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This first report is coming before any official training or camp has begun with our friends, the Chelli’s in Bangalore, India. I flew alone, directly to a ministry Doc Hay and I served with 8 years ago in Sikkim, India. I still look back on that trip with great fondness as we saw nearly 25 direct answers to prayer. As I reminisce about the trip with Athem, who has faithfully used camping in his ministry for these 8 years, he said all but one of those who made professions are faithfully serving the Lord today! One is now the headmaster of the Christian school in Sikkim where we put on that first camp.
My goal for this trip was to do a one-day training refresher with Athem and his team and to bring some new game equipment. Training day went well, teaching them some new games, and reminding them of our core philosophy and basic counseling. Two of the 12 people there are key leaders in Athem’s ministries. They took good notes and asked thoughtful questions. They will help Athem put on 3 camps this year! One of those leaders was a teen at the camp 8 years ago. It was humbling as he told me part of a sermon I spoke and how it impacted him. I want to share a simple privilege on one flight. I requested a window seat on the left side of the plane as I knew there was a chance to see the Himalayan mountains. I was blessed to see Mt.Everest and many other of the highest mountains in the world on a unusually clear day!
Report by Dan Brooks
Greetings from the mountains of NE India! We spent Monday traveling by airplane to Manipur where we then jumped in a van for a 3-hour harrowing ride, in the rain, up curvy mountain roads that would rival 178 in North Carolina! The temperature the first night was about 40 degrees so they put small buckets of hot coals in our rooms because the rooms all have open “holes” to vent them. We were very thankful! Our beds are mattresses on the floor with the heaviest, warmest blankets I have ever seen. They cook for us in a small tin building, over an open fire. They also heat water for us to wash up, which is extremely kind.
Staff training started Tuesday morning and we have about 13 counselors. Some of them were a part of our camp four years ago and are now graduated and have come to help. Please pray that they grasp the teaching Dan and Tim are giving them. There is a Christian school in this village that has 800 students, K4-12th grade. It is about a mile down the hill from the church and that is where we will run the camp for about 300 kids in grades 7-10. We have walked down a couple of times to the school…and back up the hill.:) It is so fun to talk to the villagers along the way. The houses are mostly tin shacks but very tidy and the families are so eager to welcome visitors.
We are eating well. They try to feed us at every turn. Dan and I are enjoying any spices they give…Tim prefers no spices! One of our events today was going to the school to visit the classes that will not attend camp. It was AWESOME. I had the 4-6 year olds for about 10 minutes and taught them a song. They caught on very quickly and were absolutely adorable! Tim and Dan visited the 3rd-6th graders and taught them a special handshake and Dum Dum, Da Da. The kids loved it! Then all 800 were let out for a break and we were overwhelmed to say the least. We are so excited to be able to do camp for the older ones this Thursday-Saturday. They will come to school in the mornings for camp and then go home at 4:30 pm. It gets dark around 5:30 so everyone goes to their home/room as there is not much power in this area so everything is dark. This includes us. We have had a few times with power but mostly we use flashlights and candles. The sun comes up around 5 a.m. so we get up between 5-6 a.m. and get started! The nice thing about no power is that it makes you get to bed sooner and the early mornings are easy. The building where the guys are doing staff training does not have electricity so they try and get started as soon as possible to maximize daylight.
Our other “big’ event today was to attend a wedding reception. The couple got married at the church where we are staying and we were xpected to attend the reception which is put on for the whole village. The church seats are saved for the immediate family of the groom/bride and visitors from the bride’s village. Then the groom puts on a feast, in a field for ALL of the people in his village and wedding attendees. We went and congratulated the couple at the reception and were told they fed about 3,000+ people. Everyone must bring a gift such as money, meat, or rice. It was incredible to see so many huge baskets of rice and a wall of hanging pork heads, feet, etc.
The children came, all 300 of them, ready for a day of camp! I get to be a counselor because we needed another girl counselor. We all have about 25 campers each, but they are very well-behaved so “controlling” the masses is not difficult. They listened attentively during chapel and loved playing Big Ball and Three Ball. During free time, the barriers began to be broken down over Uno, Jenga, kickball, volleyball, checkers, and learning to toss the American football.
Report by Cherie Meals
Our last two days of camp were wonderful! The people are very shy and it was difficult to even get them to talk to us. After a few rowdy camp games and some delicious food, the barriers began to come down. I had one orphan tell me she wants to have personal devotions and also asked how to not be sad when she missed her parents. Even though there was a little trouble understanding each other, many of the campers were listening and gleaning from each service.
It is so hard not to bring all of them home with me but I know God has a purpose for them, here in India. As far as we know, there were about 25 professions for Christ and around 100 other decisions made. Today, Sunday we (Dan, Tim, the Chelli's, and I) all went to different churches in surrounding villages. It is such a unique feeling to be in a service on the other side of the world and realize these are believers just like us, worshipping their Lord the same way we do each week. After lunch the CA team and counselors went to the valley to see the rice fields and more cultural wonders than I could pen. It took 3 cars and about an hour to get our group down there. Tim, Dan, the driver, and I were in a car about the size of a Prius. Think about that.:) The valley belongs to the village and the people walk down these dirt roads to the fields and back home to work their family's plot of land. We had great views of the valley as we descended and one of the guys even had to run some water buffaloes off of the road for us to pass. There were children from Nepal who were herding/grazing cattle and had started a fire in the open field to keep warm as the night set in. After a few Prius breakdowns, we made it back to the church grounds and Mera (the missionary wife) took me visiting in some of the village homes. It was a humbling and wonderful experience to visit with people who have nothing and are so contented in the Lord. They all ask the same thing…that they would be faithful to God. What a blessing and testimony they have been to us!
I would be remiss in not mentioning the Chelli’s. They are the missionaries who live in Bangalore and have traveled NE to Manipur with us. They have spent this week visiting former graduates and speaking in schools/churches. This family is loved and adored wherever they goand are never without a gift for somebody. Their hospitality is unrivaled. There is not a detail missed or an un-thought of need! Pastor Chelli told the guys he searched for coffee for them while out preaching. I developed a nasty cough over the few days they were gone. Mera noticed the cough, found a store in the village, and bought me cough drops. She also gave me an outfit to wear that represented the area of the people where we would be attending Sunday church.
When Tim and I got to church, the people were so impressed that I was wearing their pattern. It was so appreciated. She truly “spies” others needs. God has been so good and we are humbled to have been a tiny part in HIS huge work. Thank you for your prayers and please continue to pray for the work here in India.
Report by Cherie Meals