I don’t know where to begin.
It has been almost two months since I’ve been home from India. I have reread journal entries and reminisced about all that I was able to experience. Let’s just say, I wasn’t expecting to get as sick as I did.
Allow me to start there.
Two days before the trip I began coughing. A lot. It was a Wednesday night and I felt exhausted for absolutely no reason at all. After youth group, Ben and I ran some errands which he then proposed. It was the best moment of my life, but I will admit, I was feeling tired and . The next day the coughing got worse and I was beginning to think I was never going to get better. You would think I’d take a quick trip to the Doc but instead I filled my time preparing. I was pumped for God to use me. My prayers and writing are full of open and willingness for whatever God has in store for my life.
We board Qatar Airlines where I immediately felt like we stepped into the middle east. We were still on American soil but I was the minority sitting in this plane. At this point, I could careless that I was coughing and blowing my nose every five seconds. Our plane took off and that was goodbye to all familiarity for the next two weeks.
Twenty something hours later, we land in India. I walk out with Indian people surrounding the exit of the tiny airport which sits on military ground. They stare at us, they can’t help it. We just went through a pretty rough winter so we are pastier than we should be, right? I took off my sweater, wrapped it around my waist and just smiled. It was hot, but I loved it. I didn’t know what anyone was saying around me, but I loved it. I barely had any sleep, but I was wide awake. We waited for about a half an hour for Pastor Sam to pick us up, but I didn’t mind standing around after sitting for so long. I was soaking it all in. I looked up at Ben, “ This is awesome. I can’t wait to get going!” I felt like I stepped out of my comfortable dream world of materials and entered the real world. Reality that majority of the world lives in. Nothing around me made me feel comfortable, I mean how would it with so many foreign eyes on you! But these people that I know nothing about, that sit and beg for money, that bow down to statues, that live in squalor, Jesus died for them too. I don’t know them, but I was falling in love with these people. I had no idea that was even possible.
Pastor Sam Sharma and Gagi (our driver) walk up to us with huge smiles. This was the beginning of the humbling welcomes we received from everywhere we went. They placed a necklace made of flowers on each of us and we were on our way.
The journey began. Cars and trucks coming at us, Gagi dodging left and right. I soon realized there was no system of how they drive here. They just go and work around whatever is in their way. My eyes were huge, I’m not used to all the people and crazy driving! I wasn’t scared though, because Gagi is the best driver in India!! His confidence on the road allowed me to sit back and continue to soak in all that was around me. The poverty was the number one thing I felt overwhelmed me the most. Little kids running around covered in dirt. Shacks with mainly only a hard bed to sleep on is a home to majority of people that live there. Everyone being outside, because that is the way of life there. The air full of dirt and pollution, made it hard to breath… It was all new to me.
Although we got a taste of overcrowded cities and towns, we spent majority of our time in the mountains visiting tribal villages. I am honored to have been, as well as my group, the first Americans to visit one village. We took a short hike where we were greeted by little Mongolian looking people. They were so excited to have us. They held a service and pinned ribbons to us that made me feel like I was celebrity status. The whole time I am thinking to myself, What in the world did I do to deserve this kind of treatment? They don’t know me! I could be a terrible person! They had absolutely no judgement of who we are other than the fact that we traveled a long way and we both serve the ONE true God. Which is a big deal in India being that the Hindu religion has thousands and thousands of gods that their people worship. This church was the first one that my teammates and I were able to share with. Pastor Steve and Craig were the main speakers for majority of the places we went, but this time we were challenged to get up there. To stand before a group of people I don’t know who live in a totally different culture than I and to share a Bible verse that has meant and gotten me through so much almost brought me to tears. Galatians 5:1. Stand firm, no matter what comes your way. Have faith, when you feel alone or mocked. I shared my heart with them, admitting that I don’t have it altogether. I’m always learning, but that is the wonderful thing about who God is. He takes the broken and He molds them into something beautiful.
