Eye witness account by Carissa Robertson, a first-time camp counselor from WoodsEdge Church, at Avalanche Camp May 2015
The first day in Ooty with the rescued girls the WoodsEdge team was so tired they all crashed into bed. But I couldn't sleep with the time change and I was wide awake. The day had been so hard and I was so frustrated, I laid in bed and cried for 2 hours. It felt hopeless, the language barrier was so much harder than I thought it would be. I had somehow gotten separated into a group without translators for the boat ride, and at that point, I don't think half of the girls even wanted to be there. We were all frustrated. Over the next couple of days, as I got to know the girls, it got easier, it was just so awkward at first, mainly because I am not an outgoing person and I had to make myself get out of my comfort zone. It was truly a growing experience for me. I'm a better person because of it.
One thing that really made me think was the last campfire night. While the girls were sharing their stories I couldn't help but feel their pain as they relived their pasts. I had tears streaming down my face. It was flat out heartbreaking. I noticed that Yoshitha kept turning around and looking at me. She must have turned around a dozen times and stared at my face. She had the most puzzled expression as she was watching my reaction to each story. After the storytime was over, I walked over to the other side of the fire.
Two different rescued girls that had spoken in front of everyone come up to me separately and asked me why my eyes were red. I told them it was because of their stories. They both shook their heads and asked again as if I didn't answer right. Then I realized what they were asking. They knew what made me cry, but they wanted to know why that made me cry.
I don't think they really realized how heartbreaking their stories were. I wanted to explain that their stories made me want to take them all home with me so no one ever did that to them again. I wanted to explain that no girl should ever have to go through that. I wanted to take all those memories away from them. But I couldn't, it was too complicated with the language barrier. It seemed too hard and it was loud and crazy that night (we were playing some fun dance music).
When I was sitting there watching the girls dance, I was biting my lip trying not to cry. I kept asking God why he allowed all these things to happen to these girls. I know there are some things, most things actually that we will never know the reasons for, but I still ask. Do you ever sit back and want to throw your hands up and say there are too many, how can I possibly help everyone that needs it? Sometimes it seems hopeless when you think about all the hurting people in the world.
After I arrived back home from the camp, my husband Adam and I were asked if we would come talk in the newlywed class about what God has done in our life in the last 6 months. It had been quite a journey, ending up with my India trip. To make a long story short, God showed us how selfishly we were living and how we needed to change our focus in life from ourselves to others. We were clearly not living out the 2nd most important commandment. We loved others if they were easily lovable, but not if it was awkward or uncomfortable. So over the last 6 months, we have turned our lives upside down and started living for him and not us. I think that is why I broke down crying that night in Ooty....it was so uncomfortable, it was so awkward and it wasn't fun, I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be home sitting by my swimming pool relaxing. Sometimes when you tell God you will do anything, He takes you at your word.
So, Sunday morning I thought about what I was going to say to all these newlyweds about India, trying to think about what impacted me the most. I started out by saying...."I think Jesus must have been an Indian." I had some very confused looks from those young people. I went on to explain that Adam and I have been on a journey the last 6 months learning about what Jesus teaches. Besides loving God, everything in the gospels is about loving others and putting others first. I was blown away by how generous the Indian culture was. These girls have been through some terrible things and they had such a serving heart. If I had been in their shoes I would have been a big messy heap in the corner, crying.
Here are a few examples, it is the little things that add up. I hardly had to wash my dishes at camp, if any Indian person was standing near me at the sink, they always grabbed my plate and washed it for me. I saw someone tell a girl that she liked her hair clip, she took it right out and handed it to her and said she could have it. When one Indian girl saw that we were trying to rinse the mud off some clothes she ran and got her detergent to show us how to wash clothes by hand. I got offered an umbrella or raincoat many times in the pouring rain. If I wanted to sit at the table to eat and there wasn't much room, they would always scoot over and make room. While hiking I had many people ask if they could wear my backpack for me so it would be easier for me to climb under trees. Every Indian that was ahead of me on any hike always turned around and offered me a hand. (I noticed most Americans did not do this). They would point out any hole in the ground or low hanging branch for me to duck. If they ever pulled out a snack, they would gladly share it without being asked.
On the bus ride the last day I was picking all the dirt out from under my fingernails. Priya grabbed my hand and said.."No, I do it for you", she sat there and picked all the dirt out from under my nails with her own nails, it was a humbling experience. I sat there thinking..."How do I teach my daughters to be this selfless and think of others first?" Americans just don't do this for others. Maybe I just seemed helpless to them, or maybe God was teaching me something.
The last night, when Priya got her photo album of the avalanche trip, she treasured it, she truly loved every photo in there. I know how special it was to her by the look on her face. Right before she left that night she took out a photo of me and her together and handed it to me, she wanted me to remember her by it. I knew it was a sacrifice because of how much she loved the photo. It took me some convincing to get her to take it back. I wanted to say that I could go home and print 100 copies of that same photo. It reminded me of the parable where the poor widow gave little, but it was everything she had so it meant more. How often do we give a little and think, oh it won’t hurt much, I have more at home. Oh, to be in that place where we give away our prized possessions because we care, not because we have backups.