Archive for October 2011

Trick or Treat! Sudden Change in Travel Plans

October 31, 2011

Today, Monday, October 31, 2011 didn’t turn out at all like I expected it to. I wasn’t especially delighted that our travel plans were to fly from Vijayawada in the wrong direction to Hyderabad to essentially fly back in the same direction as Vijayawada to Rajahmundry, but those were the arrangements that I was able to make in advance from America weeks ago.

Bonnie and I resurrected ourselves from slumber at 3:30 a.m. to be presentable by 4:00 a.m. to depart Tiruvuru by 4:30 a.m. by car to Vijayawada. Through the predawn darkness, accompanied by brother Vijay Babu and another brother, our taxi pierced the unknown blackness of night, dodging animals, people, vehicles of every description and often moon craters that occupied our onward path. We arrived two hours before the scheduled flight – before airport personnel arrived! We got our bags scanned for checking in and tagged accordingly. We presented our E-tickets for transportation by Jet Airways for the two successive flights toward our destination. Our bags were weighed, and everything appeared to be going satisfactorily. NOT!

The counter person demanded $120 in overage fees for our baggage! We strictly weigh our bags to comply with the reduced weight restrictions for Asia over flights in the United States (i.e., 44 lbs. versus 50 lbs.); we are underweight. We research the luggage declarations for each airline on which we will be flying, and we print off their Internet page about the same. So what could go wrong? (1) Jet Airways refused to recognize Bonnie and me as international travelers, entitled to the international allowance of two checked bags per ticket; they consider us domestic since we are flying from one city in India to another city in India. What do you suppose they expect international travelers to do with their luggage once they land in India? Kingfisher and Indian Air, as well as other airlines throughout the world grant that we are international travelers, entitled to two checked bags apiece. (2) Jet Airways wanted to charge us for our carryon bags, which have always been free on every air carrier. (3) I was informed that Jet Airways changed their luggage polices on October 1, 2011, and that I contracted with them for this flight on September 19 was of no consequence to them.

Unable to prevail in this stalemate, I reclaimed my luggage from Jet Airways, and we rented the car that had brought us to the airport to take us directly to Kakinada, India. There was some sense of satisfaction, at least, in being headed the correct direction anyway. Frankly, the time factor wasn’t much different than flying the wrong direction and then retracing our flight path. Upon inquiring about a refund for the unused tickets, I was instructed to check with my travel agent – back in America.

Strictly charged by brother Steve Hogan and brother Anil Kumar to take care of brother Rushmore and sister Bonnie Rushmore, brother Vijay Babu made sure personally that we were delivered – handed over – to Joshua and Ricky Gootam in Kakinada. Indian hospitality resembles biblical times hospitality with the sense of heightened responsibility toward one’s guest. It was as cheap to hire the taxi to take us directly to our destination as it was to pay the extra $120. We will see if any refund is forthcoming, but we do not expect such respecting our non-refundable tickets on which we travel. Trick or Treat reached all the way from America today to Vijayawada, India!

My First Snake Handling Service

October 30, 2011

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Morning again, and we survived the heat, the bugs and the geckos. The two fans blowing on our bed made us think of the turboprop airplanes we often fly in Asia, but besides cooling, they help to disorient the flying bugs that otherwise want to visit us in the night; however, some other insects caught in the wind currents are hurled at us with greater velocity.

Routine begins again here at Tiruvuru. First hot tea arrived, shortly followed by a tin pail of fire-heated water. By now, of course, the power is off in the community. Therefore, once more I shave by shining a flashlight into a small mirror on the wall of our bedroom; also, it is necessary to hold a cup of water in one hand to wet the razor between sweeps at my face. The daunting task of simply shaving at first has become ho-hum – not big deal.

In the light of dawn’s glow, I see that one of the two geckos is still on the outside of the aftermarket, Velcro affixed bug screen covering the window above our bed; we haven’t seen the other gecko again since he made his grand entry into our room and hid himself behind our luggage. We haven’t looked for him, and he hasn’t looked for us either.

