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Put yourself in our shoes for a moment. You woke at 2:00am, flew at 5:00am, landed at 8:30am, then after an hour-long bus ride, arrived at Bible Faith Mission English Medium School to 300 students in freshly pressed uniforms standing at attention in neat rows waiting for your personal introduction. The school’s principal hands you a microphone. Okay, now go…
Thus began our first day in the Indian State of Kerala. Kerala is the south-western most state of India’s 22, is close to the equator, and more tropical in appearance and climate than New Delhi. As we stepped off the plane, we were relieved to feel the breeze sweeping through the palm trees and around each of us; it was a welcome reprieve from the stagnant heat of New Delhi. (It is still plenty hot and humid, but after our crash course in New Delhi, we have adapted with ease.) Bible Faith Mission is removed from the nearest city by about a 40-minute drive, so after our school bus ride from the airport, we settled in with our host Karen, the principal of Bible Faith Mission, and her family, who live across the street from the school.
Karen and her family are remarkable in their hospitality, eager to learn about each of us personally, and working to make us as comfortable as they can. It is humbling to stay in this home. Karen’s family readily apologizes for anything they sense is less than what we may have at home, and they accommodate meal preparation to meet our tastes. We have to insist to Karen that she is a gracious host and that they do not need to go out of their way to take care of us, but they are relentless in their desire to show hospitality and generosity.
Karen’s father is a local bishop named Moses and her husband is a pastor named Promoth. Karen and Promoth also have a 7-year-old daughter named Jenis. This family is undoubtably in love with Jesus. Their faith is a prominent fixture in their lives and has really helped us forge a connection with them. It is amazing that through our shared faith in Jesus we can find commonalities with strangers on the other side of the world, enough for them to invite us into their home and share meals with us! Through regular prayer, devotions and even sung worship, we share experiences with this family, they join us for each meal, and genuinely want to learn about us, our homes, our families and our lives. We were surprised and stretched when Karen asked us to each prepare our testimonies for sharing with an accompanied passage from the Bible for a discussion each night.
For our work in the school, our team designed 12 lessons, each teaching important stories from the Bible to demonstrate the love of God, the necessity of salvation and the powerful life change of Jesus. We quickly found out, however, that God’s plan, and India, often have very different ideas of how to meet expectations. The six of us broke into teaching pairs, then started teaching during the different periods of the day, ages preschool through grade 12. One pair could jump from teaching the creation story to first grade, singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and then the next class period be discussing the fall of man in the Garden of Eden with 10th grade. We have had to be extremely flexible in our scheduling, as well as in our strategies for teaching students with a wide range of English language comprehension. We also want to demonstrate the love of Christ in the classroom and enjoy our time with the students by playing games and getting to know them. We have taught the students some new songs, activities, and games we lifted from our own youth group experiences.
The students at Bible Faith Mission have been amazing - 300 smiling, giggling and active children eager to play with, or speak to, their American visitors. If you give one student a handshake, soon your whole arm will be grabbed by a dozen students asking to also shake your hand. Tell one boy your favorite superhero and soon they are all asking you about whether you like Spider-Man. Ask to play cricket and soon there are 40 boys playing cricket and shuffling you toward the first base.
The greatest joy these students bring to us is through their sincerity. A 16-year-old boy will tell you that his favorite song is by a Christian artist. Well, actually he has two favorite songs and the other is from Frozen. Play soccer with the ninth grade boys and they will tell you that you could probably play professionally for the United States. These students so want a keepsake of our time spent with them that when one of our team members explained that we aren’t carrying our phones around (no service, limited wifi and we’re too busy to even worry about it), the students pushed their notebooks toward us for autographs. These students treasure our visit enough to appreciate the simplicity of a signature.
Consider whether students in the United States would respond in the same way. Each of us has a constant, informal appointment with a group of students, agreeing “we’ll be back in this class tomorrow” because they are so eager to see us. At one point, the boys told one team member that they were “strong boys” who could skip lunch to have more time to play soccer.
Today (Saturday, the 15th), our team organized a professional development training for the teachers at Bible Faith Mission. Four of our team members are school teachers at different schools and grade levels at home, so as a team we were able to pool our collective teaching experiences to create activities and discussions for the teachers here. We had teachers collaborating in groups, moving around the room, practicing review activities, and learning strategies for assisting students who require additional support. Each of these strategies and activities were received with great enthusiasm and interest by these teachers who deeply care about preparing their students holistically.
It has also been a tremendous blessing that as a team we have yet to encounter a delay, sickness, injury or other issue. Thank you so much for your continued prayer and support. Please keep it coming!