Dear friends, family, supporters, followers, and anyone else who might grace this page,
I want you to know a little more about me. I have written a lot about what is happening in my life in India. I have told you some fluffy stories, and hopefully some deep ones. I have had a lot of things happening to me, but more than anything there have been a lot of things happening within me.
For example, I have always been a family person. I am fiercely close with my mother, father, and brother, and I am lucky enough to have two extra siblings in my cousins Carson and Sydney (not my only cousins, just the ones who have lived close to me my whole life), along with amazing and caring Aunts and Uncles. Both of my sets of grandparents, the people who started it all, are inspirations to me. I have spent much of my time with my grandparents throughout the years.
I have spent Christmas in Alabama and days on the beach with my mom’s father whom I call Big Daddy. I have spent many hours relaxing, watching movies, and shopping with my mom’s mother, Grandmommy. I have played games of golf, seen a space shuttle launch, and traveled around the world with my father’s dad whom I call Grosspop (it’s a German thing).
My final grandparent, who I’d like to talk about for a little while, is my father’s mother. I call her Grandbeth. She has cancer. This is not a new fact about my grandmother, and she has definitely never let it define her. In fact, I don’t know if I have seen my grandmother get very scared before. Fear doesn’t really stick in her personality. She is a warrior against this cancer. She is fighting with her entire heart.
Her fighting attitude is still present today, but with the cancer in her brain and chemotherapy in the mix, the ball game has changed a little. We are bravely facing this new road together, but since I have been in India, I feel so far away. I feel unable to support them with such distance between us. With every little update I get from home, I become more and more pulled toward Texas.
Recently, the updates have given me a new sense of urgency. Changes are happening at home that I am not present for, and that I am not prepared to take on thousands of miles away from my family. I have a chance to be with the ones that I love, and it is not a chance I want to miss.
Everytime I get news in India, I want to know how my Grandbeth is doing. Now all I want to know is, when can I see her? When can I hold her hand? I have thought and prayed. I have lost sleep. I have talked with those who love and support me here in India and at home in the U.S.
The resounding answer I hear is, “Rachel, July is too late. Your heart is there with your family….your body just happens to be in India.”
Being in this state is no way to finish my time here. It would simply be a time of waiting. I could try to accomplish things, but overall I am not fully “in” my work here. I feel that God is calling me to finish my ministry by sitting next to my Grandmother and by serving my family.
India has taught me so much about the importance of family, more so, the importance of people taking care of each other. People here easily become extended family. I have been lucky enough to have many extended families here in India. Jaimol Kochamma and family, Thomas John Achen and family, My YAV family, The Buchanan School family, the B.I. Boarding family, the KNH Hostel family, the Pakil School family, the Moolertam School family, the Speechly College family, the Speechly School family, the CMS School family and now, the Mandiram Society family.
It isn’t just kindness that has been extended to me here. It has been a warmth so sincere that it has transformed me. I gave care to others, that is certainly true, but mainly my extended families gave care to me. Jaimol Kochamma has seen me cry countless times and buys me a loaf of bread every time I feel sick. I will never forget talking with her, her husband, and her amazing sons in their beautiful home. Thomas John and Betty Kochamma have opened their home and their hearts to me. I will never forget laughing in the kitchen with Betty Kochamma. I will never forget sitting on the porch and having Bible Studies with Achen.
Nicole, Claudia, and Ian have also been a great (though admittedly dysfunctional) extended family in India. I am so thankful for Nicole’s openness, Claudia’s faith, and Ian’s adaptability. They are three incredibly gifted, loving, and generous people who have played a huge part in my family life here. I will also, of course, never be able to thank Ian enough for putting up with me for 3 weeks across Northern India.
My Buchanan family, teachers and students alike, have helped me to grow: Bindu teacher giving me a theological lecture on Lent and fasting, Omanna teacher taking me to the hospital on her scooter, Manju teacher practicing Malayalam with me, Sanila and Janey teacher opening their homes to me. I don’t know how to repay each teacher for their love, laughter and guidance.
My students challenged me and respected me, made me laugh every day, and empowered me. They made me feel like I was actually a good teacher, which is no small feat to accomplish. This case is true with every school community I have had the opportunity to visit. Teaching in school was not the easiest thing in the world, but no matter how scared I felt about it, after I taught a class I was always glad that I did it.
I can’t even begin to explain every facet of living in the hostel to you. I can tell you that there is no experience I cherish more. Nothing this year has been more transformative, more life changing than living in the hostel. The girls have taught me how to be strong, how to let loose, and how to love others in new and different ways. Each and every girl, each and every face, will pop in to my head now and then. They will be etched in my mind forever as some of the biggest mentors in my life. I hope they can say the same thing about me. I love them and care for them just as fiercely as I love my family, my friends at home, and even the youth groups that I have served at Second Pres. and First Pres. Grapevine. I have become loyal to this group of girls. It is going to be very hard to tear myself away from them early. Since school is out, we will not all get a proper goodbye. I will have to settle for leaving them letters and photos and telling them to write to my address in America when they have the chance. They deserve so much more than that, so I keep telling myself I will come back and visit them; that this is just see you later.
My heart is breaking because I am leaving, but my heart is also healing knowing that I will soon be seeing loving faces who have been missing me for 9 months.
So to sum it all up, I am leaving Kerala on May 14th. I am taking this time to say goodbyes and try to be as present as I can be here at Mandiram. I am not fully ready to take this step, but I know it is the right one. I hope that in the next week I can develop some sense of the statement “I’m ready to leave” and make it true for myself….as true as it can be….with God’s help.
I am so excited to share my stories with you all personally. I can’t wait to come back to my church and share how this mission has transformed me. I will obviously need some time to adjust when I get back to the U.S., but more than being ready to leave India, I am ready to share my experience with those in the U.S. I am ready to tell the stories of my year in Kerala truthfully and compassionately to those who really want to listen.
Ultimately, I thank God for this opportunity. I thank God for those who have ministered to me and those I have been able to minister to. I thank God for the YAV program and my fellow YAVs representing mission service all around the world. I don’t know how else to express myself but with utter gratitude to God. God guided me here and now is guiding me back home. I pray for those I am leaving behind, and I pray for those I am moving toward. I pray for all of the people in the world who have known suffering, and I ask them to walk with me. I ask that all of us can live together knowing that each of us feels pain in different, beautiful, unique ways. I pray for the joy and happiness of every person whose life has somehow intersected with mine, even the people who I may not have said hello to before. I pray that God will watch over my family while I cannot.
I pray. I try. I prepare.
This is the phase I am in my friends. I hope you can all understand. Your support is so precious to me.
“The soul is not where it lives, but where it loves.”-H.G. Bohn