Sunday, March 31

the story.

so, i guess i was thinking, and i remembered that basically to get a story, we need all these different events to come together. When they all fall in the right order, we group them and label them:
this is a story. 
we have backstory. we have an issue. we have selfish attempted solutions. these lead to the climax. after that, you get the resolution.
i didn't look all that up on google to get the proper storying element terminology. sorry. but you get what i'm saying.

see, what i'm trying to tell you is that after struggling through some normal situational issues of life, and after feeling cranky, and after a multicultural Easter service, I decided to sit down and watch a movie.
I was trying to recharge, but all of a sudden, in the middle of a freaking child's movie (Tangled. I was watching tangled all alone and I was crying), i got very serious. i paused it and i looked at the screen after everyone has deserted the heroine and i stuck my bottom lip out for her.

I just wanted to tell you that I think Jesus is the only one who finishes the story.
Without Him we are stuck, i think, in a cyclical attempted-solution/climax phase.  We are so selfish. I am so selfish. He is the only One who resolves our problems with His solutions. Everyone else is using everyone else. It is very hard to keep giving. You want to take good things for yourself. You want to protect yourself.

I just want to say today that I'm glad for the day when the one man who deserved all the good things in life took my punishment instead of taking anything for himself, and instead of protecting himself. I just wanted to tell you that I'm very happy we finally have a resolution to be the balm on all of this raw selfishness. Today we celebrate the end of the story - the truth of the Deity of the person who took our sins and did away with our tormenter, and set us free to grasp the goodness of selflessness, if only we will choose it.

so thankful today that happy endings are true. 

Wednesday, March 27


I woke up this morning and wondered  what the streets would look like. It was 8 AM. The neighborhoods are generally not up and moving until around 11. I went to the veranda and searched the streets.
I saw children, and I saw their colors.

Holi is an old festival which has no been widely adopted throughout India. Often when there’s a really fun festival, all the religions will begin to celebrate it for their own [made up] reasons. This one seems to have abandoned any religion’s claim to it, though it does have its roots in Hindu mythology, and unites the whole of India in uninhibited celebration to ring in the coming of spring.

Modern day in Delhi, it’s basically a neighborhood-wide water balloon fight plus food fight.

...This has got to be redeemable.

We try very hard to separate ourselves from questionable  behavior – to stay about reproach and demonstrate the difference that faith makes in our lives. I know this is the way to have a witness among the desperate hopelessness in the world.
When I look at the life of J.C., I see him acting counterculturally and causing a disturbance, but I also see Him being a Jew. I see Him living His life among people, demonstrating great love and empathy for them, and redeeming His culture.

I worry sometimes about the Chrstn community creating a subculture that excludes people who do not fit our criteria. As I understand it, we should be in the culture, though we should not be of it.

On a normal day in Delhi, people mistrust each other. People tell white lies to get better prices. People glare at each other. On holi, as I tried to sneakily replenish my water balloon bucket I looked at the street to meet the eyes of a kid I’d been secretly hitting from our balcony. He’d caught me. I grinned and raised my eyebrows. He smiled with happiness behind his eyes and grabbed for a water balloon to chuck at me. 
Enmity was replaced with amiability.

Again I say – this has got to be redeemable!
Why not celebrate the resurrection of our Savior with the bursting of  balloons and the explosions of color? Why not come together corporately and rejoice over His sacrifice and triumph with uninhibited exuberance, as well as with folded hands and crossed feet?

Because of all of this I chose today to participate: to redeem this festival, at least in our household. 
I think I may always use holi to celebrate the Holy One –
With dancing and with the greatest uncontainable joy.

me throwing like a girl... But my aim was pretty good! i even hit a guy on a motorcycle!
Love from Delhi,
Julie: enjoying holi; becoming holy.

Tuesday, March 26

Lost in Translation (and the jungles of Chhatisgarh)

Ok. Without internet in our home, and with the ridiculous amounts of traveling i've been doing, I haven't found the time to sit down and chronicle the happenings.
In Nepal after my last post, we went to the Indian border to the jungles of Chitwan to ride the elephants, and then we went to the Tibetan border to go bungee jumping. Nepal was the best vacation I may ever take, the most fun i may ever have in two weeks together. There is so much good ministry going on there, just at the very beginning point. Laying the groundwork is hard labor for the workers there, and it takes a lot of patience. But we all sure had a great time together.
The first weekend I came back, we decided to take a weekend trip out to Jaipur, which is a tourist-laden city about 275 kilometers to the southwest of Delhi. We hired a car and saw just tons of historical forts and palaces. There was a peacock who visited our hotel garden in the morning as we ate breakfast.
But Nepal and Jaipur were easy.

