Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Road: Delhi

Our final destination: Delhi. The capital of modern India, a former capital of British India and full of dust, dirt and more beautiful architecture.

We visited the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. Its courtyard can accommodate 25,000 people on any given Friday. With just 10-12% of its 1.2 billion people identifying themselves as Muslims, India is the second largest Muslim country in the world.

The photograph above is a rarity- the empty (!) courtyard of Jama Masjid.

In addition to Jama Masjid (and some fantastic Moghali chicken at nearby Karim's!), we visited Humayun's tomb, Dilli Haat and the Red Fort. This evening, for our students' final send off, we'll spend  some time listening to some Sufi singing at a famous Sufi's tomb at sunset.

Thank you, ISPers Fall '11, for being a fantastic group of students. We love you all, we'll miss you, we wish you the best as you travel home and continue to learn and weave your experiences here into your studies, and we hope to see you all in India again soon. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your space, your ambitions and your laughter with us. Happy travels!

{images: 1, 2, 3, 4}

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Road: Agra

Taj Mahal! Shah Jahan's beautiful tribute of love to his favorite wife Mumtaz, who died giving birth to the couple's 14th child. If that's not a crazy love story, what is? This site, as you can imagine, was one of the most highly anticipated visits of the entire semester.

(We'll upload real photos (of our students!) after our travel component is over. Apologies for that.)

Moghal architecture is beautiful and intricate. North India (and all of India, of course) has a very rich past filled with invaders, conquerors, kings and marauders. The Moghals here in the north are responsible for some of the most beautiful, and most easily recognizable, landmarks.

Holy men abound in this city, too. 

We visited the Agra Fort and Fatephur Sikri, both of which have tremendous histories themselves. The Agra Fort is where Aurangzeb, the son of Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) imprisoned his father after overthrowing him. This way, his father could see the Taj he spent so many years building but never visit it. The whimsical city of Fatehpur Sikri was the site of Emperor Akbar's capital. The city took 15 years to build, but was only occupied for 14 years before it ran out of water. Poor planning, perhaps, but beautiful nonetheless.

Final stop, Delhi!

{images: 1, 2, 3}

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On the Road: Jaipur

Thank you, Rajput Maharajas, for the beautiful palaces of Jaipur!
We've visited the Lake Palace (top photo, above) and the City Palace, both of which were breathtaking. We photographed the Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal and explored the wierdness that is Jantar Mantar, the brainchild of Savai Jai Singh II to aid him in his astrological explorations. 

And today, our students got to do what they were waiting and hoping for all semester: they rode elephants up to the gates of the Amber/ Amer Fort! 

Rajasthani culture is colorful, the food delicious, and the elephants (and camels!) in traffic are a humorous reminder of India's great past and tremendous future.

Next stop, Agra!

{images: 1, 2, 3}

On the Road: Varanasi

ISP students agree: Varanasi is a weird, fantastic, beautiful place. 

As it's currently winter in India (which is, undoubtedly, warmer than winter in the States), it's the "misty season" in Varanasi. When we arrived by train around 4am, visibility was about 10 feet.

The ghats of Varanasi are probably one of the most well photographed sites in the country of India.

In the words of Adam Freed, "there's just something really cool about a 3,000 year old stone city on the edge of a river in the mist."
Varanasi is the city of holy men. Everywhere you look, you see men clad in saffron robes, who have given up the trappings of this life and wear the color of fire, symbolic of taking on the fire of cremation in the life they have here and now.

Varanasi is also Shiva's city, and arguably the holiest city for Hindus in the entire country and world. We enjoyed an evening boat tour to see the Ganga Aarti, or river worship, and set off some floating lanterns with our prayers in the Ganga (Ganges River). We also spent a morning on a walking tour exploring the twisting, old, hidden alleys of this magnificent, ancient city.

One Hindu tradition holds that people who are cremated in Varanasi are released from the cycle of rebirth and skip immediately to moksha, or freedom from suffering ('heaven', if you will.) The burning ghats at Manikarnika see around 34,000 bodies burned yearly, with cremations happening 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The smoke rising from the pile of wood in this photograph is from a burning body.

Next stop, Jaipur, Rajasthan!

{images: 1, 2, 3, 4}

On the Road: Calcutta

We can hardly believe our first ever semester of ISP is in its final two weeks! Sometimes it seems as though time crawled, and sometimes it seemed to have flown. Tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, we'll say goodbye to our homes away from home and hello to two weeks on the road. 

