The older I get the more important my faith is to me. I have learned over time that being a Christian is more than going through the motions of church, social events, and bible study. It is following Christ and trying your best to model your life after His. Matthew 6:33 is a good verse to hit home the point that we should put God’s kingdom first over our worries. This is one thing that is not always easy for us especially when you have to pick God over your family, but I felt God’s call in a very clear and real way. I believe God's sovereignty stretches onto the details of my life so it was not just by chance all this happened.
Melissa and I officially joined Cypress Bible Church to become members. Part of that process involves an interview with a Deacon and an Elder of the church. I remember saying a quick prayer before going in the room to interview for God to do something with this interview that would form a relationship and help me grow further in my faith. After the formalities of the interview was over Doug (Elder) was asking me questions about my job and excitedly at that. After I responded and we talked through some basic networking scenarios he told me about an opportunity to go to India to use my job experience to help the IT staff of the organization that our church was forming a mission team to help support. I was floored. Not only was this obviously an immediately answered prayer, it was a chance for me to help with something I am very comfortable and confident in. It turns out that the IT manager and IT supervisor both had just left this place, and the remaining staff really could use some help with networking concepts in general as well as good practices. Ironically when they take such a vital blow to their IT staff I am given the blessing to be able to serve in the exact area they need some help with.
As part of our preparation before going we had several team meetings and required readings. They helped to answer several questions we all had about what it was going to be like, what to expect, etc. The other unspoken part of the trip preparation was getting enough financial support to cover the trip costs. Asking people for money is something that I really struggle with and to be quite honest, hate doing. I wrote up a support letter and sent it out, and I was overwhelmed by all of the people that contributed. I am ever thankful for all of the people that contributed and especially for all of the prayers.
The crew of people that went on this trip was a blast to hang out with. We all felt closer by the end, and had a great time getting to know each other better. Everyone got along great and rolled with the punches when plans changed. We all had different roles to play on the trip with their implicit responsibilities. Listed in no particular order are the cast and crew:
Steve – Leader of the pack and responsible for teaching discipleship
Doug – The guy who got me involved and responsible for teaching cultural data gathering
Me – responsible for training the IT staff on networking 101
JJ – responsible for training the youth leaders
Donna – responsible for children’s ministry and medical camp
Avalyn – Wife of Doug and responsible for children’s ministry and medical camp
Joelle – Daughter of Doug/Avalyn and responsible for children’s ministry and medical camp
Elizabeth - responsible for children’s ministry and medical camp
I will mostly concentrate on my experience and what I was there to do. Prior to the trip I corresponded with a contact to find out what kind of training I should concentrate on. I made a pretty detailed outline to cover the OSI model, Ethernet, crimping, hubs, switches, routers, WANs, routing, bridging, ARP, TCP/UDP ports, access control lists, firewalls, VPNs, VoIP, QoS, wireless access points, binary, hexadecimal, subnetting, and some detailed troubleshooting examples. Believe it or not most of it was used while I was teaching, but we had to drop some subjects. I’m not much of a “blogger” so I was just planning to list out what happened each day and add some extra comments, explanations, and pictures in here and there. So here we go…
Friday – March 12th
I got everything packed and ready to go the night before. Donna and her husband came to pick me up as that would be a lot easier than dragging the kids through it all right in the middle of naptime. Melissa said that Ryan ran down the street yelling “Da Da” with tears in his eyes when we left. After making it to the airport we all met up, checked in, and got our bags checked. This was the Friday of Spring Break for most of the world, but surprisingly the airport was not as horrible as I envisioned. JJ had his peanut butter confiscated by airport security but everyone else seemed to make it through without any problems. We all went up to our departure gate to wait for the plane. About half of us realized after a while that STANDBY was printed on some of our tickets. It turned out that Doug, Avalyn, Joelle, and Elizabeth fly on and the rest of us were bumped to the next day. This was all due to a spring break crew of kids ahead of us going on some trip that was taking up most of the plane. We were given a voucher from the airline, but we were all a little disappointed to not be able to leave as a group. It was nice to get to stay an extra day at home with the family. Melissa was not feeling well so it was not exactly perfect timing for me to leave her with the kids. I was all packed and ready so it was just a stress free day to spend with the family, which was nice and appreciated. Donna was not feeling well at all due to the malaria medication so it was for the best that she had an extra day to rest and recuperate. She ended up sleeping over 12 hours that night. Thankfully the medicine had worn off on me, but it did feel like a truck hit me the first day I took it. Melissa loaded the kids up and came to get me. We headed straight to Red Robin. How is that for irony? Instead of going to India where most of the country does not eat beef I headed to get the biggest hamburger I could get my hands on.
