Wednesday, August 15, 2007
My trip to Varanasi by train was supposed to begin at 20:50 which is 8:50pm and It was an overnight train which would have me arrive at Varanasi at 8:30am. I had arrived via taxi to the New Delhi Rail Station, after checking out of the YMCA and said my goodbyes, at 6:45pm. I had acquired an additional bag so my bags were becoming a bit more challenging to carry -- especially at a railstation or airport where you are "overtaken" by so many taxi drivers, porters, etc. I decided to have a porter help me with my bags -- so I flagged down one and then another also stepped up -- they were to each carry a bag on top of their heads - usually resting on a scarf that is piled up to protect their heads - as we headed towards the Train. I would later find out that there is extreme competition for these bag carrying positions and even had one time where the two guys proceeded to fight with each other -- with my bags on their heads as I had to continually ask them to stop (I felt like I had aquired two children) and maneuver through hundreds of people in very hot conditions. Yippie.
CHANGE OF ITINERARY
So we make it to the inside of the station and I look up at the Board to see what track the train will leave from and over to the right of the train number I see: CANCELLED. My first impression was to look at my two new friends with the bags on their heads and say, "Oh my gosh -- the train is cancelled!" and then I laughed -- and so did they. I said, "Now what" and they said, "come my friend" -- so I proceeded to move through the hundreds of people (grand central has nothing on crowds in India) to the counter where there is no such thing as a line -- only a larger gathering of some of the "hundreds" usually in a big pile -- all vying for a position at the counter -- I took my spot and tried to get to the front -- first being very polite and then realizing -- I might have to change my strategy if I wanted to leave in August! I made it to the front -- constantly looking back at my friends with the bags on their heads and they very reassuringly smiled and told me "its ok" "its ok" -- I was then told I should go to the "International Help Center" -- which is up the stairs and closes in 10 minutes.
We proceeded around the back and up the stairs to an airconditioned room where there were assistants helping people with their plans. I had my friends come inside and sit down and enjoy the airconditioning as they watched my bags and I proceeded to see if I could change my plans. I found out there was another train that was leaving at 11:30pm and would arrive at 11:30am it was OLD Delhi Station and would arrive at another city about an hour from Varanasi -- but I could take a taxi -- this seemed like the most viable option. I changed my ticket (this took about an hour) then I proceeded to have my friends take my bags with me down to a taxi where I would head over to Old Delhi Rail Station (about a half hour ride). I was going to get to an internet cafe so I could contact my friends Rahul & Lorette and let them know that I was not coming on the morning train -- I was out of air time for my phone -- another challenge.
My friends with the bags proceeded down the stairs and to the autorikshaw and helped me load up -- I offered them two very generous tips for their trouble and they had really big smiles on their faces and smiled and waved as I drove off -- they had a good time I think!
So I am heading to Old Delhi station and ask the driver to stop at an Internet Cafe on the way thinking -- I must contact Rahul & Lorette and let them know -- don't want them to travel to the station and wait for me when I am not coming till 4 hours later (boy was that a wish list!). I prayed and ask the Lord to settle all of this as this was so out of my hands. I was doing fine with it all until......
we find an internet cafe and the autorickshaw driver says he will wait but I can tell he is upset -- for what I do not know -- major language barrier. I am heading down a walkway -- in the back of some alley - looking for this internet cafe -- I get inside and they want my passport -- only don't write down the number -- they keep it for awhile -- I am wondering, "is this ok" -- then I get to a computer terminal and it won't load up AOL -- which is where I have Rahul & lorettes information -- including their phone number -- I try 2 machines -- it isnt' working -- I ask for help -- not getting any -- I don't see my passport -- I am thinking my bags are in the autoriksaw outside -- it has been 20 miutes -- did the guy just leave -- where is my passport? I started to get anxious and frustrated and said -- forget it the computer isn't working -- and got my passport and left and went outside to see -- my autoriksaw and the bags were still there --
OLD DELHI RAILWAY
Finally arrive at the railway station -- see there is a locker for bags and store my bags and then head out again to get an internet cafe -- find one after 45 minutes (it is now 8:30pm) -- I send an e-mail about my delay -- get their phone number and load the number in my phone -- try to buy air time -- can't find any. Go back to station and wait for train. Finally get on train at 11:00pm and then we sit for an additional hour and half -- finally we leave and I fall asleep -- you share the car with 3 other people and you eat and travel together and then sleep in bunks -- mine had 4.
