Thursday, August 23, 2012

Eureka Springs!

Hi, everybody! I'm having an awesome time back in the U.S., reading, writing, teaching, and waiting for my novel Treasure Traitor to be released in November! As if that weren't enough, I just returned from a stupendous vacation in Eureka Springs with my wonderful mother!

We left Owasso and arrived at the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center at around 2:30, where we took a tram ride around the historic downtown district. I can see why Eureka Springs is called "Little Venice." The rolling hills make is so a three story structure has three street addresses, and the Victorian architecture is both quaint and magnificent at the same time. We also got to see a few of the springs which made the town famous as a health resort over one hundred years ago, but no one is allowed to bathe or drink them now, since local scientists say there's too much bacteria in the water. Who knows if they ever had any healing properties?

Next, we visited Quigley's Castle, home of a deceased eccentric Italian woman who collected stones, gems, and butterflies from all over the world and made them into art work. She covered the entire outside of her house with stones from the dried up creek bed she used to walk in to get to school:

Story is her husband was a local farmer, and he promised to build her the dream house she always wanted. When the time came that he had promised to build the house, World War II was in full swing, so they couldn't get the supplies. To force her husband to begin on the house, she tore down the old wooden shed they and their five children were living in and moved them into the chicken coop. Sounds a bit drastic to me, but he did start on the house after that. They weren't able to get the glass windows in until after the war, so they made due by tacking blankets to the open holes.

The inside is even more interesting. Each wall is lined with about two feet of dirt and plants, an arboretum. There is a hibiscus bush that's over fifty years old, probably the largest in the world, over three stories tall!

All her life she continued her rock work and made the most interesting sculptures, bird houses, baths, and feeders out of stones purchased from the local gem and mineral society. Her work lines her huge garden and accents many rooms in the house. This was my favorite room, with an entire wall covered in butterflies, magazine clippings, and beautiful stones. It took her years to do!

They closed about 5:00, and we went to find a cheap hotel. We were so surprised; being off season, we were able to find one that was only $20 per person per night, including tax! The weather was perfect, too, so we spent the evening strolling town looking into all the interesting (but closed) shops. We had dinner at the famous Local Flavors Cafe. I had the vegetable pasta and Mom the pork tenderloin, with chocolate caramel cheesecake for desert. It was expensive, but worth the price!

Wednesday, we spent the morning at the Promised Land Zoo, which I liked even better than Turpentine Wildlife Refugee, because at Promised Land, they had a lot of baby animals. Mom and I even got to feed a baby camel:

Here are some little emus. (I sometimes wonder if emus are evil, but these almost looked cute):

Then we headed to Cosmic Caverns where we took the normal 1 1/2 hour cave tour. That wasn't enough for me! After dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, we returned to take the 3 hour Wild Cave Tour! It's a special after-hour tour that takes you into a deeper part of the cave that most tourists never see, with only head lamps for light. I needed to do research for the next novel in the Renagada series, An Honest Assassin, which has lots of scenes taking place in a rebel base hidden in a cave with a deep cave dwelling people. Just Mom and me took the tour, and it was wild all right! Here's a before shot:

And after:

We got so muddy, or maybe I should say "clayey," since it's all clay and not mud. Clay is a lot heavier and a LOT harder to get out of your clothes. Mom and I had to both hose down our pants and shirts 4X and wash them 2X to get them clean!

Mom didn't want to get down in any tight or dangerous spaces, but I went through two. The first was really tight! I only went about halfway, then there were some small columns in my way, so I turned around (which was hard).

The second one wasn't so tight, but I had to brace my back against one wall and my feet against another and slide slowly across a treacherous pit. The guide said only four tourists had done it before, and if I'd fallen, it would have taken over two hours for the paramedics (or mortuary guys) to get me out. I prayed the whole time. It was awesome!

Here's a really rare formation. As far as the owner knows, there isn't any others like it in the world. It looks like a flower growing from the ceiling, with edges thin as petals, but it's really rock!

