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The Final Hoorah!

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.

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Cao iz Srbije

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.

 

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It’s India. Deal with it.

Good morning from Bangalore!  We’ve recently realized that we have less than a month left here (what?!), and in honor of that halfway mark have decided to do our best to send out another update.

The last time we posted was about a week in, and our feelings then were very different than they are now.  We tried to stay positive that first week but honestly, it was rough.  It’s not so much the distance as it is that everything is just so different here.  The food and the smells and the bathrooms and the gestures…the streets and the schools and the language and the ecosystems.  There is so much to be aware of as we tackle our days and also so much we still have yet to learn.  And with that, the first week and a half or so was very hard.  We did a lot of standing around and awaiting instruction from the teachers.  We ate a lot of new things.  We met a lot of new people.  For Aubrey, the hardest part was figuring out where there was a need, because often times it felt there wasn’t any.  After all, Asha Kiran Special Needs School is ranked #1 in Karnataka and #3 in all of India.  In many ways, we have much more to learn from them than they do from us.  For Sarah, the difficulty was in working with the children.  She had a ton of experience in this area coming in, but her techniques were seemingly falling short, and she had a lot to learn about working with the kids in this culture and with these specific and unique needs.  That being said, we made it. It was challenging and not without doubt, but we learned how to work well here.  Today, it feels like home.  We have made relationships with many of the kids, found our places and our own individual niches where we can contribute, and have grown to like, and actually love, Southern Indian food.  Our weekday schedule is more regular now, and consists of…

  • 6:30 am wake up
  • 7:30 am breakfast
  • 8:15 am school morning assembly
  • 10:15 am tea break with our fellow teachers
  • 1:15 pm school gets out; lunch with the hostel kids
  • 2:00 pm tutor four pre-school boys
  • 3:00 pm rest/break
  • 4:00 pm play outside with hostel kids / tea time
  • 5:30 pm rest/break
  • 7:00 pm devotional (twice a week)
  • 7:30 pm dinner

And shortly after dinner and conversation with Prem and Rita (our host “parents”) we are very ready to shower and hit the hay.  Our Saturdays tend to vary more, but Sundays consist of church in the morning and sometimes some sort of outing.  Our days are full, but in the best possible way, and are often filled with various surprises and changes to the schedule.  For instance, we took a day trip to Mysore (where we rode an elephant!), got to take part in the Last Working Day of June, and visited an indoor recreational center with some of the older kids — practicing our hand at “football”.

 

This week, however, was quite different.  Sarah and I boarded a 16 hour train on Tuesday and arrived around 6 am Wednesday morning in Goa!  We spent 3 days touring North Goa and enjoying conversation with some of the locals of South Goa–which, by the way, is gorgeous (pictures below).  It was an adventure with some of our biggest highs of the trip (meeting locals, walking the beaches, ordering the freshest crab of our lives…) and some of our lowest lows (being harassed for pictures, having our hairbrushes melt from the unreal heat, and ending up on a very strange tour bus…), and it was an experience of a lifetime.  That’s what we have honestly found here in India: so many contradicting experiences of love and laughter and kindness, and discomfort and fatigue and frustration.  Rita told us about a friend she had stay with her a couple months back, who in times of discomfort would write poems of her feelings and experiences–always ending with the line: It’s India. Deal with it.  Needless to say, we have come to steal and copyright this line from said friend.  And it has worked beautifully.  We are here, in India, and with that comes the highs–and the lows, the flying ants–and the adorable baby pigs, the excruciating humidity–and the melt-in-your-mouth crab. This is India, and this is even more importantly God working both through us and in us.  Of that much, we are sure.

 

We have another week of school coming up here, and then are headed to New Delhi for the weekend with plans to visit the Taj Mahal!  Other than that, our weeks should be pretty much school-based from here on out.  That means lesson plans, time tables, art classes, and dance parties.  And a whole lot of Jesus.

 

Thank you for keeping up with us, and prayers for the ability and willingness to go even deeper (both with the people and with our faith) are more than appreciated.  Sending love from 8,000 miles away!

 

Truly,

Auntie Aubrey and Auntie Sarah

 

A week later and we finally are posting here! We aren’t very good at this but were trying. We have been in India for a week now and every single day here is filled with new experiences, sights, smells, emotions, laughter, and good food (yes its spicy. yes we are struggling).

We are working with the kids and learning their daily routine, as well as how to adjust to teaching children with special needs. It hasn’t been the easiest transition but each day gets more comfortable. Aubrey is working in whats called “The Office” which is where the older kids, who aren’t working on academics, go to learn different skills to go out and live on their own in the working world. They are learning computer skills, paper bag making, laundry, and teamwork. Sarah is working in the art class 3 days a week with the older kids helping them learn about shapes, colors and shading, art history, and painting techniques. The other 2 days she is helping in the preschool with Class B. Most of the kids are non-verbal but they are able to recognize their shapes, numbers, and body parts. They also love snack time, painting/coloring, and getting to sing songs and dance.