Saturday and Sunday – March 13th and 14th
OK – lets try this again. This time Melissa dropped me off at the airport. Ryan cried again after I got out of the car. Steve, JJ, Donna, and myself all met up again and we headed back up to the gate after checking in. Talk about a small world... a friend that I work with from Huntsville was traveling overseas the same day and we got to meet up briefly as she was departing out the same gate. (Hi Noor! Your face!). Shortly after we all got on the plane and the adventure began.
I had brought a lot of stuff to read, and loaded up a bunch of Mars Hill (Mark Driscoll) videos to watch on the way over there. If you have never watched him you should check him out. He will preach your face off! I was excited to get to use an iPod touch that I had bought off of Craigslist. It turned out to be stolen, so I had to give it back, but we found the thief and got my money back (that's another long story). I mostly read a book on the flight about the formation of the place we were going and I seriously could not put it down for a minute.
I have lower back problems and being the stubborn fool that I am, I thought I could tough it out instead of taking my medication for when it is acting up. Several hours had passed by at this point and we were almost to Frankfurt where we had a connecting flight. We landed and then dashed through security just barley in time to catch our next flight. After we got on the plane and settled in I decided to take my back pill and try to catch some shuteye. Yeah, that didn’t work well. You see I also have this other condition called “giraffe neck syndrome” that prevents me from being able to sleep in a car or a plane as my four-foot long neck starts to cramp up. I even had one of those neck pillows, but it does not accommodate freaks like me. I slept in spurts of no more than 15 minutes at which point my neck would cramp up and make me wake up and move around.
We finally made it to Chennai India sometime around 1:00 AM (local time). Donna and JJs bags did not make it so we spent another 2 hours at the airport after we landed trying to get that sorted out. I felt bad for them. A representative from the institute escorted us to a bus and then we loaded up and headed to the facility. It was about a 45 minute drive and I got to bed around 3:15 AM.
**NOTE: Some of this will be in present tense going forward as they are excerpts from e-mails I sent back to Melissa to journal my trip.
Monday – March 15th
I woke up with more energy than I thought I would have, but was of course tired. It didn’t seem any worse than a sleepless night at home. We all went to breakfast in the visitor’s cafeteria. I had an omelet, French toast, coffee, a sausage, and some oatmeal. We are going to have our first couple of meetings this morning. I really don't know what to expect but I guess I will find out after them. I think the first meeting is about our itinerary while we are here and then I will probably have another to find out more about the stuff I am teaching. I finished the book on the plane and liked it a lot. I could not sleep well at all on the flights, but I slept pretty good all night.
Skip forward to later that day:
The lack of sleep just hit me in the last two hours. The meetings went well and now I know what to expect. I started teaching today actually. I laid out my plans for the rest of the week and I think it is going to come together well. We just got back from dinner and are about to have our nightly meeting. After that I may take a shower and go to bed early. Poor JJ and Steve are both exhausted too but they are going to ride a train all night that leaves at 11pm to the village where they are going to teach until Thursday.
Tuesday – March 16th
I woke up at 4:30 am. It took me about another hour to fall back asleep. I have seen how crowded the houses are but not so much the people yet. There are hundreds of pitiful looking shacks with nothing but a tin roof along the back of the property here where I am sure tons of people live. That being said, there were more homeless people than I could count on the way here from the airport. There is litter, sewage, and what seem to be bad living conditions everywhere. I think it is just the norm here. The place we are staying at is like a mansion compared to what we saw on the way in.
Today Doug and I are alone on campus. Steve and JJ took the train last night, and all the ladies are going to a medical camp 3 hours away. I am going to climb stairs tonight for exercise and take a shower. Thursday I am going with the ladies to a school to get out. At some point we are going to go to the beach, shopping, and to a nice restaurant so I will get out enough. The staff here is so nice and their faith is nothing short of inspiring. It is pretty warm and humid here. It is probably in the 90s. The facility is in the city, but since it is fenced off it seems a little segregated.