On the way back, we had to swing across a rope to get to the next ledge. My gloves were so slippery from clay that I slipped off the rope into the muddy clay below! That was pretty hilarious. We were so dirty our guide didn't want us tracking clay outside the cave, so we took our shoes, socks, and gloves off. Here I am coming out:

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that only ten steps into the tour, I pulled out my camera and accidentally dropped it into the bottomless lake. It's called that because they've never found the bottom. That's why all of these are Mom's pictures. Drat. I lose about one camera every year; that's why I only buy cheap ones!

The tour didn't finish until about 9:00, then I asked the owner a lot of my questions for my book. I asked about the ecosystem inside a cave, what must the landscape and topography of the planet be like, how a secret people might survive in such a place for over 2,000 years, stuff like that. At about 10:00 Mom started to nod off, so I'll have to email him most of my questions later.

Thursday morning, we went horse back riding at Steve's Stables. Turns out Steve helped dig some of those tunnels in the Wild Cave Tour! Then we took an old fashioned train ride on the Eureka Springs and Northwest Arkansas railroad. The train was pretty lame. It might have been fun if I could hear the conductor's stories, but the train was so loud and he didn't have a microphone. I did hear one story, though, about how the railroads were built. There was a city called "Hell on Wheels" that picked up and followed the railroad workers every time they moved to set new track. It basically consisted of casinos, prostitutes, and liquor stores. When the railroads reached Utah, however, it was the "end of the line" because of Brigham Young and the Mormons. From then on the railway only hired Mormons and Chinese to lay rail. The term "red light district" comes from the fact that "call boys" used to stand outside a prostitute's tent and shine red lights when she was ready for another customer. Those were about the only interesting (or weird) stories, at least that I was able to hear. Oh, well, Mom said she'd take Dad to the railroad some time. He'd probably appreciate it more than me. Here's Mom and me with the conductor:

After that we headed to the Passion Play, which is sort of an all-day event. We started with the last Living Bible Tour at 1:00. It used to be a lot bigger and better, I guess, when they had a full-scale recreation of an Israelite town. But the ice storm a few years ago destroyed it, so all they had was bits and pieces of old barns and wells, with people standing outside telling stories. I hate to say it, but most of them weren't very good story tellers. They sort of rattled off their lines with a thick Southern drawl that just felt disrespectful. They also went on a bit too long and repeated themselves. Ruth and Mary were OK, I guess. Maybe it was just too hot. The rest of the week the temperature remained pleasant with a cool breeze, but that day was 95 (about 35C). At the same time, I had a lot of questions no one seemed to be able to answer. They really ought to get a researcher on staff, or at least some decent actors. About the only interesting part was the full-scale recreation of the tabernacle in the wilderness. That was great to see, and our guide was reasonably knowledgeable. I had no idea that the instrument in which they placed the head of the sacrificial animals was called "the hands of God." It's no wonder the Jews feared the Lord so much. I'm very thankful we live under a different covenant now.

After that we looked at the old and rare Bible exhibit. That was a lot more interesting (and air conditioned)! We learned how the first English Bibles and various other translations came to be. The guide there knew his subject well, and I've always loved old books.

The Texans group had a lovely dinner theater with some comedy and Gospel music, but the dinner was pretty small. A nice man gave me his roll, and his wife is a librarian at a Kansas Library. She said she would review Treasure Traitor and perhaps order it! That's exciting.

We of course had to see the famous Christ of the Ozarks statue, the second largest statue of Christ in the World (the largest is in Rio De Janeiro):

Then it was time for more outdoor parables. It was interesting to see how David would have swung his sling and to watch a potter. The inside of the pot is called it's "heart," and he showed us how he has to give the pot a "big heart" in order for it to be more useful. Halfway through, though, it started pouring rain, so we just hung out in the gift shop until it was time for the play.

