Laurence’s Reflections on the first day of his return to Soveriegn King Mission and their ministry in a slum in Chennai.
Arrived safely in Chennai. Greeted by Pastor Kevin and a driver, followed by a swift but hectic drive to our hotel. The traffic is utter chaos but must be governed by rules hidden from my eyes, as continuous impending disaster all around was invariably avoided, just. Half an hour to dump luggage, freshen up, and then on to SKM to see something I’d been anticipating since I was here two years ago – the new church building.
It looks very impressive from the front, four levels all clad in patterned aluminium. The ground floor is open plan for the children’s work. Much more space than the previous room. The worship area on the next floor is two tier with a balcony, holding 300 seated plus space on the floor without seating. Looks very smart and practical. Three 2-bed apartments are being fitted out on 2nd floor, to be rented out. They will be very comfortable when completed. The top floor is flat roofed, and when permission is given it will be converted to a large apartment, eventually destined for Kevin and family, but not until the mortgage is repaid.
After a lovely lunch of hot curry of chicken and sheep’s brain (!!!) we went round the slum. There are more shacks made of palm leaf thatch or tarporlin than last time. Appalling squalor. We prayed with a young women with two children whose 26 year old husband had put his head on the railway line which runs close behind them. Oh dear God. One can hardly imagine the hopelessness that would drive a person to do that. There are many examples here of widows and orphans in desperate need.
I stopped at a slum sweet shop and was given some sweets which a member of the church insisted on paying for. A widows mite almost, and me with unimaginable wealth in my pocket. But I couldn’t persuade her out if it.
Returned to SKM in anger and helplessness at the conditions here, made worse of course by the recent floods. Many families lost everything. SKM provided basic necessities for over 800 families to start again, even taking out a mortgage to enable it. Grassroots have helped greatly, but there’s still nearly £3000 outstanding.
The children’s club began late afternoon. Brilliant. Probably 200 plus, lower than usual as it’s a national holiday here. As two years ago, the children were excited at being photographed, the younger ones very insistent they shouldn’t be left out. The older ones were often rather shy and looked away or hid their faces.The girls all seem to dress up in the most colourful clothes, some of them looking like fairy princesses all flounced up. The children like to shake hands with these strange aliens from England, “How do you do?” several said with a very formal air, perhaps echoing the British Raj era style learnt at school. Some of the tiny ones were dragged over to us with helping hands forcing their thin arms out, as if to be blessed. It reminded me of children being brought to Jesus to be blessed by him. “Do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.” Yes indeed.
Meal time, and it’s chicken biryani for everyone. Looked good to me. But we left before the meal was finished as we were all exhausted from nearly 36 hours with very little sleep. No tea, no dreams, but many questions on my mind.