Today we rose at 3:30 and left the hotel at 4:00am to travel by train to Agra. We have a five and a half hour ride to Lucknow, a four hour layover and another six hours to Agra. We will arrive in Agra about 9:30pm. Tomorrow we have another prison service in Agra and we will be spending the day sightseeing Tuesday, includinga the Taj Mahal.
We arrived at the train about 90 minutes early. We were the first people on the train and we are all seated in 4 bench seats that face each other. We are traveling with Arthur, Janice, and their daughter, Hannah.
The ride to Lucknow was uncomfortable and long. The ladies ant use the “restroom” because there are now toilets, only squatters. It was great, however, to see the countryside by train in the daytime. I took many great photos.
When we arrived in Lucknow we hired a porter that oiled his handcart full of about 10 or 12 bags and we relaxed in the Air Conditioned waiting room. There were comfortable, padded chairs and couches for all of us to sit in. We were able to rest, sit back, and some of us were able to sleep. I took Lois and Don and we went just outside the station and bought some bananas. We also bought a bunch more chips and cookies for the train ride to Agra. Our diet today consists of snacks but most of the team doesn’t mind after 10 days of Indian cuisine. Many of the team have been “spiced out”, they’ve had enough of the spicy food. 5 of us have been sick on this trip. Rhonda had a kidney infection the first morning in Lucknow, Greg woke up sick the next day, Jamie got sick about the same time and I came down with a rather nasty cold yesterday and it’s in full swing today. Greg also caught the same cold yesterday (the second time he’s been sick on this trip). Rhonda mentioned that Greg rarely gets sick, but he gets sick on every mission trip he takes. I suppose that could be because of the threat he poses to the enemy and the long, hard days that are spent in ministry when he is traveling. Scott has had “intestinal” problems for several days.
I hired a porter again at 2:45 to take our bags to the train so they could all get loaded in our sitting area before the car was full of everyone else (baggage security). On this leg of the trip we are more comfortable. All our bags are completely under the seat or in the overhead racks and all of our seats are facing forward. We are all sitting 2 to a seat instead of 3 as it was on the way here.
Arthur shared an email with us that was sent by another missionary that met him last month. The email was this man’s version of Arthur’s testimony, as told to him. Arthur was working hard to climb the political ranks in India when a “friend” of his reached power and falsely accused Arthur of a crime. Arthur was sentenced to prison and was sent away 15 days after he was married. Janice, a Hindu, waited for him until his release. Arthur was born again while in prison and when he was released he told her that he wanted to remain married, but that his life now belongs to Jesus Christ. The Lord changed her heart and she is now being used mightily in their ministry.
4:20pm – we are on the train to Agra, we just departed from Lucknow station, the train is very bumpy and jerky right now. Rhonda just said “this is a fun ride” and “It’s actually like a carnival ride” we are moving at a pretty good clip. The police officer in the seats ahead of us is just sitting there staring at us. He is turned around sideways in his seat and watching all of us. We are definitely an oddity and the center of attraction wherever we go.
Arthur just came back to tell us that he just received a phone call from the OC at the Barabanki prison. He told Arthur that the prisoners’ lives are changing and he is excited to have us return again soon. Praise the Lord!!! Arthur also just told us that the OC is going to write a story in the local newspaper about our visit.
We just experienced a major mob scene. We stopped at Etawa station and there were literally thousands of people standing at the platform waiting to get onboard our train. When we stopped they pushed and shoved each other and herded into the train. There were at least 150 more people in our car than when we arrived, perhaps even 200 or more. They were pushing and shoving each other in the aisles and crowding into the seats, even trying to sit in the reserved seats with the others that were already seated. A lady and her daughter were trying to make Lois and Don get out of their seats. The lady was yelling at everyone. We had 12 reserved seats but they were not all together. We are, however, sitting together so the seat she was supposed to be sitting in was occupied by us and the seat we were supposed to be in was occupied by someone else. Arthur moved with Janice to another seat so the lady could sit there but that wasn’t good enough for her, she continued to holler at us. Janice had to calm her down. This is such an incredibly selfish society, everyone is out for themselves with no concern for anyone else. Greg was having to push people off of himself as he was sitting in the aisle seat. The train was so packed that people were even laying up in the overhead luggage racks.
Don pulled out the “Bag of Encouragement” after everyone got off the train. Greg and Rhonda decided that he is the best encourager we have ever had. He has the bag with him which has some books for devotional readings, food, snacks and love. I would have to agree, the bag of encouragement was a great idea.
There are little children on the train begging and picking up the trash that is left behind after the train stops and empties. There are vendors selling snacks, Chai, newspapers and fresh roasted peanuts. We bought 3 bags of potato chips, 4 different kinds of cookies, 2 pound cakes and some bagged Indian snack mix for 95 Rupies (just over $2). Water costs 15 Rupies per one liter bottle (33 cents).
We have been living on simple carbs and protein on this trip. The only fruit that’s safe to eat is food that can be peeled so that leaves us with bananas. Mostly we are eating bread (Naan), rice, chicken or mutton, and curry. I am longing for a salad and some mixed fruit. Vitamix here I come, it’s smoothie time on Friday. I also look forward to being able to get some regular exercise. Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings we often take for granted, and forgive me for doing so.
It is now 8:49pm. There is virtually nobody on the train now. We all have plenty of room to spread out. We are ready to get to Agra and debrief from the day.
Pastor L.D. Gupta was at the train station to meet us when we arrived an hour late. He pastors a church in Agra and has been prepaying for many years for an opportunity to serve in the prisons. He is, of course, very excited to have us here. He and Arthur have never met in person, they have only talked on the phone a few times. They connected through a mutual friend. Pastor L.D. had three cars there to take us to the hotel. Agra is a much cleaner and more tourist-friendly city than any other I have been to in India.
The hotel is very dirty and in disrepair. Jamie and I are rooming together and our room smells musty and chemically. We are sure that the ownership has been trying to cover it up long before we got there. I believe it’s the air conditioning. Scott and Don’s room smells horrible and the air conditioning doesn’t work. We moved them upstairs and had them room with Fred. Jamie and I also switched rooms. Our room is in the lobby with an open vent for the bathroom that vents right into the lobby so we can hear everything that is going on out there.