Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Whew! Caught Up...

Whew! Okay, it’s about 7:15 a.m. here (Wednesday, 8/1) in Trichy and I think I’m finally caught up on the blogging to bring you to where we really “are”. Here’s what we have ahead of us today, though the details might look a little different at the end of the day:

  • 9:00 a.m. – meet for breakfast
    • “The Cascade” downstairs makes a mean cheese omelet (or, as I learned from Dexter’s Laboratory on Cartoon Network, “Omolette du Fromage” in French – who says you never learn anything from watching cartoons?!)
  • 10:00 a.m. – morning devotions
    • Don Wolfram will be delivering our morning devotions!
  • 11:45 a.m. – meet TBL staff and facility
    • We’ll get to see “the board” (click here for previous post on other team that describes) and meet the crew that keep things spinning here in southern India.
  • 1:30 p.m. – lunch
  • 3:00 p.m. - shopping for clothes
    • There won’t be a lot of time for “souveniring” on the back end, so we’ll not only do a little of that on the front end, but we will also give the ladies a chance to purchase “native” dresswear.
  • 5:30 p.m. – Rock Fort Temple
    • If you come to Trichy, the Rock Fort is something you just have to see. Click here for explanation from a previous team’s post.
  • 8:30 p.m. – dinner
    • We’ll probably eat dinner here at the Sangam Hotel again.
  • 10:00 p.m. – crash hard!
    • Most teams will leave from Trichy at about 8 a.m. to travel to their respective villages. Some are as far away as 10 – 12 hours. Others are more like 4 – 6 hours.

If things continue to go as planned, I should have a chance to blog a bit tonight to recount whether or not that speculation was actually accurate or not, but in the mean time, the team is doing great, adjusting well, and are having a blast!

Thanks again to all of you who continue to pray for us and keep us in your thoughts and prayers!


Dinner with Raj...

Raj, Prema and Clarinda all joined us for dinner down in the little “Cascade” restaurant (a little 24 hour coffee shop in the sub-level of the Sangam) for a quick bite of dinner before we dismissed for the evening. Most of the team ordered Schezwan Noodles and rice, of a sort, though some of the more adventurous ordered things like lamb and beans, fish, rice and dahl, etc. We finished off with good ole’ Indian Marsala Tea (Chai Tea) and then headed to bed.

Tiruchirupalli… or Just “Trichy” Will Do, Thank You…

We landed in Tiruchirupalli (or just “Trichy” for short) just a little after 3:00 p.m. and, after getting our gear, were met by hoards of smiling faces from our friends at TBL. See, it’s traditional in India to greet guests with these beautiful, Hawaiian (of a sort… though have you ever seen one this huge?) liai’s. Each weighs about 3 pounds and is manufactured from fresh rose petals. According to Rajendran (or just “Raj” as we all know and love him), they take about 1.5 – 3 hours to assemble and only cost about $1.50/each. Considering that US roses are about $5/stem, that’s amazingly inexpensive, but let it blow your mind that at even $1.50, that’s still good money for the local craftsmen who make them (remember that most of the world lives on less than $1/day). They smell wonderful, and continue to do so for several days (making hotel rooms seem really pleasant). In addition, a large convoy of Bible League friends were all present to receive us. Then we loaded our gear into the cars and headed for our Trichy place of residence, a lovely hotel called The Sangam.

Featured here in the photos are Gene Ort and Annan Raj (who just goes by "Annan" and helps with translation when GCC teams are in town), then Raj and Annan (see that laugh and smile? It's SO typically Raj! He's just one of the most joyful people you'll ever meet!), and the team assembled around Prema (Raj's wife and co-conspirator in bringing about the Kingdom of God here from Heaven to Earth...or...as we say in India, from "Unga to Inga").


After taking off from Bombay on our lovely new Kingfisher Airlines airbus, we landed for a quick stop-over in a nice little town called Bangalore. There, we were met by several Bible League friends who had driven some 4 hours from Chennai just to hang out with us (for about 30 minutes) before we took off to head to our final destination in Trichy. Two of our friends (Solomon and Streeter) are recently married, and so we got to hear a little bit about their engagements and weddings, and how happy they are to finally be “hitched” (it’s a big deal in India … wedding feasts go on for more than a week… whoa!). We also spent some time with Immanuel on some GCC/TBL “business” related items, and our friends Yanashaker (we all call him “Shaker”) and Jibarosh (he’s a “premier wheel man” and drives regularly for TBL in their various cross-country ventures). The time really was way too short, and we all left well loved and well encouraged after our brief time with our friends!

Childhood Fancies...

Okay, no one is going to care about this but me… but I couldn’t NOT put it in the posts just because of it’s freakin’ overdrive coolness. While sitting in the little holding area for Kingfisher Airlines, I caught a glimpse of something sleek and powerful out of the corner of my eye. No, it wasn’t Stephen Hinkel. Nice try, though. No, actually, it blasted past the outside window with a “BOOM!” and a blur that I only caught as I rocketed over to the edge to see if I could see. But, short of a rapidly disappearing set of twin jet engines and single tail stabilizer, didn’t get enough of the silhouette to make it out. “Mig-23, I thought? What would something like THAT be doing here?” Then I realized that I had completely forgotten that like many countries (including the US for some things), conventional airports actually double as air bases for the nation’s military. Now, since India has one of the premier air-forces on the planet (yup… if you didn’t know that, you can check me… it’s true), and since we were at Bombay International Airport, you’d think I would have guessed that we might see some cool hardware just… I dunno… lying around, but I didn’t.

