Hesstonians were making a difference half a world away in Chiluvuru, India traveling to visit Menno Clinic, India, a medical mission that provides health care in Chiluvuru.
Current and former Hesston residents involved in the missions trip were: John N. Murray, Lee Voth-Gaeddert, Jake Wray, Kathy Wray, Jared Wedel, and John C. Murray all from Hesston; Kelli Krase, formerly of Hesston currently living in Columbus, Ohio.
The group’s destination was Menno Clinic, India opened in 2002 as a general practice, outpatient clinic. In 2007 dental and eye care services were added, including providing about 12 to 15 cataract surgeries per month.
Though not on the trip, John C. Murray, pastor at Hesston Mennonite Church, has been a member of the board of directors of the clinic since its beginning. He has facilitated several groups in traveling to visit the clinic and build relationships with the residents of Chiluvuru.
John N. Murray began serving on the board of directors in 2010.
As the group came together, those who took part each had their own reasons for joining the mission trip.
For Voth-Gaeddert, the trip was an educational experience of a lifetime.
“I have always wanted to get into mission work. The opportunity that my graduate professor, Dr. Oerther, offered me to work hand-in-hand with a college in Inda to do research in local villages, I could not pass it up. It worked out very well that I could finish up my research and then meet the Menno Health Clinic group right after,” said Voth-Gaeddert.
The Wrays, members of Hesston Mennonite Church, felt called to travel to India and give their time to those who were in need.
“My wife and I decided to make this trip because it just felt right, like God was calling us to make this jump and to hope we could better our selves as Christian people and to get to experience life in a far different place,” said Jake Wray
“Going to church at Hesston Mennonite we've known about Menno Clinic India for a long time. Our family has always had an interest in this project because of our relationship with John Murray, our pastor and because of discussions that my husband has had with Jay Wedel, who also made this trip years ago,” said Kathy Wray.
Krase, who is a physician specializing in women’s care, said the trip, and the timing, simply make sense.
“I graduated from Hesston High School in 2000, graduated from Bethany College in 2004, graduated from University of Kansas Medical School in 2008. I completed my residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at The Ohio State University in June of 2012 and have been working at The Ohio State University this year as my husband finishes his residency training. I have wanted to go since I was at High School, when John Murray talked about it in church. My school and training have prevented me from being available until now. It was such an incredible experience,” said Krase
While working in Chiluvuru, members of the trip experienced India’s struggles and triumphs first-hand.
“My greatest challenge was facing the issues of poverty and hunger.
“We decided to make a trip to the city and as soon as I hopped out of the vehicle there was a lady around her early thirties with a small child in her hands no older than two years of age. As soon as she sees me a six foot one inch blond haired white man who stands out like a sore thumb amongst the Indian natives she walks quickly toward me and clings to my arm asking for food, not letting go until we reached our vehicle and got in to leave.
“It killed me and made me sick to my stomach. I later on cried over these same issues I faced on a daily basis for the remainder of our stay. I thought I knew what struggles and poverty were but I was totally wrong,” said Jake Wray.
Voth-Gaeddert said he too wrestled with the severe poverty and reconciling the lifestyles of those in Chiluvuru with his own upbringing.
“The three man items, when traveling, are your health physically, mentally and spiritually. I was fortunate to stay healthy throughout my trip physically. I was stretched a lot mentally and spiritually. Working with people that barely get enough to eat and have so little, yet are so happy is awe-inspiring. The hardest part is going back to my “rich” (normal American) lifestyle,” he said.
Others, too struggled with re-integrating into everyday American life.
“I think the greatest challenge for me was in returning home. India is a colorful world filled with hospitality and spirituality and smiles. Trying to find that same beauty back in the United States has been difficult for me,” said Krase.
While some had trouble adjusting to life after India, Kathy Wray was concerned about how her and her husband’s abcense would impact life at home.
“Our greatest challenge was going to be the time away from our commitments here in order to make a trip like this work. In the end business did pull Kevin away and he had to stay behind. This was very difficult for both of us because we had dreamed of making this trip together,” she said.
While in India, members of the trip saw not only how Chiluvurus coped with poverty, but how they found joy in their surroundings.
“With all the struggles in the lives of these people in India it was so, so powerful to me that they could put on a big smile on their faces and be so eager to meet you and invite us into their homes, offering us what little food they had. Many showed this hospitality and gratefulness for what they had been blessed with. This was definitely moving to me,” said Jake Wray.
The giving nature of those in Chiluvuru was striking to Voth-Gaeddert as well.
“The blind generosity of everyone we met…It didn’t matter if they had nothing; they still shared something. Every guest is to be treated as God, just as we are supposed to see the light of Jesus in everyone we meet, they physically treat everyone with that respect,” he said.
While in India, the shared experience and common goals bonded the group and their hosts.
“It's what I discovered about being in relationship with others most exciting! First being in relationship with a most diverse travel group. What an amazing group of people!
Then being in relationship with the Indian people in the village and in the city. I discovered a very generous, welcoming spirit. They have hospitality all figured out! I discovered a sense of contentment, peace, and joy in the smiles, singing, and conversations that we shared,” said Kathy Wray.
When entering the homes of their hosts and friends made in India, stereotypes and culturally preconceived notions were broken down.
“One of my favorite moments was being invited to our driver's home, which was in the Muslim quarter of Hyderbad. It was so incredible to meet the women behind the burkas. These women were so lively, gracious, and funny,” said Krase.
Returning home and reintegrating into American culture, while difficult for Voth-Gaeddert made him more appreciative of his life.
“We are very blessed in our resources. So many people in the world are not. I take too many things for granted. We all need to be more self-aware of who we are, what we are, and what we use compaired to the rest of the world,” he said.
Jake Wray echoed many of these sentiments.
“This was a great experience for me as a person. It changed my outlook on life and taught me some great life lessons. I would recommend this trip to anyone. It will change you for the good and make you thankful you're from the Midwest,” he said.
Kathy Wray now shares bonds with men and women across the globe, but is looking for ways to put her new world-view to work back home.
“Deep down I learned that we all pretty much want the same things in life no matter what our religious belief or financial status. We want to be understood and loved and want the best for our children.
“We laughed together, sang together, listened to each other, visited with each other in spite of the language differences, cried together, played together, prayed together, and yes, even danced together. So that is what we "DID"- made relationships and memories that will last forever across the world and that is what we need to be "DOING" here at home.”