Monday, November 12, 2007

City in the Clouds - PART 1

Icy white peaks through fog clouds, we are 7,500 feet up in Mussoorie, a mountain town of tin roofs and Buddhist flags and pine trees, donkeys with packs and happy children breathing cold fresh air — a serious contrast to the Red Light District of Mumbai and the Slums of Dehradun where we came from, where traffic lumbers like dinosaurs with crushing exhaust. Up here, in the fresh living mountains are the far reaches of India, mountain faces and twinkling lights below. Monkeys wander the treetops.

The towering clouds on the other side of the mountain appear to be jagged mountains, and they are—the Himalayans. A shimmering strong regiment of legendary peaks splits the sky beyond, dwarfing the vast mountain we stand upon. Winding alley city centres of leaning clock towers and stone staircases that vanish steep down the side of the mountain.

We visit a friend’s church here that meets in the back of a clothing shop — there is a man standing guard at the door, who pushes aside a cloth to let you into the small back room which is filled with light and breeze because it over looks the mountains and clouds and pines below. It feels much like the early church, meeting in secret, because to gather in prayer here is not acceptable. The service was in Hindi (thankfully the pastor translated for us) with only 40 Indians of the mountain squished into a small space. Here everyone knew each other and when the pastor's wife, a native Mussoorie woman, asked, people from the congregation read psalms aloud. The people were alive with connections and friendship and chai tea. There were a few ex-pat families, covered with children. It seems to me, children are the true face of India. David preaches on Returning Your Eyes to Jesus, a word of encouragement to people in such a distant region... however, we are soon to learn that God's heart is beating loudly in this distant place.

After church, we walk to dinner and to the Internet cafe in the bright white sun. During the monsoon season this place is in a constant fog, you cannot even dry your underwear, they say, because the mountain is literally in a cloud. We eat in a small area atop the mountain; it takes our food hours to come out, because the tiny cafe is unaccustomed to so many people asking for banana waffles and omelets. Donkeys and cows slowly mull past as Monika braids a little girl's hair and we sit on park benches with hyper children and thankful parents. I show the kids my dad’s “pet the snake” gag and they LOVE it. “See the snake? Good snake. Nice snake. Pet the snake. OH NO SNAKE, DON'T BITE!!!" I spend the rest of the day being bitten by snakes.

The next day, we go on “a hike” with the churches young Leaders, two 25 year old men from the Garwali Mountains. Our host drives us an hour out of town to show us the real mountain range, where villages are sprinkled among sweeping tea terraces. He looks across them and tells us that the Disciples walk to these villages, which are only accessible by foot just to talk to the villagers and tell them that there is a God who loves them, who knows them by name, who counts the very hairs on their head. His name is not one of the millions of gods they worship; His power does not come from a cow or an idol, but from the Cross. It's a simple message: God loves you and He always will.

The Leaders are extraordinarily quiet; they should have been wearing monk’s robes. They set up a campfire and make chai for us as one of them tells us his story in this clearing beside the mountains. Despite the overwhelming odds, he has a Hindi tattoo upon his right hand a symbolic mark given to him from birth, which he now regrets, the Leader has given his life to Christ, dedicated to understanding and sharing God to the Unknown. The chai we drink on that small perch is the greatest tea we have ever tasted.

After we avoid being trampled by cows descending the mountain, we hike to the peak of one of the mountains. Our host and his family come, we hold the children’s hands telling them “don’t step in the lollipops left on the ground by the cows.” The air gets colder and thicker, the path is steep moss and rock that opens into a theatre of green grass and tall trees. Walking the silent small path, surrounded by peaceful trees and whispering breeze, I begin to understand the Leader’s silence a little more.

We reach the top, a little out of breath, as the Leaders easily carry the children on their shoulders. We are so high up, on such a drastic slope, that to look down feels like the world is upside down. Far down below, huts and villages span out below like tiny pebbles placed among the grass. Freedom up here. We soak in the sun until a small boy waves at us from the top, top, top of the mountain. In a matter of minutes he is down at our side, showing the brave few the way into the clouds.

Our host, his children, and the Leaders help us climb rocks and navigate prickly bushes. The pastor races me to the top, running up grassy slopes and over rocks, altitude starving me for breath until I am dizzy at the very peak. The world is below us. We are above the clouds that float by like an ocean. Stacked mountains vanish in the horizon. But the Himalayans stay steady, mocking our breathtaking climb. The twinkling cowbells of the three cattle that belong to the boy is the only sound up here. The bell's gentle clank, the rolling clouds, the bright mountainside. Peace.

