In early February, Christie and I shared about Pravaham in the very first Missions Exhibit Hall of Los Ranchos Presbytery’s Worldwide Mission Partnership Summit. I had signed up for this last year but as the time drew near started to have second thoughts. I did not want to do it alone and God, as is His marvelous way, sent me Christie. She loaned materials to display, Lucy mailed brochures, and it all worked perfectly. I even remembered to bring and give away the jewelry made by the students, and the last 2 printed copies of my book (royalties from the sale of this book (details below) go to Pravaham, only $50 so far, btw). A couple of people said they would purchase the book directly too! One lady didn’t want to take anything for free and so she gave me $5 for the necklace she took. We asked people to pray for the student when they wear the jewelry made by her; Christie gifted an 8×10 copy of the picture of the student who made the jewelry and people loved that, as you can see.
Yesterday, January 28, Christie, Marilyn and I decorated the big bulletin board in our church with Pravaham – see pictures attached. A week or so ago, IPC missions team had invited me to put up a display of Pravaham for the month of February. The bulletin board, about 96 inches wide (length) and 40 inches tall (height) is located in the hallway of our Jenny Hart Education Building. There’s a lot of traffic during the week from parents of the children going to pre-school. On Sunday there’s the children and adult Sunday school classes. A lot of people will see these pictures of Pravaham. I’m very grateful to our Missions Team for inviting us to share about Pravaham via this board for the second year. I was truly blessed to have Marilyn and Christie’s artistic talents. I’ve attached a few pictures of the display we put together and hope you will enjoy them.
We divided the board into three themes and the first (green background) features the art activities of the girls. We were also able to add the most recent picture of Dr. Vivian Churness, Anne and Pr. Devadoss with the current Class taken just this past weekend during their visit (Vivian and Anne were guests from San Pedro who visited Pravaham – their story was blogged separately and I will be printing a copy of their letter describing the visit and adding it to the display board). The middle panel (background yellow) showcases the success story of Priya, the gold medallist. The final panel shows pictures of the 2012 graduation, girls rehearsing for the ceremony, etc..
All photos (except one) were taken and contributed by Christie. Thanks, Christie! If you look closely enough you will even see that Uncle Samuel made it into the display; Bishop Ananda Rao Samuel was the founder of Pravaham. The title display “Where in the Word is Pravaham?” is part of a poster that Jon made for their family presentation at IPC last year. On Jan 6, 2012 Jon who is the Irvine Pres. missions team chair and his beautiful family – Jennifer, Trisha, and Christina – shared about their visit to Pravaham in November 2011.
While we were doing the display and close to when we were getting finished I started to look around and noticed that there was another display right across from ours. Guess what it was titled? “Where in the world is Flat Stanley?” Now, how cool is that? Is our God awesome or what?
By Christie Van Vugt about her trip to Pravaham last year; we thought it would be good to share as Christie prepares for another visit.
Pravaham is beautiful anytime of year and October 2011 was no exception. The weather was unseasonably warm and the annual monsoon was late arriving but the campus was lush with greenery and flowers were in bloom everywhere.
On my first day there we had morning service in the chapel, followed by breakfast and delicious Indian chai (tea). I was in the classroom getting to know the thirty new students who were enrolled for the 2011/2012 year’s nursing program. Suddenly there was a lot of excitement. I was summoned to follow the staff back to the office to meet two new “kids”. The female goat I had been petting an hour earlier decided it was time to give birth and out came the twins! Below are some other brief highlights of my 2011 trip.
The first week was spent getting to know the new students and reuniting with the soon-to-be-graduates. The 7th batch girls had been home for a break and were returning to take a final practical exam before the official graduation ceremony. The baby goats were a constant source of entertainment. In addition to the goats, there are chickens, pigeons, parakeets, three small “turkeys” (they’re actually guinea hens) and two dogs. There have been monkeys on campus, but happily none while I was there! One evening we had an impromptu talent show in the chapel with singing and dancing. There’s video footage of me singing and dancing… but I’m pretty sure it won’t be released for public viewing!
