It’s been somewhat of a break from blogging but life has been nothing short of exciting! I cannot even begin to describe how thankful and blessed I am. There’s so much to write I hardly know how to start and where to end. Warning: this post is really long.

On the 31st of July, I got on a British Airways aircraft on the way to the UK for the South Asian Global Convention 2007. To follow are only some of the highlights of my two weeks of roaming London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bradford, etc.

I arrived on schedule at Heathrow airport but was unable to meet up with Mogna as decided earlier. I ended up waiting around at Heathrow for approximately 7 hours before calling Pastor Pritam, his was the only phone number I had on me at the time. I was told to use the London Underground/Tube to get to East Ham station...a two hour transit. Simple enough right? Wrong. Not only was I already tired from lack of sleep, but traveling alone is crazy because you can’t even close your eyes for a second for fear of someone running off with your belongings. I had with me one big suitcase, a smaller duffle bag sort of thing, my guitar and my purse. And my hands were in pain from lugging those around through Heathrow. Needless to say, I managed to buy myself a ticket and hopped the Tube with my stuff managing to ignore the strange looks I was receiving.

Now, when you get on the tube, there’s this gap between the platform and the train and I was doing a pretty good job of navigating my luggage over it—first I would set my guitar inside, then the duffle bag, and then lift my suitcase over it. Everything was going relatively well as I even managed to stay awake, keep my wits about me, and find the station and the train that I was supposed to transfer to in order to get to East Ham. And then… just as I was about to get onto the second train, I thought I could try to just lift my suitcase with the bag on top onto the train but the wheel got stuck in the gap. But, no problem, I’ll just step off and lift it on. However, this guy on the train sees me and decides to help, or at least, I suppose that was his intent when he grabbed my suitcase and gave it one stupid tug breaking the handle and the wheel’s still stuck.

I jump off the train to lift the wheel out and the door starts to close on me. The guy, learning that he had broken my suitcase, jumps off the train and runs off. I manage to get back on the train in one piece sweating profusely and holding onto my luggage in the train packed out because it was around rush hour time. I was so embarrassed I couldn’t look anyone the eye. Anyhow, I didn’t finally get to East Ham station. Thankfully there was a lift to take me to street level, at which point I went looking for a pay phone.

The pay phone at the station was screwed over, and the East Indian lady that was at the station was hardly helpful, telling me that I’d have to go find an internet café or something of the sort in order to make a phone call to Pritam’s cell phone. And so, I manage to trek off with my entire luggage and thankfully there was an internet café a couple doors down. Sidenote: Stepping out of East Ham station was like stepping onto a street in Bombay complete with people shouting to each other in Hindi and crowded and the street lined with storefronts—Britian’s influence on India was becoming increasingly clear. So I make my way to the internet café and slowly get my things through the tiny door into the tiny room—more staring. Anyhow, I managed to get in touch with Pritam who sent some nice girls to pick me up and I was rescued from my precarious situation. I got to the church to find Balbir, Sarika and other wonderful people. It was so good to see familiar faces again. That night we had dinner at this little place with a really gross bathroom and stairs leading down to what looked like a dungeon. But it was cheap and I was with friends (Pastor Pritam, Balbir, Marcel, Krupa, and Sarika) so we had a good laugh over it.

The hotels in London are unbelievable—not in a good way! You’d have to be there to understand. Now what smart person invented sinks with two faucets—one for hot water and one for cold? Like, hello? And I’m not talking about two taps labeled hot and cold, I’m talking about two different taps/faucets on two sides of the sink, one with hot water and the other with cold…really stupid if you ask me. In addition, in what terrible existence does one need to pay to use the bathroom? In fact, everything is so darn expensive, you turn around and you have to pay.

The conference started off amazing! In fact the entire week was great! The worship bands were pretty good as were the speakers. I ended up playing and singing the theme song “Mighty to Save” the first night with Sim, Sarika and Georgy before the band from Energy Church led worship. Over the course of the week, I ended up playing with our own Integrated band, as well as Overflow, K2 Frequency, and Exit 7—and it was so much fun!

The food at the convention was great. The guys in the kitchen were terrific headed by Simon and Susheel who also served at minibus drivers—thanks for being flexible guys! The interviews during the plenary sessions were a great added touch as were the multimedia and videos and presentations made by individuals from various South Asian ministries. The London Tour on Friday was blessed with beautiful weather. That evening I went with Vanessa and Navin to watch Billy Elliot, a ballet musical.