Then, we loaded onto the little Kingfisher tram that was to take us out to our Airbus A320 “puddle jumper” (though it’s still a jet, so the “jumping” happens pretty fast) to Bangalore (our next waypoint on the journey to “Trichy”), and on the way, as we turned a corner, I felt a surging rush of recognition. “That’s a SEPECAT Jaguar!” I beamed! And sure enough, it was. Sitting less than 25 yards from our little tram stop, just being fueled and readied for takeoff was a familiar, streamlined shape from my childhood fantasies (hey, most kids fantasize about being professional athletes… I fantasized about being a fighter pilot… or a ninja… it was a toss-up most days). Then we turned another corner and a Su-27 (one of the Sukhoi’s advanced next-gen fighter aircraft – but not as next gen as the new Su-33, mind you!) sat just another 100 yards or so away.

I’m sure I looked like one of the monkeys from 2001, jumping and hooting on the little airport tram and pointing and shouting and spewing nonsense about operational parameters and weapons loadouts, but we have a great team and they just sort of humored me. Want to know what was really kind of funny, though? The picture attached here are NOT of the actual aircraft we saw today. Want to know why not? When we tried to get said photos, airport officials very quickly and very sternly warned us that photographs were not allowed. Bummer!

Think GCC... But At 45,000 Feet...

Okay, so we’ve just quite simply had an amazing set of surprises as far as carriers go for this trip. As already mentioned in a previous post, Air India was great. I would have wondered how it would have been possible to top that short of Singapore Air or maybe Silk Air (one of Singapore Air’s co-chairs), but when we boarded the Kingfisher Airlines Airbus A320, there was something vaguely familiar about it. Everyone from the attendants to the ground staff smiled happily at us as we hauled our bedraggled forms across the tarmac (were they really that glad to see us?). Each lady was dressed in an East/West fusion attire that was simultaneously professional but pushed the edge considerably over the traditional Indian saris or “punjabs”, sporting instead deep red slacks suits or skirt suits of the same design and material. The men were dressed crisply in white button downs and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Then they pleasantly helped us to find our seats and get our gear stowed in the appropriate places. There was a little present waiting for us when we sat down, and we were immediately showered with “sweet lime” (an Indian traditional… and tasty… beverage) and more smiles from the crew. The video safety presentation was state-of-the-art, with nifty computer graphics and even individual displays for each seat/passenger (keep in mind… this is a 55 minute flight… 55 MINUTES… you see where I’m going with this?). The meal was…well… great! No, seriously. It was really good. As in “I might actually eat this if I weren’t just on an airplane” kind of tasty. The flight crew arrived with a feather-soft landing and a kind word of gratitude about our choice to fly with Kingfisher. We disembarked amidst more smiles and greetings, and were sent merrily on our ways to our next point of [ad]venture. From start to finish, the entire experience spoke of an excellence and intentionality and attentiveness to detail that seemed more than just a little familiar.

And yet, it continued to bug me… where had we seen this before? Oh yeah… duh… we go to a church just like that! A place where excellence matters, people matter, and all that goes into both of those things are matter as well. Now we just need to see if Kingfisher will let us pipe weekend services into the nifty display monitors during flight. Hey, it’s already pre-set to 55 minutes!

Just Add Fatigue...

See what I mean? It’s a simple recipe, really. I call this my “GCC India Team SoufflĂ©”. First, add 11 team members, 36 hours of straight travel, 2 extended (and preferably superfluous) layovers in strange airports. Whip team members until suitably beaten to a zombie-esque sludge. Then sprinkle several dashes of airport terminal sprints (get it… “dashes”?), a healthy dose of frisking from airport security officials, and then bake at 85 degrees with 95% humidity for at least 8 hours. Finish off with the promise of comfy couches, and this, my friends, is what you get! Voila!


About 7 a.m., we were finally able to check in at the counter and get our bags all set to go. This meant that we would be able to go through security and to the beautifully reclined sleeping benches I knew awaited us on the other side. Featured here are Jodi Wagonmaker as she checks her bags with the Kingfisher agents, and then the team on the other side of Security as it preps for the entrance to the much anticipated “Promised Land of Recumbent Couches”.


Alas, no dice on the comfy loungers! Apparently, the x-ray machines didn’t kick on till 4 (no problem… we waited), but you can’t actually check in for your flight until two hours before it leaves. For us, that meant that we needed to find solace in the non-reclinable waiting chairs and try to get comfy for the next 3 hours. To make matters a little more easily manageable, we found an open currency exchange and then stopped at a snack kiosk to purchase “rations” of a sort. Want to know what we found? Water, of course. Whoof… lugging all that luggage (now I know why they call it “luggage”) is thirsty work, especially when you consider the heat and humidity, and so a little H20 was a welcome refreshment. But that’s not all! A little Lipton Marsala Chai (i.e. what most people think of as “Chai Tea”) was also open, so we did short-cups all around for the team. Gene Ort and Jodi Wagonmaker are featured here daintily sipping Marsala Chai while kicking back and waiting out the…um… wait. But the strangest of all things we found in a little snack kiosk (believe it or not) were Pringles! Yup, Pringles. Ranch, Jalepeno and “Stuffed Baked Potatoe” flavors were all available. I think most of us like Pringles anyway, but THESE tasted particularly good! Pringles… wow… now THAT’s some serious international marketing!

