February 20, 2010
Dear family and friends,
So much has happened since I was last able to sit and write you a letter. It all really started with my recent trip to India. On January 20th, Bekah, the Hupe family and I flew to Chennai which is in the south of India right on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. We were there to attend the Asia Regional Retreat that is held once every 3 years. It was so interesting to be able to meet and spend time with all of the Word Made Flesh Asia Field Staff. We were there with the Nepali and Indian staff members. There are two WMF fields in India: one in Kolkata and the other in Chennai. One of my favorite parts was being able to meet the Chennai staff, the Samuels family because they are the very first WMF field and have been staff for the last 18 years!
Bekah and I helped out two fabulous ladies with childcare so that the parents were able to really focus on the retreat and having fellowship. It was really a lot of fun being with the kids. I felt so blessed to be there in beautiful Chennai with them.
We were actually in two different locations during our time in Chennai. After the Regional Retreat, we went with the other Field Directors to a separate meeting for them. There we spent time wandering around the interesting little shops, playing on the beach and taking tons of pictures that I am can’t wait to share with you.
After all of the meetings were concluded, we headed north to Kolkata for a few days. I am still in the process of emotionally recovering from my time there. While I wouldn’t have traded the experienced for anything, it was hard for me being there, and if you would like a more detailed and physical description of the city I will direct you to my blog: www.meredithlayne.org
The first day was partially spent at the Thai Embassy applying for our re-entry visas and then after that we headed to Sari Bari and met with the fantastically beautiful women who work there. If you are unfamiliar with the work of Sari Bari you should go to www.saribari.org and look at their amazing creations. Basically, Sari Bari is a place where women wanting to get out of the red light district are able to seek shelter, learn a skill and put that skill to work and make a living for themselves and for their families.
Old and used saris are purchased and these women clean them, reshape them and sew them back together to craft brightly colored quilts, blankets and various bags. The process is the same as God goes through with us sinners: we are purchased, washed, broken and reshaped into something beautiful and useful. The women are welcomed with open arms and hearts and experience firsthand the healing and redemptive love of Christ.
On Friday our last day in India, we were able to go the Home for the Dying and see where Mother Teresa lived and worked. We were hoping to volunteer but we weren’t able to because they had too many volunteers, which is an awesome problem to have. We went to the Mother House and saw Mother Teresa’s tomb which is a lot like the lady herself: beautifully simple and surrounded by the word of God. That night we spent in community with the WMF staff. Keep them in your prayers along with the rest of the Asia staff as they serve and try their best to do Kingdom work.
Spending that time in India made me so excited to come back to Thailand. It really felt like coming home. I loved India but my heart is definitely in Thailand. Many of you know that as an intern my specific job is to care for women who come to live with us who are in need. Since returning from India that aspect of my job has begun. I am not able to give details at this time, but I can tell you that two of the most amazing women have moved in with us. Their stories are horrific; many of the details seem too much to believe. My responsibilities are to oversee their primary care and making sure their basic needs are met.
We have been getting to know them over the past two weeks and I have made two awesome friends that I will carry in my heart forever. Their names are Joanna and Marianna* and they are amazing. Their beauty and grace is something to behold. Everyday we grow closer and our bond is growing stronger giving them what I hope is love and stability that has been so missing in their lives. Joanna is a new believer and her enthusiasm for Christ is so wonderful, her dark eyes sparkle when she talks about God’s love for her and how he has changed her life completely. She has been attending a local Burmese church herein the city and it has been a great family of community for her. Last night she took Bekah and Marianna and I with her to a home Bible study.
Living in the south I thought I knew what hospitality was, but at this home Bible study I really experienced genuine hospitality. Here I was in this tiny room, maybe 20x5 feet with about forty people sitting and leaning in windows and the doorway to hear the word that was given and to fellowship. After the message was given we all ate together. The food was the most delicious Nepali food, everyone eating family style in bowl after bowl of food and plate after plate of fruit. Bekah and I were welcomed so warmly and embraced by everyone. People there were explaining the message that was given in Nepali so we could understand, introducing us to their families, asking about our lives and giving us more and more (and more!) food. It was beautiful. We had our Father in common and so we all were equal. It was community.
