During the 10 weeks I spent overseas, I saw two very different parts of India. Both were eye-opening experiences and were a great contrast to anything I had been witness to before.
While our main destination was in a city called Darjeeling, at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, we stayed in Kolkata for the first week. Kolkata has a population of over 15 million people and is a bustling city of vehicles, animals and people at most hours of the day.
The size and noise of the city was a stark contrast to the quiet life I had lived, growing up on a farm outside a town of only 10,000 people. It was an experience like George's from the movie 'George in the Jungle' when George went from the jungle to the city. For me it was from a small town in which most people knew me or someone in my family to a city of constantly honking horns, market places filled with people yelling for business and the general throng of people walking or living on the dirty streets.
During this first week, we wanted to adjust as a team, and do some type of ministry we would not be likely to be involved in during the rest of our time. My group volunteered at the Mother Teresa House, and the team divided into smaller groups so we could be part of the different areas of need. I helped out at a centre for disabled children.
My responsibilities included feeding the children, changing their nappies and cleaning. I heard afterwards the full time workers generally don't need the assistance but welcome visitors because of the impact it will have on the visitors' lives. The poor standard of the facilities at these homes and the lack of adequate health care is evident, yet the reality of how these people are blessed was apparent when we walked along some of the streets and saw people attempting to live in a single room made of cardboard or lying on the street in a way that seemed they were either very sick or deceased.
Apart from the few days we volunteered at the Mother Teresa Homes we explored some other parts of the city and I randomly joined a group of high school students in a game of cricket. We experienced both great hospitality and harassment from the locals, but at the end of the week when we headed to Darjeeling, we had a greater understanding of the Indian culture and had developed a love for the people.
Our trip from Kolkata to Darjeeling took us 12 hours by train and three hours riding in a jeep. I think that, with each hour the temperature decreased from the 20's in Kolkata to zero degrees Celsius in Darjeeling. We spent the remainder of our time in Darjeeling working with a small team of missionaries from around the world who had begun a longer term project in the area.
During our time there, we took Nepali language lessons to help us speak with the locals, ran two discipleship programs for the locals, helped organise and run a city-wide youth prayer event, did house-to house-evangelism, spoke at churches and travelled to surrounding areas for ministry.
There were a couple of highlights for me personally during our time here were: the chance to play cricket with a local team, and witnessing some of the local youth beginning to step into ministry. This game of cricket was special because I was able to use my gifts and interests to reach people of different religions, cultures and languages.
Their cricket team welcomed me wholeheartedly. It was ironic that we were wearing a uniform of green and gold, the Australian colours, being in India and my being Australian! The pitch conditions were not of the standard I was used to and due to the geographical positioning of the city we were greatly restricted by a cliff going up in one direction and dropping down in another. This cricket game remains an unforgettable experience, however, and one I would love to have again if I ever have the chance to return to Darjeeling.
Seeing the local youth become more involved in ministry was very satisfying in a different way, because I felt our missionary team was able to encourage this group of young people to continue ministry after we left. While our stay in India was short and sometimes restricted because of our lack of local language, these young people we were training to be disciples had a complete grasp on the language and culture and called Darjeeling home.
The difference in these Indian Christians from the time we first met them until we left was remarkable and hopeful. When we originally came, the youth were shy, both of us and of doing ministry; but at the end they were joking with us and taking the lead within the mission work.
After our return to Australia the team members went their separate ways and are now spread around the world. Writing this has brought back many fond memories of the time in India, many more than I was able to write here. It is an experience I am very blessed to have been part of and one I would encourage all Christians to take.
A short term cross-cultural mission trip is an eye opening experience that will change your life as well as others in ways you may not expect. Beyond just the impact you can make in the lives of people that you reach, during a mission trip, you will impact those at home through the stories you tell, the change of view you may have of the world and the growth you experience as you step into a different 'world'.