I was about to board the plane when I noticed that standing in front of me was a Muslim girl wearing a head covering with a prayer rug strapped to her backpack.  She was about my age and was talking on the phone with a friend.  In fact, if you were blind, you wouldn’t have known we were any different.

But culturally, we were very different.

And yet God is not bound by cultural upbringing.  He knows everything about this girl.  He knows what time she woke up this morning and what she had for breakfast.  He knew the day she would be born and the day her life will end.  He knows about the best day she has ever had, and about the worst day yet to come.  He knows her shoe size, middle name, eye color, and favorite flavor of ice cream.  He knows everything about her, even though she might not know Him.

This reality stayed with me throughout the day and helped set the course for my travels.  Instead of living at Messiah, surrounded by several people I know, I was going from D.C. to Germany to India surrounded by hundreds of people who I don’t know.  However, He knows each one of them by name, by shoe size, by favorite flavor of ice cream.  He knows each one of us and calls us by name.

The God of the Universe, Creator of all things, High King of Heaven, knows all people.  

I have a confession.  Sometimes, in the midst of wanting to communicate with God and rely on Him, I make myself the center of His universe.  I start to become so comfortable with asking for His favor and voicing my concerns that I forget I am not the only person that God cares about.  I forget that though He knows everything about me, He also knows everything about them.

My world just got a little bit bigger today and while there are many things I do not know in regards to life and the future and my place in the world, I can take rest in the fact that He does.  He knows.

So yeah, after getting hit in the face with that reality I was thrown into an intense orientation schedule.  I arrived in Coimbatore around 1 in the afternoon on Saturday September 1st after over 11 hours of waiting in the Mumbai airport with my team.  Kirk and Cameron, our leaders, and several of our peer mentors greeted us.  After a short drive we arrived at our apartments in Race Course.  Race Course is basically a 2 mile loop and within it lies our apartments, our church and our school, BACAS (pronounced Baa-caas).  It is fairly affluent area of town compared to the rest of Coimbatore.  

After getting settled we entered into orientation and one of the things that included was buying traditional Salwaars (pants and long tops) and Dupattas (scarves).  For those who know me well you probably also know I am not an avid shopper.  Same rings true in India.  The first shop was called Handloom and inside was stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks of clothing.  The whole experience was insane and took me a long time to finally decide on my first two outfits I was going to wear to school.  It was a long day but incredibly fun at the same time.

The other pieces of orientation included a tour and induction into BACAS.  We were presented to the other students and given garlands as a welcome.  There were also these beautiful rongoli designs that the students made on the sidewalks out of sand as an extra welcome to us.  Each day we also meet in the Mess (cafeteria) for lunch with the other students.  One specific thing unique to India schools is that guys and girls sit on opposite sides of the room in class and in the Mess.  There are even separate places for the two to wash off their dishes.  No eye contact is made and for the most part there is no talking or interaction across genders.  

On Monday we split up into groups and went on an Amazing Race all over Coimbatore.  This was hands-down the most stressful part of the trip for me thus far.  Each person studying abroad is fairly extroverted and each person on my team had their own idea of how the tasks should be completed.  During this experience I learned that I am not a great follower.  I have learned how to lead and take initiative and get things done, but I seem to have forgotten how to be a part of the team.  So in the midst of being frustrated that things were not being done my way, I found myself traveling on a public bus…during rush hour.  It was the most crammed form of transportation I have ever seen.  People were literally hanging out the bus as we drove through the incredibly crowded streets.  I was hot, sweaty, frustrated, and being crammed in with tons of strangers whom I didn’t understand…gawking at me and my white skin.  Oh yeah, and did I mention I ripped my pants too??  Yup...right on the rear. 

But then, things shifted.

A little old woman squeezed my chin and kissed her hands and smiled at me with the sweetest toothless grin.  Suddenly my frustrations and comfort weren’t dictating my attitude.  A little old woman, in the simplest form, blessed me and little did she know it, but she turned around my whole day.

A little old woman reminded me that there is power in presence.  There is power and change and God is made known when we can just exist among other people, and we can bless others in our mere existence.  This is something I hope to keep close to me when I begin to feel unqualified and unprepared and totally out of my areas of experience. There is power in presence.  

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the things I have been thinking and doing.  I’ve been taking bucket showers.  I’ve been eating with my hands.  I’ve been sleeping under a bug net at night and have been woken by pigeons outside my window every morning around 5:00 am.  I’ve learned to share my room with a cockroach named Milton.  Lots that has been done, but quite a journey ahead!

Thank you all so much for your interest and prayers and support.  On the way I realized my visa was done wrong and I had danger of being deported, however I know it was because of the prayers of my family and friends that I made it through the entire process without a hitch.  So thank you, and keep those prayers coming!

Ashley Sider