WERE NOT IN DELHI ANYMORE
I wake up at 5:30am in the morning and the train is stopped -- I look outside -- it is fields of grass -- for miles. I ask where are we -- I am told a train derailed -- we have only travelled about 2 hours on our 12 hour journey -- and we will be delayed. Long story short -- we had been sitting since 2:30 am -- we actually took off towards our journey at 12:30pm in the afternoon -- 7 hours after I woke up -- we would travel very slow for about an hour and then stop -- this continued until I finally arrived at the station at around 8:30pm at night and then had to take the taxi for an hour to my friends house -- I think I arrived at the station in Varanasi and then to my friends house around 10:00pm. -- 30 hours after I started my journey.
At times when the train was stationary and I realized that I didn't have any toilet paper -- that it was really hot and that AC didn't work on the trains when the trains were not moving -- that the smells that were intermittant were now constant and I began to be really uncomfortable -- I started to realize as I looked outside -- that people live like this all the time in India on the trains. That discomfort and waiting and crowds and all is the norm -- even though I was subject to this -- when the train started -- my car would have AC -- I would get to a place where I had someone to meet me and things could be better -- many people on that train didn't and many outside the train in the villages on the way wouldn't either. These revelations are so powerful -- I ultimately was thankful for my time on that train -- although it did get hairy at times.
WIND IN MY FACE
When it did start to move finally and pick up speed -- I found myself near the door and opened it up and sat down on the steps and the wind was blowing in my face -- it felt great -- it was such a sense of adventure -- now I know why I see those pictures with people hanging out of the trains -- ITS FUN! Of course it is very dangerous and you could fall out or something -- but I was reminded about all the ways we "grow up" and get responsible and we loose that sense of adventure - I am pretty much convinced -- we need to keep looking for the doors that open and let the wind blow in our faces........
Sunday, August 5, 2007
WONDER WHAT IT'S LIKE?
Today is Monday -- I was supposed to meet the driver in the lobby at 6:00 am -- bright and early for my 4 hour drive to a city called Agra where the Taj Mahal is located. I would be able to see the beautiful "Taj" and then head to the "Old Fort" and then take the 4 hour drive back. I was told we would return around 10:00 or 11:00 pm at night. This is my third trip to India and I had really wanted to see it. Especially now, since it had re-earned its place as one of the 7 Wonders of the World. However, It is now 11:00am and I am not in the city of Agra -- but at a computer in the lobby of the YMCA.
After getting up yesterday at 6:00am to finish preparing for preaching at the 9:00 am service and the 11:00am service and a 1-hour concert at the 5:30pm service at Delhi Bible Fellowship (which we had a great time yesterday with Pastor Jeremy Dawson and his congregation) -- I was beat. I had taken a one hour drive down from Missouri the day before after a spontaneous lunch with friends and a quick trip to a Rehab Center in Dehradoon where I was able to speak to 20 men -- and then a 5 1/2 hour train ride back to Delhi. This came after two wonderful but short days in the mountains of Massouri at the home of Ray & Krista Eicher. Ray & Krista used to head up Operation Mobilization in India for about 28 years and are now working with a ministry called Ellal Ministries. They spent years sharing the love of God with the Indians, through literature and face to face and raised their children in this country. They are now involved in a ministry that deals with spiritual healing and restoration of the whole person - Spirit, Soul & Body. Anyway - -my time with them was wonderful -- and yet all the travelling takes its toll after awhile.
WONDER NO MORE
Today was one of those days --I cancelled my trip -- so No Taj Mahal -- at least NOT this time!