Ug, the Passion Play. It's not nearly all it's hyped up to be. For Pete's Sakes, the entire sound track, including the dialogue was CANNED! Pre-recorded! It was just actors lip-sinking! It sounded so fake and stilted and ridiculous! Not only that, but the voice actors who did the recording were awful. In the part just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Mary came to him and said, in a very monotone voice almost like a robot, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died," followed by very fake-sounded crying. They also added a lot of dialogue that didn't make much sense. They caught Barabas for stealing, randomly in the street, and said, "He's gonna need a Savior to get him out of this one!" and laughed hysterically. Well, of course for us the audience, that's ironic, because Jesus THE savior did take Barabas's place on the cross, but the soldiers didn't know that. They'd have no reason for saying it, let alone laughing about it. During the Palm Sunday scene, the children said, "Hosanna, I love you Jesus," about ten times. OK, we get it! Why not SHOW the children loving Jesus and Jesus loving them, instead of repeating the same dialogue over and over? Also, rather than adding to the play, the soundtrack often took away from it, making everything melodramatic rather than realistic. What's wrong with silence, especially in the garden of Gethsemane? It would have been so much more awesome if the actor had cried out "My God, take this cup from me!" Silence. No answer. God was already turning his back. Then, Jesus quietly and meekly would whisper, "Yet not my will, but yours be done."

With canned music and pre-recorded dialogue, all the emotion was sucked right out of the lines. Places they should have paused just an instant for effect were plowed right through. It was seriously THE WORST play I've ever seen in my life! How sad is that? The Passion of Christ is the greatest story ever told, so it SHOULD have been the best play ever!

Though I must say, every dramatic rendering of the life of Christ I have EVER seen was either so stilted and used language so archaic that few non-Christians could relate to it, or was so casual (as in the case of Jesus Christ Super Star) that Jesus lost his holiness and it became just another poorly told story. It's such a hard balance that I've never seen it done well. It's no wonder non-Christians often laugh at Christian films, especially Biblical epics. (One of the exceptions being Charleton Heston's The Ten Commandments, but I've got issues with that movie for entirely different reasons, mostly having to do with a white, blue-eyed Heston playing Moses.)

Even the great movie Jesus of Nazareth starts well, but then they must have run out of money or something, because instead of SHOWING the resurrection and ascension, the two coolest and most important scenes in the entire story and in human history, the audience simply hears about it from the disciples, and then is left looking into the rather undramatic BLUE eyes of Jesus. (I could go on a whole other rant about ethnicizing Jesus for a white audience, but that would take hours.) I mean hello! The smart thing, both from a Biblical and dramatic perspective would be to show Christ's death, then show him bursting forth from the tomb, appearing to Mary and his disciples, and then rising up into heaven! That is the ONLY way to end the story! So why hasn't anyone done it? Maybe they have and I just don't know about it. I do have to say, the JESUS film is pretty good, but some of the translations really stink, as I've discovered from showing it to a lot of foreign friends. Again, mostly because the language is so old and stilted. Does Jesus really have to speak with King James-esch dialogue? Can't he be just as holy talking in a way a non-Christian can understand? After all, he was a backwater Galilean from a poor family. He probably had a rather rural way of speaking, as you can see from all his references to sheep and vineyards, fields and harvest. To put it in context, he probably sounded much more like Mark Twain than Shakespeare. Both were great speakers, but you catch the difference immediately.

Anyway, enough rambling. The Passion Play DID do a pretty decent job on those hard scenes, the last supper, the resurrection, and the ascension. Here's the last supper:

I guess I just feel strongly about this because I'm a Christian artist. If you're going to depict the life of our Lord and Savior, for His sake (and yours), do it right and do it well!

Friday was much more pleasing. We slept in, then saw St. Elizabeth's Chapel, the only chapel in the world, according to Ripley's believe it or not, that you enter through the bell tower!

After that came another chapel, Thorn Crown, designed by a student of Frank Loyd Wright:

I bet Tony, my architect brother, would really like visiting there! It was such a peaceful place. Mom and I spent a few minutes praying and reading about its history.

Next we took a cruise around Beaver Lake on a boat called Belle of the Ozarks:

It's a man-made lake, and just below the surface we could see a few old homesteads from before the rivers were dammed and the basin filled with water.

Here I am at Opera of the Ozarks Inspiration Point:

We ended the day at Blue Springs Heritage Center:

Like the lakes in Cosmic Caverns, not even scuba divers have been able to make it to the bottom of Blue Spring. They have no idea what or where the source is. There was also a garden there with many butterflies and hummingbirds, and some cliffs where the Cherokee Indians spent the night on the trail of tears to Oklahoma. Previous tribes who had their land taken away from them also lived there before, and hieroglyphs etched into the rocks recorded their history. Some of them had even met Daniel Boone.