Having neither blinds nor curtains on the windows has led to some amusing circumstances. This morning, a monkey walked quickly by our window upon the wall at the edge of the ledge ringing our level of the dwelling. Other days, a man walked by to tie off ropes for the canopy atop the roof, a young boy walked by while sweeping the ledge and on another day an elementary aged boy closed one of our windows so he could use it for a looking glass as he groomed himself. If it were not for the fact that we are in the highest building for a few feet around, we would feel more exposed at night with the light on before we retire for the night. Privacy in Asia is relative to the occasion and the immediate circumstances. Men and women can be observed (even when not trying to see such) virtually anywhere taking a nature break unabashedly. Bathing opportunities afford less individual privacy than to what we are accustomed; I certainly can understand the scenario involving the exposure of Bathsheba to the view of King David; Bathsheba at her dwelling likely at a level lower in elevation than the king’s palace may not have been flaunting herself at all, but David was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and at the least should have removed himself from the situation upon discovery of the inopportune view.

Today is the day the Lord has made, and it is the Lord’s Day. I am wearing my safari suit that I had made for me in Bangalore last year. Bonnie is attempting once again to don the special occasion sari she had made last year as well. Elizabeth is not here today to make whatever adjustments might be optimum; Bonnie is getting better at it, especially due to some tips received from sister Florence Kumar last week.

About 60 gathered for the 2-hour worship in the Tiruvuru home of Vijay and Elizabeth Babu. Vijay returned at 1:30 a.m. from taking his family to Elizabeth’s parents’ home due to the death of her grandmother. I preached What Is Jesus’ Plan for My Life? After sharing greetings with all and having pictures made with several, we were already late leaving for our next venue with the Chandabanda Church of Christ; their worship is from noon to 2 p.m. About 60 gathered there as well. My preaching about The Three Bears in Galatians 6 got off to a rocky start as I had to stop twice when a snake above my head in the meetinghouse stole everyone’s attention and threatened to drop in – literally. Finally, it decided to slither down the wall, at which time three men intercepted it with sticks, knocked it senseless, removed it from the building and permanently dispatched and displaced it. Upon resumption of the sermon for the third time, we studied God’s Word without further incident. Afterward, again we received numerous greetings from dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Before returning to Tiruvuru, we ate in the home of one of the members.

Now we must pack our luggage with weight restrictions in mind for our air travel tomorrow toward Kakinada, India where we will remain for over a week. At 4:30 a.m. tomorrow we must travel by taxi to Vijaywada so that we can catch our flight. Like America, we have to fly the wrong direction so we can fly the correct direction, to take advantage of airline schedules. Next time, if faced with the same scenario as this time, we now know that it is cheaper to hire a taxi and go in the correct direction – though the overall travel time will be hours longer than taking the air routes. The adventure for the Lord continues.

Summer of Death

October 29, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011 began this way, Bonnie noted:

At breakfast Vijay informed us that Elizabeth would leave tomorrow by bus to her parent’s home (200 kilometers away) as her grandmother is dying. She is the only family member who has not visited. While eating lunch Elizabeth received a phone call that her grandmother has passed away. Because of our visit and her responsibilities tied to us and the three-day program, she was unable to see her grandmother before she died. I feel so helpless and responsible and know the pain she is feeling. Vijay took Elizabeth by taxi car to her parent’s home this afternoon and plans to return for tomorrow’s preaching schedule.

Bonnie washed clothes in our room after breakfast, while I sketched a Bible Lands map on the blackboard outside our room in the prayer hall; the blackboard is a wall that has been painted black, perhaps with some material to accommodate the use of chalk. I taught two segments of the semi-monthly Bible class meeting here, both times on Bible Geography. It went well with both young boys and men participating. They have no maps and have not had this type of material presented in this way before; many were very appreciative.

