Monthly Archives: November 2009

Bittersweet Homecoming

Were Home!

Wow!  We just spent three weeks living a dream and now in a flash, it’s a memory. It’s hard this morning to face that reality.

Goodbyes are stupid. Nevertheless, we said goodbye to India and are home sweet home. And it is sweet.  Really it is, but man…I miss India. We are so thankful to God for his faithfulness. I can see Him completely covering every aspect of our journey. Bella being amazing for the flights, through the wild and crazy taxi and rickshaw rides, eating the Indian food and then treating the diarrhea, loving on the decaying street kids, learning how to worship God in an Indian context, living in the slums and all the great some might say ‘out of our mind’ things we ventured into…God was WITH us the entire time. I know He was, I SAW HIM. I encountered God. How do you survive life without this once you’ve seen it? I thought being in India for the first couple of days was going to be about survival and now I’m having reverse culture shock. Except, now I don’t face the difficulties of poverty like not having kitchen appliances or running hot clean water, I face a spiritual poverty. How do I live in my context and ENOUNTER God like I just did these last three weeks? I don’t know the answer. So was our trip a success story? I don’t know that either. But after three weeks in India there are three things I am positive of: 1-we were faithful to God’s call 2- God is wonderfully REAL and 3-we will be marked by India forever. And I write to you today SO delighted and reassured that in a foot race for God’s favor faithfulness always wins over success.

Thanks to all of you who supported us financially and who prayed. We return to you with hearts exploding with joy and wonderment of Gods Love. We love you all very much. PSALM 126 

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are we just tourists?

Janya took us to Dharavi to meet some of her family. This slum has been known as the largest slum in the world. It’s not anymore as Neza-Chalco-Itza in Mexico City apparently has surpassed it. Dharavi was then known as the largest slum in Asia (a fact I put on this blog not too long ago). That title now belongs to Orangi Township in Karachi, Pakistan. To say Dharavi is the largest slum in India is still probably accurate, though a few slums (including the one we stayed in) rival it in size and number. I only write all this to note that Dharavi’s reputation precedes itself, and due solely to its population (even if it is not the largest slum in Asia or the world), which is routinely estimated at over 1 million residents, people from all over the world know about it. The fact that a movie like Slumdog Millionaire was partly filmed there (and a few of its children played important roles in the movie) only adds to its celebrity status. For these reasons, when people visit Mumbai, they invariably want to “experience” a slum community. It’s easy to see where they turn. Most of the other poor communities get somewhat overlooked by NGO’s in favor of Dharavi. Tourist agencies have also found a niche to exploit this “market.” Google “Dharavi Tours” and you will see what I mean.

It is certainly difficult to be discreet anywhere in India when you are walking with 4 other pale-skinned people – Bella and Brian’s freakish hair only makes it worse – but today as we walked through Dharavi, we generated a commotion on “90 foot road” (supposedly named for its width) like we have on no other road we’ve walked down so far. Indians with an inclination to try out their limited English boldly yelled what they knew: “HELLO!!” …”Whatz ur name!?”… “From what country?!” The commotion made us feel as foreign as we looked.

We are encouraged that some “Dharavi Tours” are not intended for people to gawk at the poverty of people living in a famous slum, but to come to appreciate what goes on there and hopefully change the perception one might have of an Indian slum. But, I think the point we are trying to make is that tourism is the opposite of living incarnationally. Most of the people probably assumed we were tourists and treated us as such. That is reason enough for our hosts to rule out trying to live and work in Dharavi. A while back Randy White described himself as an “anti-tourist.” It caused us to think about our true motivations for wanting to come to Mumbai, and particularly to a slum community (like Dharavi). Are we just a tourist here? We didn’t take pictures in Dharavi, and didn’t spend much time outside the homes we were there to visit. As we walked, Janya wanted to hold Bella – we think because she genuinely loves her, but more strategically because she would seem less like a tour-guide (and us less like tourists) if she were holding the white-skinned blonde girl. But I couldn’t get over feeling like I was perpetuating wrongful attention in Dharavi. We truly hope there are folks out there who would like to live incarnationally and build relationships with the people of Dharavi (and other slums in Mumbai); rather than simply tour the area and, worst-case scenario, gawk at their poverty. We are some of the people who wanted to “experience” a slum community – so it is crucial for us to continue to search our own hearts, to ask if we have just come here as tourists, or if we genuinely care about the people and want to live incarnationally, as Jesus did, in this world.