“We came here 3 weeks ago,” says the Pastor. “We camped here and sang and danced.” This is the kind of hike these men do every day, just to reach a small hut, just to knock on their door and speak to them as friends and believers. God’s love is real. We can be the vessels through which he spreads that love. Even here, God loves them so much that He sends out these Leaders to the farthest regions — none of this area is in the Lonely Planet by the way — to let them know of His Love. Back in Los Angeles, my world seems so small, work, food, friends, service, but out here, my eyes are opened to the enormity of God’s heart, that He is working everywhere, even in the silence of the hills and across the world, in the brash clamor of Los Angeles.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Where's Bob?!?

We're home! After taking planes, trains, and automobiles over 27 hours to get back we arrived at LAX safe and sound early Friday afternoon. It was great to be greeted by Brandon and Joe's parents smiling faces. One of our teammates, Bob, decided to extend his journey in India for another week, so after getting use to accounting for all ten of us, it became a running joke on the way home for Joe to ask, "Where's Bob?!" I posted a link to the Sojourners blog earlier in our trip where Bob has been writing updates about our India journey, but this link will go to all of the posts instead of just to the one.

We still have more to share about the end of our trip, as well as reflections from a few of our team, so please check back with us in the coming weeks (and possibly months) as we process and share more about our trip, and our response to all we've experienced.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Slums Near SNEHA

Dr. Reeta and Hari took us into the slums of Dehra Duhn. I’m having trouble finding words to describe the dire poverty. There are certain varying images that flash through my mind that I will never forget. A naked little girl squatting down in front of me to relieve her bowels to her smile when she looked up into my eyes. At one point I peered into a small hole in a wall to find three fat, snorting pigs munching away on garbage. Supposedly they are a commodity in India, ranging from 3-4 thousand rupees. I find that bizarre because nobody eats pork!

As we walked the slum, dozens of children began to follow us. They screamed and yelled with so much laughter, you would have thought Shakira had arrived. It was such an incredible welcome and to see the joy and hope in their tiny little faces was mesmerizing. Many of the older folks were kind but their faces expressed concern, perhaps about our nature of business in their territory.

We spent some time meeting Ashu, the child Kirsten and her family sponsor at Sneha. The Dickerson’s have been praying for them for nearly 7 years and it was not only a joy for Kirsten to finally meet Ashu but to see many of the family prayers answered.

Joe and Rod had the privilege of going deeper into the slums and when they got back Joe said, “the smell of death was lurking.” They both said it was much worse than what we had witnessed, which is very hard for all of us to even fathom.

Juliette’s comments regarding the slums were, “I was overwhelmed by the surroundings, and I’m still digesting it.” She also said she was thinking of how to reconcile this with her own life and how the two will coexist.


More pics from SNEHA

Sunday, October 28, 2007


If someone would have told me six months ago that I would find myself in India standing amidst a throng of sweet children making balloon hats, autographing tiny hands and arms, and attempting to speak Hindi, I would never have believed it. But that's exactly where I was yesterday afternoon on the grounds of SNEHA, an amazing school, medical clinic and training program in the town of Dehradun. The children come from the nearby slum community, which has about 20,000 residents. Nearly 14 years ago Dr. Reeta and Hari Rao resigned from their jobs at a hospital in Mussoorie and began their ministry in a tiny mud room. The school now provides a quality education to nearly 800 children. When we first arrived in the morning, fresh-faced children in straight lines welcomed us with songs and strings of marigolds that they placed around our necks.

Even the three and four-year-olds stood patiently at attention - something it would be difficult to imagine seeing at home. In the afternoon the children split into groups and we drew pictures with sidewalk chalk for them to color in, played basketball, jumped rope, made crafts, and enjoyed the Indian version of Duck, Duck, Goose. Which brings me to the balloon hats, while we made strange creations that somewhat resembled intestines, a few of the older boys slipped off and made intricate bouquets of balloon flowers, which they presented back to us, "For you, Ma'am."

