On This Day in 2020...
Ps Chrissie Carter
Ps Chrissie Carter
As I sit and write this, it’s February 2021 and we’ve had flurries of snow fall for most of the day.
Although this has been the norm for almost a week now, the last time I saw snow properly fall was around 4AM on Monday 24th February 2020. Four of us joked about the fact that it was snowing as we bundled our luggage into the back of the car ready to journey to a slightly warmer climate of 30°. The next 10 days saw us travel from Manchester to Kolkata, Kolkata to Mumbai and back home again.
Having sat in many services over the past 11 years where we as a Church have shared about our ongoing partnership with Vision Rescue; an incredible organisation that feeds, educates and cares for the children and their families living in the extreme impoverished slums of India, our ideas of what to expect came from just that - stories, pictures and videos taken by others. My expectations were to have so much fun as a team, create some epic memories, meet some incredible people and to encourage the team over there as much as possible.
We arrived at 3 in the morning and whilst waiting for our taxi the infamous ‘culture shock’ hit. Quicker than I anticipated if I’m honest. I remember seeing the thick, heavy smog inside the airport terminal, making our way outside and thinking “Yep, I’ve seen India.. I don’t need to come here again.” We were in a foreign place with a totally different culture, set of rules, set of social norms and I was out of my comfort zone. Rationally I told myself ‘Chrissie, you’re tired. It’s going to be fun.” And so after a small nap in the lobby of our hotel (someone didn’t think we’d need a hotel room.. We can laugh about it now!) We spent our first full day sightseeing under the care of Suraj, a Pastor doing incredible work within the city. He took us to several tourist locations such as the St Paul’s Cathedral, the Victoria Memorial, The Hugli River where locals go to wash in the sacred water and the home of Mother Teresa. He answered our questions, shared insight, helped us navigate the food court at the mall and was the first of many amazing people who made our trip as unforgettable as it was.
After a good night's sleep and a carefully chosen non-spicy breakfast, we set off to visit the famous yellow bus that has become a beacon of light and hope within the communities it travels between. Our first project happened to be in a community that was also celebrating a wedding. The bus couldn’t move due to how many people were in the streets celebrating! The colours that everyone was wearing were incredible! Once we had squeezed our way through the festivities on the roads that have no rules, we arrived and boarded the bus as the children began to arrive. A little boy stepped on and my mind instantly pictured my 4 year old boy at home who would soon be getting up, having his breakfast, being ushered into a car and driven to school where he’d be safe to learn and play. This little boy before me arrived with no trousers on and two tin dishes for he and his sisters only full meal of the day. The stark reality of poverty was evident. I watched this little boy over the next 45 mins laugh with his friends, sing songs, learn simple maths with the help of the teachers (and Pastor Ed who really got stuck in teaching them!) and I then had the honour of dishing up his dinner before he said thank you, waved and jumped off the bus holding his sister's hand. The rest of the trip held many more little moments like this. Moments that make you question how this is fair, that make you take stock of your own life and how much we take for granted and how these people who find so much joy yet they have so very little.
Vision Rescue believes in “Empowering people to find their purpose, enjoy their rights and live with dignity”. Throughout the remainder of our trip we saw this in action. On the buses that were full of children just like the little boy mentioned above, to the community centres offering men and women vocational training so they can support their families, to the incredible new initiative beginning to work with the authorities to raise awareness within schools. We heard story after story of people finding their purpose, being educated so they can enjoy their rights and living their life with dignity.
Over the 10 day trip we as a team created a whole heap of memories, we laughed until we cried, we sang the songs we sing in Church with strangers who sang it in their own languages, we saw that the Church is alive in India and we cried together as we witnessed first hand what no human beings should have to live like. We also, however, were encouraged by the difference Vison Rescue are making. Each individual whether they are a cook, a teacher, a dentist, a community support worker or any of the other brilliant people we came into contact with. They are the hands and feet of Jesus, excited to serve, changing one life at a time and making an impact. To partner with them as a Church, we play a part in this too. What an incredible honour it is to belong to something bigger than ourselves!
It’s true that until you have walked where they walk, heard the sounds of the never-quiet city, stood in the classroom that has an open sewage pipe behind it, been asked for a picture purely because you have white skin and they want to show their friends or raced from one location to another in a TukTuk… It remains someone else's far away narrative. By visiting these real, foreign, out of your comfort zone places there is a deeper, intimate and oh so beautiful truth that is found. No matter the country you live, the nationality, skin colour, social class or language you speak; when we worship Jesus, when we come together to serve His children and see His Kingdom on earth, something happens in your heart that no picture, video or story can do. I cannot encourage you enough to go and see for yourselves what these words are trying to convey. Why not start saving today so you can be a part of the team that visits next? It’s life changing, it’s fun, it’s moving and it’s unforgettable.
Almost a year on, a little piece of my heart is still 4,998 miles away with all the beautiful and incredible people of Kolkata and Mumbai. I honestly cannot wait to visit again.