“Finding Kingfisher”… Sounds Like a Great Title for an Epic Movie, eh?

Kind of like “Finding Forester” or “Finding Neverland” or… heck… “Finding Nemo”… except after traveling on a plane rather than water, dodging delays in Customs rather than benevolent sharks, and trying to find our next flight connection to Bangalore rather than our lost father who now resides in a dentist’s aquarium. Anyway, we finally DID make it to the Domestic Terminal, and we finally DID make it to the security check point for Kingfisher Air. And believe it or not, Bombay Airport isn’t THAT busy at 3:30 a.m., so we just plopped our gear down and waited for the x-ray machine attendants to notice our presence and kick that puppy into gear. Why the rush, you ask? Because having been in Bombay Airport before, I knew that if we could get on the other side of the ticket check-in, they would usher us down to the boarding terminals where there are comfy reclining lounge-chairs where we can snooze out our remaining 6 hour layover in quiet and peaceful slumber.

In Case You Were Wondering, Purgatory Is In Bombay.

So we made it through Customs just fine, but because our connecting flight with Kingfisher Air is a domestic flight rather than another international connector, we had to then find a way to the “Domestic Terminal”. Problem: we didn’t actually have “real” tickets for Kingfisher, just e-tickets, which puzzled the airport official who was trying to herd us to no end. “No tickets?” he would say incredulously, “you know… like on paper?” “Nope…” I would just say and tried to look helpless enough that he would take pity on us, but confident enough to not think he could take us for a rid (that’s a real trick… try it!). After a few minutes, he finally just directed us to a “holding area” off to the side somewhere. Since there was no posted schedule for any bus or tram to take passengers to the Domestic Terminal, and since no one else in the little room spoke English, we all just parked our gear and waited for what seemed an eternity before a little guy showed up and announced that the tram had arrived. In retrospect, we probably only spent 15 minutes in the “holding area”, but when you’re not sure if/whether/when you may ever get to leave it, that can seem like a REALLY long time. I kept having flash-backs to my Catholic upbringing and wondering if this is what Purgatory might feel like.

Touch Down! And I'm Not Talkin' 'bout the Irish!

We “touched down” at just after 2 a.m. local time here in Bombay, and after a quick “de-plane, de-plane!” (sorry… now I can’t stop!), headed for Customs amidst 85 degree, 90% humidity (yep, even at 2 a.m.)! While we all agreed that we’re a little groggy and ready to be in Trichy, the team has been holding up well and maintaining an exemplary state of high morale! Go team!

Travel Phobia #162: "The Landing Card"

One of the things you have to fill out before you can land in India is a little document that they call a “landing card”. I’m not sure what purpose it serves, in reality, but it gives you something to panic about in the last few minutes before landing. It’s standard information: name, passport number, visa number, best time for telemarketers to call you… (gotcha on that last one!), etc., and once you hand it to the friendlies at the Customs Counter, you never have to see it again. But want to know what’s weird? Every time I come to India, the airline always runs short of landing cards. So the pressure mounts really quickly. It’s a government document, so you’d better not screw it up… oh, and there are no more in case you do. No pressure! They just might not let you in the country if you fill it out wrong, though. NO pressure! Not to mention that they ask you questions that require some space, but then don’t give you any room to write it. NO PRESSURE!!!! AAAAAAGH! Seriously, though, we all made it through just fine. No incidents, and even if you messed one up, they have plenty more when you land. I just think that it’s a little unfair to throw that at people after they’ve been on a plane for what is quite nearly a straight 20 hours.

It’s Like a Hamster Wheel… but on a Half-Mile Track…

Okay, so get this… we land at London’s Heathrow Airport and are told that we have to “de-plane” (which always makes me thing of the old serial show “Fantasy Island” with the little guy – Tattoo – shouting to Mr. Rorke whenever he would see “de plane! De plane, buss!” soaring overhead… but that’s just me), even though we were going to take the same plane and the same flight from London to Bombay. I mean, in the “old days”, you could just stay on the plane, but no more, apparently, so we all obediently “de-planed” (“Buss!”) and began what could only be described as a rather surreal sprint through Heathrow, security, long corridors, moving sidewalks, long lines, escalators, stairs, up-ramps, down-ramps, and then more security in an hour long dash to arrive at… yup… the same plane we just left. We even sat in our “original seats”… go figure. Oh well, maybe, if nothing else, we all got some exercise before our 10 hour flight to Bombay.

Air India... Two Thumbs Up! Seriously!

