Day 6: Time for Goodbyes

VBS

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Today we closed up VBS with one more session of crazy English and Tegulu songs, a silly skit about David and Goliath, and some more coloring. The kids LOVE singing “My Salvation” (sung the tune of “Twist and Shout”)…especially the surfing hand motions.

We then served all the kids lunch. Harvest India makes sure that every aspect of VBS is very special, including the food. The cost for a 3 day VBS is only $5 per person.

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Rally

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After a short afternoon break, our team loaded into some auto-rickshaws and headed back to the orphanage. Now that was an experience!
To close VBS, Harvest India conducted a rally in a nearby village. All the kids put on crowns with bible verses and the band loaded into a van with a portable sound system on the roof. All 700 kids followed the van down the street to the village, singing praise songs and dancing and gathering attention. Once we got to the end of the village, Saresh shared the gospel with the town and told stories of what Jesus has done in the lives of the orphans to make them so happy. It was a blast to see a live band and a throng of kids stopping traffic for Jesus! It was really hard to say goodbye to the kids we befriended, especially those of us who decided to sponsor a child. The great thing about Harvest India is that 100% of sponsorship money goes to the child…no administration costs!

Medical Camp

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After VBS we had the opportunity to visit a Harvest India medical camp and pass out malaria medication to the children. The doctor and Harvest India nursing school graduates then diagnose and treat the poor and neglected. What an amazing time and incredible ministry. These nurses are the real champions. They set up the camps and medicine and stay for hours serving the people.

We are so sad to leave in the morning, but are very excited to share the story of this amazing place to our friends in the States.

– R. Axtell

Day 5: Indian Wedding

VBS

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We had another great VBS session today. The kids love teaching us Tegulu (the State language) vocabulary in exchange for their English counterparts.  This is a great way to connect with the older classes (ages 12-14) who want to practice their English. They LOVE singing and hand motions! The whole team, especially the women (Kara, Danielle, Heather, Mary), are doing a great job engaging with all the kids!

Indian Wedding

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Today we had the incredible privilege of attending an Indian wedding party for a friend of Saresh. The girls wore saris and the the guys wore our custom tailored Indian suits! We were a fine bunch, I must say. For 10-20 days before the wedding, both the bride and groom’s families host huge parties for hundreds of people! We attended the bride’s party on the day before the wedding. We enjoyed an amazing lunch, overwhelming hospitality, and a time of prayer for the bride.

Redlight

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In the evening we visited Harvest India’s prostitute ministry in the nearby red-light district. The center provides food, medicine, and a chance to break away from the trade.  The women shared an intimate time of prayer and encouragement.

A bit shorter on the post…sorry…we’ve all been a little sick and have been spending our time in the bathroom.

– R. Axtell

Day 4: la, la, la, VBS, la, la, Harvest India Home

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Hey all! Danielle here giving the post today :) Today was the first day of VBS at the orphanage home. Other children from the area were invited as well and we estimate that we had anywhere between 500-700 kids! It was so amazing to see their faces light up when we got there and just how excited they were to be able to have a break from school to sing, dance and just be kids. They sang these VBS songs that their teachers taught them as we got there. They were trying to get us to sing along, but all we could get out of it was la, la, la, VBS, something, something, something, Harvest India Home. Let’s just say the Hindi language isn’t something you just pick up! To start off Ryan and Niall led a few fun songs for the kids with hand motions which they thought were hilarious. I’m sure in their heads they are constantly saying, silly Americans! We also ad-libbed a skit about Joseph and prayed over the chilren. Each kid also got an activity book so we helped pass out crayons and pencils. One thing that really struck some of our team members was that these children didn’t even have enough crayons to go around-they had to have each grade use the crayon then pass it on to the other grades. In the US our kids have boxes and boxes of crayons and we constantly throw out the ones that are broken-these kids were so grateful just to have 1/2 a crayon! Just another one of those humbling moments to add to our list! After the first session Suresh showed us where the children have lunch and explained to us that VBS is like a mini vacation for these children. They work very hard to make a gourmet meal for all 500-700 children and to spoil them since some of these kids never get a break in life. Just another one of the amazing things that this ministry does-they do everything to the highest standard and make sure that no ministry is left untouched.

Unfortunately sickness has struck our team and Ryan, Niall and I have caught some sort of bug. Ryan and Niall were the worst, though, with fevers, chills and a long afternoon spent in the restroom and bed. We’ll spare you the details :) Please pray that we recover quickly and the rest of the team stays healthy. We don’t want to miss one ounce of what’s happening here!

