This is going to be a very interesting message. We are all packed in the 8-passenger van, with our trusted and capable driver Igbol. I’m sandwiched between Doug and Rev. Glory in the middle seat as I’m typing this.
Yesterday we started the day very early. We all attended the 6:00 am morning devotional. Paul shared about his growing up in Chicago and his troubled youth. His very devoted mother realized that he needed some help and brought him to church. He hated going to church, until one day his caring Sunday School teacher, with only a simple education, asked him a simple question. Is Jesus in your heart? Paul realized that Christ wasn’t in his heart, and that opened the door for this man to teach him about Jesus. It was providential that Paul shared his testimony this morning, as he was able to share his testimony in our future meetings later during the day.
Cathy wasn’t feeling quite right so remained home. She missed an extraordinary day. We set out for the city of Coimbatore, a 4-hour drive away. Salem has about 3.5 million people and Coimbatore has over 8 million people. This is a large textile district and many of the clothes that are made in India come from this area.
We arrived around 11:00 at the juvenile facility. It was located on the main street and we could look out on the streets from the open areas. At any one time this juvenile facility holds about 60 children. There were 28 boys and 7 girls at the facility, this day. All of these children had been picked up at least 5 times for offenses ranging from pick-pockets, prostitution, and drugs. Three little boys in the front row we found out were brothers and the youngest kept looking at me with tears in his eyes and apparently kept saying, “I want to go home!” We were so pleased when we finally saw some a smile on his face after he made a butterfly.
Pastor Ebi, his mother, and his father did an amazing job of opening doors and creating this special opportunity for us to visit the juvenile facility. We have not been allowed to go into any prisons so far and probably won’t be allowed in. Even Bishop Christian’s wife in Delhi said she is only allowed to visit in a prison for about 15 minutes sometime on Christmas Day afternoon. Even then, she is not allowed to talk about Christ. About 6 years ago, it was far more common for Christian ministry to happen in a prison. Now it is difficult to get in the prisons, and I’m sure they don’t want foreigners in the prisons. That made this visit to the juvenile facility even more special.
To enter the facility we entered through a metal padlocked gate and we stepped down about 10 inches into a covered courtyard where all the juveniles were seated on bamboo mats. It was a rectangular space about 40 x 60 feet. There were palm branches over the chicken wire and barbed wire “roof”. A 3 foot chalk board was presented to the officials as a gift to this facility on behalf of Wings. I think the idea of us presenting a gift helped open the minds of the officials to our visit.
We shared the vision of Wings and that we were there to bring the good news to them. We sang with them, and as everywhere we go, singing is the universal language and gets everyone into a happy spirit right away. The officials also quickly joined in with our actions of the songs.
We next wanted to play games with them. So even in the small courtyard area, we brought out balloons and had a relay game. We divided the boys into 3 groups and the girls were in the 4th group. Boys/men and girls/women are usually separated and sit on opposite sides of the churches/pews/area, so we are trying very hard to honor their culture. The girls were the winners of the relay, under Rita’s enthusiastic leadership! Everyone was laughing and I couldn’t help but think that we had probably brought some of the first laughs to these children within their confinement.
We next went to meet with some of the top dignitaries in the region. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the top leader was a Christian, and he cordially welcomed us into his office. He showed us the long, narrow “docket” – file for each offender, and said that when a final decision was made regarding the case, it was written in green ink. We took official photographs and went back to the confined area to be with the juveniles again.
A special feast was prepared for each of the inmates on behalf of Wings. 4 x 6” “box lunches” were catered in for each youth, the staff and for us too. The lunch consisted of curried rice and vegetables, spiced cooked onions, and a special ½ inch x 2 inch long sweet treat called myso, which was made out of vegetables and flour. The REAL treat of the meal however was the “Dixie cup” ice cream! For the majority of the children it was their first taste of ice cream and you can’t imagine the smiles! It gave us all such pleasure to bring such joy.
Everyone, including all the officials, made butterflies. They all were so proud of their beautiful creations. When Paul shared with them his troubled youth, every eye was on him. He made a powerful impression on them, I’m sure. His calling to ministry and chaplaincy work hopefully will give hope to each of the young people.
We next drove to a home that at first we thought was a girl’s reform school, but we found out after visiting that it is a home for girls who were formally arrested and when they were to be released, no one was there to receive them home. Many of the girls also had parents who had been incarcerated. This home was opened by a Hindu woman in 1967. She is now 94 years old and came from the wealthiest family in the city. Her late husband was a doctor. She took her money to build and open this home, and is very beloved. We were honored to have her granddaughter join us for their special reception for us. We found out later that she has become a Christian. The staff at the school is basically Hindu, but the girls sang a Christian
song for us, so they must be getting some of the influence of the Christian granddaughter.
At least 120 girls were packed into a room no larger than 15 x 30 feet. They were all smiles for us. They greeted us with handmade beaded garlands made of small colored beads and powdered sandalwood. We sang, made butterflies, Paul shared his testimony, and Wings again provided a very special treat for everyone. They were given pastries filled with curried
vegetables, the same Myso sweet treat, and again the ice cream. The girls were so polite, shared with one another, and were the most enthusiastic singers! Once we finished the program, the girls then basically just swarmed each of us. Everyone felt like they were movie stars! We ladies walked to the van and found Doug and Paul surrounded by all the girls. They couldn’t have been more excited. I tried to walk and suddenly the girls were pinching my cheeks and holding onto my arms. It was as if they didn’t want us to leave.
At one point Rita was surrounded by at least 30 girls and they asked her to dance. She did a quick “jig” for them and they loved it!
The entire day was so delightful and full of indelible memories. We did a non-stop 4-hour drive home so were very thankful to get home to another delicious, home cooked dinner by Pretika.