Calcutta and Impal, Manipur, India – November 2000

This is part 4 in a series of posts. You can catch up by reading post # One and # Two, and post # Three first before reading this one!

During my first trip to India I really felt like I could do this thing – serving in Missions overseas. But after the trip, as I reflected more and more on it, I really found this passion for serving/praying for missionaries and also for mobilizing people on the homefront. This is still my passion. Nothing brings me more joy than to be there to mentor a young person, to show them that they CAN do what they dream about. I also love showing adults that it’s never too late to serve this way – even if it’s short term. I have this passion that EVERY single person should travel and get to know people and other cultures at least once in their lifetime. It will change your life! Maybe one day God might change my direction to serve full time in another country, and I’ll explore that opportunity when it comes, but if I never do, I’ll still be giving my life to mobilize others. It’s a part of who I am.

Because I was passionate about mobilization and still thinking about my future, a friend recommended to me an organization called Global Mission Fellowship (GMF). She thought I might be interested in working with them as they worked stateside with permanent partnerships overseas and took teams 1-3 times a year. I LOVED this idea! Once I contacted them, they said that I should go on a trip first to get to know the organization and what they do.

Because I fell in love with India – it was an easy pick from their list for me to go to Calcutta and Manipur that year. It was again with a team of people I had never met before. The majority of them were from California. So I was to fly from Memphis, Tennessee to somewhere else (I forget where), then on to LAX to meet with the team and fly to Calcutta.

Well, {this is a trend for me} things happened with my flight – we sat on the runway for hours. I was flying into LAX and then needed to switch from the domestic terminal to the International terminal, go through security again (because of how the terminals were set up) and I was barely going to make it. If this happened, there wasn’t another flight out until the following evening, which would have seriously affected the travel plans in-country once the team got to India.

I knew I only had minutes to get to my connecting flight. I didn’t know how it would be possible, but I prayed I’d make it. The minute I got off the plane in LAX I was ready to run. As soon as I got out of the jetway I heard someone call my name. It was my trip leader (who was a GMF staff member). He asked me if I was ready to run. And we sprinted to the international terminal. He told me that he told two of the team members to refuse to get on the international plane until we got there. He knew the airport staff would rather wait than to try to go retrieve their baggage (since your baggage can’t go if you don’t). There was this LONG line for security (lots of international flights leaving at the same time) but we asked people if we could cut in line and they allowed it, and we arrived just as they were about to shut the door to the plane.

We made it! I sat next to my trip leader on the flight out and told him what just happened was no big deal. He laughed, but then I proceeded to share with him my story (from the posts before this one). He looked at me and said, “This trip will be a piece of cake for you after that!” I was a little relieved, although it was not proving itself to me at this point, lol. My friend, Dennis (the friend that passed away before my first trip) always had this catch phrase, “Making Memories.” I still to this day use it: If things go as planned, or normal…you’re more likely to forget them. Some whenever things aren’t “normal,” you’ll often hear me say, “Making Memories!” And it’s sooo true!

Hours later, we landed in Calcutta and of course my luggage didn’t make it – if I had to sprint to make it, then you KNOW my luggage wasn’t sprinting to make it! So I was a few days without my luggage, but I packed enough to get through the days in my carry-on. Thankfully we had a couple of days before we were to fly on to Manipur in the North East part of India, otherwise I might not have ever gotten it.

While in Calcutta we visited a very large Hindu village. We were told that we would need to have a visit with the high priest of the village first to get permission to visit. We were counting on spending the day in this village telling the story of Jesus thru storying, so it was important to get this priest’s permission. There were 25 of us on the team and as we arrived we got off our bus and began to walk towards the village. We were told that the priest is always protected and hidden by the people. (You have to understand that the sweet people of this village are very superstitious and scared of strange things – which white people were).

