And just like that, two months have passed. We are excited to see our friends and family, but are sad to leave this place that now feels like home. Just the other day we were talking about how we finally feel adjusted to living here. We are going to miss the people we have become friends with and the community-based culture.
As we are wrapping up the two months, we have been processing through what we’ve learned and how God has been working in our lives. Megan, the country liaison, and Courtney, her intern, have been here the last two weeks. We know them from home and it was refreshing to spend time with people we were comfortable with. They have helped us to process through our time here and give us a different perspective of the work COTN does. They asked us these questions which we feel like have been central as we process the summer.
What’s one of the most prominent lessons you have learned this summer?
Throughout the summer, God has been teaching me to let go of things. As I’ve learned to give God control of the little things, I’ve been able to trust Him with the bigger things. Going into our summer school classes, I had a lot of hopes and expectations for the kids and what they would learn. After some disappointing days teaching, I realized my goals for teaching were unrealistic and God had bigger plans. Rather than teaching the kids specific new topics, we were there to encourage and make sure the kids knew that they were loved, smart, and capable. Handing over my time in the classroom to God proved that he could be trusted to exceed expectations. As I learned to trust God during the summer, I was able to also hand over things I had been so tightly holding onto at home. I have been able to let go of career plans that have been controlling my life and decisions for years. Allowing God to retake his place as the center of life has brought peace and freedom. Despite not knowing what life will look like after graduation, I know He will exceed my expectations, just like He did this summer while teaching. – Bekah
While I was reading the book, The Alchemist, I felt God really speak to me through one line in the book. The alchemist tells the boy “you’re in the desert, so immerse yourself in it”. When I read that line, I was reminded that I am exactly where God has placed me and that I need to soak up the time that I have here in this place. It can be hard to let yourself be in the season you are in. We are always looking to the next season, always thinking how much better it will be to get out of the one we are in. But I think God calls us to immerse ourselves in the place he has us in. It’s not always easy, but if we are always looking to the next, how can we see God working in the now? There have definitely been times where I want to be home and have the normality and comfort of life in the US, but I have learned during this trip that it’s so important to immerse yourself in the place that you are. Whether that is a short-term place or a long-term place, God has you where He wants you. I have learned to focus my mind on being present and focus on the place and the people that I am with. – Kadyn
One huge thing that I’ve learned through out this experience is what rest truly is. To be okay with stillness, and with silence. At times I would be living alone, at times I couldn’t understand anyone talking around me, and at times we just did nothing the entire day. This was frustrating because we would feel unproductive, bored and lonely. But having these times of stillness gave me time to think and turn these questions to God. To lean deeper into him when I felt lost even with people all around me. I was reminded that I should stop and slow down my life. To remember what gives me life and to refocus it on God. At home I’m constantly busy and don’t give myself enough time to rest, but this summer he has given me that space to grow and learn to love rest. – Kristina
Would you encourage others to serve with COTN? What has this experience brought you that other internships could not provide?
Living in another country brings you to a place of vulnerability that you can’t find in the states. It allows God to shape you and impact your life in ways you had never considered. It is definitely difficult and testing but the rewards are far worth it. I was also reminded while I was here how life-giving it is to serve others. Giving your summer up to God and allowing Him to use you creates possibilities that you can’t find in any other posture.
