Sunday, July 8, 2012

India Videos

I have a bunch of funny and interesting videos from India that I'd love to post at some point, but for now, take a look at the Animoto slideshow/video presentations I've made to share at New Wilmington Mission Conference:

CMS College Video:

Sisters of Lea Hostel:

Tune Your Hearts: Working with Choirs in India:

Additionally, I just had my blog of my time in India turned into a book! With a site called Blog2Print, you can give them your blog link and they'll make a nice book out of it, complete with nice paper, all the posts, and high-quality color photos. I am really excited to have my blog in a hard, tangible form that I can touch, a book that can sit on the coffee table or mysteriously show up in someone's house 50 years from now. It looks great and is wonderful to share with others! (Ironic, isn't it? We read and write books, then begin writing online, then turn our online writing into books...haha)

Be blessed!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Onward and Upward

“Life is like riding a bicycle - in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” 
― Albert Einstein

Dear friends,

It's been awhile since I've posted about what is currently going on my life. It feels great to have finished posting the last of my photos and stories in India on this blog, though I continually remember the stories and share them daily.

I came home almost 3 whole months ago-how strange to type!- and the time has certainly flown. Readjustment is going well. It was pretty surreal and tough at first-but now I am really starting to feel at home again as the process continues and I continue to decompress and talk and write a lot.

I have been taking things slowly. I didn't do hardly anything the first month I was home except sleep. What a luxury! Sometimes I still feel like I just got off the plane, but when I think back to how I was a couple of months ago, I realize how far I have come. Somehow, over time, my time has gradually filled up more and more at a pleasant and gentle rate, and things just kind of...normalized.

A month after I returned home, I went back to my former job as Assistant Director of Music at Memorial Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church, my home church. This job is part-time right now, but it will become full-time in the fall. It was pretty weird being back to the same job at first, but wonderful. My work involves planning the worship services each weekend, preparing and rehearsing special pieces, singing at weddings and funerals, arranging things, talking to people, directing various groups, publicity, rewriting the Gilligan's Island theme song to be about our staff, and about 100 other things. I think I do something new every day at my work. We also have an intern with us in the Worship & Arts department this summer. Torey began the job and I resumed it on the same day. We became fast friends when I was instructed to bring him up to speed and I confessed to him that I had no idea what I was doing. So with me freshly back from India and him brand new to the office, we have a jolly time learning the ropes together. I am blessed to have rewarding and ever-changing work that I enjoy, in an extremely encouraging and supportive environment where I feel completely at home. I love the grace in the workplace at MPC- it's a great place to belong. I joined a class at my church and became more and more involved with various church activities and ensembles. Before I knew it, I was singing solos again and leading contemporary worship. I spend a lot of time socializing with friends and supporters of my time in India. (In fact, it was a year ago today, I gave a benefit recital at MPC to raise money and awareness for my time in All in all, Memorial Park has become the center of my life this point: my place of employment, place of worship, and social center.

There is much happening at MPC with our Capital Campaign: we are just entering into the biggest project our congregation has ever attempted, which involves essentially doubling our church campus in size, planting a church downtown to reach out to the unchurched people of Pittsburgh, and building schools and churches in Sierra Leone. It is a very exciting time at MPC. We've also just hosted auditions for our summer youth musical, and this summer we're having a free summer concert series with different Christian artists from Pittsburgh and Nashville.

Aside from work, I make a point of spending lots of time with friends and have made many new ones. It is certainly challenging to see people for the first time since before I left for India and to try to convey my experiences in a cohesive and concise way. Fortunately, I am extremely blessed to have a lot of people who are really interested and want to hear and discuss it for hours. I cannot express how thankful I am for everyone's support and interest and questions, recognizing that it is common for returning missionaries to struggle with finding people to share more than cursory experiences with. Three months later, I am still meeting up with people in my community and from my support group for the first time to share my experiences. These conversations are rich, fruitful, and extraordinarily helpful in terms of processing. I have spoken in church a couple of times, but haven't given any formal presentations as of yet-those will come in August.

I convinced a friend of mine recently to audition for the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh with me. The Mendelssohn Choir is over 100 years old and performs with the Pittsburgh Symphony. After a couple weeks of getting our voices back into shape, we both auditioned and were accepted! I am greatly looking forward to being a part of such a talented and renowned group for their 2012-2013 season with the Pittsburgh Symphony!

I've started teaching private lessons out of the church again and have been continuing some lessons with people in India over Skype! I am enjoying living at home with my mom and catching up in so many ways. I'm enjoying spending a lot of time at the pool, doing some quality reading, enjoying the arts and music around Pittsburgh, and generally having amazing conversations with lots of people. I spend a lot of time just sitting around, thinking, too. :) 

In terms of decompressing and processing my time in India, I spend time talking with my pastors, a spiritual director, and a Christian counselor. These wise and caring people speak truth into my confusion and help me to discern God's lessons for me through His Word. It is essential to have people with whom I can meet regularly to help me make sense of some things I can't make sense of myself. They are also helping me with the transitioning process and getting to the roots of my anxiety. I prayed for God to provide godly counsel for me in this time and He has certainly provided.

