss so many things, but I know it’s time to come home.
I took a job in Atlanta running a dance supply store. So I’ll be moving about a week after I get back. I love this job and all the people that I’ll be working with, but I’ll mainly be focusing on volunteering and making connections with different human trafficking organizations in Atlanta to hopefully work with them on a full-time basis soon. Who knows what God has planned? Every time I try to imagine it it gets changed so I’m just taking it one step at a time.
A wise woman once said that going home after an experience like this is kind of like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Susan, Peter, Lucy, and Edmond went into the wardrobe as children and grew up - they met Aslan and fought battles and became royalty. But, when they stepped back through the wardrobe only 5 minutes had passed and everyone saw them as they had been when they left. I’ve changed and learned things and grown up in my time here. I’m excited to apply the truths that I’ve learned to everyday life in America. Don’t worry I’m fully expecting some bad reverse culture shock, but I can’t wait to see friends and family and see what’s next!
I am weak, broken, and I really don’t know anything.
We’re all taught that self-reliance is the key to success. That we live in a dog-eat-dog world and the weak don’t usually succeed. We believe that self-confidence and promotion are hand-in-hand with the American dream of a good life. This value isn’t always spoken aloud, but it is most certainly there.humble
Jesus spoke of a different world order in Matthew 5 where the humble inherit the earth and where a person lowering themselves to a position of losing control is rewarded with an “easy yoke”. The point of our weakness is to show God’s strength so that He might get the glory for our lives and abilities. By being consistently aware of our shortcomings and pitfalls we can accept the truth that to do anything worthy of remembrance it has to come from outside of ourselves and through the Spirit that lives in us.
Before I left to come to India, people would tell me what a great sacrifice I was making how they wish they had the courage I had, that I was insane, or they didn’t know how a petite 22 year old girl could travel by herself half-way across the world. While I appreciate things like that I have to inwardly chuckle because it isn’t a sacrifice to come to India, it’s my life’s dream come true, and I have no idea what I’m doing. The first time I was called a missionary I think I laughed in the person’s face. To me, missionaries are people I learned about on Wednesday nights in G.A.s who were stoic and perfect saints and faithful to Jesus until their final breath. The truth is there are days when I don’t feel anything. Where I’m racked with guilt and overcome by the injustices of the world. There are times when I have anger-filled tears streaming down my face as I talk to God. Times when I feel I can’t come into His presence because I don’t even know how to pray. Days when I choose to watch hours of TV and eat chocolate cake until I feel sick rather then spend time with Him. There are times when I doubt His goodness and even His existence.
We don’t talk about these times because they show weakness and break a facade of spiritual superiority we’ve built possibly to protect our reputations. But, there’s a reason that Paul emphasizes confession in His letters - confessing to each other allows us to experience grace, not just from God but from our community. How well can we know each other truly in the sense of Acts 2:42-47 without being honest with our struggles and doubts. If we trust and practice grace we on’t need to hide who we are from one another. The truth will set us free. Fil Anderson says it well in his book Breaking the Rules, “If we really believe the gospel we proclaim, we’ll be honest about our own beauty and brokenness, and the beautiful broken One will make Himself known to our neighbors through the chinks in our armor - and in theirs.”
If we can’t admit that we’re weak, broken, and maybe even a little lost then what’s the point? If you can’t admit who you are, that’s called denial, and it’s a problem. When families can’t talk to each other about issues because it’s awkward or uncomfortable, that’s a problem. When friends use small talk to distract themselves from disintegrating lives, that’s a problem. Being there physically for someone is a step in the right direction, but if we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable that doesn’t make us strong - it makes us emotionally stunted and unable to trust and be trusted.
Most people experience feelings of shame and guilt coinciding with bouts of weakness. Even when we know the principle of grace our default mode is performance driven and we can subconsciously believe that missing a quiet time or making a bad judgement call denies us from the Father’s affection and the fullness He has called us to. The truth is NOTHING can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-9) - including ourselves.