What I’m about to share here is something I’ve maybe told 2 people since it happened. I struggled with not wanting people to think it was about me, or that I was prideful. I didn’t know how I could tell this story without it sounding that way and I just didn’t trust that people knew me well enough to not think that it was about me, as people often make snap judgments about you without truly knowing who you REALLY are. I’ve become burdened to tell this story now because I feel like it’s robbing God His glory in not revealing such a beautiful story of HIS work. So here goes:

We didn’t know how it was going to play out, but as we were walking down the road toward the village, one of the men with us pointed out that the priest was walking towards us. He was surrounded by other men from the village. Then the priest walked directly up to me {why, I have no idea} and the interpreter stood there and translated as the priest addressed me directly and told us that we were welcome here and that he would like for me to pray for him. I asked, “Now?” and the interpreter said, “Yes.” And I was terrified – what do I pray over this man who doesn’t know Christ and is revered as a “god” to these people. Not to mention that it will be interpreted and he will hear it along with all the male leaders of the village as they are surrounding us in a circle. It was an intense moment for me.

So I prayed. I prayed that this village would be blessed with good health, that they would have just enough for survival, that their leaders would make wise decisions about their peoples future. That they would get to know the one true God, the only one who could be their rescue, that their minds and hearts would be open to Him.

Afterwards the priest grasped my hands and said we were welcome there and then took off into the woods. I really didn’t know what just happened. After that, we got into teams of two (one team member and one translator) and I asked if I could go visit the priest at his home. I was told that he was always kept hidden and that it was not possible, that I wouldn’t see him again.

So we set out to go visit with the people. I played and told stories to many children.


Later on, one little girl kept pulling me by the hand and my translator said she wanted to take me to where they worship. The translator told me I shouldn’t go as it could be unsafe. But I told him I wanted to go. With much hesitation he agreed, but was not happy with me at all. As we walked, several other children followed us. Once we got to the temple, I saw some adults worshipping the many gods of the Hindu.

I proceeded to share my stories with the children who were surrounding me. After awhile I looked up and out of the corner of my eye I noticed the priest standing there listening to what was being said. I prayed hard that something he heard would touch him and open his heart to God.

Shortly after this it was time for us to go. So we headed back to the bus to go back to our hotel.

The next day we were to go to the Missionaries of Charity to work at Mother Teresa’s home for the destitute and dying or in the orphanage.


The rules only allowed females inside the orphanage, so we sent the men from the team to the home, and the female team members to the orphanage. We got to hear and see a lot of history of Mother Teresa’s work. I was in awe of the orphanage and the work being done there, especially with little girls. India still incorporates the dowry system and girls are just too expensive to keep {This situation will affect me on another trip you’ll hear about later}.


“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” — Mother Teresa

The next day I finally received my luggage, just in time as we were off to Manipur – a restricted access area.

NOTE: After getting home, I could not ever forget that village in Calcutta, nor its sweet children or the kind priest I met. I prayed for them off and on. The following year GMF took another team to Calcutta and I received a letter from them saying that something absolutely amazing happened and that nearly the entire village were now God followers! This was THOUSANDS of people. Who were now God followers – of the ONE God! Amazing!

Now, off to Manipur – To be continued…

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Finally on to the Trip – India/Nepal

This is a series of posts – you should probably read post number one and two before this one for much of this to make any sense.

So after all that previous business, I finally boarded a plane to India, I couldn’t believe after a year that I was finally doing this. The journey was super long. We flew Miami to NYC to London to Mumbai to Hyderbad then took a 5 hour train to Tiruvuru (in South India)over 36 hours of travel time.

The minute our feet touched the ground in Tiruvuru, we were running. The pastor who hosted us had never hosted a team before. We were in small villages, no electricity, no phones and he had promised we’d visit many villages and our time was limited, so there was no time to waste. They had been looking forward to and preparing for our visits to all these villages for months and months. Most villages had never had visitors before, so it was a big deal to them.

Because the pastor had not done this before, he promised we’d visit so many villages and none of us beforehand understood the amount of time we’d need to take in any village. Because of this, we literally were visiting villages constantly for weeks, traveling and visiting for about 20 hours a day with maybe (if we were lucky) 4 hours rest. Most nights we’d go to bed at 2AM to be up and leaving by 6AM the following morning. Initially we had no rest from the 36 hours of travel, we went straight to villages and for days and days did not rest over 4 hours a night. It was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done.