Friday night we ate at Local Flavors Cafe again because it was sooo good! This time, Mom ordered the steak and I got the raspberry salmon. They were the best I ever tasted.

Saturday morning we wandered around town. What interesting shops and art galleries Eureka Spring has! Most things were way out of our price range, but we enjoyed window shopping. We had lunch at the Scrumptious Tea Room, which was "simply scrumptious!" Their strawberry soup is the best, and they have huge windows where you can watch all kinds of colored birds at the feeders.

On the way to Turpentine Wildlife Refuge, we stopped by the Celestial Windz Harmonic Bazaar, the world's largest wind chimes. They were bizarre! I don't think they're really tuned like they claim, though. At least I couldn't tell what pitches they were supposed to be.

Here are some pictures from Turpentine Wildlife Refuge we visited next. A liger, cross between a lion and a tiger. They should be illegal, since ligers have a birth defect that makes them keep growing and growing until their hearts give out. They always die young:

Silly white tiger:

White tigers aren't a separate species, you know. They have a different defect that makes it so they can only survive in captivity. (In the wild they would stick out like a sore thumb, so they wouldn't be able to hunt). The first white tiger was bred in the 1950s; now there are thousands all over the world!

Bam-bam the bear. They're trying to build him a grass habitat, but it's costly:

Turpentine's specialty is big cats, and they have over 100! They get them mostly from people who stupidly decide they want to keep a cute baby lion, tiger, panther, or whatever as a pet, only to realize in a month or two just how dangerous and destructive even a baby wild animal can be! Others come from zoos and safari parks that were shut down in the economic recession or because of safety violations.

Who would be idiotic enough to want a carnivorous wild animal as a pet? Don't they realize that they're endangering their family, their neighbors, and the animal itself? Even if you declaw it (which is cruel for big cats, since it requires removing their knuckles as well), they're still three times your weight and have teeth! I can see trying to tame a deer or turkey or even a fennec fox, but a tiger? Come on! I think every state should pass a law saying it's illegal, especially since most of them are bought illegally.

Anyway, it's a really great place. They give tours and the lions roar a lot at feeding time, so that was fun. We headed home about 5:00, stopped for dinner, and got to our house about 10:00. What a great vacation! I definitely want to go back, and I will! In October I have a writers' conference there, and I'll be hanging out with some other girls from Tulsa. I'm so excited!

Prayer Requests for this month: 1.) Two Asian friends asked me how to get rid of guilt in their lives, and I shared with them how to ask Jesus for forgiveness and to believe that he took their sin and guilt away on the cross. I started a Bible study with one of the girls, but she's stopped coming, and the other is moving away. Please pray that God will continue to reveal himself to them and they will become strong believers! 2.) I've started on my certification for teaching English as a Second Language in Oklahoma and have been offered a part-time position at the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association). Please pray that my certification goes through easily, I get the job, and it will open God's doors! 3.) My first novel Treasure Traitor is coming out in November. Please pray it will be a success and that God's will shall be done through it!

Until next time, keep loving and praying,
L.J. Popp

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kerla, God's Own Country!

I'm back from Bangalore, India! Yes, it's a bit earlier than expected, but George, Manju, and I decided it was for the best. I was really struggling, and we came to the mutual consensus that working with orphans in India is not my calling, at least not for this season of my life. I'm a little disappointed, but I trust that God has another plan for me.

It certainly wasn't a waste! I learned so much, and I was able to accomplish what I set out to do: teach and love the kids. Punith and Sudeep will be ready for their proper grades next year, I taught all the kids to read music for the piano, taught them five songs on the recorder, (Hot Crossed Buns; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Jesus Live in My Heart; Amazing Grace; Seek Ye First; Jesus Lamb of God), and discipled them. The final Sunday I was there, all the kids played their recorders for church, and everyone loved it. I miss them, but it's also good to be home.

