Much of India is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Cows standing in intersections, camels and horses trotting along in traffic, colourful dresses with patterns covering every inch of fabric, and dusty slums full of families and their goats.  But rather than being shocked by all that is different, I enjoy thinking about what is the same.  In this land full of spices and men with moustaches, there lives the same God that I’ve come to know in Canada and beyond.  Yes, my God is BIG and while I’m not sure if He has a moustache, I am confident that He loves India!

saris colours

The whole team gathered in the small one-room church which used to be a kitchen.  Three concrete walls and a roof could not contain the sounds coming from inside!!  A boy, about nine years old, proudly dressed in a champagne coloured long Indian coat covered in beads and shimmering threads held two sticks in his hand and kept the beat going on a cymbal that looked like it’s survived a war.  He played out the music with such ease, and led us all into a most beautiful time of singing.  The speakers were turned up loud, and high pitched feedback joined in the song.  A man, with a moustache of course, leaned against the concrete wall and sang at the top of his lungs as he slammed together small finger cymbals.  The whole church joined in song, echoing throughout the neighbourhood.  As we continued to clap and sing out, a young man got up from his seat and walked up to the conga drum and began to slap his fingers rhythmically like a hummingbird.  It was an explosion of sounds, voices, music, shouting, and it was beautiful!  Not every one sang in tune, and the audio feedback and crashing broken cymbals sometimes hurt the ears…but there was a clear and pure sound of love that couldn’t be missed.  It’s amazing what love can bring out in the midst of our mess.  In fact, without love all we are is a bunch of resounding gongs or clanging cymbals (1 Corinthians 13).

Our month in India was an explosion of love!

There were three major areas of ministry that we were involved with: the clinic, house visits, and children’s camp.

The first was the clinic.

John and I went with a team from ARK International to Hyderabad, India hosted by an amazing couple, Doctors Sujai and Lavanya Suneetha.  They run a clinic called Nireekshana in Hyderabad that sees over 1000 HIV/AIDS patients monthly.  The name, “Nireekshana” means HOPE, and after being involved at the clinic for the month it is clear that they are restoring hope to lives each day.  The clinic runs so smoothly and does an amazing job at clinical care and counselling, which we got to be involved with.  Their services go far beyond counselling, but this was an area where we could be involved.  We sat alongside the counsellors and listened to the stories of each patient, prayed for healing, created new file folders for the patients, sorted out vitamins in the pharmacy, learned from the doctors and drank a lot of tea.

Drinking tea in India is an event in itself.  Masala Chai, or spiced tea was our favourite!  It is a delicious concoction of hot milk, spices like cardamom, cloves and ginger, sugar and tea.  In the Nireekshana clinic there is a man, tall and moustached, gold rings stacked up each finger, bandana and hat upon his head and never without his red thermos of tea in hand ready to share with each person coming through the door.  He took a great liking to my husband which meant an endless supply of tea for us…definitely no complaints there 🙂  Sometimes when language is a barrier all you need to do is sip your tea and smile, enjoying the moment.

Much of my personal involvement at the clinic was in painting a mural for their children’s room.  With a large number of children visiting the clinic regularly for check-ups or accompanying their parents, the children’s room was a vital space to allow them some time to just play and enjoy being a kid.  The paint on the walls was peeling and the space was in need of some love.  A few of us got together and cleaned up the space, painting a mural that would serve as a backdrop to inspire and bring smiles to the next generation of children, and hopefully their parents!  While the mural was full of butterflies, flowers and birds, the process was not as cheery.  The room was HOT, because India at that time was HOT!!!!  Temperatures soared beyond 45 degrees celsius, and without ventilation or air conditioning the room felt close to 50 degrees!  Perhaps the heat was part of our inspiration to paint a pond, a tree that brings shade, and some mountain tops.  I pray that the room brings a cool, refreshing breeze to those who go to play between doctor check-ups and tests; that it would be a room of peace and joy.

mural girl

Home Visits.

