The experiences of Maggie Schlageter
After traveling for what felt like a 36-hour-long-night, we landed in Hyderabad and arrived at the Shunem home. It took a few weeks to find our footing, identify needs, realize what we had to offer, and see how things were run at the Shunem Home and the ecclesia. What Shunem needs most in their volunteers is continuity, which is difficult because their volunteers are constantly changing. We attempted to sort out the routine of the previous volunteer and pick up there, expanding areas we had additional training in. There were two other volunteers here from New Zealand so we were able to work with them and form an extremely effective team.
We set out to learn all of the names of the 81 children that live at Shunem, somehow we managed in about three weeks. It was at this point that we began to really get to know the children. There is a heavy emphasis placed on academics and bible study, so that’s where we started. As far as academics, we take different classes to the library everyday where we sing, read, draw, do puzzles, and play math and spelling review games. We also have been doing a one-on-one reading program to help the kids with their English reading and comprehension. It has been so helpful in their learning process. We lead bible readings and hymns with the kids in the mornings and evenings. It has been so rewarding to draw lessons out of these chapters that the kids will both understand and remember. Jessica Gelineau and I started a bible class for the older girls, addressing topics like baptism, loving your neighbor, following God’s commandments and perceptions of beauty. Each class has an activity paired with it, like card making or doing mehendi. This has been a really beneficial class and has prompted many uplifting spiritual connections and conversations. It’s been amazing spending time with the children and learning about their interests; some love to sing, play games, learn about music, make chapattis or just sit and talk.
There are about ten elders that live at Shunem and only one of them speaks any English. We lead the readings every morning for them, with a translator, and make sure to smile and nod and utter “Namaste” whenever we see them.
One of the most important parts of volunteering here at Shunem has been supporting the staff. We attend all the staff meetings and spend time with them, whether in the kitchen or on the way to and from Hyderabad. They have such challenging work here, taking care of these children on a full time basis, and it’s so important to provide them with positive affirmation. We’ve started baptism classes with one of the kitchen staff and that has been really positive.
We attend all functions, sister’s classes, midweek bible classs, public lectures and services on Sunday. We lead songs and teach a Sunday school at the Shunem home. In addition to the children at Shunem there are forty children from the village who attend. In a few different ways we’ve also been able to support the brotherhood in the surrounding cities.
We were able to attend the Karnataka Christadelphian youth weekend in Bangalore in early October, which was so beneficial. There is such a strong young people’s presence there and we were able to enjoy some real sweet fellowship, singing and praying and studying together. The Christadelphians in Bangalore also run the Bartemeaus resource center for the blind and visually impaired. Some of the participants in the program even attended the classes and activities on Saturday. We were able to make a visit to their facilities and meet the current staff and students working in the program. One of the young men there even read some Psalms for us. They were such a joyful group to meet and spend some time with.
The week of October 10th-17th we made a trip out to Vijayawada for the Andhra Pradesh Bible Week. We boarded the train with over thirty kids from Shunem and began our journey. Jessica Gelineau and I headed up Sunday school classes, orchestrating teachers for four classes, which were held in two hour and a half long sessions each day. We did songs, skits, games and lessons all related to the study of the different names of Jehovah throughout the Bible. In addition to the children’s classes, we also lead and coordinated a two-hour drama practice each day for Friday’s evening program, which ended up including a selection of songs about the names of Jehovah and a short Telegu musical about Jehovah Rohi, God is our good shepherd. The week, although strenuous and exhausting, ended up being wildly successful with well over 300 attendees.
After all the commotion of Bible Week, we returned back home to Shunem. I missed this oasis that God has blessed us with and I missed each and every one of these kids. It’s amazing the way that my heart has grown to fit these kids that need love so badly. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and every bit of growth that I’ve experienced. Anything can happen at any given time and that is especially present here in India, but throughout all of the uncertainty God really is in control and He is always working in our lives. Always.