Monday, August 13, 2007

Gene's Blog...


Just a quick note to let you know that Gene has also created a parallel blog to track his view of the experiences in India. You can get there by either clicking here, or by clicking the link on the left hand side of the page.

-samurai jack

Sunday, August 5, 2007

13 Hours...

In the last 24 hours, we spent 13 in the car. It took us 5 hours to get to the church dedication, and 7 -1/2 to get back. We rolled in this morning at about 6:30 a.m. after leaving the celebration at about 11 p.m. Not exactly the most restful night, but I’m still glad that we had the experience.

Nicodemus As A 17 Year Old Girl...

Argh! Again, no picture, and I REALLY wanted one, alas! After the dedication ceremony, a young girl (maybe 16?) approached Raj at the platform. I immediately liked her! You could tell that she was driven. She had an intense look in her eyes, the gleam of intelligence, but balanced with a gentleness and calmness that simply bespoke the fact that she wasn’t a raving freak, but was definitely “on a mission” to talk with Raj. When she finally caught his attention, they went on for about 5 minutes, and I could tell that there was more to the conversation than just your simple, “thank you for the beautiful message, pastor!” thing going on. Raj would speak machine-gun-style for a few minutes and then she would whip right back to him with some staccato of her own. Finally, Raj wrote something down on a piece of paper and gave it to her. She smiled at him, bowed in the cursory gesture of polite gratitude, turned and smiled at me (against what I’m sure was just a bewildered look on my face), and then walked stealthily out of the room. When I finally got my camera, she had already left, so I couldn’t ask her and Raj to pose for you to see. Sorry.

Anyway, I asked Raj later what she had asked him, and his eyes brightened as he explained:

“This girl heard me speak, and came to ask me about when I said that she would have to be born again to follow Jesus. She said, ‘I have already been born once to one mother, and I have one name already. How can you tell me that I must be ‘born again’? Am I to abandon my mother and her name when she gave me life just to follow this Jesus of yours?’”

(Wow! Remind you of John 3 when a man named Nicodemus approached Jesus with the exact same question?)

When I asked Raj how he responded to the girl, he explained to me that in India, one of the big things is that people have mistakenly assumed that once you decide to follow Jesus, you have to abandon your Indian culture, change your Indian name to a “Christian name” (like Joseph or John or Mary), wear western clothing, and distance yourself from your family. Raj explained that more and more, they’re seeing that what people (like this bright young girl) are asking is if it’s okay for them to still “be Indian” and follow Jesus. Raj deftly explained to her that Jesus is about a commitment in your heart and in your life, not in how you dress, what you name yourself, or alienating yourself from your family (quite the contrary, in fact!). He explained that she said that she wasn’t sure about all of that, and so Raj told her to go home and ask God for wisdom. Then he gave her his phone number and told her to call him if she had any more questions.

New Creation Community Church...

We arrived at New Creation Community Church just in time to dedicate it before the worship service started. We prayed, cut the ribbon that barred the entrance, and then packed in for a worship service that was so loud and so enthusiastic, I actually had a splitting headache when it was over (reminds me of the Far Side where the cowboy, all shot up with Indian arrows says to his friend, “Yeah, Clem.. I hurt. But you know, it’s a good kind of hurt.” :- ): We followed the service with an excellent dinner served on palm branches, and then set about meeting the congregates and praying for them.

All in all, there were probably about a hundred people in the little church, and the building was large enough to seat everyone. The pastors are TBL church planters named Hannah and Anthony-Raj (husband/wife team) – shown here – and they were gentle and friendly while talking, but thundered away from the pulpit. I’ve seen that happen before.. it’s an amazing transformation that I truly admire about so many of the church planters with whom we work. They are lambs in every environment, but lions behind the pulpit. Anyway, Hannah and Anthony-Raj have both come to Christ from Hindu backgrounds, and both have experienced significant physical and financial persecution as they have not only continued to live out their lives for Christ, but lead others to do the same. They stand strong with this small community of Christ-followers, and by doing so continue to see (like the early church) their numbers swell daily in the community.

