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.

India’s LAX

October 21, 2011
Anil & Florence Kumar presenting birthday cake to Steve Hogan

* * * * * * * Anil & Florence Kumar * * * * * * * Presenting birthday cake to Steve Hogan

 Friday, October 21, Bonnie and I flew from Yangon, Myanmar to Calcutta, India, after teaching in the morning at the Hmawbi Bible School and being treated to lunch in the home of Siang Thang, one of the school directors. We barely had enough time to get showered, clothes changed and packed for our flight. However, as it turned out, our plane was nearly two hours late departing. Then, upon arriving in Calcutta and clearing customs, we had an 8-hour layover instead of the expected 12-hour layover.

I share Bonnie’s sentiments of not desiring to visit the Calcutta airport again in its current condition (though plans are underway for a complete revamping to bring it into the present century). Like LAX, signs are nearly non-existent and nothing is intuitive. Like LAX, there are separate terminals for international and domestic flights. So, in the dark of night and outside, there we were pushing a cart of four checked bags, two pieces of cabin luggage and two computer cases a city block or two over uneven ground along an unmarked serpentine route. Naturally, at one particularly inconvenient spot, the bags toppled off the cart and tumbled to the ground. It had been raining, but fortunately, though everything was well wetted, it was not raining as we lugged our cartage between terminals.

Arriving at the domestic terminal, it was questionable if we would even be allowed inside the building since our flight was not until the morning, but we were permitted entrance. We would have preferred lodging, but nothing at either terminal advertised such inside or outside the airport. Searching the Internet days earlier, what was available was pricey and a ways from the airport; we did not have a lot of time to travel to and from the airport and still get any rest, so we opted to test the uncomfortable seating in the overgrown, outdated bus station like structure.

Without signs or guides, we plodded through security check points, managed to navigate the correct baggage screening area for our airline and finally get serviced at a counter. Once more encountering security, we wandered somewhat aimlessly as our flight had not even been assigned a departure gate yet. As in some other overseas airports, without public address announcements respecting the coming and going of flights, we had to observe who appeared to have tickets like ours and follow them when they moved for the door. Interestingly, two flights at a time going to different destinations went through our gate at the same time; discernment was required to assess which of two busses outside would take us to our airplane on the tarmac.

So, Saturday, October 22, we flew in the morning from Calcutta to Hyderabad – where we were to meet up with Steve Hogan, Deacon of Missions from the Florence Blvd. Church of Christ in Florence, AL. After making contact with him, we had enough time to get a bite of breakfast together, which was a little more challenging than you might think. The Hyderabad airport is far superior to the one in Calcutta (or LAX), but it is no Singapore airport (the best we have ever found).

Together, the three of us winged our way to Vijayawada, India from Hyderabad, India. Another short bus ride from the tarmac to the bus stop style terminal and wading through the bodies to recover our indiscriminately deposited luggage on the floor – and beating off “helpers” who wanted a fee for taking our baggage 60 feet – we emerged into the hot, humid, intensely sunny exit side of the “terminal.” To our disappointment, Anil Kumar was not there to pick us up. Calling him on our cell phone (works in India at a price, but not in Myanmar), he stated he was 20 minutes away; 40 minutes later, he arrived.

Three pieces of luggage roped to the car and the rest wedged inside, we set off for the 2 ½ hour road trip to Chilakaluripet, India. Upon arrival at our hotel, Bonnie and I crashed; I was so weary from lack of sleep that I was feeling sickly. Rested, showered and donning clean clothes, we were ready for the 8:00 p.m. supper prepared in the home of Florence and Anil Kumar. It was then that we were given a vague idea of what lie in store for us the next few days, though we could not image what was to come to pass even with this insight.

Hmawbi Bible School

October 13, 2011

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Thursday, October 13, Winsome, Bonnie and I returned by turboprop airplane to Yangon. Our plane was about 40 minutes late departing for Yangon, but around one hour after takeoff we landed in the old Rangoon and former capital of Burma.

A short drive from the airport back to Yangon Hotel, and we were ready to unpack both the suitcases we had taken with us on the most recent jaunt to northern Myanmar as well as the four pieces of baggage we had left in storage at the hotel. The hotel had moved us to a different room than we had occupied before our flights to Mandalay, etc.; we found ourselves on the eighth floor. Besides skipping out to a restaurant for a bite of supper, it was wash night – Bonnie washing clothes in the bathroom sink and me rinsing them in the shower. With the overcast skies, our room looked and smelled like a laundry for days as we hung our clothes to dry on the window rod.

Friday, we headed to the Hmawbi Bible School three quarters of an hour by taxi from Yangon. That day as well as Monday through Friday of the following week, Bonnie would teach ladies’ classes, and I would teach men’s classes or sometimes a combined class of men and women. Bonnie taught morning and afternoon of that first Friday back at Hmawbi, as did I. The following week, Bonnie taught ladies in the morning and I taught men in the morning about sermon preparation and presentation, while I taught men and women in the afternoons about Bible Geography and Archaeology. Bonnie taught character studies from her book Living Principles.

