Having recently spent a few months away from FBCN in India, we asked Cara to answer a few questions about her trip for the blog. She kindly obliged. Here is the interview…
How long were you in India?
I was in India almost four months. February to June.
What was your living situation like? What was your neighborhood like?
My living situation was unlike most short term volunteers in that I wasn’t in a hotel, hostel or even a single apartment. I lived with an older Indian Mom and…
her sixteen year old house helper. I had an Indian brother who lived on the ground floor but for the most part, it was just the three of us ladies. Her home was located in a compact little middle class Indian colony. The colony was bordered on two sides with Hindu temples. The best way I could describe it would be to describe houses the Disney movie Aladdin. I spent many mornings on the terrace upstairs that overlooked the colony. It was so great.
The Neighborhood was buzzing with little children running up and down the narrow alleyways, and all day the old women would gather and sit outside the temple to watch the residents come and go. Men on their motorcycles would quickly whiz by, avoiding the many obstacles. Each day that I would return home for dinner, the kids in my colony would all start yelling my name, “Cara Didi, Cara Didi!” (Didi meaning sister). They persuaded me fairly often to play games with them.
In what ways was India most different from America?
There are so many ways in which India differs from America. Everything from social structure to stop signs, things are just different. India is a very communal culture where everyone knows your name, and your business. The pursuit of solitude and silence in a daunting task but loneliness is hard to come by. Tradition runs very deep within the Indian culture and it shapes the very backbone of Indian life.
In what ways was it similar?
Despite its many differences, there are some things that India and America share. The importance of family is deep and therefore we both work hard to ensure happiness for our family. Whether in India or America, children seem to have the same understanding of pride and embarrassment. I learned that in the classroom during an English lesson in the slums.
What were some of the things you did on a consistent basis?
On a consistent basis, I spent a lot of my time in the East part of the city in a slum teaching English. I also had a few really great local girl friends and I spent a lot of time at their house or out in the city with them. We visited coffee shops pretty frequently to hang out and of course explored all of the markets in search of great shopping. I found a great local church that I attended pretty regularly and tried to bring new friends each week.
What did your typical day in India look like?
My days were all different but if I had to summarize I would have to describe a typical day like this: After waking up and enjoying my typical fried egg, toast and chai, I would start my long morning walk to meet up with two great families for morning devotions . After spending some time in the word and in prayer, I would gather up all of my material that I needed for English class and make my way out the door and down the street and attempt to hail down an auto rickshaw who would be willing to take me out to the East side for a reasonable fare. After some hard bargaining I would ride about an hour to teach about twenty five young students English at a Indian Pastors house. Usually we would wrap up the class by singing some songs, hearing bible stories or doing a craft. Once class was done, I would grab lunch and head back to the central part of the city. I usually did some communication work for the American professor that I worked with for a few hours each week. In the Evening, I tried to meet up with my friends either for dinner or coffee and then by eight I would be back in my colony for dinner at nine. I couldn’t sit too long through the Hindi soap operas that my family would watch at home so I made my way to bed after a while. But Like I said, everyday was different and filled with new adventures. Some days I would assist local leaders in a women’s group in a different slum area. Other days I would tell bible stories in my colony with the help of a translator. There was definitely no shortage of opportunities to no shortage of eager and excited hears to hear about Christ.
How is evangelism in India different than evangelism in America?
Telling others about the one true living God is easy in India. Spirituality is hardwired into their being which makes spiritual conversations incredibly easy to start. The obstacle however is that because most people are completely open to millions of gods and goddesses, they don’t see the beauty and importance of Christ as the only way to heaven. It was so easy to strike up a conversation which could lead to Christ and setting Him on display was always of utmost importance. A neat tool that I learned about half way into my trip to tell others about the Bible was through stories. Asia is a very oral culture and so telling Bible stories was so effective and so easy. Every conversation I had with someone led to a different Bible story.
What in/about America did you miss the most?
The things I missed the most about America felt so tiny in comparison to the excitement and worth of living in India. There were absolutely a ton of things that I missed about the States, but it was more important for me as really try to immerse myself in Indian culture. If I really had to pick something, I would probably have to say traffic signals.
What do you miss most about India now that you are back?
I miss Everything about India. Even looking back on the times where I was so uncomfortable or really fed up with the cultural norms, I miss it. I miss the fruit vendors that would wake me up every morning, the long, hot and chaotic walks and the insane driving of the auto rickshaws. I miss waking up to the smell of curry and garlic and then sweating every second of the day that I was outside. The thing I miss most, however, is the children in the slums. I miss loving on them and telling them that they are special and are created for a purpose.
What was the funniest/weirdest thing to happen to you in India?
The greatest thing that I was able to experience in India was attending a traditional Hindu wedding. This wasn’t just any wedding, with the guest list pushing 2,000 and the food stations topping 100, I would have to say that this wedding was pretty extravagant. An Indian friend of mine invited me to her good friends wedding and we had the greatest time. I borrowed one of her beautiful Indian sarrees to wear and we even had to go to the beauty parlor so they could help us put it on. It was a little overwhelming being the ONLY white person but the 20 dessert tables was enough to distract me. During the night, I was asked by a complete stranger if I wanted to marry his son. I kindly declined the offer but had a good laugh with my friends afterwards.
What advise would you give to someone getting ready to go on a short term trip to India?
My advice for someone getting ready to ship out to India would be to leave behind unnecessary baggage. Don’t bother to pack your expectations or your preconceived notions of what it will be like. Forget your comfort levels and your personal space. Take with you an open heart and Christ’s’ love. Be ready to love and to love deeper that your ever dreamed you could, but do so because Christ first loved us. Everything you ever knew about life will be rocked but it can be the greatest time of your life. You may go, but you will never come back the same.
Is there anything else you would like to say to the people of FBCN?
To my Norco family: Thank you so much for the continued love and prayers. It was so incredible having a church body to support me through every step of my journey. I really loved receiving the giant stack of encouragement cards, too. Seriously, I am so blessed to call you guys family. Thanks!