First stop: Calcutta. Home of Kali, the goddess of destruction, the former capital of British India (one of them, anyway) and Mother Theresa's Home for the Destitute and Dying and the work of Sisters of Charity.

We've got 3 and half days in Calcutta, and are looking forward to visiting sites related to each of these claims to fame. We're also quite excited to be visiting with a non-governmental organization called Sari Bari, which works to rehabilitate women formerly employed in Calcutta's booming sex trade.

To say we've been looking forward to travel component is a tremendous understatement. Many of our students are huge fans of Mother Teresa (or, "Mama T," as she is sometimes known), and visiting Sisters of Charity is bound to be a highlight of our semester!

We'll keep you all updated as we travel these next few weeks. As always, thanks for reading. And romba thanks, Tamil Nadu, for being such a great home state for the past three months! 

{images: 1, 2, 3, 4}

Friday, November 25, 2011

Staff Post: Program Assistant Jonathan Pinckney on our Visit to a Monastery- Ashram

ISP student Adam Freed at the entrance gate at Shantivanam.

 “Christianity, though universal in principle, is in its actual structure a Western religion. It had its origin in the Middle East and grew up in a Semitic culture with a specific Jewish character, but it then moved out into the Greco-Roman world, where it developed a Western structure based on Greek philosophy and Roman Law. All the structures of Christianity today, though they have their roots in the original Jewish tradition, are characteristically Western in their language, their mode of thought and behavior.” 
– Fr. Bede Griffiths, OSB
Om, the sound the universe and all things makes, a traditional Hindu symbol, on a cross outside the chapel.

On the quiet banks of the Caveri River in southern Tamil Nadu a group of Benedictine monks are re-envisioning what Christianity looks like in India.  Inspired by the teachings of Father Bede Griffiths, an English monk who came to India in the 1960s with the dream of contextualizing Christian faith here, the monks have adapted many practices typically thought of as exclusively Hindu and incorporated them into their liturgy and mindset.  The monks wear the saffron robes typical of Hindu holy men, chant in Sanskrit before the Eucharist, and model the architecture of their chapel after a Hindu temple.

The chapel at the ashram with traditional Hindu temple sculpture. The figure in the center, seated between the bull and the lion, is Saint Benedict.

In the spirit of St. Ignatius’ saying that “All truth is God’s truth” the monks of Shantivanam also seek to bring together Eastern and Western modes of thought – melding the ideas of traditional Christian orthodoxy with the highest spiritual principles of India particularly as articulated in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.  They see Hinduism not as a “false religion” to be disproven but rather as a partial revelation of God’s truth.  From their perspective the life and teachings of Jesus, rather than existing in opposition to Hinduism, are the insights which complete Hinduism’s highest spiritual strivings. 

Jesus as Lord of the Cosmos, on the screen in the chapel.
It’s a controversial stance to say the least.  Many Christians describe Shantivanam’s theology as “watering down” of the gospel or even downright heresy, particularly as the monks are reticent to say that Jesus is the only way to salvation or that Jesus has an exclusive claim to divinity, both central tenets of orthodox Christianity.  Many Hindus as well object to the idea that Hinduism is only some sort of “incomplete Christianity” and see the Ashram’s appropriation of Hindu symbols as some sort of trickery to lull unsuspecting Hindus into the church.     

Christ in all four directions, a sculpture in the meditation chapel.
ISP was privileged to visit Shantivanam a couple of weeks ago.  Our students admired deeply the strength of the monks’ conviction and the beautiful simplicity and quiet of their lives but were also challenged by the controversies inherent in the monks’ position between two major faiths.  In discussion afterwards students were encouraged to wrestle with the many questions that arise for Christians in this context. Is Shantivanam’s way of worship appropriate for Christians? To what extent does Christianity need to be freed from its western background and where do you draw the line?  None of these questions have easy answers, but wrestling with them can give us deeper insight into the foundations of our faith and lead us to a deeper and more mature spirituality.   

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

{photo from our recent trip to the weaving village of Nehemem}

While it may not *feel* much like the Christmas season here in Coimbatore, our students are wrapping up their studies in the classroom, taking finals, finishing their papers, evaluating courses and looking forward to our two-week travel component with much anticipation. It's not snowing, turkeys are in short supply and the tradition of cutting down and decorating evergreen trees isn't common here. However, in the midst of the crazy and the different, we look forward to Christmas and the next few weeks with excitement.

