Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It Lets You Hope

Also posted on the IPP Blog.

Sitting in the lobby of our Mumbai hotel last week, I picked up a magazine to thumb through as we waited to depart for an afternoon of fabric shopping for upcoming lines of Punjammies.

The magazine fell open to a double page spread advertisement for Dove shampoo. The only text on the page was this phrase in bold white letters: “It Lets You Hope.”

As I stared at the phrase on the magazine page, I couldn’t help but wonder what it is about Indian culture that would make the promise of hope an appealing ad campaign. Even among the more affluent Indian women who are reading magazines and buying Dove shampoo, are the longings for hope so deep that even advertisers are trying to harness that power?

I do know that the need for lasting hope lies at the root of every human heart. Judging simply by the things I witnessed with my own eyes in India over the past two weeks, this is a country where millions of women are moving through life without a shred of that basic human need. And that knowledge alone gives me a renewed zeal to fight with any resource I have available to introduce real and lasting hope to women in India.

The good news: I saw that genuine hope reflected back to me from the eyes of the ladies working with International Princess Project and other similar organizations in India. There is real transformation happening. And that is a brand of hope all its own.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

We interrupt India posts briefly...

.... because this conversation in the car with Maximus tonight when we were listening to a CD reminded me about something I've been meaning to post on the blog:

Me: Max, when you asked your dad what the word 'creation' meant, was it because you heard this song playing on the CD? (The lyrics were, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...")
Max: Yes.
Me: So did you understand that when we believe in Jesus, God makes us into a new creation?
Max: But why does He make us a new creation?
Me: Well, before we believe in Jesus, everything about us is sinful. All of our thoughts and attitudes and actions are not pleasing to God. But when we believe in Jesus, He forgives our sins and we are a new creation. For the first time, we are able to be friends with God.
Max: But why did He die for us while we were His enemies?
Me: Because He loved us so much, that He wanted to make a way for us to be friends with God since we could never do it on our own. That's the Gospel.
Max: What's "The Gospel"?
Me: It's the good news about all that Jesus has done for us.

These are the types of conversations we have in our car virtually every day right now. Why? Seeds Family Worship. My friend Anna told me about these CDs, and they have been AWESOME for bringing God's word into every part of daily life for our little family. These CDs are well-produced, and all the songs are straight scripture set to music.

I can't tell you how many questions this music has prompted Max and Maggie to ask or how much scripture they have memorized in the few short weeks we've been listening to these CDs. Especially for Max, it's been really incredible to see him stitching together spiritual principles from different verses and songs. The kids love the music and sing right along word-for-word from their car seats. We've loved it so much, I thought I'd pass the tip along to all of you- I'm so glad Anna told us about it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Home Sweet Home

After 36 hours of travel, I arrived at our sleepy little Northwest Arkansas airport. I have never been so happy to see my sweet husband. And the reunion with my two little ones was like water to my soul.

Back at home, my bed is softer, the shower hotter, the food yummier and the streets cleaner than I remembered. All these comforts and a thousand more welcomed me back home. And even though I am enjoying and thankful for all of these pleasant things in my life, each one reminds me of the people I met in India who are still in the midst of hardship even as I am enjoying my comfortable life.

I crawl into my soft and waiting bed, and I see the small child curled up with his mother, sleeping on the street; the fabric of her sari pulled up over his head to shield his face from the noise and dust of the Kolkata night air.

I raise my fork to my mouth, and I remember the children begging from car window to car window as we wait for traffic to pass. I wonder if those children even get the money they are begging for, or if there is someone waiting for them at "home" with an open hand to confiscate all they have received.

I throw a load of laundry into my washing machine, and I picture the women in the river, slapping their clothes against rocks to get them clean.

I take a long, hot shower, and I remember the dozens of men, women and children I saw lathering up with soap in the street. And then I'm humbled when I think of the new friends in their Kolkata home, showering with a bucket and a faucet of cold water so that they can be present in a dark place to spread the love of Christ.

