Have you ever had a schedule that didn’t go as you had planned?  One of the lessons I learned early on in planning foreign mission trips is to be as “flexible as a pipe cleaner” (thank you Kay Foos!).  Two years ago in Kolkata, the team learned this very lesson.  One of our ministry partners had to cancel our plans with them at the last minute because of major road blocks due to a political rally that made traveling around the city nearly impossible.  We obviously did not want to forgo an afternoon of ministry, but we really didn’t know what to do.  We asked Anita (our longtime translator) if she knew of anyone that we could see that wouldn’t mind a last-minute appointment.  She said that yes, she knew of an orphanage that, as far as she knew, no other church or organization had ever visited.

We arrived at this small orphanage without a real plan other than to hang out with some kids for the evening.  Our team always has a “little something extra” up our sleeves, and we whipped together a craft project and a few bible stories.

When we arrived at Pranjal that fateful day in 2018, little did we know that we would be forever changed by the kids there.  We started our time with them by exchanging names and playing an icebreaker game.  We all noticed how sweet the kids were right away, but we also noticed that they spoke enough English that we could easily engage and get to know them.  As the team hung out with the kids, I spoke with the director to hear a little bit of their story.  She said she had never really intended to start an orphanage, but God certainly had other plans.  She and her husband were both psychiatrists and were running a drug rehabilitation facility in the northern part of the city.  They realized that sometimes parents weren’t coming for much needed treatment because there was nowhere for their children to go while they were there.  They began started taking care of a few children for that reason.  Then they heard about a few girls that were in high risk situation; their moms were working in the red light district.  It is very common that mothers that work in the sex trade will also have their daughters working there eventually, usally around age 12.  They began gathering children from situations like this, and eventually they realized that they had started an orphanage.

Pranjal has a very small staff, but they are all so gifted in working with the children from these situations.  At one point during the afternoon, one of the kids asked if we knew any praise songs.  We told them to choose one, and if we knew it, we would also sing along.  What happened next was the closest thing to heaven that I have ever experienced.  The children all closed their eyes, lifted their faces to the heavens, and sang, “The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning.  It’s time to sing Your song again.  Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.  Bless the Lord, oh my soul, oh my soul.  Worship His holy name.  Sing like never before, oh my soul.  I’ll worship Your holy name.”  From there we sang several worship songs.  By the end of our “worship service”, there was not a dry eye in the room.  The Holy Spirit was on the move in this place, and the joy we all felt from singing praises to our King was exhilarating.

Last year we visted Pranjal again.  This time we knew we had to plan something musical with these kids, and thankfully we had a musical team.  We had so much fun with the kids!

This year as we were planning our time in Kolkata, we knew we had to visit Pranjal again.  We started the afternoon by picking them up in a bus, which they thought was really cool.  Then we went to Eco Park to see replicas of the Seven Wonders of the World.  As we walked around and saw the Taj Mahal, Great Wall, etc, the staff member told me that the reason why they chose Eco Park was because he knew these children would never otherwise see these types of places.  To top off the night, we took them to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  American kids should take note of how these kids eat chicken.  They clean every bit off that bone!

We climbed back on the bus to head back to the location to drop them off.  As we were driving, the Lord clearly spoke to me that I was to speak a blessing over them.  I asked the kids if they knew what the fruit of the Spirit was, and they were able to tell me.  I told them that the FRUIT was evident in their lives.  It was very obvious that they received so much LOVE from the staff, and that they loved each other so well.  We could also tell that they were PATIENT and GENTLE with each other.  The staff have a unique policy to pair each child with a “big brother/sister”.  That means that a 14 year old boy may be responsible for a 6 year old boy.  They hold hands when they walk through the park, they sit together on the bus, they make sure they are served food.  You could also see them taking pictures as a pair, helping them up a slide, and generally looking out for their safety and well being.  I also encouraged them to continue showing JOY!  They really are some of the happiest kids I have ever met.

After I spoke with them, several of the older kids also wanted the opportunity to speak.  They each stood up in that bumpy, loud bus, and shared what they were feeling.  They all said how much they had looked forward to this day every year when their Kingsland friends would come, how much they talked about our times together, and how appreciative they are that strangers from around the world would come and spend time with them.  We reiterated that everything we did was for Jesus, and His great love for us has spilled out of us.

And just like that first time we met two years ago, our time ended with singing.  “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down.  Here I am to say that you’re my King.  You’re all together worthy, all together lovely, all together wonderful to me.”

Our bus could not make it down the narrow alleyways to the orphanage, so they had a little bit of a walk until they reached their home, and we had a long bus ride back to the BMS.  I’m pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing….God appointments are the best.