Ryan and Niall slept through the afternoon while the rest went back for the second section of VBS. Without our two musicans we had to wing-it for the second half. We played a few songs, helped the chilren do some more pages in their books and then prayed over them again. Before we left we had a “hug station” where the children could come give us a hug if they wanted to before we went back. Imagine 500+ children running like a herd of buffalo towards us and us bracing ourselves to not be knocked over! Although it was so sweet to have all the little children just clinging to our legs, for me the most powerful part was connecting with the older high school age girls. They just patiently waited to give you a hug and you just saw the deep desire in their eyes to be unconditionally loved. They were some of the best hugs I have ever received.

After 30 minutes or so we headed over to one of the other old person’s homes that was started only a year ago. There were only 15 people living in this home-and by home I mean a three room cement block with a tiny kitchen no doors, no windows, and small cots for them to sleep on. To us it seemed unreal that people live like this but they explained that this home was like a luxury to them. If it were not for Harvest India these people would still be living in the BUS STATION-can you imagine 100 year old people living on the streets? It’s insane.

Tonight we had a much needed time off. Kara, Heather and I went with Christine, Suresh’s wife into town to shop! It was so crazy to see so many people all over the place and as Ryan has posted before, the driving is, well, unexplainable. We decided that tomorrow, instead of doing the second session of VBS us girls are going to revisit the Ashraya home and just pamper those girls. We bought some Henna and nail polish and are so excited to serve these women and help them to continue on their journey of restoration. We all spent a bit of time going over tomorrow’s VBS plans, but just really enjoyed spending some down time together as a team. We have already done so much here and it’s only Tuesday!

– D. Axtell

Day 3: Dip Your Chicken in the Yogurt

That’s what we did today…dipped our chicken in some yogurt…while eating on a banana leaf in the middle of the jungle. Yeah, dinner was awesome!

The day was awesome. Let’s start from the beginning.

Some chicken, rice, harboiled eggs, fruit, and a bunch of other stuff we couldn’t see in the darkbanana-leaf

Orphanage

After a breakfast of potato crepes, hardboiled eggs, hand squeezed grape juice, and curry, we drove over to the Harvest India school and orphanage. This school houses mainly children whose families were lost in the Tsunami. The kids were so joyful and well behaved! The school has some of the highest marks in the state! All of the orphans are from the lowest caste systems. A few shared some of their stories. It was heartbreaking to see little boys and girls trying to choke back their tears and share how hard their life has been. Yet God has provided for them a new life with new possibilities.

Ashraya House: A Place of Hope and Dignity

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Next we walked across the compound to visit Harvest India’s Ashraya Women’s Home. Harvest India buys women out of the sex trade and provides schooling and crafting for them to help them build an independent future.  Many of these women are trafficked into prostitution, sold by their families or coerced into a life of prostitution at a young age.  As we looked into their eyes, it was clear that they were still struggling with the emptiness and pain from their past and yet reconciling that with the truth that God values them more than they can imagine and offers them healing, hope, and dignity.  This is one of the hardest ministries here because in Indian culture, prostitutes are “unclean.” Once they are deemed as such they live their life with a permanent stigma, leaving them feeling cast aside and forgotten.  Women who aren’t virgins are seldom married (and about 50% of Indian marriages are arranged) and never open up about their past experience for fear of ruining their hope for the future.  Harvest India helps to arrange marriages for these women in addition to providing them much needed medical care. In the Ashraya home, these women learn to make purses, pajama pants, and pillow cases in order to support themselves in another way.  Unfortunately, since these products are made with “unclean” hands, no one in India will buy them.  They depend on foreign visitors like us to support the work of their hands, and we’ve brought a bunch back which will be sold in the Cornerstone bookstore!  This portion of the day was a highlight for Heather, who is excited to partner with the Ashraya Home with her business, Ransom Me, which aims to raise funds for programs that aid victims of sex trafficking.

Elderly Home

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Driving for one hour in cramped SUV’s to an the elderly home was another experience in itself with oncoming trucks and buses playing truth or dare with our vehicle. When we arrived we were bombarded with flowers and hugs from the old people as they warmly greeted us in front of their home. The elderly in this home are forgotten by their families and have no place to go. All of us were choked up as we heard the stories of abandonment and then restoration as they come to this home to live out their final years with the care and compassion that only God can give. Many of them actually come to Christ in this home and these people become the prayer warriors that sustain Harvest in India.

