Saturday, June 30, 2007

Out of India...

This is the update that I e-mailed out to close friends and family. I've added a few pictures, to it, and I apologize for the length!
Calcutta is one insane city. It's the most extreme urban poverty that I've never laid eyes on before, even in comparison to Africa. It's so explicit: whole families living on the streets, you're literally stepping over them when you walk down the sidewalk. There are NO road rules, so we took our lives into our hands everytime we got into a car! The horns never stop, it's polluted, noisy, dirty, busy, crowded and teeming with life...and death. There are even crows sqwawking all over the place, circling around carcusses. Not quite the exotic birds I'd anticipated! The heat is immense...the heavy kind that just sits on you like a big thick blanket that you can't shake off.

Hinduism is everywhere and in everything...they're ruled by it completely. It's interesting because Karma dictates life, and the belief is that people are reincarnated according to the decisions of the Gods. Therefore, one would never help a beggar, because that would interfere with divine Karma. Consquently, the contrast here is that In other countries of poverty, there's a realization that it's a negative thing, and the end goal is for the poverty to be eradicated ( e.g. Zambia). In India, it's perfectly acceptable and actually embraced, because it's the circle of life; people's destiny, and that's the way it's supposed to be. Therefore, because it's not a shameful thing, it's extremely graphic, and there's not much being done about it at all.

The curse of death on the city (Kolkata = city of death) is very evident in everything. Even the animals lie around dead and uncared for. Walking around it on the first day, observing as an outsider, was totally overwhelming. We saw some horrific sights....I saw a child tied to a rope on the edge of the street all alone, he was naked and looked about 2. Jo saw a little boy in a dark corner of the train station, lying dead as the world rushed by. People are hollow when you look into their eyes. There's a spirit of hopelessness. "At the well" centre is a bright light in the darkness. The first time I went in it was full of these the train station kids (who all looked like mowgli!) and it was incredible to see them in a safe place, allowed to be kids. As Monique Shaw walks through the red light area, all the womens faces light up and she greets each one. It's been amazing spending time with them. One day I got to go around with one of the Indian workers, Meena, to invite the ladies to the church service. We spent time with one wonderful lady, Kajul. We had to wait for a bit because a customer was in there, and when we went in she was cleaning herself off with dettol to get rid of the sweat and germs of the man....what a life. These ladies are so brave, so strong.

We went into the Kali Temple on the last day. It's about 50 metres down the street from the centre where we worked and is the most famous Hindu temple in the world, attracting thousands of visitors from all over the place. Kali is the goddess of death and destruction, and therefore, because she's so bloodthirsty, they sacrifice 16 goats every morning to her. When I walked over to the altar, I could see hooves lying around on the floor, and pools of blood. I watched a man put his head into the part where the goats head goes to be chopped. He stayed in that position meditating on the thought that the goat had paid the sacrifice for his sin, and I just wanted to pull him up and tell him that someone had paid his sacrifice in full, but it wasn't the goat, it was Jesus Christ! I went into the "inner chamber" very briefly, where the manifestation of the goddess Kali is, (a big stone with 3 eyes surrounded by a ring of fire) but found it too oppressive so didn't stay. In my few moments in there though, I felt such anger at Satan, because I looked around at all these people fervently worshipping the goddess, and saw how he has stolen their souls and their hearts, and how they are trapped in total bondage to him. It made me so so angry.....

The painting in the brothels was interesting. We were supposed to paint 2 rooms, and these two rooms were chosen because the ladies living in them have recently becoming Christians and have agreed to holding a weekly bible study in their room! The first one turned out beautifully, bright yellow with all kinds of flowers, and a vine archway over the door. We wanted the painting to bear a message, of new life and growth and nurturing and watering, because that's what happens in a garden, and that's what happens in bible study! I wanted the vine around the doorway because it reminded me of a wedding arch, and how Jamuna (the lady) is now the bride of Christ, betrothed to him and belonging only to him, no matter which men come through that door. (she has stopped prostituting right now and is looking for another income). We also had the first cell group/prayer and worship time in the room while we were there, with a bunch of the ladies from that brothel which was really exciting!