COTN’s goal is for the countries we serve to become sustainable. For their schools, clinics, and ministries to be completely run by in country staff. My global health classes constantly stress the importance of building sustainable projects that can be supported long-term by local staff, that will not crumble when American funding and organizations begin to pull out. COTN was the perfect fit for me because of their commitment to build up and support the work already occurring in communities in Barahona. – Bekah
I think that at some point in everyone’s life, it is so valuable to experience another culture and be able to see things through a different perspective. To understand that your way isn’t always the only way, that listening can be very powerful and if you never ask questions you wont gain anything. I think that COTN is a great opportunity to experience this, and a place where you have a platform to start. This is a place where you are able to build relationships with a staff that consistently serves their community. Being able to have an internship this summer where I could not just work with COTN but experience the daily life in the Dominican Republic was something I couldn’t gain from sitting in just an office in the states. It provided me an opportunity to critically think of issues and challenge myself in new ways. – Kristina
What I’ve found is that it’s a transition of mindset. In America, we like to compartmentalize. We separate our work and school, our school and ministry, and our work and ministry. But what this internship has taught me is that it doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it be. I’m finding that the more I can connect the three, the more beneficial and life giving the experiences are. With COTN I have found a place where I can take what I learn in the class room, and apply it to the real world of work and business. This business also happens to be a ministry where I am able to work for the benefit of God’s Kingdom, serving and caring for others. It all goes together.
Internships are meant to shape guide you in your career, and what this internship with COTN has taught me is that career and mission can go hand in hand. Before this summer, I wasn’t sure this was possible, at least not in a tangible way. Interning with COTN was and is a incredible experience that has given me so much more excitement going into my senior year. This internship has brought purpose to my education. I would encourage anyone interested in missions, public health, education, finance, or any other major to consider looking into serving with COTN. There are countless ways to bring what you learn in the classroom to this ministry. – Courtney
Courtney has been an intern in the US at COTN this summer. We wanted her perspective as an intern in the States to compare to our experience as in-country interns.
What are the greatest difference you’ve found between a week long mission trip and this 8 week long trip?
Week long mission trips have always been a “mountain top” experience for me, much like many people experience at summer camp. Going into the our trip I was expecting a somewhat similar experience, to be constantly overjoyed and having incredible God moments all the time. A few weeks into our trip, I found myself disappointed and wondering where God was in our day to day life here. Living in the DR has not been 8 weeks of camp high, but rather he has been teaching and shaping me slowly in a lasting way. After week long trips, it is easy to drift back into your normal routine, but I truly believe God has created a lasting change in me that I am only beginning to understand. – Bekah
The biggest difference that I have seen from coming on a week long mission trip here to eight weeks over the summer is starting to really see and understand the mission behind everything we do in a one week trip. Over the summer we were able build relationships, understand each of the villages education system and how the clinic operates a little bit more. In a week long trip it can be sometimes frustrating when you can’t tangibly see what difference you are making, granted in eight weeks its hard to see this as well. But also over the eight weeks you see the trust start to form with the kids you’ve been teaching, the smiles on the nurses faces when you finish counting all their inventory, and the light bulbs clicking in the kids head when they remember something from English class. Progress isn’t fast and it isn’t easy but overtime change WILL happen if you are persistently present. There isn’t a constant high when you are here for eight weeks like it may be after one week. You face frustrations, challenges and joys and it’s a slower, deeper change. – Kristina
“The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there … if you go through with it, the first thrill will be compensated for by a more quiet and lasting kind of interest” – CS Lewis, Mere Christianity
I feel like this quote is so applicable to my experience with the different trips I have been on here in the Dominican. During a short term mission, you feel the thrill. That feeling of love for a place and a people that is overwhelming and fills your entire being. I felt that love for the DR in my two, week-long trips here. The people you are with, the constant excitement and new things, the mission trip romances… all add to this thrill and infatuation with the place. You constantly see and feel God’s presence and know His plan is so much bigger than you could imagine. It’s incredible and life-giving and I would definitely recommend.
But, when the time came to actually live in the Dominican Republic, the thrill faded away. It’s unfamiliar, there’s frustrations that arise, and a language you don’t quite fully understand. As we have lived here and experienced the culture, people, and lifestyle of Barahona, I have begun to feel this interest that Lewis describes. We have a commitment to the people we have lived with, served, and been served by. A longer term mission trip creates deeper roots in the place and with the people there. I love this place and the people who I’ve become friends with and I have a stronger commitment to this place. Being on a longer term mission allows you to experience daily life and truly get to know the people you are with. This quiet and lasting interest in this place is something I will have with me for a long time.
