Half the World Away
Bursting with life, overflowing with colour, eternally rich in smell and ever booming with the noise of 20 million people living in harmony. Kolkata has given us quite the welcome.
Since arriving here in the morning of Saturday 12th October, we have slowly started getting used to having our senses attacked from all angles anytime we set foot outside. For our first taste of Kolkata we were warmly greeted at the airport by our supervisor Anu – the noise of horns beeping from the taxi rank outside provided the perfect backdrop for our welcome to this wonderfully crazy city. We were then put into 2 cars – Zoe and Naomi were driven to the BMS Guesthouse by Francis; Tom and Lewis were driven by the incredibly friendly and extremely enthusiastic Raj. His personality is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the city itself and he has become a good friend to the 4 of us.
Church Life – First Glimpses:
Our first proper experience of Kolkata came the morning after we arrived. With Anu, we took the short walk to the Assembly of God church for the 9.30 English service (one of eight languages the church has services in). We weren’t sure what to expect, but when the 22-piece worship band started playing the familiar songs of Housefires and Chris Tomlin we were inspired. Jet lagged from our 5,500 miles of travelling and still engulfed in the early stages of culture shock, it was awesome to feel at home and see God being praised so passionately such a long way from home.
This church does Sunday evening services each week which we will be attending regularly.
We decided to visit a few different churches before deciding on which one we will be regularly attending. So the following Sunday we visited the church next door to the guesthouse. This was a more traditional baptist church. We were made to feel extremely welcome at this church by the entire congregation (which was around 60 people) and once again the sermon and most of the worship songs were in English. We will continue to try a few more churches but we all enjoyed our time there so this could become the regular Sunday morning service we attend.
Our main role so far is within a school for children from the bustees (slum housing and streets) called Good News Children’s Education Mission. From Monday to Friday we get on the bus with the kids – usually around 60 children (aged 3-11) come each day. The bus is built to seat around 30 people so it does get warm on the bus! We teach maths and English to the kids in different age groups as well as telling a story (which gets translated by the teachers there) and singing songs.
We were royally put on the spot on our first day at the school. We stood in front of the kids deciding who’s version of actions for “Our God is a Great Big God” to show them and stumbled our way through an impromptu skit about the Parable of the Lost Sheep. If you ever need someone to do a shepherd impression at the last minute then Tom is your man. And this was after he had to get his finger bandaged up as he was over enthusiastic with a high five for one of the children and hit a high speed fan – moments after we first arrived at the school.
Learning the Lingo
Although almost all signs in Kolkata are written in English, not everyone speaks it. The main languages are Bengali and Hindi. So we are learning basic spoken Bengali.
The most difficult aspect of teaching at the school is that none of the children speak any English. When there are 3 classes going on in one small room some simple phrases like “sit down” or “be quiet” would be very handy to have in our arsenal. So twice a week we are getting Bengali lessons. At the time of writing we have only had 2 lessons so far. We have the numbers up to 20 and the days of the week as well as little phrases such as “what’s your name?” and “how are you?” as well as “sit down” and “stop”
Naomi’s bilingualism is a helpful tool as she is very quick to memorise the pronunciations and has started using these Bengali words to the children at the school. The rest of the team is also beginning to pick up the basics.
The Future is Exciting!
God has some amazing things in store for us!
In the past week we have met Ben Francis who is our second superior here as well as director of Big Life Ministries. He has seen this disciple making ministry grow from a home group of 8 people to a worldwide movement that has helped 700,000 people find Jesus. Some of this work has been done in rural villages outside Kolkata and reached by boat. Ben has promised to take us to one of the villages to see the work God is doing there which will be an incredible experience for us as a team.
We are also getting involved with working at “Travellers Rest” café located inside the guesthouse. It will be used nearer Christmas time to provide food and drink for people and it is a good opportunity for us to get speaking to local people in our community and a chance to boldly speak about our faith.
We are also now in the youth group which is ran in the guesthouse. Although we are not the most musical action team there ever was, we enjoy the songs (we’ve even learned lyrics in Hindi and Bengali). There will be an all day youth event in the coming weeks which will be another good opportunity to meet people a similar age to us.
The Food Life
Well we made it this far without mentioning the food! It may sound anticlimactic, but we haven’t been overawed by spice here. The guesthouse feeds us (except Sunday evenings when we get to go out) and we are enjoying what we get. There is a lot of chicken due to the fact that Kolkata is split between Muslims and Hindus meaning beef and pork are nowhere to be seen. In India, Kolkata is famous for its sweets and desserts. We have been subjected to a disgusting mango and death flavoured chew sweet but have also had some lovely treats. Ben gave us Chanar Pulli, which was a very sweet caramel purée dessert. The girls found this too sweet but Lewis was a big fan and finished their slices as well as his own.
Each night along with our team bible study – in which we are currently working through the book of Acts – we do a ROSPOM each. This is a Ray Of Sunshine for the day and a Puddle Of Mud for each day. Here are our main ROSPOMs for our time in Kolkata so far:
ROS: tea incident involving me getting ripped off massively but was funny in the end and working with the kids at the school
POM: getting a cold in the first week of being here at the same time working out how the school works was not fun
ROS: all the songs and games that the kids at the school have taught us and getting mobbed with shouts of auntie and uncle as we walk onto the bus
POM: Getting am infection in my feet. Thankfully it’s all better now
ROS: teaching the kids at school and seeying there happy faces everyday when they have so little.
POM: getting Delhi belly and feeling like I won’t be able to eat any rice ever again when rice is the main food 😭😂
ROS: Hearing stories from a man who works at the guesthouse called David about their own life really inspired me and has me excited for all we are going to be doing here!
POM: Being advised to get a lime flavoured drink that was apparently delicious, only for it to be the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Please Pray For Us!
We would like to thank everyone who supported us prayerfully and financially in making sure we made it to this point. We love living in Kolkata and are full of joy for all the Lord has done for us and for all the plans He has for us while we are here. Please keep us in your prayers for the time that we are here. Here are our main prayer requests:
- That our main priority would always be to focus on our relationship with God and that each of us would walk deeper with Him than ever before.
- That the 4 of us become a church, always building each other up and working together against any problems that may arise and focussing on God’s will for our lives.
- That we keep good physical health so that we are not hindered in carrying out the work we are here to do.
- That we will be taken out of our comfort zones and given opportunities to push our faith further than we could ever imagine and that we never get too comfortable in the work we are doing but always strive to do more.
- That we learn Bengali so that we can effectively communicate with those we meet.
- That we find a church to attend regularly.
Joshua 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”