By Ann Harper
My desire to travel to India started 20 years ago when I first started hearing the stories and seeing the fruit of this ministry. But the sights, sounds, and smells I experienced in India were something the travelers could never fully capture in their stories; they needed to be experienced upfront and in person to be fully experienced at all. Throughout the trip I felt a vivid contrast between the portrait that my senses were painting and the void inside when I realized my daughter Natalie would never have this experience here on earth. Yes, it kind of took my breath away.
As the plane dropped out of the clouds my eyes met a dimly lit sky lighted by street fires and the occasional string of lights. Pune did not seem like a big city with over 6.7 million people and a density of 15,000 people per square mile (3 times the density of Rochester and 3.4 times the area – 127.9 square miles compared to 37.14). Picture this: for every person you see as you go through your day in America, add two more. Change all the cars you see into motorbikes and again multiply by three. Take out all the stop signs and most of the stop lights, add cows, and goats, and horses, and dogs, lots of dogs. Now turn off most of the street lights and add fires along the sidewalks. Now it’s beginning to feel a little like the Pune I remember. Then bring the temperature up to 70-80 degrees and line the streets with vendor carts and huts of commerce.
What we notice about the streets is that they are almost void of women, at night especially. You do see whole families or couples but NO women alone. When you do see a woman she is often adorned from head to toe with jewelry and fine clothes. Even the maid that was cooking, cleaning, and feeding the dog was beautifully dressed. I needed to get a picture of that! Well, the picture is in my mind.
So where are all the women? Sadly there are many fewer women than men statistically, because the cultural preference for boy children leads many to choose selective abortions. Also the customs are different and women mostly stay at home. Finally, the reality is that in many places it is just not safe to be alone as a woman.
As the female population dwindles I pray the boys and now men see the preciousness of their moms, wives, sisters, cousins, and friends and the importance of women to their own lives and society as a whole.
For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:14
My first Sunday in India I heard the worship music at the early service and just had to go and join. As I started listening to the pastor speak, his message was on God’s plan for 2019. It struck me that every year in the past I’ve made meticulous plans, but this year I don’t have a plan yet. I had decided to come on this trip but hadn’t plan beyond that. The thought brought me to tears. Why was I here, what is my purpose, what is God’s plan and purpose?
I knew that Natalie had always wanted to come to the Girls Home, and that pushed me past any fear or hesitation. As the days rolled by on my trip I could see how all my adventures in this life had prepared me for the tasks at hand. India is a land of dust and wonder with a people beautiful and needy for the truth of God’s Word. The wisdom and power of the Gospel needs to set this people free from their sin and idolatry. I was blessed to have opportunities to share with the saints and others God’s testimony of forgiveness in my life.
It was a blessing to capture the smiles, laughter, and even a few tears on film. It was good to gather and train local college students to help in the pharmacy filling over 1400 scripts for antibiotics to fungicides. It was wonderful to see a diverse team of travelers, college students, ministry students, and local pastors and doctors really pull together, constantly changing roles to fill holes and meet needs.
Apart from the formal activities, a few others and myself snuck away to the Girls Home to see their smiling faces. I was blessed to listen to their angelic voices as the girls prepared to sing at Sunday service. They taught me the song, which was not in English. I know I was singing “God is good”. The rest of it I am sure Glorified the LORD too.
The ninety Hindi words I had learned came in handy to thank the large number of people that helped and served me and the team from America. There is so much more to learn. My favorite language is the one that only God understands, the one I used during rooftop prayer early in the morning.
When it came time to say goodbye, it just didn’t seem right to leave. The girls asked us to stay. Interestingly, while preparing to come on this trip I had been having this recurring dream where the team leaves and I stay. It struck me when I arrived and noticed that the headboard on the bed I was to sleep in was very similar to the one in the dream! Well, we will just have to see what God does.
It seemed everyone was ready to go home by Sunday and we still had 3 more days and 25 hours of traveling in front of us. I was fine with staying, but others convinced me I might not be totally ready to stay just yet.
I do know that home is no longer here in Rochester for me. I hear “welcome home” and it just isn’t the same. It hasn’t been the same since Natalie truly “went home”. I wonder, what does it mean that I felt completely at home in India?