I do believe that in the spectrum of missions, each trip is crucial to God’s plan and each person has a purpose no matter the length of their stay. But, what is necessary, is for there to be a long term mission in the place and lasting relationships being made in the community. The short term trips help support the long term mission. They’re the quick bursts of energy, labor, excitement, and encouragement for those living in the community every day. The long term people are the ones who are there daily and have committed their lives to God’s mission in their community.
This summer I questioned mission trips altogether and wondered if they were good for the people in the community being served. God has been showing me that each type of mission is important to Him. He can use any type of commitment someone has given up for His work. He has helped me to change my perspective on why missions are important and how they further the kingdom and His plan. – Kadyn
Chao Seattle (or whoever else from other places reads this)!
Wow we were really not good about posting blogs from Montenegro so I guess we will have to catch you all up on the highlights of this trip!
Whether or not we wanted to, each of us had our own ideas and perceptions about how we thought this trip might play out, and I’m pretty sure it turned out differently than we all thought. We arrived in Podgorica, Montenegro on June 22nd exhausted from about 24 hours of traveling. Sinisa took us to a burger place that we would soon come to love a lot as it had the most “American” type of chicken sandwiches.
Sinisa holds church every Sunday and Wednesday night at 7pm, so we got in the routine of going to that twice a week. We can always look forward to seeing the people who regularly attend and giving them a bro handshake and hug and saying “chao!” (which means hey! and goodbye!). Service usually starts out with Sinisa leading worship, with some intermittent prayer from anyone who feels lead, in-between songs. Then Sinisa will speak on whatever topic he has prepared for that week, and then prayer afterwards.
The first week or two was pretty slow, but we soon got a team from Georgia. Lots of memories were made while they were here. Most of them were between the age of 18 and 22, so we all got along really well. There were many dinners full of laughs and trying mystery meats filled with different kinds of cheeses. We also discovered that Montenegro definitely has the best French fries. While the team was here, one of their team members, Chase, turned 21, so of course we HAD to celebrate! We had a night that included a private dinner on a river and ended with all of us in the river somehow.
While the Georgia team was also here, we got to dive into getting to know the Roma community even more through a type of church conference. For a few days, we went to a hotel conference room for about 6 hours a day and got to spend the whole time in worship and scripture and small group and relationship. This was the beginning of some amazing relationships that would continue to grow even stronger as the weeks continued. John (the leader of the Georgia team) and Chase spoke on the ten commandments during those days, while Sinisa led some rad worship. We also learned about some awesome secret talents. One of the Roma guys, Suda, can rap like no other, and he should definitely be famous. Baskim has some awesome dance moves, Ismajl is really good at helping people who are sore, and during this week, Egzon got his high school diploma!!
We had a few more short term teams in the weeks in between from a variety of different places, but now we are going to skip forward a few weeks…
A team from Virginia came and we all headed up to the top of the mountains (and when I say top of the mountains, I mean the top. Like it dropped a good 20-30 degrees, and we could actually wear a light jacket for the only time during this trip). We had an exhausting but amazing week up there as we all hosted a camp for the Roma community. Each day we would have morning and night service with a variety of games, crafts, sports, and free time in between. This was the week that we got to hear the majority of the testimonies from the Roma community. Along with all of the fun we had, I’m pretty sure every person from an American team managed to get sick in some capacity.
The next week, one team from Virginia left, and switched out with another group from their church. This next team lead a VBS at the church for an hour and a half a day for the next week. We saw more kids than we had ever seen during this week! It’s crazy how quickly news gets around through word of mouth in the community. During this week, there were a lot of skits, bracelet making, games involving balls and hula hoops, and coloring.
