Visit to India (Ros' Blog)
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8.2)
I have just returned from 3 wonderful, eventful weeks in New Delhi. I was staying at a place I have long wanted to visit because it has moved me like no other community outreach; a home for young women (aged eighteen to twenty-two) rescued from traffickers. Their backgrounds are traumatic beyond anything we could imagine, and yet they are also a living testament to the healing power of God.
One evening these young ladies danced for me – they love to dance! They did a slow, very graphic and dark dance about trafficking and followed this with an exuberant dance about breaking the chains, and the freedom they now enjoy. Their faces radiated joy, and it was all the more poignant because on the wall above them was a wall-hanging bearing the words, “You have turned my wailing into dancing, you have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
I was asked to share my testimony with them, and an interpreter was brought in to help. The girls’ comments back to me through the interpreter showed that God was really speaking to them through my story of His faithfulness to me. Several of them either spoke to me or wrote to me afterwards to share more about how my words had helped them to see how God can be trusted.
Part of my testimony includes miracles of provision when I had to escape, with my youngest daughter, from marital abuse. Again and again God provided supernaturally – a place to live, money, gifts, even the use of a holiday house for a few days in the summer. When the ladies running the girls’ home heard my story, they asked me to tell it again to a group of women who have fled abusive marriages. These women are Hindus who have had very little exposure to the Good News of Jesus. They sat wide-eyed as I told them the many ways in which God had provided for me, and it was a tremendous privilege to be able to tell them that if they would put their faith in Jesus, He would provide for them.
As well as these two homes and the project with abused wives, the church I was visiting also runs two children’s homes, one for girls and one for boys all of whom are HIV positive. They have started two schools as well, and the children from the homes attend the schools. One of these schools is in the middle of a slum known as Bengali Basti. The children in this slum live in houses which are typically a few tree branches propped up with leaves draped over them for a covering, or if they are very fortunate, a piece of corrugated tin on top, and with pieces of fabric draped down the sides to form makeshift walls. The school in this slum consists of bamboo poles strung together with corrugated tin on top and around the sides. Pieces of carpet and linoleum line the floor and the children sit cross-legged and write in exercise books on their laps.
The other school is in a four-room apartment on the ground floor of an apartment block. Seventy children cram into these four rooms, children who would otherwise be spending their days darting in and out of the heavy traffic to beg from the drivers and rickshaw passengers. The kitchen, where a daily meal of dhal and rice for all seventy children is prepared, also doubles as the head teacher’s office. None of the teachers has had any formal teacher training, including the two head teachers (the church cannot afford to pay trained teachers) and yet they are preparing the children for India’s exam system, and giving them hope for a good future. When I took a lesson, first in one school and then the other, on creative writing, all the children I taught were able to do a written exercise very competently, and the braver ones wrote it in English. It’s quite remarkable the standards that are being achieved.
I was asked to assess 3 children who seemed to have learning disabilities, and advise on the best way to further their learning. Two of them appeared to have learned nothing at all in the year or two they had been in the school, and the other, although very bright and a quick learner, was clearly quite high on the autism spectrum. I was able to take a practical training session on autism with the teachers, and also a session on how to write Individual Education Plans with realistic, manageable targets, that could be used to further the education of these children with additional needs. I’m planning to go back in a year or so to see what progress they have made.
Unfortunately 8 days of my 3 weeks was spent in bed very ill with dengue fever. Yet even through the illness I was aware of ways that God was at work in me, and I came home changed for having had the experience.
The pastor’s son in this church has Down’s Syndrome and autism, and life is very hard for the pastor and his wife in a system where no disability benefits, no care, no respite and no education exists for children with disabilities (he is 28 and their church schools had not been started when he was a child). In all those years they have never had a break from their son, all day long every single day they are caring for him. But I was challenged and delighted to see how the church has embraced him, in a way that would put many British churches to shame. He is totally accepted and loved as a member of the church family, and even more importantly, his practical talents and spiritual gifts are recognised. He plays the drums in the worship band, usually just following the lead of the other musicians. But one Sunday when I was there he suddenly diverted from what the other musicians were doing and started playing a very different beat, and his father, in his sermon later, had a really powerful explanation of what God was saying to the church through that change of direction in the music. He often prays during the service, and if someone requests prayer he lays hands on them and prays for them. He is given complete freedom to exercise his gifts in this way, just like any other member of the church. Several people described him to me as “another pastor”.
This church also has a number of other community projects providing protection for children and employment for women. I came home really challenged to see how a small community of God’s people, who have so much less than we do, are giving so much more than most of us ever do, and making a difference to their city out of all proportion to the resources available to them.