As much as I want to share every moment with the world, I am going to spare you and pick the moments where I knew God was at work and changing the way I think. Let me share this next experience with you: The Orange Tulip, a hotel we stayed at that overlooked the Himalayan Mountains. Unfortunately, the time that we spent there was foggy and we barely made out one mountain peak! We spent five hours in the car on bumpy, winding roads. To top off my sickness already, I was beginning to get nauseous from the drive alone. We pulled up to the hotel and were greeted again by little smiling people. One of the men knew some English and walked up to me saying, “We are believers too!” They were so proud of it and wanted us to know it. I wanted to give him a big hug. They fed us well. My favorite meals were made by their hands. The night we stayed there I had a hard time sleeping. I ended up waking up earlier than I ever would but I am so glad I did. The rest of my team was fast asleep so I got up and dressed for the day. I sat on the balcony looking at the mountains, listening to the life and writing in my prayer journal. You can hear in the distance the sound of monkeys (we saw a lot of those guys). Pastor Sam was up and saw me, “Come Rachel and have tea.” I followed him to the kitchen, which was a little shack outside. Inside were about four little Indian people. They motioned me to sit by the stove, which was in the ground. I sat on a little stump, getting warm by the fire. Next to me I heard little peeps, there was a box full of chicks. Welp, There’s my dinner...I will tell you this though…They served me the best tea I have EVER had in my life. That is not an exaggeration. It was natural and wonderful and full of ginger. Pastor Sam told them I wasn’t feeling well and they tried to help with their wonderful tea and It did. It warmed my throat right up. As I was taking it all in, they were all chattering among themselves in their language. The man that spoke some English was asking me about the United States. It was fun communicating with him. An older woman who was extremely tiny kept looking at me and said something to Pastor Sam. He then translated for me. He told her that I was interested in learning more about the human trafficking in the area. They were so kind to me. She told him, “She is a darling with beautiful hair!” Pastor Sam told me that he sees that my heart is soft and that I notice things most people often overlook. This moment God used people so different to encourage me. They are my brothers and sisters that I may never see on this earth again, but when we drove away and waved goodbye, I knew I would see them in Heaven. I can’t describe what that feels like, but just know it feels good. Real good! I pray for their business that God will bless their family and they will thrive!
What moment made me cry? I remember all too well. We went to another mountain village where we went into a Pastor’s restaurant to have a church service. The room filled and we were able to experience a more intimate way of worshiping God. As the people were singing in their language the power went out. We sat in the dark listening to these voices we didn’t understand but who so desperately loved the Lord.These people are content being in a stuffed room, no electricity, no program, no worship band. Just the Pastor with a guitar and their voices to sing. It was beautiful. After the service, we were able to talk with Pastor Isaac. He knew English well which was a wonderful thing not to have to go through translation. Perhaps that is what made this moment special for me. I was able to hear the words and understand what he was saying instead of it going through someone else. I heard him express his needs with tears in his eyes. Pastor Sam is a good friend of Isaac and told us to pray for his strength. He leaves his family often to travel by foot into unreachable villages that are high up the mountains. The journey is rough for him but he continues to travel because He believes the Bible to be true and loves the God that saved Him. You see, his family all believe, but they get mocked by the Buddhists in their village. It isn’t easy for them to say they are Christian, but they aren’t ashamed and continue to spread the gospel. As he is talking, I am finding tears in my own eyes because I wonder how far I would go for Jesus? Would I leave my family to travel regularly and dangerously only to reach out to the unreachable? Would I still “experience” God without all the fancy music and big events my church puts on? This church is proof that you don’t need a big building, you don’t even need electricity to have an experience with God. We get so caught up in the exterior that we neglect the interior. It isn’t what we look like, how nice we dress or how often we work out…but our hearts need the makeover. Are Sunday mornings more about being social and showing off our fake perfection and less time of being authentic and listening to what God wants for us, praising Him regardless of the “program?”
