Going straight to the Cross

Oliver's Twist

Welcome to Barbara Oliver's web journal of her 2003 trip to India. Barbara lived in India from 1972 to 1974, and this is her first time to return since that period.

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Home Again, Home Again

by Barbara Oliver

Wow! I have been home for two weeks already! I am just now coming out of the fog of jet-lag and holiday-company-overeating-lag.

We left Tasmania on November 12 and spent Thursday in Singapore repacking for Myanmar (Burma). Singapore is sort of a hub for the Choates. They stay at the Supreme Hotel, and the hotel lets them store luggage. Since they are usually toting books from place to place, it is convenient to unload things that aren't needed for certain parts of the trip.

We were met at the airport in Myanmar by Winsome Vertannes, a single woman who lives with her mother. They do all the cooking and arranging transport for the missionaries who come to teach at the preacher-training school, which is held in the spring and fall. We drove to the Seasons Hotel in Yangoon, formerly Rangoon. It is an amazing hotel, with an attentive staff. We had to stay in a hotel because the government does not allow foreigners to stay with locals.

The Burmese are a very pleasant and polite people. The predominant religion is Buddhism. The country is controlled by the military. They had free elections, but when the people elected their president, the military put her under house arrest, where she remains to this day.

I have to say, Myanmar was one of my favorite countries, except for one thing. The Myanmar government has a strict policy regarding the internet. I was not able to check my email or even go to the home pages of my email servers! For over a week I was nearly internet-less! It was frightening!

We left Myanmar on Monday, November 24 for Singapore. We spent the night at the Supreme Hotel, gathered up all our luggage the next morning and were on our way to the airport by 6:30 am. Our flight was at 10:00 am, Tuesday morning. About 25 hours later, we arrived in Jackson, MS at 8:00 pm, Tuesday evening. No, that is not a math mistake. We gained about 10 hours. Tuesday was a long day!

Since I have been back, nearly everyone has asked me, "Did you have fun?" Well, yes, we did have some fun on the trip. But was it a fun trip? No, I can't say that it was a "fun" trip. I can say that it was an adventure.

This was not a vacation trip. It was a mission trip. Anyone who has been on a mission trip will understand what I mean. People think, "Wow, you went to all these cool places! Did you see the sites? Did you travel in style and stay in luxurious hotels, and eat expensive, exotic foods?" No, no, no and no!

We saw very few "sites", we stayed mostly in other Christians' homes and ate food that they prepared for us (which was often exotic, by the way). We seldom ate in restaurants, unless you call Burger King in the airport a restaurant! We traveled for days on poorly air-conditioned trains in which we had to take our own food and water. We sat elbow-to-elbow in the back of airplanes. We still haven't figured out how we managed to always be put in the back of the plane!

Was it great? You bet! Would I take a vacation to most of the places I went? Not on your life! Would I go again if there was a need? In a New York minute!

There are brethren strewn all over this world, and I have met some of the best. I would love to see them again. But I probably won't have that opportunity. As she was giving me a good-bye hug, one dear old sister, whom I met in New Zealand, whispered in my ear, "If I don't see you again, I will see you in heaven."

Our lives are as fragile as that old lady's whisper. It is up to us to pack as much service to God as possible in the short breath of time we have on earth. Hang on tight, because sometimes it can lead you on a wild adventure!

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Speak English!

by Barbara Oliver

[Editor's note: Barbara is in Myanmar (formerly, Burma) where Internet access is restricted. She asked us to post this latest entry.]

G'day Mates! How ya going on? Feeling like a bit of tucka? Just grab a cupa, and Bob's your uncle. Add a bickie or a chockie, and you're a box of fluffy ducks!

The first time I moved to Winona, Miss., to work with the Choate family in 1972, I noticed that when Betty sang, "This World Is Not My Home", that at the end of the first verse, where it says, "and I can't feel at home in this world any more", Betty was singing the word "world" with two notes instead of one. When I pointed out that there was only one note for the word "world", she replied, "But you can't say wor-ld in one syllable!"

Come to find out, there were lots of words that she could not pronounce in one syllable! Oddly enough, J.C. is totally lacking in Southern accent. Betty, on the other hand, got a double dose!

Several years ago, a brother from Ghana went to New Delhi. During his attempt to talk to Betty, they discovered that they could not understand each other. So, Sister Elzy joined them and began to translate for him what Betty said and visa versa. The funny thing was, they were all three speaking English!