My third trip of the month of March was not so easy; and really, the struggles and triumphs are what you want to hear about, right?

On Wednesday afternoon, I got a text message from a friend named Laura. She had shared with our fellowship about some work she and her family have been doing with a people group called the Kamar tribe all the way down in a place called Chhatisgarh, which South of Delhi, close to central India. She asked if i could join her the next morning (yep, that's how the timeframe generally works over here) on a trip to go and visit the villages. We ended up leaving early Friday, and stayed down there for four full days.

Many (manymanymanymanymany) things happened, but I'm sure you don't want to hear more than four stories.


The school where we stayed each night is in a town called Gariaband - this was our home post from which we traveled all manner of directions all four days of our visit.
 I remember during my college days driving from Ohio down to Texas, and hating the stretch of road that goes through the heart of Oklahoma. I was so close to home - just one state removed from my own - and every ten minutes there's another tiny town on the highway.  You have to slow down and wait at a red light and watch for children crossing the road. You have to go from seventy miles an hour to thirty-five. Every ten minutes. I always just wanted to be on my way.
The road to Gariaband from the airport was just like the way through Oklahoma, but instead of red lights, there were a series of strategically placed road bumps, and instead of roadway fishing tackle shops, there were small Hindu shrines. As we were on our way, an army of chunni-clad girls on bicycles came toward us from the direction of a village - highway under their tires, with jungle on one side and field on the other.

The further away you get from Gariaband, the less Hindi helps you - everyone speaks their tribal languages, and a little bit of Chhatisghari. This means i was really less and less useful as a speaking figure and better off just hiding my pasty face behind my camera. 
That's what i would have preferred, anyway. 
Laura, totally disregarding my utter uselessness, asked me to share the Good News starting off at the very first house we visited. We were in a village named Amjhar, at the house of a woman named Shantibai. Her daughter is very much interested in the Good News, and she has also heard it and listened to it, without making any clear decisions yet. But she has a beautiful, soft heart. I loved it when we would talk to her, because of how you could see in her eyes and the angle of the tilt of her head that she was listening; that she was thinking. We came back to see her again a few days later, and there was a village grandma, drunk beyond belief, who was following us around. I got to take some photos of both of them to show to you. 

The evening darkened as we left Amjhar that first day,
and the children were burning the trash in the fields.
I looked out of the back of the car at the place we were leaving:
a place where dogs materialize out of your dusty wake,
where the donkeys disappear into the houses and the cows are set in stone over the temples.


We picked up our Brother, the young but hopeful Anoj. He accompanied us to one of the most remote Kamar villages called Kulhadighat. There were mosquitoes buzzing fiercely around my eyes as we sat under the straw covering on the patio, but i sat quietly and watched in amazement as men gathered from all over the very rural mountain village to hear what Anoj had to say in their own language. He gave them his testimony, and he was pure and simple. Elderly ladies - they must have been eighty and older - would come in from the fields with giant bags balanced on their heads, and walk through the gathering into their home, but Anoj continued to share with the men seated on the side of the house.
After about an hour he had finished sharing and we had walked them through the prayer of the sinner.

We drove away out of the mountains and down through the fields - trees scattered throughout the growing and picking of wheat, corn, and rice.
i stared, my eyes hungrily taking in the lanscape, the dynamic green of the rice paddies so pure and transfixing it must be the color of envy.
I hesitate to include a picture because it can't possibly contain the wonder which the in-person scene inspired. I am telling you, i have never seen this color before in my life.
As i continued to look, and to feel the nature-cleansed breeze on my face, I changed my tune. My eyes warned me of the color of envy, but my heart told me it was the color of life. I wanted to live inside the color of those rice paddies, the color of peace, the color of cool contentment, and then surely everyone who saw the color in which i clothed myself would be envious.