Let me take you out of the mountains and now into the dirty cities. It was another long travel day. We arrived to a hotel in a dirty city. Sewage open and ready for all to smell. I couldn’t breathe and anytime I went outside, I’d cough and cough…and cough. That night we took a walk around, there was a temple right next to our hotel. A long rope hanging down where you would pull that and it would “wake up” the gods. Watching people bow down to a man made object was weird. We kept walking and I saw two little girls sitting. They were covered in dirt and raggedy clothes. I went and bought a few bag of chips and a huge bottle of water (that is all they sell on the streets.) I walked up to them (they were probably 4 and 6), knelt down and asked if they were hungry. Obviously they didn’t speak English, their eyes were filled with emptiness. A child should have nothing but pure innocence in their eyes, but that wasn’t what I saw at all. My heart broke. It took everything in me to walk away. I didn’t want to. They took the food I gave them, walked away and began to eat it. There wasn’t an ounce of joy.
I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling uneasy. There was a presence in the room that felt evil. Satan didn’t want us there. It was obvious. I prayed until I fell asleep. The next few days I felt worse and worse. I woke up again in the middle of the night, this time with the most painful sore throat I have ever had. So painful that I took all the energy I could find to go look in the mirror. I opened wide and saw nasty white stuff all over my extremely swollen tonsils. I about flipped. I haven’t had anything this bad before. I woke up Stephanie and we went next door to Craig and Ben’s room. We rang their bell (the hotels in India have loud doorbells). It was about 3am. Craig comes to the door and I tell him straight up, “Something isn’t right.” We then call my Aunt with his Indian phone. She is a doctor and I figured she would be able to diagnose me. I explained to her everything I had and she told me I probably have strep throat and to buy amoxicillin, so the next day that is what we did. I wasn’t feeling better. I popped ibuprofen like it was nobody’s business! Every day was a struggle. I dreaded nights because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Numerous times I found myself on the bathroom floor, crying and praying. There was a time when we were in Kolkata and we finally felt familiarity by hanging out at a new mall. It was clean, cold and they had Pizza Hut! I wasn’t eating much because I couldn’t swallow, so I was praying I’d be able to eat at least some pizza. We ordered milk shakes (or something, they don’t use cows milk). It felt so good on my burning throat. But it wasn’t satisfying my hunger. The food came, but I got nauseous from the smell. I tried to take a bit but couldn’t swallow. The tears came down. I asked Craig if I could see his phone again. I walked out and sat in the middle of this Indian mall, tears falling down my face with dark Indian people staring at me. As if being white and blonde wasn’t bad enough…My aunt answered the phone. I could barely get the words out because I couldn’t stop crying. Finally, ” I am in so much pain. I can’t breath, I can’t swallow, I can’t eat! I have a fever, I feel like I am going to pass out!” She calmed me down and told me I needed to see a doctor. Uhm….I was very skeptical of that. If their hospitals looked anything like everywhere else we’ve been, then I’d pass on that. Ben brought me back to the hotel so I could lay down. I asked if He could read the Bible to me. I couldn’t do it, my head was spinning. As I laid there, I listened to what He was saying. He prayed for me too. We put a cold rag on my head because I was burning up. The rest of the team came in and asked how I was doing. They told me they were praying for me. When they all went away and Stephanie fell asleep I went into the bathroom and cried again. Lord why am I here? I feel so useless. I don’t even have enough energy to hold a conversation. I prayed for months before this trip asking God to use me in anyway He wanted, but here I am sitting on a nasty floor in India, with lizards crawling around the walls, crying because I feel so useless! I felt defeated.