We leave in a week for our trip, and will be traveling to Calcutta, Varnasi, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi to visit various NGOs, see the sites (yes, we'll be stopping by the Taj Mahal) and taste an India similar, yet very different from our little corner here in Tamil Nadu.

Please keep our students in your prayers as they finish their academics in the classroom. We're hoping and praying for restored health, enough rest to feel rejuvenated for our whirlwind tour and an ability to stay engaged and invested in our trip as our semester winds down and the holidays approach.

Thank you, as always, for reading. We'll post a bit more about what we'll do up north this next week, and try to stay updated from the road as much as possible!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Weekend Trip: Tanjore

This past weekend we traveled to the town of Tanjore, about a 6 hour drive (provided all the roads are operational) from Coimbatore. While there, we saw the UNESCO World Heritage Site Brihadeshwara Temple, built in 1010 by Rajaraja Chola I (who wins the award for the best name ever. His name means "king of kings.")

While visiting the temple, several of our students gave a few rupees' donation to the temple elephant, who then blessed them with his trunk. Two of them even got to sit on the elephant for pictures! It's crazy to think that we live in a country where elephants (and peacocks and cobras) live in the wild. 

We happened to be visiting on an evening where a dance troupe from Chennai was performing Bharatanatyam, a traditional dance from our state of Tamil Nadu. Some of the dancers looked as little as 7 or 8 years old, and all of them were quite talented!

On Sunday, we visited an ashram which seeks to present Christianity in such a way that it can be understood in a Hindu cultural context. We'll write more on that later this week, as it deserves its own post.

To see more photos from our trip to Tanjore, please visit our Facebook album here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Field Trip: Visit to a Weaving Village

Last week, we visited a village called Nehemem, where 300 families are involved in weaving handloom saris. We met with the coordinator who takes the orders and then sells the saris to the government handloom emporiums and he answered our questions about production, design and volume of sales.

We were able to observe several villagers weaving and spinning warp and weft threads from looms and spinning wheels in their homes.

Our visit to the handloom weaving village was a great perspective trip for each of us, especially as we think about where we buy our clothes and who makes them. The 'readymade' clothing market here in India has dramatically affected weavers, and being able to meet with people who have experienced globalization in a very personal way was both interesting and humbling.

To see more pictures from our trip to Nehemem, please visit our Facebook album here.

Student Post: Kali Fairchild on Monsoon Season

Kali Fairchild wrote this blog post recently, before monsoon season ended here in Coimbatore. Enjoy!
I wish I could have everyone understand monsoon season here in Coimbatore.
Everyday around 4 or 5pm the rain comes. It comes suddenly and does not come gradually. I always seem to get stuck in it. Thursday it came as we walked home from class, and last night it came right when Becky and I got off the bus to pick up our new glasses. Within minutes the streets flood and pond like bodies of water form.  Autos, 2-wheelers, and cars brave the storm and drive through the foot of streaming water. Stores instantly take out there plastic covering to salvage their merchandise.  Most of the Indians crouch under any covering they can find. Then, there are those silly Americans aka me.

Can't stop the auto.
I’m bound to get wet so why not just go for it? Rather than go around the ponds of water I simply trend through them. Umbrellas are of no use when you are treading through ankle deep water, although I wear my rain jacket in hopes of keeping ½ of me slightly dry.  I of course run through the dark brown water in case any snakes or creatures are luring beneath.  This does cause stares and laughs to surface among witnesses but what to do? It is reassuring to know the origin of some of the unidentified brownish material; for I did see that child “going” into the open drainage earlier and that man “relieving” himself by the tree a few minutes prior.

Oh yes.
The rain lasts an hour or more and then ceases.  I venture back home and hang up my wet clothes and wash my dirty feet in the shower. I lay out my soaking wet books and hang my backpack up to dry. Just another day here in Coimbatore and loving every minute of it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

3 Weeks Left in Coimbatore

{photo from our recent trip to kerala}

Things have been a little quiet around these internet parts lately, for which we apologize. Rest assured this is not because things here at ISP have been quiet! Quite the opposite, in fact.