After school we are tutoring 4 of the preschool boys. Tutoring is a term we use lightly because most of the time it ends up being lots of coloring and taking silly pictures. It is tons of fun though and usually our favorite part of the day.

Although this week hasn’t been the easiest one of our lives we are learning a lot and very grateful to have this experience.

Lots of love,

Auntie Sarah and Auntie Aubrey

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Freedom Cannot Be Manacled

Hello everyone!

Sorry for posting so late, it’s been real whirlwind of a time here. It’s only been 10 days since we arrived but it feels like we’ve been here a month with all stuff we are doing. We as a team have been incredibly blessed while we are here. God provided a very nice house on a beautiful farm for us to live in, enough time to learn about and fully experience the culture of South Africa, wise and engaging leaders, but above all it has been an absolute gift from God to be able to work in prison ministry.

The title of this post is the first thing you see when you get to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was kept for 18 years. We went there on our second full day in South Africa to gain some context of the history of apartheid in South Africa, to understand prison as it was, and to gain some cultural perspective. The reason many of the people we meet are in prison is because they feel they have no other option because of the situation that the apartheid and segregation left them or their families in. The tide we are fighting against in prison, the infamous Number Gang, arose amid the disorder allowed by apartheid. Thus it was a sobering and inspirational place to begin our time.

Freedom cannot be manacled was a true then as it is today. We are seeing everyday that even though these men are walled off from society, behind bars, they are free and being freed. Our first week we were able to observe 2 days of a 6 day program called Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is designed to make the offender see the consequences of their crime. A prisoner begins with a recognition of himself as a person, not a criminal, and sees how their crime affected themselves as a person. They are then challenged to see the affect of crime on society, their community, those in relation to the victim and then victim themselves. The final day we saw was a public discussion between the prisoners and their families about their crime, their sentence, and about who they are. This was extremely emotional for everyone. Forgiveness and repentance are integral to the program. We were able to see the burdens of sin and shame and the pain and sorrow that falls of these men’s shoulders. It is amazing seeing the transformation that some of these guys experience.

The other evening we were able to sit in on the first follow-up meeting for a Restorative Justice program that was done at a Juvenile center a few weeks ago. There we met a young man named Fredrick. Upon talking with him, we learned that he is serving time for shooting and killing his cousin and that as soon as he got into prison, he joined up with the Numbers Gang and continued his life of gangsterism. During the week of Restorative Justice he was able to face the repercussions of his actions, tell his mother the truth about his crime, and most importantly, hear about the forgiveness and love that God has for him. The program shook him to his core. After many tears of repentance, Fredrick decided to give his heart to the Lord. He is now on the path towards change and new life. Fredrick is just one of the many incredible individuals that we have heard these past 10 days. God is doing big things down here and we are eager to see what these next 7 weeks will bring!Dep1

We Made It!

Hey everyone! We’ve made it safely to Lima and the lovely home of Julio Serrano, the missionary we’ll be working with while we’re here. It’s been a long, but good, day. On our flight to Houston, we sat next to a very kind man from Southern Louisiana who told us about his own mission work in Mexico and how he hopes to go back into ministry in a few years. Thankfully, we only got ourselves lost in an airport once, and Jenna was only mistaken for a minor twice! We’re so excited to be here and to meet the rest of the Serrano family tomorrow!

~Jenna and Ashley AKA Team Peru

Day 1 Done

We arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti this afternoon after stopping in New York along the way. Byron and some of his kids greeted us at the airport and soon after arriving at the Tlucek’s house in Tabarre, we were introduced to the other interns that will be working at the camp with us. We got to see some of the Haitian culture on the drive back from the airport and the heat is incredible. Andrew (the oldest son of Byron and Shelley) showed us around the property and gave us a brief explanation of what camp will look like on a day-to-day basis. We ate homemade pizza for dinner and enjoyed refreshing mango smoothies for dessert. The day was long and hot and exhausting, but we made it!! We are all excited to see what tomorrow holds and start doing the Lord’s work.

Team India

Team India w flagYay! We are leaving in a week! We are sitting here looking at the painting next to this computer because we don’t know what to say. But here we are, our first blog post. Lower your expectations now folks it isn’t gonna get much better.

Okay bye!

Sarah and Aubrey and also sorta Ryan

Team Haiti!

Hey, here we go! We will be embarking on our journey June 18th and we are super excited to see what is in store for us. We are all a little nervous, but know the experience will be amazing. We can’t wait to share our memories on this blog and share our journey with you all! Thanks for your support, it is much appreciated 🙂Team Haiti w flag

Team Peru

Hey guys! Team Peru here! We’re so excited to be heading out on the 23rd. We’ve been working hard to prepare for this trip and meeting with Lucero, the daughter of the missionary we’re working with and employee of Youth Missions International. Our biggest concern thus far is getting accidentally engaged while in the Amazon. Be on the lookout for more blog posts as we’ll be checking in a few times during this process!

~Ashley Michel and Jenna Hayes