Bridge to India

Invest in a Student, Change a Generation

Reflections on the July 2013 Trip: Laura, Part 1

Laura, Ajay, Shashi, Sai Varun, Rahul

India, July 2013
Reflections on India
First a quick background on who I am. I am a wife of 21 years, a mom of two teenage girls; I work in my dream job as an event manager for the CEO of Bank of America, and travel frequently. The trip to India was my 52-57 flights since January 1, and my team at work describes me as a "Four Seasons Girl." So India was far from my comfort zone. On my list of countries to go, India doesn't even make the very long list. The only reason I went was to support my 16 year old daughter who has a heart for missions work and kids, and really wanted to experience Bridge to India.

My prayer in my journal on the way there was pretty simple. 7-12-13
On the flight to London I am a little overwhelmed.
First of all, I feel great! Thank you Lord!
Secondly, we are packed and on our way. Thank you Lord!
I got to talk to Katie after her Missions Week in Atlanta - thank you God!
I asked the student next to Abbey to move so we have a full row on the plane to ourselves - Thank you God!
I am physically ready. For what? For God to use me. Why? No clue!
I am going to be vulnerable and just see what He has planned.

Hyderabad Arrival
The travel was easy for me due to how frequently I travel, but I don't think anyone can be fully prepared for 36 hours of flights, airports and waiting gates. But upon arrival at the airport in Hyderabad Caleb and his team greeted us with huge floral leis. I learned within 10 minutes of leaving the airport that the trickiest, scariest part of the trip was going to be the ground travel. Hyderabad and Secunderabad are like Indy Road Races. You drive as fast as you can. There are rarely speed limits. Vans dodge people sweeping or living on the street, motorcycles weaving in and out often times with 4-5 people on them including infants, rickshaws with what seems like full families of 13 aboard and other cars and trucks. Then you dodge animals - dogs, cows and monkeys (yes, in the street). You pass anything in front of you and play chicken with the cars coming the opposite direction. Every drive had multiple gasps and often a few screams.

My prayer in my journal 7-14-13
Thank you God for smiling as I take this step in faith with my beloved daughter. Lord, let my heart and mind be attuned to your Holy Spirit's guidance.

Sunday Service in a Village
We traveled to Pastor Joseph's church. The travel there included highways, country roads, dirt roads and trails. I made a note in my journal - NEVER Drive In India!

We arrived tired and weary. But we were welcomed like royalty. The service was in Telugu. It started with about 30 people - women on the right; men on the left. By the end at least 25 more people had joined. Although we didn't speak the same language and not everything was translated - we all worshipped The Lord together. Through song, scriptures, and prayers - you felt God's presence.
Joseph is a wonderful man! His wife Rachel died 1.5 years ago of Dengue Fever. He was crushed and was left with 2 little boys. Caleb arranged for Joseph to be remarried to Rachel's sister Esther. Normally girls are married off by age 14. But Esther hadn't been married. So Caleb arranged for Joseph to marry Esther. 80-90% of marriages in India are pre-arranged.

My prayer at the end of the night 7-14-13
Lord, you have blessed us so much! I take much for granted. THEY were privileged to eat what we wouldn't. They piled our leftovers up and ate them happily. I am such a snob and ungrateful. Lord, forgive me. Help me to see your blessings around me. To not take you or anything you provide for granted. And to know that I am NOT above them. We are equal in your eyes. Thank you for this opportunity with my daughter. I love you. Thank you for teaching me that Hallelujah transcends languages. 

Arrival at the StoneBridge School
My prayer before we left The Solitaire Hotel
Please Lord let us see the simplicity around us and see how powerful simplicity can be.

Nothing can prepare you for what to expect upon arrival to the school. The Pfeiffer clan was so excited that it bubbled over to us. Kristen could hardly sit still she was so excited. As we drove up the children were lined up creating a wall of kids. The band was playing and we walked down the middle of the kids as celebrities. We took seats of honor on the stage as dignitaries.

