Sunday, February 27, 2011

Praise God from whom all blessings flow....

Many of you have asked if the children at the Jack Nelle Institute in Vijayawada, India have their mattresses yet. We are happy to let you know that the mattresses were made and delivered and are now making those metal beds a good bit more comfortable.

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above..." James 1:17.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hello Delhi

Saturday we flew to Delhi and were greeted at the airport by Joy Miller Allen who works with her husband, Kyle. They are FHU alumni. Joy helped us acquire taxis and went with us to our hotel to help us get settled in for the evening.

Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel and went to the Allen's home to store our luggage and left for church services with them. Kyle arranged for our taxi driver, a Sikh, to take us to the church building.

Services were conducted in part by Bro. Sonny David who has been to the FHU Lectureship. We also saw his brother, Samson David, whom we had met before at FHU. He holds a very high position in the university system of India.

It was interesting to see how many connections we had with the people there.

The Allen's daughters were absolutely delightful!
We had lunch together at a Ruby Tuesday's, happy to have something familiar to eat.

Our team of seven left Delhi, taking only overnight bags, and rode a small private tourist bus to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. An artist demonstrated the art of inlaying white marble with precious stones, as was done in decorating the Taj. Small pieces of lapis, malachite, mother-of-pearl, and carnelian are cut and smoothed on a polishing wheel. Small gouges in the marble are then fitted with colorful gems forming designs, secured with their special homemade glue and then polished.

The Taj Mahal was partially obscured by the early morning fog, but still magnificent.

-Laurel Sewell
Location:Delhi, India

Leaving the Jack Nelle Institute

As we leave the Institute, the lane is lined with the same children as when we arrived the week before. But they were no longer a sea of faces that looked as much alike as their little school uniforms. They were now individuals whose names and stories and personalities are unique and memorable. We will remember Small Boy who was admitted to the Institute even though he was too young to qualify but too hard to turn away.

We will remember the child whose smile and impish behavior reminded us of our own grandson. I will remember the girls I nicknamed "the twins," much to their delight, because they were always together and braided and looped their hair in the same fashion.

We will remember the little widowed or abandoned women who now have a home and a purpose, working in the kitchen or helping care for the children.
We will remember the young woman who is in love with a certain young man, but whose parents refuse to arrange a marriage for them.

The previously posted vignettes feature the newest enrollees, but regardless of how long the children have been here, each has a story to tell of hard luck and providential rescue, giving them a home, a church family, an education, and a chance for a happier and more productive life.

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).

Thank you Chandrapal and Kumari, Titus and Joyce, the faculty and staff of the Jack Nelle Institute, the Leoma Church of Christ and all the other churches and individuals who make this verse of scripture come to life.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Vignettes -- Bullamma and Nagaruju

The following stories are brief introductions to the children and women who came to live at the institute in the last year or two.

Bullamma, whose name means "small mother" is deaf and unable to speak. She married and had a son, Nagaruju. Her husband soon tired of her and left her and their 4-year-old son without any means of support. Bullamma's brother, a preacher and graduate of the preacher-training program brought the little woman and her son to live at the Institute.

Even though the Institute was already at capacity, Chandrapal and his wife, Kumari could not turn them away. At first Nagaruju was afraid to interact with the other children, often locking himself in the bathroom to avoid others.
He became a caretaker for his mother, serving as her interpreter because of her deafness.

Now Nagaruju appears to be healthy and well-adjusted. His mother, Bullamma, works in the kitchen, happy to have a home and be near her son.

Nagaruju shown here with Jay Dryden in a "David and Goliath" pose.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Vignettes - P. Prashanthi, K. Dhanalakshmi, M. Anusha and Mahesh

Note: the last name initial is given first, and the people are called by their given names.

P. Prashanthi is one of three daughters whose father, a wealthy man, was unhappy because he had only wanted sons. At the urging of his own mother, he sent his wife and daughters away, leaving them without support.

