We have been back in the big city of Thane for 3 weeks already - and were caught up in a swirl of activities with Stefan and family being with us the first week, getting ready for Mum and Dad's surprise thanksgiving time in the middle of the second and topping it off with a visit by 14 folks from the US who wanted to learn more about our centre and work on the weekend.
But before all of this, we had an amazing 2 weeks in Andhra Pradesh.
So let’s travel back in time - to mid December 2014.
We were exhausted. So what's new
The ring of events we organised around World AIDS Day and Mumbai AIDS Sunday through Jeevan Sahara Kendra ended with the climax of a massive annual Thanksgiving Evening for our HIV Positive Friends were some 500 odd people living with HIV, their family members and kids, church volunteers and JSK staff got together to celebrate another year of God's favour on the 13th of December. Four days later we were in Powai at night for Asha and Enoch's annual school concert - and then early the next morning we were on the train for Andhra Pradesh. Absolutely exausted. Ready for the bliss of being with Amma and Appa.
And bliss it was.
Our train deposited us on the other side of the country. We were welcomed at Vishakapatnam station by Appa's big smile and got into the big autorickshaw that he had hired for us from Tungalam village where Amma and Appa stay on the Vizag-Gajuwaka road.
As we passed out of the town we could still see the destruction that cyclone Hudhud had wreaked. No large spreading trees remained. None. Every one of them was blown over, many already cut up into logs - but some still spreading their bare branches plainatively to the sky. A few had fallen on huts. The walls had ruts where trees had fallen. But all things considered there was less damage than we expected from a storm of such intensity. Any building with a slanted roof had damage. But the squat concrete blocks which is the general way of building ‘pukka dwellings’ in our dear Bharat. This combined with the fervent prayers of many saints meant that mercifully few people died considering the massive numbers of people in the huge swath of area that the hurricane affected.
But what a joy to get to Amma and Appa’s home. The sheer goodness of their solid love. Delicious meals. Long lazy conversations. Books. Badminton in the front yard. More food. Sleep. More food. The joy of not having to rush around. The actual lovely smallness of this village. Driving with the scooter over to Gajuaka. Unwinding.
|hot channa-wada and payasam! yum!|
One of the great things about Amma and Appa's place is its sheer remoteness from anything that would grab the attention. It is in a little village and there is really not much to 'do' other than just enjoy life as it slowly washes over you!
The village itself has been growing more prosperous as the years go by - with a number of plush 'Singapore houses' being built on remittance money from folks who have gone abroad. But at its core it remains a village. Clusters of homes where folks live and talk and gossip and where various farm fowl wander about happily while the children go to their tuition classes.
Cups of tea were of course sprinkled through out the day.
I think our family has been sponsoring at least 2 tea gardens and supporting all their workers through the amount of this stimulating beverage that we consume!
The one 'task' I had was to get cracking on Mum and Dad's memory book. Imagine my surprise when I find out that Amma and Appa's computer is on the blink - and so they do not have an internet connection... So my visits to the local cybercafe begin!
And the editing starts and stops between games of badminton and general family hilarity.
It was humbling to see what different people wrote about their experiences with Mum and Dad over the years. We finally finished it back here in Thane - and now have a book of 265 pages of memories and stories of God's faithfulness through Mum and Dad. Do write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy and we will whiz it through the internet to you!
Sunday saw us attending the local Hebron fellowship in Gajuwaka. I was put on a double bill – preaching both the worship and the table message – with a competent translation into Telegu. And a delicious meal of sambhar and chicken curry (!) afterwards.
It is fascinating to see how this church has grown - in numbers and in size and in structure - with a new building coming up after much prayer and giving. But also touching to see some of the faithful folks who we have now been meeting for a number of years on our winter visits. The church is so much more than bricks and mortar - the Bible tells us that we are 'living stones.' With all our imperfections and abilities to irritate and get each other's goats - it is still the people who make up any local congregation - and it is our privilege to see people grow over the years.
Besides the pleasant rounds of food and reading and badminton at Amma and Appa's home, we also planned a two day outing to Amma's ancestral village. We had never been to see Sheba’s aunt and cousins in the their remote village - and so chose the 24-25th of December for this. We thus 'pre-poned' our family Christmas celebration for the Sunday evening - on the 21st of December.
The festivities as a family this year included a detailed quiz...
It is so good to laugh. (Memo to self: Laugh more, response from self: how?)
We also sang and thanked God for the miracle of His incarnation - which continues to today - though our Lord now has a resurrected and glorified body - but He remains amazingly 'flesh and blood' and will always be so since that remarkable event 2K years ago.
And then there was a treasure hunt which lead to the stash of gifts that we had got for each other. Good times!
The next day dawned with the lovely normality of a Tungalam village day. After a time of prayer and reading the Bible, Appa was out in front of the house with his beloved paper.
The minute examination of every scrap of information on a printed page that appears early in the morning is a habit (an urge, an addiction?) found almost exclusively in those of us in the family who carry an XY chromosomal pair.
Enoch has taken to the papers with gusto - especially pouring over the sports results and being able to confidently hold forth on the mysteries of the English Permier League football and other allied esoteric subjects.
On the Monday evening we had a very special outing.
We were invited to the home of bro Nagesh and sister Vasundhara and their lovely daughter Ruth Netanya.
Nagesh and Vasundhara had arranged for a special gospel meeting to take place in their home and wanted all their friends to come. We were invited too.
