India blog part 9

Yesterday the tiredness finally caught up with me! So after a great time of worship at church and a challenging sermon on boldness I came home, fell asleep straight after lunch and the next thing I knew it was 5 pm! I was very touched at church when 2 Hindi speaking ladies who had been at my talk on Friday night came and gave me very warm hugs, and though we couldn’t communicate in words, their smiles said a great deal; then an English speaking lady came and shared how one thing I had said in my talk had really spoken to her, and had changed her outlook and attitude to some particular circumstances she was facing.

I’m always blessed and amazed in equal measure when God uses part of my own story to help other people, but it reminds me of the mandate He gave me when I started the Lifeline charity. Back then God spoke to me from Esther chapter 7. At the beginning of that chapter, Haman is building a gallows, 75ft high, to hang Mordecai, and by the end of the chapter Haman is hanging from his own gallows. It always seemed to me to be a metaphor for the evils that happen in our lives, the things that come not from God but from the devil, with the intention to destroy our lives and families. Just as Haman ended up hanging from his own gallows, we can hoist the devil with his own petard by taking the very things he throws into our lives to destroy us and our families and using them to bless other people and make him rue the day he ever messed with us. In the case of Lifeline I wanted to see people come to Jesus who would not have done so if it weren’t for Ellen’s suffering and disability. And in using my story of some very painful circumstances in my own life to draw women closer to Him, I felt God was doing the same thing again on Friday evening.

One thing I am really grateful to God for this trip is the good health I’m enjoying. Even though you can see the pollution hanging thick in the air some days (this morning particularly so) I haven’t been troubled at all by the asthma that affected me so badly last time, praise God.

This afternoon I took my second workshop with the local teachers, explaining lesson plenaries to teachers who had never heard of them. I showed how they can be designed to suit aural, visual and kinaesthetic learners, and how, by making them fun, they can help the students to retain more of what they have been taught.

This evening I took a workshop on creative writing. At one point I set a writing task, and although I hadn’t intended to write anything myself, while everyone was scribbling away, I found myself writing down some thoughts about why I came to India, and what this trip has done for me so far:

I came to India in search of – what?
I hardly knew.
Only that my heart was being drawn
to girls whom life had cast,
robbed and wounded, by the wayside,
until a Samaritan gathered them up;
not knowing if I had anything to offer them,
only that I loved them before ever we met.

And so I came, and in their eyes
I saw God shining back at me in love;
in their slender arms and busy hands
I met Jesus, my neighbour, my Friend.

And in the quiet hours
I found myself in a thin place,
the veil between heaven and earth
transparent as gossamer,
and the voice I had strained to hear
down the long tunnels of my life
whispered so close, I felt His breath on my ear.

India blog part 8

IMG_1685Wall hanging in the girls’ home

One of the things that contributes to the bubbly atmosphere here in the girls’ home is that, for all their very varied personalities, many of the girls have an impish sense of humour. But often I don’t know what they’re giggling about, because it’s all in Hindi. However, this morning I was privy to a prank being played. Lunch was being prepared, and one of the girls went into the bedrooms shouting, “Lunch ready!” She summoned the girls from their rooms and sent them in the direction of the dining room. I was reading at the time, so I closed the book and started to rise from my chair. But she came and leaned over to me and whispered, “No, Aunty, you stay. I fun!” and then giggled as the girls trooped back from the dining room, having discovered that lunch was not ready after all!

This is a day off for me, with no engagements and not too much preparation left to do for the coming week. So this afternoon I went with another volunteer, an Australian lady, to the nearby shopping mall. I was able to buy all the gifts I need to take home and we even found a Starbucks. We went by autorickshaw, as hair-raising a ride as it always is here. Coming back, we haggled with the driver over the price and finally settled on 80 rupees. But when we arrived back here, he tried to up the price to 100 rupees. I was glad of my Australian companion who was much more graciously assertive than I would have managed to be, and without ever deviating from calm politeness refused to give him any more than he had agreed at the outset.

Now I think we have a relaxing evening ahead. I might see if I can link my laptop to the TV and show them this video of one of my favourite story tellers telling a story I think they would enjoy: and which would obviously give lots of scope for talking to them about the meaning of the story.

India blog part 7

The one part I forgot to mention about yesterday was that my little friend the storyteller entertained us again. This time it was a classic tale about a character whose name alternated each time it was mentioned between the little red hen and the little hed ren, and once again the audience were in stitches. I had the opportunity to spend some time with this young lady yesterday with E and S translating, and besides being a consummate entertainer it became apparent that she is highly intelligent. The circumstances of her life have been such that she has not had an education, but if she had been to school she would certainly have been one of the high flyers, and she is just so keen to study. I really want to see these girls get the education they deserve, but of course it is so much harder once you reach young adulthood and have to earn a living.

