Fr Stephen left Stourport on January 8th 2013 and headed for NE India to spend a month visiting Fr Sunny in the Garo Hills, there to see for himself the fantastic work done by the Bakdil organisation that we support through our parish fundraising.
He sent us regular reports of his activities, whenever time, power and a working computer allowed! Below you can read these reports and get a flavour of what it was like for him on his travels around the Garo Hills.
Please continue to pray for Fr Sunny and also for the work of Bakdil.
See a Map showing the location of Garo Hills
I arrived safely at Gauhati, butunfortunately the change over at Delhi was too quick and my bags the last to be unloaded. I only just caught the connection, my name being called out as I entered the departure zone. Although I got on the plane my baggage didn't. This caused a great problem because Gauhati is a five and a half hour drive from Tura. After a lot of negotiation they agreed to sent my bags to Tura by helicopter and I should get them today.
The weather is very cold! They bought me another sweater and a shawl. We are all wrapped up as much as possible. I have been impressed by the way hardy Bewdley people would stand around with a lovely warm cup of coffee outside in the cold after Mass for a few minutes, but imagine a long talk and a long Mass all outside, with no coffee on a winter's day. People's breath rose like incense. Imagine also that you haven't got a warm house to go back to afterwards! This was what it was like at the Mission Congress going on here at present with some 2000 people. On Sunday there will be about 30,000 people. I have to give a short talk tomorrow night. They have never known it as cold as this here. I think the other night it went down to -1C. So it is the cold that I am mainly obsessed with.
I have been very well received and it is lovely to meet all the people and see Fr. Sunny again. With the congress in progress all the priests are in town, so I am meeting a lot of them. Yesterday we went to see the Bishop.
Poor Father Sunny. If it has been bad for me coming from an English winter, imagine what it is like for him arriving from hot Kerala. He is also struggling with his knees. There are lots of stairs and steps in this place as it is very hilly and the buildings have several floors and he is not finding it easy at all. On top of that his stomach has been unsettled. And then the work load after having been away all this time. But his sunny character is just the same and the joy he always radiates. He is unstinting in looking after me.
I haven't any photos yet. I found my camera batteries flat and cannot recharge them until I get my bags.
The Bakdil Centre funded by the Sunny Trust is very impressive.
I shall let you know more as we progress. I hope the weather gets warmer.
With my love
Shortly after we received his diary entry we had two messages from Fr Sunny; firstly that Fr Stephen's bags had arrived and secondly that Fr Stephen had fallen ill and had to be taken to hospital, missing the Congress Mass which was attended by 25,000 people
Just briefly to say I am out of hospital where I was looked after very attentively. I hope all will be well now. I think that now we have reached mid January the weather gets better. I am going to the training centre for a couple of days and so will not be in touch until I get back to Fr. Sunny's office.
I missed the great mission congress celebration here on Sunday which is a shame and also my opportunity to say something.
I hope you had a great celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, one of my favourite feasts
P.S. I haven't taken any photos yet.
We received word that Fr Sunny's Uncle has died and he is on his way to Kerala for the funeral on Friday 18th January. After that he will travel back to join up with Fr Stephen (see below). Please pray for Fr Sunny, for Benni and for all the Mavelil family at this time
17th go to Salmanpara Primary Health Centre to celebrate Mass and stay overnight
(call in at Amphati Parish on the way)
18th go to Tikrikila parish. Spend the night.
19th go to an interior village in Tikrikila parish for their parish convention.
Say Mass in English and give homily.
Stay overnight in village
20th Sunny to meet up with him in Tirikila and travel back to Tura.
21st Go to Bakmara and Siju for 3 – 4 days
25th go to Williamnager in East Garo Hills.
I am back at a computer now. After coming out of hospital I spent two nights at the Bakdil Training centre, a most impressive place all built through Fr. Sunny's hard work, although this is the holiday season andnot much was happening there. While there we went to one of the Health Centresrun by Bakdil at Salmanpara. It was quite a long journey and gave me my firstsight into the area around here in Meghalaya.