Also, I can’t remember who said it, but i love the quote that says that “a measure of greatness for any empire is how they treat their least”. The young man in this picture suffers from what looked to me to be Cerebral Palsy, and had to be helped or carried anywhere he went. He was a happy young man, but what amazed me most was how the church just “owned” him. They would come and pick him up to help or carry him to the front for Raj to pray for him, then help him to sit down in a chair by the wall. Then they would bring him food, and then take his plate when he was finished. Then they would carry him outside so that he could enjoy the meeting and greeting, and when it was time for him to go (I was standing nearby), an older lady tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to him. “Help him up!” she was saying through the smile on her face (I have no idea what she really said, but it was obvious that such is what she meant), so several of us took ahold of his fragile frame and then hoisted him up to his walker. Being limited in any fashion here in India would be tough (“Handicap access” is not a widely-understood term here yet), so I was significantly encouraged to find that this little church understood their responsibility to not only engage him, but care for him in every way.

The Female Infanticide Capitol of India…

As we continued to drive, at one point Raj turned to me and said, “look out the window… you see this place? This entire district (Madurai) has the highest incidence of female infanticide in India.” So I looked out the window and noticed how remarkably few women I saw walking around. See, here in India, if your wife bears you a daughter, your rationale goes something like this: “Well, we don’t really have enough food to go around as it is, so she’ll be hungry her whole life while she’s in our house. Plus, we’ll have to clothe her and care for her, which again, will be a significant drain on our already limited resources. Then we’ll have to raise a dowry for her to marry her off (a sizeable sum equaling up to $3 – 5,000, even for a poor family), and in the end, she won’t be able to help us when we are old and frail (that’s the son’s job… a daughter’s job is to take care of her husband’s family, not her own). So really, it’s better for everyone (including the baby), if we just give her a hug, take her down to the river, and then hold her under until she stops breathing.” I’m not trying to be melodramatic or unnecessarily graphic, and i hope that you’ll forgive me if such seems to be the case. Rather, I just had no idea (until a couple of years ago when I started coming to India with Rob) that such things still happen in the world, but they do. And we were driving through the middle of it. I had a hard time sorting through the emotions, and still do. Rage, helplessness, sorrow, hope (yeah, even hope… as Jesus comes into these communities, things like this atrocity stop) and amazement. And the more people (like all of us) who know about it, the better the chances that it won’t continue much longer as we pray, serve, engage and support the work of the men and women who are planting churches in areas like this.

Besting Best Buy...

I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of this because it involves political stuff (or something like that), but I have to tell you about an odd site that I saw on our way to the church dedication. We were cruising through a small town when I looked out our window and saw a gigantic line bending through and around a particular courtyard. It was filled with people from all walks, castes and status, and was so long that it even spilled out into the street. When I asked what was so important that people would be standing in line in such a fashion to acquire, Raj and The Professor both smiled and said, “That’s a government television distribution center. So long as you are an Indian citizen, you can line up there and receive your free television set!” As mentioned already in the previous post, the whole notion of government-sponsored televisions to every citizen as a high priority absolutely blows my mind. So… you may go to bed hungry, but at least you’ll be well entertained.

Breaking Formation...

We split up today to head in two separate directions. I’ll do my best to adequately recount the details of each:

  • Jack, Raj and The Professor – We drove 5 hours at about (as nearly as I can tell) ten or fifteen times the speed of light to a village some 500 km away. Reason? Raj had told a group of church planters who had just constructed a church building that he would come and dedicate it when they were ready. As a result, I tagged along and had a great opportunity to spend some time with Raj, talk about GCC/TBL strategies, and just enjoy laughing. You can’t spend too much time around Raj and not laugh as his personality, enthusiasm and chuckle are contagious.
  • Jodi, Brandy, Gene and Pastor Samuel – Pastor Samuel took the rest of the team back out to some of the more remote villages under his current span of care (I learned today that there are 72 villages in this immediate area, and that Pastor Samuel visits them all!), and they spent the evening doing more house-to-house visitation.

Sewing Saris By the Sea Shore...

Well, maybe not by the sea shore, but sewing saris nonetheless. The family pictured here is a sweet young couple who offered to help our ladies appropriately fit and tailor their saris (you see, you buy a sari in a rather incomplete phase, and then have it fitted and sewn after you buy it). The family lives in a 4-apartment building and keep their little flat immaculate. The husband works in a textile factory while the wife does some part-time seamstress work. The little girl is hilarious, acting very shy around us by simultaneously playing as coy as she could get in fostering our attentions.

"Do What Is!"

We blasted past a small car on the side of the road today (again, didn’t have time to catch the photo) that had a Nike “swoosh” on its bumper and the obscure phrase “Do What Is!” in English beside it. It took me a second, but I realized that someone had probably tried to explain “Just Do It!”, and while they may have gotten the general meaning across, “Do What Is!” just sort of seems to lack the same potency. But maybe you could try that out at work the next time you’re feeling all “go-get-‘em”. “C’mon, guys, ‘do what is!’”