On Palm Sunday, on our way to a place called Kanthidadar, we stopped at a house we found along the road - a house completely surrounded by idyllic Indian jungle and chopped firewood. We sat and shared with them, and as the translation was being done, i glanced around at the details of their dwelling. The women had triangle tattoos on their arms, which represent the Kamar tribe's tally of good deeds done. What a cultural rift -- the more tattoos you have, the better person you must be!

Above the beautiful tattooed mother was a thatched roof lined with waterproof packaging found by the men in town. The most prominent package sticking out on one side was a bag which had contained 'Beef Steak Nuggets.'  How ironic, i thought, that a people who characterize their religion by preserving the lives of cows would be completely oblivious that the proclamation of the freedom to have cows as food was a constant shelter over their heads.

Finally we made it to Kanthidadar, where we heard that the people love a spectacle, and will sit and listen. Sure enough, there was quite a crowd of children and grandmothers. After I was done sharing about the Father who sent His one and only Son as the answer to sin, and after being translated into Chhatisgarhi, I asked Mr. Mahindra, the translator, to wrap it up. He continued the conversation and then asked simply in Chhatisgarhi, "So then, can I pray for you all?"
The grandmother sitting next to me became very defensive. Her eyes were watery and her hands were in front of her face. "No, no, absolutely not!" she kept saying. She didn't want what we had shared. Our friend asked her then in her mother tongue, Kamari, what was troubling her.
She had misunderstood. "I have only one son," she said. He explained we only wanted to pray, and she agreed to let us. A drunk man began yelling angrily at our driver. We seemed to be in slight danger. We had to leave before we could help them understand...
She thought we wanted her son for our sins. 

As we left that town, i was shaking my head, saddened at the communication issues. My thoughts were interrupted by the children playing holi - in the villages during the week before the big holiday, the kids will block the roads with ropes and ask the driver for money in order for them to get through, which is used for poojas - hindu prayers for blessing. We don't participate in this holiday, and so we refuse to pay these kids their pooja money. On the road home there was a boy blocking our way, and he was not about to let the rope down. Mr. Gideon, a burly big-haired South Indian minister with the temperament of Winnie the Pooh's sweet-hearted Piglet was sitting in our passenger seat. All of a sudden, he opened the door and stepped out toward the blockade, his arms swinging at his sides.
I'll never forget that boy's face as his eyes grew wide and he instinctively dropped the rope -- i think he must've peed a little as he did it. Poor thing- he couldn't have known he was in about as much danger as if a kitten was walking toward him. I'll never forget how we laughed and laughed.


The village called Hathbai is the place with the highest concentration of Kamar believers. Working there is a 'Shepherd' named Nehru. He lives in the village with his family on a plot of land bought by Laura and her husband. They work the rice paddies there and have a new field of banana trees, too. We found out upon our arrival - to everyone's surprise - that Nehru's wife Dasmath (Duss-mutt) had just had a baby. As in, ten days ago. And she'd birthed it without going to the hospital, and almost completely alone. We got to hold the precious little girl and encourage their family, and see the property. When we left their house we had about a kilometer to walk to get back to the road, and that long after sunset.

  I was just thinking, of course. 
Of course this woman had a baby all alone in her hot twelve-foot-by-twenty-four-foot one-room concrete home. Of course I am tromping through the impossibly dark and muddy jungle of rural India with a flashlight behind an Indian man I met only yesterday. Of course this way is a shortcut. And of course now we are lost. Of course there a lonely lovely firefly floating in our path. Of course there are jungle snakes nearby, out at night chasing that running rat. 
I couldn't believe how soothing it felt that night to pour cold water over my feet at the end of that walk. I wish you all could feel the goodness of washing your feet after they have carried you through the thick muddy jungle and the long dusty day.

Between the time we arrived in Gariaband and the end of that third day, i had the opportunity to share the Good News from my heart eleven times.