Rittu Babu 2 years earlier

Rittu Babu 2 years earlier

For me, the most rewarding aspect of the program was when the new Christian, 13-year-old Rittu Babu preached one of the finest lessons that I have ever heard a preacher of any age or experience level present. Both the content as well as the manner of his presentation was flawless and deserving of exposure through a pulpit anywhere among the churches of Christ, including any pulpit among American congregations. This is no exaggeration! He is a prodigy for sure, and well groomed by his father and mother. Rittu was the master of ceremonies for the entire program except when it was time for him to preach, and he chose to preach in English and selected another Indian brother to interpret into the Telegu language. Rittu gave a riveting and challenging discourse on Matthew 22:15-22, “Rendering unto Caesar and Rendering unto God.”

Bonnie, Louis, Rittu, Vijay, Ricky, Elizabeth

The Rushmores & The Babus

After the Babus left for the family home of Elizabeth due to her grandmother’s death, Bonnie and I sat outside in the compound talking with the young boys who would be returning home on the next available buses. About that time a monkey jumped up on the wall and climbed the side of the building. Bonnie started up the stairs to get our camera when the boys intercepted her to keep her from the unfriendly monkey that might scratch and bite her; they accompanied her to our room to retrieve the camera. She did manage to get one nice picture of the monkey before it scampered away. Other monkeys in the distance were too far away to photograph well.

Later in the evening, Bonnie and I were in our room. She was reading a book and sitting on the bed, leaning on the headboard, when all of a sudden I heard her make a noise and jump off the bed; her being startled also startled me. A gecko had managed to get around the bug screen on the window above our bed, and he jumped or fell onto the bed beside her, before hopping off of the bed and speedily secreting itself behind our luggage at the foot of the far wall. There had been two geckos on the opposite side of the screen, and now we see none. She threatened me that if I don’t stop teasing her, something is going to get me after I fall asleep!

Bonnie and I were in Guyana, South America earlier this year when her mother became seriously ill and was moved from the nursing home in which she resided to a hospital (from which she never returned). We did arrive home before her mother died, but assured that she was in no immediate danger and that she might even recover enough to return to the nursing facility, we honored our previously scheduled weekend preaching appointments and headed afterward to Mary’s bedside. However, she worsened and died early in the morning before we arrived. Steve Hogan’s mother-in-law grew gravely ill and passed away before he arrived back home, and Bonnie began grieving again. Then today, Elizabeth Babu’s grandmother died in her absence while she was attending to us as her guests; Bonnie comforted Elizabeth and they hugged and cried many minutes. Death is real, and we all need to make appropriate preparation for it (Hebrews 9:27; 5:8-9).

Hot Tea, Heated Water and Breakfast

October 27, 2011

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Hot tea was delivered to our second story room at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, October 27. It was followed by a tin of hot water at 8:00 a.m. We were called to breakfast at 8:30 a.m. When cooking for a crowd, Elizabeth cooks over an open fire behind the house, causing our bathroom, also on the backside of the house, to fill with the smoke from the fire and causing our eyes to sting and burn.

Elizabeth gave us a piece of chalk with chemicals to draw a line on the baseboard covered with ants. Shortly, thereafter the ants disappeared. Despite the screens (for our bedroom only), flying insects aplenty find their way to the single fluorescent light bulb in our room.

At 10 a.m., classes began, with 100 hundred children in the children’s class on the roof under a canopy for Bonnie to teach and 80 preachers in the second story prayer hall for me to teach. We each taught for 4 hours, 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon.

Bonnie noted: “The children in Bible class have a wonderful knowledge of the Bible.” I, too, observed that the children have a superior knowledge to most American children of Christian families (and often their parents as well), about such biblical details as even the number of years each of the first three kings of Israel served, and about a unabashed and boldly stated confidence that there is only one church and that denominations are lost. These unbaptized elementary age children appear more converted and more knowledgeable than many Christians that I know! The Babu family and others with them have done a tremendously good and thorough job of teaching the Gospel even to young children.