We have all been so grateful for the incredible hospitality we've been shown by our hosts. Dr. Reeta gave us a tour of the facilities and we watched as young women worked on embroidery and sewing projects, which will enable them to help support their families. After the children went home, we shared afternoon tea with the teachers of SNEHA - 22 in all. Serving the children here is a true calling. The teachers could easily earn up to four times as much working at one of the local private schools, but instead they spend six days a week encouraging and loving Neha, Arpad, Ashu, Ashok, Rajender...the list goes on. SNEHA means "Love" in Hindi. I am humbled by the love in this place. God's love...changing this community one day at a time. We're headed to the basti this afternoon (slum). It's hard to reconcile the fact that the smart, funny, playful, happy, polite children we've been getting to know live in an atmosphere that most of us can't even fathom. Please pray for them, their families, and for the extraordinary men and women who selflessly serve this community.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Photos from Train Travel

It was very hot with extreme chaos all around, but our friend Jeet helped us make all the right train connections... our hero! (we'll post a picture of him later)

Here are a few pics to help show our train travel day.

David imparting some profound wisdom... you'll have to ask him what he was sharing with us.

Our platform performer.

Red Light District and other things...

Things that are better in India:

-Domestic flights. Our Kingfisher airline from Mumbai to Delhi was like an international flight out of the U.S. The 1 hour, 20 minute ride came equipped with a full meal, cable TV (to catch up on Wonder Years and Laguna Beach reruns), and flight attendants who all looked like Indian models. Cool.
-Tandoori chicken: Tender and moist all the time!
-Driving: We do not see a rhyme or reason but I guess everyone here knows the rules to the insane highways. Three family members and a sleeping baby on one motorcycle, crazy rickshaws weaving through the oscillating cars, 5 ½ lanes forming in a 3-laned highway. But alarmingly, fewer accidents than American freeways!
-Instant coffee

Things that are better in America:

-Train bathrooms: I just stepped into a squat toilet unit with a wet, wet floor. I’m pretending it’s just spilled water.
-Fruit and veggies: Because of the unsanitary water, we’re all dying for just one salad. Please, no more carbs.
-Ecclesia. We miss you.

But we are all having a wonderful, stomach-sickness-free time. In India, monkeys are like squirrels. We saw a gang of them at the side of a road. Converse are only $20, and our time is spent in extreme situations at the opposite ends of the paradigm. One day we’ll be sitting, having a Thai lunch in the luxurious home of one of our friends in Mumbai, then a few hours later, be driven out to the outskirts of the city to visit one small home that houses 23 girls who have been rescued from sex slavery. Tuesday we spent the afternoon with our friends from the faith-based humanitarian organization in the touristy area of Mumbai, seeing the Gateway of India and eating at Leopolds. That same night we witnessed the horror of the Red Light District.

The investigators from this organization thought it best that we stay in our vehicles and only drive through the area. Even still our nice American-looking car and colorful tour bus were give-aways that we were not regulars here. At first it was hard to decipher exactly what we were seeing. The Red Light District is home to 2,000 brothels, but we saw business as usual: vendors selling trinkets, little alleyways that we drove by too quickly to see what was actually going on, people walking along the streets. But that’s just it. We saw mostly men walking the streets. And then we saw women—standing. Standing still, facing the street, with busy-ness surrounding them. Some looked like children, 12, 13, 14. Some looked older. Perhaps the image that most imprinted itself in all of our minds was when the girls saw our noticeable cars—and perhaps the camera in one of them—and drew their hands to cover their faces. Some with their bare hands, others with their shawls, others turning away from the street. Even in such an open, vulnerable stance, the girls began to show a hint of the shame that was inherent in their profession. They did not look happy. They looked like children that unimaginable forces of life had kicked out onto the street. Life had neglected them. Intermixed with these chilling scenes were more bizarre images of a mismatched guru in a makeshift temple, a white goat licking a steel pole in the middle of the sidewalk, bodies sleeping near sewers. It can be painted easily as a dismal, hopeless picture if we did not think of the investigators in the vans with us and the faces of the rescued girls we had met the night before. It was hard to imagine that those 23 girls—our friends—were out on these streets not long ago. And as the investigators explained how they get the girls out of the brothels, the situation turned more hopeful, less hopeless. Before if we would have heard the statistics that 23 girls were rescued out of the thousands enslaved, we would have thought, “only 23?” Now that we have spent a day with them, we realize it was a miracle that even one of those young women was rescued.
And I know that when I return to the streets of Hollywood and Vine, the streets of Mumbai’s red light district will seem like another time, another world. But they are much alike. Swap a goat that licks a pole for somebody walking her jeweled Chihuahua. And just as this organization is responding to Mumbai, we’ll think how to respond to our own backyard, where “massage” and “acupuncture” shops trap girls like our 23 friends. This, above all, is what God is teaching us: to value the souls behind the statistics.


