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As I write this, the storm approaches steadily; the lightning illuminates the coconut trees and the silhouette reminds me of the steadfastness of God. He is always there, firm and deeply rooted, but we can’t always see Him. This trip, with all of its limitations, has illuminated this for me, and for many on the team. John once suggested that we change the lyrics to the well-known hymn to “Every Second I Need Thee,” because India has indeed taught us to rely on Him every moment of our being. It is my prayer that as the majority of the team leaves early tomorrow morning, we remember the constancy of God, just as we have learned in these three short weeks. 

Our final day was also a first day. The Riverside students came in buses from many surrounding villages, dressed in their Sunday best and ecstatic about the new classroom decorations. After a wonderful teachers’ devotional time where Principal Joice declared the year’s theme to be “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” we got to sit in on the classes and meet the kids. (The school system is a little funny here, as only about 1/3 of the students actually come on the first day, and they don’t see full attendance until September because of the influence of Hindu holy days) The all-school assembly outside was a joy to participate in: as the Chairman introduced us, the children sang a little “Wel Wel Come Come” song for each American. 

Before lunch, we spent a few hours debriefing with the handful of members who will miss the official debrief time in Hong Kong over the weekend, either because they are traveling home via a different route or staying on at Riverside for longer. Sean facilitated the time, asking important questions about the hardest and most enjoyable moments of the trip, and how we anticipate our lives changing back home. He also gave room for team members to specifically encourage the four college girls who are staying behind. It was incredible for Alexa, Katie, Melody, and myself (Heather) to be affirmed in our giftings and impact on the team. And whether we are staying for 9 days, 3 weeks, or 1 year respectively, these words of encouragement, spoken by people who know the difficulties of this terrain, will remain with us. 

After a final trip through the rice paddies to Malikipuram for some last-minute mango juice, our team gathered for a goodbye celebration put on by the Riverside staff. But wow, were we surprised by the extent of this celebration! It started in our foyer, across the street from the school, with basically an Indian Mariachi band accompanying the teachers singing in Telugu. We all danced our way down the driveway, where we caught up with the Riverside color-guard (essentially). They then led us down the street in a grand parade towards the hospital, through the Gate of Salvation. Once seated out front, we relished in a time of mutual “thank you’s” and “goodbye’s,” with a sprinkling of beautiful songs. They have been amazing hosts, and we were so happy to be even minute “cogs in the wheel” of this fantastic organization.

Thank you for your continual prayers, and I ask that you pray for safe travels and for continu ed strength for those staying later (I will be keeping the blog updated about twice a month during my year here, so I hope to “see” you again soon!)