In December 2012 eighteen sixth form students from Benenden School in Kent travelled to India to visit The Rhema Partnership. They were accompanied by Mrs Jane Ashton, Chaplain at Benenden, and Rebecca Ross, Housemistress.
Following their trip Jane Ashton wrote:
Having left England on a cold, grey morning we were delighted to arrive in Chennai where the day time temperature was 30 degrees. Anyone who has flown from London to Chennai will remember that two things hit you as you walk out of the airport; the warm night air, and the number of the people noisily waiting for their relatives arriving off long haul flights – the shouts of welcome, embraces, general hubbub – all at 3am! – this is India! Our first stop was Mahabilipuram, a small town one hour south of Chennai. Here we enjoyed a short stay by the sea, ‘acclimatising’ to the new and varied sights, sounds ( and smells!) of India. For the students this was their first experience of such a world and they embraced it with delight and enthusiasm. They enjoyed a shopping trip in town, buying cheap trousers and typically Indian Christmas gifts for their families, and readily engaged in conversation with the locals.
We then flew inland to Madurai – a large, relatively empty airport seemingly in the middle of no-where, where we were warmly greeted by Bishop Samuel. Our first stop was Mottomalai to visit Pastor Jebaraj and his small church. We then bumped across the Tamil Nadu countryside until we finally reached our destination, Cumbum; a thriving, bustling and perpetually busy town of approximately 200,000. We checked into the Jaba International Hotel (we were the international aspect!) before travelling the short distance to The Rhema Garden. Here a unique reception awaited us. We were welcomed with big smiles, shy handshakes and beautiful garlands. The students were overwhelmed by their first experience of The Garden and they quickly realised what an oasis it is, both physically and spiritually, in the midst of the hubbub and busyness of Cumbum.
Over the following week we participated in many aspects of life at Rhema. We painted the newly completed extension of the dining room and played endlessly with the children at the Garden, who enchanted us with their impressive English, warmth and enthusiasm. We observed patients receiving treatment in the Medical Centre, helped the cooks in the kitchen, and visited homes in Cumbum to sing Carols. A particular highlight was making a dance video to be used as backing in Bishop Samuel’s latest DVD, including one routine executed in a paddy field! In addition we visited Pastor Robin’s church in the Kerala Hills as well as Pastor Reuban at Uppakottai; it was good to see the church building in this very poor village now at roof height. The students were struck by so many aspects of life at Rhema; the obvious happiness of the children and their zest for life ( as well as games!); the contrast between everyday life in India compared to the UK; the wholehearted faith of those at The Rhema Garden and their dependence on God; as well as the evident joy of Bishop Samuel and his fellow workers. After a short yet memorable trip we left with heavy hearts, aware of the profound impact that Rhema had had on us, challenging so many of the ideas and values we hold in the West, and hoping that in some small way we might to able to repay the debt we owed to those at Rhema.
As a result the students are planning various fundraising events, including an art show in London and sponsored sail around the Isle of Wight! In consultation with Bishop Samuel our aim is to raise enough money to complete the top floor of the girl’s hostel at Rhema, thereby providing further accommodation for vulnerable and orphaned children. Watch this space!