bella’s blog

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Hiii!! I think it’s unfair that Mom and Dad always get to write these blogs, so I thought I should be able to write one myself. Everyone told me that I was getting on a plane and going to a strange place called India, but once I got here I really didn’t see the big deal. As long as I get to party with mommy and daddy, I don’t care where I am. But things are definitely different than home. The other day we were out on the town riding the auto-rickshaws and shopping for clothes, and I got really sleepy. I think Mom and Dad were trying to get me home as quickly as possible so I could rest well. But on the way home, I looked out of the window of our taxi and saw a man driving a motorcycle with his wife, and between them was their young son, probably about my age, riding with him, but he was fast asleep! I don’t know how it is possible to sleep while riding on a motorcycle in rush hour traffic, but that boy was good at it. And I am getting good at sleeping while out on the city too – I fell asleep in the rick shaw and woke up in my bed, but in between Dad carried me through one mall, in another rick shaw and a taxi. I even fell asleep on the train last night and didn’t even up until morning. There’s other things I would like to try – like drinking directly from a 1-liter bottle. I saw a little boy at least half my age chugging away. It was impressive!

Every day I meet at least 12 new aunties and uncles. They pinch my cheeks and say, “You come inside!” Even strangers always want to take pictures of me. I’m kind of like a celebrity here. Mom and dad always take advantage of invitations inside because then they get good Chai or Nescafe. They won’t let me drink it but I eat the cookies they serve – for some reason they want me to call them “biscuits” here. The other day a neighbor invited us inside – as she picked me up I wanted to try a new word Mommy has taught me, so I yelled, “Chai-wallah!!!” I don’t know why, but mommy was embarrassed.

I’ve also been learning a new way to play baseball. Dado keeps saying something about a “cricket” but I haven’t heard one while we’ve been here. In baseball here, they bounce the ball and you have to hit it.

Tonight when mommy asked me who we should pray for, I thought it was a good idea to pray for my new friends in India. I think that made mommy cry for some reason.

Before we came, I remember my Papa Davis told daddy to watch me wherever we go. The trains and all the traffic do seem dangerous at times, and I know that it can be difficult to get around this city with a 2-year old like me. Some places here are very different, but as long as I am with my mommy and daddy, I will always feel safe and secure.  See you soon!

Byyeee!!

being a mom in the slums

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I want to talk about Sondra. She’s about 5 ft nothing but after spending few days with her you’d see a giant. Those two precious boys in the photo with us are James, her feisty 2 year old, and Saul, her content and sweet 1 year old. James and Bella have foot races in the hallway of the ‘step above the slums’ building they live in some mornings. Bella usually wins ☺. It’s tough being a mom in the slums. Sondra has none of the conveniences I have at home. Her entire daily schedule depends on what time the water will come. When the water comes, which is normally 10am, she ensues to complete the daily chores. Washing the dishes/pots from dinner/breakfast, hand washing the hamper of baby and mommy clothes, cleaning the floors and finally bathing herself and her sons. When she is finished which takes about 5 hours she gets the family dressed and with the boys, one on each hip walks a mile to her mother’s house (which is a couple of doors down from our loft) to do ministry in the slum for the evening. Sondra can’t take a ‘sesame street’ break for herself, she can’t even simply open the frig to get milk or a quick meal for the kids because she doesn’t have one. Every morning she has to go down four flights of stairs to the dairy vendor for milk, then make every meal from scratch (all with her boys in tow) because she doesn’t have the handiness of a microwave or In-N-Out. Walking is a must; she has no car and she doesn’t even have the luxury of diapers (yes the LUXURY).