Prashanthi's mother came to the Institute to work as a cook and later left to work in a garment factory. Finding it difficult to care for the daughters alone, she allowed one to be adopted, kept the youngest, and brought Prashanthi to live at the Institute. Prashanthi has finished school now and is in her second year at the local Junior College.


K. Dhanalakshmi was 9 years old when she came to the Institute in May, 2010. After her mother had died, her father left with another woman. Abandoned, she roamed between the homes of her relatives in the village, sometimes sleeping in one of their thatched huts or in the church building. The preacher in the village, a graduate of the Institute, began to study with some of her relatives and also with her. When he discovered that no one was taking responsibility for her, he asked Dhanalakshmi if she would like to go to live at the orphanage. She said yes. He bought her a couple of dresses, since she was wearing rags. She is now in fourth grade and doing well.


M. Anusha, age 13, and her brother M. Mahesh, age 10, were two children of a drunken father who died, leaving his wife to care for three children, her sister, and her husband's sister. The mother's brother offered to go collect the insurance money for her, and then disappeared with it. This left her destitute and depressed to the point of sickness and death.

The two aunts, with the help of the children, began making liquor and selling it to support themselves. A minister who had heard of the Jack Nelle Institute brought two of the three children here and left the third at another orphanage. The aunts were able to close the business, entered nursing school, and became nurses.

Before Mahesh entered the institute he used to go out all day and no one knew whether he ate anything or not. Consequently, he was severely malnourished. He fell down often and had trouble breathing. His attacks sent him to the hospital on four or five occasions. Joyce, a medical doctor and wife of Titus, the school's principal, took charge of his diet, giving him eggs every day instead of 2 or 3 times a week like the other students and milk twice each day instead of only once. He has regained his health.

Mahesh and Anusha knew no English at all when they entered the Institute, but now read and write in English as well as their native Telugu.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Vijayababu and family

Vijayababu shown here with his wife Elizabeth and their two sons, Akash and Ajith.

Vijayababu's story is an interesting one. He was formerly an atheist and full-time worker for the Communist Party. Chandrapal taught him about God and in1993 baptized him. He studied at the Institute and is now, as he says, "a full-time worker in God's work." He is minister for a church in Chanubanda, a congregation of 60 members, and also teaches at a church of about 50 at Tiruvuyu. He also teaches a Timothy Bible School for rural youth. His son, Akashi is a great example of the teaching he has received, as he has a great knowledge of the Bible for his young age.

Vijayababu serves as a teacher at the Jack Nelle Institute and is a member of it's Board of Trustees.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Graduation of the preacher-training school at the Jack Nelle Institute

Preparations are being made for graduation. A large tent is erected to shield us from the hot sun. Although it is their winter season, we find it pleasantly warm, but mothers wrap their babies in caps and blankets.

Our hostess, Kumari wishes to dress us--Hilde, Janet, and me--in the traditional saris for the ceremony. We feel like Cinderella as three young ladies choose our wardrobe and begin to wrap us in the beautiful fabrics. There is quite an art to dressing in a sari!

Graduation is a very big occasion for them with the graduates dressed in bright saffron-yellow robes and faculty in red and blue ones. They provided robes for us to wear also. Milton delivered the graduation address and other words of encouragement were given by Arliss Gray, Jay Dryden, and Lynnwood Cockerham.

Diplomas were presented to the 32 graduates of the preacher-training school, including a few preachers' wives who completed the 2-year course in Bible along with their husbands.

A lunch of curried lamb and rice was served to the crowd. We were told that the 10 sheep that were delivered the previous day and slaughtered early this morning yielded 400 pounds of meat. This was cooked and served along with several hundred pounds of rice.

-Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vijayababu and family

Vijayababu shown here with his wife Elizabeth and their two sons, Akash and Ajith.

Vijayababu's story is an interesting one. He was formerly an atheist and full-time worker for the Communist Party. Chandrapal taught him about God and in1993 baptized him. He studied at the Institute and is now, as he says, "a full-time worker in God's work." He is minister for a church in Chanubanda, a congregation of 60 members, and also teaches at a church of about 50 at Tiruvuyu. He also teaches a Timothy Bible School for rural youth. His son, Akashi is a great example of the teaching he has received, as he has a great knowledge of the Bible for his young age.