Week two was busy preparing the campus for graduation. The new girls were fitted for their official pink uniforms that they will start wearing on graduation day. The graduating students each prepared a white sari to wear for the ceremony. Pastor Devadoss spent hours practicing a special song with the girls. So much time was spent singing that song that I actually learned to sing it too! One night we had a fun time stringing together “vidi malagai” (loose jasmine) flowers. The girls wear the finished strands in their hair. For a couple of days the girls practiced for the ceremony. In addition to their regular duties they spent their free time tending to the garden areas and making sure everything was extra clean. On graduation morning there was a flurry of activity before the guests arrived. This year I was lucky enough to watch the work that goes into designing the beautiful traditional welcome designs known as “kolom”. It is artwork created freehand on the ground with a powdered white marble and then filled in with colored kolom powder. All I can really say about the graduation is that even though very little of it is in English, it was a beautiful and meaningful ceremony. (The video footage is on DVD if anyone would like to watch it.)
The third week started with the annual old student reunion. There were seven 6th batch students who returned to attend this event, plus several girls from earlier years. I spent the rest of the week working on art projects with the 8th batch and taking photos of the girls. Before I knew it the students were all heading home for a holiday known as Diwali (the festival of light). Just before I left we had a little more excitement when a cobra was discovered in the classroom. My yelling “snake, snake!” didn’t bring a fast response at first, so I’m thinking “snake” might be a good word to learn in Tamil! And with that, the monsoon rains arrived and I said goodbye to Pravaham. It always feels like a final farewell… but just last week I started thinking about “on next year’s trip…..” Shhhh! Best to let John recover from 2011 before he starts to worry about 2012! LATE BREAKING NEWS: two more baby goats were born the weekend before Thanksgiving!
Christie can be contacted at cvanvugt at cox dot com.
How is Pravaham building, practicing, and experiencing Jesus’ Kingdom of God among the oppressed and marginalized rural poor in South India? This is the question we tried to answer through a Photographic Exhibition and DVD screening of Graduation 2009. Photos of this event, which was held yesterday at IPC, are available online. Below are some of my reflections.
Christie’s pictures and moving testimony showed us that Jesus’ kingdom of God is being built at Pravaham on the strong foundation of our Triune God’s love and justice for all his children. All of us are created in the image of God and each one of us is his dearly beloved child. Still, in rural south India not every baby girl is welcomed into the family and not every family accepted into the village society. Pravaham, founded in 1993 by Rev. Dr. Ananda Rao Samuel, a former Moderator and Bishop of the Church of South India, models the awesome truth that God’s love though is available to everybody. Using their inheritance and with the consent of his children, Uncle bought the land to establish God’s vision of a Community of Peace and Justice as revealed by Amos 5: 24: Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness as a mighty stream. Uncle’s act of buying the 6 acres of land among the remote and rural poor and establishing it as Pravaham: A Community of Peace and Justice reminds me of Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price in Matthew 13: 45-46, where the rich merchant sells all that he has to buy a single pearl of immeasurable value. Sadly, 5 years after Uncle’s death, it looked like Pravaham was to vanish. But then, God called his daughter, my friend, Lucy. Supported and encouraged by her husband and family, Lucy gave up her career and began God’s work at Pravaham. Today, almost 7 years later, she continues to run Pravaham voluntarily. Lucy takes no salary or travel expenses for the work she does. Obedience to God’s vision to rebuild and renew Pravaham is what drives Lucy. Pravaham means “everflowing stream” and under Lucy, Pravaham’s works of love, mercy, and justice flow richly, freely, and include: Tamil-Nadu Open University approved vocational education certificate programs for high school dropouts, health clinics, evening tuition centers for the school children (all grades) in the surrounding villages, and model school outreach whereby elementary and middle school children are brought to the Pravaham campus for a day of nutritional meals, fun, and games. The Pravaham community is made up of a handful of staff, their families and about 20 to 30 students (number varies every year).
Pravaham’s motto is: A community that lives to enlighten, Receives to enable, With God as its source, Christ as its model, And People as partners. Lucy and her staff have joyfully claimed the identity of the living Christ and model this for the students. Initial practices they teach can be summed up in the old saying: Cleanliness is next to godliness. That is, the girls are taught basic hygiene and participate in communal devotions before anything else. Many of the young women, ages ranging from 15 – 24, who enter the community receive love and acceptance for the very first time in their lives. Next, a daily routine of spiritual and vocational study along with manual labor, chores, service and recreation is encouraged. Finally, Lucy skilfully shares her vivacious enjoyment of life and love of God and his creations through liturgical and other traditions. One such tradition is the annual Graduation and Inauguration celebration. This is a worship service as well as an awards ceremony for the graduating students. It is also a social event welcoming new students and bidding goodbye to the graduates. We watched the video of this ceremony, which had been specially edited for the Missions team by Nancy Chong. This event is Pravaham’s grandest, joyful shout to the world that God is living in their midst, present, active, in the everyday reality of the community. Held once a year usually in August or September, the graduating students, are dressed in white saris. White signifies their cleansing, purification and rebirth as new creations in Christ. They sing a promise to walk with Jesus all the days of their lives and they light their candles from a symbolic lamp of Christ. They pass the light on to the new students coming into the program, who are dressed in pink and white salwar-kameez uniforms.