Now we are basically done! There is nothing else concrete planned for the remainder of the trip. In about a week, Taylor will be headed out to Italy, Sydney will be heading back to Seattle, and Kevin will be traveling around the different cities and possibly headed up to Croatia until the 17th when Taylor and Kevin will head back to Seattle.
Here are some more totally random but interesting facts you might want to hear about during are time here:
- Peanut butter is like not a thing here
- (So neither are Reeses)
- Taylor and I don’t have a toaster, so we have learned how to make toast by setting it directly onto the stove
- Taxi drivers like it if you dance to their music
- The frozen pizza here is made of a very very VERY soft dough on the bottom, and we have yet to figure out how to make it
- Ice cream is just not the same… 😦
- When painting a house, the paint is very watered down, so be ready to get splattered
- There is a Hard Rock Café here (and it still isn’t good, and still overpriced)
- Everyone here is amazed by Taylor’s black hair and they all just want to touch it all day long
- Sydney seriously sweats a lot when it’s this hot here (it’s supposed to be over 100 this whole next week)
- Sinisa was very caught off guard by Kevin’s asian glow
- Montenegro has the most rad sunsets
So there you go! All of us will be home at some point within the next two and a half weeks, and we all will have plenty more stories to share.
Volim Te Montenegro! (I love you Montenegro!)
-Sydney, Kevin, and Taylor
We have been in Barahona for three weeks now. Our friends from SPU just left for home on Saturday, so we are getting into the groove of teaching without them. We loved having them around to help us teach, hang out, and play nertz (lots of nertz). We miss them already! S/O to Bilen and Arik. It was sad to see them go, but it was a good reminder of how fast time is flying by. It makes us appreciate the time we have to make stronger relationships with the COTN staff, our host families, and the kids.
Since our last blog, we started summer school and lived with host families for two weeks.
Bekah and Kadyn headed off to Paula’s house and Kristina went to Magnolia’s. Both women work in the COTN office. It was an adjustment living away from the Casa (the COTN guest house), but we quickly grew to love our new families!
Bekah and Kadyn’s host brothers (Paul, 4 & Jeremy, 1) kept them entertained, Bekah even got peed on by Jeremy (LOL). Every evening they sat out on the porch and hung out with Paula, her husband Wellington, her sister Perla, and the boys. As they sat there and talked (both in Spanish and English!), tons of family and friends would stop by on their motorbikes and chat for a bit. They experienced the value that community and relationships hold here in the DR.
Kristina lived with Magnolia, her husband Fran, and her sister Pamela (14). Over the two weeks, Pamela and Kristina became close because Pamela was quite good at English. She ate chichurones (pig skins), learned meringue, and realized her love for empanadas. She had a lot of alone time to rest and reflect on the days. This school year she had a busy schedule and during her time at the host family she had to learn to be okay with taking time to rest.
Last week we also got to go to Zumba at the local park! It was great to get outside and to be back together for an hour each night. We learned some new dance moves, too! We hope to make this a weekly outing for the rest of our time here.
Here’s what day in the life of Kad, Beks, and Kristina looks like:
8:30 – Breakfast
9:30-11:30 – Class
12-2 – Lunch
2:30-4:30 – Class
5-11 – Dinner, pool time, chillin out, & if we’re lucky, Zumba!
Throughout each week we teach English, reading, and math in the five bateyes. We have run into a few roadblocks: some schools don’t have books for reading class, kids don’t bring their notebook and pencil every day, and the different types of classrooms we have in each community. We have also realized the breadth of grades, ages, and skill levels in each class and have learned how to teach each group of kids.
The most challenging subject is reading. Some kids don’t know their letters while some kids should be reading chapter books. It is also a challenge to have enough books each day at each school. We have learned how to create new activities with reading and adjusted to the different learning styles of each class.
We love teaching English and math! It is really exciting to see when students understand what they are learning and when they realize they are capable of learning these subjects. Their looks of joy and confidence are what we look forward to every day. We have also started to personalize the subject matter of the English classes to what each group wants to learn. We only have a few more classes of English left and want to teach them what they want to learn. We also taught them the Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” to teach them the days of the week in English. It was a hit!