We're in the process of finalizing a list of students for next semester (already!), planning for our two-week travel component (departure t-minus 3 weeks from today!), paper writing, learning and talking about contextualization and cultural relevance and how to make the most of our remaining few days of this semester. We're planning for two more visitors for the ISP lecture series next week, as well as planning our final weekend trip leaving tomorrow morning- bright and early at 5am!- for Tanjore. (Also, because of the monsoon rains and lots of meetings, our internet access has been slim, but that's a side note. :))

{photo from ISP staffer Kandyce Pinckney's trip to Varanasi in 2008}

We really can hardly believe that we're already talking of wrapping up our time here in Coimbatore. We're excitedly looking forward to traveling to Calcutta, Varanasi, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur in the north, but looking toward the end of our classroom academics, paper writing and project presenting with a little bit of that crazy busy feeling. While we can't wait to see Mother Teresa's 'Mother House' in Calcutta and take a boat ride down the Ganges in Varanasi, we're not looking forward to saying goodbye to our professors, friends and neighbors here in our little city. This semester has flown by!

This past Tuesday we visited a village called Nehemem, where 300 families in the village are all involved in the weaving and production of saris that are then sold in government cooperatives. We're hoping to have those photos posted early next week, followed by those from this weekend and more notes from our ISP lecture series. Stay tuned for those, and thanks for understanding our silence!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We're Halfway There

-Mark Twain

It's hard to believe we're past the halfway point of our semester. We've been looking back on how far we've come, looking forward to Christmas and thinking about how to talk and think about our experiences here after we return, and we're excitedly anticipating our two-week travel component to North India in just under a month. 

Thanks for reading, friends, as we journey together through this semester and onwards!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ISPers meet the press

{photo of rajasthani puppets from our recent visit to the neighboring state of Kerala}

On Monday, ISP students and staff had a chance to chat with members of the press (local and national) and answer a few questions regarding food, studies, culture and their experience thus far with ISP, as well as to talk about our partnership with Bishop Appasamy College.

To read the article, please visit The Hindu's (newspaper) page here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Student Post: Melissa Braunschweig on Diwali!

{Adam, Erin, Kali, Brooklyn, Renee, Melissa, Becky and Natasha
react as a firework booms in the street behind them.}

{Melissa, Adam, Becky and Erin model proper ear plugging techniques as fireworks thunder through the sky in a 360 degree circle around them.}

We recently celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. For Hindus, this is one of the most important festivals of the year. It is equivalent to our Christmas, just to give you a better understanding of the intensity of celebration going on over here. 
{Traditional clay diyya lamps filled with oil}

It involves lighting small clay lamps filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil back when the demon Naraka was vanished by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Everyone celebrates by wearing new clothes, decorating their homes, sharing snacks with family/friends, and setting off ENDLESS amounts of fireworks! We loved it, though they really put the 4th of July to shame. 

{Watching 'fountains' shower sparks down in the middle of the street.}

People started lighting off fireworks a week before the official day of celebration! And they started getting a lot more intense at about 5:00 the morning of the actual day. It sounds like a warzone over here! Our fantastic neighbors brought us sweets all week and are let us help with their decorations.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Just because we live in a country that doesn't officially celebrate Halloween doesn't mean we can't bring a little funk and fall flavor to our corner of it!

Here in Coimbatore, we celebrated Halloween in costume, with music, games and food.
Lentil brittle, no bake cookies and beignets (creole donuts).

Aladdin, Jasmine and the Genie showed up (yes, Sarah the Genie really is painted blue. She won best overall costume and dinner as a prize for her efforts!)

Calla as a pirate- wearing a thumb drive around her neck for creativity points.

Adam came as the birthday king, which was appropriate as he celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday!

Happy Halloween, friends. Enjoy some crunchy fall leaves for us!

You can see more pictures from our Halloween party in our Facebook album here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kerala: God's Own Country

{Attending a performance of Kathakali, traditional Kerala theater, was a highlight of our recent trip to Kochi last weekend.}

Last Saturday and Sunday, we headed to the beautiful, green neighboring state of Kerala to meet with the Vichara Collective to learn more about the Kerala model of development and the role of deep thought and surrendering our intellect to Jesus. In our time with Vichara, Professor Mammen Varkey challenged us to think critically and openly about many of the basic assumptions we hold about our faith, and Professor John Itty again taught us about economics and development from a different perspective than many of us are used to hearing back home in the states.

