Seeing it for herself

She visited the slums, spent time in people’s mud huts, climbed a very steep stairway to get to the second floor of a home in the slums, laid blankets on the homeless, tried milking a water buffalo, visited the government’s TB hospital, spent time at the children’s school and in general touched the hearts of many of the people she saw while in India.     Pretty good for an 88-½ year young grandmother.     Ruth Crowe of Willmar is the mother of Gary Crowe of Pennock, who is with Hope in the Night Ministries and visits India quite frequently because he’s fallen in love with the people there and does everything possible to help out the poorest of the poor. Ruth said the trip was different than what she expected. “Gary comes home and tells stories but when it comes right down to seeing it, it’s different. People are different than I thought, they’re very loving people, they’re kind and they seemed like they were anxious to hear the word of God. That’s the part that thrilled me the most I think. They were very open.”     They first flew to Mumbai where they spent a week and is where they laid the blankets on the people, and held children’s services. “That’s an experience. Gary talked about it but when you actually lay that blanket on that child or that mother or whoever, you get an entirely different feeling. It really gets to you. It’s a little different to actually do it than hear about it. We’d wake them up, they’d stretch and see the blanket and hug it to themselves.”     She said they always woke them up because if they just laid a blanket on them without waking them there may be people down the street that might see that and they might take it. “We wanted to make sure that blanket was theirs, that it was a gift for them, that it was their blanket to keep.”     Ruth said the youngest she saw was a 22 day old baby. They wrapped both the mother and baby in Hope in the Night blankets and the mother handed the baby to Ruth. “It was almost like ‘keep it.’ I held the baby for a little while and that same mother was nursing another one that was a year and a half to two years old.”     In another spot a little boy and girl who were maybe eight years old were sleeping all by themselves. “We laid a blanket on and woke the kids. It was touching.”     Most of the kids are raised like this and they don’t know any difference. In talking to people Ruth said they found out there are three generations on the street. “They are born on that street, not in a hospital. That mother delivers on the street and she could have been delivered on the street. They don’t know any different than that.”     Ruth said she couldn’t understand why these people were sleeping right next to a freeway. Her son explained that probably is because its safer because of all the traffic. “If you get to a secluded area, if they have any belongings that are valuable, someone will take them.”     Ruth said the Regional Cancer Treatment Center was something else that opened her eyes. They didn’t get into the hospital, she said and there were a lot of people waiting to get in. “There was a lady with a huge tumor waiting to get chemo in the hospital. The hospital was full so they set them out on the street. She had come in from another village.”     Gary said these people come from hundreds of miles to be treated but there’s no place for them to stay so outside the cancer hospital there’s literally thousands of people that come there to be checked. The hospital will tell them their appointment is in one week and they’ll go outside and sleep on the street until that time.     At the TB hospital they visited in Mumbai they delivered 752 blankets. It took about three and a half hours but they went through the entire hospital, handing a blanket to every patient there. They ended up delivering blankets to the TB hospital after finding a woman on the street that was dying. “She was just laying there gasping for air,” Ruth said. They found out she’d been in a government hospital and when the doctors couldn’t do anything for her they put her out on the street again.     Ruth said they prayed with her and were able to get the government TB hospital to accept her. When they checked on her the next day she had died. At that point they worked on getting permission to deliver blankets to the patients there, and ended up delivering 752 blankets.     Ruth said there was a lot of sad stuff at the TB hospital and most of the people weren’t going to get better — they were there to die. “And it was so filthy. There was a pan on the floor with three to four cats eating out of the pan. You’d see a dog or cats laying on an empty bed. The cats were there to keep the rat population down. The windows were broken and all of a sudden here comes big black birds like our crows. They’d eat the spilled rice and go out the window again.”     It was quite an experience, she said. “It made you appreciate what you’ve got, being brought up in a Christian home and then see where they haven’t had a chance – it was different.” Slums     Ruth said she really enjoyed the slums and the people there. The rooms probably weren’t as big as 10 by 12, she said, a lot of them had old linoleum on the floor and the first ones they were in were very clean. Outside the building, however, it was never clean. “Outside they don’t know to pick up a piece of paper and throw it so there’s a lot of garbage, but these people welcomed us.”     Gary calls then squatters. If there’s a vacant piece of land, sometimes right next to the road, they just build something. A lot of the slums are being bulldozed because Mumbai is expanding so fast and these people are illegally there. They’re given a month’s notice but there’s no place for them to go so when the bulldozer is 100 feet away they’re grabbing everything they can before their house is bulldozed. And once its bulldozed they just sit on the curb.     Ruth said those houses share three walls and they’re not very tall inside. And if there’s nowhere to build they’ll build something on top of what’s already there. Ruth climbed steps there were almost straight up because a girl wanted her to come up to her home. “It was something she valued that I would get up there so I crawled up there and sat there.”     And even though these people have nothing Ruth said, they always offered then a cold drink or something else. “They have nothing but they’re happy.”     A lot of times you’ll see a slum right on the back end of a beautiful hotel so they know there’s something else out there. “But they’re trapped because of income and education and the next generation is trapped in that too.”     