Sally, a childhood friend, sent me a letter she’d written dated a few years after high school, which she’d carbon-copied to some other neighbourhood girls we grew up with. We were all on the cusp of becoming adults. All of us entering a world of adventure to become somebody and make a difference.
July 27th, 1975
Exciting things have happened. The biggest is that Frieda came home the night before we did! … I’m sitting here in the sari she chose for me. You should hear her unbelievable stories. Our travels sound like nothing!
Frieda had 10 days to get out of India when her visa wasn’t renewed. That’s when things clicked in the guy who’s running the home with her. He asked her to marry him. She said, “yes,” then asked what his last name is…
He sounds interesting —been traveling for the last 2 years, lived in a kibbutz for a year, now he’s a devout Christian. So is Frieda. Every other Christian I’ve run in to I’ve been able to put a little dent or question in their head. The closest I’ve come with Frieda was once she said in response to one of my ideas, “Well maybe.” But then she quickly said “but she didn’t think so, because the Bible said . . . “She seems to think few people are true Christians. I agree there….
Frieda really put me to thinking because her religion is so much a part of her happiness. She has decided that it’s God’s will that she marry Yip and that makes her certain of her choice. I just hope that he is as close to being a god as Frieda is to being a goddess. She now has 144 songs and 110 kids.
They drink water from a canal that runs thru the village where people bathe, wash clothes, and wash animals. They load two large oil drums on an ox cart and drive a mile to get water. The kids are regularly checked for leprosy … She said for a while now she’s been going to bed at 1:00 and getting up at 5:00 a.m. When you get up you have to shake off your clothes to make sure there are no scorpions, cobras, etc. Frieda keeps talking half in Hindi by accident. She herds 80 kids to school in the village alone each morning. We bought medicine for the lice eggs she brought back in her head
Perhaps the facts were not exact, but Sally did a great job of creating a picture for a thrilling adventure, which it was and continues to be.
Did I really not know my fiancés last name? I didn’t, nor was I sure of his first name. Though we worked together in the orphanage—all day and into the night—it never occurred to me to ask. I knew him as Yip, but it wasn’t his official name.
At the time I was living in a village without electricity, water, phone, or a vehicle. We did shake out our shoes for scorpions, but cobras are much too big to fit in shoes. They prefer to hang out in the corners.
My exit to India was in October 1974. There are so many stories that fit between the lines of Sally’s letter. My intention is to clear up any confusion as to why I ditched the USA and fled across the world. My escape plan had been ready for years, but when it turned into the action of doing it, my motives were muddled. I left without regret or hesitation, but it was not the dreamy departure I’d imagined it to be. My exit had more of the lingering odour of a run-away kid.
Blown away by the horrific murder of my mother, all my thoughts were on the meaning of life and death; and God… even if God IS… can he be good? Not only did my mother die tragically, but a short 2 years later, there was the accident.
Mike drove the van back onto the highway after a stop at Burger King. My sister and I and 3 others were in his van, returning from a high-school football game. Mike was about to graduate as a valedictorian. We were heading home; suddenly time stopped — a drunk driver veered into us. Mike died on the spot. It was just —pointless. It brought back all the meaninglessness that had never left, when I lost my mother, and more…
As the van rolled over and over, I banged up against the ceiling, the floor, the sides of the van, until I lay in the dirt, far from the van. I looked up and saw Bess standing over me. I saw Mike being put in an ambulance. All 5 of us had been spewed out. While I bounced in the back of the van, one fact resounded; it was God hurling me around. He punched me and hurt me. It was God who pierced me every time. I didn’t like God any better than he liked me.
There was no happiness, my life was coasting downhill, big time. I saw no way forward except to flee. The farther the better. I hoped a new location might give me a jumpstart on life again. If only I could leave my identity behind and become a new person. I wanted to bury the past, but more than anything I wanted to find God. I did not like God, but could not believe that this amazing, beautiful, colourful world could have come into being without a God. I grew up going to church, but wondered what GOD actually had to do with our lives? I was quite sick of Christianity and thought India would provide some new ideas.