We also got to attend a performance of Kathakali, tour around the Kochi Harbor by boat, visit historic "Jew Town" settled by Jewish traders from King Solomon's court, buy some spices and try some beef curry and hot banana chips. In all, our weekend was both informative AND fun- and those are the best kind of weekends to have!
You can see more of our photos from our trip to Kochi in our Facebook album here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Staff Post: Jonathan Pinckney on Development in Light of "Occupy Wall Street"

ISP Staff member Jonathan Pinckney reflects on a lecture last week as part of the ISP Lecture Series, brought to us by Professor John Itty, of the Vichara Collective based in Mavelikara, Kerala. Professor Itty spoke on the necessity of re-thinking the traditional development model, something especially relevant in light of the Occupy Wall Street movement taking part across the states and the west at large.
Professor John Itty addresses ISP and BACAS students on development at the first lecture in the ISP Lecture Series.
Today in the USA economists worry about the possibility of a “double dip recession,” protesters occupy Wall Street – and the bankers and corporate executives who led the global economy to the brink of ruin three years ago are buying new mansions and bigger yachts as their companies record record profits.  Meanwhile today in India the government continues to defend why it considers 26 rupees a day (about 50 cents) an acceptable standard of living for India’s poor – and the increasing number of South Asian billionaires build more and more elaborate mansions with the money which record “economic growth” has provided them. What’s wrong with this picture?  Where did we go wrong when, contrary to the “rags to riches” American ideal, the rich only grow richer and the poor grow poorer? 
 To speak about some of these questions for the first lecture in our “ISP Lecture Series” we invited Dr. John Itty, an Indian economist and representative of the Vichara collective to speak about “development” and how it might be more equitably re-envisioned.  Traditionally development has been viewed in terms of simple dollars and cents, or, on the national scale, in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), a measure of the total amount of goods and services produced in a country in a year.  GDP is the benchmark for how well a country’s “development” is progressing.  Countries with high GDPs (The USA, UK, France, Japan, etc…) are considered “developed” and countries with low GDPs (African nations, some Asian nations, etc…) are considered “undeveloped” or “underdeveloped” or, in more politically correct language, “developing.”

The problem with this approach is that it considers the ultimate good in people’s lives to be purely material, purely based on things that one can buy and sell.  It doesn’t take into account any number of things which can define whether an increase in GDP actually translates to an increase in people’s quality of life.  A rise or fall in GDP says nothing about environmental degradation, about education, or about the strength of the family.  Indeed, because of the wider impacts of industrialization and urbanization necessary to increase GDP a rise in GDP may mean that these much more real measures of quality of life are damaged.  And of course the GDP measurement says nothing about who gets the lion’s share of those goods and services, usually the top 1 to 10 per cent of people on the socio-economic ladder.   And because these top 1 to 10 per cent tend to own the companies which sell most of those goods and services, a rise in GDP means a rise in their wealth.
ISP and BACAS students and friends of ISP listen as Professor Itty speaks on how the current model of GDP-based development is unsustainable.
This focus on GDP by the world’s economic “experts” indicates a deeper global cultural trend: across the globe people have been brainwashed into believing in frantic consumption as gospel truth.  Corporate executives and advertising agencies make millions of dollars convincing us, whether we’re in Coimbatore, India or Columbus, Ohio, that what we have is never good enough – that our happiness depends on having a flat-screen TV or an SUV or a house that’s just a little bit bigger than our neighbors’.  But the frank reality is that this is a fantastic con job played on the poor and the middle class in order to line the pockets of the world’s politicians and corporate executives.   A new car or a new house or a new gadget will not make you happier, will not make your society stronger, will not create “economic development.”  And neither will new cars, new houses, or new gadgets in and of themselves make life better for the world’s 1,345 million poor people people who live on less than $1.25 a day, 300 million of them in India.  The more we buy into this myth the more we centralize wealth and power in the hands of the super-wealthy and the more we alienate and dis-empower the world’s poor and middle classes. 

So what to do with this backward way of looking at “development?”  Ultimately, Dr. Itty said to us, the responsibility lies with each of us as consumers, us as the drivers of this economic tornado.  We must detach ourselves from this endless race for more, more, more and instead seek the things that truly lead to a “life abundant.”  We must affirm in our own lives, in our communities, in our churches, that life is more than money, that the underclass is more important than the bottom line.  We must say by the things we buy, the way we live, and the people we vote for that we don’t believe in the corporate worldview that money and possessions equal happiness. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (paraphrasing): “Do not build up for yourselves a high GDP on earth, where economic crises destroy and insider traders break in and steal, but build up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” That’s a message that all of us should listen to; on Wall Street, Washington DC, or the Western Ghats here in southern India; and if we let it sink in its impact on our lives will be revolutionary.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Staff Post: Jonathan Pinckney on the Festival of Kolu

While we're quickly approaching the festival of Diwali, beginning next week, ISP Staffer Jonathan Pinckney wanted to share his reflections on the festival of Kolu (or "Kooloo") from several weeks ago.