Sunny David, the Indian preacher in New Delhi, who has been associated with the Choates for about 35 years and has been to the States (mostly the southern ones), was preaching in English at a seminar in India. English is the predominant language, since there are over 400 languages spoken in India. One of the brethren came up to him afterwards and asked, "How did you get your southern accent?"

Throughout the trip, in every country - India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore - understanding what people were saying has been difficult, even though we were all speaking English.

When we got to New Zealand, I just knew that my problems with language would be over. After all, these were native English speakers! Everywhere else, English had been the second language. So we should have no problems in New Zealand, right?

One of the ladies in the Palmerston North congregation came up to me and said that she and her husband were going to attend college in the US at "Caans or," she asked, "is it Cans?" I looked quite confused, because I had never heard of Caans or Cans, Tennessee. I asked Frances Walker to come over to clarify. She said, very plainly, "Caans". Still confused, I asked her to spell it. She slowly spelled out "K-A-R-N-S".

In Tasmania we actually got to do a little traditional vacationing. Betty had a Saturday seminar and J.C. had to preach on Sunday and Tuesday night, but other than that, we were free for three whole days! Dennis and Shirley Gresham took turns squiring us around the island of about 500,000. It was wonderful! The Christians in Hobart were all lovely.

Which reminds me. Another interesting thing about New Zealand and Tasmania were the men. Big, burly guys were always observing, "My, that is quite lovely!" or, "We had a lovely time." It was very cute.

We went to lunch with Ken and Jane Short before going to a wildlife park to see the kangaroos, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, and such. J.C. reached into his pocket to get his wallet, but Jane stopped him and said, "My shout." Which, being interpreted, means "my treat".

And it has all been a great treat! We may not have understood all the words that we have heard throughout our travels, but we have understood the hearts of our brothers and sisters. Funny how love is greater than words.

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From Sea to Shining Sea

by Barbara Oliver

Ok, hang on. This is going to be a fast trip.

It has been a while since I have been able to get on line, so here is a synopsis of the travel to Tasmania.

We left Bangalore by train on Monday evening and arrived in Trivandrum 18 hours later. We were met at the train station by brother P.K. Varghese, who took us to his home.

Several years ago, J.C. and Betty had taken a site-seeing trip with the Varghese family. Since I had never been to south India before, Betty wanted me to see some of the sites (since we had not seen any so far - after a month!). So Thursday we went on a harrowing car ride to visit the palace of Patmanabhapuram and then down to the tip of India where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet.

J.C. reminded me that I had been to Kashmir back when I had lived with the Choate family in India for a year and a half during 1972-74. Now, here I was at the tip of India. "Not many Americans can say that they have been from one end of India to the other", he said. Wow! What an adventurous life I have had!

The next day, when we were ready to leave, Thankum, P.K.'s wife, had tears in her eyes. She told Betty that they had not had a holiday since that time many years ago when they had taken that one with the Choates.

We boarded a Sri Lanka Airlines plane on Friday morning at 9:00 am and got to Banderanaike Airport about 55 minutes later. Lilani Thomas, Reggie Gnanasundarum's daughter, picked us up in her pickup. Lilani is great! Everyone should have the privilege of meeting her. Her life story is an inspirational one, and she tries to make every day count. You won't be around her for more than a minute before you will hear her infectious laugh!

As she drove us to her house, to my surprise, I discovered that she lives about a quarter mile from the ocean! We got to visit it only one evening, though. We did a bit of relaxing there and left by plane on Sunday night at 1:30 am and got to Singapore three hours later at 6:30 am. That is not a math mistake! We were going backwards in time.

We went to the Supreme Hotel and checked in and slept for about 2.5 hours. Once again, I regretted my inability to sleep on a plane. We got up about 11:00 and picked up our tickets for the New Zealand-Australian part of our trip.

We left Singapore at about 8:00 pm that evening and arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday morning about 9:00, and were met at the airport by John Staiger. We stayed at his house with his wife, Linda, and family and left by bus the next day for Palmerston North. The 10 hour drive was beautiful. Lots of sheep and cattle, and snow-topped mountains, and wonderful beaches!

Thursday evening was the start of the Ladies' Challenge. There were about 50 ladies who stayed in a cottage motel-like place at night and then drove to the church building for the seminar. Betty was the speaker, and she did a great job. The seminar ended on Saturday at about 3:00. We went back to Graham and Frances Walker's to spend the night.