The second room we painted (actually I wasn't involved in the second one, by that time I'd realized I needed to focus on the train station kids which I'll talk about in a bit!)...anyway, the second room painting was harder. They painted and felt very very heavy that whole day in there. There were some Hindu Idols in the corner of this lady's room, and they talked with her about giving your whole heart to Jesus and not dividing it between him and the Idols, and how he needs a surrendered life in order to work in you and transform you etc.. She listened hard, seemed to understand, and even promised to come to our church service the next day. She didn't come, and when they went back to her house, all the paint had been scraped off the walls. It was really sad, and we think that her husband had a lot to do with it, since he doesn't like the fact that she's become a Christian AT ALL. the Howrah train station kids. These children broke my heart and made it very hard to leave! Some are orphaned and many have run away from home because of terrible abuse. They end up at the train station because they can collect plastic bottles from the trains to sell for a few rupees. They sniff glue/white out/solvents all the time to numb the pain and curb their appetites because they don't have money for food. The police (who are supposed to be the authority) beat them constantly and often throw them into jail for periods of time (especially when somebody important is arriving by train to Calcutta, so that it looks cleaner without the kids there). These kids are completely on their own, completely independent, very much 'them against the world.' Perhaps the saddest moment of the whole trip for me was when I asked Stewart (the missionary we were with) why one of the boys was missing an arm and a leg. He told me that he'd been run over by a train, and how this was a frequent occurance. Sometimes at night, when they're high, the kids just fall asleep on the tracks, and when the trains come, despite going slowly pulling into the station and clearly seeing the children lying on the tracks, they will RUN OVER THEM without a second thought. In that moment I realized the horriffic truth; that literally nobody cares about these children. They are worth NOTHING in this society. In a country where you get stoned to death on the street if you hit a cow, street children are purposely run over by trains and nobody blinks about it. It's such a terrifying paradox...

Whenever I was at the train station with these children, it felt like they were literally invisible to everyone. It seemed as though the thousands of people rushing by (its the busiest train station in the world) could not physically see them. I was so aware though, that Jesus could see them, and more than that, that he was WITH them. It's hard though, because the first day we were down there, Stewart asked me to pray for a group of kids, and I really really didn't know how to. I felt like my prayer was just an unrealistic wish list that would never come true, because the situation seemed so utterly hopeless. I still struggle with feeling that, but in our theme verse, Isaiah 61,1-3, it talks of putting on a garment of praise over a spirit of despair. I'm beginning to realize that God actually commands us to praise him instead of despairing, and how we need to obey him and do that. To praise God isn't a feeling when things are good, its somehow standing in the depths of 'despair' and being able to praise him for who he is in the midst of it. It's hard! Even the sadness though, must be just a fraction of what Jesus feels when he sees these children and all the people in darkness. I can't even IMAGINE the pain in his heart. Every Thursday we took the kids back to the centre. It (called "At the well") It was really powerful to see these WILD children (who all look like mowgli from the jungle book) tamed by the sight of a puppet, or by a task as simple as a colouring sheet. Because they've never been in school, such simple stimulation is so enthralling, and the love they're receiving allows them to be in a safe place for a few hours a week. (They're currently buying a centre for these kids, and they'll take some of them to live there, go through rehab, and learn a trade). There was one boy who I got to know a lot, and his name is Saurav. On the first day I told him he had a lovely face, which was translated for him into Bengali. A few days later, when I came back, he came running down the tracks to me, clutching his cheeks and asking in Bengali "do I still have a nice face??" I spent a lot of time with him and really see him as a leader in that group of kids. He wants to know Jesus more and he takes care of the other kids a lot too. On the last day, when I went to say goodbye to him, I couldn't find him. His friend told me he was lying down in a corner because he'd been hit by a train that morning. I found him lying there with a big gash in his head, and I sat with him in my arms, talking to him and praying for him and crying because I didn't know how I was supposed to walk away, knowing he has no one in the world to care for him. It was one of the hardest things I've done. Leaving an 11 year old boy all alone lying in the corner of the train station having just been hit by train. Short term missions is tough like that, because you come into peoples lives, especially children who get attached so fast, and then you just leave. I kept telling him that even though I was going back to Canada, Jesus wasn't, and that he'll always always be with him. Here he is.

We also worked with a group of 16 beautiful street children who live right outside the "At the well" centre on that street. They'd always see the Shaw family bringing kids and women to the centre, and they finally said "what about us? We live in your doorstep, why don't you do anything with us?" So they did! They started a kids club/English class every afternoon for them, and we also got to take them to a huge VBS with 1000 kids, which they loved!! We did an assembly in a school one day which is all Hindu teachers, and they loved it so much they've made us come and do it again. They've never had any foreigners or Christians in the school before, so that was a big deal! We did 3 church services for the women and kids in the red light area, and those were really cool. such an amazing privilige to be a part of. I even choreographed a dance to "we are a moment, you are forever"! It talks in that song of us being the broken and Jesus the healer, redeemer, mighty to save. We shared and did songs, dance, skits, and spent lots of time in prayer with individuals. It was a great team.....we were all pretty different but the differences complimented eachother and we had a good dynamic. We all learnt so much and really worked well together. I miss them all now! We went on the overnight train ride up to the Himylayas for a few days, and all trekked off at 3am one morning in jeeps up the mountain to see the sunrise over Everest, but it was so cloudy that we didn't see a thing!! What an anticlimax... Actually though, I was thinking about that verse in Corinthians that talks about "now I know in part, then I will know fully, even as I am fully known". I was thinking about how we were all standing there full of anticipation, not because of the clouds, but because of what we knew was BEYOND the clouds: the sun rising over Everest. Its the same with on earth our understanding and knowledge of him is so veiled, like the clouds, and yet our life is about that anticipation of waiting for the clouds to part. Everytime the clouds seemed to move a little that morning, everyone gasped and rushed closer to the fence to see! It's like when God reveals something new to us....little by little until one day the clouds will lift completely and we'll see and know him in all his glory!