Note: This was written Wed. Oct 24th, but this is our first chance to post since then.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


(this is brandon sneaking into the blog to let you know that the team arrived safely in their travels.)

A call from Kirsten confirmed that the time in Mumbai was AMAZING and hard to leave behind.

Keep everyone in your prayers as a few feel less than stellar after an ALL DAY and complicated train journey.

After a much needed night of rest...another profound day awaits them as they'll be working with a ministry located in the heart of a slum community. As you may have read...
"Their compassionate outreach now includes a school for children in the slum, health clinic for the community, and programs to train and empower women of the slum in various craft making skills. They are a beacon of light to a community that is caught in the cycle of poverty."

The team will spend the first day with the training school to learn how our Indian brothers and sisters are making a difference through their compassionate response to the poor. The next day will be spent at the school for children.


I'd expect an "official" entry after a few days.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fellow Blogs

Bob, one of our team members, is also processing our time in India on a blog for Sojourners. Please check it out! Sojourner India Blog

Monday, October 22, 2007


An hour away from Mumbai, we are sitting in a safe house among 23 young girls who are victims of sex slavery and child prostitution. Most of them have been rescued by the IJM team and brought here as part of their After Care Program. These are children from ages 13 to 17. These are children and someone decided that they could profit off their young bodies. It is unthinkable, sitting here with them, hearing their favorite colors: purple, blue, yellow, to imagine anyone would subject them to such horror. They are small and shy-- but they burst out laughing when David introduces himself as "David who likes to dance like a Bollywood dancer." The girls then dance Bollywood style for us as we clap along. David then dances for them, Bollywood style, and it's so horrendous we have to laugh. Soon we are all dancing. Juliette shows them the electric slide. Erin is taught some elaborate moves. Monika is grabbed into a tango. Our host shows the girls how to 1,2,3 HOP! and they all follow her around the room 1,2,3 hopping following her feet and repeating after her-- the picture of simple innocence, the way it should be. I wish we could post pictures of their faces and beaming eyes, but we can't post pictures of them, for their protection.

Look around the room: When Christ speaks of the Harvest, this is it. When he speaks of Treasures in Heaven, this is it. Seeing these faces, these smiling saved girls, one can feel God's presence like never before. Remove your sandals, for you are standing on Holy Ground. A year ago, they were being used for sex, raped, and living in horror, and now they are hopping around the room with us--that is truly God at work. We gather in circles and make puffy arts and crafts things that turn out looking like silly Muppets--we create small joy from popsicle sticks and googly eyes. We break into small circles and answer questions about where we come from, if we are married. Aside from a few, most of the girls tell us that they do not want to be married when they grow up. It is easy to understand why.

Our prayers are translated for them. And they give us hankerchiefs which they have hand sewn flowery designs into. Hugs, tears, and goodbyes are exchanged. Kirsten buys an abudance of necklaces and baby dresses that the girls have made for us to sell at home. Chai is drank and they give us crackers (don't take it with your left hand!) and soon it's time to go. We walk to the bus, waving singing goodbye. It was only three hours, but we vow to make this a lifetime relationship with this house and these girls-- not just a passing hello. In Kirsten's hotel room, we processed our heavy day and responded with tears for witnessing God at work, joy at having been able to spend time with such survivors, expressed emotions of confusion and disdain for their predators, but above all, some hope was there. For their future. For our work. For His Work. Please pray for them. It's not easy for three women to care for a house full of teenage girls, no matter where you are.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

We've arrived!

It’s been less than 24 hours since we’ve deplaned, but already we’ve experienced so much we’ll only be able to share the very briefest of highlights. Last night after dropping off baggage at the hotel a few wandered out to find themselves “bustin’ a move” with the locals… apparently we’ve arrived at the end of an Indian festival, and my understanding is David, Joe, and Bob showed our Indian neighbors how we groove in Hollywood as they helped with the celebration!

