Bible college

Wow! I am exhausted. I have just finished the first semester of Bible College. Ending with 8 two hour exams in one week. (That’s been a test of endurance I can tell you!). It has been a blast. It is also why my blog has been a bit quiet of late. Study and assignments has taken up most of my time. Trying to fit all that into the daily challenges of life in Bangalore has not been easy. It has meant my time for reading and writing has been squeezed out. However, I am now on holiday until January. Time to catch up on all things.

Daily Life at College

For now, I’d like to give you a glimpse into life at Bible College in Bangalore. Obviously I have nothing to compare it to so I have no idea how it contrasts to other Bible Colleges. I am also a Day student and not a boarder. The boarders have a set daily schedule they have to adhere to from 5am (yes that’s right, 5am!) until 10pm. Their lives are literally mapped out for them whilst they are at Bible College. By comparison the handful of Day students have it easy.

This has been an amazing journey. I still can’t believe I am at Bible College. It is great and I am really enjoying it. I am learning so much and despite being there from 9:30am to 1pm Monday to Friday I feel as though I don’t have enough time to study. It’s amazing what you learn when you start studying again.

Facilities

Finding the college at first was difficult. It is in a residential area on the ground floor of a three storey multipurpose building. It is unmarked. There are no signs directing you to the college and no signs outside the college to alert people what the building is used for. I have no idea why this is as I have not asked but I do wonder if it is for safety and security reasons. This is a very nationalistic Hindu country and attacks on Christians are not rare.

The college itself is very basic. The desks are old and falling apart and our chairs are a variety of plastic garden chairs. The space is one large L shaped room, two classrooms and a book warehouse with a sink and kitchen table. The one toilet is outside around the corner. (More on that later.)

The L shaped room is used as a music area and the main area is used for daily morning meetings. The meetings are held from 8:30am and consist of praise and worship followed by one of the students delivering a sermon, in English, on a portion of the Bible. A safe place to practice for those going into the ministry.

After the morning meeting the chairs are moved into the classrooms and tables arranged in rows. We share desks, two to each desk. There’s not a lot of space. There is a white board on the wall. The windows at the rear of the classrooms have bars on them (usual in Bangalore). The classroom door has a lock on each side. (Can you see where I am going with this?) I was quite alarmed when every teacher entering the classroom locked the door behind them. Nobody else seemed alarmed. I was at the back of the classroom near the windows. My exit route was locked. I requested the door be kept open at all times. It took a few days before everyone got used to having the door open.

I open the windows and switch on the fan every morning to circulate the air. We keep the window open throughout class and whilst it is noisy (even in a residential area the noise is incredible), it is worth it to circulate the air and avoid a stuffy classroom. One of the teachers once closed the door and asked for the windows to be shut because of the noise.The small classroom quickly became hot and stuffy and we were all falling asleep in the heat. A quick break and reopening windows for the entire session afterwards solved that problem.

There were no fire exit signs, no first aid box or signs and no fire extinguishers. Considering one of the rooms was a storage area and full of books, I found this to be an incredible oversight. The safety of the students just didn’t appear to have been considered (although I am sure it had). I ordered and placed all the above in college. No one said anything directly to me but I could see that they were bemused. That’s not quite true, one lady student laughed at me thinking I was ridiculous. I ignored it.

The next thing I did was buy a welcome mat, washing up liquid and hand soap. They were drinking out of cups that were being rinsed under a cold tap before being reused. I also started supplying biscuits to go with chai (tea) at the morning break. This was a very welcome addition.

Toilets

Right, toilet facilities. When I first arrived (late in the term due to holidaying in the UK), I was directed to the ladies boarding house for the toilet. It was about 100 yards away from the college, we needed a key and one of the boarding ladies to accompany us there. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that with Bangalore Belly being a feature of my life that this was a very dangerous arrangement for me. The risk of having “an accident” was high and very unwelcome. The risk of total humiliation in front of my fellow students was not appealing. Nevertheless, I complied with this arrangement for weeks. I also supplied the ladies boarding house with hand soap and a towel as there wasn’t any. I was also told not to use toilet tissue as it wouldn’t flush. The crux came when I needed the loo and I had to wait for one of the boarding ladies to exit the wet room as she was having a shower (I use that word in its widest sense). As she stepped out into the bedroom, wrapped in a towel, I thought enough was enough.

I asked the class ‘Captain’ (elected student representative) where the men went to the toilet and was told that there wasn’t a toilet available for ladies on site and I had to use the boarding house. After pressing her, I was told there was a toilet on site for the men but it wasn’t suitable for the ladies. I asked why and wasn’t given an answer. The class Captain said she would have to as the college director whether I could use the men’s toilet. The incredibility of the situation was lost on her.

