When I was asked to put together a little something about our trip to Haven Home over Christmas, I was initially very excited to be able to share our experiences to all those who happen to read this. However now as I come to write this short piece, the enormity of the task has dawned on me and I am unsure as to how any words I might use would ever do justice to the truth about Haven Home, and what an amazing place it truly is. Anyway, these are my thoughts, I hope you enjoy reading them!
After a particularly long and arduous journey, (a coach, two planes, an unbearably long wait in Mumbai airport, and a bus, to be precise), myself, Jamie, Diane, Luke and Josh were both relieved and incredibly excited to arrive at our favourite place on earth, Haven Home. As all of us were returning to Haven Home for not the first time, we all knew what to expect when we got there; the children, teachers and the Yelchuri family all awaiting our arrival, singing “welcome to Haven Home” and presenting us with flower garlands. It was such an amazing feeling for us all to say hello to children we had met on the previous trip, and to meet children who were new to the Haven Home family. After freshening up and losing a game of cricket (nothing has changed there!) we watched a movie and headed to bed. This became an almost nightly routine, and over the course of the trip we watched a whole host of films which the children loved, from Merry Madagascar and Mr. Bean, to the real Nativity story and even Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer! Hearing the children roaring with laughter is a sound that I can guarantee none of us will ever forget or get tired of, it’s simply magical to hear.
Each morning and each evening we ran devotions as a team. This required a fair bit of planning (big thanks to Diane for doing the majority of this!) and consisted of singing songs in both Telugu and English (we didn’t partake in the Telugu!), hearing stories from the bible or another relevant source, and a game or craft activity. These devotions were fantastic fun to be a part of, and it was simply wonderful to see the children praising the Lord with such fervour and heart. It is abundantly clear that God is present in Haven Home, and the children regularly cite the reason for their happiness as being the love of God.
On Christmas Eve we were able to set up and run a sports day for all of the children. They were split into four teams, red, yellow, green and blue; told to go and change into clothes which most closely resembled their team colour and sat down waiting patiently for the races to begin! About half-way through the day we had the pleasure of meeting a young man, Narendra, who had graduated from Haven Home in 2011 and has fulfilled his ambition of joining the Indian Army! It was incredibly emotional to see that what is going on at Haven Home is having the desired effect, and really is successfully lifting these children out of poverty. After this amazing news we continued with sports day, and each of the children partook in all five events we set up; the sprint, the tomato and spoon, the sack, the three legged, and relay races (myself, Luke, Josh and Jamie gave the tomato and spoon race a go, and I’m proud to say I am reigning champion!). The green team took the trophy and were very chuffed to be crowned champions! What I really noticed however is how gracious the other teams were in defeat, and children as young as four were congratulating the winning team without seeming to be remotely upset that they themselves had not won!
Christmas Day came and all of us were very excited to get up and see what was in store! We all met in the dining hall and the five of us were given packs with outfits in, and bags of sweets to present each child, teacher, and member of staff with! These Christmas gifts were bought from monetary donations gifted predominately by the people of Christ Church Downend and the surrounding community. To see how excited the children were to receive a new Sunday Best outfit, and some delicious Indian sweets! We were then all able to attend the Christmas day service with all the children and members of the congregation from the surrounding villages. Jamie prepared and shared a wonderful sermon, connecting where we are from, to where Haven Home is, and how we are all one family in Christ. We were blessed to be able to sing a couple of Christmas carols which were well received by those in attendance, even if they didn’t understand the lyrics! Following on from lunch, we presented the Yelchuri family with some Christmas presents from the team; a nativity set and a box of ‘Celebrations’ for the whole family, and selection boxes for the Yelchuri children. It was lovely to be able to bring a bit of what Christmas is like here in England, to a corner of India. The rest of the day was spent enjoying time with the kids, paying sports and other games, which was great fun, if not a little different to the Christmas’ we are used to!
Boxing Day followed and we were able to find all the donated clothes and shoes new, grateful homes with the children. It was an absolute joy to see how excited the children were to receive an old football shirt, or a pair of school shoes. It really reminded me to be grateful for everything I have, and to not take anything for granted as we really don’t know how lucky we are here. It made me think of all the times I had been ungrateful in the past, and how unjustified I had been in my frustration.
The next day passed, with the comfortable usual routine of devotion, breakfast, school (with break-times in between lessons!), lunch, more school, playing, devotion, dinner, film time and then bed. On the 28th however we had what was called “Campus Christmas”, which is a celebration of the Christmas story held at Haven Home, attended by the family, the children, the congregation, and those connected to the other churches set up by the Yelchuri family’s pastor ministry. Myself and Diane wore beautiful clothes borrowed from Caroline and Grace; and Josh and Jamie each borrowed a shirt of Prasant’s! The evening celebration was a fantastic, God-filled event. We were all ‘special guests’ and were invited to sit at the front facing the congregation. Jamie had prepared some words which were lovely, we all shared cake together, sang songs and listened to various people preach, which was amazing. It was really special to be able to share in the love of God with over 300 people in different languages! Whilst we may not all speak the same mother tongue, we are all one in Christ! The real icing on the cake however was the final part of the celebration; the children had all learnt different dance routines which they had kept a secret from us, and they all performed beautifully in front of the whole congregation, we all felt like proud parents watching a primary school nativity! It was a real treat, and one we will never ever forget! Caroline and Grace told me and Diane that they would love for us to keep the outfits we had borrowed from them, which was such an unexpected blessing, that really shows the generosity of this amazing family!
Over the course of our visit we helped the children with English, Maths and Computer skills, all of which they were brilliant at! They all made special progress with the computers, as this was something that they had not had an awful lot of practice with, so it made a real difference to have us there helping them. It was fantastic to see how their dexterity with the mouse, and their knowledge of the keyboard improved during our stay. Diane helped a lot with English, and their existing ability was fantastic, they already knew so much! However, Diane was able to really help them with nouns, verbs, adverbs etc. We all noticed throughout the time we spent helping the children, just how eager to learn they are, and how responsive they are to the instructions they are given.
I am conscious that I have already written a lot, and I could go on and on, but I mustn’t as there would be whole books to read! The parting messages I’d like to leave this piece with, is the overwhelming sense of joy found in Haven Home, the way that the children live their lives focused on God, and how happy they are. Whilst some of these children have been through things that we cannot even begin to imagine at such a young age, they don’t let it stop them from genuinely enjoying life. They are such a joy to spend time with, and their enthusiasm for fun sincerely inspires me. Haven Home has been described as the closest place to heaven on earth, and both times I have visited, I have not been able to find fault in this statement. The way in which Haven Home changes the lives of these children is absolutely astounding, and it’s all thanks to one family listening to the guidance of God.