A brother Stephen - from the Hebron fellowship in Vishakapatnam came and spoke. Mercifully, he spoke in English and was translated into Telegu. We have attended several meetings where the preaching is only in Telegu - with the rare word in English being thrown out with the (pretty vain) hope that we will get the gist of what is being said. Not so this time - the speaker crisply and coherently shared the reason to be joyful and Christmas - and all year round. And then we had another lovely meal.
I couldn't help taking a shot of the back of their synthesizer.
I didn't realise that there was a biblical foundation for using loud-speakers!
What would David have done if he had had access to the technology that is available today? However he would have adapted his psalms to the instruments that we use today, there is one thing David certainly would not do. He would never dilute the fervour in his soul, nor dim the longing for and delight in the Lord which comes out so strongly in so many of the songs David wrote.
Ruth? Well, she is growing into a beautiful little girl. And is being loved to bits by her wonderful adoptive parents and their whole extended family.
Needless to say she had us absolutely charmed.
We are just so happy that this beautiful girl has been given such lovely and wonderful parents. And vice versa! What answers to prayers we experienced last year. We went back to Amma and Appa's place that night with a song in our heart. We had just seen a living breathing miracle - a wonder called Ruth who will continue to bring joy to so many hearts in the coming months and years...
And so after another day of rest (and me trying to get some more progress on 'the memory book') we were finally ready to go to the village.
Our first leg was by auto-rickshaw from Amma and Appa's home to Duvada railway station. As the sun was coming up we could not help notice that the asbestos roof sheets of the platform were missing. Another evidence of the fury of hurricane Hudhud.
The 2 hour train journey to Samalkot was surprisingly crowded... and the folks were surprisingly unhelpful in making place for our aged parents and our young ones. To each his (or as it was overwhelmingly her) own I guess...
When we got to a point where we had to leave the main road, Augustine gently asked me if he could do the driving again.
I am glad he did - because we were soon engulfed in a sea of water buffalo - and the quality of the basically dirt road was Mars-mission-training grade. It's always good to have locals take us through the by-ways which lurk just off the high-ways.
Our first destination was the village of Ellapatty, where a new prayer hall was being dedicated. Nine months earlier, someone had burned down the previous prayer hall, which had a highly flammable thatched roof. The new building was constructed in just 2 months - with various local Hebron fellowships chipping in with labour and money. Augustine's mother had come regularly to help out - and Augustine who works as an electrician - had done much of the wiring.
It was humbling to see the simple, dear folks who came. People who clearly love the Lord. Others who clearly are curious onlookers - and pretty much everyone in between.
One which had several sittings so that everyone would eat and be satisified.
Everything done by local people, using local resources. Very humbling to see the zeal and love for the Lord Jesus that our Telegu brothers and sisters have.
We were then bundled into another autorickshaw and started our almost 1 hour trip to Amma's native village (it has an almost unpronouncable name - I will write it down and update this lapse of memory a.s.a.p.).
And so, as the dusk was beginning to take the first hues of night, we came to the home of Devenamma - Augustine's mother and widow of Isaac Uncle - who is the brother of Sheba's mother. She lives there with Augustine and her daugther Anbo. An elder daughter is married and in other place and an elder son died.
The tragedies don't end there - her daughter Anbo was doing her nursing studies when she fell of the motorbike of a friend and dislocated her vertebrae - which meant she was bed ridden for 4 years and only by God's grace has she started to walk again. Slowly, not sure of herself - but with much courage and God's grace.
We were deeply moved to see the simple and childlike faith that Auntie has.
Auntie Devenamma also kept hens and chicks and so we had some fowls wandering around.
She makes idlis every morning and sells them to others in the village - but had told her regular customers that she would be having company (us) and so we did not get to see her idly production skills.
What we did get was food that had been bathed in love. And the amazing story of how God has touched Aunties's life, after she had been rebelling against God while her husband was still alive (uncle died 8 years ago of a sudden heart attack). She is now so full of the joy of Jesus!
Do you like to eat guavas?
We had our fill - on guavas - and also took a dozen odd home. All this thanks to the tree (which is in their back yard) and the enthusiastic help that Augustine gave.
On a more sobering note, we wished we had visited when Uncle Isaac was still alive. It was so good to hear about him - and how he sacrificially gave for the church - the evidence of which is clear in two ways:
1) there is a simple but beautiful building here they meet on Sundays for worship. Uncle gave the land - and gave his heart to bless others through this church.
Something like 40-50 folks meet each Sunday to worship in this structure.
2) There are people whose lives are changed.
As we went over to the church early in the morning, two little boys followed us in, listening to everything we said. I took it that these were some random kids who had come to see what was happening.
Turns out they are very much part of the Sunday school and could even sing some songs in 'English.'
All too soon it was time to go.
We had just begun getting a glimpse of what life is like to be living in the village - when we needed to 'up stakes' and start the journey back to Vizag.
By God's grace, we were not using transportation methods like what we saw on the byways of Andhra Pradesh
We also are in an interesting era, where technology is making headway into a variety of fields - including priests who answer calls while riding a motorcycle (note the large - and probably illegal flex boards - Christmas meetings being advertised).
Time for one last bike ride.
Augustine and I went to Anaparti station to buy the tickets for the return journey.
Good byes are always hard to say - but we know that we are linked in prayer.
Sheba found a small friend too!
We were all so happy as we came to the door of Amma and Appa's home in the darkness of the night.
A wonderfully good mini-trip - and many prayers answered - and many challenging things to see happen as we pray with deeper understanding for our loved ones.
And so we came to the end of our time in Vizag.
Dreams come true.
They really do.
We have come back to tell this to you.
We miss Amma and Appa very much - and really wish and pray that we do not have to wait too long before we can meet them again and rejoice together. In the meantime, these precious memories are still bright in our hearts.