Thursday, February 11, 2010

Joining Our Friends

(this post was typed Monday afternoon when we arrived, however, we've had no internet for the last three days so I will post this now and give an update soon)

Jon, Vicky, and I have spent the last three days at a church in Varanasi.  The Sigworths, along with two friends from Chicago (Joy and Karen), were speakers at a conference here for pastors and church members.  The pastor and his family have hosted us and made us feel very comfortable.  Each day, Jon, Vicky and Joy took turns preaching (with an interpreter into Hindi) for hour-long sessions (on various subjects including the importance of church community, the purpose of suffering, and disability ministry), separated by times of worship and tea.

The church is a complex of small buildings surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens, rows of banana trees, and tall shade trees.  The food grown on the property is used for our meals and other programs.  All the green vegetation (tall trees and hedges) makes the complex feel like a little oasis in the city.  The main room we have been using for services is an open-air mini-auditorium with high ceilings and rows of wooden benches.  It holds probably around 80 people and was usually pretty full for the guest speakers. 

I should give a more detailed introduction to Joy and Karen since we will be spending a lot more time with them (speaking at other churches and conferences):

Joy grew up in Varanasi as a pastor's daughter and has spent most of her life in a wheelchair from polio.  She has spent many years in the U.S. reaching out to Hindus and Muslims, and in recent years has worked with Joni and Friends, counseling for families and patients with disabilities in India.  Karen has just retired after many years as a school physical therapist in Chicago, working with families, children and schools to assure that the children are educated most appropriate for their disabilities. She has accompanied Joy on several trips to India over the past few years.

Jon and I also took a little break Thursday night to go into the city to see the Ganges River.  This river is one of the most famous in the world and is of utmost importance to the Hindu religious tradition.  Also, Varanasi is the most important (and oldest) city along the river, making it a center for religious festivals and pilgrimage.

Jon and I piled into a little auto-rickshaw, with his chair disassembled and packed around our legs and laps, and were driven as close as the small roads would take us before we hopped out.  From there we quickly found some new friends to help me carry Jon down the many flights of stone stairs which lead down to the river all throughout the city.  On the small, gritty beach below us there were three bonfires, each burning the remains of a devoted Hindu believer.  Around each fire were 15-20 male family members of the deceased, including one man, always a very close relative, who had shaved his head, dressed all in white and bathed in the Ganges to purify himself.  The tradition (which has been in place for thousands of years) is practiced to cleanse the person’s soul and release the dead to nirvana.  It culminates with the pouring of the ashes into the river and a ceremonial washing of all the family in the water.

We were able to see most of these practices right in front of us as we stayed by the riverside for an hour.  It was evening and we could see fires along the Ganges all through the city, with small boats of faithful Hindus and some tourist in the water.  As we were leaving, further up the bank a ceremony was starting to worship the river itself.  This ceremony occurs every single evening in honor of “Mother Ganges”.  After being in such devoted Christian community over the past couple days, it was interesting to be exposed to the religious life more common in this area.

As I write now, we have just arrived at a hospital and school in a smaller town outside Varanasi that will be our home or the next couple days.  I’m unsure of the plans for this new location, but we are now in a much more rural area.  We have brought some extra medical supplies from Jon’s stash at home to leave here for other spinal cord injured patients.  The lack of these supplies is one of the main problems experienced here in India since there are no real local manufacturers or distributors (and US suppliers don’t market here).

I’ll send another update once plans are set here!

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
                                                                           Luke 9:23-24


1. congregation members in the church garden
2. Vicky, Joy, Jon, and Karen during lunch

1 comment:

  1. Hey George thanks so much for keeping us updated here. We're all really proud of you and Jon for all the hard work you are doing.

    Be strong and courageous!

    (By the way this is Christian =D)