We also could not cancel a village, that was just not an option. It would have seriously offended the Pastor and let down the people who had prepared for our visit for months. I can’t even really do this part of our journey any justice without going into detail and there’s just not enough space here to write it all. I have never been so tired in all my life. I loved it, but emotionally and physically we all were wasted.

After days and days of this, every single person on the team got physically sick. For me, this was my first experience on a trip like this, with international missions, and it shaped me a lot. (My philosophy on missions has changed throughout the years – my time in sudan significantly changed my viewpoint – but I’ll get to that eventually). Through all of this I got to thinking about those people who serve full time, internationally. How for me, this was just a temporary thing. I could push through it and in a few weeks be back home. But my mind kept thinking of those people, who this is their life. And I was seriously burdened for them. How often we never even give them a thought. How they need us praying for them daily, for God to provide them with the energy, endurance, and health that they need to get through each day. During this trip, God broke my heart for the full time servant in other countries, and it’s still there. My first instinct when I meet someone serving in this capacity is: “How can I serve you? What can I do to help? How can I pray for you?” I don’t see this changing in my heart any time soon.

(I also learned as I became a team leader/organizer for many future trips how important preparing the people on both ends of a trip to make sure the experience/expectations is as best as it can be for both parties).

Fast Forward: During this time visiting villages, the Pastor’s Brother and Nephew were our drivers. We were in jeeps on long journeys every day, so we had developed a great relationship with them. One night, in the middle of the night the police came to the house and informed the pastor that his nephew was killed on his way home. He was on a bike and hit by a big truck. Devastating. I can’t describe this any other way.

The mourning period and burial for this (while we were there) was extreme culture shock. In this part of India, it was customary to have the body out near the road in front of the house (remember he was hit by a truck) for the family and everyone in the village to come and mourn with them, which was in a form of intense wailing. We were asked to stand next to the body during this, because he died as he was in service to us while it happened. Even typing this I still can’t believe we went through this.

This was also so fresh for me as I was still grieving the loss of my best friend to cancer the week before I left. (Read first post here to understand this more). In my journal that day I wrote: “This reopens that wound and brings back that fresh pain of deep loss. Dear friends are like angels, I lost one just a couple weeks ago and now this family has lost their loved one. I hope God shows me something special to say/do for them. If anything I can just relate. I’m so sad. I was reading today in Psalms, looking for comfort and strength to get through this day – Psalms 18:30-32 – “As for God, his way is perfect; The word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” God promises us strength to meet challenges, but he doesn’t promise to eliminate them. If He gave us no rough roads to walk, and no mountains to climb, and no battles to fight, we would not grow. He doesn’t leave us alone, He is beside us, to teach us and to strengthen us to face them. So I’m facing this day, no matter what it takes. God is with me.”

FF: After our time in India, we flew to Nepal to spend time in Kathmandu in an orphanage. The American missionary was there when we arrived at the airport. He took one look at us and said he was driving us straight to the orphanage and putting us to bed. I think we all slept over 20 hours straight from the exhaustion (mentally and physically).

Nepal was gorgeous. The Everest region was breathtaking. We spent most of our time in Nepal prayerwalking over the city. We went to a Buddhist temple where they sacrificed animals, we went to see the Kumari (Oh my goodness if you have time, read about this – I could type it here but it’s too long. What we were told locally is almost exactly what’s in the Wiki.)

We spent the 4th of July at the US Embassy in Kathmandu – which was super interesting in itself. Oh gosh, there’s so much and I’m leaving nearly all of it out :( Ask me if you want more details. There’s so much history on the house mom of the orphanage where we were – her father was one of the first ever missionaries allowed openly in Nepal (because he befriended the king). He spent lots of time trekking with people on Everest. There’s this amazing story of the former Hindu man who ran the hotel we stayed at for a few days inside Kathmandu – how he accepted Christ. I don’t even have room to share about how before we flew into Nepal, we went to New Delhi and our bus blew up, an airplane blew up in Nepal, and how we took a 10 hour drive over to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and back. How I saw Ghandi’s tomb and was super challenged by Ghandi’s words that he would have been a Christian had it not been for Christians. This man was such an influence over billions of people… Ugg – I just can’t fit it all here.

