India Mission Reflections 2017
By Dennis O’Reilly
This was my very first mission trip and a wonderful experience in so many different ways. Our itinerary took us through the New Delhi airport, the Calcutta airport, train stations in Howrah and Malda and a series van rides to various locations within the Diocese of Durgapur in West Bengal, India and eventually, back to the Calcutta airport for our journey home. What struck me were the differences in the transportation resources used by the Indian people as we progressed on our journey.
New Delhi has a population of nearly 20 million people. It has a modern airport, lots of high-rise buildings for businesses and residential accommodations, and traffic and air pollution that was in the national and international news while we were there. Lots of people and lots of vehicles — all sorts of vehicles. All the vehicles cause gridlock during rush hour, but strangely everything somehow keeps moving. There are trucks of all sizes, automobiles, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles and bulls (yes, bulls) all just inches apart and trying to get somewhere. Somehow, it all works.
As we got further along on our itinerary further into the countryside, there were still large numbers of people in the little towns and villages. The buildings ranged from concrete construction to huts of mud construction. Huge numbers of people and animals walking. There were some people on bicycles. Fewer yet on motorcycles and in automobiles. But lots and lots of trucks (that looked like huge dump trucks) used to transport cargo and people.
Mission activities in Diocese of Durgapur
The team conducted a variety of mission activities in a number of locations within the Diocese of Durgapur. Several activities are particularly memorable for me. The first was meeting and visiting with the girls at Saint Michael’s Safe House. This was an especially moving experience for the team members who sponsor individual girls there. We had small gifts for all the girls, and we were able to visit briefly with the girl we sponsor. We also conducted a Festival of Hope there. There were approximately 450 attendees. People came from nearby villages to hear the Word of God, to receive bibles and to receive blessings.
Another mission activity that was particularly memorable was the Festival of Hope conducted at the Diocese for 500 children on Saturday and Sunday. The children came from many places in the diocese. Some came from orphanages run by the diocese. Others were disadvantaged children that attend diocesan schools. For most of them, it was the first time they had travelled any distance from the place they were born. Regardless of their circumstances, they were eager participants in all the activities and seemed genuinely happy to be there and to participate. The event was deemed a success and Bishop Dutta plans to conduct another Festival of Hope for children next year — with 1,000 children attending.
The visit to Saint Paul’s Church is Asansol was special because they asked the diocese to be added to the list of places our team visited. The parish was established in the early 1800s during British Rule. Thus, the church building looks like churches built in England in the 1800s — cruciform with old-style stained glass windows. But the people were warm and friendly. They were eager participants in the Festival of Hope. I sincerely hope we are invited to return there again next year.
We spent two days at Sarenga. But we needed more time there. Sarenga is special because there is also a hospital and nursing school there. The hospital was established in 1914 (the year my Father was born!). It is classified as a “mission” hospital — authorized to operate, but not part of the government hospital system. There are currently two physicians employed there. One is a Community Health physician. He is the director of the facility. The other is a General Surgeon. They provide quality medical services to many patients each year.
The nursing school was established in 1970. They have a three-year curriculum. Admission is competitive. The students must pass government exams at the end of each course year to progress or graduate. The director of the nursing provided a guided tour of the facilities and an overview of the curriculum. I was impressed. While the facilities are being upgraded with new construction of classrooms and other needed space, the quality of the educational process and the dedication of the staff make it possible for students to learn in facilities that would be considered sub-standard in America. They make it work.
We conducted a Festival of Hope in Grace Chapel there. The chapel was recently renovated and expanded. There were approximately 300 people in attendance. But what was most impressive to me about Grace Chapel is that there is a prayer session every morning attended by the nursing students and the staff. Prayer is part of their daily lives. Remarkable!
We conducted Festivals of Hope on two successive nights at Sarenga in a tent set up in a field. There were 4000+ attendees each night! People came from many villages and it was evident that they wanted to hear the Word of God, to hear testimony, and to receive blessings.
From all that I experienced on this Mission Trip, it is apparent to me that Bishop Dutta is dedicated to his vocation and to his mission of transforming communities and changing lives — and that he is having a positive impact and beneficial effect. The safehouse, the schools and the churches he’s built provide the means for people in the Diocese of Durgapur to achieve their academic and spiritual potential. Achieving one’s academic potential is essential to improving their lot in this life. Achieving their spiritual potential is essential to achieving salvation.
What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.