{Photo from our recent visit to the Gujarati celebration for the same holiday, also called Navaratri.}

It’s fascinating to see how integrally Hinduism fits into every aspect of community life in India.  Even Christians will describe themselves as “Hindus by culture” and talk about how Hinduism is “not a religion, but a way of life.” Last week a group of ISP students went to the home of one of the BACAS professors to observe her family’s celebration of the Hindu festival of Kooloo (Also known as Navaratri around India).  Celebrated over the course of nine nights, Kooloo is a festival dedicated to the three most important Hindu goddesses, Durga, Laxmi, and Saraswati, with three nights of the festival dedicated to each goddess.  In Tamil Nadu Hindu families traditionally celebrate Kooloo by putting up a five to seven-tiered structure on which they place idols.  Traditionally the idols are of Hindu gods and goddesses, but more recently Kooloo structures have been expanded to include plants and animals and even idol sets which include a complete cricket team!  These structures are arranged in the family’s living room and decorated with lights like a Christmas tree.

On Saturday night, the family we visited had brought in a Brahmin (Hindu priest) to offer prayers in Sanskrit to the idols in an elaborate ceremony that involved incense, flowers, bananas, and sweets.  The family also joined in at points, putting their hands close to the Brahmin’s sacred fire and then bringing their hands across their faces to gain blessings from the sacred fire.  When the prayers were over we celebrated with the family by eating sweets.  The daughters each sang a song for us, and the family asked us to sing a song as well.  Searching for a song that all of us knew we had to settle on the doxology, a funny contrast with “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” echoing next to five tiers of probably over a hundred Hindu idols.

Kooloo is also a time for the community to come together – all across the city cultural celebrations and community meetings are held around Hindu temples.  Members of the community put on programs showcasing their talents, usually songs or traditional dances.  We went with our host family to the local temple and watched the program for a while before heading home. All in all it was a wonderful opportunity to be welcomed into a family's home and feel like a part of their society even across the religious divide

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Our Visit to Madurai

We're back from our busy weekend visit to Madurai!

We arrived to the temple city on Saturday noon, in time for lunch. We then spent our afternoon visiting two service projects with Tamilnadu Theological Seminary, and then finished our evening with the sound and light show at the Tirumalai Nayakar Mahal.

On Sunday, after a worship service on TTS's campus, we went out to visit the Shree Menakshi Temple (photo above), stopped by the Gandhi Museum and then visited one more project with TTS on our way back to Coimbatore.

One of the highlights of our trip was visiting the service projects run by TTS. In their second year of classes, seminary students are required to go into the slums in neighboring villages and live and serve there while attending classes on campus. Students spend their entire third year living in slums within an hour's distance from the city, where they minister full-time to the poor and marginalized. Then, in their final year, they come back to campus and finish their studies with, as one might imagine, a particular heart for the poor and with an increased understanding of the relevancy of the gospel to those living in the margins of society.

Over the weekend, we were able to visit a paper recycling and book printing facility run by the 'differently abled' on TTS's campus, which publishes and makes books written by the TTS faculty. Off campus, we visited a nursing home for "grannies and grampas" where students live during their second year to help to care for approximately 30 grannies and 20 grampas and run an "Adopt a Granny" program. These men and women have no family members to care for them in their old age, and are admitted on the basis of need. We also visited a tailoring, sewing and weaving rehabilitation center for women who were sexually abused, where the seminary purchases linens for their guest house and also stations students during their second year. On Sunday, we stopped by an orphanage for 17 HIV+ children, a third year project for seminarians where we were able to take some time and play, laugh and sing with the children.

After our time at the seminary, we've been talking a bit about how different a seminary education in the US would look if seminarians were required to take part in an intentional ministry among the poor.  We've also been talking a lot about God's heart for the poor and how we, as Christians, Americans and people of privilege, can and should love and serve the poor in our home contexts.

Thank you for reading!
see more of our photos from our trip on Facebook here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

We're off (again!)

We leave for the temple city of Madurai tomorrow morning, where we'll visit Shri Meenakshi Temple, the Mahatma Gandhi Museum and the Thirumalai Nayak Palace. 

It's great to live in a place where students can learn about Hinduism in class during the week and then take a weekend and travel to a temple built somewhere around the 7th century. All of India is our classroom!

 We're hoping to see some more elephants this weekend, too!