Okay, I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to international travel… really. I mean, I can handle being herded cattle-car-style and hunker down for the long haul if I have to, but really… no one simply relishes such for the fun of it. And I was HIGHLY suspect of flying Air India, but since their rates were so much more competitive than British Airways, Lufthansa, United, Air France, or… well… everyone else, we decided to give them a shot. For my money, I sort of do this “how close do they get to Singapore Air?” scale in my head as we get on the plane (Hey, Singapore Air made me want to see if I could permanently relocate my family to a 747 operated under their care just because everything was perfect the entire time… ask me about it sometime… I brag on them!). If the attendants smell nice, smile nicely and greet us pleasantly when we board, then they get 1 point. If the aircraft is new and appears to have been cleaned in the recent past (spending 18 hours sitting on a cushion that some guy my size already spent 18 hours sitting on the day before doesn’t conjure images of sanitation and sterility), that’s another 1 point. If the aircraft (and this is a big one) has “individual monitors” for movie watching, that’s 3 points! Remote controls in the arm-rests is another 1 point, individual options and choices that include arcade games is another 2 points (Josh King shown here playing some sort of Ferrari simulator video game that, despite it’s “no turns lame-ness” still seemed to capture his attention for a little while). Food? Well, that’s up to 3 points. If it looks like someone microwaved a Lean Cuisine before takeoff and then splatted into a serving tray, that’s 0 points. If it’s warm and not wilted, that’s 1 point. If it’s actually edible, that’s another 1 point, and if it’s actually tasty, that’s a final 1 point. (Air India actually called our buddy, DiAnn Reamer with Theran Travel to inquire ahead of time as to our team’s dining preferences, and the resulting chicken actually wasn’t half bad). Next to last is the frequency of service from the trolley. “I only come by once per flight, whether it’s 18 hours or not” will yield 0 points. “Is there anything I can get you ever?” will yield 1 point, and, “Please, just take the whole bottle of water… we have plenty!” will win 2 points. Finally, there’s the bathroom. Close, confined, poorly ventilated and infrequently cleaned in-flight yields no points. Attendants personally taking initiative to wipe the bathrooms down periodically yields 3 points. All in all, that’s a total of 16 points, and Singapore Air is the only carrier in my experience to get a perfect score… so the standard is set pretty high. Surprisingly, however, Air India scored at least a 13, with only minor points taken away mainly in the “Bathroom” category, but there were lots of people on the plane, and most of the people didn’t know to stuff used paper towels into the little “garbage cubby” and just left them on the counter for the next user. Eeew! But again, not really Air India’s fault. All in all, Air India gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from yours truly, and we’ll most certainly be flying them again for future teams.

The Team Has Arrived!

The team safely arrived at their destination early this morning! They've checked into their hotel and are catching up on some lost sleep for a few hours! Later today they will meet up with their Indian friends, do a little shopping in preparation for the next couple of days, do some sightseeing and share an evening meal! Jack will catch up with the blog shortly after they catch on some much-needed sleep!!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Radio Silent...

Allrighty then... it's now 8:25 and i'm going "radio silent" for the next 8 hours as we load up to make our first leg of the journey. According to our current flight details, we'll make a quick stop over in London (for about 2 hours) before re-loading and setting out for Bombay. If everything works as planned, i should be able to get a quick connection in Heathrow, and will post again then.

If that doesn't work, however... well... we'll catch up in Bombay.

Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers! Any comments that you would like to relay will be happily passed along on to the team!

-samurai jack

Postum Securitum...

Security was a little more of an "issue" than it normally is, but i';ll attribute that largely to the fact that the crew who was checking us in had apparently missed their break periods and been passed over... twice. Needless to say, they were a little grouchy, but after a lengthy dissertation on the intricacies of the new "3-1-1" Security Rule (i.e. you can only have 3 oz bottles in a 1 quart bag, and it's 1 such bag per person) and an explanation that we were all on our way to India where we would need more than 3-1-1 for 10 days, they begrudgingly let us through.

Featured here in this picture are Jeanna, Allison, Courtney and Jodi, each attempting to engage their relative spaces of temporary nirvana before being called to board the plane at 8:30.

Time Flies... But the Shuttle Flies Faster...

Thanks to Dan K, we blistered through time and space to make it to O'Hare in just over 3 hours (pretty good when you consider the gridlock that we hit after jumping the Skyway bridge) and dropped off successfully at the International Terminal by the curb of Air India's check-in counter.

Assembled and Ready!

At 4:00 p.m. sharp, the team assembled amidst considerable fanfare from a massive group of friends, family and former team members! After a round of prayer and the loading of all the gear, we successfully counted off and loaded the GCC shuttles to begin our journey to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Special thanks to Dan and Karen Kagarise, who drove us to the airport and negotiated all the Chicago traffic, and who will also be picking us back up when we land.

Thanks as well for all of you who will be joining us on the blog throughout this journey! Your thoughts and prayers mean so much already, and we look forward to keeping you posted!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Feeling All "Indiana" Yet?

Crew! We're getting down to the wire on prep for leaving for India, and by now, you should be feeling like quite the adventurer setting out on a fantastic expedition! A couple of quick notes that you'll want to make sure you pay attention to in these last hours before we depart:

* If you would like to pick up your team binder before Sunday, you can drop in to our offices here at GCC and grab one. They'll be back in Jeanna and I's office (where all my Samurai gear is) until Saturday evening, after which time you'll just have to wait until Sunday afternoon when Jeanna brings whatever is left with her to the United Limo terminal.