Skip forward to later that day:
Class went really well today. I feel like I am making a connection with them and they are picking it up. I had them all make straight through and crossover Ethernet cables with the crimp set and cable tester I brought for them. We scratched the surface on some of the material too. This week is flying by. The jet lag hit me today around 4 pm. Hopefully it will be gone tomorrow. I walked up and down the stairs a lot today before dinner for exercise. I am going to take my first shower tonight. I got bit by a mosquito at dinner. I’m inside all day everyday so I have not needed the repellent so far, but apparently they come inside too. I will wear some from now on just to be safe.
Wednesday – March 17th
I woke up at 4 am again, and I am wide awake. I'm sure I will pay for it later today. Luckily I have those 5 hour energy drinks, so I will probably drink one this afternoon. I am going to go ahead and get up. Maybe I can get a picture of the sunrise. Some bug went to town on my face and neck. I've been the victim of at least two mosquitoes too. Hopefully this malaria medicine I am on really works.
Skip forward to later that day:
Today their previous IT manager came in and asked for my help on some problems. After looking at it further I am not sure if they can fix it unless they invest a lot of money they probably don't have. I think we came up with a cheap solution with units they already have, so hopefully that will work. After we went over that I went over a lot of stuff we did yesterday and then he decided he wanted me to help them with some other networking things instead of just teaching. Some of their problems cannot be fixed without scrapping all of their equipment and starting over, which would cost several thousand dollars. They need a decent core router and about 15 trunking capable switches to do this right. They are stuck with their current router for now. Hopefully they can expand and cleanup later. I wish I could buy them a ton of our gear and install it all.
I have like 20 or 30 bites on me. I don't know if they are biting me at night or what. They told me to spray this stuff under my bed when I leave tomorrow to see if it helps. I seem to be the only one getting eaten alive and I never feel it when it happens. I just looked in the mirror and had a ton of little red bumps all over my face, neck, and arms. I hope I don't catch malaria or something else. This week is flying by. I hope I can get everything done, give them the confidence they need (still some language barriers slowing a lot down), and go on all the other extra curricular activities that are required (they were not in the original schedule). We will see how this plays out. Oh yeah before I forget I saw something that is technically impossible happen today on the computer. I will have to remember to ask some people at work about it when I get back. The default gateway was not within the subnet so Windows blanked it out but it still worked somehow, even when clearing the arp cache. I am not sure if it is the lack of sleep and I am missing something obvious or not, but that seems impossible.
teachingThursday – March 18th
I'm not sure if it is bed bug bites or not. They seem to multiply during the day and night somehow. I never feel a bite that I notice where I want to swat something. I caked myself in the repellant yesterday to no avail. They have some 100% deet stuff here so I am going to try that today. I just hope I don't catch some horrible disease.
I am leaving this morning to go with the ladies to a local school so I can video tape them and get out for the first time. I think I will still have enough time to finish the networking stuff with them, but I may have to miss dinner to make sure we cover everything. They have us completely booked Friday so today is my last day with them. I can offer to be there before the day starts tomorrow morning to do some more testing. I have a feeling all of this is the first baby step on the right track for them, and they are going to need more help later. I know some other people that would love to help out with something like this, so maybe I can rope them into coming out one day (if that is allowed). The guys seem to be getting what I am teaching them, but it is just information overload so I think they are just not that confident in themselves yet. Language is a problem, and then not, and then a problem again. If I spoke their native tongue I am sure that would help things greatly. I can't imagine trying to learn all of this in a semi-foreign language.
I forgot to mention earlier, but sometimes they make a clicking or smacking noise when they speak in their own language. They also nod their head side to side like a "no" to us, but that just means they are processing what you are saying. It really threw me off for a bit because they really understood but I thought they were answering me with a "no". They are all nice guys and very appreciative of the help. I think I finally learned all of their names.
I am still waking up at 4:45 AM on the dot wide awake every morning. I am sure I will finally sleep through the night right in time to leave. I am doing ok, I just have waves of getting sleepy and then it passes. I haven't used my 5 hour energy drinks yet, but I keep one close by in case I think I need it. Well it is almost 7 AM and I need to get dressed, eat breakfast, put a note on their door to tell them I will not be in this morning, and be back to ride out with the girls.
Skip forward to later that day:
Today was a good day. I went with the ladies to the school this morning and it was pretty amazing. The kids were so happy and appreciative to have guests. They treated us like we were celebrities by fetching us chairs, getting us candy and drinks, wanting to touch us, and getting our autographs. They would do anything to get attention from us. I think we got some pretty good pictures of it all so you will have to see them to see how many kids there were and hopefully it will bring a glimpse of the experience to life. The ladies did their skit but only got to do one instead of two. I was sitting along a wall in front of the area they were performing on so I could video tape it. When it was all over and they announced we were leaving and we all separately got mobbed. The kids almost pulled my arm off trying to shake hands.