Originally it was daunting to think about how much subject matter we felt we needed to teach each kid, but we have realized the real reason we are here. We want to make each kid feel capable, confident, and cared about in our classes. It’s less about them learning a certain amount of math and more about them seeing their ability to learn. We love our kids and look forward to the little successes during the day!
Through everything we have done here, the language barrier has been the most difficult aspect. God has been teaching us so many things through us not fully understanding what is being said.
Church services are lively, loud, and long. We love seeing how other people worship the same God and the passion and excitement that He brings to them every Sunday (and Thursday!). Although it’s next to impossible for us to get the message of the sermon each week, it’s incredible to hear people worship and talk about God in another language. You can definitely feel His presence in the room.
We have a newfound respect for people moving to a new country and being faced with learning a new language. We definitely feel lost a good portion of the time but we always figure it out in the end!
We would love prayer for energy, patience, and that God would continue to show us why we are here. We hope to be stretched in new ways and see God working all around us.
Here’s some personal updates from the past two weeks.
Kristina: has 21 bug bites, hair has been cornrowed for like five days, scooped a dead bird out of the pool.
Bekah: all the kids think her name is cow, shaved her legs for the first time, was traumatized by two wasps on her back today.
Kadyn: according to Franklin she has a boy name, didn’t shower for five days, loses it whenever she sees a puppy.
Time has flown by and we are already done with our first week. We flew into Santo Domingo late Sunday night and toured the city the next day.
In the afternoon, we picked up two other interns from SPU and headed to Barahona (bara-OWN-ah), our new home.
We went to the COTN office to meet all of the staff members and then went over to the medical clinic to meet the nurses there. After that, we went to the I Love Baseball field and Kristina showed up all the boys with her skillz.
Over the next few days we visited the bateyes, communities where we will be teaching at the COTN schools. We met with the principals of the schools and met some new friends. In Los Robles, we met a guy named Robinson who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident a few months ago. As we visited with him and his family we were amazed by his faith in God and his confidence that he will walk again. In Don Bosco, we met two girls while we walked around the neighborhood. We quickly got comfortable with each other and were laughing and joking around together and singing Despacito.
We also helped with the COTN kids camp on Thursday and Friday. It was for kids ages 8-12 who behaved and did well in school. We sang and danced with the kids for the whole morning and in the afternoon we played with them on the playground and watched them swim. It was a cool opportunity for the kids to meet and play with kids from other communities.
Finally, we were able to tour the two universities in Barahona. At the public university, we got to sit in on an English immersion class and talk with the students. We have been having a lot of fun seeing the city and being immersed in Dominican life.
So far we have been learning to go with the flow, adapt to change (there’s a lot of change), and how to rest. The culture is very laid-back and relationship-based, so we get a lot of free time to just build relationships and reflect on our experiences.
Tomorrow we head off to our host families for two weeks and Monday we start teaching. Keep us in your prayers and feel free to reach out, we don’t get snail mail here but we do have wifi at certain times of the day! Keep an eye out for our next blog post!
Kadyn, Kristina, and Bekah
Hello! My name is Taylor Johnson, and I am one of the 2017 deputees. In less than 12 hours, I will be at the airport with my team to spend the next 8-weeks of my summer in Montenegro. Throughout the entire deputation process I’ve been continuously asked: “How are you preparing for this?” “Aren’t you scared?” “What if it’s not everything that you’re expecting?” and that’s why I’m writing this blog post, to address these questions, and to specifically focus on how I have been preparing for deputation.
Truthfully, I love when people ask me the questions I stated above, because not even a year ago, I thought exactly the same way they did. I felt this constant need to have control and order, and I needed to always know what was going to happen and when. Well, I have discovered this need for control and order comes from not fully trusting God in all aspects of my life. Making the decision to go on Deputation, was also me making the decision to give all trust to God in all aspects of my life.