I asked one of my male classmates to direct me to the loo they use. It was outside around the corner at the back of the college. It had a functioning toilet and a tap, bucket, a hose / douche but no sink. The floor was a lake but it was perfectly usable. I was dumbfounded as to why I wasn’t allowed to use it.

Now, those who know me will know that I would see that as a challenge, and indeed I did. I started using the toilet. The men were bemused at first but got used to me queuing for the loo with them. I also upgraded the facilities with some easy and obvious additions. I bought a plastic three tiered veg tray stand and placed it in the toilet with hand soap, soap dish and antibacterial gel. I placed a towel on the hook and bought (a much needed) air freshener. (I wash and change the towel weekly). I also supplied mosquito spray and toilet roll. I placed a loo block in the cistern. The toilet was transformed. I now use it all the time. The other ladies still will not use it.

The Syllabus

So, enough about the facilities, what have I been studying for the last few months? The syllabus has been interesting and varied. The subjects covered in the first semester were as follows:

Minister’s Foundation – we studied a book called ‘Code of Honour’ which contained some basic guidelines about what to do and what not to do in ministry. It covered personal life, family, people, conduct, preaching, anointing, results, fellowship, money, women and fame. Yes, fame. Apparently in India this is a thing. Who knew!

Old Testament Survey – literally a gallop overview of the whole of the Old Testament in one semester. Learning about history, authors, themes, purpose etc of each book. It was a good grounding in the background to each book of the Old Testament. I did feel it was rushed though and the sheer volume of information was daunting in an exam scenario.

Praise and Worship – and the difference between the two. I found this to be the most difficult topic. I am not musically talented or gifted in any way and whilst I enjoy singing, the right note or key is an aspirational thing for me. Thankfully there was no ‘practical’ side to this. We did learn about what the worship team does mid week, about auditions and the probation period. They really have no idea how fortunate they are to have so many gifted and talented musicians and singers within the church. It’s normal to them. Rather unlike the small churches in the UK who scramble around to find anybody with the slightest musical talent to beg them to play. (Don’t take that personally, it’s not about you!).

The Holy Spirit – The person of the Holy Spirit, work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible, baptism of the Holy Spirit, gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity etc. This was a real education and fascinating.

Who we are in Christ – understanding our union with Christ. This class was taught by Pastor Kenny who is a gifted speaker and frequently went off topic to tell us about events to illustrate points. It was very interesting.

Faith – literally everything to do with our faith and what helps and hinders faith. Very useful.

Prayer and Intercession – I found this the most enjoyable subject and was taught by Kala who is also a gifted teacher as well as an amazing prayer warrior. It really has transformed the way I pray and my prayer life. Don’t know how to pray? Start with the Lord’s Prayer folks. It’s a great way to start praying if you never have.

Soul Winning – pretty much lessons on how not to be a dick! Nobody likes a Bible Basher after all. That’s not the way to do it. There were some interesting insights into the biblical foundations of evangelism as well as some basic principles.

We had exams in all of these subjects which completed the first semester. January sees the start of a whole new bunch of subjects which, I am sure, will prove equally fascinating.

EXAM WEEK

This is the diary I kept when I took my first set of mid term exams in September:

Day One I’ve just sat the first exam in literally decades.  It was weird going into the classroom, with the desks laid out in rows and our names on the desks. First year students were sat next to second year students so that there was no temptation to copy. At the start of the exam the teacher handed out the double sided question papers and people immediately started to look at them and write on them before some of us had even received a copy of the paper. The teacher then waited a few minutes before giving out blank pieces of paper and telling everyone NOT to write on the question paper and write all the answer on the plain sheet, and no one was to start yet. A little late for that announcement!

When he said we could start there was frantic writing all around me, whilst I read through section A of the paper and turned over to section B, where I found some questions I thought I could answer. Section C was memory verses (I knew one of the eight listed – oh dear) and section D was a true or false section; so a 50/50 chance of getting them right. We were half way through the exam before I realised the time. As we were only given one piece of paper to write on I had to keep asking for more. Some students had finished 45 mins into the exam and stood up, walked to the front and handed in their paper before walking out. That was a distraction for me as in the UK people generally sit till the end of the exam and they certainly don’t get up and walk to the front – you have to raise your hand and wait for the invigilator to collect your paper.

Time up and people kept on writing. We were asked to hand in our papers at the front. As we did so some were still writing. Eventually the last lady handed in her paper. I was disorientated. This would never have happened in the U.K. In exam halls everyone has to put their pens down and wait for all papers to be collected by the invigilators and wait to be dismissed by them. It was really strange.

