I never know exactly what to say or how to start these mission trip reports. It is impossible to put into writing all the emotions, experiences, events that took place over this two week period. I have started this article a few times, only to be distracted by my own emotions and going back to pictures of what I was writing about. Even pictures do not do it justice as it is too hard to capture the pure joy on the faces of both children and adults connected to Vellore Protestant Reformed Church, the laughter of children, the evidence of love between the children, the evidence of God's love to them. There is love and joy in spite of many obstacles that we cannot begin to imagine here in the States. We heard way too many stories of people - often young people - ostracized by family and community because of their profession of faith. There are children at Grace Foster Home unable to make this public formal profession at church because a relative/guardian does not allow it. 13, 14, 15 year olds passionately talk about making this profession of faith when they turn 18 and become adults.....knowing they will lose any remaining family contact. Heart wrenching......and amazing Grace!
We (Joel and Ellen Bruinooge) traveled with representatives of the Foreign Mission Committee, Rev Doug Kuiper and Ike Uittenbogaard, and Ike's spouse, Phyllis. Although we knew Rev Kuiper only in passing and never met the Uittenbogaards, traveling to a third world country and gathering with saints of the universal church create instant and lasting bonds. Plus - you see each other first thing in the morning, knock on each other's doors and meet in your hotel rooms. Yep......instant bonding!
In a sentence - God's work there is thriving. The people - young and old - are hungry for the word, in church, in Bible Studies, in seminars, in family devotions. They clearly have grown in their Biblical understanding, in their understanding of the church, and in their communion with each other. We saw evidence of this in the various activities we participated in.
A highlight of these visits to India is the "house visits". These are short visits in the homes of various parishioners. We often did this later in the afternoon and early evening and spent time in parts of the city and countryside we would not otherwise have seen. We walked down some pretty dark narrow streets, walked about ½ mile through a field and avoided cows and bullocks on the road in making our way to homes. Homes are humble by any standard - one or two rooms. Furniture is usually some stackable plastic chairs although some homes had a couch or table. Scripture is read and briefly explained, prayer offered, and snacks served. Paulraj said they always offer him food - it must be a universal pastor thing! Any leftover food was sent home with Paulraj in a metal lunch bucket. Nothing is wasted! It was obvious that Paulraj makes these visits consistently as he knows the people well and the details of their lives. He took time to explain each family's particular needs and these were incorporated into the prayers. Although there was no communication through language, there was perfect communication in our shared faith and our common bond. Each time teams go to India and do house visits, the bonds strengthen!
Seminars were taught by Rev Kuiper, church services and Bible Studies led, visits made to villages that are part of the Village Outreach of Vellore PRC, and a day long Retreat held with members of the English group. This group of medical personnel, led by Dr Ronald Carey, is a fluid group in that they come and go depending on their assignment and responsibilities. We still saw several familiar faces and it was great to reconnect with them. They are a hard working group and spend much time in study of the Bible and Reformed teachings.
A trip to India would not be complete without spending time with the children of Grace Foster Home. This was the first time Joel and I had been to Eden Campus. What a difference this move has made in the lives of these children! Eden is literally an oasis for them. The boys and girls hostels face each other across a large open area. Lots of play goes on in this space......although not with any toys that we could see. The kids hang out, run around, talk, and eat in this area. Large tarps were purchased in previous visits and these are laid on the ground and the kids sit cross legged and eat. There is unspoken order here. The kids seem to know just what to do and they do it with smiles. Some children we first met in 2008 and are now young adults and active members of the church. The evidence of the covenant is hard to miss; these are covenant children brought up in a covenant home and taught the Reformed faith. They speak openly about being brought to the faith and are eager to testify of God's love to them.
Liz VanDrunen and Emily Moelker, volunteers at Grace Foster Home, have totally immersed themselves in the life of this home. They were about halfway into their 3 month stay there and are obviously much loved by the children and staff. They teach, mentor, play, and learn....and they were a joy to watch as they served the children in so many ways.
We are thankful for this opportunity to serve again in India. We thank each of you for your support of this ministry, for your passion for the spread of the gospel, and for your continued prayers for the dear saints in India.