* We have our paper tickets in hand, but won't distribute them to you until Sunday when we meet at the terminal. These aren't "e-tickets", and when you get them, you'll want to hang on to them. The deal with paper tickets and Air India is, "no ticket, no plane ride".

* Get plenty of rest! I say sleep all you can in the next couple of days and try not to panic too much about packing and other travel-related details. Your body will both need and want to draw on any reservoirs of rest that it can over the next 10 days, so "stock up" all you can beforehand.

* Drink plenty of water! Like the sleep issue, try to hydrate as much as you can starting now, and lay off as much of the junk food as you can as well. You want your systems to be in peak condition, so try not to make them unhappy by pouring two quarts of Ben & Jerry's down your throat (no matter how tempting that may be) on Saturday night.

* Pray! Remember to pray for your church planter partners to whom we will be going to serve. They are preparing for you just as much as you are preparing for them, and customizing your thoughts as much as possible to praying for them and their ministries is a great way to take your eyes off of yourself and remember why we're really going on this trip!

* Don't forget your felt fedora. But make sure to leave your bullwhip in your "checked" luggage and not your "carry on". Heh-heh...


Your Steed Awaits... Psyche!

Crew! Hey, need to let you know ASAP about a change in our departure schedule (hey... get used it... remember, flexibility will do you well in India, young grasshopper...). Our ability to take a GCC shuttle fell through at the last minute today and so we quickly found another solution to getting to O'Hare airport.

Rather than renting a fleet of minivans or some other option, we worked out a deal with United Limo to get us and our gear to O'Hare without too much variation time-wise in our schedule. As a result, we'll be taking an air conditioned motor coach (erm... no... it doesn't look like the one in the picture here, alas!) that can haul of us and our stuff, but the only differences are as follows:

* We will need to leave from the United Limo terminal rather than GCC. The terminal is located at 3025 N Home St, Mishawaka, IN (phone, if you need it, is 574.255.3068). Click here if you would like to link to a Google Maps set of driving directions from GCC.

* The bus leaves at 3:50 p.m. As a result, we'll need to meet at the terminal at 3:00 p.m. instead of GCC at 4:00 p.m. Hopefully, that doesn't cause any of you any difficulty, but please let me know if it does.


Calling All Trailblazers....

Crew! We now have dates for the "debrief" section of our team that will take place after we return. Dr. Ron Craker has already confirmed that he will be available to facilitate both sessions, and so, as we have consistently mentioned, if you're up for being a "trail blazer" and helping us to prototype something that we will make mandatory for following teams, here is the information and details that you will want to make sure you log into your calendar:

Session #1: Monday, August 13th - 6 - 8:30 p.m.
* Most likely, this will be in the Jungle Room, just as all of our previous training has been.
* We will discuss the nature and details associated with the "Re-entry process", and check in to see how we're all doing.
* We will begin to work through the "Jack's List" of questions that we compile while on the field (i.e. the "Why do they do this?" or "What does God think about that?" kinds of questions).
* An assortment of other details, emotions and experiences that each of you will experience upon re-entry and integration once home.

Session #2: Monday, August 20th - 6 - 8:30 p.m.
* Again, most likely, this will be in the Jungle Room, just as all of our previous training has been.
* The focal point of this training will be working through the question: "Where do we go from here?" Now that you've been to India and are back home, what do you do with the experience and information garnered from the trip?

Again, this isn't "mandatory", but we would really value your participation and feed-back so that we can serve you better as well as subsequent teams.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

India for a Day: "Little India" Trip Highlights...

On Saturday, July 21st, the team spent a day in Chicago's "Little India" with our ministry partners and friends at the South Asian Friendship Center (click here for SAFC's official web site) learning more about Indian culture, and having an opportunity to see a little glimpse of India first hand before departing for the field.

After negotiating Chicago traffic, we arrived at the SAFC to be greeted by Mark Engle, the Center's Director. Over a customary cup of Indian Chai Tea, Mark answered basic questions about the Center, and also told us the story of Little India and how most people come to reside there from their home countries (most often Pakistan and India). Mark then introduced us to Sunita (shown here in this photo along with Mark), one of the Center's other treasures and an amazing lady with a deep passion for Jesus and reaching her own people. Sunita grew up in India and immigrated to the US some twenty years ago, where she met Christ and has continued to grow in her faith. Through our interaction with Sunita, we gained considerable insight into how Indian culture values family, hospitality and loyalty, and how those things play out in the individual lives of Indians both in their own "home" context of India as well as here in the US.

Lunch at a great Indian restaurant (that seemed to specialize in Southern Indian cuisine) followed our formal time with Mark and Sunita, and they both joined us over dishes of dosa (a crispy giant "pancake" stuffed with a potato-based paste), sambar (Indian "pepper water" -- a delightfully flavorful soup mixture into which flat bread or other dishes are dipped), coconut chutney, and breaded onion. Interestingly, restaurant owners had managed to pipe Indian music videos onto flat screen TV's throughout the restaurant, and the Indian flavors combined with Indian music, sights and sounds all combined to give a surprisingly accurate foretaste of Indian culture.