So, how have I been preparing for this trip? By trusting in God every step of the way. By trusting in God, I see that as me having complete faith in God. My favorite verse in the Bible is Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (NIV). Deputation is giving me the opportunity to finally live out the truth of this verse. I may not have all the answers to everything as I get ready to board this plane in a short, twelve hours, but I have faith that God has me going on this trip for a reason. I may not know what the reason is yet, but I feel Him calling me to this, and hearing Him calling me to serve this summer is all I need to know this is the right choice for me.
So, am I scared? No, because I have faith that God has a plan in store for me greater than anything I could ever imagine. Am I scared my expectations aren’t going to be met? No, because I don’t have any expectations. The only thing I expect to do is go and serve the Lord for the next 8-weeks, other than that, I am leaving the adventure and experience to God. The only way to truly prepare for this trip is to understand that you don’t have control. God has the control. When I understood this, a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders, and I have been able to grow in relationship with God and to hear His voice more clearly. As I finish typing this post, and add last-minute items to my suitcase I feel an overwhelming sense of peace. I am finally walking by faith, and it is such a beautiful thing, indeed.
Taylor, Kevin and Sydney will be serving in Montenegro this summer!
While Kadyn, Kristina and Bekah will be in the Dominican Republic!
It’s our last morning in Haiti. We are all packing up and getting ready to say goodbye to the people that we have been working beside all summer. We spent our last few days here at a beautiful resort where we got to swim in the ocean and relax in the sun. It was like paradise and the perfect way to end an amazing mission trip. We are all sad to be leaving Haiti, but all plan on coming back at some point in our lives. Haiti has left such a huge impact on our hearts and it’s hard to say goodbye. We just want to give a huge Thank You to the Tlucek family for hosting us this summer, the other interns that we worked with for an awesome community, and the World Deputation program for giving us the opportunity to serve in Haiti this summer. It has been a blessing.
It is week 5 of English Camp and we have been here for 6 weeks so far! Time is flying by and it is incredible to reflect on all of the things that we have done here. Stephanie has been teaching Older Science, which is boys and girls ages 10-14 and Alessia has been teaching Younger PE, which is boys and girls ages 5-10. I have been a Group Leader for a group of girls ages 10-12. We have all been enjoying our positions a ton and love all of the kids here! There are super cute and it is going to be SO hard to say goodbye to them at the end of next week.
When we arrived in Haiti, we soon discovered that we would not be the only people volunteering at English camp. There are 11 interns in total and they are all amazing people. It was a bit overwhelming at first to learn everyone’s name and remember where they were all from, but now we have grown close to all of them and become a close knit community. Some of the interns will be staying here for a whole year, which definitely puts our 8 week mission trip in perspective. There have also been teams and individuals that have come down to serve for a couple of weeks at a time. It has been great to meet and interact with so many amazing people. Everyone serving here loves Jesus so much and it is inspiring to listen to their stories and testimonies.
On the weekends we have been taking day trips to other parts of the country. We have been to the beach twice so far and have heard rumors that we will be going again this weekend. The beach is beautiful and the water is so clear that you can see the bottom even when it’s 15-20 feet deep! We also get to eat Haitian food at the beach, which we all love because Haitian food is the best food on the planet!! We have also gone into the mountains once and that was gorgeous. The mountains are extremely green, which I did not expect when I heard that I would be going to Haiti. I imagined everything to be dry but the country side is very lush and we have had several thunder storms during our time here. They are really intense, but also pretty cool to watch because the lightning is so bright. When we don’t take trips outside of Port-au-Prince, we have gone to some little boutiques and street vendors. We savor every moment that we get to explore because we don’t get to leave the property during the week due to the high crime rate in Haiti right now. So far we have loved every part of Haiti that we have seen and are looking forward to seeing more of the country before we leaving in a couple weeks!