When I entered India there was an initial honeymoon phase; if there is a corresponding one home-side I am still certainly in it, or perhaps just entering it after the initial weeks of reverse culture shock. When I get hung up on something in India or I can't make sense of something, I have counsel to guide me.

I am generally still leading a pretty open, slow-paced life with lots of free time, but it's seemed to pick up of it's own accord. I'm glad that I have had the option of taking time to really process things instead of just jumping into life here 100% upon returning. It is a testament to my returning to a state of "normalcy" (new normalcy) that I'm no longer isolated and definitely an extrovert again, which took some time. Hooray for the healing that happens solely due to the passage of time! 

Thanks to technology, I am able to keep in touch with friends and family in India daily. Every day I email or chat with someone there, and I try to Skype with Gigi Sir and family once a week, at least. I recently mailed Gigi sir and Ann webcams so that I could see them when we chat- it is extraordinary to sit and chat with them with such clear sound and video and feel like they're sitting next to me on the couch. This makes me feel like I lead a double life-during the day, I'm in the U.S., but then at night, I'm talking/typing with India  :) I recently managed to call the only phone in Lea Hostel-the BIG RED PHONE that the girls call home on. Warden picked up, and with her speaking no English, I summoned up all the Malayalam I could remember!

At the end of this week, my mom and I will be travelling to Seattle to meet up with my sister, who left Malawi to attend a global health conference in Seattle. She is expecting to receive a large grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for her CPAP device to continue clinical research in Malawi. (She won a grant from them last year which enabled her to fund her research.) We're making a family trip out of it, and will also be spending time in Vancouver and Victoria, Canada.

Right after our trip to Seattle, I will be attending the New Wilmington Mission Conference (the best week of the year!!!!) This year, I have been invited to be part of mission staff and so I will be presenting a lot about my time in India. Most of the delegates I will be sharing with will be high-school or college-aged. I've never been a part of mission staff before, and I feel really honored to be asked to be a part of the staff, especially after serving only 8 months. I really look forward to being in a new role at conference this year, getting to hang out with missionaries, see many old friends, and wear my Indian clothes again! I have been working on presentations about India for conference; and there's still lots of more preparation to be done-it's very difficult to try to compress all of it into a 15-20 min. presentation. God always shows up mightily at conference- I look forward to seeing how He will move this year and sharing those stories with you.

After all, the journey isn't over...just one chapter is :)

Onward and upward,

Friday, June 22, 2012

Goodbye to India

Dear friends,

Here are pictures from my last day in India. They speak much louder than any words I could write.

Last meal in the hostel mess

My table with the 3rd years. Bindhu Miss stands by to make sure noone talks at dinner.

My plate for every meal at the hostel (Claudia is painted on in nail polish at the top).
A typical dinner: rice, chamandy, beet root curry, and achar (pickle)

Latha works in the kitchen and gave me a glass of milk every night after dinner.
Later that night, Sherina and Greeshma insisted that I leave my room for a little while so that they could clean it for me. After a little while, they brought me back into my room...
...with a surprise party waiting on the porch!

The cake says, "Miss U Dear Claudia"

Our last evening together

I will never forget walking into my room and seeing this image...

Last henna hurrah: Sherina and Ledu covered me in henna for the journey home
"Claudia Brown" in Malayalam
Wishing these were permanent...

Final day in India. My farewell ceremony at the seminar hall of the college. Various speeches and gifts were given by the Principal, Vice Principal, Gigi Sir, Vimal, Cinny, Shalini, Ann... So many kind words and presents and emotions.

Gigi Sir's speech
Principal Korah Sir drapes me in a special shawl given as a mark of respect, called ponnada.

Sunita, my Indian mother
Goodbye, CMS College.

Final moments at the hostel with Warden and the girls. Warden placed a necklace around my neck.
Final photo in India. (Taken by Ledu.) Someone said, "Chechi, sing one more song." Soumya took my hand and we sang a Malayalam hymn together through tears.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Faculty Boat Ride!

A couple days before I left India, we had a celebratory boat outing with the Faculty Voice class. On a Monday morning, we piled into three cars and drove to Kumarakom, where we took an hour boat tour through the backwaters!
Cinny Miss, Ajitha Miss, Rachel Miss
Mary Chandy Miss, Ann, Anju
The group

Off the boat, Cinny Miss and I collect our medals from Sports Day (We were the only runners in the Women's 50m race. I also took 2nd place in 50m Speedwalking, lol)
Last voice class with Jemima :(
Photos that I gave as gifts to friends and family
English translated into Malayalam
Thank you notes Sherina and Ledu helped me make

Photo session with Ledu and Sherina at Bavens (yes, I'm leaning on a gigantic teddy bears!)