I will end this by sharing this one last thing. We were in one of the many villages in India the first part of this trip, and a Christian family was in one of the villages (the only Christian family in the midst of a hindu village). They had just given birth to a new baby girl. They asked me to hold her as they held a ceremony. I had my friend, Keri, take a picture of me holding her. This little girl’s photo has been on my nightstand for the past 10 years and I pray for her every single night before I go to sleep.

One of my dreams is to go back to this part of India some day to find her. I want to tell her that I fell in love with her and her people on this day, and that her photo has been with me for over 10 years and how I’ve prayed for her, for all these years. I want to hear her stories and I want to hear about her life, as she’s been a part of mine daily for all these years.

You know, my missionary friends tell me that often a family will never forget us. That after we leave, we become a very important memory for the family. That often, if they have a photo of us or something we’ve given them, that it is a much talked about thing with the family for years and years to come. A treasured thing. I want the people with whom I’ve had the honor of getting to know and visit, to know…that it’s exactly the same with me. That’s why there’s specific photos on my photo wall. That’s why I come into my office regularly to look at them, think, pray, remember. They are a part of who I am. They’ve shaped my life. And I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for it.

(Pre) India/Nepal – Summer 1999

(Follow up to my previous post – read it first)

This was my first time out of the country. My first mission trip. And I really can’t talk about the trip without sharing some of the events that led up to it.

I was happy with my life in the beginning of the year of 1998. I was 24 years old; working, attending a church I loved, had amazing friends and family. Towards the spring of that year I went through some major struggles with some things that were happening in my life that affected it in all areas. I was heartbroken. Devastated. I don’t need to go into detail here, it’s not necessary. If you want to know the story, set aside a bit of time and ask me about it and I’ll share it with you, but it’s pretty personal.

Fast Forward: I ended up going to summer camp with our church as a chaperone with our students that summer. And it changed my life.

Through a series of messages and several situations, I felt a strong pull that God wanted me to be involved in international missions. I had a heart for it. I didn’t really know what that meant, because I’d never been around anyone involved in missions very much except those people who dressed up in weird outfits and spoke funny at church once a year. I knew I didn’t want to be THAT…but my heart was broken, wide open, for the “rest of the world.” It was very specific and I remember it as if it was yesterday.

Once I got home from camp I started researching what this meant. Did I quit my job and move to Africa? Did I go to seminary…because when you are Baptist and you’re called to missions, you go to seminary. But I sure didn’t want to go to seminary, but I DID want to do what God wanted me to do. I was confused and searching and there was no one out there near me, that I knew of, who could help me try to figure it all out. So I spent a lot of time with just me and God, He’s the best one to ask anyway. He told me to go to India. I knew it a whole year in advance.

During this year of preparation, I was pretty excited. I learned how to commit to something in advance believing that God would provide the way. But during that year my brother was in a terrible car accident. We were actually told he would not survive it. He was in a coma in a hospital an hour and a half away from us in a trauma unit. In all he was in the hospital for about a year, and survived it (thank you, God). But it was a tremendous time for our family.

Then another devastating thing: A few weeks before I was to leave, one of my best friends was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a week later, at a very young age. This person was super special to me, words can’t describe the kind of friend he was to me. Even now I’m crying thinking about him, our friendship, what he and his family meant to me. It just didn’t even feel real. It was so fast.

I struggled with if I should leave his wife, also a best friend, and their small child, who was like a little sister to me. How could I leave them when they needed me, plus the fact that I was an emotional wreck. I struggled with the decision to go or not to go for a while. I prayed and asked several wise people what to do. Finally his wife spoke to me and told me to go. She told me that he would want me to go and that she’d need me later, when I got back, when everyone else had gone on with their everyday lives. Leaving was very hard to do, but I agreed.

So the day came for me to fly from the airport in Memphis, TN to Miami, Florida for my training and then on to India. I was going by myself with a team of people from all over the states and knew no one on the team. This training time was also to be a time to get to know one another before we set off on this journey together. So I headed to the airport in Memphis. I think this was only like the second time for me to ever fly and first time to fly alone.

