December 2006 missionary letter

Letter from Thandiwe

MBKG Pannai (Family Village Farm), India

December, 2006

“When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living beings on earth.  That is the sign of the promise which I make to all living beings.” Exodus 9:16-17

I sit mesmerized by her voice, clear and haunting, as it sings words I cannot understand in the predusk quiet.  We are perched side by side on a low flat rock, looking out at the approaching clouds, creamy golden in the evening light.  The palm tree in front of us has turned emerald, and dragonflies dart here and there, flitting darkly against the clouds.  I turn and look at Monika*, or Monika akka as I call her adding the respectful familial term akka meaning elder sister.  The corners of her eyes are creased from thirty years of broad smiling and quick laughter.  Her eyes shine a little brighter than normal with a hint of tears.  She wipes them, glances at me with a smile and keeps singing.  I place my hand in the soft crook of her elbow and look back out at the green around us.

When, as we walked here from the kitchen, I asked Monika akka if she had children, her face had closed a little bit.  “No,” she had replied.  “No marriage.”

“Why?” I asked her.

“Mummy, no.  Daddy, no.  Money, no,” she had said with a flick of her wrist as she listed each missing element necessary for the arrangement of a marriage through which she could have a family of her own.

As I listen now to the longing in her voice as she sings, I smile thinking of her answer when I asked about her cottage children: “Super children,” she had said, her face glowing with sincerity and pride as she named the seven children for me.  Since Monika akka came to Pannai she has grown to love the children for whom she cares.  I think about how lucky they are, how lucky I am, to know this woman.

Her song ends, and we sit silently together.  The silence is not for lack of things to say, and it holds me comfortably, assuring me that there are no words to express the stillness we share with each other, with the ground beneath us, with the green around us, and with the open sky above us.

Monika akka has reached out to me since my first day here: often calling me to her with a rose for my hair and a bobby pin to hold it in place, sitting and talking with me, and somehow including me in conversations I cannot understand.  I capture a single dragonfly with my gaze, and I follow its erratic dance.  My emotions swell and dance with the dragonfly.  My time here has not been easy; I normally surround myself with friends and loved ones, people with whom I can share myself.  Without a common language, that has been difficult here.  Sometimes I too feel like an orphan, alone in this place without my family or closest friends.  Yet now, the tears that rise to my eyes are tears of gratitude for this woman who has befriended me, who accepts me as I am, knowing nothing about me or my past.  She loves me and allows me to simply be and to feel.  It is this freedom to feel, to feel loneliness and companionship, frustration and joy, and the freedom to share these emotions with another person that streams saltily down my cheeks.  In the security of Monika akka’s company, lulled by the gentleness of her song, I cry.

Monika akka catches me wiping my eyes.  “Why?” she asks, enveloping me in her arms.  How can I explain that with her I am safe to be myself and to feel fully without holding anything back?  I wipe my eyes and smile at her, trying to tell her without words what I am not sure words can say.

She lets go of me, and we sit in silence again, I lost in my own thoughts and Amudha somewhere in her own.  “Look.”  She points at the sky, and there edging a cloud in crisp purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red is a slice of rainbow.  I gaze at it, watching it and think of Noah and promises.  I do not believe that God promises me anything specific, certainly not safety from natural disaster; I simply feel reassured in the promise of life and companionship.  If I take the time to listen, to look, to feel, to be in relationship with others, God’s presence will be manifest to me.  As I watch the rainbow fade green, then yellow into the gold of the clouds, I feel so profoundly God’s presence with me.  “When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living beings on earth.”  Just as it is a reminder to God, that rainbow reminds me that God is with me now and always in the beauty of the Earth and the companionship of other people.

Please pray for Monika akka and the other women who live and work as cottage and nursery mothers at M.B.K.G. Pannai.  They, like the children, come from destitute backgrounds and lives of hardship, yet they give so fully of themselves to the children they care for.  Pray that they may know God’s love and presence with them in the same way that I felt it through my time with Monika akka.

Take time to take be still in the world and with others, so that you may also experience God through the Earth’s beauty and the company of the people around you.

Shalom,

Thandiwe Gobledale

I changed Monika’s name to protect her anonymity.

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About Thandiwe

Hopeful cynic, creative, seriously silly, lover of people and places, hypocrite, third-culture kid, queer, life-long learner, white woman, Christ follower, outdoor enthusiast: I am a seeker of justice and truth who has re-found my spiritual home in progressive Christianity. I serve as the Associate Pastor at a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation near the mountains of Colorado where I live with my beloved.
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