Seeing a person in their home helps us to see them more fully.  The style of their home, the colours on their walls, the things in their refrigerator and the place they sit to relax…these things all give more insight into who someone is.  As part of our ministry time in Hyderabad, we were given the opportunity to travel into a variety of communities and visit people’s homes.  With each home we visited, we heard stories of healing and triumph over sickness, stories of suffering and loss, and stories of hope and new life.  We also shared stories and testimonies of God’s goodness and faithfulness, stories of encouragement and comfort, and sometimes the story to share was just a hug and a hand held.  At one house visit, we attended a funeral…unlike any funeral I’ve been to before.  It was in a small one room house, many people crowded in and four generations of women stood proud for us to see.  The great grandmother, stunning and smiling, gave me a hug as though I were her own daughter.  I felt instantly loved and welcomed in their home.  A young girl danced in the classical Indian style she was learning, called Bharata Natyam. She wore emerald green and gave a shy smile as we clapped for her.  The widow was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, dressed in a light grey and blue sari and glowing as her family and friends gathered around.  The Bible tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15) and at this home, we surely did both.

On our first home visit, John and I travelled an hour outside of the city to a small village to spend the evening with a lovely woman and her family.  She has two children, and works at Nireekshana clinic where she was first brought in as a patient fighting TB and AIDS.  We ate a delicious dinner of chicken curry and daal and rice with many servings of mango juice.  Hearing her testimony helped me to understand the reality of this disease and how it can play out in someone’s life.  The beautiful thing is that she boasted of God’s goodness the entire time, not once dwelling on the difficulties she’s faced.  Her heart’s desire, as she shared, is to minister and bless others that are in the same place she once was…to bring them hope and healing.  Each day she travels two hours by bus to go to the clinic and work as a counsellor, praising God for giving her strength.  John and I felt so blessed to have that time with her and her family, and to pray over them and their house.  I love how God shows us more of who He is through seeing a bit of someone else’s life.  That day I saw God’s strength in a new light, an “ever-present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

On one of my last days in India, a few of us went to a nearby slum to visit with families, pray, and follow up on a number of patients living there.  We travelled with one of the Nireekshana staff members who helped us to navigate our way through the many homes.  On the way there I overheard someone call the place “Goat Paradise” which I was sure I had misheard…but as we pulled up to the area, it was clear that this was in fact a goat’s paradise.  Goats big and small huddled around abandoned buildings, some tied up to the existing beams of the building, others walking about.  A young boy befriended me as I explored the area and with great pride and joy, introduced me to his goat.

“This is my goat named Channi” the boy exclaimed.

I told him, “She’s beautiful” to which he corrected me and informed me Channi was a boy.

“I will bring his sister to meet you” he said as he ran off to grab the other goat.  “Her name is Thulasi!”

“Wow!  I have a friend in Canada named Thulasi….but she’s a human” I shared with excitement!

“I have a sheep at home.  I will bring her to you now,” and off he went again to bring the sheep.

As simple or silly as it sounds, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this young boy, his friends and his goats and sheep.  Being able to connect with him and meet all his animals was a highlight of my day.  Plus, I have never seen a boy so closely bonded to his goat…it was adorable!  He invited me to hug his cow too, but the cow was more like a bull and I kindly patted it’s nose and called it a day.  Goats are more my territory.

We continued to walk about through Goat Paradise and visit the homes made of old wood, broken billboard signs and cardboard.  We prayed for many babies that day, asking that God would bless the little children and their families and provide in abundance for each one.  And as we prayed for their abundance, they shared their juicy mangos with us in abundance!

Children’s Camp.

The first week we arrived in India,  there was a camp about to be held next to the house where we were staying for a group of children also living with HIV/AIDS.  The camp was aimed at teaching the children practical life skills such as craftsmanship, cooking, and how to build a strong immune system.  Our team worked alongside the local leaders and helped lead games and activities and Bible studies with the children.  Most of the children were fourteen years old and had been orphaned at a young age, living in a children’s home about three hours outside of the city.  One of my favourite times with them was when we did a personality test called “DISC” and talked about our unique characters which led to some great conversation.  Each leader gathered with the group of children who also shared in the same personality type and chatted about their strengths and weaknesses. John led one of the groups, discussing the “D” personality type and the kids in his group really took a liking to him.  I loved seeing how they bonded and felt more confident in themselves, hearing John share stories that displayed his personality type.  As John opened up about our relationship to the kids, some of the older ones were curious and happy to hear about how a boy from Bangladesh and a girl from Canada with very different personalities came to be husband and wife.  They especially loved hearing John joke about what a talkative wife he has in comparison to his quieter demeanour.  It excites me to see these children develop big hopes and dreams for their future, dreams to get married and travel and work in amazing careers!