Slow on the Draw, Pardner…

Okay, guys, I have to apologize. For some reason, I was just really slow on the draw with my camera today, or accidentally left it in the car entirely when I didn’t mean to do so. As a result, for a couple of the following posts, all I have is text, but will do the best I can to describe the details. Alas.

Postcard From the Land of Surreality!

Yes, that’s a thatched hut in the middle of nowhere. Yes, that’s a satellite dish mounted on the side-post of said hut. “Why would they need a satellite dish?”, you might be asking (we did!)? Well, to get them cable to their government-sponsored television set, of course! Apparently, a new initiative by the Indian government is supplying both free television sets and free satellite TV dishes (only specific channels, mind you) to all Indian citizens. When I asked why, Raj cocked an eyebrow and said, “So that the government can keep people well-informed about what it wants them to think.” Allrighty then. So we people living in significant poverty, children with orange hair from malnutrition, and thatched huts in remote villages… but at least we have TV! It became an exercise in total surreality as we moved from door to door, house to house in the villages, each of which had a faint blue glow coming from inside. When we looked in, sure enough, there were families glued to a small box usually propped up on branches or makeshift tables watching everything from news to what looked like an Indian version of Soul Train. Unreal!

Yeah... Definitely Tapioca...

Shortly before we enjoyed the “slaughtered goat”, we had the opportunity to try some REAL Tapioca. If you’re like me, you’ve probably ever only had it in pudding, but this was the real stuff. It’s a long, pale white root kind of like a potato that is boiled and served in raw form. Sometimes it’s served with salt or sugar, but gets mealy and mashy like a baked potato does. I’m holding a big one here so that you can see how it looks. It also gets turned into meal flower for various kinds of breads and pastries.

Evening Villages...

We spend the evening in two of the villages where Pastor Samuel is working currently. Both have very low concentrations of Christ-followers, and for the most part, there are high-caste Hindus living in both. Pastor Samuel has done a lot of “walking” in the villages and has spent quite a bit of time going door-to-door, but the few people who have come to Christ in the process have experienced significant persecution as a result. However, when they heard that we would be coming, they made sure that we knew that they would be slaughtering a goat to prepare for dinner! I tell you, the Bible comes alive here in India. When we read about a “fattened calf”, we kind of have to stretch to think about what that might be like. Here, however, they still do it.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a large group of people, the most notable of which were 6 – 12 enthusiastic teenage girls. They were quick to want to practice their English, smile and laugh at our attempts to mimic some Tamil. When we asked about them, one of the village members told us that the girls were all new brides in the village, and had been married for between 1 and 3 years. When we asked how old they were, we found that they ranged in age from 16 – 19. Wow! One or two already had a small child as well, and were performing all the duties commensurate with wives and mothers.

As we walked through the village, we stopped by a lady named Ravina’s home. She was very kind, and asked for us to pray for her. Pastor Samuel told us that was one of the first people to come to Christ in the village, and that she and her family have experienced significant persecution since. When I say “persecution”, I don’t mean the verbal kind (though that certainly happens), but rather the “we’re going to beat you up, and then, if you don’t leave, we’ll come back and finish you off” kind. We prayed that God would guard her and her family, and that through their peaceful steadfastness, would win others to faith.

We also had the opportunity to pray for a number of other people along the way, and my heart broke as we prayed for a group of women I came to call the “Ladies in waiting”. I don’t know all their names, but their stories made it difficult for me to move beyond. Three of the ladies were related, and live in a single home together. The eldest (the mother) has been sick for some time and has tried a number of remedies suggested by doctors and Hindu priests, all to no avail. Her daughter-in-law asked that we pray for her and her husband as they have tried to get pregnant a number of times, but have only experienced miscarriages. In India, much like we read in Scripture, to be childless is a significant hardship, and while losing children is its own extreme pain, to continue without them carries ramifications far beyond the current generation. The other daughter’s husband left her six months ago, and has simply “vanished” without sending support or help in any fashion. In India, that’s particularly difficult as it will be culturally taboo for her to ever re-marry, and due to the patriarchal nature of the culture, will limit what she can “do” for income or career options as well. She is simply “trapped”. The next lady was diagnosed with TB six months ago, and is not able to afford therapy or treatment. The final lady’s abusive husband left her recently (they have 2 small children) and has not returned. While the abusive nature of the relationship is terrible, the fact that she no longer has any means of support causes her more pain as she has to scrap together whatever she can for herself and her children. None of these women know Jesus, but all are waiting on God to show up. Hence, “ladies in waiting”.