Outreach Night

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Saresh and one of the local pastors

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We ended our day by heading out over bumpy dusty roads to a village where Harvest India has been ministering through different types of relief work. As we drove in we could hear beautiful native music and see lights in the distance. In the middle of what seemed like no where a portable sound system, lights and a stage were set up. When we arrived there were probably over 100 people (women sitting on the ground, men seated in the back, waiting for our teams. We were introduced to a local pastor,  enjoyed more Indian praise songs with me distracting several beautiful kids in the front in a random clapping game (so many beautiful smiles). I was able to lead several worship songs as more and more people arrived to check out what was going on. Marty introduced Kara one of our team members to give her testimony which was a really big step of faith for her never having done it before. Kara did an amazing job supported in prayer by all of us, she will never be the same! Chris, one of the members of the Canadian group shared a message based on God’s love for women tied to a gospel presentation. Niall closed with an invitation to accept Christ with over 100 standing and praying to receive Jesus as their Savior. Harvest India will be following up in the village to be sure there is an understanding of who the one true God is and what that decision means to them and help discern between different types of decisions. We were all able to pray for dozens of villagers as the evening drew to a close. The work of the Holy Spirit was powerful in a small village in India last night. What a blessing to be able to be part of that!

Thanks for all your prayers and support. We’ve enjoyed reading your comments and sharing our experience with you guys! Tomorrow we start our VBS…which is gonna be amazing! The kids are so ecstactic…this is 3 days of holiday for them!

R. Axtell

Day 2: A Little Taste of the Harvest

Today was an incredible day and will be so hard to capture with words and even pictures. We had the chance to visit and participate in several of Harvest India’s outreach programs. I will do my best to sum up each of today’s events with a few words and pictures. Just know that God is moving in absolutely incredible ways here at Harvest India and their incredible organization and strategic planning has created a sustainable, long-term ministry.

A quick recap. Our team of 7 includes Ryan and Danielle Axtell, Marty and Mary McIntire, Heather Nyhart, Kara Cox, and Niall McSheffrey. They will be able to read any comments you leave so feel free to share this experience with us!

Church Service
Our team helped lead a service at one of the local churches. I played a few songs, Marty and Mary shared their testimonies, and Niall shared a message on how to reach the next generation of Indians…all through a translator of course! Its amazing to hear God’s name glorified in other languages! The congregation also sang several songs in their state language to the accompaniment of a tambourine and pitched drums. Men and women sat in separate areas and their were many more women than men. Suresh told us that getting women to come to the church was the key to getting the families to come to church as they had the “real power” in the household. Christianity is a stark contrast to Hinduism, which worships over 330 million different gods with the highest deity being the cow. The church leaders go to great lengths to communicate that Jesus is THE ONLY GOD, and not another deity to add to the collection. Suresh’s ministry has planted over 1400 churches in India over the last 42 years and train up in their Bible Colleges over 100 new church planters a year!

Food distribution/Medical Center

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The team helps the Harvest India Staff pass out food.food-dist

Below, Saresh shows us the Medical Centermedical-center-saresh Harvest India runs a Mercy Camp food distribution every Saturday, which provides food to the street children and beggars who otherwise have to beg or steal their food. We had the privilege of passing out bananas, eggs, and bread to roughly 500 people. It was incredibly emotional to stare such depravity in the face, yet be a part of the solution. Additionally it was amazing to see so many joyful and excited faces among the children who lived every day struggling to find food and water.

Harvest India also runs a free health clinic as part of the Mercy Camp, which supplies free medical care and supplies to the “Untouchables” who would be turned away from the government hospitals. Christian’s are part of the lowest caste system along with the Untouchables due to their belief in the “poor man’s God.” Fellow Indians do not normally help others for fear of getting involved in that person’s Karma: they believe that your life situation is a result of your past life and must be carried out until you are reincarnated into a better situation. Christianity is spreading incredibly fast among the lower caste systems because of the love and care the Christian Indians show to the lowest of low who are normally neglected. An incredible example of how God can work through the darkest situations!

Well Dedication

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Immediately after our visit to Mercy Camp we drove an hour out of the city to a local village to dedicate a well. This particular village had no fresh water and the villagers had to walk 3 miles to the next village. For $1000, Harvest India constructed a well (far superior to the government ones) that provides fresh water for 300-500 families! Now that is value! The village was so joyful for the prayer from  “Pastor Marty” and the blessings from our team members…it was truly a joyful experience, complete with drumming and a ribbon cutting!

