An Action-Packed Few Months
March to June 2012
Having endured many computer problems whilst in India, I will be combining the last 3 and a half months into one report. I am so thankful to God that I have been able to recover all my irreplacable photos from a most beautiful experience.
The last weekend in March was filled with Sister’s Conference, where 90 sisters both young and old gathered together for studies around the book of Titus. Despite having never done a sister’s class before – generally done to a smaller group! – I was asked to do one of the studies on ‘Reverent in Behaviour’. To my great surprise, I found whilst giving the talk that I really enjoyed speaking to these sisters, showing them what I’d found out from my own studies. It gave me confidence that I can do so many things with God’s help.
During March and April I attended several events; one of the girls from the Moinabad home got engaged, and thus began many celebrations! The engagement party of Abigail to Biban (a Brother from Kerala, South India) was in a room overcrowded with people, and in typical Indian fashion there were many photographers blocking peoples’ views of the happy couple. After the party we had a Bible class, and then a giant feast! The Indians really know how to celebrate events and this I really admire. More parties were held for Abigail throughout April – ‘saffron parties’, where there are readings, songs, presentation of gifts and feeding the bride-to-be. The married women symbolically pass on their wisdom by smearing a yellow paste on the bride-to-be; and once the serious part is over, everyone starts having fun and coating each other in this yellow paste!
Another example of them making events special was around Easter time. On Good Friday the Bible centre was packed full with all of Moinabad, Hyderabad ecclesia, and most of the Shunem children and we had a special praise session. Then on Sunday we got up early to have a special meditation sitting in the grassy area in the courtyard of Shunem, where people kept repeating “He is risen! He is risen indeed”, and then we all enjoyed an Easter breakfast. At the Sunday memorial people eagerly shook hands with one another, greeting a Happy Easter, truly excited about this special day. It brought so much more life into it for me, they are so happy to have a faith and a hope of the Kingdom.
Vacation Bible School
Apart from the above events, the first three weeks of April were the general Shunem routine of morning prayer, Phonics classes, Elders readings, and then some free time until the children came home from school to do their homework and study for their exams.The fourth week, however, was quite different!
Every year at the end of April, the Shunem Home holds ‘VBS’, or Vacation Bible School. Every morning for a week we took Sunday school classes for the 220 children that attended, split into 6 classes. The 220 was all the Shunem children plus children from surrounding villages, many of whom attend Sunday school each week. It was a lot of work, but it was great at the end of the week seeing the plays, songs and presentations of what each class had learnt. We had been following lessons on ‘Walking Through Genesis’, and ended the week with a lesson on the Kingdom.
We also supplied the village children with food and drink each day – here is a picture of them queueing for their drinks!
Bangalore Bible School
During the month of May, the hottest month of the year, the children from Shunem have school holidays and they all go back to their relatives and villages. We pray that this helps them see just how fortunate they are living at Shunem, with the food, education, a safe place to sleep, and the regular Bible studies. Whilst they are on these school summer holidays, the volunteers are free to do some travelling and attend Bible Schools.
A group of ten of us all went on the overnight train to Bangalore for Bible School, and being fortunate enough to be in two compartments in the same carriage we joined together for some hymn singing. We attracted lots of listeners as they passed by, and some even stopped to join in! The Bible week was so lovely as I got to meet a lot of new people – especially a lot of friendly people my age. We volunteers had a really good group of friends who played games into the early hours of each night, as there was not much socialising time during the day.
We heard talks from Bro. Tim Galbraith, and from an Indian brother, Jimmy, from Bangalore. We also had discussion groups, reading groups, a sisters class, youth workshops, and I was teaching a few Sunday school classes.
After Bible school, James (the other Shunem volunteer) and I stayed with a Bro & Sis from Bangalore for a week. We got some time to relax and explore, and also meet up several times with our new friends from Bible school. Prior going to Bangalore, I had no idea how much I needed to get out of Shunem, out of Hyderabad, meet some other people, and do something other than the Shunem routine! I feel so blessed to have had the time to meet so many wonderful Brothers & Sisters throughout my travels.
