To Teach

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I stood in front of a room full deaf children. As of five seconds ago, I was supposed to teach them English.

Aunty and I had arrived at the deaf school that morning. The city was warm, but the dark little hallway that led into the school was damp and cool. Aunty had been here before with Uncle, when they had spoken to the people there before about the possibility of me having connections with the school once I came, so she knew to take the first door on the right – or more accurately the doorway with the red curtain. Inside was a little wooden waiting bench and a long desk some staff worked behind. A woman said something in Urdu and motioned us across the hall into the room across the hall. We went through another red curtain and, as is the custom, slipped off our shoes. We waited on wooden couches with softish cushions. I adjusted my dupatta (the scarf I wear around my head) and Aunty flipped through her Urdu-English dictionary.

A woman came in. Big smile. Friendly hurry. She Salaamed us – the greeting in this place meaning “Peace be unto you” – and asked how we were. We said we were well, and Aunty explained in Urdu how she had been there before with her husband and how she hoped I could sit in on classes.

That was the last thing I understood.

There was Urdu. There was Hindi. There was the man in charge of the college sitting and nodding and questioning and nodding. There were staff running in and out and chattering in the local language with the man in charge and the friendly woman. There was a problem. Oh, wait, there wasn’t a problem. That is, he didn’t smile at all… except for sometimes. And the people spoke very loudly and very quickly and then very slowly. And sometimes they spoke to me and, before I could asked them if they could possibly say that again in English, they were off in another direction.

The man in charge said in English “If it benefits her and it benefits the students, we will do it.” Which sounded like something between permission and probation. Then, we were escorted quickly by the friendly woman into a room full of Indian children, all of them deaf.

We were introduced to the teacher, and then both the teacher and the friendly woman left, saying as they were leaving “This is English class. Teach them English.”

So there we were – standing in front of a room of deaf children to teach them English.

“Um…” I said to Aunty “I don’t think they understood our request.”

“No, I don’t think they did.”

“Well,” she said after a moment of thought. “Let’s find out what they are supposed to be learning.”

So, we began. We chose one exchange out of the book:

Where did you go yesterday?

Yesterday I went to the playground.

And we began.

We found out one boy was not profoundly deaf, and when Aunty spoke to him loudly and clearly in Urdu he could even speak some things slowly and (mostly) intelligibly back. That combined with my knowledge of sign language (though my sign was American and not Indian like theirs) made communicating somehow possible. By the end of the hour the children seemed to understand both sentences well and happily.

I couldn’t help feeling a bit triumphant as we left the classroom, saying goodbye to the waving and smiling children.

“How did it go?” asked the friendly woman.

“Very well,” Aunty answered. “Can we come back tomorrow?”

“You can come back next month,” the woman said smiling, and walked to her office.

We followed after her. Aunty questioned her in Urdu and the woman explained: The children would be studying for a big exam for the next three weeks and there would be no classes to sit in on. That is, the children would be in class but they would not be learning – just studying. We could come back next month after the exam, the friendly woman repeated.

So, we went home. Over dinner, Uncle asked me how it went. “Your aunt told me her version of how it went, but I’d like to hear yours too,” he said “And what you’d like to do with all that in mind.”

“Well, there’s not much to say, we were thrown into an English class we had to teach and then told to come back next month.” I replied. “So, I’ll be happy to help you all with the work you guys are doing until exams are over.”

Uncle laughed at me. “We don’t give up so easy,” he said.

And he was right. Before dinner was finished we had a new plan for making connections with the deaf school….

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Me and Babu

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I miss my little Babu ❤

See You Tomorrow

20130624-171834.jpg“You’re going to Hyderabad.
The driver is on his way.”

And like that, I evaporated. That’s what it felt like, anyway: Evaporation. Suddenly I found myself leaving things behind in my hurry – my shampoo, my blue jeans, my shikakai. I found myself leaving behind people, what’s more – the teachers I taught, the nannies, my little babu.

It felt like death and it felt like rapture as I slipped into the car and we set off. We were going to a place of Worship, and so it felt like going to heaven.