Coconut Break...

Raj is quick to stop by the side of the road and let us “try things”. In this particular instance, a lady and her husband were selling coconuts by the side of the road. They were really sweet people, and when she saw all of us pile out of the car, she happily began hacking away at various coconuts and gave them to us. See, the way it works is, you drink the milk first (either with a straw, or, as Raj showed us, “chug style”), then hand it back to the seller to split it open so that you can eat the meat. I’ll tell you, fresh coconut rocks! It also helps you to do some “high speed downloading” (Raj’s metaphor for going to the bathroom) afterward.

Aw, Rats!

I’m a fan of Disney, but “M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E” isn’t something you typically want to think about while you’re eating lunch. Especially when it weighs 8 pounds and is larger than your Dachshund at home. We finished lunch after our errand-running and as we were standing up to go, I saw this shadowy blur dart between Raj’s feet. When I thought “hmmm… that’s odd… wonder what it was”, I looked again and it was gone. But then I saw it again, and it DEFINITELY was “something”. Every time I got closer to it, it moved, and it was pretty big, so it took the image a second to register. But yep, it was a rat. Not a “mouse”, but a big honkin’ rat. Now, I lived in Chicago for 3 years and I saw some pretty good sized sewer rats while I was there, but even they had nothing on this brutha. He was about 26” from nose to tail tip, easily weighed 8 pounds, and was roughly the size of a small cat. In fact, I’ll bet that most cats would have a hard time with this homey! When Raj finally saw him, he (Raj, not the rat) jumped in the air and shouted. It was pretty funny. I thought about trying to go all “Mouse Hunt”, but opted for a hasty getaway instead. Sorry the picture isn’t any better… this is where he was cowering under my chair, and it’s the only time he stayed still long enough to photograph.

Meet "The Professor"...

This is “The Professor”, and everyone simply calls him such. He’s an amazing man, and has worked closely with Raj for years. They originally became friends when he asked Raj about the church-planting materials that he was teaching (in conjunction with Bible League). The Professor currently is an English professor at a local university (which naturally means that his English is very good), and has spent the week with us here in Kavundampadi. His primary focus has been to observe Pastor Samuel to see how he is doing ministry so that he can replicate what is most successful. One of the great things about our friends with TBL is that they freely lend and borrow from one another.

Morning Worship... Hindu Style...

While we were running our errands, we had the opportunity to watch some Hindu worship in action at a local temple. Some things to note if you can see the pictures here (sorry they’re so small… they have to be in order for me to be able to load them to the blog page given our internet connection):

* “The Cow” – as you probably know, cows are sacred in the Hindu system of worship, and so people bow down before their images, worship them, present them with flowers and garlands, and ring the bells around their necks. Why ring the bells, you might ask? According to Raj, they ring the bells to “wake the gods up so that they might hear their cries for help”.

* “The Cobra” – snakes are not only feared, but also revered here in India. I’m not exactly sure what all the significance is, but the cow statue is constructed in such a way that the cobra is drinking from its udder.

Service for the Sick...

This morning, Brandy had the chance to speak during a special service for those who are suffering from various sicknesses in the community. The service was held at the church facility, and involved about 30 – 50 people from the surrounding community who were afflicted with various ailments ranging from skin diseases to internal pain. It started around 10 and kicked in with some serious music, followed by Pastor Samuel’s address to the crowd, and then Brandy’s message on strength in Jesus. She sited passages ranging from Isaiah 41:10 to the prayer of Hannah, and did a great job negotiating translation, timing and delivery. Go Brandy!

An interesting side note: while the service was under way, the neighboring house suddenly erupted into a cacophony of ear-splitting Hindu/Indian music. The louder the people in the service sang, the louder the neighbor would crank the volume. When I asked what was going on, I was told, “Oh, see, the neighbors are high-caste fanatical Hindus, and they don’t like the fact that we’re here. As a result, they went out and bought some thousand watt speakers and put them in their windows facing our church (note: the buildings are maybe 10 feet apart). Whenever we begin worship services, they turn on their speakers and try to drown us out.” Whoa!