Saturday, October 15 was an unencumbered day. We stayed in the hotel room all day with two laptops a blazing, working on various literary items, including Gospel Gazette Online for October; I was able to publish Gospel Gazette Online to the Internet with some difficulty. At one point in the day, we had just gotten into the elevator when the electricity failed, temporarily trapping us (about 10 minutes) between floors. Eventually, it slowly descended, dumping us out on the ground floor where we had begun minutes ago. Shortly, the generator kicked in and we were able to take an elevator to the eighth floor where we were lodging.

(On another occasion, we had an interesting event in the elevator when someone riding with others and us didn’t know how to operate the elevator but was determined to be the one to make it work; he kept pushing the button to open the door every time he wanted the door to close, and he kept pressing the button for the ground floor twice, which turned it on and back off. Heads were shaking; it’s a wonder we’re not still in the elevator! On still another occasion, a passenger in the elevator with us leaned on one of the control panels; I saw the lights on the panel closest to me blinking repeatedly like Christmas tree lights. Our poor elevator didn’t know whether to start, stop, go down or go up; Bonnie said that the gentleman was a little embarrassed when he realized what he had done. On yet another day, some mature gentlemen from a far away, mountain village came to our room for a scheduled Bible study; they had never been in a tall building before, and one of them clutched with both hands the upright frame of our glass-walled elevator as it climbed the exterior face of the hotel to the eighth floor.)

Saturday, we also were visited by Jay Ahti, who we had helped purchase a laptop computer and printer to aid him in his continued translation of materials into Lisu and Rawang languages. He came by with the computer to show us what he had gotten. Later that night after supper at Winsome’s, a tailor stopped by to measure Bonnie to finish off some longis that she had purchased at Inle Lake.

Upon return to the hotel, I stopped by the front desk and requested additional lighting in the bathroom so that I could see to shave. Asia has already adopted some of the new lighting that America will experience very soon – which is about as bright as a nightlight! In response to my request, the hotel sent up to our room a battery operated light with two small fluorescent bulbs, only one of which worked.

The next morning (Sunday), Bonnie held the flashlight so I could attempt to shave! You can only imagine the ridiculous sight of trying to shave by flashlight! A little later while I was brushing my teeth, the doorbell rang, and the building’s engineer requested entry. Bonnie opened the door, wearing traditional Burmese dress, long hair and a slightly darker complexion than mine, whereupon the engineer started rattling off words in Burmese to her. I can only imagine that she stood there dumbfounded, at which time I emerged from the bathroom with a toothbrush in my hand. Looking at me, obviously a white guy, the engineer quickly surmised that Bonnie was not Burmese. He told her, “I’m sorry, I thought that you were Burmese!” Bonnie gets that a lot, only in India she is mistaken for Indian; sometimes in America, fellow citizens have puzzled over Bonnie’s ethnicity, too. As Bonnie says, “They’ll only think I’m Burmese until I open my mouth” and speak. Later in the day upon returning to the hotel after worship, we discovered that the engineer installed a new fluorescent light above the mirror in the bathroom; I felt obligated now to shave daily since the hotel made a capital improvement just so I could shave. Sunday, I spoke at worship in the home of Sheila and Winsome as well as in the afternoon at the home of Esther.

Tuesday afternoon, brother Kyaw Sein brought two gentlemen by our hotel for a Bible study. I thought they were Baptists, but soon I discovered that instead they were animists. Of course, that completely changed the nature of our study, which we had over the next hour and a half. They were extremely attentive and interested. I suspect that after further study within the year one or both of them will obey the Gospel. (We are not looking for people we can merely dip in the water, but we and the brethren with whom we labor are more interested in converting souls, a part of which conversion involves immersion for the remission of sins.)

Wednesday evening, we treated several of the brethren from Yangon and Hmawbi to a supper meal at the Airport Million Coin restaurant. We appreciate these brethren and their families so much, and they are great encouragers of us as well. Monday through Friday, both Bonnie and I continued to teach daily at the Hmawbi Bible School. Friday evening, we fly to India.

Burmese Venice in the Mountains

October 11, 2011

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Early Tuesday morning, Winsome, Bonnie and I arose and boarded a taxi for the hour drive back to the airport serving Mandalay. From there, it was a short trip by airplane, up over and into the mountains toward Inle Lake. It must be a rule some place that generally airports have to be an hour away from the communities that they serve, so once more, we were in a taxi for a long ride. This time, the scenery with its winding roads and descents reminded us of being back in West Virginia. We even passed a cloverleaf of railroad track and bridge scaling the mountainside.

Eventually, we arrived in our hotel, a quaint place sporting duplex bungalows. Advertised as having air conditioning, we were disappointed to find out that the units didn’t actually do much anymore other than decorate the walls and give the pretense of added value. Lodging was adequate, and at night at the altitude where we were an open, screened window plus a pedestal fan running and aimed at the bed, we were comfortable.