So how do we pick ourselves up off the floor when we are so weak we cannot stand? It’s pretty simple to say but so hard to take in - accept grace and have faith. Faith “gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1). We cannot always see God’s goodness, patience, and grace but we can accept it by faith. Holding onto His promises with a death grip claiming the blood of Christ to the very last ragged breath. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes but never accepting complete defeat or apostasy. The annals of Christian history are filled with the most imperfect saints who could only cling to the simple prayer “Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner.” I believe those are among God’s favorite words because it means we have finally accepted that we cannot of our own strength do anything, but we seek Him to redeem us.
I also believe it’s possible to be confident in our weakness. Meaning that we are constantly reminded that we don’t have the strength to do everything Christ has called us to, but we walked in the confidence of the cross and believe that we have new mercies every morning. God accepts us as sons.
We can accept the world’s version of strength - stoic ambition for power- or we can redefine the value. I submit that a strong person is one who knows their shortcomings yet presses on in spite of them. Someone who knows where true power comes from and is confident in that power even against insurmountable odds. Someone who is afraid of failure but takes chances anyway. Someone who stands up for what they believe in - even if it’s falling on deaf ears, it’s scary, or dangerous. A strong person is one who knows and is open about how completely weak they are.
“The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” Proverbs 24:16
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Recently, I spent some time at a local mercy ministry akin to the Mother Teresa homes. The last time I was in India, I spent time at Prem Dan, the Mother Teresa home for the elderly in Kolkata, and visited Khalighat, the home for the dying. The things I learned there shape me to this day (You can read about that experience here ttp://tinyurl.com/8xpltt6). The homes (there’s a men’s, women’s, and children’s side) we visited this time are filled with the literal cast-offs f society - people left to die on the streets or completely abandoned due to illness, apathy, or lack of resources. We went two days to the women’s side and one day to the children’s.
The first thing I saw when we drove up is a sea of women (there are 190 right now) sitting on the ground in various degrees of nakedness doing nothing. These women - most elderly and a large number with mental or physical handicaps - have few distractions from the monotony of sitting and reflecting on themselves and circumstances. A significant portion of Scripture talks about the poor, the defenseless and destitute, but let me assure you, reading about it and staring into the milky, unblinking eyes of it are two very different things. These women have very little dignity left - they’re exposed and dependent. Many can’t even move to go to the bathroom so sit in their own filth, some have lost limbs and facial features to leprosy, and one has blisters on her ankles because she has to be chained to her bed at night because of her mental disability.
If there was one thing I wanted to do in my time there it was to give them honor and dignity. This showed itself in so many ways. I had a few moments when I could choose to give them honor and respect at cost of my own comfort or health and those where the moments where I had to choose to fully commit to ministering to these women. And before it sounds prideful in anyway, let me make it abundantly clear it was not out of any strength of my own. The first moment came as we were helping pass out breakfast plates. It was a small serving of a dish called pongol, a beige-colored mush that tastes uncannily like boiled peanuts, with some chutney - not appealing in the least. After we were done, I sat facing three women and started talking to them. Soon one them was trying to feed me some of her food, not an uncommon thing to do. Usually I can get out of it by saying “oh you eat it, thank you” or “I’m sooo full”, etc. But, it was not working. I knew that I could either flat out refuse her this woman and offend her by saying I was above taking her food or let her stick her hand covered in who-knows-what full of pongol in my mouth. Literally in my head I was thinking, “Am I going to do this? Am I really going to do this? Ok yea I am.” And then I had not one but three different women hand feeding me their food, a great sacrifice for them, with a huge grin forcibly plastered on my face. A couple of other times like that also happened: letting a woman coat my face with lotion and oil, letting someone fix my hair knowing that I would get lice, sitting in urine to make sure a woman got her fingers painted, etc. I would truly, truly do it all again and more in a heart beat to let these women know that they are not forgotten and that they are still worthy of attention.