Also while in Mumbai they brought almost 700 slum children into an auditorium where they had a Christmas party for them. Other Indian children were performing, dancing and singing and told the Christmas story with the kids dressed up as sheep, cows and donkeys. Ruth said that really interested her. “When we were at the children’s home you couldn’t tell a sheep from a goat. You just can’t imagine it, the sheep looked just like goats and when they gave this Christmas program all in English, here were these little kids crawling with fleecy fur like our sheep have. I’ve thought about that and I thought ‘how did they know what sheep looked like?’”     She said they gave each child a bag with candy, a boxed juice drink, cake, cookie and also gave every single kid a blanket. “We distributed almost 3000 blankets.”     They also worked with a slum church and on one of the Sundays held a widow’s Sunday. “There were over 150 widows and we gave them each a blanket.” Children’s Home     They also flew to Vijayawada to visit the children’s home for an entirely different experience. The home is located in the country and is quiet and peaceful, not like the nearby city where Ruth said cars and horns were honking constantly. “They say the only way to get a drivers license there is to know two things, where the horn is and where the brake is.     There’s no grass or weeds in the city, she said, but in the country there are trees and crops and a nice young couple runs the home. While there they took all 35 kids, ranging in age from 4-17, to a movie, a restaurant and a park. They don’t get off the grounds too often, Ruth learned, but they are bussed to a public school about half a mile away. They have a lot of chores to do, she said, and every morning she’d see five to six girls sweeping the dirt grounds. “They clean the dirt of leaves, twigs, etc., they have their own chores, they water plants, and feed the animals.      Ruth said they took a van from the city to the children’s home and when they first arrived they’d been sitting for hours and hours and she was looking forward to stretching her legs. “We barely get out of the van and here comes this kid with a chair and he says ‘grandma sit.’” Gary told his mom ‘that chair will follow you the rest of the week’ and it did. “It didn’t make any difference where you were, a kid would come with a chair, and say ‘sit, sit.’ You were so glad to stand once in a while.” Ruth said she’d get up in the morning and first thing here would come that chair again.     They were really loving kids, she said, and there was a little boy there about four years old who hadn’t been in the home too long and always followed the bigger boys around. “We couldn’t quite get next to him.” They went out and bought some games for the kids and one was a plain plastic ring. Ruth started to play catch with the little four year old and soon had him smiling.     Those kids are sweet kids, she said, and they liked to go for walks with her. “I only have two hands and they’d hold on here and there. It was like they liked to touch you.” One time Ruth was sitting down straddling a cement bench. “This one little girl came and sat between my legs and sat there and sat there and sat there. I know she thought if she moved someone else would get her place.”     Ruth said they all called her grandma, and a lot of tears were shed on both sides when they left. “The kids are hugging you. And you wonder ‘how could we win them over in a week.’” It was just like leaving family, she said. Mud Huts They spent almost a day in a village where they went inside the mud huts to visit the people. “They welcome you and want you to come in. If you don’t say anything right away they’ll come in with pop and a plate of cookies. After you’ve done this at five or six different homes you can’t drink anymore pop, you can’t eat anymore cookies.” But they want to share even if they have nothing, and they tell you that the next time you have to come eat at their place.     Ruth said these huts are scattered and there is no rhyme or reason as to where they’re at. The huts are made of mud with thatched roofs. There’s no furniture inside and everyone sleeps on cots on the floor. They cook in pots outside over a fire.     The people love to feed you, she said, wherever you go they like to feed you and its always three times what you can eat. It’s a lot of rice, chicken, a boiled egg, and they always make omelets and banana pancakes, which Ruth said was very filling. “When you’re finished with the pancake here comes a bowl of rice, then an omelet.” They don’t eat that much themselves, Gary said, and you have to be careful how you react to the food no matter where you are. “Without hurting their feelings you have to say ‘no, I’m not hungry’ or ‘I can’t eat that much.’ They’re always wanting to share.”     A lot of times, especially in the slums, Ruth said, these poor people would buy us pop, because they knew we couldn’t drink their water. “They can’t afford that,” Gary said, “but you were in their home and they just love the idea you’re in their home.” He went on to explain that someone coming to their home doesn’t happen a lot.     “I’ve talked to so many people from India, even missionaries, and its very seldom you will go into slum homes. This is so rare.”     So for Ruth and Gary to do that, to be part of their home was an honor. “I’ve talked to the people there because I’ve been going so many years and when I leave they talk amongst themselves and one of the questions a lot of them ask the pastors is ‘why does Gary or the groups he’s with come into our home. No other person would ever come to our home, why does he do this.’”     They feel so honored to have them enter their home and be part of their family for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s just never done, he said. “I’ve been doing it for years and I keep telling people that is probably going to be the highlight of their trip, being in their homes.”     Everybody always agrees, he said. Ruth also agreed. “The highlight was being with these people in the slums, being a part of their life.” If anyone wants to see more pictures of Ruth in India go to the website www.hopeinthenight.com. Incidentally, Ruth may have been the senior member on the trip but she seemed to have more energy than most of the others. Gary said when they did the blankets, almost every night about 12:30 they’d hear this knock on the door and it would be Ruth wondering if they were up yet. “She was always the first one ready and eager to go every time we went someplace.”     Ruth was asked if she enjoyed her stay in India and when she said yes, they asked if she would ever go again. Her reply was “yes, it’s on my schedule and I’m going to come back every ten years from now on.”

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