Two hours outside of the city of Chennai, India in the midst of rice fields, herds of goats and cattle, and cement hunts with leaf roofs are families living in the villages of Bonneri, Panapakkam, Ari and Mel Patti. Churches have been planted in three of the villages and God has called us to plant the third. Yet, this is only the beginning of our journey to the task ahead in the days to come. On Wednesday, June 8, 2016, we hired a van service to take us to these villages for mission and ministry. Two words that I will share in a later post that have been redefined by my experiences over the last couple of years. Making few assumptions, from America, we bring with us clothes and shoes donated by friends and family, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and crayons and color books to share. Making no assumptions and understanding the significance of partnerships in ministry, we inquire of the senior pastors of the known needs of the people in these villages. It is from this information that we evaluated, negotiated and contemplated our budget and determined that with putting our (me, my sister Jacqui and niece Aquila) monies together that we would purchase and distribute a little more than a 1,000 lbs of rice along with the tooth paste and toothbrushes for approximately 100 families and almost as many color books and crayons to the children of the villages and the pastors would distribute the clothing as they determined.
The trip began with congested city traffic like we have never known that was accompanied by honking horns and motor cycles in numbers that we have never seen, cars and trucks that were ignoring traffic lanes and rules, and buses with bars instead of windows overly filled with people traveling outside the city limits. As we crossed the city limits into the country roads, my imagination took me back to the days of old when the Apostle Thomas carried the gospel to this area. A memorial has been built to honor His martyrdom in the city of Chennai. Between long roads of empty fields, rice paddies fields, every now and then passing herds of cattle and goats, spotting groups of men gathered and congregated in various nondescript areas, we approached cross roads of village squares of trading post and meeting places. I can’t image these squares looking much different then back in Thomas’ days except for current types of products, goods, and merchandize being purchased or traded. With no obvious highway, street signs or marks of direction to the various villages, Pastor P instructed the driver when to turn or to continue straight.
As we enter the village of Bonneri, we are greeted by members of this leprosy colony and Pastor Emmanuel Sr. (there are two pastors who are not related with the same name so they are called Sr. and Jr. because of age only to distinguish one from the other). On our whole trip to this village, I contemplated with great wonder, the existence of leprosy in the world today. Of course, my only reference to the disease or condition was stories of lepers in the Bible. Escorted into the cement church, we leave our shoes at the door and move to the front of the dusty, unlit sanctuary. Just like in Sunday Service at the mother church, the men are seated on one side of the room and the women on the other. We are stared at with both appreciation of our visit and curiosity as well as anticipation of what we to offer. The women are making sure that their children are noticed and recognized by us and that the children are aware of these different people from America.
Visually navigating the sanctuary searching for evidence of leprosy, I find that it is only the senior members of the colony who show physical signs of having been once infected with the bacteria. Some have deformed hands and use their arms to carry our gifts. Another is unable to walk, so our gifts are carried by a member of their family. Others have shortened toes and fingers. As we organize the manner in which we will serve the people, the members of the colony are blessing us with smiles and hands clasped in prayer form to their mouths whispering (phonetically spelled), “Strollthrum” (Praise The Lord). WE ARE THE MORE BLESSED FOR THE OPPORTUNITY! Before we begin distributing our gifts, Jacqui speaks directly to the children and the listening ears of their parents and family members of God’s love proven by His sacrificial gift in His Son Jesus Christ. The excitement and joy of the children receiving the toothbrushes and tooth paste and crayons and color books is spread like wild fire among all both members of the colony and us. Mothers stand next to their children making sure that they are attended to and are receiving what is intended.
On the other side of the room, the heads of families or their representatives line up to receive 5 kg (11 lbs) of rice per household. We pray God’s blessings over each head of and household of each family as we pass the bags of rice from our hands into theirs and the blessings are immediately reciprocated with words of, “Strollthrum”. News of the serving is spread throughout the colony as people leave the church and share what they have experienced with other colony members who do not belong to the church. We have given away everything assigned to this village and have to move on to the next before it gets too dark. But, before we leave we lay hands and pray for people as they request. We pray for families, pregnant mothers, senior men and women, young couples and the children. We lay hands on pointed out aliments and hurting places. We touch heads and hearts and we hug shoulders and hold hands. All who reach out to us we reach out to. Our visit is prolonged a little longer because as we leave the village taking pictures a new energy arises with the children’s, teen’s and their mother’s desire for us to take more pictures of them so they can see themselves and to see themselves in pictures with us. We board the van with the voices of all of our new nieces and nephews posing and yelling, “Me Auntie, take me”! We are sent off with smiles, laughter, blessings and the resounding voices of the children shouting Auntie while waving goodbye.
Lord, thank you for calling us to partner with you in mission and in ministry!!!