Sunday, September 09, 2012

A Less-than-likely Meeting

I originally wrote this in pen on a newspaper while I was on my way home from Japan in 2009.  I ran across it and decided I should put it down for posterity.  So, without further ado:
I met a woman in the airport today in Beijing.  She saw that I was reading the Bible and came up to me and asked if I would read out loud for her.  Of course, I complied, but she had a little trouble understanding at first because her native language is not English.  After I read some verses for her, she wanted to know if I was a ministerial student or a minister of some kind.  I told her I was just a normal computer science student, but then she wanted to know my testimony.  I told her about my experience growing up as a Christian.  After that I asked her about her testimony.  She proceeded to relate this story: 
She was a Muslim.  Her parents arranged a marriage for her, and she and her husband were married in Taiwan.  After only one week of marriage she had quite a surprise:  her husband had another wife and child in Taiwan.  She was heartbroken; however, despite her sorrow, Islam does not allow for divorce, and, eleven years later, she had born three children to her husband and was teaching nursing at a school (I believe in Taiwan). 
There was a teacher at her school who was a Christian.  One day, she said to him, "I want to believe in your God, how can I believe in Him?" 
He answered, "It's easy, just pray." 
She had been living at the school away from her husband and three children for about a year now to practice living on her own -- she had decided she wanted to leave her children and husband for America to be with her relatives.  One night she decided she was going to do it, and she knelt down to try prayer for the first time.  In her heart she said, "God, please watch over my three children.  Please love them and care for them." 
At that moment, she heard a voice, "If you don't love them, why should I?" 
The next morning, just to be sure she wasn't going crazy, she knelt down by her bed and prayed again, "God, if that's really you, please speak to me again." 
Again, she heard the voice, "Don't go and leave your children and husband.  If you stay, many people can be blessed through you, but if you go, many people will be distressed by your leaving."  She says that was the moment she was "Born Again" (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Now she, her husband, and her three children have all been baptized and she and her husband have moved to California.  All three of her children and their spouses are serving God -- one in San Jose, one in L.A., and one in Tokyo at the International Chinese Church.
I'm glad I found this and got it written down.  It was quite an interesting experience.  There are a couple of pieces of the story that I wish I had looked into at the time.  For example, what happened to her husband's first wife and child?  Also, I probably would have asked her about her prayer habits when she was a Muslim and how that was different from Christian prayer.  Perhaps I'll run into her again some day and have the opportunity to get these questions answered.  Until then, I guess it will be a mystery.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Good People of Colorado

I originally wrote the following on June 21, 2010, during our vacation to Marble, Colorado. Despite my best intentions, I didn't write anything further about the rest of the vacation. Most of it was spent reading, anyway, so I guess it wouldn't have been that interesting. Although, there was an incident involving an overturned raft that could have been worth writing about. Regardless, enjoy:

Well, it has been quite a trip already. We started on Saturday morning on the shorter leg of our trip. It was only supposed to be a 5.5 hour drive from Loma Linda to St. George, but with a two-year-old aboard, it turned out to be a fair bit longer. Up until our stop in Las Vegas, the trip was rather uneventful. One of the only things of note was that I found out that I could eat Pintos and Cheese at Taco Bell (not many other restaurants can cater to my broken jaw), so it became a staple for the
rest of the trip.

The other thing that was rather amusing was that Anika kept on saying, "Ani go to Colorado." Finally, her mother decided to explain the entire trip to her. She spared no expense. I mean, we're talking about grand hand-gesture diagrams and full itinerary explanation. First, she detailed how we would be driving up to St. George to where we would spend the first night. The highlight of that leg of the trip for Ani was obviously the hotel pool, which she made sure to emphasize. Then, Nicol described the next leg of our trip from St. George, Utah to Colorado, detailing the drive and how Ani would be able to see her cousins and play with them once we reached Colorado.

After this long and comprehensive description of our journey, Ani sat, wide-eyed for a moment and finally responded, "Go home." Jeff, Nicol, and I all thought this was hilarious, and, after that drawn-out account of our itinerary, I think that deep within us, we felt like turning around and going home as well.

