After the Taj Mahal, we toured Agra. It is a very contrasting city full of great poverty situated right next to outstanding opulence. Sam says that it is a very dark city full of child sex slaves, paganism, and everything else dark you can imagine. He has tried to start orphanages here to rescue the children but the men who run those businesses have run him out of town each time. You could definitely feel the spiritual oppression just driving around.
We still see bright colors splashed on everything from cows, donkeys, and dogs to people as a result of the "Hindu Color Festival" going on. Everything is bathed in bright pinks, purples, and greens.
Tonight we ate at the Sheraton Hotel and it was so good. One can eat everything there, so I actually had some veggies for the first time on the trip. There is a chandelier in the hotel lobby that is as big as my house! The funny thing is, at ritzy as this place was to eat, the food in India is very cheap. Even at really nice places, food is way affordable.
This whole trip has been one amazing adventure after another! I doubt anyone could experience all the things we have in one short trip—and only after a week at that! I can't get over our many experiences and opportunities so far.
The very best part of the day for me (and I think for Maria, too) was hanging out with Sam. Not just because he is funny looking (jk) and we can laugh at him, but because he is one of the most articulate and inspiring men I've ever spent time around. One day in his presence is worth a whole year of inspirational thoughts. All I had to do was turn on my recorder and let him go and it would already make a great book. We could call it, "In my humble but accurate opinion…" by Sam Thomas.
Unlike many spiritual leaders, Sam appears real, humble, straightforward, and demonstrates leadership by serving. I can only imagine how much his family misses him, as he's had to be away from them for a whole year now while undergoing religious persecution from anti-Christians. He's encountered nineteen assassination attempts, been in hiding for several months, and also was in jail for 45 days in the past year, yet he is very full of joy and purpose about his mission in life—to give hope to the oppressed, especially orphan and abandoned children. You can't hang out with Sam for even a day and not be changed somehow. As the President of a busy ministry, it is a rare opportunity to have his focused attention for even a day, and he has been making us feel like one of the family.
Sam gave some unique insights today. First, and something that was most surprising to me, he has many Hindus working for him and with him within the ministry. He says that his Hindu friends have been some of the ministries biggest supporters and encouragers over here in India. They are just as incensed over their anti-Christian counterparts and the persecution they have put Sam through as anyone, and they are all very happy that Sam is helping children.
Also, he gave me some understanding about why young girls (as young as six) are sold into sex slavery by parents. According to Hindu tradition, when a girl gets married, the father must give her a huge dowry (like 50,000 USD). That is a LOT of money to many poor people. So when daughters are born, they are like a curse to the family. Many of them are eager to sell them off to relieve themselves of the financial burden.
Well, that's about it for now. But I thought you might get a kick out of dad's response to yesterday's update:
Dear Julie, You are truly amazing! It would be a shame if you died from cobra venom after traveling so far. I guess you can spot a dangerous situation if it is there. Anyhow, be a little more cautious, ok? Please don't bring any baby cobras hidden in your purse. Love you lots. Dad