I'm seeing my life in America through a new set of lenses these days. I'm thankful for all I have received, and I know I haven't done anything to deserve the easy life I've been handed. Even though it is so nice to be home, I'm wrestling with reconciling all my eyes have seen in the past two weeks with my plush life in America.

Many more posts to come. I have pictures to show and stories to tell! But for tonight, I'm snuggling up with my little family, enjoying their company and trying to overcome jet lag.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


For the past three and a half days, we've been in Kolkata (Calcutta). It has by far been the most intense part of our trip. I'm going to have to wait until I get home to tell you about the things I have seen with my own eyes here in Kolkata. It's not pretty. But God is powerful and loving, and He who is in us is greater than he who is in this world.

In a couple of hours we will be heading to the airport to begin the lengthy trek home. I'm beyond excited to see my husband and children. I'm not quite sure how to process all I've seen and done here. I suspect it's going to take me quite a bit of time to grapple with it all.

Now that I've seen it, I am responsible for what I do with that. I will definitely be seeking the Lord to see what my part looks like.

Farewell until I see you back on the other side of Planet Earth!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bless this Home

On our second day in Andhra Pradesh, we also had the privilege of participated in the dedication of Suresh and Christina's new home on the Harvest India campus.

This was really emotionally moving to me. Suresh and Christina are currently living in a fairly large four-story home two miles from the Harvest India campus. This is the house where they also host lots of short-term mission teams, so it's set up for western hospitality. Even though they were comfortable in their home there, they really felt a burden to live closer to the orphan home so that they can have more day-to-day interaction with the the orphans who need a mommy and daddy close by. So they are moving into a humble two-room home just up the lane from the orphan home. It was an honor to pray a prayer of blessing over their new home– I know it is a place that will be filled with laughter and love.

This is their new kitchen.

Sitting in one of the two rooms with a bunch of children from the orphan home. These kids were trying to teach me how to speak a few phrases in their local language, telugu. They got a kick out of me butchering the language. :-)

Within just a few minutes of the home dedication, they built this open fire in their new living room to warm up lunch for about 50 people.

Ashraya Sewing Center

On our second full day in Andhra Pradesh (the more rural area where we were visiting), we got to go for a short visit to the International Princess Project sewing center in the Ashraya house of the Harvest India campus. After hearing so much about IPP over the past two years, it was incredible to finally see it with my own eyes.

We got to witness Kelsea (the IPP sewing trainer and consultant) in her element as she evaluated the production system and quality checked the punjammies the women had made and trained them on some minor changes. It was really beautiful to witness the personal relationship that Kelsea has developed with the women and see how they loved her, trusted her and were working together as a team to accomplish this production goal. The personal dignity and confidence in these beautiful women
seemed to be growing before our very eyes. They are doing such magnificent work!

I'm going to post a lot of pictures of our first day at Ashraya! This is IPP in action:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fear and Hope

I'm writing for the International Princess Project blog, one of reasons I came on this trip. It's been awesome to see how God used Pioneer Woman's post to drive thousands and thousands of new visitors to the IPP site at the exact time that we are on this trip and I'm posting new content to the site. Praise the Lord! He is working in incredible ways to get the word out about His work with IPP! The following post was originally posted on the IPP blog:

"There's nothing to be afraid of," IPP sewing trainer Kelsea said gently as she moved closer to take Lakshmi's* hand. Lakshmi pulled the fabric of her sari around her, trying to cover the acid burns that ran down the length of her arm.

We were sitting in the upstairs room of an Indian home, inviting Lakshmi to come live at Ashraya and learn to sew with International Princess Project. But she was afraid. Unfortunately, Lakshmi's life is not an isolated case. Thousands of other Indian women are also trapped in terrible situations; Used. Abused. Hopeless. Terrified.