Our first real incident of note occurred shortly after driving through Las Vegas. We stopped at a gas station to let Ani go to the bathroom and piled back into the car to continue our trip, but, when Jeff turned the key to start the van, nothing happened. The engine didn't even attempt to turn over. After trying a few things, we finally popped the hood to see if we could figure out what was going on. A couple of guys hopped out of their car to see if they could help. We knew it must be some sort of electrical problem, so we checked the fuses. They all looked fine, but when we swapped the radio fuse and the starter fuse, everything started working again. It must have just been loose. After thanking God for helping us to figure out the
problem, we were on our way again.

After reaching St. George, enjoying the pool, spending the night at the hotel, and eating breakfast, we were ready to set out on the second leg of our journey. This leg was to be significantly longer - about 8.25 hours. Again, this leg was uneventful for the most part, but once we started to reach our destination, something unexpected and quite inconvenient happened.

As we were climbing the last hill up to the summit of the last pass before Marble (our final destination), Ani started complaining about her tummy hurting. Since we knew we were close, we begged her to hold it and continued up the hill. After the third or so time that Ani complained about her tummy hurting, we realized that she must be carsick. Really carsick. She began to drool, and Jeff immediately stopped the van, but, to our dismay, we watched as mostly-chewed, half digested burrito spewed forth from her gaping maw. It flowed down the front of her, rivulets running over her shirt and carseat. After some heroic clean up efforts by Nicol, Jeff decided that we should pull forward to a better turn-off point. As we pulled forward, he noticed that he no longer had power steering, and the car was overheating. We soon discovered that the serpentine belt had fallen off and we had not packed the tools to fix it.

This is the point in which the real heroes of this story make their entrance - the "good samaritans". As soon as we pulled off the road and opened up our hood, the first person stopped by to try and help. After she hung out for a little while and found out what the problem was, we told her that we would be able to figure something out (after all, we were pretty close to our destination and knew that some of our family were there). Unfortunately, what we hadn't counted on is the complete lack of cell phone reception in and around Marble, Colorado. While we were still trying to figure out what we were going to do, another vehicle stopped and out jumped Chuck. A big, friendly-looking gray-haired man wearing a cowboy hat. He walked over to our van, assessed the situation, informed us that he didn't have any tools, and offered us a ride. We soon learned that he had a wife, Glenda, and a son, Jeremy, in the van along with their dog Brodie. At first, they were going to take just Anika and Nicol with them to get help from our family, but when they saw that Jeff and I were somewhat less than comfortable with this situation, Chuck decided that he had to do what he could to make room for me, as well. Before long, he had cleared the other seat in the van so that I could go as well, and we headed off.

We were able to make it to our final destination with little difficulty, no small thanks to Chuck and his helpful family. After a while, Uncle Tom, Ben, and I were able to head back to help Jeff get the van the rest of the way, but by the time we got there, we saw that another "good samaritan" had stopped to help Jeff and had provided him with the tools he needed to put the serpentine belt back on. As soon as we got there, we were able to head back with Jeff in tow.

As I am sure that the reader can see, the real heroes of our story were the many incredibly thoughtful people who stopped to help us when we had trouble. I'm not sure what we would have done in our close-to-helpless situation if it were not for those that found it in their hearts to help a fellow human in a less-than-ideal situation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Chittoor Postmortem

It is over. The chairs have been put away, the tarps stored, and the sound equipment packed. The evangelistic meetings have concluded. It was not an easy four days, but it was deeply meaningful. I think that we made the most impact with the children of the town of Chittoor. Coincidentally, I believe they also made the biggest impact on us as well. At least, I know that they made a significant impact on me.

