Fjarli SDA Academy
Day 2 India
Tuesday, our first day at the compound, started with sort of a strange feeling. We had traveled all night and arrived just before dawn. Thus, as the rising of the sun caused our surroundings to lighten, we realized that we were already dressed, checked into our rooms, and about to partake of our first breakfast. We didn’t have to get up, shower, and get dressed, because we hadn’t been to bed (for a couple days). But here it was the dawn of a new day and the beginning of several days that we hoped would be heaven-blessed and very productive.
As we gathered in the dining hall for breakfast, (that's us waaay down at the end) the first order of the day was to thank God for a safe and wonderful journey to the mission site. The dynamic of being with a whole group of fun people, all enduring the long trip with great humor and camaraderie, caused the travel time to pass quite bearably. Andrew and Jim, working with Maranatha, had things planned out so well that everything, to date, had gone smoothly. All their planning aside, it is God that blesses and enables our plans, and for that, we joined Andrew’s prayer with our own hearty amens.
Breakfast was served to us in the large dining hall around 7:30 am. As we reached the buffet tables where the food was being served, we began by dipping our hands in mild iodine/water solution and drying them, to augment other forms of sterilization that each of us was personally responsible for. There are diseases down here that we are not immune to. Most are in the dust, others are spread by touching things that locals, who are immune to these diseases, have touched. Thus, before we eat, special hand cleaning was strongly recommended.
Someone said that going to India was a sure way to loose weight. —Maybe elsewhere, but not at this compound. Fresh watermelon, mandarins, apples and bananas were preceded by cooked oatmeal, scrambled eggs, rice, and some sauce that Vinish warned us would be a bit spicy. It looked ‘Indian,’ so I conservatively took a couple tablespoons to try. Not spicy. In fact, it was great over the scrambled eggs! They served an Indian bread that reminded me of Mexican sopas. Our group willingly ate the wonderful food we were offered. Pastor Tim’s ears perked up when they said that if we wanted the really spicy stuff, we’d have to go to the kitchen and eat the food of the locals. He did just that at some following meals.
Vinish, (Vinny) spent about an hour, going over all the things we needed to know to 'live' here successfully. Beggars, we were told, would be a problem, more in the shopping areas than in the villages. We were told to avoid giving any money to beggars or those wanting to charge to have their picture taken. . . no matter what! Previous volunteers had given money to beggars and within minutes, word got out and the person was surrounded with beggars looking for a handout from this ‘rich’ person. (The lighter the skin color, the richer they perceive us to be.) In fact, from a previous group, local Maranatha staff had to rescue a donor who was being pressed in so tight that he was actually being lifted off his feet. DON’T GIVE MONEY TO BEGGARS, we were reminded again.
The local staff of around 25 was introduced to us, then we broke into groups based on our work choices. I headed out to scout out the internet access possibilities so I could post my daily reports. Once the local staff got the internet working, it turned out to be a reasonably fast connection, much faster than the dialup we had been told about. But there was still a problem. The compound is powered by local electrical service. . . most of the time. Local power is unreliable, thus, the compound has a generator that they start up when the electricity is off for any length of time. That turns the lights back on, the fans and A/C’s back on, even the internet modem, but the modem is hooked into a computer to distribute internet signal to networked sites on campus. When the power goes down, the battery backup on the computer often doesn't last as long as the power is out, and the computer goes off. They put a new battery backup on the computer and improved its reliability.
The medical team worked on organizing and putting supplies away in the clinic during the morning and getting it ready to give entry exams for the 30 new children that arrived on March 10th to enter the new school on the compound. I hear different numbers from various sources, but I think their enrollment is currently maxing their current number of beds at around 200 students between the ages of 8 and 12. —More on the school later.
The construction team visited a church site that already has a foundation and framework completed to do some work and survey tomorrow’s tasks. The VBS team, mostly the Slaytons, worked on getting their materials and programs organized.
The Shopping Trip to Ongole
After lunch, the women headed to town in two full vehicles to buy clothes for the 30 new students. The students are supplied smart-looking, navy blue uniforms with white blouses or shirts and neckties. But all they arrive at school with are the clothes on their backs, thus Maranatha donations purchased play clothes, underwear, pajamas and basic footwear for each of them.
While 2-3 woman busied themselves with the task, the rest of us experienced multiple beggars, watched as their pull-out-don’t-look driving produced a minor accident, and were amazed at the confusion as the streets of Ongole flowed with lots of 3-wheel yellow taxis in search of fares, large construction and delivery trucks, a couple fire-truck size ambulances, vehicles who sounded their horns as often as they put on their brakes (why don’t they just hook the two together and save some effort??), lots of motorcycles, a couple ox-drawn farm carts, bicycles, cows, goats, pedestrians who seem to be horn-deaf, street vendors selling wares on the sides of the road, and kids recently out of school running everywhere.
