Winter in Calcutta and Everything That Can Keep You Warm

When we arrived in Calcutta, we did not yet know exactly in which community we would continue our ministry. We had already sent some emails from Bangladesh, but at that time, we had not yet received any response.

Again we were in uncertainty; again we had to trust God completely. In Calcutta, we spent three days in a cheap rented room, a few kilometers from the airport. Every day we went downtown looking for new opportunities.

Answer from America

Ark Home, where we lived with six girls from the community.

Mother Teresa’s sisters were one of those options, but just that day (the last of the three), we got a response from Pastor Paul of America.

Pastor Paul is the founder of the First Love Ministries project and his message was promising. The email was sent to Ashi, who called us the next hour.

Coming to the community

It was before the Christmas holidays and just then, Asha and her daughter Ashnil were going to the airport to pick up their second daughter who was flying home from Mumbai. On the way, they stopped at our place. We met and the next day, we came to the community.

Everything turned out so nicely, again at the last minute, as many times before.

In the Christmas spirit

The room was waiting for us in one of the two houses (Ark Home), in which nine girls out of a total of seventeen usually live. But at Christmas time, they were all housed in the main house (Home of Hope) and were preparing to celebrate this great Christian holiday.

The main room was already appropriately decorated. A Christmas tree was set up, holiday cakes were baked, gifts for the children were bought, and Christmas carols resounded on all floors of the house. The atmosphere was warm, homely, and not even the cold could remind us of our worries.

Winter in Calcutta

The low temperatures caught us completely unprepared. After all, not only would a person in the tropics expect heat, but such low temperatures as in India this year also surprise the Indians themselves.

We took some warm clothes on the trip, just in case, but for these conditions, we should have at least a thick jacket, hat, scarf, and gloves with us, which would be too much for our travel backpack.

Records are being broken

Our bed, sleeping bags, and hair dryer.

In winter, the night temperatures usually drop to 59℉. This year they even reached 46℉ and lower. Weathermen say records are being broken.

There is no heating in the house and because it is made of stone, it is colder inside the house than outside. Humidity further contributes to the perceived temperature being even lower than the real temperature.

For the first time since we were on the road, we had to pull out our sleeping bags along with two thick blankets at night. It’s kind of enough.

Heating accessories

What about during the day? When we’re not going to help the main house and stay in the room, Silva warms up by playing a guided aerobics video on her laptop (by Protestant leaders, it’s all in the spirit), and I turn on the hairdryer every now and then.

Writing helps, but…

Well, writing can also warm me up – if I have the normal conditions to do so. It often looks like this: I write a few lines when Muslims start calling out to Allah from loudspeakers. I wait for them to finish and continue typing.

Then the Hindus begin to blow the trumpet – a sign that they are sacrificing to one of their thirty-three gods. I’ll wait again.

Meeting Hindus near our house. In India, Hinduism is the most common religion.

When he calms down, I keep writing, but only until a truck pulls up the road past the house.

Instead of a load of cargo, at least fifty men with red flags and a yellow sickle in the middle ride on it. They shout communist slogans and shout God knows what.

And, when I already think it’s over, Silva starts jumping around the room, with her Protestant aerobics program, so I have no choice but to lean back and… turn on my hairdryer.

But these are those small, petty inconveniences in the midst of much beautiful and rich work. In fact, there are so many other things that can warm us up!

Living with God

We were amazed at how strongly and intensely they live their religious, Christian lives in the community.

As you probably know, Protestants do not attend Holy Mass or receive the sacraments, but they deepen their faith and relationship with God every day through the Bible, praise music, and prayer.

Passion for His word

Morning prayer with songs in the courtyard in front of the main house.

Their faith is strong and their passion for God’s Word is contagious. The girls, along with Asha or one of the teachers, start each day with a prayer.

They also pray together before each meal, and at six o’clock in the evening, they meditate every day on passages from the Bible and talk about it.

On Sundays, they usually take a van to downtown Calcutta where the Protestant Church of the Assembly of God stands.

This, of course, is not the church as we Catholics are accustomed to but rather a large hall that accommodates more than five hundred people. The service is held in the spirit of modern celebratory music and pastors’ sermons, which are extremely deep, inspiring, and vital.

A normal day in the community

After the girls finish their morning prayer and breakfast, we set up desks for school lessons in the main room.

As said, spouses Anil and Asha cannot currently afford the expensive schooling of girls outside their community, but are in the process of doing their best to look for alternatives and money for school.

Silva teaches younger girls. It’s warmer outside than in the house.

As there are not enough funds to hire ‘home’ teachers, there is currently only one external teacher in the community who teaches a group of seniors. Girls are separated according to age and the level of their knowledge.

We teach too

Therefore, in addition to Ashnil (their older daughter) and Asha, we also found ourselves in the role of teachers. The girls speak English extremely well, so we don’t have to teach English this time.

Silva helps a group of younger girls with math, history, geography, and biology, and I run computer lessons.

At one in the afternoon, when class is over, it’s time for lunch, rest, and entertainment. At four, the girls sit at desks again for an hour and do homework.

Everyone loves Uncle Kaka

At about five in the afternoon, Silva and a group of six girls and I set off from the main house (Hope House) to Ark House, where Anil’s brother, also a pastor, lives next to us.

Uncle Kaka is popular with children.

“Kaka,” as we call him, is an extremely good-natured, happy, loving man – the girls just love him because he always makes sure that the house is fun and cheerful.

How happy they can be!

When we observe these lively, sympathetic children’s faces at the table in the evenings, we think how different their lives could be.

Each of these girls has a moving story behind them. Each of them had to separate from their parents one way or another. Each has lost that original, primary love that only father and mother can give.

The girls wrap their school notebooks with newsprint.

Sometimes, Asha tells us about these girls and it’s hard to imagine that many of them came into the community malnourished, dirty, abused, and deeply wounded.

In the next post, I will write a shocking story about Salome, who tragically lost her father and mother at the age of six and was left alone with her brother and sister.

Current purpose

Calcutta, India has been hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic. Mandatory quarantine first locked them in their wooden barracks, later their homes were destroyed by a powerful cyclone and people were put back on the road. The media does not report on this. It’s too far.

Mojca (Slovenian) and Anup (Indian) Gayen, who opened a school for the poorest children in Calcutta twelve years ago, experienced firsthand how shocked, desperate, and frightened the people there are.

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