From the very first, all of the kids would crowd around me, wanting to shake my hand, talk to me, or have me join their coloring group during the VBS activities. To my surprise, even after the initial excitement of having a foreigner amongst them, the kids still wanted to hang around me 100% of the time. There were especially two brothers who loved to be around us (Quinston, Vandeman, and me) and help us in whatever way they could - by carrying our things or going to get us something we needed. In fact, on the last night of the meetings, Sridhar and Joy (the brothers) honored us with "one small gift." It was some sort of display ornament made out of a CD and some plastic decorations. We thanked them profusely and "snapped one photo" (Indians often use the word one instead of the indefinite article a) of us, them and the imparted gift. We also went to their house to visit them the next day after having breakfast, which they were greatly excited about.

To support the view that these children were very excited about having us visit their town, I will relate a story that I heard. Apparently Joy, the younger of the two brothers was so taken with us that one night, after the rest of the family was in bed, he had risen from bed and sneaked out of the house. Making his way out to the main road, he hoped to see us on our way back to the hotel from where we ate supper at the Principal's house. Of course, after hearing a story like this and receiving such a fine gift we had no choice but to visit their home. Their hospitality was exemplary and they offered us all Fanta (which Joy purchased from a nearby shop while we were talking with his mother).

Speaking of talking with the people there, one thing that made it possible for Sridhar, Joy, and S. Mohan Raj to be our little buddies is that they could actually speak English reasonably well. This was not the case for many of the people there. At every house we went to visit the conversation was carried on in Telugu and I just sat and watched the people's expressions and body languages and thought about whatever came to mind since I had no idea what was going on. Every once in a while everyone would start laughing and look at me which would notify me that I was the topic of conversation. The funny thing was that they all seemed to expect a response, but I would just stare dumbly back and shrug. At this point, Dr. Wilson would usually say, "The comment is on you, how do you respond?"

"I have no idea what the comment was," I would reply. Then someone would relate to me what had happened and I would try to come up with something witty to say in response (which would inevitably fail). One thing that I started to notice about not being able to take part in the conversations is that it takes a lot of social pressure off. I enjoyed doing the visitations because all I had to do was sit there and reap the rewards of the Indians' hospitality and be off in my own little world, or try to guess what everyone was talking about.

The meetings themselves went well from what I could tell. We had a good turnout -- we almost filled the venue every night. Hopefully the meetings will help to jumpstart the growth of the church in Chittoor. The membership at present is VERY small. On Sabbath we had a grand total of five adults show up for the service -- the attendees were mostly kids. Not even the people who were baptized at the end of the meetings bothered to come to church on Sabbath. We did have over ten baptisms at the end of the meetings, however -- hopefully these will add to the foundation of the church.

Chittoor is a decent sized town and not at all hostile towards Christianity so the church there should definitely be bigger than it is. Unfortunately, the Seventh-day Adventist church there has gained a reputation for being both a poor person's church (there are no prosperous members at present) and a fighting church (the previous pastor and principal of the school did not get along). Please pray that these false impressions will be laid to rest by the new leadership there and that the people of Chittoor will be lead to the truth.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chittoor: First Impressions

The following entry was written on April 10, 2009, the first full day that we stayed in Chittoor.

Well, the first part of the journey is over. We arrived in Chitoor yesterday after about three and a half to four hours in the car. We also stopped in Vellore for probably close to an hour to visit both Dr. McGees. The visit was very pleasant and we all felt much more able to continue our journey to Chitoor after a cold drink and a couple of cookies. Once we arrived in Chitoor we barely had enough time to shower and get dressed at our hotel before we needed to head off to the evangelistic meetings.

We got to the meetings and I saw that it was not going to be a large affair - which was a relief to me since I tend to get nervous in front of crowds. At the meetings I basically had two responsibilities: give the health talk and pray for the people. I was a little apprehensive about the first one since I had not brought a hard copy of the script for the powerpoint I was supposed to work with. It turned out that I was able to use the soft copy on my computer for the script and use Dr. Wilson's computer for the actual slides . One interesting thing about the talk was that it was my first time talking through a translator. I believe it went well - I can't really be sure what the translator was saying so he could have been telling them anything, really. The only problem was that we arrived late so I had to cut the talk short, which was rather awkward.