Final exam week

Exam week two, just completed, was pretty similar but with the exam being two hours long a lot more people got up and left early when they had finished their papers. For some exams there were only one or two individuals sat writing exams at the end whilst the rest of us enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuits. One exam, the second years finished early whilst the first years were still writing away, so they brought us all tea and biscuits to our desks. It was very welcome. Can you imagine that in a UK exam hall?!

Christmas Break

The final exam saw the end of term. We are now on a break until January. Students have returned to their villages across India, back to their families for Christmas. I have given each of the first year students an Advent Calendar (imported from the UK) together with an explanation of what it is and how to use it. They had never heard of them. I hope they all enjoy the countdown to Christmas, Our Saviour’s birth, as much as we do.

Now, time to start preparing for Christmas.

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Guy Fawkes Night

Our Guy Fawkes effigy

“Remember, Remember the 5th of November 

Gunpowder, Treason and plot”

What is Guy Fawkes Night?

The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by blowing up the House of Lords during the State Opening of England’s Parliament on 5th November 1605 by a group of provincial English Catholics.
During a search of the House of Lords at about midnight on 5th November 1605, Fawkes was discovered guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder—enough to reduce the House of Lords to rubble—and arrested.
The King’s Council allowed the public to celebrate the King’s survival with bonfires and Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November Act.

How is it celebrated?

Today it is celebrated with the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on a Bonfire, setting off fireworks and families gathering at parties. Traditional food includes jacket potatoes and pea soup (to warm up people in the cold English climate) and sweets such as treacle toffee, toffee apples and Parkin cake.

Children play games such as Apple bobbing which requires the child to remove an apple from a bowl of water using only their mouth and teeth. It is great fun watching children trying to retrieve an apple whilst not getting too wet whilst others quite happily push their head to the bottom of the bowl to retrieve an apple.

Holiday in Sri Lanka 

I am so busy with college work these days that I am struggling to squeeze in blogposts. We recently holidayed in Sri Lanka for the Diwali holidays (which coincide with the UK half term holidays). Our Travel Period was From 16th – 23rd Oct 2017. Rez has helped me compile this blog with his review of places from his Trip Advisor posts. We can all highly recommend Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful country with lovely people, weather, food and infrastructure.

Day 01:

We were met on arrival at Columbo airport by our wonderful guide and driver Charmalla. It was around 9pm when we arrived (the only direct flight with out an overnight flight) so we transferred directly from the Airport to our hotel in Katunayake.

There were a few things we noticed immediately; the roads were smooth, there was no rubbish on the roads and the autos were Red, green,  blue, black and cream.

 

Other villas from the villa veranda

Rez’s ReviewTamarind Tree Hotel, Katunayake
Pleasant hotel with large colonial style rooms grouped in lodges. The hotel has a pool and has ponies wandering the grounds. Breakfast was split into veg first then non veg next. Self service tea and coffee.

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Day 02: Transfer from Katunayake to Habarana

Dambulla is a large town in the Matale district in the central province of Sri Lanka. It is the centre of vegetable distribution in the country.

It is also the location of the largest and best preserved temple complex in Sri Lanka.

Sungreen Resort and Spa, Habarana

Rez’s Review

Lovely hotel with rooms arranged around a central pool. Food was delicious and the hotel was ideally placed for such attractions as the Dambulla Golden Cave Temple complex, the Sigiriya Lion Rock and the elephant safari in Minneriya National Park. The staff are very friendly and welcoming.

Rez’s Review

Dambulla Golden Cave Temple, Dambulla

It’s a bit of a climb
Inside the biggest cave temple
Walkway between temples
Set into the overhang of what can only be described as a ridiculously large boulder, the Dambulla Golden Cave Temples are accessed up a steep set of stairs – elderly and unfit beware.

The temple comprises of 4 individual temples created at different times. Inside are ornate paintings on the cave ceilings as well as a large variety of state representations of Buddha in various poses including sleeping and deceased.

The guides are knowledgeable help you get through quickly and then allow you to return to each cave temple to get the photos. Be warned though flash photography is not permitted.

 

Back to the hotel for a 7 course  Dinner was amazing and delicious. Comfortable and tranquil overnight stay at the hotel.

 

View from the balcony at the rear of the room
Day 03:

Transfer from Habarana to Sigiriya. Climb Sigiriya Rock & Visit The Fortress.

Rez’s Review 

Sigiriya (Lion Rock)

Looking at the challenge ahead
Described locally as the eighth wonder of the world and recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site, it certainly is a very imposing granite rock which has had a royal palace and a monastery on top. Your entry fee gives you access to the full Sigiriya complex… be warned entry fee is pricey.

Be advised, this is a bit of a hard climb. My phone tells me I climbed the equivalent of 69 floors! The steps can be a bit hit and miss at times so watch your footing.