Many thanks to all who prayed for tonight’s meeting. I had a real sense at the outset of the gentleness of the Holy Spirit settling over us all. There were about 30 women present and I felt complete liberty to speak all that was on my heart without any diffidence or awkwardness. I am very grateful to my brave interpreter who had to say one or two words she had certainly never spoken in public before, in this culture where sex is not often discussed. The women were very open and listened intently and when an opportunity was given at the end for questions and comments there was such an atmosphere of trust that people felt free to share things they had probably never shared with anyone before. It struck me afterwards that whatever questions I was asked, and however my answer began, it always ended up with Jesus, and it really underlined to me that He is the answer to every situation that we can face. At the end there was an opportunity for people to write down further comments and questions, and many did so. I didn’t get to read these, but I know they will be dealt with wisely and sensitively by the person who collected them in. I confess I was surprised by the degree of openness and I thought it spoke volumes about the relationships of trust this group of people have built between themselves – a real example of what church should be.

Meanwhile, much French knitting has been going on, so here are a couple more pictures:


India blog part 6

Yesterday was so busy, I had no time to write a blog. In the morning I was with the school teachers here at the local school. I taught them the difference between diagnostic, formative and summative assessment and helped them to complete an exercise of writing a rubric. I was planning to go on to talk about how they can use the assessment data they collect to inform and direct their teaching, but because my talk was being simultaneously translated into Hindi it took longer than anticipated, so that part is saved for the next session.

These teachers are not only doing an amazing job of teaching with minimal training, they are also succeeding in making bricks without straw, as their sparse classrooms lack any of the teaching aids we take for granted in the UK. (That’s my laptop on the desk!)   IMG_1680It has been a challenge to design fun and interesting plenaries for their lessons, when at home we are so used to being able to call on technology to make lessons interactive. If you have students whose understanding is enhanced when text is supported by pictures, it’s so easy to find a picture to copy and paste into your presentation for the interactive white board – but so much more of a challenge when all your writing is done by hand on an old fashioned board. Nonetheless, there is children’s work on display on the walls, and educational posters – they are using every means at their disposal to further the children’s learning. I didn’t photograph the whole classroom where I led my session as I didn’t want to plaster the teachers’ photos over the internet! But these two pictures are opposite corners of the classroom, and they give some idea.IMG_1681

Then in the afternoon I completed the preparation of my presentation on teaching disabled children, which will be a 2 hour workshop at the teachers’ conference next Thursday, and spent the rest of the day on a presentation on teaching ethics, for the same occasion. Having taught ethical theory for such a long time, I’ve found I had to work quite hard, and think differently from how I am accustomed, to make the talk less theoretical and more practical. It’s a little different in India from in England. In English schools you aren’t allowed to tell students what they should believe; you simply show them what different moral philosophers have said, and help them to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the different theories, then leave them to make up their own minds what they believe. But here they want me to show how we can aid the moral formation of our students and instil good ethical principles into them, so it requires a different approach and has taken me a while to prepare. At the same time, I can’t do what I’d really like to do, which is to tell them to abandon all the theories of all the moral philosophers because right living is all about being led by the Spirit of God. I am not allowed to have any Christian bias in what I say, so I’ve drawn from a variety of faiths and religious traditions to illustrate my presentation.

This morning I have stayed home alone because tonight I’m giving my talk on the risks and addictive nature of pornography, and it’s such a sensitive subject, I feel the need to cover myself in prayer, and so I’m just going to have a quiet morning here in the presence of God. Those of my readers who pray, please pray that I will be able not just to talk but really to lead these ladies to the One who sets captives free, and who answers their innermost questions (Am I loved? Am I beautiful?) with yes, you are my precious, loved and beautiful daughter, and if you come to Me I will become in you a well of living water springing up to eternal life.

IMG_1682The French knitting carries on apace, and the girls have really got the hang of it now. They are carrying on without any help from me, and are amazingly fast. One enterprising young lady decided she wanted her mat to be an oval, not a circle, and has started sewing it in a contrast colour, to very pretty effect.

India blog part 5

Well, I didn’t expect to come to India and be nithered (good Yorkshire word, that). But despite my thick jeans, woolly socks and winter cardigan, I’m sitting tucked up under a blanket and my fingers are almost too numb to type.

