Today I visited the other half of my Global Ministries assignment. From the beginning I had been unclear as to what the "girls college" was and what I might be able to do to be helpful. I had read about Pravaham on their website and was hoping this was the place as one of the greatest passions in my life is working for peace and justice and the oneness of us all.
Pastor Devadhas, who use to be employed at Pravaham and is now the chaplain at the leper hospital nearby, kindly provided transportation for me as he volunteers his time there every Thursday. I was welcomed by Lucy Shyamsundar, the director, and her husband Sundar. Immediately, I felt such strong connection with them. Lucy's father, the Rt Rev Samuel, Moderator and Bishop of the Church of South India, founded Pravaham in 1993. On the front of their brochure is this description: A Community which lives to enliven, receives to enable, with God as its source, Christ as its model and people as partners. The core program at present is preparing young women who are school dropouts or vocationally unprepared and whose families are unable to pay for schooling. Currently there are 36 girls enrolled in the nurse’s aide course. The program lasts for one year and includes a practicum at a local hospital. The program includes not only vocational help, but also life skills help (or as one girl called it--disciplines) with jobs available at graduation in geriatric centers in Bangalore or Chennai.
On the trip up, Devadhas told me I would be giving the message at the chapel service. Now, I have always been a preacher that uses a manuscript and takes many hours to prepare a sermon, so anxiety immediately set in. I prayed for help, remembering the scripture where Jesus says don't worry, the words you need will be given to you. The Spirit came through! I used my favorite Mathew 25 scripture about what you do (or not do) to the "least of these" you do (or not do) to the Lord. I shared my early reading of the Bible and my belief in Jesus' words, my passion for justice and peace, and my choices about how to love my neighbor as myself. Hopefully I encouraged them with being able to reach their goals, even when it was difficult and took a long time. I reminded them of how God loves us all equally and is always available to listen to their concerns and be there for them.
As we toured the campus, I had the opportunity to help with individual counseling. With the help of a wonderful translator, I spoke with eight girls before the day was over. I was surprised at how open they were with me and how much emotion was expressed as we talked. Many themes arose, from poverty, absent or abusive and alcoholic fathers, family conflict, mothers with health problems, to the girls desire to finish their education at Pravaham so they could help support their families still at home and buy a house for their mothers.
I could very much identify with the girls’ feeling cared for at this place. The cooks even prepared a special version of their wonderful lunch for me with less spiciness. The surroundings of nature and the goats, geese and turkey, all contributed to my feeling of peacefulness. I am so grateful that I will be returning there. It may well be that I will benefit as much if not more than will the girls. Amen
Barbara Currie is a Short-Term Volunteer, serving with the Family Village Farm and Pravaham Girls' School in India.