life.

Let’s Talk About India: 5 Things I Learned about Myself

I’ve been back in England for nearly five whole months now, and God is still teaching me so many things about my time in India. One thing I know for certain, right here right now, is that I’m aching to go back. I miss that beautiful country so much, and there are some very special little faces that I just have to go and see and hug again real soon.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking more about what I learned about myself, and what I learned about God, during the five weeks I visited India, and I feel that there have been five things highlighted about me since coming home and having time to reflect on…well…everything.

So here are five things I learned about me.

1. I’m instinctively selfish. There were times when I was in India where I didn’t want to be surrounded with kids and I wanted to be able to shut myself away from them and their smiles and their cute little “Jesus loves me” singsong voice and just be in my own company. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with the kids and watch them being all cute and lovely and learn more about them, but being in an environment like that can become overwhelmingly intense pretty quickly, and there were times when I wanted to shut myself in my bedroom and pretend that I was back in my first-world world where we had good food and comfy beds and central heating. There were honestly times when India wasn’t enough, but other times when the whole thing was just. too. much.

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2. I’m materialistic. Whilst I was in India, I didn’t have access to first-world necessities: wifi, chocolate, food that wasn’t spicy. I could go on. My lovely friend Sarah sent me off with a box of rations, which included some sweet treats (that I just about managed to make last the five weeks I was there!), so I did have some home comforts. I had occasional access to wifi to update people back home and spend some time on social media, and my wonderful hosts made me some English food (and let me tell you…toast and butter never tasted so beautiful!). There were times when these things were nowhere on my mind (I have to say it was sort of refreshing to be able to leave my phone on airplane mode for most of the time and just use my phone as a camera!), but there were times when my Western mind craved instant: instant wifi, food, sleep, space…I found myself becoming so wrapped up in what I didn’t have that I nearly missed moments like this…

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3. I’m unfaithful.  Before I left for India, I read so many blogs that had been written by missionaries who each had a defining moment of faith on their trips, and I was so excited because I wanted that moment where God would speak in a booming voice directly into my situation/life/trip/whatever and I would come back from India being a ‘better Christian’. Let me be honest with you. That’s not quite how it worked. I can see that now I’m home, but when I was there, I attended morning prayers and read the Bible and prayed for the kids and for the staff and I did everything that a ‘good’ Christian would do, but I couldn’t help but feel it was all a little bit fake. I didn’t know why God had led me to India, to this little orphanage set off the beaten track, and it didn’t seem that God was about to reveal that information to be either. There were days where I was so exhausted that I would crawl into bed in tears because I just wanted God to do something and I felt so abandoned that my Bible lay in my suitcase unopened and my prayers were never spoken. God wasn’t doing what I wanted Him to do in the time I wanted Him to do it, so I didn’t want to engage with Him. I am so glad that our God isn’t like this.

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4. I’m unworthy. In Western culture, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in everything that screams status. The children I was working with at Frishta had nothing when they arrived at Frishta, so are considered pretty worthless by the world’s standard, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. These children have so much to give. They always ran to give me huge hugs when I walked into the room, they wanted to sit with me and hold my hand and play with me. They wanted me to read to them and then they wanted to read for me. They sang to me. They danced for me. They loved me from the moment I arrived in the village. They had no reason to love me. They had no idea who I was, or what I was. But that didn’t matter. They didn’t know how much money I have in the bank or what grades I got at A level or what I wanted to do after I left College. None of that was significant. And that was like a gentle slap in the face.

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5. In the end, it’s really not about me. There’s quite a ‘status’ about going overseas to do mission work, even in Christian circles. Both leading up to my trip and then again when I got back, I had people asking so many questions about my trip, and the phrase “what you’re doing is amazing!” was thrown around a few times too. But, even with all of the struggles of this trip, and even when I didn’t feel that God was doing anything, God showed up in beautiful ways on this trip (and many times I couldn’t even see these until after I returned!). I didn’t go to India to make me feel good. I didn’t go because I had to for my degree. I still don’t know why, but I went because God was leading me towards something that was bigger than myself, and I think we often miss what that is truly like here in the west. I got to introduce these children to the love of Jesus, and they did the same for me in return. We worshiped together, studied scripture and prayed together. We shared what God was doing in our lives and we were able to celebrate together when God came through and answer prayers, and join with each other when one of us needed God’s intervention. I saw kids change because they had the opportunity to get to know Jesus, and if that was the only reason I went to India, then I’m okay with that.

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10 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About India: 5 Things I Learned about Myself

  1. Wow, Shelley. You have no idea how perfect this was for me to read today. I have been struggling with God lately because I am restless and I want to do something and I am tired of sitting around feeling worthless.

    But there were a whole lot of “I’s” in that sentence. And that’s my biggie. I’m so focused on myself that I can’t move forward. I need to stop blaming God for this and start seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness. All the rest of the stuff will follow. 🙂

    1. Oh Hannah. I’ve been there with you. Actually, now that I’m preparing for my second trip, I’m there even more!

      I’ll let you in on a little secret. I write things like this that I can’t help but think sound all holy and nice and “good Christian” but I’m not there yet. I still don’t seek God as much as I should and I still try and do things my own way. It’s a battle, but it’s oddly comforting to know that there are others on the journey with us!

  2. i love this, shelley! your humility, honesty, wisdom and heart are such gifts. never stop shining for Christ, sister! 🙂

    ps – can i ask: what are you studying at school, again?

      1. In some ways it’s so good to be done! In other ways, I feel sort of lost now. I’ve spent the last nineteen years in education (here in the UK I started nursery school aged 3.5!) so being free from it is strange…I don’t know what I want to be doing with my time!!

  3. What a beautiful post, Shelley. I think many of us from the western culture have the same struggles…. I think we’re constantly bombarded with how important we are and we love ourselves. I know my hardest struggle as a mom is laying my desires down (for being able to clean, having a few moments to think, being able to visit with someone…not bad things, but not as important as my husband and kids!) every day!! I have realized how selfish I am. I can so relate.

    I also know what you mean about your trip being about God… It can feel so glamorous (in theory) to go do missions work….but when you’re there, it can feel the same as being home! Not culturally, but in that it doesn’t automatically make you closer to God. Our God is still the same.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Hannah! That was really encouraging. It’s a definite battle trying not to glamorize mission trips (because they’re really not that glamorous once you’re there!!), but it’s a lesson I’m learning, and hopefully a lesson I’ll be able to take to Kenya with me!

  4. Shelley,
    I traveled to Haiti at the beginning of the year and I just wanted to say: bless you for this post. It has been so hard for me to articulate what I am trying to say when I have these same thoughts. How great is our God that we continually learn from such a short period of time impacting others – and are often more impacted ourselves. I just want to encourage you in your time of preparing for Kenya, I pray that God is blessing you and will continue to blessing you during and after 🙂 I can’t wait to read what else is in store for you

    1. Hannah, thank you so much for your prayers and kind words. I’ve found myself having to remember that my trip to Kenya will be different to my trip to India, and I need to remember not to compare the two!

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