The last nine days we’ve been in Kerala, staying on IEM’s campus with the Bible College students and orphans from the Children’s Home. The campus is located in the south of India where canopies of verdant trees decorate the countryside. The energy here is slow and pleasant with room to spread out and breathe. Except for the constant campfire smoke from people burning leaves and trash. Unlike chaotic and frenzied Mumbai, Kerala is more peaceful. The soundtrack is an ensemble of cawing crows, kooky sounding birds, college students singing, children’s laughter, the occasional Hindu parade marching down the road banging drums and chanting, and packs of wild dogs howling at night like they’re on a murderous rampage.
I love the ministry Dr. G.V. Mathai (Papa) and Mariamma Mathai started back in the 70s. Their work has flourished and blessed thousands of people throughout India. In September, Mariamma passed away, so this trip has been bittersweet as we celebrate the work she poured into this ministry and share the loss with many people who loved and adored her. Their son, Dayan, has been speaking and giving sermons throughout the trip––encouraging the pastors and students. And he's had a terrible cold the entire time, but keeps showing up.
We’ve met many friends, like Uncle Joy who lives in Los Angeles and loves to sing, and little Abagail who has helped the team tremendously. Her mother, Shirley, who has translated every single bible study lesson, while helping serve food and chai at every meal. Kunimon who has prepared the most deliciously flavorful dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And Blessy, who called every store in town, trying to locate some coconut spoons we want to give as gifts to our donors. We've sat in on some of the college classes and shared testimonies and listened to the students sing old hymns. I've never heard harmonies so powerful and melodious. We've literally met hundreds of people, all of them warm and welcoming and radiating love.
Papa has shared stories about the many lives that have flourished because of God’s work with this ministry. Not only in Kerala, but in Mumbai and throughout northern India. God has truly blessed IEM. And it’s been an honor witnessing the fruits of their labors firsthand.
The children living here in the Children’s Home are magnificent. Attentive and eager. They memorize scripture way better than me. They’ve loved our lessons, songs and crafts. But what they love more than anything is playing Duck, Duck, Goose. Oh man, if you want to taste true joy, come to Kerala and play this game with these kids. Their shouts and laughter is an explosion of joyful noise. I’m not sure if the lessons are clicking, or if they’ll remember any of us, but I know––indubitably––they will always cherish Duck, Duck, Goose.
Each lesson has been on a fruit of the Spirit. For my non-Christian readers, these are spiritual gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We start with a Bible verse, then teach them a song with hand movements. Oh Lord. My heart erupts with glee every time we start singing. Their big brown eyes beam as they shout out the words and do the hand motions. After singing, we do a craft that coincides with the lesson. I wanted to die when we handed out packs of crayons and the kids were like, “Where’s the brown and black for their skin and hair?” Clearly a white person put together the color palette.
They love tape. Yes, tape. I can’t tell you how many times they call out for us, “Auntie, auntie, tape. Tape! Two. No, three pieces.” They don’t even need the tape. They just want it. After they finish their craft, they hold up their artwork, waving it to get our attention. Their sweet faces radiate with satisfaction with every validation and approval. I’ve been telling them their work is “delicious” because I’m a dummy and thought I was saying “super.”
At the end of each class, I hug them and kiss their little brown cheeks and do exploding fist bumps and repeat over and over how much I love them. I really do. I love them so very much. Tears are rolling down my face as I write these words because tomorrow is our last day with the children. Will they remember us? Will any of the seeds we planted take root? Has our love given them hope? What will happen when they turn twelve and have to leave the Children’s Home because of government regulations? Will they look to Jesus and learn to trust him even in the worst circumstances?
Personally, the time in India has had an enormous impact on my heart. It’s been a blessing and a struggle. I might be the only person––ever––who has gone on a missions trip and felt more confused about God and life and every single thing. I will say, though, the time I’ve spent with these darling kiddos has been some of the most gratifying, soul-filling I’ve ever experienced.
Of all the things I’ve learned on this trip, the main one is: missions is not for me.
I don’t like navigating through team dynamics. I don’t like being away from home for extended periods of time unless I’m on a 5-star cruise or at my parents’ house. I’m uncomfortable spending successive days with people. Especially 17 days. In a row. Like every single day together ... It drains my introvert battery and triggers the worst in me.
I do believe everyone––regardless of spiritual beliefs––should go on at least one missions trip in their lifetime. It’s enriching to experience different cultures and serve those who are often ignored or left behind. It will break your heart into a thousand pieces, but God will put it back together and shine His light through the cracks.
Some tips for those who’ve never been on a missions trip before:
1. Go somewhere closer to home (9,000 is far!)
2. Go for a short amount of time (17 days is too long!)
3. Bring Myco-shield, charcoal pills, hand sanitizer, hand wipes and TOILET PAPER
4. Bring snacks and pack them in something that could survive a nuclear holocaust (ants)
5. Have pre-planned workout routines and sweat every day
Lifesavers: travel clothing line, microfiber towel, flip-flops for shower, and adaptor with surge protection.
If you can, travel with a spouse or close friend (especially if you’re deeply insecure/paranoid and struggle in groups and think people don’t like you and are laughing at you behind your back).
Remind family and friends to check in with you because they get busy and forget basic things like how lonely it is in a foreign country without your tribe.
This is my last installment of Girl on Mission. When I return to the states, I’d like to get back to writing the novel I started and stopped a few times. I have no clue how God will use my writing. But I do know where He calls, I will go.
Except to Mumbai.
Thanks for taking this journey with me.
(I'll add photos later, the wifi is spotty and it'd take about 12 hours to upload)