There are spiral staircases that take you up to visit some murals painted high on a seemingly inaccessible face of the Sigiriya monument… yes it’s amazing they managed to paint the murals in this location but was it worth the climb? Not in my opinion.

View from the top down
Not for the faint hearted!
Lion Rock conquered
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Also be aware there are wasps nesting around Sigiriya and if agitated they will swarm. This happened when we visited when a group of typically loud Chinese tourists decided to disregard the advice to keep quiet and proceed to go directly to one of the wasp nests and ended up causing them to swarm.

Let me tell you, seeing people running around frantically trying to swat away dozens of wasps on their face and arms is not a pleasant sight, not least because there is nothing you can really do to help them as you yourself are huddling down to avoid the attentions of the wasps.

The staff at Sigiriya are very well trained for such incidents and even have a large first aid tent at the midpoint plateau where wasp stings can be administered to. When such events take place they climb the rock to the top armed with large nets and take the victims down under cover of the net to safety and if required first aid treatment.

Another thing to watch out for are the numerous “guides” dotted all over the place. As you make your way up the steps if you look even remotely tired / old / unfit then suddenly you will get a “helpful’ push in the back to “help” you up the stairs. They tried it on with us on several occasions (I’m the first to admit I need to lose a few pounds!). Initially we were able to reject their help with a firm but friendly No but the last one just wouldn’t take no for an answer. To be honest I was curious to find out what help he was going to offer as he looked to be about 70 but to be fair to him he was also as thin as a racing snake. His “help’ comprised a very gentle push in my lower back… so not really much help at all if I’m honest!

Overall I’m very glad that we visited… the views from the top are stunning and it was good to get some exercise in on the holiday… Could have done without the trauma of the wasp swarm though.

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Evening Jeep Safari at Minneriya National Park.

Rez’s Review 
Our elephant safari was booked at one of the many roadside vendors but ours came recommended by our trusty driver. The Mahindra Bolero 4×4 picked us up from our hotel and took us to the Minneriya National Park where our guide was very quickly pointing out exotic wildlife to us… kingfishers, Peacocks, Crocodiles, water buffalo, monkeys and of course the Elephants.

Zahra is awestruck
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The Elephants were the highlight of the tour, initially seeing a solitary bull elephant and then shortly thereafter seeing a herd of around 70 elephants of all ages travelling down to the waters edge of the Minneriya reservoir. After taking hundreds of photos of this magnificent herd in brilliant light conditions we moved to find a smaller family group of 5 elephants and then later a mother large herd of around 60+ elephants.

It was an absolutely awe inspiring sight seeing these magnificent creatures up close in the wild like this. Be aware though that yours is not the only jeep on the safari… at one point the number of 4x4s exceeded the number of elephants! The drivers are all aware of the issues this poses and do their best to avoid driving into one another shots.

Day 04: Transfer from Habarana to Kandy.

Rez’s Review

Nalandia Gedige (Centre point of Sri Lanka)

This was described as the absolute centre point of the island of Sri Lanka though when you go there very little suggests this to be the case. What you do find is a Buddhist temple which was rescued from the rising waters of the Nalandia Gedige reservoir by building a platform onto which the temple was moved stone by stone.
The highlight was what the guide described as “Giant Squirrels” and he wasn’t kidding, these things were the size of terriers!


Spice Garden, Matale
We stopped here on our way south to Kandy. A very friendly guide shows you around the spice garden where you can revel in the exotic plants and herbs. For some (my wife and daughter) this is really interesting and a real joy to learn about. For an engineer like me… not so much.

Rez having his arm hair removed
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The guide describes in great detail the medicinal, cosmetic and healing properties of each of the plants and herbs and even gives a demonstration of the natural hair removal cream which after 7 minutes saw a 1/2 inch square of hair from my arm removed… effective then!

Tiny pineapples used to aid weight loss

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Following the tour of the gardens we offered a massage demonstration which was very relaxing and only required a tip to pay for. Following this we had an opportunity to purchase some of their produce. Be careful it is very easy to get carried away with the purchases. (Deb’s note: we did – and it was great,if expensive!)

Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden,Kandy

Rez’s Review 
I’m not really a fan of the green stuff but even I have to admit this was a pleasant walk around the botanical gardens. The gardens are very well maintained, and separated into distinct sections.


One shame was how many mindless vandals feel it is appropriate to carve a name or a word into a tree or a cactus, scarring for ever.

Cultural Dance, Kandy Red Cross Hall



This was pleasant enough but with no real explanation other than faded photocopied sheets handed out ahead of the performance it was a little difficult to follow.

The drumming… well it really felt like just a loud banging noise with no sense of rhythm about it and seemingly no agreed timing between the four drummers.

The dance itself was well done by the ladies and there were some visually stunning costume changes along the way. The male dancers… well more acrobats really as their dancing wasn’t really up to much… at one point I thought they were doing the early 90’s “big Box, Little Box” dance.