I’ve stayed home today, as I have lots of preparation to do. I’ve prepared a workshop for tomorrow on assessment for learning, looking at different types of assessment and how they can inform teaching strategies. I’ve prepared a rubric-writing exercise – something I suspect will be new to the teachers I’m going to be presenting it to. This school is run by unqualified teachers – educated people who have stepped up to the plate to offer schooling to children who wouldn’t otherwise get any, and they are doing a sterling job. I can’t imagine how hard they work, and I have nothing but admiration for them. But without having had any teacher training they are having to work twice as hard, and are sometimes afflicted by self-doubt as they wonder if there are better ways they could be doing things. Hopefully tomorrow’s session will show them how they can collect assessment data that will help them to plan future learning. Then for Monday’s workshop I’ve listed as many fun plenaries as I could think of, plus a lot more I found on the Internet, and I hope to show them how a good plenary session at the end of a lesson can consolidate learning and be a useful tool for formative assessment.

Now I’m working on a talk which I’ve been asked to give to a women’s group on Friday about the dangers of pornography (I certainly am not going to be bored from lack of variety on this trip). Now that sociological and neurological studies have shown so many serious effects from pornography use – everything from erectile dysfunction and relationship breakdown to brain damage – it’s a wonder that governments aren’t taking it as seriously as they take drug abuse. Certainly the Christian Wives of Addicts group with whom I’ve had contact could tell you that it’s not just harmless fun, when many of them have seen their lives and families destroyed by their husbands’ addictions. I’m told it’s a growing problem here, even among women. I will be pointing these ladies to the only source that can truly satisfy our inner thirst – Jesus, the inner spring of living water. I would really appreciate prayers as I tackle a very sensitive subject in a culture that is less used than ours to airing such topics in public.

I’ve resumed writing this at bedtime after a busy second half of the day. I was privileged this afternoon to hear one of the young ladies in the home tell her story, and afterwards to sit with S and E and help to brainstorm what kind of support might help her as she works her way through the traumas of the past and builds a brighter future. I have grown to love these beautiful girls, and I long to see them make a resounding success of their lives. It would be impossible to underestimate the courage and dignity with which they have faced what life has thrown at them so far. Whether they realise it yet or not, they are growing into strong women.

Tonight we left the girls in the care of a lady who comes once a week to give them lessons, and went off to the church Bible study. It was a challenging reminder that when we allow things other than Jesus to rule in our lives, they draw us away from celebrating and worshipping Him and make life hard work. But when we give Him His place of Lordship in our lives, He gives us the spiritual abilities to build one another up and work for the good of each other.

We came home to a delicious supper, during which I was again regaled with a hilarious story in “Hindglish” with melodramatic hand gestures by my little friend while the other girls collapsed in hysterics around us, apparently at her embellishments of the story, which I couldn’t follow as they were in Hindi. The story started out as Beauty and the Beef but somewhere around halfway through she finally grasped what everyone was trying to tell her, and the Beef morphed into the Beast.

I am thankful to report that I continue to be in excellent health, sleeping very well and not even troubled by the asthma that plagued me last time.

India blog part 4

The writing exercise yesterday afternoon was a great success. I told the girls they had to take the character description which they had already written and put that character into a setting of their choice – any place, any time. Then they had to give the character a problem, and then find a way of resolving the problem that was unexpected but not unbelievable. Although they needed a lot of help putting the stories into English, the ideas were all their own, and very dramatic – a rescue at sea, a house fire, a kidnapping, a forced marriage and a girl who fainted and fell off a cliff!

In the evening the girls had a group counselling session on the subject of forgiveness, and I was able to share with them the journey on which God led me a few years ago, from Matthew 1, when I went from struggling to know how to forgive, to seeing it as the cancellation of a debt, and finding real freedom in writing down the cancellation of wrongs and writing them off as if they were a debt that had been paid in full. One of the girls who heard my testimony last time I was here told us afterwards that she found this picture helpful, and that it gave her encouragement in exercising forgiveness towards those who had wronged her. I love the way God takes the hard things that have happened in our lives and turns them into positives for ourselves and lifelines we can throw to others.

This morning we again walked to the church where the girls spent a few hours in study and I prepared some material for later in the week. I’ve been asked to do 2 teacher workshops on assessment for learning – something I’ve had to revise, as I’m a bit rusty after 5 years away from the classroom! However, it’s surprising how soon it comes back once you start to remind yourself what you once knew.

I then walked to the pastor’s house for lunch with his wife. We had an enjoyable time, sharing our experience of God’s faithfulness through life’s ups and downs. After a delicious lunch of goat curry followed by apple cake with chocolate ice cream and – oh joy! – my first cup of coffee since arriving in India, I had the opportunity to go over the material I have prepared for the teachers’ conference with the lady who is organising it. It became apparent that my workshop on disability is pretty much along the right lines, and just needs a little tweaking, whereas my material on teaching ethics is a little too theoretical and needs to focus more on practicalities. So I have some work to do, but two or three free mornings have been written into my schedule to give me time for preparation.

