Lessons from India

My last few weeks in India were pretty busy and now I’ve been home in the UK for a week now so I feel like I should catch you up on a few things…

Let’s rewind to the 15th August- India independence day! Gnana Deepam had their sports day on independence day and my goodness, Indians do sports day well! This wasn’t just your average school sports day with sack races and three-legged races. I’m talking about various types of dances and human pyramids as well as all the traditional races! The kids practiced so hard for weeks before and the day itself was so lush!

Preparations for leaving India went well- I was wanting to hand over to the next volunteer well so that there was continuity for the kids so they continue to improve.

Also  after having quite a stressful time trying to get my exit permit (due to the very slow internet and having to travel to the local and state police station) I got it all sorted but I couldn’t believe it when the man at immigration didn’t even ask me for it!!

Saying goodbye to the girls and boys at the hostel was so hard. I’d spent so much time with the girls over the past 3 months and built great friendships with them. Knowing that I will probably not see them again and not really have any way of keeping in contact with them is hard.

My journey back to the UK was a smooth but long one, with a lot of waiting around in the airport. But this was such a great time to just sit and reflect on different things. As I sat there thinking, I was so overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness, guidance and protection during my time in India and it was such a special moment as I sat there in awe of our awesome God!

The first couple of days back home were very emotional- being reunited with friends and family but also because I missed India and the kids so much.

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Also, reverse culture shock is a real thing. The first moment was when I was on the plane and was flicking through the magazine- £345 for a small pot of moisturiser!! I actually made an audible sound of disgust! Another moment was when I was back home and I had to decide what to wear. In India I had a few tops and trousers- the choice of clothes that I have back home was just so overwhelming that I stood in front of my wardrobe and got a little teary because I really couldn’t decide- crazy I know! But as I’ve been home a week now it is so strange how quickly you adapt back and everything seems normal again. But India has definitely changed me. God has moulded me through so many ways whilst being in India to be more like Jesus.

Here’s a few of my lessons from India:

  • I need God every single day. I depend on him for my strength. When things are difficult he is the only one that can give me strength. I didn’t realise just how much I needed God until my first days in India. I have a comfortable life in England and I don’t need to depend on God as much because I am surrounded by friends and family, I know how the culture works and I am independent. But in India, I am reliant on others, so many things are new and different and I felt the distance. In the first few days of being in India I felt God so close and he answered me every single time I asked him for strength and comfort. God is so faithful.

“My help comes for the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”- Psalm 121:2

  • In the West we’re always rushing around and always thinking about the next thing and God can easily get pushed out. I felt like I was living for the future but the truth is, God is here and now. He’s wanting to talk to me and teach me things now. He has blessings for me now. I need to pause and acknowledge that. I need to stop and listen so much more and change my perspective.

 

  • I don’t need to struggle and try to solve my own problems. God wants me to trust him with these things. He wants to be the first port of call, not a last resort when I can’t fix things. I need to talk to God so much more and trust him so much more. He’s got a perfect track record- why am I not relying on Him 100%?

All these things I knew, but while I was in India they became a reality to me and I’m praying that I’ll continue to remember everything that God has taught me and apply it to my life.

Things I will not miss about India:

  • Having to keep my jar of Nutella in a bowl of water- the only way to keep those pesky ants away!
  • The chorus of frogs outside my bedroom whilst I was trying to sleep at night
  • The way my body reacted to the many mosquito bites

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But these things are totally tolerable but I really did love my time in India and I miss it. Yes it sounds cliché, but India really does have a piece of my heart and I can’t express how thankful I am to God for giving me this experience!

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So this is the close of the FirstServe chapter in my life. Honestly I can’t tell you how awesome it is to look back over these past months and see God’s leading and love in all of it! A massive shout out to everyone I’ve met this year whilst doing FirstServe- thank you for being part of it!

I know I’ve said this before but thank you so much for reading, praying, encouraging and supporting- I’ve been so blessed by so many people during this adventure!

Home alone, jackfruit & vowels

I’m into my final month in India, whaaaaaaaat?!?! I seriously can’t believe I only have less than 3 weeks left, how crazy is that?!