One interesting discovery was that this sort of dance recital appears to be a key ingredient in the search for immortality… time certainly seems to pass a lot slower when watching this sort of thing!

 

Swiss Residence, Kandy

A very friendly and pleasant hotel set on a very steep hillside overlooking stunning views of the valley in which Kandy is nestled.

Our room had been recently renovated and looked very good for it. Spacious bathroom with shower and bath, large bedroom with the wardrobes and bed forming an island in the middle of the room. Our room had large bay windows giving us a stunning view of the scenery.

The buffet dinner and breakfast offered a good selection thought they could have done with having some soya milk in to help with a dairy allergy.

Day 05: Transfer from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.

Pickers at work in the tea Plantations

Rez’s Review

Store Field Tea Factory

This was a short stop on the road up to Nuwara Eliya where we found out all about the process for taking freshly picked leaves through various rolling, fermentation drying and sieving processes to arrive at the various grades of Orange Pekoe tea. Turns out the strong tea favoured by the British aka ‘builder’s tea’ is nothing more than the dust residue left at the end of the process! The obligatory factory shop yielded some fresh Ceylon tea for the larder.

Tea types

Araliya Green Hills Hotel, Nuwara Eliya

A very pleasant hotel set in what is colloquially described as ‘Little England’. Nuwara Eliya is at an altitude of 6000ft which means the climate is one the British can relate to very easily and goes a long way to explaining why the locals are all dressed in jumpers, fleeces, jackets, hats and earmuffs!
The hotel is modern and well appointed. We were greeted on arrival with a hot chocolate and shown to our room. The hotel has a small indoor heated pool which is needed as an outdoor pool would be a bit nippy.

We found strawberries at the local market

Day 6: Transfer from Nuwara Eliya to Bentota.

Rez’s Review

Centara Ceysands Hotel, Bentota

Early morning beach walk

We stayed the last two nights of our holiday here and were very glad for it. The hotel is reached via boat across the Bentota Ganga river where you are greeted by friendly courteous staff for a very smooth check in process. The rooms are of a high standard, ours was on the first floor and had a view overlooking the pool and the sea. The pool was a good size and pool toys (inflatables) were available. There was maintenance ongoing to the outside of the pool. My daughter and I had fun finding loose tiles and leaving them for the maintenance crew.
The food at the Café Bem buffet was excellent with a wide choice of foods available to suit most palates. Our arrival coincided with Oktoberfest so the array of German foods was greatly appreciated.

The poolside changing rooms are a little cramped and offer only toilet and shower cubicles with private / dry area available for changing in.
To get to the beach you will cross a sand track and there it is, a long flat sandy beach, great for playing on, and exercising on. You need to go a long way out to get to any real depth so good for paddling around in. Be aware of the beach flags, and take their advice.

 

Day 07:

Rez’s Review

Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre, Kosgoda

3 day old turtles


This was an excellent visit with informative staff guiding us around the work they are doing to ensure the turtles have the best opportunity for getting to the sea.
Sadly a bus load of Chinese tourists arrived right after us and began to barge around talking very loudly and frankly abusing the turtles with their rough handling and flash photography despite signs everywhere telling us in pictograms not to. We elected to let them blow through before continuing with our tour.
I’ve read a lot about people being upset at the rescue turtles swimming around small concrete tanks. Yes, they’re not too big but these are blind or deformed turtles since birth. The alternative really is release and then becoming dinner for another sea creature… is this a better alternative?

Resident Disabled turtle

Deb’s review:

Zahra loved this place and listened intently to the volunteer guide. She asked questions and got to handle the baby turtles. She was so gentle with them. We stayed for quite some time and saw a few tour groups going through whilst Zahra took it all in. It was a small place but a great project. They buy turtle eggs from scavengers and pay higher than the black market rate for them, ensuring the species thrive. Releasing them on the beach(at night) will hopefully also ensure that they return to the same beach in 30 years time and lay eggs again.  Zahra declared she wanted a job there. We then spent a fortune in the gift shop (all proceeds go to support the conservation effort). They gave us their business card and told her to return soon!


Maduganga Boat Captains, Maduganga

Mangroves

Rez’s Review

This was a guided boat ride around the Maduganga Lake, exploring the flora and the fauna this wetland has to offer.
We made several stops along the way including a refreshment stand on stilts in the middle of the lake, Cinnamon island to see the locals preparing cinnamon sticks and a Buddhist temple.


The trip culminated in 20minutes with our feet being nibbled by fish which was an interesting and ticklish experience!

Fish Therapy

Lunch at a fabulous fish restaurant suggested and recommended by our guide.

