This week, today another young man from our English was baptized along with a young married man who helped us with our computer. The young man's Hindu wife came to support him.
The young missionaries have started advertising our class on their contact cards so we may have an increase. Right now we have eleven or twelve students. We didn't have a class yesterday because we help put on a Super Saturday party for the Institute of Religion. Thirty-five people came, six were investigators. A nice light meal with desert, all ordered in, prepared for us food at less that a dollar a person. The rupee has amazing abilities to stretch.
I learned from a friend who has been in India awhile that sarees are the thing to give maids at Christmas. We found a beautiful cotton with gold thread trim in a nice store on our neighborhood shopping street. The maid's daughter was coming by to greet us too and I wanted to have something for this little girl also. In lots of stores I had only seen very flimsy toys so we traveled across town to a store where you could find American toys, usually last years model. I found an Island Princess doll that sings and a fairytale story book. Checking out of the store I noticed lots of boxes of chocolate. On a whim I bought one.
The maid was to come at 8:30 in the morning with her daughter. They got there at seven at night. Very Indian. We had a great time talking and playing a board game. The doorbell rang and it was her husband. I was so happy to see that she had a husband to help protect her. He is a driver for a family. (If you have this driving job you can be on call for fourteen hours sitting and waiting to drive if the family needs you.)
We gathered by the tree to open gifts. It was good to have the chocolates so the father also had a gift. When we were finished the maid and her family were so happy. They told us that this was the first time they had had a Christmas with gifts. Their daughter is eight years old. You are never aware of the burdens of others until you reach out.
We read in the guide book that everyone has a maid. We didn't have one at home and thought we would be fine without. However, a little lady knocked at our door and said that we shouldn't talk to anyone else and we should let her work for us. Finally we said yes, but on the first day when we need months of dust cleaned off the furniture she didn't want to do that work. Being assured that we would only ask her to do this one time she proceeded.
You have probably heard the maid's lament, "I don't do windows." Here it could be "I don't do floors." We have marble floors and they must be cleaned everyday. This is what the maid likes to do, but maids do not do corners and they use a funny little broom that lets them miss many places. Our maid comes three days a week and we gave her two weeks off for the holidays because we are gone very early in the morning then.
So WHY DO WE HAVE HER COME. It came in my mind that this would be a way to help someone. We are not allowed to give money and in general give to people on the street. (Although the day after Christmas. I had wonderful food left over from our big dinner and couldn't stand it. I bundled up three big cakes and lots of bread into a very large sack and when we were on the other side of town in a far away neighborhood I called for our driver to stop. Pulling off my identification badge, I leaped out of the car, crossed the street and to a group of five women sitting and numerous children sleeping on the sidewalk I gave the bag of food. Of course they asked for money and I didn't have anything in my hands and said , "no." That was best. Their job was to beg and mine to give and we both did our jobs that day the best we could.)
Why are we forbidden to help people with money. There is opposition to Christianity in India. If people who are opposed to Christians begin to get agitated they will stir up crowds and claim that you are "paying " people to become Christians. The police come and don't know what is happening and you can end up in jail. Jails have many in a common cell and lots are there for murder. You can get out but maybe if all goes well it will still take three days. So that said I promise to obey every rule at least until next Christmas
What is Christmas like in India. If you are very busy you could almost miss it. About a week ago this thought came in our minds. Only one store that we saw had a "Merry Christmas" sign up. There are no twinkle lights. So you must focus on the things that you want to have have happen so they don't slip away in this strange land. There is gold trimmed silk in the cupboard with a small hole in one side so this can go around the base of the tree.
The tree you found in an old box is small but with a boost from a table the snow covered branches almost look real.
A fresh flower garland is not how you decorate at home but it is perfect for India. Eighteen people are coming for dinner so you want to set the scene so that they will feel at home for they are in this strange land too. You don't see Christmas so much here in India, but even though there are not a lot of outward signs, day by day you find that Christmas is in the hearts of the people.
This picture was originally taken to show how blessed you could be in India to have a place to hang out your sarees. It had been raining that day and we were up in a building checking out a new apartment for the young missionaries. From their balcony these beautiful sarees caught my eye but as I held the camera up I saw lots of movement in the river bed. Across and off to the right is a small neighborhood of thatched homes. Under the bridge and in the middle you can just make out a cluster of women seeking shelter, but up closer are a few brave souls doing their wash in an almost river. This was a couple of weeks before more rain arrived in the form of the cyclone.
We have been in India two months today. During that time we have spent at least one hundred hours on the road. Where ever you look you see women in sarees. Which means that we have seen thousands of sarees.
In the cook ware store...
Even drying along the underpass. Not once in all this time have we seen two alike. Even in the store you may see two identical blue but the gold trim design on each is unique. Ten million people in Chennai and originality still rules.
We had only been in Chennai three days and we couldn't stand it any more. We had to drive to the sea. Living in California only twenty minutes from the ocean we were thrilled when we learned that we would be on another "edge" of the land. Looking at a map before traveling to India we learned that we would live only four miles from the Bay of Bengal. We were excited!
It took us over an hour by taxi to reach the bay. And we thought California was crowded! It was well worth coming. The beach was almost empty late in the afternoon. We met a fisherman and he told us the tragedy of the tsunami in 2004. Fishermen are allowed by the government to sleep on the beach near their boats. They are out early as that is the best fishing time so at eight in the morning when the big wave hit all the fishermen at sea were safe. Those out for an early morning walk or those setting up their business were swept away.
The large expanse of the bay kept the water from coming in higher than it did but still over 800 lives were lost. People in a sleepy little tourist town further down the bay were not even aware of what was taking place.
The beautiful home by the sea where we met with forty people to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner had been evacuated two days before the holiday after several people had received electrical shocks through out the house.
Others had great troubles. Just before the rain got heavy we viewed neighborhood after neighborhood with people sitting and standing on the sidewalk looking down at their flooded homes. They had brought their bikes up to save them from damage. We learned that flood relief comes to only a few. The agency will single out people they know and give them money to help with recovery, get their picture in the newspaper and then the rest of the neighborhood never gets aid or relief.
We passed whole communities wiped out . Here a tiny black tent is all that is left of a hundred small homes.
A beautiful construction site flooded. The flood touched rich and poor, but the poor had no place to go so their suffering was greatest.
We were never in more danger in this storm than bad traffic on wet roads, but it has been hard to write about the suffering of others so we have let a little time pass before posting. As we ended the drive the last road was dirt and flooded. The worst we would have suffered was to walk a block in two feet of water. The car did not stall and we arrived safe and dry!
Traveling to Thanksgiving dinner, we got to about the center of the city and then the rain got heavier and our driver began to talk. According to him 100 people in the south of the city had died in this storm. The center of the cyclone was south of the city and 200 more people died there. The newspapers did not have these numbers, but we were told later in the day that the drivers know more than the media. Days after the storm we talked to new friends and learned what their challenges had been. Our regular driver did not come for us because he had three feet of water in his house. The driver who did come for us had suffered the same problem but his house had been pumped. The men coming to pump were charging triple the regular price. Many people in the flood were killed because as the water came no one turned off the electricity.
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” 1 Nephi 3:7
“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” Psalms 22:27