After the service was finished (around 1 p.m.), we left to run some errands and eat lunch.

Dosa, Chutney and...uh...Goat Intestines!

Oooookay, here’s something IHOP probably doesn’t have on their menu: goat intestines! Yup, we sat down for “breakfast” (it was around 10 a.m. by the time we got there) and were promptly served a banana leaf (which functions as a plate), a dosa (a tortilla-like flatbread), some white chutney (you’d think it would be sweet, like it’s made from coconut or something, but it’s not. Think “spicy oatmeal”.), and goat intestine curry. We sort of peered over the plate and sure enough, you could see little spongy tubes about the size of your little finger floating around in a spicy brown gravy. Well, what the heck… load us up. For the record, they taste about like you think they would: spongy, springy, rather tasteless… kind of like eating a garden hose. According to Raj, goat intestines are really good for you since goats eat mainly grass and other natural things. The only problem with that logic is that I’ve also seen goats eat beer cans, pop bottles and other “recyclables” if you know what I mean.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Up and At 'Em!

The last time I looked at the clock before we konked out, it was just after midnight. But around about 6:30 a.m., morning devotions kicked up just outside our door, shortly followed by increased traffic in our little area, so we got up around 7 a.m. and hit the day running.

Crashing Hard!

After eating dinner (at 11 p.m. … whoof! According to Raj, “Indians can’t sleep without dinner in their stomachs, even if that dinner happens at midnight”), we returned back to the church, rolled out our mats on the floor, and crashed hard! And when I say “hard”, I mean that we were really tired, and also that the floor is really hard.

Village Life...

Wow, you should have seen how Jodi and Brandy were the hit of the evening in the two villages that we visited. At both locations, we packed into the hut of a local person who knows Pastor Samuel and waited as the drama unfolded around us. What follows is a brief explanation of each.

Village #1: We met on the porch of a woman who, along with her husband, were recently threatened to stop following Jesus. The attackers were armed, and cut her face with a knife, as well as her husband’s arms. They also threatened to return and kill them, but a neighbor called the police and were able to intervene before the attackers could return. A police case was filed, and is now under investigation. The process has actually caused other people in the village to be alerted to the claims of Jesus as they have been amazed at her tenacity and the strength that her faith affords her, and even a few of the initial attackers have come, asked for forgiveness, and begun exploring what it means to follow Jesus. In addition, I also looked over one of Pastor Samuel’s helper’s shoulders and recognized that the content of the Bible study material being used is actually the translated version of the 101 CORE class. When I asked Raj about it, he confirmed that each of the people who were present were proceeding through the 101 CORE class materials and were proceeding toward membership. Here in India, they divide the CORE class materials into 10 – 1 hour lessons rather than doing 1 4 or 5 hour class like we do at GCC.

Village #2: In village #2, we gathered into the hut of a nurse named Susi who also helps Pastor Samuel. She works at a local hospital by day, and helps Samuel at night by conducting Bible studies and…yes, again…CORE class materials in the local village contexts. Two cool things that happened in this village were that Jodi cracked everyone up as she learned to say some Tamil phrases. Believe it or not, she’s surprisingly good at it, and amazed everyone at her intonation and pronunciation with just a few times hearing a phrase. In addition, toward the end of the meeting, several men joined the group, looking a little inquisitive, but rather sheepish, and there was a sudden ripple through the group of mostly women. We learned on the back end that the men who joined us had never been to a Bible study before, and that they were largely comprised of the women in the group’s drunken husbands. Whether the husbands came to see the “odd white people” or just were curious doesn’t really matter. It was a cool moment of “potential” when the women saw their men come in, and the men seemed to feel pretty comfortable as well.

Farm Life...

Right outside our little rooms here at Samuel’s church, we have some roving “wildlife” I thought you might like to see. First, there are two goats, both of whom are female, and, for the record, both of whom love banana peels! Also, there is a small flock of the longest-legged chickens I’ve ever seen. It’s a specifically indigenous Indian species, I think, and they stand over two feet tall. They could audition for the Chicken version of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes… or be on the “most wanted” list for KFC.

School's Out!