The next morning, i sat on a woven cot under an enormous shade tree on Nehru and Dasmath's vast property and got a taste of the slow and simple life. The family brought us a plate full of fruits picked from their trees - they looked like shrunken tangerines. They called them Tendoo, and taught me how to eat them. You have to get the whole thing in your mouth and then spit out the seeds, which i did very ungracefully indeed. I watched the huge swarms of fat dragonflies, took some photos of their banana trees and rice paddies and the river behind their home, and then it was time to go. Our last stop before heading back to Gariaband the last time was there in Hathbai. There was one uncle who had been bothering the fellowship gatherings there because it was hurting his business. He was the local witch doctor, and instead of coming to him for incantations, people were beginning to go to the church to pray. Laura was aware of his disgruntled, disruptive (and usually drunken) behavior, and had decided to offer a small gesture of peace:
she brought him a box of medicine.
What a stroke of ingenuity. I couldn't believe it. Give medicine to the witch doctor! What a beautiful first step toward replacing complicated trickery with simple Truth. I was touched by her thoughtfulness, and i hope that he was too.

After everything, we piled in the car and headed back toward the airport. I covered my hair with my scarf and my eyes with my sunglasses, and rolled down the large window to open up the top half of the side door of our rented van. I hung my elbow out the window and put my face in the air rushing by at ninety-five kilometers per hour, my view of the gnarled trees and brightly colored rice paddies unobstructed. As you probably know, rice paddies are filled about a foot high with standing water. As the Indian trade wind breezes over the plots, it undergoes a delicious freshening and cooling effect. This cooler air is an amazing contrast to the already very hot season in the South. I felt the refreshing wind whipping across my face, and after four days of din; after four days of discussion; after four days of third-world miscommunication; after four days of chatter in Chhatisgarh, i had a safe place to think, to process, to begin to form intentional memories and understand the truth of all that i had witnessed in such a short period of time.
I had found a place to wonder at ethnic differences, and to take a deep breath, and to praise my Father;
all inside the empty roar of the unseasonably cool wind.
(and these are for free:)
i guess you must know you're in poverty when the cows are skinny.

'Shepherd' Nehru's Mother.

Palm trees on Palm Sunday.

Love from Delhi - finally Delhi again,
Julie, clothed in the color of life.

Thursday, March 7

Everest through a tinted window.

Contrary to my first impression when i arrived, there are some major differences between Kathmandu and Delhi.
Kathmandu is a little calmer - the lifestyle is more laid back and the people are more smiley. 
smiley Nepali girlie and me :)
It seems developed but has more of a rural feel than Delhi. It's bright, and surrounded by Himalayan foothills.  People wear characteristic Nepali hats. In some ways, it reminds me of my time in Peru more than my time in Delhi. The other big difference is that the standard of living is, well, more of a standard. I have yet to see a slum like the ones that pepper the residential areas where i live. I imagine this helps to eliminate some possible resentment among neighbors, but i have no proof of that. 
I have really enjoyed it here so far. 
We are here in the Tibetan area of Kathmandu, where many families from Tibet live as refugees. Consequently, there's a lot of Buddhism that goes on which is mixed with the prevalent Hinduism which characterizes the nation and binds the culture closely with Indian culture.

My second day here, Leah took me around the city and we saw a place called Pashupati. It is a hugely famous Hindu temple, and it's the official cremation site of Nepal. It's a temple sprawled out on top of a hill reaching over a river - not beautiful or stately as temples often are, but instead with pieces of 'holy' architecture sprinkled out over the area depicting the gods, overrun with monkeys and painted, performing priests. The cremation site is located on the 'holy' river. This river is used for washing, bathing, swimming, and many other superstitious purposes. It is filled with the ashes of dead Hindus, the trash of tourists, and the filth of the urban sector of the city. 
It was here that i saw a person burning for the first time in my life. 
An elderly man had died. There was a procession of his family members wailing, accompanying his body to the cremation site. His feet were sticking out of his white wrapping. A worker spread dry straw and oil over the body and lit the fire. There was a group gathered on the landing above to watch the cremation. I looked to my left and saw a tourist girl, peering down on the conservatively covered weeping family, push the straps of her tank top off her shoulders in order to get a proper tan as she watched their beloved elder burn. I was overcome with the insensitivity and the hopelessness. 

Later on that day we walked to the Kathmandu Stupa. A stupa is not a temple, exactly, but it is a place of meditation and worship. Its name is derived from a word for 'mound', and that's exactly what it looks like. It's a place that contains Buddhist relics and is covered with the flags which are printouts of the Buddhist mantras - the idea is that the wind will carry the karma in the mantras and spread them over the populated area. 
There are dedicated men and women repeating mantras over and over, counting their progress with strings of beads. There are observers coming to spin large and small Tibetan prayer wheels in order to lift their petitions to the greater deities - around and around,  over and over, to rack up good karma. There are followers prostrating themselves as a means of good deeds. Old monks stroll around the tall white stupa.  Om mani padme hum, they say. They flip a bead. 
Om mani padme hum. 