So I survived my week home alone in India while Simon, Sarah and the kids went on holiday. I’m pleased to report that myself, Rusty the chocolate lab and Sarah’s plants are all still alive!

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Recently I’ve been trying to teach the kids the vowel sounds. This is quite a challenge in itself- for some reason the “a” and “e” sounds gets easily mixed up. So after lots of repetition, patience, different learning exercises and making the letter sounds in the mirror to myself- I think we’re finally getting there! I’m now currently making resources and planning how to teach consonant blends at the beginning and end of the word- I have a feeling this also could be a challenge! But I really am loving it, if I can help them make just a little bit of progress with their reading then that’s so worth it! As I’m teaching I’m also learning new things. It’s amazing how I speak English as my first language but there are rules about the sounds and how words are formed and pronounced that I just hadn’t realised before but are just second nature to me. The children are learning but I’m also doing a big amount of learning on the job. New words learnt this week: phoneme (a letter’s sound) and synthesise (blending the sounds together).

After seeing these weird-looking fruits hanging on the trees and being sold at the roadside- they’re finally ready to be eaten! Jackfruit tastes and feels as weird as it looks! It’s so different to any other fruit but it’s really nice and quite addictive!

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As we’re approaching sports day everything is quite busy at school with all the events practices and dance rehearsals. Over the past week or so my classes have been a bit all over the place but that sums up life in India up pretty well actually- rarely things are straight forward, sometimes things take longer than expected, plans change frequently and you just have to go with the flow! I’ve recently been reading a book about “hot and cold cultures”.  In this book the writer talks about “hot cultures” (India) being more about the event itself rather than in “cold cultures” (UK) where what matters a lot to people is getting there on time. I’ve loved actually experiencing all these differences in culture and I feel very  blessed to have had the opportunity to see how life can work from a different angle.

I’m currently trying to tie up loose end before I leave India. I’m busy planning lessons, making resources and writing up report for the kids so that I can hand over my groups to the next volunteer well.  This week I re-did a test I did with the kids when I first came and their marks improved to pretty much full marks- I’m so happy and encouraged! I really hope that they’ll continue to learn loads after I’ve left because they’ve done so well in such a short space of time!

 

This week particularly I’ve been praying that God would help me make the most of each moment here, as I’m realising how quick time is going! I’ve really wanted to keep growing in my relationship with the girls at the hostel (I’m going to find it so hard to say goodbye to them all!) and through that God has challenged me to continually grow closer to him so I can become more like him and share his love with others.

“See what God sees, hear what God hears, and speak what God speaks so we can all love the way God loves.” – Translating God, Shawn Bolz

So over the next couple of weeks I’ve got quite a bit to do to prepare to leave and I have such a mix of emotions- I’m so grateful for this experience (the ups and downs!), I’m so sad to be leaving such a lovely group of people that have such a heart for the tribal people and their kids, I’m also sad to be leaving the girls as I’ve shared so much of my 3 months here with them. But I’m also very excited to go home and see all my friends and family and see what adventure God has for me next!

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Tea in Karumandorai
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The surrounding hills

I’d really appreciate prayer for:

  • All the thing I have to do before leaving (exit permits, handing over to the next volunteer etc)- that it will all go smoothly
  • The kids at school- they will see how much they’ve accomplished and be encouraged by that
  • The hostel kids- that they will continue to learn about our amazing God and grow closer to him!
  • Simon & Sarah- that God will continue to give them strength and wisdom in the busy and stressful times
  • For me- to make the most of every moment, to continue to depend on God and learn from him

Thanks for reading and thank you so much for your prayers!

Halfway through already?!?

Guys I can’t believe it! I’m half way through my time in India! These past 6 weeks have flown by and also it feels like it was ages ago that I arrived! Time is such a funny thing.  It’s a shame I haven’t been able to update my blog until now, but you don’t know the meaning of slow internet until you’ve experienced Indian internet! Sarah and I were joking the other day that when you’re in India you talk about the internet like the British talk about the weather!

So at the Bethesda Project Simon and Sarah have been looking after me. We’re in rural south India and it so important that the kids get an education, especially the  girls. Underage marriage is a problem in rural communities and education is a way out of that. It’s seen as a good reason not to get your daughter married if she is in education.