The heat here is intense and mixed with the humidity, we are all sweating more than we ever thought possible and that any human ever should (“so be thankful” -Alessia). Also, the mosquitos have been horrible. We are all getting eaten alive, but it is worth it when we get to see the kids’ smiling faces everyday. Camp has been really fun so far and has tested all of our comfort zones. We did not know that we would have required tasks to complete when we got here, but that quickly changed. We have to lead stretching in the morning at assembly, lead English songs during morning assembly, tell a Bible story during morning assembly, and give a devotion at the morning meeting or after dinner. These things definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but were also a great opportunity for growth. We are now preparing for the end of camp, which involves teaching the kids songs and verses to memorize for the ceremony on the last day of camp. It is kind of stressful right now, but I think that the end result will be really amazing. So that’s a quick summary of everything we have done so far because we have failed to post anything thus far…I hope you enjoyed reading it!
Haley, Alessia, and Stephanie
What a weekend it has been! On Friday, Aubrey and I hopped on a plane and flew north to Delhi. We had big plans to see the Taj Mahal and experience a new part of India.
Upon arrival, we had to get ourselves a taxi, which proved to be quite a struggle. No one spoke English or understood where we needed to go. We went in a few circles but finally found ourselves in a cab. We had paid extra to have a car with air conditioning, but to our surprise the cab we got in had no a/c and it was about 100 degrees out. We were both very sweaty and very hot by the time we made it to the hostel. We checked in and were very happy to discover a bug free air-conditioned room. Our hostel is very close to a major shopping area in Delhi, so we decided to check it out. One side of the street was filled with street vendors selling everything from clothes, to toys, to tourist souvenirs. The other side of the street was like a strip mall, packed with stores such as; Adidas, Lacoste (which we forgot existed still) and Levis, and about every restaurant you can imagine. Aubrey and I got slightly overwhelmed by it all and ended up having dinner at the most American restaurant in the entire place, Johnny Rockets. We felt a little silly about eating there, but the food was good so we were happy. We were both exhausted from traveling all day, and we had to be ready by 6:00 am the next morning so we fell asleep pretty early.
The next morning a driver came to pick us up to take us to Agra, a city about 3 hours away from Delhi where the Taj Mahal is. Our driver was very nice, and spoke enough English to have a conversation which made the drive much more enjoyable. We discovered a coffee shop along the way that only served purified ice, which meant the first iced lattes in over a month for us! Our driver hired a guide to show us around the Taj and give us some information during our visit. Thankfully, we got to the Taj early enough before it was super busy. We bought our tickets, which cost 25 times more for tourists than locals, and got in line to have our bags checked. To our surprise, the security guards told us that we weren’t allowed to bring our backpacks in. Apparently, as of a few months ago, only purses are allowed inside the grounds now. There was a moment of panic before our guide came to the rescue. He had a friend who owned a shop right outside the entrance gate. We got our cameras out of our bags and he took them to his friends shop for safe keeping until we left. The Taj and its entire surrounding area is absolutely beautiful. We were immediately in awe of the size and pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.
Here’s a mini history lesson on the Taj Mahal for all of you: a very long time ago, one of the Indian kings had 3 wives. The first and second wife couldn’t have children, so he married the third and had 14 (be careful what you wish for people). Unfortunately, his 3rd wife died during childbirth with their 14th child. Because she was so special to the king due to her fertility, he decided to honor her. He had the Taj Majal built so that she could be buried properly. It took 22 years to construct and is made entirely of white marble and precious stones. All of the colorful flower designs in the building are stones hand placed into the marble. If someone wanted to build a Taj Mahal today, it would cost them multiple billions of dollars, so basically it’s a super expensive building. Not only was the king so obsessed with his third wife, but he had a serious case of OCD as well. The Taj itself, as well as all the buildings surrounding it are perfectly symmetrical. There is an identical mosque and guest house on either side of the Taj, the tombs of both his first and second wives on either side of the courtyard area (which might I add are very simple plain buildings, clearly this guy played favorites), and 4 pillars one on each corner of the Taj. Each of these pillars stand at a 94 angle so that if there was an earthquake, they wouldn’t fall on the building and ruin it. There is a fountain that runs in front of the building, perfectly down the center. The wife’s grave is placed right on the center line in the very middle of the inside. The only thing that is off center is the grave of the king himself. It is placed just slightly to the left of his wife.