I had a conversation with another volunteer who said he was having a hard time because a lot of what we did was sit with people, not being able to really talk because of the language barrier. As one person put it we were practicing a “ministry of presence” the very act of physically sitting by someone to let them know without verbal communication that you care. We would sit silently or pray or listen as they talk. He said that it was hard because nowhere in Scripture does it say to sit and not be able to do anything tangible - that Jesus never did that. I didn’t have an immediate response to his remarks at first, but as I held the twitching hands of a woman I learned that presence is everything. When I first saw her she was stubbornly sitting straight up with a face that was meant to ward off communication. I sat by her first and slowly started talking to her, holding her hands, praying for her, rubbing her back. She started speaking in words I couldn’t understand weeping while I nodded like I could share some of her pain. We cried together and I repeated one of the only Tamil words I know “Yesupa” (Jesus). There was a base human connection that happened and no argument in the world could make me think that God was not glorified by it. God is love and love doesn’t need words to be effective.
Three women haunt me. The first is a young girl, she doesn’t know how old she is but probably around 18,. She sat completely expressionless against a wall dressed in a white salwar. Her hair is cropped short and her eyes are empty, in the way you would expect a war refugee’s to be - the pain she’s seen numbed because it’s too intense to set loose. Her day consists of sitting and watching the scene before her. She only moved once the whole time we were there and didn’t speak me much. She’s a pretty girl.
The second woman didn’t speak a word. She’s in her late 30’s perhaps and nothing that I could immediately see was wrong with her. I sat next to her on the ground with my knees against my chest and after a few minutes she rested her head on my knees like a child. I spent about 30 minutes stroking her buzzed head and singing every hymn I could remember because I was at a loss of what else to do. When it was time to get her plate for lunch she slowly stood and held out her hand, and I let her lead me forward. I wonder when the last time she felt a loving touch was.
The third’s name is Reumalah. She’s 32 and educated, speaking very good English. She went into great detail telling me about her husband (he’s apparently very handsome) and children but never mentioned where they are now or how she ended up there. She took off a very plain wire bracelet with beads from around her wrist and put it on mine. I insisted that she keep it but when I saw that it would offend her to not take it I thanked her. She held it on my wrist, looked deep in my eyes and said, “So you will not forget. Do not forget me.” I can’t imagine the amount of people who have forgotten about her, but I do know that if there was anywhere else she could be she would not be in that home. I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I won’t”.
Even though there are a lot of needs present in these women’s lives they are taught about Jesus and talk about Him with so much love. He has as many plans and mercies for their lives as me or anyone else. Each one of them is Jesus’ favorite one.
About a month ago, we ventured with all 43 of our kids (minus the youngest four) plus 30 of the teens’ friends to the mountains of Southern India for camp. The reality of normal sleep away summer camp is completely unknown here, the closest thing being VBS. The friends that came were from all types of families: rich and poor, strong Hindu, Muslim, nominal Christians, and a few strong believers. We had a team of eight Americans come to run the teen camp for which we had been praying and fasting for months. This was a pure expression of the Great Commission for our Home’s teens, being able to invite their friends to where the Gospel would be fully explained. We knew God would respond in a powerful way.
God is good. Kumari is still in our Home, and she is staying in our Home. Praise Jesus.
The last few days have been an emotional rollercoaster. May 1st was the original date that her uncle was supposed to come get her and take her back to the slum she was rescued from. The entire month of April we fasted and prayed constantly. There was also an army of God’s people all over the world praying and interceding on her behalf. We had so many words from the Lord and such peace that she would stay in our Home, that God would be so faithful to keep her here that when our two eldest staff members went to speak to the Uncle and social worker on April 28th we were sure that that would be it. Instead the situation intensified as the family decided they were also taking her 7 year old brother as well. We turned all our discouragement into prayer and stood without doubt that God would change the Uncle’s mind. April 31st we gathered for an intense time of interceding together, trusting that God would keep His promise to save the orphaned.
May 1st came. All of the whities left to keep tension low hoping everything would be over around noon. We weren’t given the all clear to come back until five. It had not gone like we thought it would at all. The Uncle didn’t even come – he sent his father and two sisters. They conceded that they didn’t need to take Vetry but would not budge about taking Kumari. However, they agreed that it would be better if she was to live with her aunt and that she could remain in the Home’s family support program (insuring that she would still go to school). While this was better than the initial situation, the aunt still lives in the slum in a house that is about 10’ x 10’ with her three daughters. This is a slum where 10 year old girls are on drugs and the conditions are awful and she would be sure to be neglected. They were convinced to give her a day to adjust and prepare for leaving (we were so sure that she would be able to stay that nothing was packed and we had prepared her in no way). So they said they would be back on the morning of May 3rd to pick her up. I can’t begin to explain all of the emotions and doubts and thoughts that all of us were experiencing at that moment. For the first time since we had begun to pray we were faced with the possibility that she might actually not live with us anymore.