There were hurdles to jump first.
After high school I applied to work in a Christian children’s home. They asked, “What are your spiritual beliefs?” I said, “I’m not a Christian. I don’t believe in the Bible. I don’t believe Jesus is God.”
I think they got my point — I was turned down as a candidate. However, lying on the desk between me and my interviewer was a book (upside-down to me) with the address of the children’s home. I memorized the upside-down address and wrote it, right-side-up, as soon as I returned to my car. I shot off a letter asking for a job. It wasn’t long before I heard back. I was hired as the music teacher in the Christian children’s home.
It was a fun challenge —teaching instruments I had no idea how to play—but neither did the kids. I figured out the scales and fingerings on a day-to-day basis.
I’d never met Christians who were so nice —with such weird beliefs. One evening they showed a film: The Rapture. It was like science fiction. It was unbelievable! The film portrayed what the people believed; that Jesus would come again in the clouds, and his followers would meet him in the air. They knew I didn’t believe this, but continued to love me. Unbeknownst to me, the relatives of this home were running another children’s home in India (the very place I would soon work in) where people were in that moment, praying for me.
A year of college in the USA came next, then study at a university in Mexico —which was my downfall. I started taking drugs, but knew I didn’t want to end up as an addict. I dropped out of school, lost all the money I’d put into it, but it was one of my best decisions. I returned home, eventually making enough money to buy a plane ticket and humongous book on Mahatma Gandhi. I began to study Hindi. I loved learning Hindi and was able to read its beautiful script before I landed in Delhi. The first Hindi I read was on a billboard. I slowly pronounced the Devanagari letters … co-ka-co-la!
Caring for orphans in India was my life-long dream, a fiery passion to fulfil. Nothing could stop me; not even Dad, who worried, but acknowledged my hard-line determination. He asked what I thought I could do in a big, highly populated country like India. I said, “I don’t know, but something is better than nothing.” That was my detailed plan. I was churning with unresolved grief and anger, but also earnestly desired to help. I really had no idea what I was doing, but left with as much purpose and “go-get- ‘em” as I could muster.
I worked as a volunteer at a children’s home for 9 months on my 3-month visa. I was unable to renew my visa a third time and had to leave. I planned to get another visa and return immediately to marry Yip.
Now, 47 years later, much has transpired; so many stories. But the best one, the one that really counts, is the story that transformed me. My exit to the uttermost parts of the earth achieved its purpose; I did become a new person. It had nothing to do with earnest desire to help. It didn’t have to happen in India, but that’s where it happened. (And, by the way, Yip has been my husband for the past 45 years.)
I’d never trade the hard years that led from 1974 to today. Like Moses’ trip through the desert, what I learned through suffering is gold.
My transformation kick-started in the Himalayas at dinner time in a friends’ house. There, conversation always centred on Jesus. The food was always wonderful; coming from the village to eat hotdogs was nearing divine. But there was a catch; if you stayed for dinner, you also had to participate in their family Bible reading. Believe me, dessert was worth it.
That night they read Psalm 139 aloud. My jaw nearly dropped open when verses 7-10 were read: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (ESV Bible)
It was the first true thing I’d ever heard from the Bible. I’d been in India nearly 6 months, heard about Jesus from these Christians again and again, but when I heard those words —no place to get away from God, I knew it was true. Crossing the seas hadn’t separated me from God. That night I decided to read the Bible. Obviously, I began at the beginning, “In the beginning… God…” The first verse of the Bible confirmed it. I finally got it —God.
I’ve waited to explain my exit for a very long time. These few words describe some of it…. God is all of it. My dream came true; proof that God is a nostalgic dramatist who loves a good plot, with all the romance included. It is obvious, as you see, from the view out our window… the plot is still thickening …