After Bible study, we jaunted downtown to grab some bananas and some “sweets” (Raj is very committed to the notion that we will need to try EVERY single kind of dessert or sweet in the country before we leave), and while we were waiting in the car, we noticed a local school was just getting out for the day. Note that at the time of this photo, it was nearly 6 p.m., and the kids usually start around 8 a.m. They also have considerably higher degrees of stringency in regard to subject matter and testing, and from what I can understand, have much higher standards for things like foreign language (many of these kids will speak Tamil, English, and probably Hindi by the time they are 8). I also love the uniforms. Each school has distinctive uniforms, usually typified by specific colors and/or patterns, and as you drive down the street, you can usually identify which kids go to school together simply by the mobs of like-colored dress.

Bible Study with Samuel and the Team...

The group here includes Pastor Samuel and about 15 of his closest peers. These men and women all are engaged in beginning cell-groups or other ministry, and serve as the “staff” for the church, though most of them are unpaid. We spent about an hour with them, introduced our team and what we are hoping to do, and listened to Raj ham it up with a great Bible study on the Apostle Paul and what made him effective in his ministry.

Take Off Thy Shoes!

Here in India, you usually take off your shoes before entering someone’s home or especially a building or “holy place”. I just thought that you might like to see this cool photo because while all the shoes are out here… all the people are in church! Imagine what it would look like at GCC if we all took our shoes off before coming in!

GCC -- India Style!

Samuel is one of the few church planters who have a church facility like this, but his church is strong and he has immense faith. When he asked Raj how big he should build his building, Raj just said casually, “you should consider how big you want your church in the next couple of years? If you want a thousand people, you should build for a thousand people.” So Samuel did. As a result, even though he currently has some 400 members, his auditorium/worship area will easily hold a thousand people.

And want to know what else is cool? He had the engineers design the building so that they could easily “blow the wall out” on the western side when they exceeded a thousand people and mirror the sanctuary for another 1000. I swear, somebody’s been reading GCC’s mail, eh?

Our New Friend, Samuel!

This is Samuel! As mentioned before, he’s quite an extraordinary young man. His family are all Christ-followers, and he grew up in a Christian home, but has faced many challenges as he has been planting churches in this region. We learned yesterday that many of the people that Samuel has led to Christ have been physically beaten or persecuted afterward, and that Samuel himself has been beaten 3 times for his outgoing gregariousness in telling people about Jesus. Still, he stays strong, and his family backs him up all the way. He has benefited tremendously from partnership with TBL and Raj, and has not only successfully and significantly engaged his immediate area, but other villages as far away as 13 km (about 8 miles) and is currently planting “daughter churches” in the remote (and largely unreached) areas. We are looking forward to spending time with him and visiting the homes of many of the people who have already benefited from his ministry, and also in helping in any way that we can to open doors for him that may have previously been closed.

Kavundampadi… Betcha Can’t Say THAT 5 Times Fast!

We arrived at our target destination at just after 1 p.m. and met our church planter and friends. The city we’re in is called Kavundampadi, and will serve as a “base of operations” for us. Our church planter’s name is Samuel, and he’s a gentle, but very charismatic young man (he’s still single, ladies! - see next post for photo and details) who is seriously experiencing the blessing of God as plants churches in this region. His current church has some 400 members, and has grown to that size in just over 3 years, and sports a contextualized, culturally relevant worship service (hmmm… what a novel idea! :- ) that has been very attractive for those people in the area.

Apparently, we will sleep at the church, but make little day-treks out to the villages to engage people with whom he’s been working.

Things On the Way: Neem Tree

We pulled over for another fun Indian treat called a Neem Tree. This is a very famous tree in India, and is both used and grown throughout the country for a variety of purposes. Interestingly, it’s made into both soap and toothpaste here, but Raj instructed that people in the rural villages simply pull off the branches and do the following with it:

* Eat the leaves. Yup, they just chew the leaves and swallow the mixture.

* Brush their teeth with the branches by chewing on the wood. This causes the wood to “fray” and then can be used to brush one’s teeth.

According to Raj, villages that regularly brush with Neem do not experience tooth decay of any kind, or intestinal parasites. This is due to the fact that Neem has high concentrations of a variety of natural chemicals that most troublesome bacteria and worms just don’t find pleasant.

Things on the Way: Elephant!!!

Here in India, while driving along the road, we suddenly looked up to see an elephant walking down the road. It probably should have had a “wide load” sign on its back end, but the sheer novelty of seeing it caused other motorists enough reason to give it a wide path. This particular elephant’s handler was receiving alms (elephants are sacred animals in India) from passers by, and actually just walked right up to the bus in this photo for some quick cash from the bus’s driver. In addition to being a sacred animal, elephants are used for a variety of “heavy labor” functions as well, including tree trimming, hauling, and excavating.