The night before they came to get her we had a special time of prayer. The founder of the Home (the adoptive mother of all of the kids) talked to the kids and said that while this was hard news to hear that we should follow the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from you power. But EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we want to make it clear to you, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18, emphasis added) They said with 100% confidence that God was going to save them from the fiery furnace but if He didn’t then they still would trust in Him. We would not hold any offense of God in our hearts and that we would stand on the truths that God is good and He is for us. Remember from my last post, there was absolutely nothing we could do in our strength, no bribe or judicial action – nothing. It had to be from Jesus. This was a lesson in contending and trusting even when we didn’t see the desired outcome. One of the older boys said that afternoon that he was really surprised that our prayers hadn’t been answered because the Home’s prayers are always answered. It’s true this home lives under supernatural grace and providence, but we cannot cross the threshold from shallow to mature Christians if we can’t trust God in the hard times. If our faith was found in this miracle and then it didn’t happen what would happen to our faith? It would be crushed. We would be questioning the goodness and maybe even the existence of God, but when our faith is in Jesus alone then we can be sure to always be secure in His love and truth no matter what happens. It’s a hard lesson but one that we all have to learn. I have been drawn to James 1 lately which says it much better than I ever could, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when you endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (vv. 2-4) So we thanked God for teaching us this endurance and perseverance, especially for the younger generation, and continued to completely believe in a miracle. The founder of the Home even prayed that they wouldn’t even step on the grounds of the home that they would just call and say they had changed their minds.
Thursday morning came and went and no one came. Every time someone came to the gate or drove around the corner my stomach dropped a little, but Kumari was still here at lunch time. And then she was still here at dinner. We had no idea what was going on and all of our calls to the social worker went unanswered. We knew something was happening – they had been so adamant on taking her then not to show up at all was so strange. So we kept praying. Then Friday morning came and went and still nothing. Finally we got hold of the social worker who went to find out what was going on. Apparently, two of the Aunt’s children had come on Tuesday as well and played with the kids and hung around the Home all day. They’re no older than 15, but they could tell that Kumari was well taken care of here. They talked to their Uncle and shamed him for taking her out of a clearly better place, taking away the chance at a better life that they had never had. So, he changed his mind. Just like that. He’s coming tomorrow to sign all legal rights over to the Home, and we were left agape at the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness. They didn’t even come to the Home; they just called. We prayed in complete faith, and now we will always have a testimony to cling to in our darkest hours of how God provides.
All throughout their history, the Israelites quoted that the Lord was the One who brought them out of Egypt. When all other religions in that time were founded on gods connected with things they could see (the sun god or god of thunder), YHWH was always a God of history. His character was proved in what He did for His people. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob meaning that He brought broken men into a covenant promise. Jesus is the One who saved us by bearing all our sins and completed that Covenant. Now we can stand and say He is the God who heard our prayers and rescued Kumari. It’s a powerful testimony for all of us, because everyone who prayed and fought is a part of this miracle. Because when there was no hope we trusted in Hope itself, and He kept His promise.
We have all heard the Bible story about Jacob wrestling with a man in Genesis 32, who is later revealed to be God, but have you really understood the anguish and sheer determination in Jacob’s actions? He was about to meet his brother Esau after many years and the last time they saw each other Esau wanted to kill him. He sent his family across the river and was preparing himself for what was ahead. He met, what appears to be, an angel of the Lord. One Judaism professor of mine always said that the Ancient Israelites perceived angels to be like the very essence of God on earth, almost like a solar flare - God’s presence reaching out in a small way. Most people in the Bible are afraid when an angel of the Lord appears (Joshua 5:14, Luke 1:29-30), but Jacob was the opposite. He knew what God had promised, and he was fighting for God to fulfill it. It wasn’t manipulating God to answer his prayers; it was fighting for the things God already told Jacob He wanted to do in his life.