After fitful rest for more than a few of us, we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at our hotel with lots of the coffee with warm milk that put Starbucks to shame. We then piled onto the “Destiny Bus”. No joke that is the name of our bus! Can you believe it?! We love it… Juliette likened us to the Partridge Family with Kirsten playing the role of the mom and David leading the charge as we all break out into a round of “Come on, get happy!”
So Destiny took us to church where a number of our friends are regulars and we enjoyed incredible worship with them. We then were very blessed to enjoy lunch at our friends’ home, and after went out to a home for boys. This beautiful couple has opened their home to raise ten boys they’ve rescued from the streets of Mumbai. In addition they have their own little girl. Their hearts are full of love for these boys and the boys have flourished in their home. All of this was very moving and we’d love to share more of the stories when we return. Here are a few pics until then… Namaste!


PS-We've had a little problem with technology so this post is a little late; hopefully we've worked it out so we can connect easier in the future.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Few Hours and Counting

Our "India-Here-We-Come" countdown is now hours away instead of weeks or months, and the surreal blurry dream-like nature of our journey is coming into a focused reality. I'm sure there are many bags that still need to be packed, but come 8am tomorrow morning we will all be assembled at LAX as we wait to endure the riggers of our 22-hour journey to Mumbai.

Our week began with a great connection on Sunday when our home church of Ecclesia hosted a "Not For Sale" event. David Batstone, the author of the book and movement, "Not For Sale" joined us as we explored through songs and multimedia presentations the issues of injustice and human trafficking around the world. For those of us on the India team, it seemed like we had come full circle, since part of our preparation processing for our trip included reading David Batstone's book. Please check out the links on the right to learn more about the book and the movement. After exploring the challenges to live Isaiah 1:17, our church family surrounded our team with prayer, and we felt a solidarity and desire to see God's heart for justice. Although it was hard to see each story unfold making the numbers and statistics a reality, there was also a sense of hope for a new purpose to see slavery end in our lifetime.

Our church is crying out for God to plant a vision in us to see ways we can impact injustice. Visit our Justice League blog to see how we are exploring these opportunities locally and in other parts of the world.

And stay tuned, next time you hear from us we'll be in Mumbai… Bollywood here we come!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Lights... Camera... Action!

Only a couple of weeks to go before we see our name in lights in the land of Bollywood! We're joking of course. Since we're leaving Hollywood for Bollywood, we thought it would be fun to show our team in a Bollywood movie poster.

Seriously though, we are making our final preparations for our sojourn to India, and despite the many challenges many of us have experienced in preparing for the trip, we really feel God's presence working in and through us. Please continue to pray for us and the connections we make in India. We feel blessed by your support... thank you.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Global Trip Overview

We'll begin our journey in Mumbai (aka Bollywood), where we will be hosted by our friends working with a human rights agency that rescues victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery and oppression. Due to the sensitive nature of their work we will not be naming them here. As we listen, learn, and pray, we will be exploring ways to further our partnership with this agency and their passionate dedication to seek justice for the oppressed. We will also be researching various after-care programs that minister to those who have been rescued. Such programs help to bring healing and hope so the victims aren't re-trafficked into slavery, but can experience the life and value God intended for them. Several folks in our group are involved in the film industry in Hollywood, so we have been invited to spend time with believers in the Bollywood film industry. We look forward to learning more about Bollywood and ways to develop our connections there through prayer and relationships.

Our group will then travel north to visit the wonderful work of a ministry located in the heart of a slum community. Their compassionate outreach now includes a school for children in the slum, health clinic for the community, and programs to train and empower women of the slum in various craft making skills. They are a beacon of light to a community that is caught in the cycle of poverty, and we look forward to learning about how our Indian brothers and sisters are making a difference through their compassionate response to the poor.

The last portion of our trip takes us to the foothills of the beautiful Himalayan Mountains. We will be spending time with our wonderful India friends who faithfully encourage and train pastors of small house churches in various villages throughout the mountainous region. There is often persecution for these believers, but their dedication to the Lord is great. We will be learning about what its like to be a believer in a spiritually and physically challenging part of the world, and we will seek to explore ways we might partner with our friends and their ministry.

Prayer points:
  • Please pray for our team as we prepare for our trip (physically, spiritually, financially, etc)
  • Please pray for our safety, unity, cultural sensitivity, and health while in India.
  • Please pray that we would remain close to God and His heart and that we would be humble and teachable.
  • Please also pray that we would bring encouragement and refreshment to our friends in India.
  • Pray for the oppressed, the slaves, the poor, and the persecuted...that the Lord would hear their cries and bring them rescue, hope, and healing.
  • Finally, pray that the Lord would guide us as we seek to identify ways to develop long-term partnerships with our friends in India who are faithfully serving the poor and oppressed.