Vijayababu serves as a teacher at the Jack Nelle Institute and is a member of it's Board of Trustees.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Top ten

Just for fun....
The top 10 signs that we are not in Kansas anymore (or Tennessee)...

#10 Every lunch and dinner includes curried rice and chicken.

#9 Breakfast may include, along with an egg, a serving of cooked cauliflower, red cabbage and carrots, hot spicy peanut butter, with guava or beetroot juice to drink, and hot tea with milk from the water buffalo.

#8 The locals here in southern India drink by pouring the liquids into their wide open mouths without touching their lips to the glass, cup, or bottle. They eat their rice with the right hand--no utensils needed.

#7 There are geckos on the walls of the dining room and bathroom. (The only thing more disconcerting than finding one on the bathroom wall at night is going back in there and not finding it.)

#6 The non-verbal head shake meaning "yes" is a quick wiggle of the head from side to side, as moving the ears slightly toward the shoulders back and forth very quickly.
(I can see some of you trying this!)

#5 Women do laundry by washing it out on a large flat rock.

#4 Camel races on TV.

#3 The bowl of fried fish at dinner includes the head.

#2 The city newspaper has six pages of classified ads where parents advertise requesting a wife for their son or a husband for their daughter. Dowries are listed.

And the number one reason you know you are not in Tennessee anymore...
#1 Your host orders lamb for the special graduation luncheon the following day and the herd arrives on the hoof and is grazing outside. At least we know it will be fresh!

- Laurel Sewell

Village churches

We visited some of the village churches established by the Jack Nelle Institute's graduate preachers. The first, Mylevaram, was quite some distance from the school. We rode for hours on a two-lane highway until traffic came to a complete stop because of a fight that broke out between the drivers of two trucks. This caused us to be delayed even further. We walked down a dark lane, pausing to admire the Happy New Year welcome that had been written in colored powders on the ground. This is a common practice, decorating the hard-packed dirt with these multicolored powders. We commented that we would remember how we celebrated the New Year of 2011.

When we arrived at the little building that served as the home of the preacher as well as the church, there were several men, women and children waiting for us. Each of our men took turns bringing a brief word of encouragement and Bible lesson for them.

During the service, the lights went out, making the starry sky above seem more spectacular. After the service, we walked back to the bus, pausing for a photo op with a young water buffalo.

On Saturday we visited Jakkula Nekkalem, a "church without walls." Donations are made for a foundation and roof where the church can meet and fill in the walls as they can afford to. The two elderly men pictured here are 73 and 80 years old.

One of the ladies, Malleswari, told us that she formerly worshipped idols.

Her husband beat her and she appealed to her idols with no result. She decided to take her life by throwing herself into a well. The minister, Elisha, rescued her and began teaching her about the one true God. She and her husband were both baptized and now she says he is a very good man!

We walked through the village seeing how life is lived. Here we see how they make their cooking fuel by mixing cow dung with rice straw, then pressing these disks to a wall to bake dry in the hot sun.

Later in the day we drove to another place where a group was having a meeting.
Though a people of very meager means, they welcomed us with leis made of marigolds.

The women were all seated on the ground listening intently. Incidentally, as I spoke to the women about the parable of the lost sheep, a woman passed by on the street, leading a lamb by a rope.

Lunch of rice with curry sauce was served.

- Laurel Sewell

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Women's conference

We are involved in a gospel meeting of sorts. We ladies, especially Janet, teach the children's classes similar to a VBS minus the luxury of visual aids. The men have classes where a lesson is taught and questions are discussed.

The women have a separate gathering where Hilde and I spoke.

On Tuesday we had three college girls who asked to be baptized. On Wednesday, there were two more young women.

Later in the week, two elderly women and one young man were baptized.

