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!