Compared to me, these people have so little and yet they give to us without reservation because the same has been done for them. As I reflect back, I wonder what this would have looked like in America. Would we go so far out of our comfort zone to welcome two Nepali girls into our church? Would we sit with them and translate the sermon, would we without question offer up our bed for them to sleep in, given them all of our food or would we they get lost in the busy shuffle of the production and show of Sunday worship? Would the language barrier be too great, so we don’t leave our group of Sunday friends to welcome Jesus in the form of two foreigners? I want to believe it would be no different, but I know that I haven’t been the one to step out, even when there is no language or cultural walls. I still don’t step out of my comfort and welcome them. Thankfully God is changing me and teaching me through Burmese churches to do so.
The Servant Team arrived here this past week. They are now in the process of becoming familiar with their surroundings and everything. I am excited to get to know the more and share awesome experiences with them the next few months.
Financially, I have a total of $3800 raised. I need a total of $7,000 to cover the expenses of this trip, and have it raised before the first of June. All that I have left to raise is $3200! That’s really not so bad. That looks like 32 people donating $100, or 64 people donating $50 or 160 donating $20. With tax returns coming in soon hopefully you all are able to share with me what God has blessed you with so that I am able to do the work he has called me to in Thailand. You can donate directly to WMF at www.wordmadeflesh.org or to me directly by clicking on the donate button at my blog (www.meredithlayne.org). Thank you for your continued support and prayers, they mean so much to me! I love and miss you, and look forward to seeing you soon!
In His Love, by His Grace,
*Names changed for their safety & protection
Friday, February 5, 2010
Kolkata is nothing like you expect, simple because people don’t allow themselves to think or imagine so many people living that way. Everyone who goes there should be shocked at the conditions of people living and dying in that way, and if you are not, I will pray for you.
My first impression of Kolkata is hard to recall because all of my senses were at one once overload and unable to single one out the most outstanding impression.
Sight is often the first of our senses that we rely on to pass information to our brain about our surroundings. In Kolkata however, especially at night, the fine grit of dust and pollution that hazes the city prevents a clear image of all that is near. At night the lights of hundreds of taxis and other cars cause this thick are to clare strangely sepia around you. Not only is it hard to see in general, but the dust settles over the moisture of your eyeball and every time you blink it away it settles softly again. Watery, crusty red eyes in Kolkata is part of your time there. Once the day breaks, the haze is pierced by the sun and you are able to see all of the color and the beauty that is nearly hidden by development. Evidence of English occupation is clear in the buildings and every where you look you see it. The buildings are brightly painted and peak between bodies through crowded sidewalks and roads.
Instinctually your ears strain to compensate for the lack of vision clarity. Immediately the ear canal is packed with incessant car horns, long and short hongs layering over the top of each other. Underneath that you can hear the deep and raspy voices of Indian men rapidly firing words in Bengali and Hindi at each other. The roar of ancient exhaust pipes fill whatever space is between the voices and horns and creates a symphony that lacks both rhythm and melody but still manages to synthesize musical currents that incite reactions from your body. Muscles tense and step forward, and immediately jerk your leg back, but rather than dancing this is the natural response to the fear of the fear of being hit by one of the careening taxis.
Finding out two primary research senses handicapped we breath deeply through the nose. A more basic sense to tell us what information we need to survive our situational landscape, the nose tells us many things as Kolkata is a plethora of scents and smells. Once we get past the general musty smell of dust and car exhaust that we knew were coming because of what you are able to glean from the eyes and ears, the nose is able to discern the scent of pungent body odor. Indian men smell like no other mass of unwashed bodies on the planet I think, haha. This tangy and salty smell mingles with the sickly sweet smell of slightly over ripe fruit and vegetables. Spices tickle you nose and often redeem the general lingering smell of decay that clings to your nose hairs. The delicious smell of Indian food wafts by on the draft of racing buses and Tuk-Tuks. Weaving in and out of the smell of various pipes and cigarettes and the intriguing aroma of strong marijuana burns the back of your throat as it makes its way into your lungs where the rest of this polluted oxygen is filtered into your blood and is pumped through your body.