The camp continued throughout the week and we filled the small meeting room with watercolour paints and paper, making posters for the wall.  We jumped around and played dance freeze, soon to be upstaged by a few Bollywood dance performances from the kids!  We brought nail polish and let the girls take turns adding colours to their nails, which soon turned into a henna party where all the girls were eager to decorate the hands of us leaders.  We ate ice cream and laughed, told stories and mentored the kids throughout the week.  We even spent some special moments with the ladies who helped out in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning up after the children.  The cutest thing was watching them experience the magic of Photo Booth for the first time on our iPad.  Seeing their joy and amusement as they watched the screen warp and twist their faces was awesome and a great reminder to always enjoy a good laugh no matter your age.

nail polish ice cream

For years and years I had waited to go to India.  I had prayed about getting married and going into full time ministry with my husband, travelling and sharing God’s love with each person we met.  But for years and years all I could hear from God was, “Hold on.”  It was as if every direction i turned, every voice I heard was saying to me, “Hold on.”  I would turn on the radio while driving and each song seemed to have the lyrics, as though they were being sung directly to me, “Hold on.”

And so I waited…sometimes patiently, sometimes not.  But I waited knowing God’s best was on its way.  “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).  I treasured those words upon reading them, and used them as fuel to keep holding on.

Now, seven years and a heap of samosas later, I stand with my husband at my side saying God answers prayer.  We are one week back from India and feeling great!  Our hope and vision is to keep serving God in our neighbourhood and anywhere else He may lead.  My favourite TV show is Gilmore Girls, and I love the theme song which sings, “Where you lead, I will follow” and those words ring true for me today!  John and I are living this life completely leaning on God to lead us.  I have now been living in Bangkok for just over a year, and John and I are excited about this season!

We are serving here as full time volunteers with the PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada).  That means that we are fundraising for our monthly living and ministry costs.  God has been so faithful to us to provide for each step of the way, and we are excited to see that grow as our ministries grow!

John continues to bless people with Aquaponic Systems giving fresh fish and plants to families in need.  To make one standard sized Aquaponic System, fully stocked and ready to go costs about $750 CAD.  With just one system, a family of five can enjoy fresh veggies, herbs, and fish for years.  The only maintenance cost is to replace the fish every six months as they are eaten. With the growing number of refugee families in Bangkok, unable to work or leave their homes safely, these systems can make a huge difference!  This month John is also going to be taking on a new position as Head Chef in Antique Cafe!  This cafe, located in the city, exists to not only bring delicious coffee and food to the people of Bangkok, but also to use their resources to bless the community and bring change to people lives.  Their focus is to help bring justice to the transgender community in Bangkok, helping to provide jobs and education to those in need.  Bangkok has a large transgender community and John is excited to be able to bring God’s love to them through his love of cooking!

I am continuing to lead the Children’s Ministries at our local church, Newsong Bangkok.  My hope is to help empower and encourage the children and their families to serve God in their neighbourhoods, that we would bring an explosion of love into Bangkok!  I’m also hoping to be able to host some family based community events, blessing our neighbours in practical ways. One of the challenges we face is the transient nature of our church community and how it affects our leadership and congregation.  Please join me in praying for our church and community, that the name of Jesus would be lifted high and that there would be a great awakening in people’s hearts.  I know that even in my own heart I can get bogged down by all the busyness of life, distracted by tasks and life in general.  I am excited to see God bring new life to our church family!

If you would like to partner with us as monthly supporters, giving financially to help us with our mission in Thailand, you can give online at https://paoc.org/donate/johnrebeccaviapianaross by clicking on the “Donate” button.  We need about $2,000 CAD monthly for our living and ministry costs.  And if you’re interested in hearing more details about what we’re doing here, we are happy to share more!

We’re also excited to be getting involved more with the PAOC family here in SouthEast Asia!  God’s been blessing us each day with new friends, great food (Thailand is seriously like food paradise!!), amazing family, and even a little baby niece on her way!! My brother and his wife are expecting their first child this summer!!  I can’t wait to hold their little Thaitalian (Italian/Canadian and Thai mix)!!

Before I sign off, I must say something about the FOOD in INDIA!!!  WOWOWWW!!!  Samosas are everywhere, including the movie theatres next to the popcorn. Could life get any better?!?!  Hyderabad is famous for its Biryani and they did not disappoint!!  Paneer and spinach, eggplant curries, this mysterious green vegetable that I love, mustard seeds and curry leaves, jilapi sweets oozing with sugar, and every type of dosa, naan and roti imaginable!  I gotta start planning my next trip… 🙂

Wherever you are, and whatever goodies are at your doorstep, I hope you enjoy a delicious day, exploding with love!

rebjohn

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Romans 12:12, 13

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