When we first came here and saw our place I was like, “12×15 space, a 7 ft. ladder entry, no toilet “God Come ON?!” Okay there were also a couple of obscenities that rattled in my head and the formation of a huge lump in my throat. My mind raced with ideas of how I could pull this off with Bells. Would she have everything she needed? Would I be able to provide for her here? Throughout the next few days I met Sondra and Janya and our neighbors. They embraced us completely into their lives and I learned that I could do this. One night while hanging with Sondra at her place I even mentally imagined Bella’s toys, curtain colors of my choice and of course where I’d put my cleaning supplies-☺. In those days I witnessed a miracle. Because of God’s love manifested through my neighbors, whom by most peoples’ standards are ‘the poorest of the poor’, our needs were not only meet but we were showered with provision. You see the miracle isn’t even that we were provided for, because I will have times of doubt and we will continue be challenged as a family to take risks but God’s love for us, what I experienced this week, will never fade away.  

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Okay, so back to Sondra. She is married but you don’t see her husband in the pic above because he spends 3 weeks of the month away from his family. Something I couldn’t imagine being strong enough to endure but Sondra would not stand to be martyred for it. She instead beams at the mention of why her husband is away and exudes, “He will call tonight at 10! He went on a raid today!” See, in the first two days I stayed in Sondra’s home, her husband and his NGO team of saints reported back to us that they had rescued 5 kids from bonded labor (dipping incense sticks and matches is easy for a person with small hands). Sometimes it isn’t good news though; her husband has been beaten in his attempts to rescue children. Rescue is good, obviously, but some children refuse to testify against their captures because they are too afraid. Even worse, some do the work willingly, particularly the bar dancers or prostitutes (but because they are not forced physically does not mean they are not forced by their economic situation).
Sondra not only lacks complaint she expresses desire to do more for the Lord, in her words to “Get back into the ministry.” In hanging out with Sondra I observed quite a ministry. From sitting and praying with a woman who had just been devastated by her mother and sister’s deaths in a train accident to mothering her two children to helping her brother James with his recent entrepreneurial endeavor as a tailor. Needless to say, I no longer complain about the conveniences I miss. And now this place is no longer a decaying overcrowded slum. Your perception of a slum changes when you not only put a face to the people living there but when they actually become your friends. This place is Sondra, James, and Saul, and her sisters and brother. It is Janya and Sudan her son whom Bella asks for every morning. It is Christ’s love for us and IT is family.

gia marie davis

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” Proverbs 31

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Gia and I got to spend some much needed time together today.  Our hosts graciously offered to watch Bella, and kick us out of the nest, as we jaunted off into the city alone for the first time.  We went to “Cafe Coffee Day,” which is — what else — India’s version of Starbucks.  Fitting, right?  I think we’ve been hanging in here pretty good — our days are not packed full with riding trains, rickshaws, and other activities, and we rest quite regularly, (that is SURELY not to say just traveling in Mumbai isn’t difficult!), but nothing calms me and makes me more content in life than spending time with my wife.  Just speaking with her, hearing what is on her heart, being able to share my burdens and joys with her, is a blessing I surely don’t deserve.  I am so thankful that I get to spend the rest of my life with her, whether we are in Merced, Fresno, Los Angeles, India, or another place in the world — because truly wherever she is will be home for me.  The writer of Proverbs 31 must have had Gia in mind when he wrote it.