I noticed that ambulances get no more respect than any other vehicle. In fact, it was hard to see that anybody gets much respect, unless you are buying something from a vendor.
The streets and paved allies were lined with thousands of small shops. There are areas whose architecture seems to indicate there may have been a more prosperous time for the city. Ongole, as it turns out, is a pretty large city. But I didn’t find any time-saving stores like K-Mart, Wal-Mart or Target. It was mostly small specialty shops that opened to the street, with the shop owner often living in the 1-2 stories above the shop. We were glad we had local people to direct us to the best-priced shops for the clothing we needed or we would have been lost in and amongst this city full of small shops.
We were asked to avoid wearing shorts, and asked if we would dress in local dresses for the evening meetings. So the women’s other task of the day was to buy one or more of the beautiful local Indian outfits. We were taken to a small shop facing a paved ally, which wasn’t large enough to serve all of us. So they took us around a corner, to a still smaller ally where we entered a room where they kept a large stock of dresses and more room to serve the approx. 15 women and girls. Probably 3/4 of us were able to find dresses, which they hemmed and stitched in the pre-made sleeves while we waited. Kids gathered around our cameras, wanting pictures taken. They love the digital cameras that provide instant pictures that they can see.
Finally, we packed our bags of purchases into the previously full vehicles, placing them under foot, between the front seats and on laps and headed out for the hour drive back to the compound.
Visiting the Villagers
After lunch, with some discomfort at the thought, the men went out in 2-man teams to go door-to-door visiting villagers, have prayer with them, and invite them to the evening meetings. The people were amazingly open and receptive to being prayed for, often inviting the men into their homes.
Once the guys were settled, Torry Slayton did a small VBS in the village, with kids clamoring for bookmarks, hand stamps and the Desire of Ages in their language. The Indian kids are very cute and can steal your heart.
After coming back to the mission and sitting around with no women in site, the guys decided to go visit another village. My report came from Keith and Andrew and they were very ‘high’ on their afternoon’s activities.
Preparing for the Evening Meeting
The women finally returned after their long afternoon of shopping. I, personally, slept most of the way home, so I was too groggy to notice when we actually got back. We were still working on that first day that started without any effort on our part. During lunch, most had taken showers and put on clean clothes for the first time in a couple days. I hadn’t, opting for a sponge bath, as I was running around trying to get the internet working so I could post yesterday’s report. So I decided to stay home that evening. After making up Keith’s and my 30” bunks, I made the mistake of laying down on mine to see just how good it felt to lay down on a real bed. I was out like a light and slept almost until the group returned from the meeting. That was a mistake. ‘Couldn’t get back to sleep.
When Keith got back, he was pretty excited about the evangelistic meeting. The meeting was scheduled for 7 pm, although we had been warned that people wouldn’t start arriving until 8:30 or so. Our group arrived around 8:30 pm and no one was there. We had been told of great numbers attending these outdoor meetings, thus they were a little disappointed. Vinny, our local Maranatha liaison, did not seem a bit worried, and he was right. Sure enough, pretty soon large trucks started rolling up filled with hundreds of people. Keith and Andrew estimated between 900-1000 in attendance. The meetings were started before our arrival in India. Unlike US evangelistic meetings that tend to dwindle in numbers are they go along, Indian meetings swell in numbers as they go along.
Michelle gave the health talk, Torry told a story for the kids, they prayed, and then the preaching began. The conference president was doing the preaching. It was largely lost on our group because it was in the local language, plus sitting down after this long day was all that was needed to see heads nod and eyes close—and I don’t think they were praying. Because the preaching typically lasts until around 11 pm, it had been pre-determined that our group wouldn’t stay for the preaching.
I am planning to go for the next meeting, thus I can give you a better description of the local public ‘amphitheater’ in which the meetings are being held. Actually Keith said that it was pretty much a dusty vacant lot with big rows of lights around the perimeter that drew bugs something awful. The bugs buzzing around him were the only things that disturbed Keith’s sleep once they sat down, he said.
Within a rather short time after returning from the meeting, the mission compound fell silent, as the long first day drew to a close, and the Grass Valley team experienced prone sleep for the first time in about 3 days. Amazing how the simple things in life can become so desirable when you have to go without them for a time.
May God continue to bless the efforts of this good-natured, committed team of volunteers.