The real interesting thing about the meetings was what happened afterward. They had me pray for everyone. This may sound perfectly normal, but the reader must understand that this wasn't just a public prayer that lasted for a minute and then was over. I was expected to pray for two or three people at a time as they left. I am not sure how I feel about this. I suppose Jesus would have people gather to Him so that He could bless them. However, the people could actually understand Jesus when He blessed them. I do not believe most of the people could understand me, but fortunately, there was someone there who was able to translate some of the people's requests to me so I had something to pray for other than "Please stay with these people as they leave this place" or something like that. The only thing I am sure about is that everyone was sooo excited to have "Brother Steve" pray for them. Which brings me to my next thought. About half way through the meeting I noticed that there was a big banner on the wall behind the podium. It proudly announced the meetings and the two biggest attractions that would be there: "Dr. Wilson - Speaker, Radio Speaker, Hosur" and "Brother Steve - Family and Health Talks, Hosur." That cracked me up. They sure know how to make someone feel welcome.

The 'Brother Steve' Banner

After some delicious Indian food we headed back to our hotel and got some sleep (after watching a short episode of Mr. Bean haha). This morning, after singing happy birthday to Quinston "Ricky" Wilson who turned sixteen today, eating breakfast, and having worship at the hotel, we headed out for Vacation Bible School. This program was much more relaxed and turned out to be quite a bit of fun. Again, I had two responsibilities: tell a story (which turned out to be about Elisha) and lead out in the coloring activities. There are a group of boys there who have taken a special liking to me so I entertained them by taking their picture and also spent most of my coloring time with them. The story was quite interesting because Ricky was translating for me into Tamil, but apparently he's not completely fluent in it. It turned out alright though - his mother merely got up after we were done and explained the story to the kids again, to my amusement.

So far, I must admit that I'm having a good time. Resting up/preparing for the evening meeting is the extent of my responsibilites at the moment: can't complain about that. I hope the health talk this evening goes well...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bananas... and Evangelizing

I just wanted some bananas!

I never thought that would have been a big request, but the lady wouldn't give me any bananas. I went to the shop right near the entrance to the gate specifically because I had been without bananas for the last few days and I thought it would be good to incorporate some more fruit into my diet. I went up to the counter and was greeted with the customary, "Sir?"

"Ten bananas please," I replied, gesturing to the fruits hanging behind me from the ceiling. At this shop, you ask for how many bananas you want and the shop keeper comes out and cuts them down for you. I saw that the bananas were particularly green, but that's fine -- it takes me a while to go through ten bananas anyway. I rarely get through ten before I have to freeze a couple, even if they are green when I buy them.

The lady frowned and walked out, but she did not have the knife in hand. She squeezed the bananas, frowned again, shook her head and said, "No." Then she said something in Tamil which I took to mean, "Too green."

I gestured to the bananas and said, "They're fine."

She shook her head again. "No, tommorow," she said. I tried to make it clear that I didn't care what color the bananas were, but she would not sell them to me. She even consulted her friend in the back of the shop who evidently confirmed her decision.

"So you're not going to sell me any bananas?" I asked, flabbergasted, but realizing that my arguments were not getting me anywhere. She shook her head and walked back behind the counter. I really had not planned on buying anything else, but I did not want to completely waste the trip and ended up purchasing some eggplants. The only explanation I can think of is that the price for bananas is cheaper when they're that green and she didn't want to sell them at that price. It was frustrating, but I got to enjoy my bananas a couple of days later.

In other news, I am going to help out with some evangelistic meetings near Vellore tomorrow. Pray that we'll be a blessing to the people.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Nightmare in Nepal

The flight from India to Nepal went well. In fact, I would describe it as downright enjoyable. I just happened to get a seat right next to one of the Indian Vice Presidents for IBM. We had a very interesting talk about computers as well as about his past job history and how he became a vice president. Apparently he had worked as a programmer for Texas Instruments as well as some other companies that I had not heard of before being promoted to management.