My final week, George, Manju, and I decided it might be good to take a little retreat by myself, to rest and reflect on all I had seen and done in India. So through a travel agent friend, George arranged a really good deal for me to visit Kerla, "God's own country," a state southwest of Bangalore. (Just like every state in the U.S. has a slogan (the sunshine state, land of enchantment, etc), India does too, and that's Kerla's slogan because of its natural beauty.)

So Wednesday evening, July 19th I flew from Bangalore to Cochin, the capital of Kerla. Here we are coming in to land:

I stayed at the Abad Atrium Hotel, and ordered room service for the first time in my life, soup and ice cream for only $3. I was pretty impressed:

The next day my driver picked me up early at 8:30 to visit the Cochin vegetable, fish, and textile markets. Here are some snapshots of market life:

Bullock Cart:

Merchant apartment:


Dried Fish:

Kerlites (Kerla people) seem to be bananas for bananas:

They must be to do this!

Speaking of balancing stuff on the head, this guy must have a lot of practice to balance ten trays of eggs!

Kerla people always seem to be smiling. I reckon them to American Southerners:

They were always greeting and stopping me to get a photo with me. It's not like they wanted me to buy anything, either. People in warm, southern climates seem more friendly than those in northern climates. I think it's because in the North, it's colder and people want to stay inside part of the year near the fire or under blankets. In the south, it's hot inside and people want to get out, so they sit on their porches or in the streets, talking to their neighbors and drinking tea. This creates two different sorts of cultures. It's just a theory, but I wonder if it's true. Course, that would be changing now in modern countries, what with air conditioning and heating.

Maybe it's just that people in the North have to work harder than people in the South to grow food, because in most southern places, there's a longer or (in the case of Southeast Asia) two growing seasons. Having to work harder, Northerners have less time and don't socialize as much. Even cultures that are no longer agrarian may have lingering traits from these recent rural times. Also, this theory might explain why people in rural settings also tend to be more friendly than city people. Not to imply that rural people don't work hard; that would be a stupid thing to say. But their work is manual, and you can talk while you do manual work, but if you're working in an office or some such job, you can't socialize while you work.

I think it's a combination of both theories, along with other factors, that makes Southern people generally more friendly than Northern people.

Here's a wholesale textile shop I spent quite a bit of time in. The owners spoke English well, and I found this gorgeous dress:

I wanted it so bad, but I couldn't think of where I'd ever wear it in the U.S! Moreover, the top didn't fit me, and I couldn't think of any top that might go with that skirt. So I bought a simpler white skirt with red and green embroidery that will go with any top instead. It's also very pretty, and will look especially nice at Christmas time!

Next, my chauffeur took me to Alleppey (2 hours drive) to a houseboat. This is what it looked like:

Here's my "crew." The guide/pilot is on my left in the blue shirt. The other two are the engineer and cook.

From 1:00 to sunset (6:00) we cruised around the backwaters (freshwater rivers and canals) that linked the Arabian Sea with the largest lake in India. It was incredible!

The boat pilot spoke pretty good English and told me all about the history of Kerla. He was an excellent guide, and a few times we got off the boat to walk along the river and get a closer look at the local life and scenery:

Village lady using the "local laundromat."

Apparently a lot of young people are leaving the area because they don't want to be farmers like their parents, but work better-paying jobs in the city with IT and such. So a lot of the rice fields are left untended for lack of labor, like this one:

They're stemming the problem a little by importing foreign labor. Isn't that funny? The American IT companies are outsourcing to India, and now India has to outsource their farm work! It's kind of ironic.

My guide was also Christian, something that is a little less rare in Kerla than the rest of India (19% compared to the nation's overall 2%). That's because St. Thomas (a disciple of Jesus) first brought the knowledge of the resurrection to Kerla shortly after 70AD, so Christianity is quite old and accepted as part of the culture in Kerla rather than viewed as a foreigners' religion. He told me all about the persecution (including death by angry mobs) that Christians face in Northern India. He said a lot of Hindus and Muslims feel that it is their duty to kill Christians. Not most, of course, (only extremists) but enough that it happens from time to time. Two of the kids in the children's home, from Orissa state, lost their parents that way.

