Today I Saw God

Seeing God in Vizag, India

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"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." – Matthew 28: 19-20

I saw God quite unexpectedly during a recent work trip to India. As a South Asia specialist at a Washington D.C.-based think tank, I travel to India fairly frequentlyat least once or twice per year. The preparation for the trips and the trips themselves (usually lasting 2-3 weeks) typically result in me missing a few Sundays of church, which is always disappointing for me.

However, this trip was different, mainly due to a young India woman, Ms. Priya Paul. Priya helped facilitate my visit to Visakhapatnam, located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. I was in Visakhapatnam to participate in a conference and to learn more about India's fastest growing state (in economic terms) and the important commercial and economic linkages between the U.S. and India. Did you know that one in four people living in Andhra Pradesh have family connections in the U.S.? Amazing, huh? Especially considering Visakhapatnam (or Vizag, for short) is around 8,000 miles from Washington, D.C.!

Priya was a reassuring presence from the start. She met me upon my arrival at the Vizag airport, took me to my hotel and then made sure I was comfortable and able to get to where I needed to be over the next few days. I knew from Priya's last name that she was a Christian, but the topic did not arise immediately. On our second day together, however, we started to talk about our faith and what an important role it played in our lives. Priya asked if I would like to attend church with her on Sunday. The conference ended Saturday evening, and Sunday happened to be my only free day of the entire two-week trip before I headed back to the U.S. I decided going to church with Priya would be a perfect way to spend my last day in India.

Before church, Priya took me to her place of work, a small housing design company called Honeyy Group. She introduced me to her colleagues and showed me around the office. The company started up only a year prior but was doing quite well, and I was happy to meet several of its female employees.

Then we headed off to Priya's church, Christ's Church Vizag One, headed by pastor Ravi Royal. When we arrived at the open-air service, the congregants were singing praises and clapping joyfully along with a drummer, guitarist and keyboardist. During the sermon, Pastor Royal was kind enough to have his wife, Sulochana Royal, translate in English for me. In Andhra Pradesh the predominant language is Telugu.

I learned from Sulochana that Dr. William Carey, a British Christian missionary, translated the Bible into several Indian languages in the early 1800s. Incidentally, he also translated the Hindu classic epic poem, the "Ramayana," into English. I had seen a performance of the "Ramayana" when I lived in India many years ago.

After the service, Pastor Royal and his wife invited me to their home for lunch. I enjoyed getting to know their two young daughters, Nasya and Tiqwah. They both liked attending school. One commented that her favorite subject was Indian history, and the other enjoyed English literature. When I asked who her favorite author was, she immediately responded with Roald Dahl. I shared that my sister, an elementary school teacher, loved Roald Dahl's book, "Matilda," so much that she had named her daughter Matilda, who is now eight years old.

I am so grateful to Priya and Pastor Royal and his family for opening their church and home to me. Instead of another Sunday, missing church due to work responsibilities, I was able to honor my faith and expand my understanding and experience of God by worshiping in another culture.

As part of my career, I have been a student of India for nearly 25 years. It is wonderful to be able to connect my work and faith in a truly meaningful way.

I hope to visit Vizag again soon!

Submitted by Lisa Curtis.

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Adjusting My Expectations

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Life is full of expectations. We plan, organize and anticipate, but often what we expect to happen does not. The older I get the more I learn to not have too many expectations. The younger me would figure out everything and then be desperately disappointed when it didn't "work out as planned." The older me is learning to let life happen.

In preparing for my trip to France to visit my daughter, Anna, I didn't spend much time thinking about what it might be like. Not because I wasn't excited but rather because I was eager for the trip to surprise me. Before I left, my prayer was twofold: first, for God to get me there safely, and second, for God to teach me whatever he wanted me to learn.

After three days in Nantes, France my lesson was a reminder that we are all children of God and as such are so very similar. I stayed with Anna's host family, the Broussard-Kimmels, until she finished her last class. The family, like mine, was in a season when the children leave home. Watching our kids leave the nest was both sad and exciting. Working through this transition and figuring out how to be a couple again is a challenge that the mother of the family, Muriel, and I bonded over.

The Broussard-Kimmels took my daughter in for eight weeks and treated her as family. To see the relationship they built was both heartwarming and sad. The girls plan to see each other again. I have invited the family to visit the U.S. Whether any of that happens or not, the time spent in France will always be special because of the relationships built there.

So on one level I did have an expectation. I expected to see France. What I actually experienced was much better: the people of France. I will forever be thankful to this family for their hospitality. I understand now what it must have been like for Paul when he said, "I thank my God every time I remember you" (Philippians 1:3). I know that whenever I remember the Broussard-Kimmels, I will thank God for them.

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All One Family

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Last November I was in the Istanbul Ataturk Airport with a group of travelers on our way to Izmir, Turkey. We had been flying all night and were hurrying through the airport to catch our next flight. I was tired, hungry and slightly anxious about making the connection. Due to a number of factors we had a very small window to make our way through security, the visa checkpoint and the maze of the Istanbul airport.

One of our group members required a wheelchair, and I attached myself to her and her husband to be sure they were well cared for. At the visa checkpoint there was no space for a wheelchair to squeeze through so we needed to leave the wheelchair she was using on one side of the checkpoint and walk through to the other side where the very nice airport security guard gestured for us to take a seat on a bench. He spoke no English and we spoke no Turkish so we had to be content with gestures. The rest of the team were long gone, and we had no choice but to wait on this bench and hope that another wheelchair and guide would show up soon.

Announcements kept coming over the PA system, but of course we could not understand them. We did know that our flight was leaving very shortly. Eventually two other people came to our bench to await a wheelchair and escort as well, and again, we gestured and smiled but were unable to understand what was being said. Finally an escort with a wheelchair showed up and, speaking in Turkish, he started to help my friend into the chair. The other couple gestured to us, to the chair and to the escort. It seemed they had quite a discussion, but of course we could only imagine what was being said. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours, the escort took my friend in the wheelchair and we were off on a very exciting ride to our plane. When we arrived, we discovered they were holding the plane for us and tried to sit down without drawing attention to ourselves.

That brief experience gave me a glimpse of what it must be like to come to a country as an immigrant. Imagine never completely understanding what is being said, or never really knowing where things are or how things are done. In the airport I was fairly certain we would be fine, but nonetheless I felt anxious about making the flight and my mind was racing to figure out what I would do if the plane left without us. I felt stupid, a word that is not really allowed in my house but which perfectly describes how I felt at the time. No matter how hard I tried I could not understand what was being said. I was at the mercy of strangers, dependent on others for kindness and compassion. It was good for me.

During that time I was studying Paul's letter to the early church in Ephesus. Paul wrote much on the importance of unity and welcoming the stranger. In Ephesians, Paul states, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

My little experience in the Istanbul airport was convicting. One of my goals for 2016 is to recognize moments when others may feel as I did, confused and anxious. It is my hope that I will be aware and able to live into Paul's words as a bearer of love. We are, after all, all one family.

"There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." – Ephesians 4:5-6

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