We’re personally learning this lesson right now at the home. Our youngest and most vulnerable child is 5 year old Kumari. She’s been at the home a year and came at 4 wearing 18 month old size clothes after being taken from one of the worst slums in our city. She had been neglected, abused, and rejected by her family after the violent death of her parents. Since coming to the home she’s learned English, been enrolled in school, and grown both physically and emotionally. Her deceased father’s brother (who legally has as much rights as the father) wouldn’t sign her over when she was originally put in the home because he did not want to take any kind of responsibility for her. Recently, he found out that she was put in a nice home that loves and cares for her, and she’s now enrolled in an English school. He decided that if his children were roaming around the slums all day then that is good enough for Kumari. So right now he has the equivalent of a court order to come get her May 1st. Literally, the only reason he is taking her away is because he doesn’t want his children to grow up lower than his dead brother’s child. She is small, a girl, from a low caste, and has no one looking out for her. It’s truly a matter of life and death for her. We know that God’s will is for her to stay here because He is always for the orphan. We believe that she will be here after May 1st, but we are fighting for her just as Jacob fought for his promise.
Jacob walks away from his encounter with God handicap for the rest of his life. At first glance that doesn’t bode well for the contending Christian, but not only does it symbolize that he was so persistent to hold on to God that it took some extraordinary measures to subdue him, it also commentates on God’s breaking of our natural selves. As humans, and Americans in particular, if there is a problem we immediately start thinking of solutions: not enough food? Go to the store. Head hurts? Take some medicine. Not enough money to pay bills? Get a job, consolidate, sell things. God never changes, and in the Bible, he constantly calls people to carry out a calling that they cannot physically do by themselves no matter how many solutions they can come up with or how many problems they can solve. Jacob’s name meant “manipulator” and he had operated out of that understanding by stealing the blessing and birthright of his brother and running away from his father-in-law. God had called him back to Canaan, but to do so he had to confront that brother he cheated so long ago. He heard that Esau had grown into a large camp with 400 men. To answer the Lord’s call, he would have to go against what would make earthly sense. He knew that He would need God’s help, without Him Jacob would not survive. That is why Jacob wouldn’t let go, it was life or death. Either God helped him complete his calling or he would die. Instead of dying he became Israel, a name that still defines his descendants. This is the Christian dilemma – leaving our natural reality and operating in the Kingdom of God where the impossible is common place, and we can be transformed into the likeness of God.
The situation with Kumari is just like this. She literally has no options. The logical person’s thinking when they hear about the situation is let’s hire the best lawyer possible, let’s find a loophole, let’s gather money together to save her. India isn’t logical – there is no child advocacy and even if there was a law on the books to be able to take a child from an incompetent guardian, bribery and deception reign supreme here and nothing would happen. It’s hopeless, BUT we work in the Kingdom where the impossible is just another day. Prayer is more powerful than any lawyer, any sum of money, any earthy thing. I’ve heard many nice sermons on prayer and how it is a way for us to align our wills with God. I completely believe that, but sometimes I think we overlook the sheer power of prayer. Elijah called down fire from heaven with prayer, Joshua prayed and the sun stood still, Peter prayed and blind eyes were opened. It’s the strongest weapon we have in our arsenal. PRAYER CHANGES THINGS. Our fight is not against earthly things (Ephesians 6) so we cannot use earthly means. There are several other testimonies of children who were supposed to be taken away but through prayer and fasting were allowed to stay. Only God can change her uncle’s heart, and only He can win this fight. We completely believe it is His will that she stays in this place where she is truly loved and growing in a relationship with Him instead of neglected and abused. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.” God is for the orphans and oppressed, and we trust Him to keep His word. It’s easy to get discouraged and exhausted in prayer, believing in promises without seeing any results, but we have to press in. Discouragement is not from the Lord.
For more information about Kumari go to www.lifeatkhomes.blogspot.com
For more information about Jacob read Lance Lambert’s Jacob Have I Loved