The trip to Miami was crazy! I won’t go into to many details, but everything that could have happened, did. I was re-routed, flights cancelled, flights delayed, etc. It was nuts! What should have only taken a couple of hours for me, actually took 6 airplanes and 14 hours! I was alone, an inexperienced traveler – didn’t know what to do when your flight cancelled (now I know…hehe!). I was booked on several flights in case one thing or another didn’t work out. I didn’t have a contact number for the people in Miami (they were in a hotel and this was the days before everyone had a cell phone). They called the airline when they noticed issues with my flights when trying to confirm to come pick me up at the airport, but the airline told them I was delayed until the next morning, when I actually came in on a super late flight to Miami (around 11pm). So I got to the Miami airport and no one was there to pick me up, and I still didn’t know of a way to contact anyone from the organization.

I did know the name of my hotel, so I went outside and found a shuttle bus that transported to the hotel, and hopped on. I was young, never travelled anywhere alone before (remember I’m a small town, Mississippi girl), alone in Miami, scared, nervous, didn’t know anyone, and couldn’t figure out why no one was there to pick me up…but for some odd reason, I was completely at peace. There was like a supernatural peace over me that entire day. I will never forget it. I knew I was missing the entire first day of training and getting to know my teammates, but that was pretty much my only concern. I didn’t know what I’d do once I got to the hotel, but was just taking one thing at a time. While on the bus I prayed that God would just take care of it, like He did everything else that day.

As my bus pulled up to the hotel, I was walking up the sidewalk and Steve, my team leader (whom I’d never met before) looked at me strangely and asked, “Sherry?” and I was immediately relieved. He explained that the airline had me booked on the morning flight also, so when he called they just told him that piece of info, and he didn’t know that I’d actually be arriving on the later flight. He said that something told him that for some odd reason I might actually come in on that later flight and so he was headed to the airport to see. I was so relieved. Thank you God.

He took me up to my room and introduced me to several of my female teammates. After explaining all that happened to me that day, they were so sweet to me. I wanted to stay up longer and get to know them better, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted so I went to bed.

The next morning I got up early and opened my bible to where I’d left off the day before. A few months prior I had decided to read the bible from cover to cover as a goal and that morning I was in the book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 8. I got to verse 2 and it jumped off the page at me: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart…” I thought about the statement and all that Moses in particular was referring to and I also thought about the past year in my own life. It wasn’t 40 years and it wasn’t in a desert, but it felt like it. It was a tough year in a lot of ways (from the horribly hurtful situation at the beginning of the year, to the near death of my brother, to the death of my best friend, to the hard decision to leave my best friend – his wife – at a time when she needed me the most, to the craziness of just travelling to the training). I was humbled, I was a mess, and in no condition emotionally to take off with a bunch of strangers to a foreign land, but I realized that maybe that’s just where God wanted me. I was broken and totally dependent on Him. Maybe the result of my year was to humble me and to know what was in my heart. I prayed that what God saw was good. And I prayed that He could use me in a powerful way. I prayed for a supernatural love for the people of India and Nepal, a true God-like kind of love. And I especially prayed that God would use the events of the past year of my life in a powerful way, somehow.

To be continued…

Memories

There’s this wall I have in my office/spare bedroom where I often go to just thank God at times for the work He is doing around the world, and the places/people He’s allowed me to meet and visit. I often come in here to stare and pray for each of the places and also remember the journey.

God has allowed me to be a part of some amazing things. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in over 15 different countries witnessing what He’s up to. I don’t get to share about them enough with the people I love. Many of you have heard small glimpses of parts of these journeys, many of you have not but have asked me to, and I often struggle with what parts to share…

So, as my new passport is now empty, prepared for a new decade of traveling (as much as I possibly can) and also because I’m in a really nostalgic mood…I’ll share here over the next several posts about the places that are closest to my heart. My heart is that as you read, that you wouldn’t put any emphasis on me, but on the people in that location…I hope to open up a small part of their world to you and that you would pray for them as you read.

I’ve set my blog to import into facebook. So if you are reading this through facebook, I’m not sure how well the blog photos will import. If you’re having trouble reading on facebook, you can read directly from my blog at http://sherrynaron.com.