Aubrey and I spent quite a bit of time taking in the beauty of this wonder as well as taking lots of pictures. Our guide was so kind and basically became our photographer while we were there. We got to sit on the same bench that Princess Diana sat on when she visited the Taj, which may or may not have been my favorite part of the day (Aubrey would probably roll her eyes at me if she was watching me write this). We never thought we would be able to get so close to a famous building, let alone go inside. We had to put these funny shoe covers on that made us look like elves in order to protect the floor of the inside. The only thing that’s on the inside is the graves of the king and his wife. The real ones are on the basement floor, but closed permanently to visitors. However, they built replica graves directly above the real ones for tourists to see. Despite being hotter and sweatier than we ever have been, it was one of the coolest experiences of our lives. The building was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined and it was incredible to get to see a piece of history like that.
After exploring the Taj and its surrounding courtyard, we went to a few shops. The first one we got to see how they made the marble and stone designs in the Taj. It is all done by hand and an extremely tedious process. Next, we got to see a jewelry shop where one man was making hanging rugs entirely by hand. His family is one of the last Persian families in India to still do this work, so the government pays for the work to be done. The owner of the shop also showed us some gems called, Star of India, which can only be found in Agra. They are used in the Taj and when the sun or moon light hits just right the entire building sparkles with tiny stars. I got very distracted by all of the gemstones and ended up buying a very expensive ring made of a black Star of India stone. Aubrey had much more self control than I did and didn’t spend any money. We had an incredible day exploring the Taj Mahal and it is definitely a memory we won’t ever forget.
We tried to be adventurous at dinner and order Indian food without Prem and Rita, which ended up being a huge mistake. We told our waiter that we didn’t want our food spicy at all, however the first bite Aubrey took had a ghost pepper in it and she almost died. 3 pieces of bread and a lot of water later Aubrey survived and we decided that were gonna stick to Johnny Rockets when we go out on our own.
We have now been in Serbia for 3 weeks, and have met so many wonderful people who have blessed our lives. We have been working with a student ministry here called EUS which caters to students attending university/high school in 2 cities: Belgrade and Novi Sad. We worked the first week in Belgrade and met with students living here in the city for the summer. We also prepared for the camp which took place in a town in the mountains of Croatia called Fuzine.
The camp was an amazing opportunity to invest in students further and to take in the beauty of the region. Casie and I usually spent each morning either running or walking around the lake the town surrounded, and then would have breakfast with students at the hostel. We at 9 am would then have chapel service and then English lessons. The lessons were actually not taught by us, but by the British team that came along with us to the camp. We had free time in the afternoon or would go on beach excursions after, which was great for getting to know the students and the Brits. There is so much resilience and strength in this community, their stories are inspiring and have touched us in many ways. A lot of the students at EUS are already christian and are interested in learning more about faith, apologetics and evangelism. Their love for Jesus is contagious and we are so happy to have worshipped and lived with them for a week.
This week we have gotten to visit Parliament because of Samuil’s endless connections (our missionary makes friends with everyone, he’s pretty cool), and the Royal Palace. We also visited the Hram Sv. Svetog Save which is the largest Orthodox Temple in Serbia. It was all very beautiful. We are headed to Leskovac to visit Danijel, one of the students we met at camp, along with a few others. We will head to Nis, which is rich in history surrounding Serbian slavery under Turkish power.