The networking that took place throughout the convention was probably one of the highlights for me. It is awesome when you meet others who are just as passionate about missions are you are. And being able to hear and share stories and discuss plans for the future and contemplate working on projects together—it really is an encouraging experience. It’s so inspiring meeting people like Sungeeta Jain who heads up The Orphanage Project, and Krupa who runs a couple orphanages in Mumbai, and other individuals who either have been to the mission field or plan to go out on the mission field. God-willing, someday I will get a chance to work with these humble men and women of God in pursuing the cause of the Kingdom.

Convention ended almost as soon as it had begun but not without a mad fun talent show on the final night! Some sang, others tried to sing, a few told jokes. The highlights for me would probably be the Mary and Joseph skit by the Punjabi Church drama team, Marcel’s imitation of a black preacher, and of course, the last minute fashion show that Sarika and I put together with advice from “what you wear when serving tea to prospective husbands” to “what not to wear when pulling a rickshaw” to “what to wear when enjoying Mumbai nightlife”. Suzie Sheena sizzled down the runway while Navin danced his way down and Alex strut his stuff like a pro. The mini drama with Pastor Pritam and Balbir at the beginning was typical Bollywood—the chemistry was spectacular. Sarika and I took the final walk which was kind of awkward since I don’t dance and won’t try. Sorry, Sarika.

As the week came to a close I managed to get over Sam’s incessant referral to me as Mini after the one night when Mini and I washed dishes. Upon explaining to him that I was not Mini but Benita, he switched to Minita. All I gotta say is, God bless you, Sam. Apart from the name butchering, I also managed to live through Sam’s matchmaking attempts…unfortunately I’m hopelessly reserved which isn’t really helpful in such matters, but he certainly did a good job trying.

After London, I headed out to Scotland with Pastor Pritam, Balbir, and Wilson. The four of us, plus our luggage was dropped off near the Cambridge bus station. From there we went to the train station, back to London, to the Underground and finally found cheap enough tickets via coach to Glasgow. Simple enough in words, but I’m talking four people loaded with luggage walking all over town. In one word: insane. God bless Wilson for navigating us through safely. Let’s just say, when you’re around Pastor Pritam, life is never boring. As crazy as it was, I was in the company of dear friends, and the memories are priceless!

Balbir’s family is probably as colorful as it gets. Details omitted here. Balbir is an amazing woman who, by God’s grace, has truly beaten all odds! Sujaan is unbelievably adorable and lovingly spoiled by her Daddy. She simply has to utter the three words: “Daddy, I want…” and Pritam melts.

In Scotland, we had delicious fish and chips and Irn Bru in the park on a beautiful day. We also went up to Edinburgh and visited the ancient Edinburgh castle which was a site to behold! We stopped to pray in the chapel, which is the oldest building in Edinburgh and seats about 24 people. Learning about the old kings and battles and such were interesting. We stopped for tea and cake at one restaurant in the castle. Another day, we hired a vehicle and drove down to Bradford which was a gorgeous drive along English countryside. You gotta love Pastor Pritam’s spontaneity. We stopped for fish and chips and apple pie and this quaint little restaurant. While in Bradford, we visited a couple churches that were being converted into mosques. We got several suspicious stares while we stood on the street and prayed. It was quite sad to see the pews torn out and the stained glass windows all boarded up. It was my first time in a mosque.

On our last day in Scotland, after dropping Balbir and Sujaan at the airport and tearfully saying goodbye, Pritam, Wilson and I headed to the Art Gallery. I don’t know if it was the tiredness from lack of sleep or sadness of having to say goodbye to those closest to us, we barely managed to drag ourselves around. We finally went down to the basement and found ourselves in an unfinished part of the gallery and sat around and talked. It was a miracle we came out just as the gallery was closing, otherwise, I’m sure we would have been locked in all night. Once outside we walked up to the bus stop to wait for our ride. Pritam loves going up to people and making conversation. It was hilarious because he walks up to this woman in a burka with like four children and asks “Are you Muslim?” The woman smiles amused. We laughed over that one. Back in London at Sam’s place, Wilson asks: “Are there any bathrooms around here?” Umm, no Wilson, let’s try at the neighbors. We laughed over that one too.

On my final day there, there was Wilson and Pritam who carried my luggage through the London Underground so I didn't have to go through a second episode of my first day in London.

All in all, I had the time of my life. The best part was being with people you love and Pastor Pritam, Balbir and Sujaan are incredibly special! We talked, laughed, prayed, shared, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. As I sit here in Chicago recounting the last couple weeks, my heart is so full of gratitude to the Lord for making it all possible and for blessing me with such beautiful friends who are beyond amazing and yet so humble. I’m overwhelmed.