So I’m helping out at the English medium school here. I’m taking 5 groups of kids with special needs from standard 6-8 twice a week. During these lessons I’m helping them with their reading and going through what they’re doing in their English classes at a slower pace. At times it can be pretty tough trying to explain something to them when I have no Tamil and they have limited English so there’s lots of drawing, actions and facial expressions which the kids find amusing for some reason! I feel like it’s such a privilege for me to help these guys with their reading, if only for a short time, because it will help them in so many other areas of their school life and beyond. After only teaching these kids for 4 weeks they’ve already memorised most of the letter sounds and are picking up words quicker and quicker! It’s so encouraging seeing how happy they are when they realise how much they’ve achieved already!

There’s also a hostel on site where some students board during term time and others that are there full time and are in Simon and Sarah’s care. I have absolutely loved spending time at the girl’s hostel- all the girls are so precious! Most days I head over to the girl’s hostel to play games- football mostly (barefoot, much to Simon’s surprise!) and throwball (although I’m still trying to figure out the  rules for that one!) Each Saturday evening I lead the girl’s prayers and do the same for the boys on Tuesday evening. It’s a time when we sing, listen to a message from the Bible and also pray for each other. Sunday prayers are special because the girls dress up beautifully and perform dramas and dances- such a special time with them! They really enjoyed doing my hair and dressing me in a sari for a fashion show one evening!IMG_3350

I also read with the standard 3 & 4 girls some evenings a week which I think they must enjoy because I’m forever being asked “Sister, is it story today?”, “Sister, reading?” and “Sister, tell me story? ”.

 

When I first arrived it was mango season and I  became obsessed and was very happy that there were so many mango desserts being made! Now it’s banana season and it feels like there’s a never ending supply! So I’m getting through making lots of banana based recipes like banana loaf, banana muffins, banoffee pie (although here’s a top tip: No matter how much you whip UHT cream, it doesn’t thicken up at all. I learnt the hard way!)IMG_3271

Emily’s Indian wildlife report:
The past week or so has been an interesting one with regards to the animals that I’m finding in my cottage. Apart from the usual harmless geckos, I’ve had 2 rather big spiders wandering around, a mosquito that stayed up past it’s bed time and bit me to death during the early hours  of the morning, a  rude awakening to a bed full of ants and a snake on my windowsill  that I discovered while closing the curtains! IMG_3323

 

God continues to answer prayers big and small, he continues to teach me things about himself and provides everything I need. During the past couple of weeks during prayers we’ve been thinking about Psalm 139– such a great Psalm showing us how powerful God is, yet how much he cares for us! These verses have been on my heart recently and are so relevant right now!

“You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!”
-Psalm 139: 3-6

So over the next week or so, I’m really wanting to find ways of helping the kids to learn to blend consonant-vowel-consonant words and build-up their confidence with reading because I know it’s just a matter of time before it clicks for them!

I’m still can’t express how appreciative I am of your prayers and love!

Please pray:

  • For Kirsty- as she’s only got a week and a half left in Zambia! That she’ll enjoy her final days in Zambia and for a safe journey home!
  • For Simon & Sarah- for patience as they wait for permission for 11th standard
  • For the kids at school- that they will be encouraged in their reading and studies
  • For the hostel kids- that they will know just how much Jesus loves them
  • For me- that I will continue to rely upon God and trust in Him for everything instead of  trying to struggle by myself.

My Indian adventure begins!

I’m finally in India!! After lots of preparation, packing and travelling, I’m actually here!

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Although it did look a bit doubtful at one point- here’s the story I mentioned in an earlier post that I said I would expand on at a later date. I had already had a problematic time applying for my visa, then one afternoon  I got a Facebook message from a lady who was a complete stranger. She asked me if I had sent my passport into the Indian Embassy to get a visa because she had my passport and was wondering if I had her colleagues (which unfortunately I didn’t!) After messaging back and forth with this lady who was desperately trying to get her colleague’s passport back and a visa sorted because the trip was only a few days away, we realised that her visa had been put in my passport and sent back to her! At that point I thought that this was a sign that my trip to India wouldn’t go ahead. Thankfully my passport was returned to the embassy and I got my visa in my own passport, unfortunately this other lady’s trip had to be cancelled.