I was most impressed with how familiar the women were with the scriptures. Almost all of them had their Telugu language Bibles with them. As soon as a verse of scripture was mentioned, they had found it and were ready to read it aloud. They sat for about two hours without a break while the two of us spoke. At one point, a group of young boys came through carrying a tray of small plastic cups of hot tea and served everyone doting the lesson.

Attendance was good and increased every day, from 56 the first night to around 140 on the last day.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Jack Nelle Institute, Vijayawada, India

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The orphanage dormitory

The children are fascinated with my shoes. They want to touch them. They wear flip-flops, fling them in a pile before entering a classroom and are somehow able to find their own later.
They love also to touch our hands, reaching out. Their frequent smiles tell us they are happy and well cared for. The school president's daughter-in-law is a medical doctor and oversees their health and hygiene.
Though these orphans have so little in the way of possessions, (I have only seen one "toy" in the entire orphanage - a volleyball and net,) they are so much better off than they were before they entered the orphanage. Only the very youngest preschoolers seem sad.

The institute has a capacity of 75 children, according to the funding they receive from the sponsoring churches, but there are 78 children here now. They explain that it is just too hard to turn down a child. Preachers who have graduated from the institute often find a homeless child in the villages where they preach and bring them in.

We were given a tour of the dormitory rooms. We saw rows of triple bunk beds. These are like metal shelves, with no mattress, only a mat about the thickness of a beach towel on top of the flat metal. And they have only had these beds for the last 4 years, sleeping on the concrete floor prior to this. Even this is better than sleeping outside on the ground where they were found.

As I was counting the beds, I multiplied them by three to see how many children shared this one room. I was corrected and told that each bed held six children, two on each level! The girls happily demonstrated for us.

We ladies inquired about the possibility of providing a thick mat for each bed. They took us shopping in the wholesale district where we found we could have some made. After some bargaining we agree on a price. We hope to see these on the beds before we leave.

- Laurel Sewell

Location:Vijayawada, India

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Appreciate your modern conveniences!

When preparing for our trip we were told that we could pack lightly for the trip since our clothes would be washed every day at the institute. I was told "they will beat them out on a rock," which I took to be just an expression. On exploring the grounds, I discovered the laundromat behind the house, and found that the expression was quite accurate.
Our clothes were hung on a line to dry and then carefully ironed with a charcoal-burning steam iron.

Our dishes were also washed outside.

They grow many of their own vegetables with the help of drip irrigation. Healing Hands International from Nashville, Tn taught them to use buckets with perforated hoses that extend down the rows to keep a constant flow of water during the dry season. Buckets are filled by hand twice each day.

Contrasts abound here. Although some things are done quite primitively, they are equipped with wireless Internet.

- Laurel Sewell

Monday, January 3, 2011

Our group and our mission; Sunday activities

Our group includes Arliss Gray of Leoma,Tn, Jay and Hilde Dryden of the Huntsville, Al area, and Lynnwood and Janet Cockerham, both teachers at Madison Academy in Ala. The Jack Nelle Institute is overseen by the elders of the Leoma Church of Christ. Jay Dryden, a financial planner, is on the board of trustees for the school and Arliss is chairman of the board.

The purpose of the trip is to oversee the work of the Institute. Milton was asked to come as a consultant.

Also plans are being made to purchase property to expand the program and include a two-year college.The women in the group are teaching Bible classes to the children in the daytime and conducting a Ladies' Bible Seminar at night.

The men are also engaged in teaching classes in the preacher training school and holding gospel meetings in small outlying congregations. Milton spoke at the local congregation Sunday. There were two people baptized by brother Chandrapaul, the president of the institute and local evangelist.

Following the service the congregation held a "dinner on the ground" for more than 250 attendees. They were served in three or four shifts. The food was cooked outside the auditorium and served on foil-lined paper trays.

As is customary, no utensils are used. Rice is simply pushed around in the plate and mixed with the chicken curry and sauce and eaten by hand. When people drink their beverages, they tip their heads back, pouring the liquid into their mouths without their lips ever touching the glass or bottle.

- Laurel Sewell