Bonnie and I had thought that our two-month trip abroad to Asia would be a perfect opportunity to eat less or more responsibly, do a little more walking, and possibly loose a little weight. Our thinking was that since often we do not like some of the strange foods very much, we can discipline ourselves and promote better health. What did we find in the town in which we were lodging, just two short blocks from our bungalow but a Burmese operated Italian restaurant – with the best Italian food that we have ever experienced anywhere. Throw out the diet! We ate pizzas, homemade noodles and meat sauce (with actual meat in it, unlike many places in America) and gnocchi pasta. They have two restaurants in two villages, and we ate at both of them. The food is not prepared until the order is placed, and one can watch the food preparation. The pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven. Everything pleased our pallets!

Wednesday, October 12 was a Buddhist holiday at Inle Lake. We boarded a canoe type boat with an odd looking motor while it was still dark, and for an hour and a half we traveled in the cool morning air, first miles down a river and then the length of a long, open lake. Bonnie penned in her trip diary, “The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. as we were to meet out front at 5:00 a.m. for our trip to Inle Lake. In the early morning dark hours our motorcycle truck took us to the water’s edge where we tried to dodge mud and boarded a long boat…”

Our destination was to intercept a parade of boats, roped together, which towed three huge pagoda boats of monks and offerings of food and flowers around part of the perimeter of the lake, taking the Buddha images from one pagoda to another. These villages are on top of the lake! The streets are waterways. We had arrived at the Burmese version of Venice. Here babies learn to swim before they learn to crawl. Small children paddle themselves around the villages in dugout canoes.

It was a remarkable day with visiting numerous shops by boat and traversing unsteady planks from porch to porch. We observed floating gardens of tomatoes and other crops. Three million people live in the area, almost all of them living atop the water in wood or bamboo buildings with liquid streets. The cats we saw in the villages seemed out of place above the lake with the rest of the inhabitants. My dear wife chronicled our activities when she wrote:

…we traveled to a blacksmith shop and watched the men pound metal into a small scythe. The blacksmith shop is located in a building on the water. We also visited a weaving shop complete with spinning thread from the Lotus plant. Since it is a festival day only a few workers were present, and we did not get to see all aspects of work. We stopped by the boat building site to discover that there was too much water in the workshop, and they could not show us how they build their boats. We did see them making cigars by hand.

We visited an umbrella shop where they make the paper, hand carve the handles and make each umbrella by hand. Since these umbrellas are made from paper, I would not recommend using them in the rain, just to protect one from the sun. They showed us how their paper is made. The bark of the Mulberry tree is boiled for 8 hours. The gooey mess is then pounded. A handful of this mush is then mixed with a container of water. A tray made of screen is placed in a vat of water, and the bark mush is evenly spread on the screen. The tray is lifted from the water and flower petals and leaves are randomly pressed on top of the bark mush. This is left in the sun to dry (about 2 hours). The paper is then peeled from the screen and is ready to be attached to the wooden umbrella supports or cut into various sizes and bound into little books. Sometimes the flower petals and leaves are omitted and the dried paper is dyed before making the umbrellas. …We also visited a Silversmith, a monastery…

The fogged crested mountains, overshadowed by dense clouds in the morning commute were replaced by end of day with dark storm clouds and heavy rain. Traveling back toward our lodging, the sun and rain mix created the largest and brightest rainbow that we have ever seen anywhere. The colors were not pale, but vivid and distinctly bright. In between the coming to Inle Lake and the leaving of it, the intense Burmese sun scorched my exposed flesh and the wind on the lake whipped my features, despite wearing a ball cap. Eventually days later, my face and especially my nose peeled off.

Inle Lake was an excursion, not a teaching opportunity. We need to punctuate our trips abroad with tourist activities on occasion, at least to validate the tourist visas on which we travel. It does not hurt to experience some recreation, too, from time to time. However, the trip to Inle Lake was also a marvelous opportunity to educate ourselves more fully on Burmese culture and thinking. Among the activities to which Winsome took us was a puppet show, in what to you and me would be the attached garage of someone’s dwelling. Throughout the country – and many countries – grand things occur on a small scale, which require an adjustment of expectations and an appreciation of humble things.

One of the unique characteristics of these mountain lake villagers is that little ones and adults paddle their canoes while standing and rowing with their legs. The fishermen have a singularly different way of fishing, too, with nets stretched over bamboo, inverted trumpet-like cages, by which they trap a disturbance in the lake mud and spear the intended prey with a three pronged spear. Among the remarkable oddities were the girls and women from one tribe that sport brass rings on their necks, adding more rings year by year until they carry several pounds.

Thursday, we made the hour trek back to the airport, up the mountainous, winding roads past tremendous views. Our next destination was Yangon.