After lunch, the team dispersed in teams onto Devon Street for a one-hour cultural scavenger hunt supplied and coordinated by the SAFC. Items on the list included entering a clothing shop and trying on a Sari or Salwar, finding books or materials written in other languages (Hindi, Farsi, Telegu, Tamil and Arabic text books abound on Devon St), buying and trying some other Indian foods, asking Indian shop owners about their lives, and exploring Indian produce, clothing and jewelry markets.

Following the scavenger hunt, Mark answered some final questions about what we had seen and experienced, and then offered a word of prayer for the team and its success in the field. We then loaded up and returned back to GCC, arriving just in time for the 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening service.

Schedule Basics...

Crew! Below is a tentative schedule for our time in India. Please remember that "Flexibility" and "Adaptability" are the two biggest keys to enjoying your experience, and what follows below could change substantially by the time we get there, or even during. Nevertheless, what follows is at least a fairly general and similar schedule to what we have done in the past.

7/29 - Departure
  • Meet at GCC
  • Pray with past India Team members
  • Travel to Chicago O'Hare
7/31 – Arrival
  • Arrival and getting settled at the hotel
  • Rock Fort Temple in Trichy
  • Dinner with Raj (either at hotel restaurant or other local)
8/1 – Orientation/briefing
  • Morning devotions
  • Meet TBL Trichy staff and see TBL offices
  • Cultural orientation with Raj and prep for villages
  • Travel to town to acquire Saris or Salwars at a local clothing shop
8/2 – 8/4 Travel to village/Village
  • Travel to villages
  • Meet and edify church planters
8/5 – Village/Travel from village
  • Attend Sunday morning worship with church planters
  • Travel back to Trichy from village
8/6 – Debrief/sightsee in Trichy/Depart
  • Debrief with team
  • Final sight-seeing/shopping
  • Leave for airport
8/7 - Arrive back in US

No Sherpas Allowed...


By now, you're probably in the full stages of packing, and you're probably wondering how possible it would be to hire your own personal Sherpa (like the guy in the picture here) to help you carry your gear. But alas, there are no Sherpas for this trip, so you'll want to remember my instructions from Monday night about how to pack:

* Einstein's Theory of "Packativity": Remember what Einstein said, "Make everything as simple as possible... but no simpler."

* "Shibumi": The concept of "restrained elegance" to the Samurai of Feudal Japan caused them to peel away whatever was unnecessary in order to allow the beauty of what remains to be evident.

* Light and Tight: The tighter you can roll your gear, the more space you will save. The lighter you can buy or pack, the better.

* Klingon Biology: Our friends from Star Trek have redundant vital organs. You should too. Split up your gear so that if your checked luggage accidentally ends up in Dubai, you're still not completely without functionality. For my part, i split toiletries, a spare change of clothes, and extra food between my carry on and checked gear.

In addition, you can see my packing list by clicking here (note: it's in Microsoft XL format, so if you can't open it, please let me know and we can send it to you in another file type).

If you want to see Mark Beeson's "sweet rig" that i mentioned on Monday, you can go to Kifaru's web site by clicking here. Again, you probably don't want to purchase any of this stuff for this trip... but if you want to see what just how sophisticated you can get with the whole packing thing, this is a pretty good glimpse.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's Like a Flight Simulator... But for Culture...


Usually, before you stick a pilot in the cockpit of anything, you give them a chance to try out their skills in a "friendly" environment where they can spread their wings (bah-dum-bum!) without worrying about falling out of the sky. We'll be doing the same thing (but with Indian culture instead of behind the stick of a jet) on our trip to Little India in Chicago on Saturday morning (7/21) at 7:30 a.m. Please be here no later than 7:15 a.m. so that we can make sure we're all set to go and can be on time for our day's activities.

If you're curious about what will take place, here is a quick schedule:

7:30 (EST) - 9:30 (CST) - Travel to Chicago
Note: Chicago is an hour behind time-wise, so all times are listed denote their zone. EST = Indiana Time (Eastern Standard Time) or CST = Chicago Time (Central Standard Time).

9:30 (CST) - 10:00 (CST) - Arrive at SAFC and orientation
The SAFC operates right in the middle of "Little India" on Devon Ave, and opens doors of discussion about Jesus through love, service and compassion to both Indian and Pakistani people who have migrated to the United States. We'll get a tour of their facility, as well as some information on their mission, vision and values. Mark Engel will be our primary contact there, and has arranged to spend a good bit of time with us for the day.

10:00 (CST) - 11:45 (CST) - Time with Sunita
Sunita is an amazing lady and most of our past teams have verbalized a high degree of gratitude after spending any length of time with her. She is an on-staff pastor with the SAFC, grew up in a Muslim environment, and has a helpful perspective on the beauty and complexity of Indian culture. We'll have lots of time for Q&A as well, and we'll want to be able to maximize our time with her.

11:45 (CST) - 1:00 (CST) - Lunch!
Now that you're all pro's at eating Indian food and doing so with your hands rather than forks and spoons, you'll have the opportunity to get a little more practice as we eat lunch at an authentic Indian food restaurant in Little India. It'll be fun for you to notice the differences in spices and flavors (we'll be eating South Indian cuisine rather than the more Northern Indian food we at at Star of India), so pay special attention to the taste as well as the consistency.

