It is difficult to know where to start and how to explain my experiences in India. When people ask me how my trip was, the only place I know to start is to say "It was amazing!" I could write pages and pages on all of the experiences that I had, but unless you have been there yourself it is impossible to fully understand what it is like. Instead I want to share with you just a few of the experiences that I will never forget, experiences that have become a part of me and added a new lens into how I perceive the world and the church.
I arrived in Chennai airport around 1am. As I stepped into the airport, I was greeted by the Hindu gods lining the walls. These countless gods I would see gazing down on me everywhere I went: on the roadsides, restaurants, shops, billboards, cars and buses. Walking out of the airport, I was greeted with a warm smile and handshake by Pastor Paulraj, Kasthuri and a couple older boys and girls from Grace Foster Home (GFH) and the church. I was presented with the traditional flower garland and then we started our long drive to GFH. We finally arrived around 5am. After a short prayer with Pastor Paulraj and Kasthuri, I went straight to bed. Though I was exhausted, I was not able to sleep because of my excitement.
The next morning I was greeted by Karthick asking me if I wanted coffee or tea, a question that I would be asked about 10 times every day. A few times I said "No, thank you" but it was brought to me anyway. Eventually I gave up to saying no to anything I was offered, knowing it would be given to me no matter what I said.
I am sure you have heard about Karthick from others who have visited GFH. He has a servant's heart like I have never seen before. If there is any way that he sees he can help someone, he will. Every morning he would greet me with big smile, bring me coffee, and ask for my clothes to be washed. He would remember what I wore the day before and if it wasn't in the wash basket the next morning, he would hunt through my room to find it. Every Saturday night, he would polish my shoes so they would be nice and shiny Sunday morning. Every day my room would be cleaned and bed made either by Karthick or someone else he would delegate it to. He often made me feel guilty because of everything he did for me, but he would never accept no for an answer and everything he did, he did with a joyful smile and attitude. Deane Wassink's birthday was during my stay and on the morning of his birthday, the first thing Karthick did was ask me to take a photo of him and email it to Deane wishing him a happy birthday, later that night we called Deane and sang happy birthday to him.
The very first day that I was there, I began to get an idea of how busy the lives of Pastor Paulraj and Kasthuri are. Every week Paulraj prepares 2 sermons as well as a Wednesday night bible study, which is almost like a 3rd sermon. In addition to that there are 4 village outreaches where he leads bible studies every week, rotating visits with the elders and deacons. Paulraj is also going on house visits or hospital visits almost every day. There are also the monthly Pastor's conferences, editing and writing for publications, the girl's dorm building project and other maintenance things that Paulraj has to deal with. In addition to all of that there are the responsibilities of caring physically and spiritually for about 50 children, widows and staff.
One of the main reasons for my visit was to take a lot of footage in order to make a documentary. The purpose of the documentary is to give a better understanding of the church and GFH to those who have not visited. I want to create a documentary that will show the power of the gospel in the lives of the people in India in a very personal way that people who have not been there can connect with.
I had a goal to interview all of the children of GFH so that I could share the interviews with each of the children's sponsors. I had heard some of the children's stories before, but it is different being there with the children and hearing the stories from them personally. Hearing them testify of the love of God in their lives, bringing them into the GFH to be taken care of and learn the truth of Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross that brings us hope in this dark world of sin.
There are so many heartbreaking stories: father's who abandoned their family, drunken father's who beat their wives and children, mother's who committed suicide by fire and poison, parents who died from AIDS or other diseases, parents who went insane because of sorcery, and many other tragic stories. When interviewing the children, it was hard to hold back the tears. There is one story in particular that really impacted me that I would like to share. It is the story of Appun and Soundharya, a brother and sister at the GFH.
When Appun was around 2 years old and Soundharya 4 years old, their parents got into a fight and their father left the house. When he was gone, their mother tried to give them poison. Soundharya knew what it was and said "We want to live, please don't make us eat the poison." Soundharya would not eat it and would not let her brother Appun eat it either, so their mother took the poison herself and died in front of them. About 10 minutes later, their father came in and saw what had happened. He grabbed the poison, left the house, ate the poison and died.
Their father worked for a brick company. When he did not show up for work, his boss came and found the children alone and brought them to a bus stand. There Appun and Soundharya stayed for the next 10 days, begging for money that they would use to buy food. After that 10 days, a social worker found them, and not being able to find an adequate caretaker among their relatives, brought them to GFH.
Appun and Soundharya were the two last children for me to interview in my long second day of interviews. That night I read the children an English book about farm animals and their benefits, quizzing them about the English names and pronunciations as we went along. After reading the book, I handed out candy to all the children. After all the candy was handed out, Soundharya walked up to me and said "Anna", which means elder brother. I looked down at her to see a big smile on her face as she handed me the wrapper of the candy I had given her. She had twisted it into the shape of a cross. That is a memory I will never forget. After hearing the tragic story of her life and all that she had been through at such a young age, I now saw the outworking of God's grace in her life, bringing her to a knowledge of Himself, the loving Father who sacrificed Himself for us and promises to never leave nor forsake us.
Later, as I sat alone at night for personal devotions, I read Psalm 27 and when I read verse 10, I started to cry. "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in." I could not help but think of Appun and Soundharya and all the stories of the other children at GFH. I will never be able to read this verse again without thinking of their faces. And what a beautiful confidence follows in verse 13 "I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!" The goodness of the Lord radiates from the GFH. Every smile, every laugh, every prayer, every scripture reading, every song sung by those children is a testament to the goodness of the Lord.
Another amazing testimony of God's grace that I was able to witness during my visit was the recovery of Sathya. Sathya was the boy who accidently dropped the end of a metal rod on an 11,000 volt powerline while trying to hit fruit off a tree. He had electricity flowing through him for several minutes. He was declared dead at a local clinic, but started to breathe again as he was brought to the Christian Medical College Hospital.
Not only was Sathya's life hanging in the balance, the entire future of GFH was. The government is run by Hindus. They do not like Christian orphanages because they know that those children are most likely going to come out as Christians. Christians not only upset the practices of their society, but are also a threat to their political parties. If Sathya had died, GFH would have been shut down and Paulraj and Kasthuri would likely have faced jail time and heavy fines. By God's grace Sathya's life was spared, and when the police came to the hospital to ask what happened, he replied "Jesus saved my life".
Sathya came home from the hospital after over 40 days while I was there. I was able to interview him and he testified of God's grace in protecting and preserving his life. He said that "this incident has transformed my life and now I know that God is all powerful and God is holy and I will testify of God in my life." When I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up, he said he wants to be a minister.
Sathya said when he was in the hospital, he never thought that he would be able to walk again. During the farewell program that the GFH family put on for me, Sathya not only walked, he danced.