Steve Hogan sent a football for Vijay’s children, and they convinced me to play with them after the afternoon lessons. It was not long before they were catching the ball like experts and doing a fairly good job of hurling it back as well. I’m no expert at the sport by far, but shortly we experimented with efforts to intercept or deflect passes to the receiver, running primitive pass routines while opposing members attempt to interrupt the completion of the play and they learned to successfully pass the ball to their peers so that they could catch it. I hadn’t done anything like this in years, and though we are experiencing Indian winter weather, the heat and humidity resemble a hot, humid Mississippi summer day.

Friday morning, October 28 began similarly as had the previous day – hot tea followed by a pail of hot water, after which we had a call to breakfast. Steve Hogan had instructed the Babus to fix Bonnie and me some “American” food, and they were doing their best to oblige. Part of our breakfast was fried potatoes, and since there was more than Bonnie and I were going to eat, Elizabeth served some to Vijay when he seated himself at our table. He remarked how much he enjoyed this American breakfast, and his wife told him if he liked it so much, he could just go back to America with us when we returned!

The Babus have an automatic washing machine, unlike the washing procedure I observed the day before at a neighboring house where the woman repeatedly beat the clothes on the ground. Elizabeth volunteered to wash our clothes, so Bonnie took down to her trousers and shirts because they are more difficult to wash in the bath bucket than our underwear; besides, Bonnie did not want at least her underwear hanging for all attending the two-day meeting to see. The only electric clothes dryers I have seen in Asia are in stores to be purchased; almost without exception, clothes are dried by sunlight as they hang usually on lines positioned on roofs.

Traditional tardiness of Indians (and others in Asia and elsewhere) contributes greatly to small crowds at the beginning of sessions, and this concerns brother Vijay. He avows that Christians should do better than this. Eventually, Bonnie’s rooftop ladies’ class had 130, and my men’s class was about 100 in attendance. The numbers exceeded expectation, and so teaching times were extended to permit cooking more rice; a total of 55 kilograms of rice were cooked for lunch this day alone.

Cell phones are everywhere, and just like in America, Christians need to be charged to silence them before services. Bonnie taught lessons from her book Christian Principles, and I taught lessons from my book The Church Divine. We taught for two plus hours in the morning and for two hours in the afternoon. Bonnie and I as a team often double the teaching hours, she while teaching children or women and me either teaching men or teaching combined groups. We are more effective in our mission efforts than either one of us would be alone or two men would be. We are a team, and we complete each other in so many ways!

Bugs and Bucket Baths

October 26, 2011

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Wednesday, October 26 was a busy day. Anil arrived at our hotel room at 8:30 a.m. with hot tea, sufficiently sweetened and doctored with milk. I shared with him some pointers for organizing and clarifying his quarterly reports that he sends to the Florence Blvd. Church of Christ, for which he was very thankful. We discussed other matters respecting his work that I’m sure will contribute to heightened successes in the future.

At 10 a.m., we made our way the few blocks to the home of Florence and Anil for breakfast. It was at that time that Florence graciously helped Bonnie make adjustments to her sari. However, this time, the underskirt was too loose and could not be easily tightened. Consequently, Bonnie came undone later in the day while at a village Gospel meeting.

Florence accompanied Anil and us to the Gospel meeting in a village 12 kilometers from Chilakaluripet to Irlapadu. Villagers there have two objects of worship on display in the center amidst their humble dwellings – a polka-dotted painted stone standing erect and a certain tree. Residents resent the Christian faith and trouble the half a dozen Christians living there. However, one citizen entered into a contract to sell to the local church a level piece of land on the corner of two dirt lanes. It was there that about 60 people assembled beneath a canopy to hear the Gospel preached. In attendance also were some village leaders who have recently become favorable to the Lord’s church, though they are not themselves Bible believers. A corner stone was erected and dedicated at the site in anticipation of a building to be constructed at a later date. This was also the first time that a public address system had been used in the village by the Lord’s church, which is itself a small stepping stone to reaching the community – megaphone speakers were aimed at the community to herald the Gospel preaching. I preached From Creation Until Now; I had preached an open air meeting in this village immediately adjacent to a Hindu temple two years earlier.