After a long journey and a bit of jetlag, I’ve arrived and have settled in. It took quite a few days to adjust and I did find it quite hard. I missed loved ones back home and because I don’t have too much internet access here, I really felt the distance between India and the UK –all 4,500 miles of it! There was so much to get used to culturally- Indian roads, eating with your right hand, the clothes you wear, how both genders interact. Some things are the opposite to British culture, for example, if you are invited to a wedding in India you have to say that you will definitely come even if you know that you definitely can’t because Indians like to hear the positives. To a British person that is completely the opposite, you would be offended if someone told you they could attend (knowing full well they couldn’t) and then never showing up. It’s differences like this that made me realise how much of a different place I am in, and for such a long time. This will be the longest I’ve been away from home. In these daunting and sad times I’ve relied on God so much, I’ve prayed for Him to give me strength in the hard moments and every time He’s supplied it. After being here for nearly two weeks, looking back to when I arrived, I’m grateful for those challenging moments, they gave me a good basis to my trip. It taught me in a very practical way how much I need God each day. In the comfort of home life, it’s easy to get busy and distracted with other things and not feel a need to depend on God as much. Even though it really has been hard, I’m glad that those distractions have been taken away because I’ve already experienced God’s presence in a new and real way!

I was given a lovely welcome by the girls at the hostel and I’ve loved getting to know them!

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Since being here I’ve been getting to know the families that live on the compound, playing and spending time with the girls and doing odd jobs around school with a couple of trips to Salem and a walk round one of the more tribal villages in the hills. As well as a fun afternoon of henna with the hostel girls!

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Here’s my time so far in India summarised in a few snaps!

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The bridge to school & the hostel

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A traditional rural village
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Samosas with Sarah in Salem 
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Lydia’s leaving assembly!

Coming up this week- an overnight trip to Chennai and few days in Ooty shadowing at Hebron School!

Prayer Points

  • For safe journeys this week
  • That I will continue to settle in and for my friendships with the kids to grow even more
  • That I’ll appreciate every moment here. In the whole of my life 3 months isn’t a long time- I want to learn as much as I can while I’m here in India!

All your supportive and encouraging messages and your prayers are appreciated beyond words, thank you so much!

Howay man!

After an early start and a slightly surreal journey to the airport due to the proper Geordie taxi driver singing a medley of Wurzels songs to me at 5:30am, once he discovered I was from Somerset, I arrived back home safely! My last two weeks at Newcastle have flown by and I can’t believe how fast this whole month has gone!

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As well as the usual stuff going on at Regent that I mentioned in my last post, I got the opportunity to sit in on a discipleship session with Andy and Claire (Regent’s full-time elder and his wife)  and another couple in the Church. We were looking at how we share our faith. We’ve been given instructions by God to share his love with others so that they can also know Him! It was a challenge to me because it’s easy as a Christian just to sit  back quietly and let opportunities to tell people about Jesus slip by!

“For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

-Romans 10:13 & 14

A practical way that Regent show God’s love is through CAP (Christians Against Poverty). They’ve recently launched a debt center and it was a privilege for me to go with Linda on her first ever visit to a client and observe how it all works!

Here’s a link to the CAP website if you wanted to find out more!

I’ve loved how it’s  worked out that Kirsty has been home for the last 3 weeks of my Newcastle trip- it’s been lovely to see her, especially when she brings a flask of tea and cheesecake for an evening picnic at the Quayside!

On Friday I got to experience Friday Frenzy which is a monthly event for kids in school years 3-7. The theme this month was Disney, which was right up my street!! After that was FX for school years 7-11 where they’ve been looking at different songs in the charts and seeing if the Bible has anything to say on the subject. I did the talk this week and used “Lay it all on me” by Rudimental & Ed Sheeran. It’s surprising how much a song can change if you shift the perspective of who is saying the words in the song- check out this song as if it’s God speaking to us!