Things On the Way: Tamarine Plant

There is a spice called “Tamarine” here in India that grows on government subsidized trees that grow along the road. Raj pulled the car over and got out, and encouraged us to follow along. Then he climbed a tree and plucked several little bundles that look an awful lot like flat peanuts (in their shells) from the branches. After dropping several of them down, he showed us how to “crack” them open and pull out the pulpy fruit inside. It has a large seed, so you can only really scrape the fruity part off with your teeth before spitting the seed out. According to Raj, the tamarine plant is used extensively in Indian cooking, and the government usually collects and auctions off the fruit of these trees on a regular basis. How does it taste? Well, it’s a little sweet, but mostly sour. We thought it was pretty tasty. Well… at least some of us thought it was tasty. Jodi shown here trying one, and then her subsequent reaction to it.

Ready to Rock!

With the exception of Stephen and Don (who left at 6 a.m. to head to the train station to make their train to Chennai), the rest of the team met downstairs at the Sangam at 8 a.m. after eating a quick breakfast at the Cascade (gear pictured here all ready and loaded up for transit to villages). The TBL staff and planters who were traveling with us gathered in the lobby to meet us, and after a quick prayer, we disbursed with our gear into a small squadron of taxis, cars and SUV’s.

Pictured here as well are several of the team ladies dressed in their new skirts and regalia after our shopping venture on Wednesday night.

Also, as I have been travelling with Jodi, Brandy, Gene, Raj and “The Professor”, what follows for the next several posts will largely focus on that team. When we all gather back again on Sunday from the field, I’ll try to get pictures and stories from each team and post them then.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Quick Note...

Hey, guys, just wanted to let you know that the dates for the posts here are a little "off". I write the blog posts first and then post them en masse when i get a decent Internet connection. It's Friday, for instance, but all my posts thus far only catch us up to about Wednesday night. I'm having to use Raj's computer to post, and will try to do so more as i get the chance, but trying to draft, post and picture everything while still doing all the visiting and things that we're doing as well makes for a tough trick sometimes. Anyway, thanks for your patience! Know that your prayers are felt, appreciated and powerful here! Know as well that your loved ones over here are doing GREAT!!!

-samurai jack

"The Plan"...

We returned to the hotel and explained “the plan” for tomorrow. Here’s how it was going to work:
Sub-Team 1: Jodi, Brandy, Gene, Jack
Location: Kavundampadi
Distance from Trichy: 5 hours (west)
Method of travel: car
TBL staff: Rajendran and “The Professor”
Notes: Our church planter contact is an extremely successful pastor, and currently is planting a single church with over 400 members, with other daughter churches and cell groups in development. Most of the current work he does is within villages that surround the church building, and there is a fairly high instance of persecution among the people with whom he works who come to Christ.
Sub-Team 2: Josh, Hayley
Location: Kalavai
Distance from Trichy: 8 hours
Method of travel: car
TBL staff: Prema & Clorinda
Notes: They will be staying in a smaller town, but will make periodic ventures to surrounding villages to assist the church planter with whom they will be working.
Sub-Team 3: Jeanna, Courtney, Allison
Location: Panamarathupatti
Distance from Trichy: 5 hours
Method of travel: car
TBL staff: Aroma & Raj
Sub-Team 4: Don, Stephen
Location: Vidaioor
Distance from Trichy: 10 hours
Method of travel: train, then car
TBL staff: Annanraj
Notes: Don & Stephen had to leave the hotel at 6 a.m. to catch their 6:30 train connection. (Later: When I last talked to Stephen, he said that they had reached their destination, but literally had to run with all their gear to catch the train as it was pulling out of the station.)

Fresh Jasmine for Your Hair!

In India, street vendors will sell strings of fresh Jasmine flowers for ladies to put in their hair. In addition, fresh flowers are just a large part of regular and everyday life. The little guy in this picture was selling Jasmine on the street, and Raj purchased several strings for the ladies of the team to put in their hair. It smells wonderful, and looks pretty too.

No Comment!

The title of this book is “Do I Look Fat In This?” No further comment necessary. Nor requested.

I've Seen the Signs!

For some reason, the clothing store had a particularly large assortment of bizarre signs. I took pictures and thought you all might think they were good for a laugh as well.

Trial Room – I’m sure they meant “fitting room”, but I thought “trial room” sounded a little threatening. “I swear, your honor… I really thought I was an extra extra small!”