We rushed back to Chilakaluripet to pack for our land trip to Tiruvuru, India; we just had enough time. Florence and Anil traveled with us to Tiruvuru – a three-hour journey. Anil complained that since Bonnie and my arrival, now Florence wants to travel whenever possible with him; we encouraged them to be a team for the Lord.

The hotel accommodations in Chilakaluripet came with hot water for showering and air conditioning by which to sleep. Nice, but the lodging arrangements at the home of Elizabeth and Vijay Babu in Tiruvuru have neither a shower (hot or cold) nor air conditioning. It’s back to bucket and cup bathing. However, each morning we are brought a metal container of heated water to warm the bucket water (there is no electricity at this time of day, and the electric in Chilakaluripet and Tiruvuru cycles on and off throughout the daylight hours). At night, I use the 220 volt, electric bucket heater that I bought before exiting India last year to heat water for bathing.

Our departure and arrival times for the trip to Tiruvuru were strictly according to Indian Standard Time – an hour late leaving and arriving. After supper, Florence and Anil returned to Chilakaluripet, arriving at 1 a.m.

Our first night was rough, especially for me! Ants got into our bed, and me being a bug magnet, they bit me on the upper arm once and bit me multiple times on my forehead and on the bridge of my nose near my eyes. A few misquotes have found me as well, which are my customary foes.

Our schedule in Tiruvuru included two days of classes in the morning and the afternoon, Bonnie and I each teaching our respective attendees. There had been a Gospel meeting scheduled 60 kilometers away for Saturday evening, but it was cancelled because Steve Hogan advised brother Babu not to over schedule us as had occurred in Chilakaluripet. Instead, the semi-monthly Bible Class taught at Tiruvuru was planned where area congregations send some of their boys and men. Worship services for two congregations are also scheduled for Sunday.

The Day that Would Not End!

October 24, 2011

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Early Monday morning, October 24, Steve Hogan received information that his mother-in-law was at death’s door. The day’s schedule was delayed for a while so Steve could make contact with his wife and other family members and to begin the procedure of changing his flight dates to accommodate a sooner return to the States. The nearly 12-hour difference in time zones from India to Alabama stalled changes that could be made through his travel agent in Alabama.

So, with a belated start to morning classes, now beginning at 11:30 a.m., Steve assumed his station at the church building to teach about 50 men, mostly denominational preachers. Bonnie taught about 50 ladies under a canopy in the courtyard of the Anil and Florence Kumar home, and I taught 25 adult Bible School students on the roof of the home (where the school is located in two tiny rooms, which spills out on to the roof). Because Bonnie’s location was the “dining hall” as well, she had to conclude first – at 1 p.m.; I concluded at 2:30 p.m., and Steve finished his class at about 3 p.m. A combined class of men from both venues resumed from 4 p.m. through 5:30 p.m. I taught Bible Geography first to the Bible School students and then continued with the subject to the larger group.

At 6:30 p.m., Anil, Steve, Bonnie and I rode in a hired car 2 ½ hours to the village of Maddulur – the last 40 kilometers across dirt paths and through potholes the size of small craters. Arriving at 9 p.m. – an hour late – a crowd of denominational people had been sitting atop empty feed sacks on the ground for more than an hour awaiting our arrival. I preached The One True Church of the Bible to an attentive audience, many with Bible pages turning and notepads being annotated with the biblical information presented. Next, Steve preached about Naaman. We concluded the open air services at 11 p.m. Numerous persons approached we three men and requested prayers for various reasons, which we obliged them. About to depart the meeting area, four precious souls requested to be baptized. However, there is no standing water in the area or container large enough to immerse. Finally, it was decided to take the candidates for baptism and ourselves to a creek about three kilometers away and hope we could find enough water for Christian baptism.

One woman, though, declined to be baptized, noting an open sore on her leg; she said she would be baptized later. The rest of us made our way to a concrete slab over a creek, and with headlights of the car and prodding by brethren in the water, a suitable spot was located. One new brother in Christ (who happened to be a dwarf) and two new sisters in Christ arose from the muddy water joyous to be Christians.