After the flight, I met up with Mindy (who was on the plane but I had not seen yet because I had gotten on much later than her). From there we went to get our Visas. After filling out the paperwork, I went to pay for my Visa, but the lady at the desk said that they did not take Indian rupees (I had no US money on me). Fortunately, there was a money exchange desk right nearby, so I went over there to exchange my Indian rupees for US dollars and maybe some Nepalese rupees. When I got to the desk, I showed them my money and they said, "Oh no, we don't take those here." I stood with mouth agape and immediately all of the implications of that simple statement rushed through my head. I soon found out that Indian Rs. 1000 notes are illegal to use in Nepal and they would not exchange Indian Rs. 500 notes either. That meant that I was in Nepal with no money.

They told me where I could find an ATM, but when I got down there, I could not remember my PIN (I think I have since remembered my PIN but haven't gotten the chance to test it yet). Fortunately (well, mostly fortunately) there was someone there who offered to trade me my Indian rupees for US dollars. I was a little suspicious at first, but the money he showed me looked fine. He told me to give him Rs. 2000 for his $25. For some reason, my math failed me at that moment (I never think well under pressure) and I calculated Rs. 2000 to be equal to about $20. I made the trade, but as I was walking away my math skills seemed to return and I realized that Rs. 2000 was just over $40 - I had just given him $15. By now, I was sure it was too late to trade my Rs. 500 note for the Rs. 1000 I just gave him so I decided to let it be.

I got my Visa! Now all that remained was to get a ride to the hospital. Fortunately Mindy was there so she was able to pay the Nepalese Rs. 1300 for the taxi (since I still had no money). I am not sure what I would have done if Mindy had not been there - probably either fast at the airport for a week or spend lots of quality time with the ATM. After that everything went relatively smoothly (besides the taxi driver not wanting to drive the last kilometer to the hospital from Banepa).

I suppose the moral of the story would be: if you are going to Nepal, do not take Indian money with you! Take US dollars.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Real-time Update!!

That's right, I'm coming at you live from an internet cafe I found in Mussoorie. I think my family is probably wondering what I did for my birthday so I think I'll get to that first. After staying Thursday night in Roorkee with the Dass's (who were extremely helpful and hospitable) I took off for Mussoorie and arrived Friday afternoon (the 20th), and, after visiting Mrs. Keelan (who invited me for dinner on the 21st), I headed to town to get some groceries. I stayed at Valehead Friday night and the next day, Sabbath, was my birthday.

I decided that I would take the day and go on a hike to Kempty falls. Papa had said that they used to hike there when they were at Vincent Hill. What he didn't say is that they would take the trails so I took the road. Unfortunately, the journey by road was about 13 km (a little less since I took a couple of shortcuts). Needless to say, I was quite tired by the time I reached the falls and quite disappointed to see how commercialized it was (there were shops everywhere and they've even set up a cable car). After having my lunch there at about 11:10 a.m. or so (I headed out at 8), I started heading back. This time, I would be on the lookout for shortcuts constantly since I did not want to go the long way and since it was all uphill.

The shortcut search started off well as I found a path straight up to the village above the falls. After that I went a ways on the road, tried another shortcut which I gave up on, and then came to a hairpin turn where there seemed to be a shortcut leading uphill again. As I went up this one, a kid who appeared to be about 15 years old came up behind me. I asked him if the path we were on led up to the road. He said, "Mussoorie going?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Shortcut," he said and proceeded to lead me as far as his turn-off to go to his village. Then, he pointed out to me the way I should go and I continued on. I never saw the road again until I was back in town. I did meet a couple of people and asked them the direction to Mussoorie and they confirmed it was the path I was on. To give some idea of just how much of a shortcut it was, I timed from a certain point and it took me 2 hours 23 minutes to reach Kempty falls from that point and 1 hour 46 minutes to return. Keep in mind also that the way to Kempty falls was almost completely downhill and the way back was almost straight up the mountain.

When I reached Mussoorie again, I met an Indian who wanted to practice his English on me and show me all around Mussoorie. Altogether, I think I probably walked 50 km or so. After returning at 4 p.m. I had dinner with Mrs. Keelan at 6.

Well, my half hour is almost up, so I have to go. See you all next time :P