On one of my days off I got to explore the breath-taking Hadrian’s Wall and the Roman Fort at Housesteads!- definitely recommend a visit if you’re in the north-east!

I’ve loved working my way through Kirsty’s list of cafes and restaurants to try in Newcastle and I’m going to put it out there, I’m going to say it- Cake Stories is my fave! Highly recommend the chocolate orange cake!

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On our last Wednesday, Andy and Claire took Joel and I on a whistle-stop tour of beautiful Northumberland which included 9 castles! I agree with Claire- Bamburgh Castle is my favourite too!

 

There’s so much more that I could say about how God has guided and blessed over this month, I still can’t quite believe it! I’d like to give a massive shout out to everyone at Regent Chapel who have looked after me over the past month, especially Anne, Andy & Claire, Rachel, Paul & Fiona and Ryan. The list could go on-I’ve felt so welcomed by everyone, learnt so much, grown and have really loved every moment (I know that sounds unrealistic and an exaggeration, but truly, I’ve loved it.)

Thank you so much for your continued support and prayers, can’t tell you how much I appreciate it! I can’t quite believe that I can now say that I’m going to India this month!

Please pray:

  • For Kirsty- that she’ll be kept safe as she travels to Zambia for 3 months tomorrow! That she will experience God’s presence with her as she goes on this massive adventure!
  • For Regent- That they will continue to be encouraged and blessed by God!
  • For me- As I start preparing for India, that I won’t get too stressed out or overwhelmed by all the things I have to do before hand!

Tennis, Falcons & Cleopas

This week certainly has been varied and jam-packed!

Wednesday morning was kicked off with Sunbeams (a parent & toddler group). I was supervising the craft table- thankfully lightning reflexes meant that there wasn’t a toddler PVA glue tasting session! Then, on the other end of the age spectrum, was the Wednesday Fellowship (a group for elderly ladies). Joel and I both shared our testimonies and each spoke about a Bible verse that had made an impact on our lives. In the evening it was the inaugural Women’s Homegroup at the new time- lots of laughter, cake and getting to know some really great ladies!

Thursday morning was Coffee Morning followed by Jam Club (primary school lunchtime club) where we thought about how God always keeps his promises! Later that evening I found out in a bizarre way  how useful Facebook can be… (more to follow on that story at a later date!)

On Friday morning we had the Child-minder drop in (similar to Sunbeams but a place where child-minders can bring the kids they are looking after to play with other children and meet other child-minders). In the evening was the FX Girl’s Night– we had decorated the back room at church with bunting, fairy lights, lamps, throws and cushions! We had snacks, cup cake decorating, jam jar decorating, nail varnish and games. I spoke to the girls about worrying- I shared this verse with them:

” Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”

-Philippians 4:6-7

It’s taken me a few years to grasp this, but I can honestly say that this verse is 100% true. As you talk with God more and more and share with Him what you are struggling with and worrying about, the peace that comes from that is just mind-blowing!

Thinking about it, Saturday consisted of sampling different food and drink establishments in Newcastle. Waffles for breakfast at Arlo, dinner at Byron and an amazing cup of Apple Strudel Rooibos tea at Quilliam Brothers- all of which I would recommend- and a spot of tennis in the afternoon!

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Sunday morning I helped out at Sunday School where we were acting out the story of the road to Emmaus, after Jesus had risen from the dead. When asked, the children had no hesitation when saying that I looked most like Cleopas (not sure what they were trying to say!) In the afternoon we went to Kingston Park to watch Newcastle Falcons v London Irish. Shouts of “don’t kick it Mickey!!” by frustrated Falcons fans were heard repeatedly throughout that game, even though he didn’t take a blind bit of notice! Despite this, they won 13-6!

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On Monday we took a trip up to Craster, walked along to Dunstanburgh Castle, drove to Alnwick and spent some time in Barter Books!

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Classic album cover pose!

I’m continuing to be incredibly blessed by God- I’m loving every moment and can’t wait to see what’s around the corner!

Please Pray:

  • Praise God that my visa for India has been confirmed!!
  • For the youth talk that I’m doing at FX on Friday evening
  • For continued blessing and learning!

Thank you!!