(the picture above was taken in front of Janya’s neighbors house. by the way, Gia is outside with Bella right now and has no idea that I’m posting this…)

living on the hospitality of the poor

“Whenever you enter a town and it’s people welcome you, eat what is set before you. Cure the sick and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.'” Luke 10:8-9

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I can say with confidence now that if you come to India, you will feel like you are re-living many of the stories written in the Bible. In Calcutta in 2004, I felt like I was in Acts, walking along with John and Peter up to the Temple only to be stopped by a beggar. Just this past week, we feel like we have re-lived Luke 10 where Jesus sends out the 72. Good thing Jesus didn’t say, “Take no mosquito net on the journey,” because I would have disobeyed.  Yet, that didn’t stop the mosquitos from rejoicing upon my arrival.  Jesus was telling the disciples to live off the hospitality of those they came in contact with as they went out healing and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. If the disciples walked through the slums of Mumbai and met Janya,* they would have certainly been in good hands.

After spending a few days in one of Mumbai’s slums, it would be all to easy to report on the difficulty of life for all who call this place home, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for a sob story because I want to write about Janya. Please don’t think I’m diminishing the low quality of life for people living in slums (which includes Janya) – their struggles are very real and should disturb you. When our hosts were looking for a place for us to stay in the community where they used to live, they called Janya. She found a place and cooked our food, but her hospitality went well beyond that.

Janya had us re-thinking the age-old question, “what is poverty?” Her story is similar to scores of slum-dwellers in India’s mega-cities. I’m not positive what brought her to Mumbai from her village in Southern India, but it has to be the same reason most relocate to the city against their will – their village unable to provide for its residents.  Before moving to her current home, she lived in Dharavi – which you might recognize as the largest slum in Asia and the place where Slumdog was partially filmed (her uncle still lives there, whom we will visit next week). She, her husband and two sons have lived in their home, which is probably about 15 ft. by 15 ft, for about 9 years now. But they actually own the place, and have even built an upstairs room that they rent out.  Janya no longer has to work her 14 hour job as her husband is able to provide for the family – though that provision takes 13 hours a day for 6 days a week to accomplish. And moving beyond a material definition of poverty, Janya might be the most joyful woman I’ve ever met, complete with the love of Christ in her life. So is Janya poor? I have to say yes… She is poor, but the self-centered rich man in the States who is spiritually empty is the one living in poverty.

Beyond making each meal for us, she offers to fill up our water tank every few hours (water only comes for a short time during the day). When we leave breakfast, she says, “You give me your clothes,” so she can wash them. She won’t even let us say “thank you” because “that’s for strangers.” So, basically she is doing everything for us that a hired maid would do, but she won’t accept any money (and she bought all our food!) because that would make her our worker, and she just wants to be our friend. During our first breakfast, she asked, “You want coffee?” We replied, “If you are having it, we will drink some.” She says, “It’s no problem. I already make.” “Ok then, we’ll have some.” Then she sends her youngest boy out the door to go buy a package of Nescafe.

Look at Janya below with Bella and wrap your mind around this one – we took that picture right after she grabbed a 500-rupee note (just over $10 dollars) and tried to give it to Bella so she could “buy something nice.”  But what amazes me most is that Janya acted as if we were doing her a favor by coming to her home, eating her food, and letting her wash our clothes.

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As Gia and I discuss our future, and whether we could move to an Indian slum, we know it will be incredibly difficult because we will miss our home and family so much. But now we have a different problem because we met Janya.  When we return home, we will miss her terribly.  After only 4 days, she already feels like family, and I’m so thankful for our time with her.

As we ate in Janya’s home, the neighbors little girl was frequently heard coughing – she was sick with a fever.  We struggle a lot with the question, “What can we possibly bring to this community?”  Jesus partially answers that question by telling the 72 to “cure the sick.”  As we left, the little girl still coughing, we excitedly asked Janya if we could go pray for her – thinking that healing prayer might be the only thing we could possibly provide.  Janya already knew the answer (which unfortunately was”no”) because she had already offered to pray for the little girl.  She told us, “Just pray in your heart.”  She is undoubtedly a light in her community – please pray her neighbors will have the eyes to see it.