1:00 (CST) - 2:30 (CST) - Scavenger Hunt!
SAFC is great at giving "hands on" cultural training, and one of the things we have historically enjoyed is the opportunity to do a "Cultural Scavenger Hunt". Basically, we will break into teams and then they will give each team a list of things to do or find on Devon Ave.

2:30 - 3:30 - Debrief
Mark will spend the final hour with us debriefing what we've seen and done during the day, and will help us to answer any cultural questions we might have.

3:30 (CST) - Leave for GCC
While the team is debriefing with Mark, i'll be picking up pizza to eat on the return home. Yes, it's not the best "road food", but the options are a little limited restaurant-wise, and we'll want to eat on the go so as to avoid Chicago 5 pm traffic if we can.

7:30 (EST) - Arrive Home
At this point, we anticipate being home around 7:30, but that will also depend greatly on how much time and effort it takes to negotiate traffic on the way.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sleep Simulation: They Rocked!!!

"And what," you may ask, "did they exactly do during the sleep simulation?" Well, they didn't sleep much, i can tell you that. Comments on Saturday morning after sleeping on the floor Friday night ranged from "I feel pretty good, actually." to "Other than being a little stiff and waking up several times, i'm still doing better than i expected." Both were great places to start as the team trundled into the Community Center on Saturday morning to report to work. Those who participated were:

* Jodi Wagonmaker
* Brandy Huff
* Stephen Hinkel
* Allison Risser
* Gene Ort

What follows is a brief overview of how the simulation went after arrival.

7:00 a.m. - We did a brief intro and tour of the Community Center and the vision for what will be accomplished there. We also had some Krispy Kreme donuts present to provide some calories for the energy that would be expended. The team also acquired the necessary work gloves, masks and safety glasses they would be using for the day.

Shortly after the tour, Dan Blacketor recruited us to begin the "gutting" process at the newly acquired former "Dee Ken's Bar" space, and the team jumped in enthusiastically. Initial jobs included the removal of the lath and plaster ceiling, the removal of debris from the basement, and the loading of 4 industrial dumpsters in the alleyways. In the process, the team discovered some lovely "souvenirs" such as this "Ladies" sign that formerly occupied a spot atop the women's bathroom door.

Around 9:00 a.m. teams from 2nd Saturday arrived on 3 buses and provided additional labor reinforcement and a solid infusion of fun.

10:30 a.m. - During a brief break, the team admitted that while they were all a little stiff at start, the hard work was "working out the kinks" and they were all feeling pretty good.

noon - 2nd Saturday teams left around 11:30 a.m. and the team broke for lunch shortly thereafter. Lunch consisted of pizza from Barnaby's restaurant, as well as a few leftover Krispy Kremes.

2:00 p.m. - After lunch, the team set about joining the rest of the construction Team on the roof, and pulled off nearly 2" of rock, wood and other debris to make ready for the new roof that will be going in sometime in the next couple of weeks. At 2:00 p.m., team members were dismissed to run home and get a quick shower before heading back to GCC to meet and attend the 5:30 p.m. service.

5:15 p.m. - Meeting in the Atrium at 5:15 p.m. shortly before service, the team was in great spirits, but admitting some fatigue from the day's work coupled with the sleeping arrangements from the previous evening. Jodi joked that we might have to nudge her to keep her awake, but nothing of the sort was necessary as the team enjoyed the opportunity to hang out, relax and enjoy worshiping together.

Saturday night - After service, everyone departed for their respective homes with instructions to sleep on the floor again, and then "pay particular attention to how you feel on Sunday morning".

Sunday morning? - We'll share this evening during our next team training how each team member felt after engaging the sleep simulation, and i will record our findings in the comments on this post.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Reflections: Elaine Bader

It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone who visits India would ever come back to their Home Land the same. While on an India Mission Trip in 2006 to help build homes and the Kingdom, not only was I changed, but it transformed the way I see our Lord and how he has created our Earth and all who inhabit it. When I first arrived the nationals all seemed so foreign and different, but it did not take long for me to realize that they were just like us, made in the image of God. They loved their children, worked and prepared meals and experienced heart ache and joy just as we all do. I will always hold dear the friends and the memories that were made in India. The smiles will forever burn in my mind and heart. I was in awe of everything I saw, everyone I met and all that we did. From building homes, praising Jesus with the church planters and eating food very unique to my pallet, I could not soak it up fast enough. I wanted every new experience to play in slow motion so I could savor the moments.

My favorite memories are that of the children and their warm bright big smiles. The children would run up to us with tiny little pencils and a small note book and ask us for our autographs. We would write our names down and beside our autograph we would write “Jesus loves you” with a cross or a fish symbol. The kids would jump up and down with delight. Each time a child jumped for joy I prayed they would jump for Jesus someday and not for the autographs.

While the joy is there with those children my sadness and sorrow is with those who were starving and begging on the streets. The severity of poverty in India is something I had never seen before. The ache of not being able to help them all immediately was hard to bare. I find comfort in my prayers for the hurting and impoverished and believe that God is helping us make a difference.