Nursing School

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The nursing students.nursing-school On our way back to Suresh’s house we visited one of two nursing schools in Tenali. This school provides nursing training to the women of the Untouchable Caste System so they can good jobs and stand on their own two feet. The two schools currently house 120 nurses in training, who will graduate in 6 months. Several of the students shared their stories and expressed how thankful they were for the opportunity to study and grow and value in society. Several team members including myself then spoke encouragement over them (translated) and Danielle prayed over them as well. An amazing night with an amazing group of young women! Due to Harvest India’s reputation and recognition of their superior teaching methods, the government helped fund the building of the schools and the educational program. They are still in need of mattresses and fans for the dormitories, nursing uniforms, school materials, and examination fees. You can find out how to give towards these needs HERE.

At the end of the day, the girls were taken to pick up their traditional Indian dress, called Saris, which they will wear the rest of the week when in public. They were incredibly beautiful and the girls were very excited! Thank you for your prayers and we look forward to sharing the rest of our time here with you.

– R. Axtell

Day 1- Chennai

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So we just arrived at our hotel in Chennai, India after approx 30 hours of travel! Due to the time changes, we only spent 2 hours  of Friday in Hong Kong before jumping ahead to Saturday. Crazy!

The aromas immediately thicken upon exiting the plane. The airport was crammed with people coming and going. We were definitely the odd ones out for a change. It definitely is humbling. I never really noticed how white I really am!

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The taxi ride from to the Hotel was probably the craziest thing I have ever experienced. Let’s just say we all made sure we were right with God once we saw how the Taxi drivers maneuvered…but hey we made it! Let me tell you how invaluable car horns are…They saved our lives at least 3 times. And check out these sweet rides! I felt like Dick Tracy:

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The 30 minute drive to our hotel was our first chance to absorb our surroundings. The strangest, smallest, jerry-rigged automobiles cluttered the streets, along with pedestrians and the occasional cow. Even though it was early in the morning the city was alive. It was definitely a 3rd world environment. It broke my heart to see people sleeping in the gutters and the sidewalks…especially the elderly. They remained completely ignored by everyone except the large rats who could be seen rummaging through their blankets and belongings.

We met up with Saresh at the hotel and were greeted with big hugs. Culturally, you are not supposed to say “sorry” or “thank you”, or use your left hand to eat or greet.  Additionally, our nods for “yes” and “no” mean the opposite so we are still figuring out how to interact, but hugs are okay! Oh yeah and men hold hands as a sign of friendship.
Saresh said he’s excited for us to be here partnering with Harvest India. He said India is a very dark place spiritually, with millions of different deities and gods worshipped. We are excited to see the amazing things Harvest India does!

We are all currently in our hotel rooms, trying to shake the time change (its 4 am Saturday here and 3:43pm Friday in Phoenix) and catch some sleep before our 6 hour train ride tomorrow at 1pm.  Thank you all for your prayers! I’m not sure what what kind of internet access I will have after the train ride, but I’ll be blogging everyday and upload it all as soon as we have the opportunity!

– R.  Axtell

Update from Hong Kong

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Well, after a 16 hour flight from San Francisco, our team just landed in Hong Kong @ approx 4 am our time and 7:30pm (on Friday) Hong Kong time. It has been an adventure!

So far, Cathay Airline’s quality of service and food has destroyed all hope for US airline companies! We each enjoyed our own media center with over 100 movies, 888 cds, and 300 tv shows…plus games of course!

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We had a few mishaps with our luggage claims in San Francisco, but after some cross-cultural communication, we figured it out…And props to the nationalities that speak multiple languages!

No matter how nice the plane ride, 16 hours is still 16 hours. Time change, muscle soreness, cabin fever…traveling over the whole Pacific Ocean and wondering if you are in an episode of Lost. We all feel like we’ve been hit by a double decker bus! Next up a 5 hour flight into Chennai, then a 7 hour train ride to Tenali!

Its amazing being overseas…a first for several of us on the team. A total change of smells, sounds, interactions and voltages (bring a transformer!). Its exciting and also intimidating…It reminds me how small we actually are and how diverse our world is.

We serve such a diverse God who speaks to all nations! Our purpose as a short-term team is mainly to experience and witness what God is doing in other areas around the world, provide needed support to the long-term organizations we partner with, and relay the news back to our home areas. We have the most influence among our own friends and families due to our life-time of established relationships. We may feel that our purpose is mainly to “help others” when we venture out but I believe our main purpose is to serve as witnesses to what God is doing…of course we help others and share the Gospel, but as a short-term team most often we are the ones who God grows the most. We are excited to observe and partner with Saresh and Harvest India and to relay the amazing things God is doing back to Chandler, Az.

– R. Axtell