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!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“They drove past buses that dripped people the way a sponge drips water, and arrived at a thick forest of human beings, a crowd of people sprouting in all directions like leaves on jungle trees.”
-Salman Rushdie, Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Monday, October 10, 2011

Student Post: Mariah Van Wyk on Culture Shock

We've been talking a lot lately about culture shock, and how, why and when it affects people. Mariah offered to share a post compiled from a series of emails to friends and family back home. Here's her experience, written about 2 weeks ago:
Mariah gets a mehndi (henna) 'tattoo'

Almost 2 weeks in India and I have been pushed to what I thought was my “limit” more times than I can count.

Every taste, touch, and smell is another reminder that I’m not dreaming, and that this is all really happening. Although I have only been here a short time, It feels like time (or my perception of it) is determined upon all the experiences that I have been a part of, and the encounters I have had while here. So... basically it feels like I have been gone almost twice as long.  

A part of me can’t help but constantly think of how fast time flies, and before I know it, I will be on a plane back to Colorado for Christmas... but I am also beginning to see how easy it is to become attached to the people and culture here! I feel like I am starting to really enjoy it here, now that things are becoming more and more familiar each day... and I have gotten over my first wave of culture shock.  

To summarize... the first of my days here were very exciting, everything was so new and different. I was finally getting the adventure I had always wanted; and me and my enthusiasm wanted to try and experience it all. Clearly, there’s only so much that a person can absorb at one time, and sure enough... after a few days, the weight of my surroundings began to set in. The best way I can describe it is that it’s almost as if I had “traveler’s/ or tourist- tinted-glasses” on when I came here, and when I finally began to settle, the glasses came off and I was overcome with an Indian wave of culture shock. I became aware to so many things that I either hadn’t noticed before, or that I had seen, and chosen to ignore...or maybe I had seen these things before but they were just now affecting me differently? 

Either way, I couldn’t believe everything I had missed. I could go into so much more detail, but briefly some of the hardest things that I have dealt with so far have been: the pollution and smog, the heat and humidity; food-poisoning; an eardrum which still hasn't adjusted from one of my flights into India; the unconcealed staring from almost everyone, everywhere we go; the cultural difference of treatment between men and women; and the surprisingly blatant poverty found in places and times you may expect to see it, and often when you least expect it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Pictures: Marina Beach at Night

On our recent trip to Chennai, we were able to visit Marina Beach at night. There were all sorts of vendors, horseback rides for adults and mini carnival rides for small children. The entire beach had a carnival-like feel to it.
Lights from the vendors.

A woman selling mangos by the light of a lantern. (Mangos are delicious here!)

Puri, puffy bread, for sale.

Blurry, but fun- a woman selling corn roasted over a fire.

Vendors along the beach, all the way to the waterfront. This is some of the stretch of beach that was flooded in the 2005 tsunami.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Student Post: Sarah McDowell on Knowing God in an Indian Context

Student Sarah McDowell led ISP devos for us last week, and her topic was particularly relevant at a time when we're hitting a low point in our journey through culture shock. She reminds us to look to God for all that we need, trusting that He will provide us with things that are good. Enjoy!

If only it were this easy to find Jesus! {Click to see larger}

The first verse to look at is 2nd Peter 1:3

“As we know Jesus better, his divine power gives us everything we need for living a Godly life. He has called us to receive His own glory and goodness.”

This means that we have everything that matters in our lives through Christ, and that should reflect in us through our attitudes. This specifically means that we have everything that is good spiritually. Christ will not equip us to do things that will pull us further from God, as He wants us to become more Godly, spiritual people. This also reflects into a different verse, in Colossians 2:10

“God gives us everything that we will ever need in Christ, we are complete in Him.”

This shows us that God has completed us and we are complete only in and through Him, and any other methods of attempting to find completeness in life will ultimately fail. In our discussion this week we talked specifically about the ways that some of us may use travel, relationships, or “seeing the world” to fulfill the completeness of ourselves. And though none of these things are bad, and all are fulfilling pursuits, they need to be endeavored with the understanding that they will not complete us, and we need to venture into them with the attitude of being subservient to Christ above all.

The objective, then, of realizing that we have all that we need in order to live a Godly life, is to become Godly people, in order to glorify the father. This reflects into the 5th verse of 2nd Peter, which (in a nutshell) says that if we attain Godly lives, we will then be on the path to moral excellence, which will lead to knowing God better, which leads to self control, which leads to patient endurance, which leads to Godliness, which leads to love for others, which finally leads to a genuine love for all people. As this is the second greatest commandment, after love the Lord your God with all your heart, this should therefore be one of our greatest aspirations in life.

2nd Peter 1:4a says

“And by that same mighty power, He has given all of His rich and wonderful promises”

This means that “the gift” is God’s promise to be with us and to be a part of us, and that this promise exceeds any hardship that we will ever endure. And through the knowing of God we can gain knowledge of and access to His promise.

2nd Peter 1:4b says

“He has promised that you will escape the decadence all around you caused by evil desires and that you will share in His divine nature.”

This is the verse that initially stood out to me as I researched this devotion, and it struck me because of the term “decadence,” which is something that we are learning to live without as we settle into our homes in India. This means that the escape is something pivotal in our lives, and it is something that we aspire to through the knowledge of Christ. This escape is something that became effective the moment that we believed in our savior, and nothing binds us to the Earth (and that which we aspire to escape from) except ourselves and our sinful nature.

Some other translations of the same verse translate “decadence” to “the corruption of this world,” which is further translated in other ways to being the “decomposition or rotting of an organism’s internal self.” This means that if we fail to detach ourselves from the reliance on the world (and thus not on God) we are condemning ourselves to a life away from Him.

As students of the ISP program we are learning to live in a new environment, and one that is so vastly different from the lives that we are used to at home. At the beginning of our meeting this week we all sat down and discussed things that we missed. Everyone wrote down a few significant things, like loved ones, familiar cities, or my cat Confucius, and we all wrote down several insignificant things, like good (American) coffee, water pressure, lack of cockroaches, and soft beds. So at the end of our discussion we were able to relate the “escape from decadence” to learning to embrace and appreciate the things that we so frequently miss from home. In this way we can hope to not only embrace our lives in India, but we can learn to love living with less, and we can use that experience to know God better.

- Sarah McDowell

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Student Post: How to Kill a Cockroach by Brooklyn Walker

We're off traveling to the Elephant and Tiger Reserve at Mudumalai the next two days, but in the meantime, enjoy a little bit of student life here in Coimbatore!

1 fry pan
Toilet Paper
3+ people


1. Scream
This ensures that people will come running so you won’t have to kill it yourself.

2. Smash it with a frying pan
The long handle works well for keeping distance.

3. Clean up the smashed cockroach with toilet paper
Paper towels are not commonly used here. But I guess toilet paper isn’t either.

4. Wash pan
Bug guts are not good fried.

I am really good at #1 and occasionally I do #4.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Another Recipe from Cooking Class

bhaturas/ bhaturey, fried punjabi bread

2c all purpose flour
¾ c plain yogurt
½ tsp baking soda

1 tbs sugar
veg oil or ghee for frying
salt to taste

mix flour, baking powder and salt. sift.
mix yogurt and sugar. add to flour and slowly add lukewarm water until you have a dough that sticks to itself, but nothing else. knead into soft dough.
cover dough in wet cloth and set aside to rise about 3-4 hours in warm place.
divide into 12 equal portions and roll into balls. set aside for 5 min covered.
grease palms with oil and flatten the balls. roll into 5-6 inch diameter.

heat oil in kadai and deep fry on high flame, turning until done.