*name changed for security.

random musings in mumbai…

IMG_9838Now that we are settled in Mumbai, it feels weird to say this adventure has only just begun – as if traveling almost 30 hours with a 2 year old doesn’t qualify as an adventure in itself. We stepped off the plane and were greeted by India’s humidity and chaos. The memories of my first trip to Calcutta are still so vivid and fresh that even though it was 5 years ago they have driven me to bring my wife and daughter back with me. Yet after only a few days of being here, I can already see this trip being decidedly different from the first. So far Mumbai feels less humid, less chaotic, and more Westernized (though that will change very quickly). In only two days of being here I have already seen a billboard advertising the new movie about Michael Jackson, heard a Justin Timberlake song playing in one bazaar, about 5 other Michael Jackson songs in another electronic store, and our next door neighbor take his best shot at “Enter Sandman” and “Voodoo Chile” on his horribly out of tune electric guitar – though I really appreciate the effort! I even saw one young boy wearing a Manchester United jersey with a large “AIG” advertisement on the front. I asked him how he felt about the AIG execs using bailout money for vacation. Indifferent and annoyed with my question, he didn’t bother to answer. Gia tried to let him off the hook and changed the subject – asking some ridiculous question about what his name is – but not quick enough as I managed to mutter a parting shot under my breath (something about thinking twice before willfully advertising for and serving the interests of capitalist fat-cats).

A big difference is we are mostly away from the chaos of the city. Mumbai has grown to the North and, though it certainly cannot be considered a suburb, the area of town we are staying has much more space and much less noise. Immediately to the East is even a National Park of sorts. I can actually see nice trees on a small mountain (though the local will warn of entering the Park after sunset since “Bagheera” has been known to make appearances). This will all change tomorrow when we move into a slum for a few days. Our hosts have arranged for us to stay in somewhat of a “project” – the government has relocated many of the residents of a nearby slum to a housing community. So we will go there for a bit. We figure it’s wise to visit while we are relatively healthy since we won’t have our own bathroom. Should be fun. Care to join us? We’ll settle for prayers.

But, undoubtedly, the biggest difference between my first trip and this one is simply that I now have a family – a wife and daughter that are with me. It’s not at all surprising that having a wife and daughter changes things. As a single dude, I conquered Calcutta with reckless abandon – and by “reckless abandon” I mean almost being killed by a commuter train and returning with giardia. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that for the last (almost) 4 years (and 2 with a child) I have given myself completely to my family. When I give, when I’m selfless, it is for Gia and Bella. As we talked about in my prophets class this summer, the word translated as “justice” a lot in the OT (tsedaqah) really just means, (Goldingay’s rough translation) “doing what’s right in your own context” (rather than “doing justice for the whole world” – though that doesn’t mean we should strive for that…). “Doing what’s right” for me means, most importantly, taking care of my family – something that gives me more joy than anything in the world (and just doing what’s right in my every day dealings). So, how that translates to my context here is, I’m in a place with a ton of poverty and despair, yet I’m finding difficulty at times to give myself wholly to their cause. Please pray for me as continue to struggle with this.

Lastly, while our hosts have done an incredible job welcoming us and making their home ours, we already miss home. That might change if one of you would gift wrap our bed and send it our way. The typical bed in India is best described as a plywood box of sorts – and someone got the idea that a ½ inch of cotton on top would provide all the cushion your hips would need. What it interesting is we can come down stairs and sit on a nice cushiony sofa, so, as Gia says, the “technology” (i.e. springs) is there but somehow isn’t translated to a bed. I guess China has the same problem with their utensils, right? A farmer will dig a hole with a shovel (i.e. a large spoon), yet they still opt for chopsticks when eating soup. You don’t see a farmer plowing the ground with a couple of pool cues do you? I have a feeling that after a few days in the slum sleeping on tile will make me long for that ½ inch of cotton.

Anyway, keep us in mind and in prayer as we are here. Lord knows we need it…