He also showed me a local temple of a goddess Kali, who according to tradition likes blood sacrifices, and thus enjoys the color red. Everywhere I saw red cloth draped over trees and homes, even in the front of the boat, so the goddess wouldn't demand blood.

My guide had a very "us" versus "them" attitude that as a missionary, was distressing for me to hear. "The Hindus do this, while we Christians never do that." "You often see Muslims do such-and-such, but we Christians have the true way." It's no wonder Christianity hasn't grown recently in Kerla. They've dug a trench around themselves and built up a fortress. Not that I can blame them, given the circumstances. That's the natural human defense when surrounded by so much hostility and outright danger. I just pray that someone will have the courage to jump-start a revival and reach out to all the "pagans" around them. (That's easy for me to SAY. Doing is another matter.)

He also had a subtle attitude of what I call the "great Western benefactor." He kept talking about how wonderful it was when the Europeans came and settled India and brought their medicine, clothes, education, roads, etc. This spilled over into him asking me to give to this or that cause. I felt weird about that. I was, in his mind, one of those "great Western benefactors." George told me to avoid this stereotype as much as possible. Even though it made me feel guilty, I resisted the emotional urge to give this guy any sort of donation (though I did give him a tip, of course, that goes without saying). George and Manju taught me the importance of trusting God for all things, especially finances, not people. When giving, especially in third world or developing world contexts, it's better to establish a close relationship which is not based in any way on money. Then, when God tells you, you can give naturally out of your love for that person and shared passion for their ministry, not out of emotions, and certainly not in a way that would create an unhealthy relationship or dependency.

Anyway, at around 4:00, we stopped at an Ayurveda massage parlor:

I got an hour and a half massage with natural oils and spices, plus a facial:

And finally an herbal bath. It was all very relaxing and only cost about $20!

Before she started, the lady prayed. I asked her who she prayed to. She said she prayed to Lord Krishna (a Hindu god). I told her I prayed to Jesus. She quickly said that she prayed to Jesus too and believed he also was God. I found this a little odd. I tried to question her further, but she didn't speak English well, and who wants to debate while you're getting a massage? So I just let it go. Just before I left, I tried an experiment and asked if I could pray for her. She said yes, so I prayed for her in the name of Jesus and asked God to bless her. She smiled at this and seemed to find it amusing. She said something to my guide, and when I got back in the boat, he laughed.

"She told me you prayed for her in the name of Jesus. She thought that was nice of you, but she doesn't believe in Jesus."

"Funny," I replied, "she told me she did."

His grinned widened. "Those Hindus always say that. She just didn't want you to preach at her."

Ah. That's what I figured. Well, she got her wish. I wasn't in the mood for preaching anyway.

Nearby we picked up some freshwater prawns for my dinner. The cook kept telling me how much better they are than saltwater. Sadly, not so. Freshwater prawns, as cliched as it sounds, really taste just like chicken!

We anchored the boat around 6:00 and my guide and I went for a walk along the river until we reached the lake. There we saw a gorgeous sunset:

Me sitting on the edge of the river:

I slept in the houseboat that night. It was very comfortable. The ever-so-slight rocking of the boat put me swiftly to sleep.

The next morning I got up at 6:00 to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately it was so cloudy I couldn't see it, but starting at 7:00 I did enjoy another two and a half hours cruising down the river, seeing the early morning birds and activity of the local people. The guide took me to a little church where the first Indian Catholic missionary (Chavara) worked:

A nun showed me around. Very European-looking place. There was a wall of photographs on one side of the church. Each person in the pictures had received some miracle by praying to a statue or painting of the blessed Chavara. I wondered, "how is this any better than praying to some Hindu god or goddess? They've just exchanged one form of idolatry for another. Christ should be getting the glory, not a mere mortal." Of course, I didn't say that out loud. I just smiled and told them they had a very nice chapel. I must say, one thing that was really cool about the mission was that in a time when the Vatican insisted that almost everything be in Latin, Chavara got permission and often preached in the local language, Malayalam, which also happens to be George's Mother tongue. (On a side note, all major languages in India stem from Sandscrit, and are now all similar to Hindi, kind of like how most European languages stem from Latin and contain some terminology- such as music- and grammar from Italian. Hindi is the national language of India and is used to communicate in many settings (not that everyone speaks it), just as English has become a trade language in Europe (again, not that EVERYONE speaks it).

