This past Sunday, the Lord allowed me to go back to the church in Tennessee which was my main supporter for my trip to India. I spoke for ten minutes before both sermons to let the body know what their funds and prayers accomplished. This is the manuscript speech I used.
When I met Sarah, the woman who runs Sarah’s Covenant Home in India, I thought I had come to teach a handful of deaf orphans a few basic signs so that they could communicate with their care takers. We were in her kitchen and she was pouring curry into a dish when she said, “So, because of various disabilities, at least 60 of the kids could use your help; I think you should teach all 120.”
Jim Eliot once said that “God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.” and in that moment I was officially and totally unquallified.
Then, on the first day at the Covenant Home, in the flood of foreign languages, customs, and realities, I found Hope. She was about twelve years old, with mental disabilities, poor motorskills, one shrivelled arm, and total deafness, and her name was Hope. I am still learning all that she has to teach me, but in the days that followed she was a God-given, guiding star. Hope taught me that we must learn from those we teach, that we must always give long hugs, and that joy is more palpable, more glorifying in our suffering than it ever could be in our comfort. Hope showed me over the passing days that my plans to teach the sign language that I knew were not only impracticle but impossible. I learned that if Hope could do it, any of the children at the home could do it, and so I created a sign language for Hope.
I wrote lists of the objects that surrounded the children – fans, rice, coconut oil, lizards, the activities that made up their days – eating, bathing, taking medicines. I simplified signs I knew, created ones for concepts that didn’t exist in ASL that mimicked the use of the items or motions as closely as possible, and encorporated cultural gestures like the ones for bathe, drink, and come. I began teaching it myself to some of the children. Hope would smile and laugh and copy the signs I’d show her as if it was a funny game. I realized that to teach them all, I’d need help and they’d need to be taught the way that I’d seen my mother teach my siblings a handful of signs as babies before they learned to speak. So, I created a website, and began writing instructions for the teaching method and documenting the signs.
It was at this time that Sarah, the woman who ran the orphanage, said I should teach a class to the teachers and nurses, and oversee them teaching the nannies who would then teach the children, and it was at this time that the giardia, heat boils, and fire ant toxins started to catch up with me. So, after the first few days of teaching in the evenings, overseeing all morning, and preparing for the teachings in the afternoon, I could only physically handle the evening teaching. So, I spent most of those days preparing for the lessons in my fire ant infested bed. I would be too weak most of the day to even get up and get food for myself, yet each evening when it was time for me to braid my hair, get dressed, and cross town, the Lord gave me the strength, and the strength would last all through the two hour evening lesson in the boiling heat and until I arrived at home. Not only did he give me the strength to go there, but he gave me – the girl with a strong fear of public speaking – the ability to lead a class of about 25 women and 1 man, all of whom were older than me, first with the challenge of speaking through a translator and then with the challenge of speaking without one. Those I taught were eager to learn and so receptive. After only a week and a half of lessons, children were signing. I had come and taught all that they needed on a daily basis, and I felt my work there coming to a close.
I had felt a deep connection with the school of worship Sarah’s husband ran which Katie and I had visited on our way that orphanage. And as my work at the orphanage came to a close, I prayed that the Lord would send me there, so I could learn and translate local worship music into sign language; so the kids could praise the Lord with their hands. Soon after, Sarah called me into her office and asked me if I would come do that. We left in a whirlwind, and I arrived in a new town with new energy, thrilled to be free of fire ants. But I soon fell sick with more illness, of even more intensity and found myself spending all my days in bed often too weak to move and slipping in and out of troubled sleep. The time I spent awake, I spent praying and listening to worship music and an audio Bible. Finally, a few days before I was supposed to head North, my parents and a friend Skyped me. They were worried by how ill and emaciated I was, and they prayed over me and sang worship music.