We ended the day with a short boat trip out to sea to see the coral reef and fish swimming over it. It was a bit turbulant to say the least and after a substantial lunch it didn’t take long for me to feel sea sick. whilst Rez and Zahra fed the fish with ice cream cones I tried not to feed the fish with my lunch!

Feeding the fish
Ready to rock the boat

Day 08:

We were supposed to have a day in Colombo touring and shopping in the city but as we had bought gifts and souvenirs whilst we were touring there was nothing left we wanted to buy. Also, Zahra was keen to have some more beach and pool time. She was up at 6am dragging me to the beach for an early morning paddle before breakfast. Straight after breakfast was a dash to the pool.Thankfully as the morning progressed she made friends with some other children and the hotel events person organised a water polo match which went on for some time. we finally left the hotel at 2.30pm to get to the airport on time for our check in and departure.

As is traditional in Sri Lanka we gave our guide / driver a tip in an envelope as we departed ways at the airport. Once inside we met another expat family from Bangalore and we knew at least another two families wete holidaying in Sri Lanka at the same time. it is a popular destination for good reason and I for one cant wait to return.

 

Deepavali or Diwali


Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated with much gusto here in India. Fireworks (or firecrackers as they are known here) are set off everywhere by everyone. I imagine it’s what a battlefield would sound like. The booms and bangs are loud and relentless as people celebrate. Businesses are also booming at this time of year.

When is it?



Deepavali falls on the darkest moonless night of Amavasya on the fifteenth day of the month of Kartik. In 2017 this is 19th October. Deepavali begins from the the thirteenth day of Kartik, known as Dhanteras. In south India the fourteenth day is celebrated as Narka Chaturdashi. It’s called Choti Diwali by children.

What is it?



In Hindi Deepavali means ‘row of lamps’ and it is for this reason that the festival is known as the festival of light. It is celebrated by Hindus the world over and markets the beginning of the new year in North India.

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How is it celebrated?



There are a LOT of fireworks! There are also oil lamps, candles and tea lights placed at the entrance of houses and also inside. Coloured lights decorate homes and streets. There are lots of sweets and chocolates, big feasts and much celebrating. Gifts and cards are exchanged and more money is supposed to come to people. (It is traditional for every worker to receive a months salary as a bonus at Deepavali). In fact the celebrations are very similar to Christian Christmas celebrations but here people also buy new utensils, metal objects and ‘holy’ items during this period. The belief is that these things will wards off ill health and evil for a whole year.

Dasara or Dussehra 

Festival display in Spar

What is it?



It is a festival that celebrates the conquer of good over evil. In north India it is celebrated as ‘Navratri’and is observed in the nine days preceding Dussehra. It is also known as Durga Pooja, Vijayadashmi and Dasahara.

In Karnataka it means the start of 2 weeks of celebrations in Mysore ending with a great elephant parade. 

When is it?

It is on the 10th day in the bright half (Shukla Paksha) in the month of Ashwin. Ashwin is the seventh month in the Hindu calendar starting on 17th September and ending on 16th October. (Ashwin means ‘light’ in Hindi and the Sanskrit translates as ‘possessor of horse’ or ‘horse tamer’.)

 In 2017, Dusserha falls on Saturday 30th September. The start of Dassara festival in Bangalore is marked by a government holiday on Monday 18th September. 

History and legend

Dussehra is celebrated as the victory of the lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of lord Vishnu. His birth was to overpower the powerful ruler of Lanka, the ten-headed demon king Ravana. The story is that Lakshmana, the brother of lord Rama, cut off Surpanakha’s nose, the beloved sister of Ravana. Full of revenge, Ravana, disguised as a sage, kidnapped Sita. Later lord Rama declared a war against Ravana and brought Sita back.
Mythology states that goddess Durga killed demon Mahishasura after a long period of cruelty and oppression. Another story involves gold coins. The lord Kuber rained coins on the city of Ayodhya following Kautsa asking King Raghu for 140 million coins to give to his guru in exchange for knowledge. After giving 140 million coins to his guru, Kautsa distributed the rest to the people of Ayodhya.

How is it celebrated?

It is believed that the celebration of Dussehra commenced in the 17th century when the King of Mysore ordered a celebration of the day on a grand scale. The celebrations at Mysore Palace attracts thousands of visitors each year – it’s a real crush. Children are lifted on to shoulders of parents to see the great parade of elephants at the palace. The Karnataka State government arranges 10 days of festival celebrations with a program of music and arts. Major buildings are decorated with lights and colour across the city of Mysore.
Episodes from Rama’s life are staged in the form of ‘Ram Leela’. In the evening of Dussehra big effigies filled with crackers (fireworks) are installed in grounds. The figures are the embodiment of Ravana, his brother Kumbkarna, and son Megahnatha, which are burnt later in the evening.
People visit the Pooja Pandals wearing new clothes, prepare traditional food at home and celebrate the festival with their friends and families.
The day also coincides with the immersion of the idol of goddess Durga.
The Dussehra celebrations spread the message of victory of good over evil. It is also start of the festival season with Deepavali / Diwali next month and national holidays to mark Anniversary of Gandhi.

