Mark’s parents come to stay.
We were very pleased to have Mark’s parents come to stay with us in Kolkata for a month in January/February – we do miss our extended family when we are here. There were other benefits too: In future, when we talk about places and people here, they will know who we mean and what life is like. When we discuss a visit to sister Pritilata, they can picture the three auto rides each way, and can imagine us slowly reading in Bengali in her small house. In addition to this, having parents here meant we were able to make some special trips while they cared for our children and made sure the Sunday morning meeting could take place in Kolkata. We found these trips enjoyable and helpful – our children enjoyed being “spoiled” by their grandparents, and on our return we heard stories of all sorts of special food they had eaten!
A trip to Agartala
On Saturday January 31, Mark and Ruth flew across Bangladesh to Agartala to support the small group of four believers there. Agartala is in the Indian state of Tripura, and Bangladesh lies between Agartala and Kolkata. It is probably about 600km from Kolkata as the crow flies, but you cannot go by road or rail through Bangladesh as you have to enter and leave Bangladesh at the same point, rather than passing through. To go by road it is at least a 3-day journey on buses and trains up north and around Bangladesh… So we made the 45-minute plane flight and were met at Agartala airport by brother Subrata. This was Ruth’s first trip to Agartala and she was struck by the difference between it and Kolkata. Agartala is much, much cleaner – no chip packets, plastic bags, biscuit and lolly wrappers, paper and foam plates and assorted other rubbish ‘adorn’ the streets! The place is quite dry and dusty everywhere, so it wasn’t entirely clean, but it was neat. The edges of the road were grassy and the fences were (overall) fairly straight and tidy looking. This is quite a contrast to Kolkata. The population is only about 800,000 instead of the 12 or 14 million in Kolkata.
We stayed with brother Subrata, his wife sister Dipa and their baby son, Samuel for three days and they cared for us lovingly. The advantage of staying with people in their own home is that you have a lot of time together and get to know each other much better than if you are in a hotel and only spend a few hours together during the day. We spent a lot of time reading and discussing the Bible together and singing Bengali hymns, as well as talking about raising children in God’s way. God is very real to them as they constantly thank him for the gift of a son – they called him Samuel because they truly believe him to be a gift of God as his name means. On the Sunday we spent a lovely day with the four brothers and sisters and a couple of interested friends. Brother Surajit and his wife sister Sarnalata are a lovely couple with a young son, and they come from a tribal area where they speak Kokborok. This leads to some interesting translation between the three languages – English, Bengali and Kokborok. Having shared the memorials of bread and wine with our brothers and sisters in the morning to remember the death and resurrection of our Lord, we visited a lady who is interested in the Bible during the afternoon. She lives in hilly regions near Agartala and she also speaks (only) Kokborok. We went in a small van, and travelled through rubber plantations. It was so hilly that in one place the van slowed down, then stopped. The driver revved and rode the clutch and eventually reached the top of the hill with the strong smell of a burning clutch plate! This was not the only steep hill, but we made it up each one – though with great difficulty. Our session with the lady included three-way translation. Mark spoke slowly in English so that Surajit could understand him. Surajit then explained to the lady in Kokborok. When he didn’t understand the English, Subrata translated into Bengali, then Surajit translated into Kokborok. It was not exactly a quick process, but nevertheless an interesting experience!
Our final day was full of talking with Subrata and Dipa, who are keen to learn more about the Bible, keen to learn more about raising children for God, and keen to learn about teaching Sunday School. We hope that they found it helpful – we certainly all seemed to enjoy the day before we left on the homeward ‘hop’ back to Kolkata.
First CYC in Kolkata!
The 21st of February was a historic occasion – it was the date of the first Christadelphian Youth Circle (CYC) meeting in Kolkata. Though attendance was smaller than expected, it was a good session. In addition to our family, including four of our children, Rebecca, Heidi, Philip and Laura, we had three other young people. Sickness had prevented some others from attending, but those who came appeared to thoroughly enjoy themselves. The class was held in the mission flat in the afternoon. The activities were a mixture: a Bible talk and singing, Bible based games and balloon volleyball. Mark spoke on practical lessons from Proverbs, a topic requested by a young brother here. All then enjoyed Bible Pictionary and Bible charades. These sorts of activities are new for people here, and they became involved in them once they understood what to do. The balloon volleyball was a real hit – as there is limited space in the flat, we had to think of an activity that allowed the young people to race around, but was not too destructive. A rope strung across the room served as a ‘net’ and the balloon ‘ball’ travelled around the room accompanied by much laughter. Everybody had a really good time. Some cake and coffee concluded the CYC, which was considered to be a success. Although the plan was to have CYC once a month, it was requested that we have another the following week! So far we have held four CYC sessions with more to come, no doubt.
Bible “who-am-I?” and Bible geography activities have joined the list of games played. Lessons from Moses, lessons from Elijah and a session on God’s guidance for marriage have been studied. Two young brothers have given talks. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the balloon volleyball – “Would you like a different game?” “No!” We hope that we can encourage the young people to grow together in God’s service in a place where the numbers are small and they need each other more than ever.
Making do – mission work with children
Our children have learnt to be creative in the activities they enjoy here in Kolkata. With the temperature and the humidity rising sharply in March, and no back garden or nearby park, they do not have any easy opportunity to play sport outside. They still need to be active, so what can they do? Philip and Laura have solved the problem with regular games of indoor cricket. The equipment has gradually developed and improved over time. Now they have lemonade bottles as wickets, with plastic spoons as bails, a plastic bottle as bat and a very soft, squishy ball to hit. What started as a simple lemonade bottle bat has ‘grown’ into a bat with a plastic handle attached by sticky tape – taken from an old and broken broom.
The thumps you get from the ball being hit reflect the fun the children are having. Of course there are hazards – once the ball hit a bullseye – it landed in the middle of the frying pan, right in the yolk of the cooking egg! Another wayward stoke saw it land on the stove right next to the flame – the melted material needed a bit of surgery before it was back in action. Recently the washing up bowl hadn’t been emptied, and the ball needed some time out for drying before the game could continue! What a life that ball has had.
They also enjoy being creative with cooking – just take a look at these photos of the damper Philip and Laura made for lunch one day!
What is the importance of all this in mission work? Children are much loved by those here and they are great ice-breakers at times. However we have to be careful that they can still be children and have fun when their accustomed garden is not available and their toys are not here. A bit of ingenuity (mostly on their part, not ours) overcomes these problems and they can continue to be children whilst helping us and the people here!
With love in Christ,
Mark, Ruth, Philip and Laura Morgan (Rebecca and Heidi had to return to Australia after 3 months)