That night I had a horribly real dream of a demon attacking me and grabbing me by the ankles. I tried to pull away in every way I could until I realized that it wasn’t just a dream. I shouted “Father God, save me; You’re the only one Who can.” I woke up and then felt the grip slowly release from my ankles. I would find out later that there is one particular demon in India that targets women. It starts at the ankles and moves up to the chest and tries to suffocate it’s victims. The Lord delivered me from that and at the same time delivered me from the illness that had been eating away at me. In the next few days I, with some help from Katie and one of Sarah’s daughters, translated a few songs from Telugu to English to Sign Language, taught them, and visually documented countless signs, made them into posters, revamped the website I had created into a reference and teaching tool for future volunteers and adoptive parents, and taught a lesson for a music theory class:) God allowed me to do in a few days what I hoped to do over the course of a month, and then He sent me North.
I was very excited to go North. A woman who had also volunteered at the orphanage had given me a verse one day that she said the Lord had urged her to give me.
It was Psalm 41:1-3 –
How blessed is he who considers the helpless;
The Lord will deliver him in a day of trouble.
The Lord will protect him and keep him alive,
And he shall be called blessed upon the earth;
And do not give him over to the desire of his enemies.
The Lord will sustain him upon his sickbed;
In his illness, You restore him to health
That verse was so sweet to me. The Lord had led me to help the helpless, these children in India, and His promise to me was heal me from my sickness and protect my life. He had fulfilled the first part of that promise by healing me in the south, and as I travelled to dangerous north India by the volitile border of Pakistan, I was eager and excited to see how He would keep me alive.
I had hoped and planned on working at a deaf school in the north while I stayed with some family friends who had been doing work in India for 20 years. Again, God’s plans were bigger than that. The deaf school didn’t understand why some young, angrezie girl wanted to spend time with deaf children, but they did want a website and me creating one for them became my opportunity to spend some time with the children. I also, with the generous help of my aunt, tracked down a small class that teaches deaf children to speak, a center that “helped” those with certain “disabilities,” and a deaf clothing merchant who had gone to the local deaf school as a child and, through him, a family with a deaf daughter he introduced us to. I learned that the cultural response to deafness, though kinder in the north than in the south, was still rough. I will always remember the words of one of the social workers I met, “Very few deaf children are sent to school,” she said “Most are kept in a corner in their homes; the lucky ones are allowed to roam the streets.”
In addition to giving me so much to write about to raise awareness, the Lord fulfilled his promise to protect my life time and time again. Not only was I unharmed by soldiers who could have arrested or killed me for my faith, but I was welcomed with my host family into the officers tent of a military base and served chai and a sweat treat; once, when the military should have stopped us in our tracks and sent us back, they not only let us pass, but one of the soldiers gave me his phone number! And one night, when our tent was surrounded by men with large guns, and I huddled with my host sisters in the middle of the tent to avoid the groping hands of the soldiers, I was filled with peace. The words kept repeating in my mind, “My life is hid in Christ on high, in Christ my savior and my God.” My host uncle spoke to them, and eventually they left us only with a warning to clear out soon and tell them as soon as we left.
I participated in the local fasting, which, as insightful, as culturally connecting, and as spiritually deepening as that was, it threw me into a dramatic detox, and I began experiencing seizure-like physically induced panic attacks that would leave me reeling and shaking on the floor. I was just a few weeks away from the end of my nearly six month stay in India, and I asked my parents over Skype to please get me home. I had done all I came to do and more and I just wanted to go home. But the plane tickets couldn’t be changed without ridiculous expense, and I’m so glad. On the last day I spent in India, I taught some basic sign language to a shepherd family with a downs syndrome daughter who couldn’t speak.
I want to thank you all so much, for your support and your prayers. They truly carried me. None of these things could have happened without you. Without your help, that little shepherd girl in the mountains of northern India would not be able to communicate and that deaf school would not have a website to raise funds. Thank you for helping 120 orphans communicate and for providing resources for the countless disabled orphans to come. Thank you for opening the door for them to communicate their thoughts and needs and for others to share with them the Gospel. Thank you for allowing me to know these deaf and disabled children in India so that I can write a book to raise awareness for their needs. Please pray for me as I write to raise awareness for them and try to find away to get the funds, employment, and housing neccessary to go to Boston to take a class that will help me write and publish that book. And, above all, please continue to partner with me in prayer, in raising awareness, and – if the Lord is leading you – in serving the deaf and disabled of India and leading them to salvation in Jesus Christ.