At 9:30 on Friday my driver picked me up from the houseboat dock and took me to Marari Beach Resort. When I first arrived, they tried to put sandal wood paste on my forehead, but that's what the Hindus put on at temples to show dedication to their gods, so I politely refused. But the coconut they gave me to drink was nice.

Talk about gorgeous! Here's my bathroom. I had my own mini courtyard:

First, a naturalist took me around the two butterfly gardens. The gardens were natural, simply created by planting lots of flowers outside that the butterflies like. They were all indigenous. Here's the caterpillar of the Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly in India, about to go to pupa:

There were some baby goats too:

Next, I hung out on the totally empty beach:

How often to you get a whole beach to yourself, huh? It's because it was off season, monsoon time, with huge, dangerous waves. For that reason I couldn't get in the water. But it was nice to watch the green surf come crashing in on the snow-white sand, sending up clouds of spray and foam. I chased crabs and crows. After awhile an India family came and started catching the crabs. They would always bring their catch to me to show before tossing it back. That was fun.

Then I went for a long bike ride around the fishing village. I rode for about 10km (6 miles) through the jungle and back roads. A lumberjack let me pet his elephant. Too bad my camera ran out of batteries!

I came back to watch the sunset on the beach, and enjoyed a delicious steak dinner, crab bisque, and mango lassi (traditional yogurt drink) at the restaurant. In the morning I attempted a one-on-one short yoga session. Interesting.

From there a local tour guide took me to see some sights around Alleppey: two famous churches, Chinese fishing nets, Mattancherry Palace (Dutch Palace), the souvenir market, Jew town, and the synagog. The Chinese fishing nets, as their name suggests, were introduced by the Chinese before the time of Christ. They are situated downriver in the backwaters, taking advantages of the back and forth current that flows with the tide and usually brings lots of fish. Unfortunately, with the second monsoon coming so late, or perhaps not coming at all this year, the fisherman aren't catching much. They use a system of weights and counterweights to lower and raise the nets in and out of the water. I helped two sets of fisherman do this, and it's hard work!

As for Jew town and the Jewish synagog, Kerla used to have a thriving community of several thousand Jews, dating from before the time of Christ. They've traded with India since the days of King Solomon. (Many believe that's how St. Thomas got to India. Being a Jew himself, he probably traveled on one of their merchant ships.) Unfortunately, all that came to an end when the Portuguese showed up. Fearing the Jews had a monopoly on trade (and out of general stupid prejudice), the Portuguese attacked the Jewish settlements and slaughtered thousands. Despite this, the Jews continued to thrive in Southern India until the re-establishment of Israel, when most Jews moved there. Now there are only 9 living in Kerla, barely enough to maintain the synagog.

At 4:35 I had to catch a plane back to Bangalore, and sadly, that was the end of my Kerla retreat. But I played recorders with the kids on Sunday for church, and Monday
I took Charles, Sudha, and Manju out for lunch at Barbeque Nation (a very good restaurant, once they understood the concept that "no spice" doesn't mean you simply scrape off the spice that's there) and we celebrated Chichan and Anjeli's birthdays. Here's Chichan and Jedi cutting Chichan's cake:

I took this final group photo just before I left:

Then at midnight, I left for the U.S.! What an adventure! So what now? Well, after much prayer and advice from my mentors, I've decided to take a "sabbatical" from missions. I need to re-evaluate God's calling on my life. In the mean time, I'll be teaching, writing, and promoting my book Treasure Traitor which is coming out November 1st! I'm excited to see what God has in store next...

Prayer Requests: Thanksgiving for a successful time in India! Please continue praying for those eleven precious kids: Deeraj, Punith, Matang, Eso, Anjeli, Hemu, Susan, Ashish, Chichan, Sudeep, and Jedi, and the new staff member Swarnalatha. Also for God's continued direction in my life as I take this "sabbatical."

Until next time, keep praying and loving,

L.J. Popp