Kerala Bible School
I managed to delight the whole camp by learning a song in their own tongue, Malayalam. I didn’t realise when I agreed to learn it how much joy this would bring them! I remember from previous trips to Russia how excited they were when I learnt some of their language, and it was just the same in India.
To my surprise, on arrival at the Bible school in Kerala I found out that James and I were in charge of Sunday school for the week! We had 3 hours of sessions every morning, plus looking after the children in the afternoon – therefore we didn’t hear any of the Bible week studies. We taught a group of 16 the parables of Jesus; they were a great group of children who I loved getting to know better. Whilst there I was reminded why we’d been put on Sunday School and not been able to hear the studies: the ecclesias in India are all relatively new, having been created within the last 30 years. The people running the ecclesias just now were not brought up in this faith, and are all very eager to learn more and more – so none want to miss any of the studies! I am fortunate to be able to hear many different Brothers speak and I can attend events all over my small country of the UK, whereas India is such a big country that these sorts of weekend or week long events do not happen nearly as often. They are quite in isolation.
Having discovered that some of the teachers in the public schools weren’t actually qualified, it was decided to try making a Shunem school – the four youngest classes were pulled out of the public school and we created two classrooms at the new Bible Centre just 5 minutes from Shunem. A qualified teacher was hired to take the 3-5 year olds in the morning, with the volunteer(s) taking the 6-9 year olds. Mornings consist of assembly (songs, talking about God, behaviour, talking about the current project). June’s project was the human body, so we’d spend a bit of time each day learning songs about the body, remembering what body parts were called – as it’s all in English.On my last day at the school we had the children lying on their backs rolling around on the classroom floor, all grabbing their ankles and heels, as we were making sure they knew the difference between the two! In the morning we also have English and Maths. The Indian teacher takes the older children for Telugu & Hindi in the afternoons, whilst the younger ones have a sleep.
Despite not having any previous teaching experience (bar teaching the Shunem kids Phonics), I quickly realised I loved teaching them how to count: I knew I was doing something really worthwhile. I took 1st class (6 and 7 year olds) and showed them how to do addition, and to count using their fingers and also with big seeds. It took a little while for them to get the hang of it, especially as counting with seeds was an entirely new concept – something other than fingers! They all made progress in the short time that I was at the school, and I have continually heard reports about how well they are progressing.
One of the main problems in India is that people don’t know how to think creatively as they are not taught like this: they rely on their memories for everything. Learning is memorising everything, not learning it so that you understand it. This is what the school is aiming to do, making sure they understand their lessons and perhaps teaching in different ways, through activities. Learning through activities is so valuable; this is why we had the children lying on the floor clutching their ankles and singing songs as previously mentioned!
One More Word
My India experience was just fantastic – one of the best things I could have ever done. I can definitely encourage others to go there – they are always in need of help, especially now that the Shunem school has begun. It was extremely difficult leaving; I’d bonded with many, and the Shunem children think that we forget about them after we leave. They don’t understand that it is difficult to juggle education or work to try and come out to India for a significant length of time, and there’s no way of contacting the children to let them know we still love them and want to know all about them – except through contact with other volunteers. All I can pray is that I’ve added a little colour to each of their canvasses: a picture explained to me by Brother Wayne, who was volunteering at Shunem when I began.
Each of us has a canvas – the canvas is our life – and throughout our lives, whoever we meet, they add a little yellow colour. Or a wavy orange stripe. Or an emerald green dab of paint. Everything we experience, read, watch, listen to adds a different colour to the canvas, and slowly the canvas becomes more covered in colours. Don’t we want this canvas to be the most beautiful it can be? Thanks be to God for all the colour, all the blessings, and all the answers to prayers throughout our lives.