I never did say goodbye – to any of them. But I left with the tender satisfaction that I kind of did. Because every goodbye had been a long one. Every “I’ll see you tomorrow,” was said with laughter and smiles and hugs. And so the grand truth resonates twice, both in the span of that month and the span of my life: That when we love fully we can follow God with no regret regarding leaving those whom we love behind and that in the Believer’s life there is really no such thing as saying goodbye… only “See you Tomorrow.”

 

Suffering and Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,”
A friend gave me these verses recently – verses from 2 Corinthians. I keep coming back to them because these words have been exactly what I’ve needed to both express and understand these past weeks.

First, let me tell you of the wonders The “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” has worked: In less than two weeks, He has enabled me, with the help of translators, to teach this disability-adapted sign language to over 25 teachers and nurses, whom I oversaw, in turn, teach house by house, room by room, the nannies (who worked with the children constantly) so they could teach the children. Our Father blessed in such abundance. The women learned more than a semester’s worth of sign language in less than two weeks, and within a few days, each time I went to the children’s home, I was surrounded by children who all wanted to show me the signs they have learned. Praise Him for bringing this great thing about!

Now He has led me a day’s journey north to a school of worship where I am helping teach keyboard to women who will be on worship teams in blooming church plants all over the state of AP, about to teach the same women sign language to the Telugu worship songs they are learning (pray for my wisdom in translating the Telugu to sign), and translating and teaching those same Telugu songs in our disability-adjusted sign language to those who can return and teach it to the dear children back at Sarah’s Covenant Home. So that even though they cannot use their voices, they can use their hands to join with their brothers and sisters in worshiping our God.

I am humbled by and in awe of Him.

And I’m pressed to run to Him constantly, because, of course, in the light of all of these victories, there have been a lot of battles.

That’s where the rest of those 2 Corinthians verses come in – the verses about the comfort of God in the light of our sufferings, and the purpose of our sufferings… One of the main purposes being (spoiler alert;) you, dear friends who are reading.

These verses have been a deep comfort to me.

I’ve been sick – vey sick and weak. I’ve had trial by fire-ants 😉 absolutely filling my bed and possessions and trying on my nerves constantly. As I was attempting to get them out of my bed one night, I busted my toe open. I’ve had heat boils and an infected finger. I’ve missed people back home desperately. I’ve had miscommunications with people. I’ve been misinterpreted by people. I’ve made mistakes: I’ve squirted mango all over myself and a restaurant floor to the great amusement of every Indian present haha;) I’ve walked around in complete confusion in this foreign culture and language. I’ve felt like a child. I’ve felt inadequate. I have been incapable and inadequate.

And in all of this, I have been comforted, sustained, supplied, and overwhelmed by the presence and power of God.

And the reason I tell you this – the reason I am so completely honest with you about this is explained in these verses:

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Those verses explain it better than I ever could, but in brief they express that He has been my comfort so I can assure you that He will be your comfort, to assure you of all He is and all He has done and is doing and will do. And they express to the church at Corinth what I long to express to you: I want to remind you and thank you for and show you what your prayers have been doing.

Your prayers have been making disciples and moving mountains, delivering me…. and bringing me comfort.

So much love,
Ashlie Ariel

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Burning Up

As if the room wasn’t hot enough, even though her skin was scalding. When I first touched it, I jerked my hand away suddenly – my nerve endings responding as if I could be burned. I had never met this girl before, never taught her a sign. I didn’t even know if she needed to be taught sign – all I knew was she was scalding in a room that was burning up.

The “grandma” (as she calls herself), a retired nurse, asked me to grab a cloth and get it wet. Because this is India, I grabbed a onesie lying on the bed nearby and washed it in the sink. Since it was the heat of the day, the tap water was hot. I ran the onesie out onto the veranda and swung it back and forth till it was cool. The reflection of the sun on the stairs was nearly blinding and the cows rifling through the trash beside the street below moved slowly. Once the cloth was cool, I brought it to Grandma and she placed it over the child’s stomach and chest so it would touch under the arms and inside the thighs because “that’s where the lymph are located” and “if you cool the lymph, the lymph, you cool the blood.”