Nachas or Nachos? – I don’t know what Nachas are, but I’ll be they taste GREAT with Jalepenos and sour cream.

Blouse Bits! – What is that, like clothing shrapnel? Doesn’t sound very friendly.

Silk Cotton? – C’mon, make Up Your Mind! I figure that this is either some sort of hyper-lightweight but extremely soft material… or they just need to give each section its own space.

Shopping for Sari's...

After stopping at TBL HQ, we set out to do some shopping. Our first priority was to get skirts, saris and salwars (a 2-piece “pants outfit” worn by Indian women in place of a sari) for the ladies of the team, and so we went to a multi-floor department store to see what we could see. Once there, we explored colorful, hand-embroidered skirts, beautiful saris, and prettily patterned salwars (Hayley King shown here looking over the embroidered material of an Indian sari). One interesting thing about Indian “sales tactics” in a large store is that the sales associates will literally pull down “potential garment candidates” by the dozens in the hope that one will hit your particular preferences. Do you like blue? Faster than you can say “bling”, there will be 40 blue saris immediately out of their packaging and sitting in front of you. They do it happily and cordially, and it’s difficult to resist the urge to just “buy something” simply because they expended so much effort to pull everything out. But that’s precisely the point, and so you have to be willing to have a will of steel until you see exactly what you want to see.

After a couple of hours, each of the team’s ladies had enough skirts and other related clothing to last them for the remaining duration of the trip. We also stopped by a couple of souvenir stores to find some fun trinkets to bring home, but by the time we were finished, we were all a little too bushed to climb the 40 gazillion steps of the “Rock Fort Temple”. Maybe when we get back on Sunday or Monday… we’ll see.

Seeing "The Big Board"

We stopped briefly at the Bible League HQ again so that the team could see the “Big Board”. Our friends are really amazing, and systematically track all the data that relates to their ministry. At any given time, they know how many new contacts have been acquired through church planters and staff, how many people have been led to Christ, how many new churches have been planted, how many CORE class materials have been distributed and taught, how many people have been baptized, how many new cell groups have been established, how many Bibles have been given/placed, and pretty much anything else you might want to know. All that data makes the big board on a monthly basis, and is tracked over a 12 month basis so that totals can be easily tabulated. Pretty cool!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bet You’ll Never Think of Coconuts the Same Way Ever Again…

A new friend of mine recently told me that in ancient Hinduism, human sacrifice was often practiced, and that a human’s skull was sometimes split as part of the process. She also said that in light of the fact that such sacrifices are now illegal, many Hindu priests will use a coconut instead. It’s roughly the same size, shape and weight of a human head, and so it is still often split as part of the priestly duties. She also said that in many instances even today, the Hindu priest will color the milky white “coconut milk” inside with red food dye to make it look more like blood once the coconut has been fractured.

I asked Raj about this historical piece of information, and he agreed that it was so. In addition, he said that covertly, even today, whenever anyone builds a bridge or a dam, there will be a small, hollowed out grave at the base where a Hindu priest has been invited (usually under cover of darkness) to sacrifice 2 to 3 humans to ensure that the bridge stays erect of the dam successfully holds back the water.


Did you know that Indian crows have gray bodies, but black heads and wings? I saw similar crows in Russia, and am now beginning to wonder if we in the US are the only ones who have “just regular black” crows flying around.


We had a traditional Indian lunch today, and it consisted of the following:

Rice – Yup, white rice is to Indians what bread is to us Americans. They serve it as a “base” for just about everything.

  • Sambar – Yup, the same “pepper water” from breakfast. It’s really good, albeit a little sharp on the tastebuds. But hey, they don’t call it “pepper water” because it’s bland, right?

  • Chicken 65 – Yup, they actually do call it “Chicken 65”, even in India! It’s chunk chicken that’s been rubbed with a red mixture of (at least the legend says) 65 different spices to give it a “buffalo” sort of “dry-but-spicy” flavor.

  • Chicken Curry – Yup, it’s tasty too. It’s “soupy” the way that Campbell’s Chunky Soup is, and you just pour it straight over the rice. Makes eating it with your fingers a little tricky.

  • Chai Tea – Yup, even in 90 degree weather, the tea is awesome but straight from the boiler.

After eating, you simply retire to the upstairs porch to wash your plate and hands, and then wait for your scalp to stop sweating and your sinuses to re-close after the awesome Indian spices have still lingered on your lips.