Buddhism doesn't feel as dark as Hinduism when you're surrounded by it, but i think that's what makes it so insidious. It feels good. It feels like a more educated religion to subscribe to; but it's rooted in Hinduism, and it's obviously overpoweringly works-based. It's founded on a ruse that makes it look nice, like it will result in people being helpful toward other people, like there are simple steps to follow in a messy life, like enlightenment will enable the paradox of the most minimalistic and glamorous characteristics existing in the same human being. You may find that 100 prostrations and endless mantras and the equal exchange of karma - good for good and bad for bad - are easier than faith.

 But in the end all you're doing is spinning your wheels.

On Monday i took a domestic flight to see the highest point on earth. 
i struggle to put into words my experience seeing Everest. it was unlike anything i've ever seen. it was too big to grasp. it was over too soon. Well, in one way it was over too soon. In the other way, it was foggy and we were delayed over two hours in the tiny airport. There was a collection of about sixty Chinese tourists there among the crowd, and they just could not get a good grasp of what was going on through the language barrier. They hadn't all come together in one group, but they moved as one mass. Any time an announcement would come through the loudspeaker, regardless of what it was, they would all stand up and swarm one of the two departure gates, clogging every process completely and needlessly.  i laughed the first time at 6:45 am when the flight attendant came on and announced that their flight had been delayed until 7:30, and they all got up to go board! Every single one of them! It kept getting more obscure, and even funnier, after they stopped discriminating against gates or airlines mentioned in the announcement and got up to board anyway. It was good entertainment for my wait. 
When we finally boarded after being shuttled to the plane twice and further delayed, it was smooth sailing. The flight was wonderful. The Himalayas were magnificent throughout the hour we spent in the air. 
They let each of the passengers come up to stand in the cockpit and take in the 180 degree view out the front windows, and that is where the copilot first pointed out Mt. Everest to me. I can't explain to you the depth or the breadth of the mountain range from that angle. What a great picture of the great and far-reaching nature of True Love. 
I went back to my seat and marveled at one of the most famous places on earth through a propeller and a darkly tinted window. 

Yesterday we took about an hour long walk to Kopan Monastery, a Buddhist refuge in the mountains. On our way we met a few different families who invited us in for tea, or who appreciated our desire to take photos of their elderly mothers. Two families were especially sweet and welcoming, and we got to stop and share Truth with them - in their own tongue, thanks to Leah. After some time we got all the way up to the monastery. The architecture is beautiful, and the grounds are meticulously kept. 
I hadn't realized that Buddhism arose out of Hinduism, but i see much of the symbolism that has carried over in their monuments and shrines. I was with Leah and another friend named Joanna, and we prayed as we walked through this place. We went to the highest spot in the monastery, a grassy circle reachable by winding stone stairs looking out over the whole monastery and almost the whole city of Kathmandu. We sat there and asked our Father to invade. It was a very beautiful place to be. 
There was going to be a Buddhist service going on in their equivalent of a chapel while we were there, so we watched as the young monks filed in and waited for the Pooja to start. As they removed their shoes and came inside, i noticed many of them pausing to peer out of the windows lining the sides of the chapel. Some of them even leaned out, quiet but longing, seeing something out there, tilting their torsos forward and a bare foot up in the air. I couldn't help but feel they were seeking for something outside of that place. 
i couldn't help but hope they never stop looking out those windows until they find it. 
As we walked back i saw more of the Buddhist mantra flags flying. I was struck by their emptiness and the hollow lies they depict as they fly, many old - dirty and shredded, in the wind. 
How often does the way we make to find our freedom turn on us? How often do we find ourselves enslaved and imprisoned by the parts of our lives that have become tradition?

Maybe sometimes we just need to get above our situation to see the absurdities we use to line the Truth woven through imagery into the fabric of our being. 
Maybe sometimes we need to go see Mount Everest 
and look down at the temples. 

This first week in Nepal has been such a sweet eye-opening and adventure-heavy time. I'll be back at the end of next week with another recap!

Love from Kathmandu,
Non-traditional Julie.