Scent at taste of often one in the same, and in Kolkata the are partners in the experience of your stay. The dust in the air films over the inside of your mouth each time you part your lips. It absorbs in the saliva and causes you to feel thirsty most of the time you are on the streets. Of course the food is a huge part of the India taste experience. All of the food is a rich and complex as the culture. Eating with the right had to shovel food in ads salty skin flavor to a touch of dirt that is forever engrained in the grooves of your fingers. Savory dahl and spicey masala seems to flavor the naan like exotic bread and gravy. A pleasant slow burn lingers over your tongue and lips like you’ve just kissed that person you’ve waited your whole life to kiss. It makes the lips feel swollen and puffy and draws more stares from the suggestive eyes of the Indian men all around.
Our final and most personal sense touch is on full alert from every angle. There are people everywhere in India and the gender is primarily men at what I figure to be a 5:1 ratio at any given time on the street. Pressing around entirely me body is hyper aware of the sly brushes of swinging hands and nudges to the softest more feminine areas of my anatomy. Not wanting to jump to conclusion and assume the worst of this new culture the doubts in your mind fade as the brush happens again and the nudges grow bolder. In the markets my sense of touch feels the feather like silks and softest cashmere scarves and stiff cottons on saris. At the end of the day evidence of our textual curiosities is evident by the gray tinge to my fingers.
This is my physical description of Kolkata. I am not able to emotionally, spiritually and intellectually describe Kolkata yet- if I ever fully will be able to. I have seen suffering, and extreme poverty, prostitution and oppression- I have been face to face with all that is represented by third world countries. This wasn’t new conceptually for me. The difference is the magnitude of Kolkata and that it is everywhere. Every city has a slum; there is always a rundown part of town where poor people live, except Kolkata doesn’t have that. There is no part of town, no other side of the tracks, because it is a city of 20 million plus living in a slum.
Kolkata is humanly fixable. There is no sense of hope lingering in the eyes of the people who live there of times getting better. This is life for them; they are resigned to live this way because this is how it is. Yes the hope is there in the missionaries and the people who come and live there, but even their eyes and hearts grown hard and blind to the evidence of homeless and starving all around them- and who can blame them as it happens as a way to survive; a callous that protects their hearts as they work everyday to a possibly unreachable goal. While I was there I was thirsting to death to hear redemptive stories of life and quenching love that fuels the soul and body to press on and finish.
Kolkata broke me totally. I am still scrambling to hold myself together so that my guts don’t spill out because I have things to do in Thailand. I couldn’t stay there; it hasn’t been given to me the strength to see that place every morning. I have been blessed to see I believe so that I can tell others what they refuse to believe exists. I am so thankful for those God has given the strength to answer the call to Kolkata, to serve there, to take on the problems of the people there as their own problems and struggles, it is a testament to your faith. I respect you, and love you and pray for you doing what I don’t have the strength to do. Thank you.
To those of you, who don’t know about Kolkata, learn about it, because it will make you uncomfortable. Being in Kolkata you see images of Mother Theresa everywhere. I was thinking of her life and how God gave her such an amazing calling. That isn’t the amazing part though, her calling anyway, because her calling is the same as the calling we all have issued to us in the gospels. The amazing part of her call is to where she was called and who she helped and the fullness in which she answered her call. We all have the call Mother Theresa received, the only difference is our responses. Im not saying we are all called to Kolkata, but we are all called to love until we are uncomfortable- to love as much as we love ourselves. The outside looking in image is that we Americans love ourselves a lot.
**Abba- break me. Please may I never cease to be broken and cry at the sight of human suffering. In my brokenness show me how to serve to the best of my abilities and gifts. Pour your love through me, the never ending flow of your love that I will pour it out and make you evident to those around me. Thank you for this chance to see suffering and to know this life was never your desire for those you created and love and the promise that you will restore and reconcile us to your perfect plan and kingdom. I love you, not as much as I should but I am growing in you by your hand into the woman you desire me to be and I am thankful for your faithfulness t me and my life.**
For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. Isaiah 65:17