God has a plan. He always has a plan. We hopped on a plane for an hour where we met Pastor Sianni. We went to Orissa, south of where we had been for majority of the trip. It was hot and humid and the dirt was red. There were HUGE oxen. Nothing I’ve ever seen before. The car ride was 6 hours long. I thought the mountain roads were bad, but this trip was exhausting with relentless bumps in the road. I thought I was going to get whiplash! I could feel myself getting irritated and cranky. Suddenly, we arrived to the Orphanage. Lined up were all the children, waving with huge smiles on their faces. They were all holding beautiful flower necklaces they had made for us. Ben turned to me and said, “Alright Rachel, get it together.” I felt miserable but all irritation went away when I saw those orphans. Immediately I knew everything I was going through was totally worth it. I shook all their hands and they all greeted me. Everything about this orphanage felt right. What Pastor Sianni is doing for his community, his people, is a HUGE blessing.
I missed out on playing with the children, but as I sat inside resting my body from all the travel, two little boys kept me company. They didn’t know English very well but they did know this, “Sister Rachel!” They said that often to get my attention. It was wonderful. Pastor Sianni’s wife told me every day we were there she was praying for me to feel better. She would give me lots of tea and cough drops. One night she brought me outside, I had me sit down next to hot coals where she put a rag on the coals and then placed it on my throat. When she was done, she rubbed vicks on my throat. Their love and serving hearts I will never forget. Even the orphan kids would come up to me telling me they were praying for me.
We were only at the orphanage for four days. But they have all left an imprint on my heart. On the flight home, I was beginning to feel a little better. It was a long flight, but I was able to think and process all that I just experienced. What now? As my mind is drifting here and there, I began to itch. Real bad. “Ben, I can’t stop scratching.” I lift up the back of my shirt and I saw his eyes get huge. I was having an allergic reaction. My body was covered in hives. We called the flight attendant over and they brought me to the back. I was surrounded by very worried flight attendants. They asked if there were any doctors on the flight because they had no idea what to do. Thankfully, and not by coincidence at all, there were a handful of doctors coming home from their own medical missions trip to Ethiopia. A few of them came back to where we were and began asking me questions and trying to figure out what it could be. One gave me a pill in hopes that it would reduce the swelling. It didn’t do anything, but I thank God for those people. They were kind and reassuring. Throughout the last 8 hours of the flight they periodically checked on me as well as the flight attendants. It was getting worse and spreading fast. I tried to go to the bathroom to see what I looked like but there was a line at every door. Before I knew it I was told to sit down as we were getting prepared to land. When we were getting off the flight attendant was trying to convince me to go to the paramedics that they had ready to call. I declined. At this point, I wanted to be home. Finally, I used the bathroom in the airport and realized why everyone was looking at me. I let out a little scream. I was covered in red rash and hives. From the tip of head to the ends of my toes.
We went straight to the Emergency room at Lakeland Hospital as soon as we got back to Calvary. The nurses and doctor were impressed that I traveled and did all that I did since they did a blood test and found that I had mono. I am going to take a moment to brag about Ben. He went above and beyond for me. He was with me through all the coughs, tears, nose blowing and complaining. He saw the worst of me as a newly engaged couple. He is realizing fast that marrying me means he will never have a dull moment. Story of my life…nothing is an easy breeze. My Heavenly Father is constantly teaching, shaping, molding me. I’ve been made stronger through this whole experience. Part of me feels honored that I’ve had to go through difficult times such as these because God must know I can handle it.
So what did I learn? My pride has been shattered. I was caught up in wanting God to use me so that I could love people and do something for the God I believe in. I know the Bible calls us all to share the gospel and I wanted to experience that in a different way. This trip I felt useless, but through that others were able to show me what it means to serve. I can get so lost in talking and socializing with my mind constantly going, that I miss the moments like the ones I shared with you. I didn’t have the energy but I was able to take the backseat and observe all that God is doing in India and even what He is doing in my teammates. I was able to watch Ben interact with the people, and to watch Him lead and learn for himself. I am so thankful for that. God is alive and well. With Easter just yesterday, I can honestly tell you, He is alive and He is at work. Here and all over the world. If you take a sit and put the I phone down and actually look and seek Him, You will see all that He is doing. That is what I learned on this trip. There is a time for everything. He has a plan, He sees what You can not see. There is no reason to worry, because He loves you more than you can ever imagine.