At home again under the stars

The Revd Sarah Miller shares a second reflection on her USPG Journey With Us placement in Madurai, India.

I am now eight weeks into my placement in India.  Life at the CSI Women’s College has been increasingly busy, I have been meeting small groups of students during class library periods for English conversation practice.  Some are more confident than others, I try to help them relax and have a go – for example I ask them to imagine they are standing in the canteen queue at lunch time and a new student is next to them, try having a pretend conversation…What’s your name, what subject are you studying, what did you have for breakfast? (a common topic of conversation instead of talking about the weather, which is almost always hot and sunny).  For most students this will be the first time they have talked English with a native speaker, my hope is it will give them confidence to practice and develop their language skills further.

I recently spent a week at Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary (TTS), assisting with English classes and sharing in the life of the college.  I had an enlightening session with the Master of Theology students, TTS is the only Theological College in India to offer social analysis and subjects for dissertations included honour killing, alcoholism and child labour.  Evangeline, a final year BD student was telling me about the practical placements she had done and how these had been transformative in her training for ministry.  She had spent time in a cotton factory, seeing at first hand the unhealthy conditions that the workers, most of them women suffer – no protection for ears from the deafening noise, nor for hands which get chafed and injured nor for noses and mouths from breathing in the fine fibres.  She had a spent a term in Bangalore with an advocate seeking legal redress for abused women, and several months in a port city, working with the neglected children of sex workers.

A highlight of my week was going out into the country to visit the TTS Rural Theology Institute, where thirty students at a time spend six months. They experience village ministry, learn how to grow crops and take turns to be  responsible for cleaning, cooking and buying food for the student community, all invaluable training for future ministry.  We had supper cooked on an open wood fire under the stars, with no sounds apart from the cicadas and gentle murmur of conversation.

Students with families live in small bungalows in the TTS compound and I was made welcome in several homes.  I had lunch with Sheela, a Masters student and her husband Titus.  They had met whilst training as social workers and had a five year old son, Rio.  The food they had prepared was beautifully served on banana leaves, used on special occasions.  Sheela hopes to be ordained in the Lutheran Church.  I enjoyed tea in the home of Toshi, a PhD student and his family from Nagaland in the North East of India, on the border with Myanmar and heard about their experience – as non-Tamil speakers – of living far from home in a very different part of the country.

The week at TTS was a rich and valuable experience which gave me an insight into another vibrant college community and the lives of people from very different backgrounds preparing for ministry together.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of Us.
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