The next day after morning worship, the Walkers took us to Wanganui where we met Nathan and Rachel Paki and had dinner at their house. We hopped in their car and they drove us to Kent and Rachel O'Donnell's house. They took us to New Plymouth the next day to meet Steve and Juricz Blackman and family. I also met her mother, Ma, who read to me out of the Samoan Bible and then made me read to her to make sure her lessons had taken.

The next day we went site-seeing in Taupo and stayed in a hotel that was 15 meters from the lake! Kent's parents, Wally and Maureen had joined us and we all had a wonderful time together in that beautiful place.

Wednesday morning, we drove for a couple of hours and met Rex Banks, who had come down from Hamilton, just to drive us all the way to Auckland! He dropped us back at the Staigers and took off to get home in time for his Wednesday Bible study.

As we were driving up to John's house, he turned to Betty and said, 'The ladies have a Bible study tonight. I bet you would like to speak at that.' With no preparation time, she headed into that study and did a wonderful job, as usual! When it started, Linda said that they usually had a prayer session in the beginning and then at the end, but for time's sake they would dispense with the starting prayer. Betty, in a panic, shouted out, "Oh, no! We have to pray!"

By the time we got back from the ladies' class, it was 10:30 pm. Since our flight was at 6:00 am, we decided that we would just go to the airport and wait instead of trying to get a few hours of sleep only to get up at 1:30-2:00 in the morning to get to the airport, which was about an hour away. So John got us to the airport at about 12:30. We slept on some chairs, and I wondered around the airport until about 5:15, when we were allowed to board the plane. We went through Melbourne to Tasmania. As we were picking up our luggage, a voice behind said, "There you are! Welcome to Tasmania." Dennis Grisham drove us home to his wife Shirley and she has taken good care of us ever since!

Whew! That was a fast trip, I know! We covered lots of miles and met lots of great brethren. We went from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, but wherever we were, we were with family, so we were home.

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Kakinada by Train

by Barbara Oliver

Monday, October 11, 1:36 am, I struggle to put on my socks and shoes, climb quietly down from the top berth. I sneak quietly past a sleeping J.C., notice that Betty has disappeared somewhere in the night. I pick up the liter bottle that I have been craving for the last two hours and drink greedily, disappointed that the frosty, slushy concoction of earlier in the evening has turned into lukewarm tea.

We said goodbye to the New Delhi brethren at about 7 pm, after the evening worship, drove with our sixteen pieces of luggage to the train station (yes that is more than we left the US with). Francis and Vinay, his son, and Sunny and his wife Nargis came with us. We sat on the train together until 8:30, had a pray and said goodbye to them. And we were underway.

At about 9:00, we had the famous train-food that Betty, Elzy (Francis's wife) and I had been cooking all afternoon: masala potatoes (fried potatoes with Indian seasoning), fried pork loin with Indian soy sauce (note to self: bring soy sauce from the US next time!), fried chicken strips, and chapatti (Indian bread similar to tortillas).

Ugh! Train sickness. See you later.

Well, it is Thursday evening. We spend Sunday night, Monday, day and night asleep. All those good intentions of listening to language CDs and reading were lost to a Dramamine/train-rocking induced sleep. And after the first night, the train-food lost its appeal!

We arrived in Kakinada on Tuesday, about 12:00 pm and drove to Joshua and Kabita Gootam's home. Their three boys were all home from college. That evening we went to a village and J.C. preached for about an hour. Since most of the audience were women, after a short break, Joshua Gootam translated as Betty spoke to the women for about 15 minutes. All was going well until Betty finished and Joshua said, "And now we will hear from sister Barbara."

I leaned over and said, "Joshua, I am not a speaker." He said, "Come on. Just say a few words." So before I knew it, I had said a few word and was again seated in my chair, squeezing the plastic arms so tightly they squeeked! The evening ended wonderfully as three were baptized.

Wednesday, I didn't go with J.C. and Betty to the village because Montezuma caught up with me. Wednesday evening, we met with the brethren at the church building here in Kakinada, and then today, we drove two hours to a village, where once again J.C. spoke. After baptizing seven people and having lunch, Betty spoke to the ladies, again with Joshua translating. I was sure I was safe, but I believe in the saying "once bitten twice shy", or something like that. Anyway, I was semi-prepared and lived through the experience. The good thing I can say about my little talk - short and sweet!

Tomorrow we board the train again for a 24 hour trip to Bangalore. My standards have really fallen. I am only keeping out two CDs, have my Dramamine handy and don't really expect to do anything but sleep!

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