We sat with Lakshmi, gently addressing each of her fears and telling her that Ashraya was a safe place– a place of love and hope. Two current residents at Ashraya also sat near her. With tears running down their faces, they told her about their life at Ashraya and implored Lakshmi to join them.

"There are many women in India who have the same problems as you," Kelsea said, looking Lakshmi in the eyes. "There's nothing to be ashamed of."

As Kelsea sat there holding Lakshmi's hands, we all breathed in the same thick Indian air and Lakshmi wrestled between fear and hope.

*Name has been changed.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Celebration of Learning

Last night was a huge night of celebration at Harvest India. We celebrated the 19th graduation ceremony of the Harvest Vision Centers, the Bible colleges run by Harvest India. From the moment we arrived here on Wednesday, it was obvious that the graduation ceremony was going to be a big deal. Even though Laura had brought two saris for us to wear, Christina said that we would need new saris for such a special occasion. So within an hour of our arrival at her home, she had a tailor here to take our measurements so that she could have these beautiful saris tailored for us in time for the graduation ceremony the following night:

When we arrived on the campus of Harvest India, there were signs and banners and twinkle lights everywhere. The walkways were lined with green reeds for walking on. IPP sewing trainer Kelsea had arrived just in time for the graduation, and Christina had a new sari waiting for her as well (she's the gal in the purple below. The two little girls below are in their fanciest Indian dresses. They are Nancy and Vasanti, Suresh and Christina's daughter and foster daughter and the princesses of Harvest India!).

At the end of the walkway, we met up with all the graduates, beaming with pride as they lined up for the processional into the graduation ceremony. We were all given academic regalia to wear and we led the graduates into the ceremony right behind team of RockHarbor pastors. The beautiful saris were under our regalia the entire night, which seemed odd to me after they had gone to all the trouble to have new saris tailored. It was a bit warm in the saris and graduation gowns as well. Just a bit. :-)

The ceremony was long and celebratory, and included things like a huge Bollywood-style song and dance number to the song "Heal the World" by the children at the orphan home. There are just no words to describe how over-the-top this production was. I'll just toss out a few descriptors: Costumes. Sequins, Confetti. Banners. Dancers. Michael Jackson impersonator. Fireworks. It left us absolutely speechless.

After the song, we were ushered up to the stage where we presented the graduates with their diplomas. Reverend Suresh pulled a quick one on Laura when he asked her to give an impromptu speech/blessing to the graduates and the 1,000 people in attendance at the ceremony using an interpreter. Laura is one talented gal. She gave the most beautiful and moving blessing to these Bible College graduates who are being sent out to remote Hindu villages to preach the Gospel.

At the end of the night, all the graduates and children were milling around, and we were meeting them and offering them our congratulations. It was such a joyous night. This sweet little girl from the orphan home came up and asked me if I would be her mommy. She didn't leave my side the rest of the night until I had to get in the van to leave. She was precious.

Laura has told me about these types of experiences on her previous trips to India; about the fanfare and the impromptu speaking and the welcoming and honoring of westerners that really feels over-the-top.

After last night's, graduation ceremony, I'm starting to get it. It's awkward and a little absurd, but for some reason the Indian nationals here really love it when we participate in the celebrations in such a formal role. Even though it's a little embarrassing and I want to communicate an attitude of humility, I am beginning to see that all of this fanfare is somehow a way that these men and women receive love. And if they truly feel loved by me standing in academic regalia and handing them their diploma, I'm more than willing to do that!

Punjammies on The Pioneer Woman!

Yesterday, while all the way around the globe in India, Laura and I received the most wonderful surprise! The Pioneer Woman posted about Punjammies on her fabulously popular site! Click here to see her post and beautiful photos of the Punjammies. It's amazing that while I am here in India meeting the women who are learning to sew with IPP and seeing how the Punjammies project is really impacting their lives, people back in the states are catching a glimpse of the vision as well!