This afternoon a very experienced Australian teacher who is fluent in Hindi came and taught S and E how to go about remedial adult education in Hindi and English literacy and numeracy with the young ladies here who are all over 18 and most of whom, because of their traumatic pasts, have had very little in the way of schooling, but who need enough education and vocational skills to be able to make their own way in the world when they leave here. I was in awe of this lady’s inspirational teaching style and infectious enthusiasm.

I have to say, I’m enjoying myself so much here, and have fallen in love again with the place and the people so much, that I’m already mentally scanning my 2017 diary to see when I could fit in my next visit, at the same time as wondering how practical it is to try and learn some Hindi before I next come! The girls are still enthusiastically working away at their French knitting whenever they have free time, and there is talk of making some of the finished articles into a wall hanging to go on display here.

It’s funny how I can sometimes find it hard work to connect with God at home, but I come here and it’s so easy – I snatch the periods of silence that come my way and feel as if I’m wrapped in His arms – indeed that’s probably the secret; I had rather got out of the habit of silence and contemplation at home, and need to make sure when I return to the UK that I don’t allow busyness and distractions to crowd it out again.

India blog part 3

After a breakfast during which we were still all laughing at a very funny scene in a film we watched last night, we set out to the church where the girls were to spend the morning studying, and I was to prepare a talk I have to give next week.

We stepped out into the morning air (cold enough for E to send me back for my coat!) and threaded our way through the very narrow streets. The road here is simply compacted mud with no tarmac surfaces, just occasional short sections of broken concrete, no pavements for pedestrians, and at frequent intervals there are drain holes which have lost their covers, a hazard for the unwary. The tenement blocks with their ornate wrought-iron balconies towered above us on either side as we passed along the narrow corridor between them. Rays of sun slanted tantalisingly through high above our heads, but never penetrated down to street level as we side-stepped the wild dogs, litter, overflowing pipes above us and drain holes at our feet, and dodged the traffic in this city where there are a hundred opportunities a day for the unvigilant to meet an untimely end!
Speaking of the dogs, one of the ones that reside outside our building has puppies. One of them is all-white, apart from a black smudge on its face and one black leg. I’m not sure how I shall be able to resist popping it in my pocket when it’s time to come home.

Now, as I write, I’ve completed the outline of my talk (about the dangers of valuing people only for their economic productivity, and missing the gifts that severely disabled people bring to us) and the girls are labouring (I don’t think that’s too strong a word!) over their English studies. A couple of days ago another volunteer guided them through writing a character description. This afternoon I plan to help them build it into a story by making something happen to their character that puts her in a predicament. Then on another occasion they will have to think about how they can resolve her dilemma – and then I hope they will have an idea of how to construct a story with character, drama, conflict and resolution. I have also brought some laminated photographs to help them think about setting for a story. I’m told they are not used to thinking imaginatively, so this will challenge and, I hope, stretch them.
Learning English phonetics

We’re now back at the home, and the girls are cooking lunch. After a while of studying English phonetics, they all took their books and chairs, and climbed the stairs to a sunny roof terrace. They were about to plunge back into their studies, but the roof space looked too irresistible for sitting still, so I lined them up against the wall and taught them to play “baked bean, dwarf bean, jumping bean, French bean, runner bean” (anyone remember that from Brownies or Guides?) and after running and bouncing around for a while they sat back down to listen to the story of “Town Mouse, Country Mouse” in English, with Hindi explanations for those who struggled to understand.
Studying hard

Meanwhile, S came to find me to sit and plan my diary for the next two weeks. I now have a creative writing workshop with the church planned, a training session on report writing, another on the effects of pornography – an engagement I would value prayer for. These are in addition to the teachers’ conference and the meeting of businesswomen which are already in the diary. Tonight the girls’ group counselling session is on forgiveness, and I am to share with them something of my own journey of forgiveness and what God taught me along the way. I have also been asked to look at the girls’ backgrounds one by one with S and E, and help to plan what educational goals are appropriate for each one and a plan of how to reach them, and also what counselling needs they have and how these can best be addressed. I feel very unqualified for the latter, not being a counsellor, but I do know the ways in which God has met me at the various points throughout my own history, and which interventions have been helpful, so I hope I can at least contribute a little. To those who pray, I know there are things on that list which I can’t do without God’s help, and things for which I need a supernatural wisdom beyond my own, so please do pray for me.

Walking through the streets this morning I suddenly realised that I had shaken off that feeling of being out of my comfort zone, and have started to feel much more at home here now, due in part I’m sure to the very warm welcome from everyone. My health is also holding up – even the asthma is not bothering me, and I suspect the reason it was so bad last time was because my system was already weakened by the Dengue fever. Not a mosquito in sight this time – last time I’d been eaten alive by the time I’d been here two days. So I can honestly say that so far it’s all good.