Next, it was back to the village for “supper” in the home (outside of) a Christian family. It was now 1 a.m. on Tuesday, October 25! Thereafter, we made our long, difficult journey back to Chilakaluripet – arriving back in our hotel room around 3:30 a.m.! Now, Steve Hogan checked emails and made phone calls to determine the status of his mother-in-law and discover the travel arrangements for his premature return to the States. At long last, we were able to turn our attention to the much needed rest and sleep from which we were deprived for too long – at 4:15 a.m.! But alas, sleep did not come easily as demolition workers were using a sledge hammer and smaller hammers in an adjoining room to dislodge and remove cement blocks; I could hardly believe that a hotel would schedule demolition work alongside of paying guests trying to sleep!

At 8 a.m., Bonnie and I awoke and showered; next, Bonnie washed clothes in the bathtub. Steve stopped by at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the balance of our trip on behalf of the Florence Blvd. Church of Christ, before leaving by taxi (with Anil) for his 11:30 a.m. departure from Vijayawada, India. He was to have overnight layovers in Hyderabad, India and London, England. (Later, we discovered that Steve did not arrive home before the passing of his mother-in-law.)

The previously planned Gospel meetings for the daytime in another village were cancelled due to the circumstances, mainly of not getting back to our hotel rooms until the next day from our previous venture, but also respecting the arrangement of Steve’s departure and Anil taking him to the airport – a day’s journey for roundtrip travel. After tea and cookies (Indians call them “biscuits”) in our room courtesy of Florence and Anil Kumar and breakfast in their home, we returned to the hotel and Steve accompanied by Anil went to the airport.

Another Gospel meeting was scheduled for the evening in a distant village, but due to heavy rains, that meeting was cancelled as well. Instead, I showed my Bible Archaeology PowerPoint to the Bible School students atop the residence/Bible school – amid a severe thunder and lightning storm. Saddened that still another opportunity had eluded us, nevertheless we were pleased that we could easily get back to our hotel at a reasonable hour for a night’s rest.

Indian Standard Time

October 23, 2011

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Anil Kumar defined Indian Standard Time as one hour or more after an announced time for something to begin or occur; he defended perpetual tardiness or missing our scheduled times for departures to places, beginning of programs and returning to our lodging by alleging that it is not considered Indian Standard Time until a minimum of one hour has passed after the scheduled time; however, we had lots of Indian Standard Time on our hands.

Sunday morning, October 23, Bonnie and Steve taught separate children’s classes in opposing corners of the meetinghouse auditorium from 8:00 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Later, I preached and Steve gave the invitation or exhortation. Following lunch, Steve and I went with brother Kumar to a village several miles away for a worship service, whereupon Steve preached and I gave the invitation. In the meantime, Bonnie retired to the hotel room until 3:00 p.m. when again she would teach a children’s class. Steve and I returned to Chilakaluripet by 7:00 p.m. to retrieve Bonnie on our way to a worship service at Guntur, India; Steve preached and I gave the invitation. Indian services are typically two hours in length, and so with the time invested, some refreshments and travel back to our hotel, we arrived back in our rooms a little after midnight. That timing as it turned out was good compared to what lie ahead.

Following worship in Guntur, I was asked to name a baby and pray for it. Well, in the past we have often been requested to pray for small children, especially given the heightened infant mortality rate in some of the countries we visit, and I have named babies before, too. However, always in the past, the parents selected the name that I was to confer upon the child. (In India, sometimes a name is not bestowed upon a child until after it has survived for 30 days.) This time, though, the mother insisted that I choose the name of her child. Quickly thinking, all I could imagine was to name the little girl after my wife, Bonnie Sue. Later, I thought that it would have been better had I given her a biblical name, such as Rebekah. Some poor little Indian girl is going to have to bear the unfamiliar moniker in Indian families of Bonnie Sue. I hope that she will not be stunted in any way.

Another day done to the full, we were ready for a night’s rest. Happily, we had air conditioning by which to sleep and warm water if we waited patiently (or impatiently for that matter) long enough for it.