Adverts

There are lots of adverts appering at this time of year as it is the start of the festival season. Here are a selection from the newspapers.

St Mary’s Feast


What is it?



St. Mary’s Feast celebrates the birth of Mother Mary is the most important festival celebrated in St Mary’s basilica and is attended by thousands of people. 

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St. Mary’s Basilica is a basilica located in the Archdiocese of Bangalore. It is among the oldest churches in Bangalore and is the only church in the state that has been elevated to the status of a minor basilica. It really is a beautiful piece of architecture and is busy with visitors all day.

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 When is it?



The festivities go on for 10 days beginning on Tuesday 29th August and end on Friday 8th September; the day on which the Mother Mary was born. The first mass began at 5:30am with masses every 30 minutes in three different languages. At 6:30am the Archbishop offered a thanksgiving mass.

How is it celebrated?

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The festivities begin with the masses. In the evening of the first day, the first novena flag is blessed and hoisted (it’s a traditional flag). The flag with the image of “Our Lady” was blessed by Archbishop Bernard Moras and was hoisted by Sri KJ George (a former Home Minister for Karnataka state).

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A Novena ( a form of worship in the Roman Catholic Church consisting of special prayers or services on nine successive days) is held on the first nine days from Tuesday 29th August to Thursday 7th September. 

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On Friday 8th September, the day on which Mother Mary was born, a Holy feast is celebrated. Holy Mass is offered in different languages and mass marriages are conducted for those in need. A thanksgiving mass is also organized for couples who have completed 50 years of marriage. Eucharistic celebrations (mass with bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ) are held on the day of the feast. The day culminates with a grand chariot procession with a decorated chariot with the image of Mother Mary drawn by devotees along the various streets of Bangalore. 

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Afterwards food is distributed to the thousand of people who have joined in the celebrations. This throng of people consists of all religions with Hindus joining Christians in the celebrations. It is a great time of enjoyment and feasting together.

Bible College in Bangalore – my story of how it happened

This is a post I never thought I would be writing. My friends will tell you that I am the least likely person to go to Bible College. (In my opinion, I am also the most likely to get kicked out at some point!). So how did this happen? How, after 33 years of being a (pretty crap) Christian, did I end up going to Bible College? How did I get here? Obviously it’s all in God’s great plan for my life, but I can tell it from my perspective.

Becoming a Christian – my belief in God

Woodvale Chapel

I had attended Woodvale Chapel in Ainsdale, where I grew up, ever since my cousins Michelle and Carol had taken us at a very young age. I loved going. The folks were kind and accepted us (me and my twin) with all our challenges, having come from a ‘chaotic’ family childhood which made us aggressive, defensive and outspoken. (I know, not much has changed.) 

Billy Graham, Mission:England

The church took the youth group on a trip to the Billy Graham Mission:England at Anfield Stadium in 1984. I sat listening to this old American preacher saying things I had heard a thousand times before. God loved me. He loved me so much that He sent His only son to die for me so that I could go to heaven. I knew it and I believed it, only I had never said ‘the prayer’ asking for forgiveness and accepting Jesus into my life. Billy Graham did an ‘alter call’, which is asking people to make a public declaration of faith and saying ‘the prayer’. Me and my twin looked at each other in the stands and asked each other should we go down. We went down together and in front of thousands and together with thousands of others, asked for forgiveness of our sins and welcomed Jesus into our lives. I didn’t feel any different. I just knew I had done it. I was 14 years old. 

My Christian life

Now, becoming a christian doesn’t magically make your life perfect, and mine hasn’t been, but it does give you an assurance that your sins are forgiven. My Christian life has had many ups and downs. There have been some very deep downs, the biggest being when my father died of cancer in 1996. I was 26 years old and my father had been taken away from me. I was, and am, devastated by it. My life changed forever and God seemed very far from me. It took me a very long time, years in fact, to ‘forgive ‘ God for what had happened to my father and robbing me of a parent. 

Whatever happened in my life, when I drifted away from God, there was always something to bring me back. My faith has never wavered, ever. I know that God is there. It’s just sometimes in my life I wish He wasn’t. That’s quite bad really. I do get fed up, frustrated and angry. As I have got older, and hopefully wiser, I have realised that I am not alone in those feelings. I also know that I think I am the worst sinner in the world and God can’t possibly forgive me again for doing the same thing over and over and not learning. He does. Thankfully.