Oh, one more story......under a bridge at the train station I met a family: a lady with a baby and a 4 year old girl. The lady was amazing and loved her kids with everything that she had. She told me that she also had a 2 year old daughter, but about a month ago, while they were sleeping, the child was taken away/kidnapped. She has no idea where she is or how to find her. The next week I was in England, and there's a 5 year old girl, Madeleine, who has been abducted from there. EVERYWHERE you go in England you see this girls face plastered on the wall. The whole nation is on her case, and they're all searching for her. It was such a paradox to think of this little lady living at the train station in Calcutta India, who had also lost her child. The difference was, no one knows about her, and even if they did know, no one would care enough to do she is below.

LAST STORY FOR NOW: We each got to spend a day at Mother Theresa's home for the dying destitutes. I expected it to be the most depressing place I'd ever set foot in, yet I was so amazed to find LIFE in there! Some of the ladies are so feisty and chattery and the workers are amazing. Having said that, It was shocking to walk into that building and see rows and rows of skeletol bodies...the kind of legs that look like sticks with apples in the middle of them for knees. I spent the day there, and just before I left, I went to sit with a tiny tiny little lady, who had been sitting up in a chair all morning watching everything and finally had been placed back in her bed to lie down. I sat on her bed and stared into her face, stroking her hair back and praying and singing a little and then just looking at her in silence. I searched her eyes wondering who she was, who had loved her, if she'd had children, where they were, how she had gotten into this state, why she was alone, what her passions and dreams had been...all those things. As I looked at her, I saw tears form in her eyes, and I too began to cry as a wiped hers away. Then suddenly, her frail little hands came up and she took my face in them, then she took them back, kissed her hands and placed them on my cheeks again. It was absolutely often the people you want to comfort end up comforting you in an even deeper way.

Anyway, there's much to tell but I hope you make some sense of my scrambled thoughts and stories. Thanks for your support in all's been incredible and I deeply appreciate each one of you. Please pray for the people I've spoken of, and please feel free to tell their stories to others, because it makes them less invisible...


Blogger Amy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:36 a.m.  
Blogger Amy said...


Thank you for the update. I was sitting and reading and tearing up as the realization of the poor in Calcutta set in. We need to stop ignoring the poor, and recognition is the only way we can begin to end it. All you saw and experienced has really made me think...

I'd love to talk some more and see your pictures this summer. We should organize a night when you and I can get together here at the apt.

Thanks for spending the time to write that update.


(Sorry...the first comment ahd a couple spelling errors.)

10:39 a.m.  
Blogger Brenna said...

wow... that's amazing. The picture of the little girl in the blue shirt made me so sad. i want to go to India and give her a big hug! i'm crying now...


6:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Jacob Anderson said...

i didn't cry. but that is some crazy stuff.

the karma stuff sounds weird. they refuse to help people in need because they deserve it. yet would not ignoring those in need, letting people starve and die bring about bad karma on yourself?

4:05 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your stories. It was really eye opening.

7:50 a.m.  
Blogger Brad and Samantha said...

Hannah... hey hope your doing well... thanks for sharing your stories.It really touched my heart! You have such an incredible amount of love for the brokenhearted! It encourged and challenged me. Thank-you...

12:01 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Hannah, I'm Amie's sister-in-law... Beth, Amie speaks often of you with so much love and I'm looking forward to meeting you at the wedding. Thank you for sharing about your journey round India.....How can we help? Where can you send things to? Beth Dyer

4:38 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well spoken, you always do a marvolous job...keep it up! Hey, i hope i will hear from you soon!!

Dan -xo

12:29 a.m.  
Blogger Ben Bartosik said...

Hey, I miss your blogs. What's the deal?

7:54 p.m.  
Blogger Hannah said...


12:38 p.m.  

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