The change I experienced manifests itself in my day to day life and my world perspective. I pray that the God will continue to bless our efforts in India. I hope that anyone who visits India will help others grow closer to the Lord by their love for the people that surround them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sleep Simulation: Don't Worry... It Won't Kill You!

Crew! For those of you who will be participating in the Sleep Simulation this weekend, here are the basic details:

Friday, July 13
* Simply find a place in your house where the floor looks comfortable. It's fine if it's carpet, linoleum, or whatever looks good to you.
* Feel free to bring blankets, covers, whatever you might need to keep you comfy, but don't haul your mattress to the floor.
* The goal here is not to make you miserable, but rather to let your body know how it feels to sleep on a less comfortable surface than what you're used to. Even if you're quite comfy, you'll still feel a little different in the morning.
* Note: I'd recommend not staying up as late as you can for obvious reasons. Try to get a decent night's sleep if you can.

Saturday, July 14th
* Arrive at the Monroe Circle Community Center (MC3) at 7:00 a.m. I'll be there to greet you.
* If you don't know how to get to MC3, you can follow these directions, or click here for Google Maps directions from GCC:
  • Travel South on Main Street from GCC
  • Turn right at Douglas Road
  • Turn left onto IN23 (which turns into South Bend Ave)
  • Turn left at Hill
  • Turn right onto Colfax
  • Turn left onto Main Street
  • Turn right onto Western Ave
* When you get there, you can park across the street at Fred's Transmission's parking lot. Just please be careful to park along the northwest edge (near the trees) so that we don't take up their good customer parking spaces.
* The Construction Team and team leaders have already been prepped in regard to your arrival, so will have lots of stuff for us to do and will attempt to keep us fully engaged. Again, the point is not to make you miserable, but you should really attempt to work hard if you're going to get the full effect of the simulation.
* After 2nd Saturday teams leave around 11:30, the Construction team will provide lunch (usually Barnaby's or Jimmy John's), so you won't need to worry about bringing a lunch.
* After lunch, you'll work until 2:00 p.m., and then be dismissed to head home for a couple of hours.
* Report back to the GCC Atrium for the 5:30 p.m. service. Again, i'll be waiting for you in the Atrium, and we will all sit together during service.
* After service, you will be dismissed for the evening to return home.
* When you go to sleep on Saturday evening, repeat the drill from Friday night. Sleep on the floor in the same fashion.

Sunday, July 15th
Pay particular attention to how you feel when you wake up on Sunday morning. This is a pretty good indicator as to how you will feel on a regular basis in India. We'll ask you how you felt during training on Monday night, so please be prepared to share.

17 Days and Counting... Ah-ah-ah!!!

Crew! Can you believe it? In just a little over 2 weeks, we'll be on our way to INDIA!!! These next 17 days will be pretty intense as you prepare, so i wanted to give you another quick outline of what's coming up next so that you will be suitably reminded and informed:

Sleep Simulation: Friday, July 13th - Sun, July 15th
Are you ready? It'll be a blast! For those of you who signed up to participate in the Sleep Simulation and team-building exercise, you will want to make sure that you block Friday evening (10:00 pm) through Sunday morning (whenever you wake up) of this coming weekend to participate. Details on exact specifics, parameters, and protocols will follow in additional posts.

Full Support Due: Monday, July 16th
The full balance of your financial support is due by team training (6:00 pm) on Monday, July 16th.

Team Training #5: Monday, July 16th
You will want to make sure that you take copious notes on Monday night as both Ron VanderGriend and Ron Craker join us to engage details concerning insight into the culture and lives of Indian church planters, as well as how to process what you will experience in India on an emotional, mental and spiritual capacity. Training is from 6 - 8:30 pm in the Jungle Room at GCC.

Shots Round #2: Thursday, July 19th
The St. Joe County Health Dept will be on-campus here at GCC again on Thursday, July 19th, from 5:45 - 6:45 pm in the Meeting Room (same place as last time) to administer the second round of shots for those who would like to have them before leaving for India.

Little India Trip: Saturday, July 21st
We'll be spending the day in Chicago on the 21st in "little India" off of Devon Street with our friends at the Southeast Asian Friendship Center. Initially, we were going to leave GCC at 8 am., but we're having to move that back to 7:30 am due to traffic and construction related issues on the way. As a result, please plan on being at GCC by 7:15 am so that we can get everyone up to speed, loaded and on the road appropriately.

Team Training #6: Packing and Travel Protocols
As many of you have asked "what do we pack?", this will be my opportunity to give you the full scoop. I'll come with all my gear completely packed (minus underwear), and will walk through it with you so that you can get a better idea how to pack and prepare yourselves. Training is from 6 - 8:30 pm in the Jungle Room at GCC.

Luggage Check: Saturday, July 28th
Want to know whether or not what you're packing is too much or too little? Join us at Potato Creek State park on Saturday, July 28th, from noon - 2 pm for a quick hike and analysis. We'll spend some time on the trails, and then, if you like, i'll be happy to look over your gear and recommend any additions or subtractions. It's $5/car to get into the park, and i'll meet everyone at the gate so that we can travel to the trail together.

Each of these upcoming points will receive its own separate post, but i at least wanted you to know what was coming up. It's moving pretty fast from this point forward, so hold on to your hats! And keep counting... Ah-ah-ah!!!