Another of the everyday realities is that while Pravaham is a garden setting of peace and tranquility like the original Eden, real serpents and scorpions, dangerous animals, live there too. Yet, God’s promises of protection covers this community with abundant grace and mercy.
Christie’s photos document the students’ growing grace, expressions you can see in their faces that comes from the experience of living in Jesus’ Kingdom of God. In the photos, I could see their expressions changed from when the girls first came in and when they graduated from Pravaham a year later. The original bio pictures, taken when they were new, show only a few of the incoming students smiling. Some looked sullen, many were expressionless, and others even looked angry. But by the time they graduate everybody is smiling and the faces shine with joy and peace. Last year Christie had experimented by taking art supplies for the students. We were able to see the artwork each student created. Most of the artwork was rudimentary, primitive and broke my heart because they had never used even such simple art materials before. Finally, we also saw the picture board story of Priya, an elementary education (teacher training) student and the first one in a new program area. At the end of the year, Priya stood first among 500 students who took the Teacher Training certificate program exam of the TamilNadu Open University. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Priya’s story is a powerful affirmation of the experience of God’s kingdom at Pravaham.
We lunched al fresco in perfect SoCal weather and the food scintillated in the sunlight like brightly colored jewels, a visual bounty and tasty treat. The fresh fruit platter was stunning (Olivers) and the bowl of watermelon refreshing (Austins). Delicious, healthy salads, and other foods (Chongs, Kameyas, Rashoff, Stillwagon, Siakis, Boyd, Clinard, Partibles, Carriers, Farkishs, Wei, Kreutzen, Major, LaCount, Foo, Bullocks, Yamaguchi) were plentiful and much appreciated. I am just sorry that I can’t remember the names of all the dishes😦. Wanting to test my energy levels and Indian culinary skills I cooked Butter Chicken Masala, Coromandel Shrimp (wild-caught from the Indian ocean), Spicy Fried Potatoes and Cauliflower, Basmati Rice Pilaf with Chicken, Basmati Rice Vegetable Pilaf, Cucumber-Tomatoes-Onion in Yogurt (Patchadi), Vivikam (sweet idlis) and Hummus. Trader Joe Naan and plain white basmati rice complemented the home made dishes along with mild samosas and tamarind chutney (Nappolys) and tiny spicy samosas (Dietzes).
One thing I cannot and will not forget is the turnout; I was deeply touched by everybody who was there, that they made time out of busy schedules. I love that families came together with their kids as I deeply miss the loss of the multi-generational family get-togethers of my childhood. Rohan was sweet and helped by offering soan papads to everybody. It was also very touching to see how the kids made a beeline for the poster that we were going to sign for Priya! These are very special kingdom people and I will hold them close to my heart forever.
Earlier in worship, Pastor Scott kicked off a brand new sermon series called Desiring the Kingdom. He reminded us of our reality, that Jesus came to call us into the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which we are restored to wholeness, peace, and tranquility. As I reflect on yesterday’s events, I am filled with gratitude to God for Lucy, Arlene and Senthil back in my life so meaningfully and powerfully. I am also filled with love and gratitude for the incredible faith community that God has given me now. I offer to my heavenly Father God the niggling critical little voice that finds my flaws and chastises me for not providing a formal overview of Pravaham yesterday. The Holy Spirit brings me comfort and memories of our times together, in worship and service, Bible study, fun and creativity, fixing and polishing off plenty of good food! I too live in God’s kingdom, and am being slowly but surely being restored to wholeness. Thank you, Jesus, man-God, my Savior of the world. Thank you, special IPCers! Thank you Christie and John, Nancy and Wendell for all your hard work. You are not only voices for the faraway voiceless, you serve them and us too. You have made Pravaham come alive for us. God bless you.