Tomorrow I leave in the evening for a 14 hour overnight train ride to a place called Varanasi -- and I will spend a week with my friends Rahul & Lorette Jagausi - Open Hand Ministries - a ministry to station children.
So today -- I will rest -- run some errands -- catch up on e-mails -- pack my stuff and get ready for the trip tomorrow.
and so I WANDER . . .
I started my journey towards the venue around 5:15pm – we were supposed to start at 6:00pm. It was a continuation of a series entitled “It’s a Great Life.” It was sponsored by a group of churches and it was at a High School Venue that was usually very well attended. However, it is Monsoon season in India and although you might have an inkling to get moving – for right now the trains have been stopped. You see the water can go to gathering on the side of the road to lifting cars off of the pavement in a matter of minutes it seems. In fact just the other day, almost two years to the day – Lok Hospital flooded again. This time the wall that separates the creek from the hospital grounds fell down – because the water came from the other side and pushed it down – the water then ran into the first floor examination rooms, the dentist office and before anyone could do anything to stop it – many costly pieces of equipment were destroyed. Water finds its own path – regardless if you cooperate or not – its funny that way.
Well speaking of finding your own way – we began to find ours, Santosh and myself. Santosh is the bass player from ASTRAVIDAH. I knew he was coming on his bike and then we would attempt to head over to the venue in an auto rickshaw. We started in that direction and began to talk about the new keyboard they just got as a band and how excited he was to start really getting to use it. As we got closer – I wondered would anyone even show up tonight – with all this water? It was now 5:50pm and I asked Santosh – did he think the sound system had arrived – he said it should be there. He phoned the gentleman and the guy answered the phone – only he had overslept and was just going to head over now. Wow I thought, time to let this go and realize this was going to happen in God’s time and not a minute earlier.
VOICES TAKING FLIGHT
During the time it took to get the sound guy to the venue and get it set up – the rain stopped – the trains started running again and a good 25 other people showed up – it started to be a nice little group. I was especially excited as I was going to share the evening with my friends – James, Flavia and Shubangi – James and Flavia had spoken many times before a crowd and especially about HIV/AIDS. This was Shubanghi’s first time in front of a group – I was nervous and excited for her. I asked her if she was nervous – her face lit up with a resounding smile of “YES.” We had a chance to pray together as group before we started.
When she participated in the retreat the weekend before the Lord had drawn my attention to her as she prepared her timeline and as she spoke before the group. She had such grace and purpose as she shared her story of hard lessons learned in her life. A message to younger girls who felt compelled to marry a man against the wishes of their parents and how in this instance there were grave consequences on many levels. She was sharing her story of living with HIV as a platform to educate people and especially younger women - what a story of redemption – and how exciting to be a small part of the process.
James and Flavia have been sharing around various parts of the city to those would listen – Flavia having shared with World Vision. I met them both on my first day to India – at the “There Is Hope AIDS Conference” sponsored by Samaritans Purse. I had no idea that we would share a stage together and share our stories of hope. I had the privilege of getting to do some music – a bit like a mini – concert in between the stories.
Having to conform in the past to professional standards in the arts over the years has really stretched me on many levels. I believe God wants us to excel in what we are doing for Him. However, it is always a challenge to let go of Western production values and just be grateful for a cd player and a sound system and no rehearsal or sound checks and just “go for it. Not that doing ministry should be equated with low production values – but it is the sense of being willing to show up with whatever God provides – not waiting for things to look a certain way before you can participate. I have grown over the years to be thankful for whatever platform I am given – the main thing is the message and if they can understand it -- then mission accomplished!
I was able to share my journey with HIV and how Jesus Christ by His grace, forgiveness and a second chance at what seemed like a throwaway life, just 6 years ago, has transformed me. There was a man there, living with HIV, called Sashi – he told me “brother John – you have given me so much hope – I have hope for the first time” his face was beaming. If I flew all the way over here just for him – it would have been worth it!