Now I do elaborate events in my job all the time. I have prepared for Presidential and CEO visits and I am a certified Protocol Officer with the Protocol School of Washington. But I have never been the
dignitary. It truly stuck me that the kids and teachers were honoring our team for coming. Never in a million years would I have expected that. We were there to serve them; we were there to love and encourage them; we were there to work, hand out shoes, update files, paint, plant trees and lead chapel. They are the ones we are there to serve. Somehow we ended up on stage being showered with leis, songs, dances and wonderful words of thanks. (Um, we hadn't done anything yet except arrive. But okay - we rolled with it.) Abbey and I got the privilege to "pin" a leader at the school. What a precious and amazing gift!

After the Ceremony
After being completely overwhelmed by the love and affection from the kids, it was time to get to know them. Lunch was prepared and we got to eat with the kids. As we entered the cafeteria, kids from ages 6 to 17 were raising their hand, yelling to sit with them and shuffling each other around to make open seats. They didn't even know me, yet they all wanted to sit with me. So I picked a group of seventh grade girls and sat down, feeling very humble.

Lunch was served. One of many lunches that consists of white rice, some sort of red/green/orange very spicy sauce, and a meat or vegetable. This offering was mutton. Now I have never eaten mutton. I'm not sure it is even a real meat. I always thought it was the leftover of whatever meat was being served - maybe some squirrel, parts of a chicken I couldn't classify or some bird species. But this lunch was mutton - the kids were eating it, so I was eating it. Only they were eating with their right hand. No silverware. I was prepared, for I had gone to three stores back home before finding sporks (spell-check can't figure out what a sport is either; but you know, the half spoon, half fork you get at fast food restaurants or church picnics). With spork in hand I started to eat.

A very spunky girl named Pooja, who very quickly stole my heart, started laughing at me. Not wanting to be the outsider, I put my spork down and started eating with my hands. Now picture this... I used three fingers, got a few pieces of the rice mixed with the red sauce and proceeded to bend over, tilt my head, and drop the rice in my mouth. This caused the girls within a 10 foot radius of me to burst out laughing. Protocol School had not taught me how to eat saucy, drippy rice with my hands. Pooja quickly jumped in and instructed that I was to use all 5 fingers. Smear the rice and sauce mixture around my plate until it was almost a ball shape, and then keep my head straight and use my thumb to flick the food into my mouth. And all 5 fingers go into your mouth with the ball of food. I can say that by day 5, I had that down. But it took 5 long days to figure it out. And the best meal I had there was a chicken dish that I later learned was cauliflower!

Background on the School
Let me spend a few minutes on what this school is. In India they still have a caste system with 4 castes - the Priests, Warriors, Merchants and Daily Laborers. Although it is illegal, it still very much exists. Below the lowest caste if Daily Labors, are the Untouchable Caste. The Untouchables are exactly what they sound like - they are the ones unworthy of looking in the eye, unworthy of touching and will never "be" someone. Caleb Rayapati decided years ago that he wanted to build a school for Untouchable kids. Absolutely unheard of and quite brazen. After many prayers, many discussions and research God connected Caleb and StoneBridge Church to create The Vijayalaxmi Memorial StoneBridge School in the Telangana region of India. The kids who have come to the school are there for 10 months of the year. Summer break is April and May when the temperature is often in the 110-degree range. These kids come from all types of backgrounds. Some are orphans. Some have one parent because that parent killed the other parent. Every one of them has witnessed terrible tragedy. But through this school they will receive an education. A safe home, running water, clothing, shoes, food and most importantly, are introduced to Christ.

The children are not used to being loved. So when we arrived every student stuck out their hand for a handshake. They had been taught at the school that it was okay to touch hands. That a proper greeting was a handshake. Somehow those handshakes lasted longer and longer as the week went on, and very quickly morphed into thumb wars. I think I played over 500 games of thumb war that week. On Monday that week, the closest touch I had to them was a handshake or thumb war. But that would change drastically as the week went by.

Stay tuned for Part Two coming soon!