We're thrilled that such a talented blogger is helping get the word out about International Princess Project. Thank you, Pioneer Woman!

Harvest India

Laura and I are now in a more rural area of India with Harvest India, a large ministry here that partners with IPP. If you want to know how rural this is compared to the huge city of Mumbai where we came from last, just check out the local airport:

After we flew into this airport on a jet-prop plane, we took a car another hour and a half out of the airport's town to get to the home of Suresh and Christina. Suresh is the head pastor of a ministry called Harvest India. They are doing so much work to spread the gospel here, it's almost hard to even keep track of all of it: an orphan home, medical clinic, AIDS/HIV relief, a leper community, six Bible colleges, a home for women who are rescued or escaped from forced prositution (this is Ashraya Home that IPP works with!), a medical clinic to help prostitutes in the red light district, and other ministries that I don't even know about, I'm sure. They are truly ministering to the poorest of the poor and reaching some of the least privileged people on the planet with the hope of the Gospel.

Suresh and Christina are the type of people who immediately draw you in with their warmth and their joy, and their love for the Lord is never more than a few words away in any given conversation. This is the busiest week of the year at Harvest India, as they are hosting a huge youth conference, pastor's conference and graduation from Harvest India's Bible colleges (more on all of this later!). Even with so much going on, they welcomed us as family with open arms. Their amazing family includes their three children, 19 foster children (really!), an orphaned 6-year-old girl they've basically adopted when both her parents died a few months ago, and scores of other Indians and Americans who are here helping with all of the various ministries of Harvest India. We found out after we went to sleep in our comfortable room last night, that over 40 people slept in their home last night. They are hospitality personified. I am learning so much just from watching them minister in their home and in their community.

This morning we were ushered into a bus that took us down the road to Harvest India's Mercy Medical Clinic. Hundreds of children were lined up, seated on the ground in long rows, waiting for our arrival. A few of the children were selected to greet us with the gift of flowers. We are here for a couple of days with a team of pastors from ROCKHARBOR church in Southern California.

We are here for a couple of days with a team of pastors from ROCKHARBOR church in Southern California. One of the pastors gave a short translated message to the children, telling them that we are here in the name of Jesus Christ, and the Jesus loved all children and told the adults to let all the little children come to Him. Then we handed out one egg, one banana and one piece of bread to each child. They beamed back at us with huge grins that seemed even brighter against their beautiful dark skin.

Tomorrow we will be at the Ashraya home doing some training and meeting with the girls who are sewing with IPP. I can't wait to see IPP in action and meet these girls!

Before I go, I'll leave you with this one sweet picture from yesterday:

Nancy, Suresh and Christina's 3-year-old daughter, LOVES Laura's red hair. As soon as we arrived yesterday, she came up to Laura, plopped her thumb in her mouth and started rubbing a strand of Laura's hair in her other hand. She removed her thumb just long enough to tell us that Laura's hair is her "silky." What a little sweetie!

Monday, March 15, 2010

From the Other Side of Planet Earth

Hello from the other side of planet Earth! It's been interesting to try to explain to my toddlers where I am and what I am doing on this trip to India with International Princess Project. Max best understands this when I tell him that I'm flying on an airplane to go to the other side of planet Earth.

For the past three days, Laura and I have been in Mumbai (Bombay), a city with a population of about 14 million people. The sheer number of people in India has been a bit staggering. The population of the entire country is 1.3 billion. That number didn't mean much to me until someone offered this perspective: The US has a population of about 300 million. So add A BILLION people to that (remember, one billion is one thousand times one million!) and put them all in the land mass of an area roughly 1/3 the size of America. I can't even begin to describe just how many people there are everywhere.

During our days in the city, we've been busy with IPP business: a trip to the fabric district to pick out samples for future Punjammie styles, several meetings with other organizations doing important related work in Mumbai, a visit to two aftercare homes for Indian girls who have been rescued from forced prostitution, and debriefing and taking notes on the meetings and interactions we've had here on the ground in India.