After that I went to the parishof Tikrikilla for the weekend and to a village called Dabonggre where Fr. Sunny was 20 years ago when there were only 7 Catholic families. It was about four hours to the Tikrikilla and then another one and a half hours and about 20km to the village. The roads or rather tracks are very bad and one cannot do morethan 10 - 20 km/hour on them, not much more than walking pace.
That weekend they were holding a circle faith formation Convention. They had built a Church specially for the weekend as the normal one was much too small. It started on Friday evening with talks and prayers and the Mass, then continued most of the day on Saturday finishing with a candlelit procession of our Lady about 9pm.
Sunday morning started about 9 am with prayers rosaries etc. and confessions with the actual Mass starting by 10.45 am. At the Mass about 14 were baptised, 7 couples married, about 30 confirmed and also first communions! It finished with a procession of the Blessed sacrament and was all over before 3 pm! It all makes our usual Sunday Mass back home seem quite short!
From my point of view it has needed a lot of patience. Listening to talks or homilies going on for 30 minutes or an hour when you don't understand the language is a little difficult. Fr. Sunny represented the Bishop and celebrated the sacrament of confirmation. Fr. Francis, the Parish priest, sends special greeting to Niki & Helen. I think the Garo language is very verbose. When they said the Hail Mary in Garo I tried to say it in English at the same time. Even if I said it very slowly indeed I had finished the whole Hail Mary before they had got half way through.
My health is not too bad now, but I am having difficulty in adjusting to the food.
I have some photos in the camera now and may see if I can get some out of it and email them in due course (see below).
Tomorrow I am going to Siju.
God bless you all
Since this last entry Fr Stephen has been in remote areas so has been out of contact. However, we got a message from Fr Sunny on Saturday 26th January that Fr Stephen had again been taken ill. He is not so bad that he needed to go to hospital but it has curtailed his schedule. Please pray for him and we hope for better news in the near future.
I have been to Shillong for a couple of days. We went by helicopter! It is very different from the Garo Hills, a much more developed place and centre for many institutions. I met the Archbishop who was responsible with others for the new English translation of the Missal.
My health hasn't been too good and I have been suffering in many different ways. We stayed at a hospital and the sisters there put me on an antibiotic course because of chest infection (again). I think it is beginning to have some effect. I feel better today.
Fr. Sunny is sending me off to another parish so it is only a fleeting stop in Tura where I am able to look at my emails.
God bless you all.
We have since heard that Fr Stephen spent 2 days in Purakasia and is going to Dula on Sunday 3rd February where they will be having their parish congress Mass
I am just packing up ready to leave the Garo Hills. We leave Tura tomorrow and I fly from Gauhati on Thursday evening. Tonight I shall be giving a talk to the clergy.
I don't know how to sum up my experience. It is quite unlike what I expected even after all the talks Niki has given and her photos. The Garo are people who live in the jungle in a very simple way. Each parish has about 50 villages each with a small church looked after by a catechist. Each first Friday most of the catechists gather at the parish with the priest and have a day of instruction, reporting and planning. It would take a long time for many of them to get there on foot through the jungle. When one parish priest was explaining this to me he said they usually stayed overnight and I replied "Do you have the room here to put up so many people?" He laughed and said "they are not like you or me who need a separate room, a bed and a bathroom. They just lie down on the ground and go to sleep."
My visit has been mainly visiting parishes and seeing quite a lot of the Garo Hills rather than seeing the work of Bakdil. It has been a great eye opener although I realise I have only been able to understand very little and only see the country in one season. It is the quiet season when the schools are closed, the hospitals and health centre almost empty. I guess it would be very different in the hot season and in the wet season when most of the villages are cut off. The roads have to be seen to be believed. I shall never complain about the potholes in our roads now! I'm looking forward to seeing you all on Sunday and wish you a very special holy Lent in this Year of Faith.
We have since heard that Fr Stephen went to visit the weaving unit in Mendipathar on Wednesday 6th. Fr Sunny will be joining him there on Thursday 7th in order to take him to the airport at Gauhati. He will fly via Kolkata and Mumbai back to Heathrow, arriving at about 7.00am on Friday morning, 8th Feb.
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