By the way...Hopegivers’ ministry spans all across India! With approximately 30,000 pastors and over 51,000 churches, the Good News of eternal life is shared in earnest wherever a Hopegivers Bible College graduate is willing to step out in faith. Their only possessions are a bicycle, a Bible and a one-way ticket to their new life. These brave, adventuresome, godly graduates are committed to introducing as many as possible to Jesus.
We (Mary, Patrick, Jyothis and Chotu) left Kota around midnight on a train that would take us 27 hours to reach South India.
Outside of cars, motorcycles, bicycles and rickshaws, trains are the most economical means of transportation when traveling long distances in India. The railway cars are divided into air conditioned cars and those that are not. The air conditioned cars also have sleeping berths. The cars that are not air conditioned are like cattle cars! People are practically sitting on top of each other, many sitting on the floor, and frequently people ride on top of the trains! I’m very grateful I didn’t have to ride on top! Can you imagine how vigilant one needs to be in order to spot tunnels when riding on top of a train? By the way, I love sharing my experiences on the train. It’s not like any travel experience you will have in the states.
As we waited for our train to arrive, I noticed that Jyothis (our translator) was anxiously awaiting a call on her cell. When she got a call, her anxiety level clearly heightened. After my fourth ask, she finally told me that Mary and Patrick’s reservations were confirmed, but mine, hers and Chotu’s were not. I attempted to calm her anxiety by suggesting that we just catch the next train. Evidently, in India, the situation would not improve by waiting for the next train. We would need to get on this train and do a lot of praying! I was told that firm reservations must be made at least 60 days in advance; we somehow missed the cut off date. I wasn’t sure how I felt about standing for 27 hours, but Jyothis was confident that would not happen.
Rats:The train was late so I found my eyes looking up and down the tracks watching for it when I saw some movement – a lot of movement – below me. There were rats! Hundreds of them! Well-fed and running back and forth on the tracks just four feet below the platform where we were standing. I didn’t notice this unsettling phenomenon at the Delhi railway station, so why here? These beady eyed, ugly, creatures were abundant at the Kota train station. You need to understand that I freak out over a little field mouse getting into my house and these were RATS!!!
My curiosity, tempered with terror, had me wondering about how high they could jump. Could they span four feet? I guess my face gave my terror away because Jyothis asked if I was alright.
Alright? No, I wasn’t alright!
As calmly as possible, I asked why so many rats? Answer? In this part of India, rats are considered a god; it is a crime to kill one. Instead, people catch and then release them. We do that for fish in the states too, but fish have boundaries – like lakes and rivers! These rats have no boundaries. All of a sudden standing for 27 hours on a rat-free train didn’t sound so bad. The longer I stood there the more disturbing were the images I had of a “super” rat living among the many. Could he jump the span of the four feet that separated me on the platform from them? Just about the time my imagination had my heart rate speeding up, our train arrived. Thank God!
We boarded the train at little after midnight, my nerves still jangling from being entertained by rats. But I had my trusty rubber shoes on, so I was at least prepared for the bathrooms. I sat at the end of Mary’s bed waiting for a seat or a bed – whichever came first. It kept her up, but she didn’t seem to mind. I was just happy I was in a rat-free zone! Due to the persistence of staff, about four hours into our trip we all got either a seat or a bed for the balance of the trip. God is good!
Traveling to Andhra Pradesh: The menu for this trip was very simple. We had peanut butter and bread, peanut butter on crackers, or a spoonful of peanut butter chased by bottled water – breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was safety first. Spoiled taste buds that normally demand a wide variety were not allowed to argue. I did change it up a bit with a bag of chips and some cookies.
Oh yes! My rubber shoes again. They were a godsend! The train was packed with hundreds of humans that needed to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. The bathrooms should have had revolving doors installed for a trip that long. In my earlier blog, I failed to mention that one does get a choice between a hole in the floor or a “western” sit-down toilet. I chose the western style. By sitting I didn’t risk being tossed around like a marble in a jar inside the tiny closet bathroom. The train was fast and made no attempts to slow down around corners. There was LOTS more “mixed” water on the floor this trip. By the time I returned to the states, my nearly 100 hours of train travel had caused me to adopt my rubber shoes as a permanent wardrobe piece. They will go back with me on my next trip to India!
At 2am, 27 hours later, we arrived in Andhra Pradesh. We were met by the pastor and several ministry workers who crammed our very tired bodies and eight large pieces of luggage into two vehicles. We looked like the Clampette’s on the Beverly Hillbillies series with luggage stuffed in the back and stacked extremely high on top of the vehicles. Since this was my third trip to India I was familiar with seeing three to five people riding on a single motorcycle or bicycle. I had no doubt these young men would get us and our luggage safely to the hotel.
Mary and Patrick had filled extra bags with soccer balls, art supplies, candy, balloons and other fun things so they could play with the children we visited and then leave everything behind for them. Although it was bulky traveling to A.P., nothing was left by the time they headed back to the states. What they left behind made several hundred orphans very happy!
I am still fascinated with the rickshaws. One frail man – perhaps in his 50’s or 60’s – rides a bicycle that tows a buggy with two or three people crammed into it. How is that even possible