When I return home, I'm planning to spend some significant time writing and blogging about all the details of our time in India. While we are here, there's simply not time to emotionally process, much less write about, all the things I'm seeing and experiencing. But while we are on the trip and when I can get a decent Internet connection, I'm hoping to keep you all updated about at least some of the basic facts of what we're doing. In the weeks to come, be watching for more in-depth posts about all that God is doing in this amazing country.

Very soon we'll be moving on to our next leg of the trip: several days spent in a quite rural area of India visiting one of the IPP sewing centers. More to come, friends!

This is a photo of Laura and I in a tiny little auto rickshaw, riding around this huge city.
The driving here is like nothing I've ever experienced. Absolute chaos, but somehow it works!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Difficult Step

Dearest friends, please pray for my family tonight. My mom got back her PET scan results from yesterday, and the news is not good. I'll let Dad and Mom share the details on their blog, but the basic gist is that her very aggressive brand of cancer is showing quick progression once again, with three new large lesions on her liver. We know that each time we get a report on her health, whether good or bad, it does not change the number of days God has ordained for her. Still, this is tough news. Dad and Mom will meet with their oncologist on Tuesday to get details, discuss options, and make a plan. Please pray for peace and wisdom as they take this next step, and of course please continue to pray for her healing if it is God's will. I wholeheartedly believe that this could be simply another opportunity for God to show His awesome power and glory in her life, as we have seen Him do so many times over the past two years!

Many of you know about the adventure I am about to embark on. I know the timing of all of this is in no way a surprise to God, so I am choosing to focus on the things I DO know in the midst of many unknowns: I know that my upcoming plans are something that God wants me to do and has provided for me to do, and I know that God is taking the very best care of my mom and doesn't need my help to do so. God has given me enough grace to keep my eyes focussed on the exciting task I have set before me for the next couple weeks. As I have learned from my parents, I'm going to do my best to just take things one day at a time and trust God with all the tomorrows.

Thank you for your prayers for me and all of my family!

Friday, March 05, 2010

This is one Super Mom

Just had to take two seconds this morning to post this picture: visual proof of what we all know about Chris Matchell's crazy good kid-wrangling skills:

We had a super fun couple of hours yesterday doing a little photo shoot with the Matchell kids and then playing outside on a gorgeous day. I have to agree with Maggie's assessment of this family yesterday:

"I love Anna. I love Jakin. He THE BEST!" That's basically the way we feel about all this whole family.

On another note, If we come to your mind today, please pray for our little family. We have had such a tough time staying well for the past couple weeks! Lucas has been really sick for the past couple days, and I have been struggling with a terrible cough. I'm leading worship at the SCCC women's conference tomorrow, and I would really appreciate your prayers that I will have enough singing voice to do it, and that Lucas will feel well enough to keep the kids all day so I can be at the conference! I have been praying, and I've asked a lot of other people to be praying for this, so I know God is going to take care of all of it!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Meeting the new Cousin

On Friday, I took the kids up to the hospital (or "hostible" as Max calls it) to see Roman for the first time. Kids under 12 aren't allowed in the labor and delivery wing because of RSV risks, but they were allowed to look at him through the windows of the nursery. Tyler brought Roman down to the nursery so they could see him. I wish I had a video of this- Max and Maggie were leaping up and down; they could not contain their excitement!

On Sunday, Mitch and Steph were able to come over from Owasso. We weren't able to get a pic of the whole family, but all 14 of us were there at Tyler and Meagan's to welcome Roman. It felt so good to have the whole family there together! We did manage to get a picture of Dad and Mom with all six of the grandkids!

Lucas and I holding Roman for the first time:

It is just so exciting to have a new baby in the family! Later this week, we are hoping to do a full newborn photo shoot of baby Roman, so stay tuned for some more newborn sweetness!