How did a crap Christian get into Bible College?

Faith Camp

So last year Zahra and me went to Faith Camp. It’s a family camping week at the South of England Showground and Peterborough Arena organised by Kingdom Faith Church. It’s a week of fun filled activities for the children, of all ages, and a week of lectures and seminar and praise and worship for the adults. It’s a great atmosphere and the teaching is great too. 

Last year there was a big advert (for want of a better word) for their Bible College. I was sat listening thinking I wouldn’t mind going to Bible College BUT, I thought, they would never let me in and it was on the south coast and the fees were out of my price range. As I sat there thinking this, friends surrounding me kept nudging me, winking, indicating I should apply, and laughing. I thought it was funny too. I thought they wouldn’t know what hit them if they did let me in. It WAS funny. I WAS the least likely person to go to Bible College (after all, I have been known to bring bottles of Prosecco to Bible studies!). There was absolutely no way I was going, even if I did fancy the idea.

Move to Bangalore

God, of course, had different plans. Fast forward a few years and here we are as a family in Bangalore, India. We moved here in 2015 with Rez’s work. It was a traumatic move and affected my health badly. I had to give up work. I’m not going to bore you with that long story, but it now meant that I was free to do what I liked. For the first time in my life I didn’t have a job. It is very liberating. I have never been out of work. I worked through college and university and went straight into work afterwards. No travel or inter railing for me. Now I had time to do something I wanted to do.

Volunteering

I spent most of last year working on the school PTA raising funds for the three charities they support. I baked and sold and organised and badgered sponsorship from local companies. It was all encompassing and kept me busy. When the school holidays were approaching I was considering whether I wanted to continue on the PTA or do something else. 

All People’s Church

That is when All People’s Church (APC) started advertising for applications for their Bible College. Now Zahra and I have attended APC for about 18 months now but I didn’t know they had a Bible College.

Again I thought about it and thought I might enjoy it. I also thought they wouldn’t let me in. I thought about it for several weeks before I spoke to Pastor Nancy about it. She encouraged me to apply. I finally plucked up the courage and filled in the application form and sent it in. I had done my bit and fully expected to be rejected. I mean I am 47 years old competing against 20 something’s from all over India for a college place. I didn’t rate my chances. God had a different idea obviously, and I still think this is His sense of humour coming out. I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognise. Normally I don’t answer them but this time I did. It was the Bible College asking me to come in for an interview and arranged a date. 

The interview

I was bricking it. I have not had an interview in decades, literally decades. I know nothing about modern interviews for colleges and universities. I had no idea what to expect, whether there would be a panel and how many other candidates would be around and what they would ask. I arrived at the appointed time at the church office and waited, alone. I was met by a lovely lady who led me into a small interview room and offered me tea. I was disoriented. For the next 30 mins or so, she asked me questions, none of which I can remember and all of which I answered. She then tells me about the college and what the subjects are, the teaching is in English (a relief) and timings (9.30am to 1pm), fees and that as an “elderly student” I might “nap” during lectures but not to worry, they were there to help and support me. (I try not to laugh but fail).  I am confused so I ask when will I find out if my application is successful. She tells me immediately that it is successful and I am going to Bible College. 

I’m in!

WHAT?! Wait. How did this happen? This went far too smoothly to be real. How did I just get into Bible College? It fits with school runs too. Just too surreal.

Then the spanner in the works came. Bible College started in July. I would be in the U.K. until the middle of August so I couldn’t join. No problem! What? You’re letting me start 6 weeks after the course commences? Yes indeed. I was stunned and delighted.

I returned home in a daze. It was still sinking in. I was actually going to go to Bible College. No one was going to believe me. No one was going to believe they actually let me in! How was I going to tell people and what would there reactions be. Probably similar to those I experienced when I told people I was getting married, no one believed me then!

Bible College

Anyway, here I am at Bible College and really enjoying it. I am learning so many things about history in the Old Testament as well as prayer, praise, worship, the Holy Spirit, practical christian living… load of things. It’s great. I’ve already caught up on assignments (some of which were pretty tough) and I’ve managed not to nap in lectures! I am the second oldest in the class surrounded by young men who look likely to be pastors and ministers of the future. It’s exam week next week. A whole week of exams. I’ve not even caught up on what I’ve missed yet but who cares…this is the first time I will have taken exams in over a decade too; I don’t care what my result is, it’s the experience which will be valuable. 

I am sure I will do another blogpost about Bible College itself in future, but for now you have my tale of how I got there. Lesson? Never underestimate what God has planned for you…it may well be outside your range of possibilities but it is never outside His!

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If you want to find out more…

If you want to find out more about becoming a christian take a look at CrossCheck for more information and help: http://www.crosscheck.org.uk/