Picture of all the 2nd DC girls. Stunning.

As part of the Maundy Thursday morning service at church a couple days later, I was recognized by the choir of CSI Ascension Church and given this gorgeous plaque to take home. 
Elephant family from Jemima's family: we named them Jancy, Jemima, Jovan, and Johnson Sir
Little metal violinist guy- from Blesson


On Wednesday, April 4th, there was a special convocation held in the CMS College Chapel for the graduates of the Choir Directors Training Program and the Faculty Voice program. On my way over to the convocation, I said farewell to the PG Lit class I had taught all year-a dynamic and charismatic group I'll dearly miss. They gave me a watch as a parting gift and a kerchief that they had embroidered with flowers and colorful letters reading "We Love You, Claudia."

The convocation was held in the chapel in the afternoon, where each class was seated together on the two sides of the chapel. Two Achens were present along with Korah Sir and some of the faculty. Achen welcomed everyone, then there were speeches by Vimal Sir and Roy Sir, the organizers of the programs; Korah Sir, the college principal, and then a member from each class. My dear friend Cinny Miss gave a speech on behalf of the Faculty Voice class and Wesley spoke on behalf of the Choir Director's Program.
Korah Sir, College Principal, gives a speech

Cinny Miss
I gave a reply speech and then Joe and I performed a song together. The name of each graduate was announced and the certificates were awarded. After the certificates, I was given a lovely jewerly set from Faculty Voice and an amazing Aranmula kannadi mirror from the CDP class.

An aranmula kannadi mirror is a rare and special gift: a metal-alloy mirror, made of polished metal, different from a normal glass mirror. The exact metals used in the alloy are kept a family secret, as only one extended family in a village in Kerala, the village of Aranmula, knows how to make them. According to Wikipedia, "legend has it that eight families of experts in temple arts and crafts were brought by the royal chief  to Aranmula from the Tirunelveli district to work in the temple there centuries ago on the mirrors."
On the back: "In appreciation of the sincerity, commitment, and selfless contribution made by Ms. Claudia Brown for the Certificate Programme in Choir-Conducting. Centre for Sacred Music, CMS College, Kottayam 2011-2012"

After the convocation, we took a bunch of group photos outside of the chapel, and then lingered and enjoyed refreshments. It was so emotional saying goodbye to everyone in these classes; we shared and learned so much together. What an unbelievable experience it was, being with this group, seeing how God brought so much fruit from a little seed, planted in faith. The plan is that the Choir Directors Program will continue next year, Lord willing.

Lord, please help this program to grow and flourish, if it is Your will, that more may be blessed by having training in leading worship, that they may draw others into a deeper worship of You.
My certificate
The graduates of the CMS College Certificate Program in Choir-Directing.

Front row L to R: Dr. Roy Sam Daniel, Susheel George Chandy, Prof. Korah Sir, Claudia Brown,Renju Miriam Cherian, Midhila, Achen

Middle: Blesson JosephSusheil Mani Alex, Prasad Cherian Sir, Prof. Abraham C Mathew, A.M. Jacob, Jomy John, Achen

Back: Sam George, Chriz Daniel, Jacob George, Bijo P. John, Wesley P. KuruvillaVimal Kurian, Prof. Samkutty George

Not pictured: Dr. Aswan Thomas Elias

The graduates of the CMS College Certificate Program in Faculty Musical Skills Enhancement (Faculty Voice).

Front L to R: Principal Korah Mani Sir, Dr. Sobhana Kurien, Steve Kunnath, Ben Varghese, Prof. Jacob Kunnath, Achen

Middle: Dr. Mary Chandy, Claudia Brown, Prof. Rebecca Miss

Middle: Prof. Mithra George, Prof. Cinny Rachel Mathew, Prof. Ajitha Miss, Dr. Susan Varghese, Dr.Rachel Mathew
 — with Mithra George.

All of the graduates of the CMS College Certificate Program in Choir-Directing and the Certificate Program in Faculty Musical Skills Enhancement.

Front row L to R: Susheel George ChandySusheil Mani AlexBlesson JosephJacob GeorgeWesley P. Kuruvilla, Chriz Daniel, Sam George, Jomy John

Middle: Achen, Bijo P. John, Principal Korah Mani Sir, Dr. Sobhana Kurien, Renju Miriam Cherian,Steve Kunnath, Ben Varghese, Prof. Jacob Kunnath, Prasad Cherian, Achen, Vimal Kurian

Back: Dr. Roy Sam Daniel, A.M. Jacob, Prof. Samkutty George, Prof. Mithra George, Prof. Cinny Rachel Mathew, Dr. Mary Chandy, Yancy Miss, Prof. Ajitha Miss, Claudia Brown, Dr. Susan Varghese, Prof. Rebecca, Midhila, Prof. Rachel Mathew, Prof. Abraham C Mathew