When we got back to campus I went back to meet the IT guys and work with them some more. We worked through all of the network policies they need to have in place. They were getting real excited. The router running their network was installed by another American who apparently does not help them any longer, and the previous IT manager nor the current staff now how to configure or troubleshoot anything on it. When they have problems with it they will try a few things, but usually have to pay money to have an outside consultant come in and fix things for them. They really want some more training to tie everything together, but I am slated to do this other stuff tomorrow. I am going to see if I can just skip the other stuff so I can go help them out more. Worst case scenario is I would have to teach them after hours from like 5-8PM. I don't mind doing that at all, but I hate that they would have to come in and stay late. I am about to go to bed here pretty soon. I am sure I will be wide awake at 5AM again, so I should probably get as much sleep as possible till then.
Friday – March 19th
We are going to breakfast soon, so I will e-mail later today. Doug and I have been up all morning talking to Steve and JJ as they made it back this morning. We have a tour of the place today, a wedding style lunch, and a few other things planned. I am going to teach some more from 5:30 - 8:30 or so too. We are also going to go shopping.
Oh yeah before I forget the IT guys call a switch a "chidge". It took me a while to figure out what they were trying to say. The other thing that is hysterical is the cars play music when they are in reverse.
I want my next car to do this
Skip forward to later that day:
Today seemed to go by very fast. We went to all the different departments here to see what they do and how they operate. It is amazing what they are undertaking and how they have not lost site of their purpose despite growing very big. Their faith makes us look like pagans. I don't think one person here has taken credit or claim for anything - they always give credit to God, and depend on him for everything.
For lunch we had a traditional dish served at weddings on a banana leaf and we could only use our right hand to eat (no left and no utensils). It was good but I ate too much and had to take some medicine I brought to keep it all down. After that we had a farewell from all the people we worked with. They expressed their appreciation and gave us all a gift. After that I headed straight back to teach from 5:30 - 8:30. I am teaching some more from 8:30-9:30 tomorrow morning and then from 5:00-8:00 pm again. They are really picking all of it up and it is nice to see that and the excitement it brings them. We have more meetings, lunch, and shopping to do tomorrow but I am going to teach them as much as I can while I am here. I am going to take a shower and go to bed.
Saturday and Sunday – March 20th – 21st
I worked with the IT guys again and we finished all the concepts they wanted to cover. The guys were very excited about it. I felt bad leaving but had to. I went back to the room and finished up packing and had a few short minutes to make sure I got everything before it was time for us to head out. We left at 11:30 PM India time last night and got to the airport by midnight. Our flight left around 3:45 AM. I slept about 3 and a half hours but woke up a lot, because my cursed neck cannot be in that position for an extended amount of time. We landed in London, flew through customs, baggage claim, and then hopped on a train to Paddington Station. We dumped our bags at the hotel and then went out for fish and chips. Then we went back to the hotel to put our bags in the rooms (they were not ready when we first got there), and then out.
We decided to do the tour bus because you can hop on and off and still see things. We mostly stayed together but we branched off in pairs for a few things. I really did not have a preference for anything since we came to London in 2005 for our Ireland trip. After we got done for the day we ended up at the opposite end of Hyde park so we walked the diagonal of it to get back to the hotel. We originally were going to go to China town but everyone was too exhausted (myself included). It is like 11 or 12 India time so we are all running on fumes. We went to Burger King for dinner and Steve and I came to this Internet cafe. After this we are hitting the shower and bed. We have to get up around 4:30 to round everyone up and be at the train station by 5:00 AM to catch the train in. When we land in Houston Donna's husband is picking us up and will drop me off back home.
Monday - March 22nd
I made it home safely and was so glad to be back with Melissa and the kids. I think I was a bit of a zombie but that is understandable. It took me about a week and a half to get back on my regular sleeping schedule. It also took me about that long just to process that I was back home and how different things are here. This was an amazing experience and I am glad I went. The hardest part was leaving Melissa and the kids especially with them at this age, but it was so rewarding to be able do mission work in my field.
Here are some other random pics:
we saw several people with amputated limbs living on the streets, some just crumpled on the sidewalk asleep in the sun with no shade