So, I keep the child’s lymph cool, and I rub her hands in a reflexology technique that stimulates the lymphatic system (something I learned long before I came to India.) And, though I do not even think of teaching her the word for “hot” or “pain” in this moment, I still feel as if all the moments in my life led up to this – the simple act of reviving a child.

I pray over her. I lift the onesie and swing it over her – fanning her and cooling the cloth simultaneously. Lay it on her chest and lymph. Then swing it over her again. I repeat the process countless times in the stifling heat. Soon, she’s less hot, soon she’s revived enough to smile when I fan her and purr when I lay the cool cloth over her body. After a while, she even laughs.

India has taught me, in a real and kinetic way, that tasks are much less important than people. That people helping others as a group, accomplish so much more than they ever could alone. That the world can only really change when we are willing to set aside our own agendas when there is something more important. That, as Jesus said, it’s not vain sacrifices but real love that sums up all we were created to live out day by day.

I touched the little girl’s arm and my hand did not yank back. She smiled.

The End of Myself

I came to the end of myself. It was a blow to my pride, but I finally realized how absolutely incapable I was of doing what needs to be done. I locked myself in the bathroom, curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor and sobbed. Who was I kidding? I had never worked with disabled kids before. I never had training in teaching. I’ve only formally taken one semester of sign language. I’ve never been out of the States before – not even for a week long missions trip. I melted down in the states when it was 85 degrees – what am I doing in a humid 108?

On a bathroom floor in southern India, I finally came to the end of myself. And in realizing my own emptiness, I asked The Lord to fill me with Himself. In Francis Chan’a book “Forgotten God,” the author asks the reader if he or she is living the kind of life that gives glory to God because the things they are doing could never be done without the Holy Spirit abiding in them.

As I sit in this humid 108 and teach sign to these disabled children, I can truly answer yes to that question. I’m not doing this. He’s doing it through me – moment by moment, sign by sign. And I am filled with gratitude that He would let this broken vessel carry the water of life, that He would let this inexperienced little girl watch him bring love through her hands, that He would let me come to the end of myself…. and find Glory.

The Name of our God

“Yisaya! Yisaya!” The song rose up – faulty, but strong and enveloping. It was powerful like a fragrance and thick like the cloud in the temple of God: That’s how it felt. It ministered to my soul, filled it with awe and deep, inexpressible joy. And as I wondered what that powerful word could be, my mind unraveled the Telugu and realized: It was the name of Jesus.

Before Telugu, before India, a few years ago, in fact, just a little before the call, I found a list of names of God from the Bible. I read the names aloud and I could feel the power. Not a power that I was conjuring up, not a power I could use, but a power that could use me. There was a mystery and a worship and a fragrance to it. I felt strengthened, filled, and refreshed in and after speaking them.

I began to find out more about His names and focus on them in my Bible reading – I even found an unmarked Bible of mine and read through it, circling His name each time it was used to help me identify it so I could meditate on it in its context. I found such great delight in it that I did it at every opportunity – so much so that one of the boys I was nannying at the time came into the kitchen one day as I was making lunch, plopped himself down at my feet, my pen and Bible in his hands, and motioned me to come down on the floor with him so we could circle Jesus’ name together.

Some of those circled names became deeply significant to me – Lord of Hosts, Ishi, Qanna, Holy Spirit… Jesus. Those names transformed me, those names brought me here. Here – a land filled with demon worship in Hinduism and bondage in Islam – here again the name of my God has power. When the Muslim call to prayer rings through the city, I sing the name out, when the pictures of worshiped Hindu demons surround me on the merchant’s walls, I whisper it aloud in prayer. Fear vanishes and I am filled with the knowledge that my God is greater, is present, is saving, is love. Regardless of language, of country, of circumstance… His name is a strong tower, a source of comfort and of power, a reminder of the sovereignty and presence of our Ishi, our Lord of Hosts, our Jesus… our Yisaya.

The Stillness

When this city sleeps, it sleeps. Come midnight, the madness of the streets recedes. It is completely quiet. Come morning, when the streets are busy, the people are slow – walking slowly, standing by the roadside, sitting here and there. India is a song played tempo giusto. There is a stillness here.

Francis Chan writes “As we practice this stillness, this waiting, this being, it is then that we can experience deep intimacy and relationship with the Holy Spirit.” And I believe that is so true. Something The Lord really pressed on my heart before I came here is that this trip is a time and space for me to grow in real knowledge of His Holy Spirit. I’ve been reading through Acts, listening to Forgotten God by Francis Chan, and spending a lot of time in worship and in prayer. It is so precious – this pressing in, this feeling presence.

And as I sit here beneath the spinning fans, I know that one souvenir I must take back with me is the stillness I have found in India.

Chunni

Here in India the chunni is used for everything in life. The chunni, a scarf draped low around my neck is a sign of my modesty. I am a respectable woman with my chunni. As I walk to the dosa stand each morning, I wear it, and when the dust flies in the hot wind, I guard my face with it. We – Katie and I – eat our dosas on a bench with our fingers. Then, we wash them with water from a spout and dry them with the edge of my chunni. Returning to our flat, I use the chunni to guard my face from the sun. We dodge yellow auto rickshaws and a cow. I walk up the thin, uneven, marble stairs ahead of Katie, and she yanks my chunni. I tell her she’s choaking me. So, she does it again. And now, we pull eachother’s all the time like little girls pull eachother’s braids. In our chunnis we laugh.

On the road to the children’s home I see a woman sheltering the baby in her arms from the heat with a chunni, and once through the gate of the the children’s home, the chunni is the first thing the children grab. One of the girls bites my chunni. Another climbs into my arms and pulls the chunni from my head. She wraps it around her own, puts her right palm on my head, and prays for me in Telugu. When she is finished, she returns it to my shoulders. I wrap it around my own head, rest my palm on her black-as-midnight hair, and pray for her. Prayer transcends language. And our eyes smile because we feel the presence of God in our prayers. The children who can speak try to speak to me, but I can’t understand. Our communication is reduced to smiles, kisses, hugs, and prayers. And when the smiles, hugs, and kisses cease to be enough, I pray. Wrapped in my chunni, I pray over one child and then another and another… The Spirit leading prayer and feeling so near, so present. Some don’t understand; they push my hand away, confused. Most do, though, and they light up as I pray over them – prayer transcending language once again. One girl, afraid I would skip her, grabbed my hand as I passed and pressed it to her hair. Soon, I had prayed for all of them, every one.

I was filled with a joy and a hope for these children. Through prayer, doubt and despair dispelled. I had compassion and at the same time a conviction that these children in their physical brokenness, like us in our spiritual brokenness, would bring glory to God our Father through the blood of Jesus and the power of His Spirit in them.

Overwhelmed, I hugged a little one – held her tight. In my joy, I began to cry. And I hid my tears behind my chunni.

Waking Up

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I wake up to the Indian morning birds trilling. The warm rolling murmur of the men outside and below my window speaking on the grass. The tinny metal sound of a motor here and there. A woman coughs in a house near by.

The electricity goes off for an hour and a half every morning. So, at six o’clock the warmth wakes me gently like a kiss on my forehead.

I’m waking up to a new country in more ways than one, though. I’m waking up to a slower pace if walking and doing. I’m waking up to a closer connection with people. I’m waking up to a stronger sense of danger and of urgency. And I’m just beginning to wake up to the spiritual world manifest in a new way through this new country.

Here, the people are deeply spiritual. Here, the demons have voices and speak. Here, there is a slow movement of disciple making rising up slight but with gaining strength.

And so I am waking up to what spiritual armor is for. I’m waking up to the Spirit and the thick, sweet fragrance of the Spirit of God. I’m waking up. It’s time to begin.

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