My wife, Connie, and I usually spend Christmas with our married son and daughter and our two granddaughters, but this year ended up being the in-laws' turn to be with both kids. So, we decided to do something totally different and use our Christmas vacation time to visit two of URI’s active and very successful regions, so that I can more effectively explain to donors and prospects the work URI does from a firsthand point of view. We chose to visit URI’s East India Regional Coordinator, Biswadeb Chakraborty, in Kolkata, West Bengal, and URI’s South India Regional Coordinator, Abraham Karickam, in Karickam, Kerala, both of whom welcomed us into their homes and communities. What follows are some of our experiences during our visits.
Kerala – December 23-27 – Part 1
The URI South India Region is very vibrant and active under the very capable leadership of Dr. Abraham Karickam. Abraham organized and hosted at his Karickam International Public School (KIPS), which is also headquarters of URI South India, a gathering of regional staff and Cooperation Circle (CC) leadership. My wife, Connie, and I were welcomed as honored guests and were presented traditional South Indian shawls. There were several PowerPoint presentations of examples of impressive CC activity in the region.
Following the presentations, I expressed our appreciation for hosting us so generously and for the great work that is being done in the region and throughout India. I briefed them on URI’s work around the world and the fundraising activity underway to continue to strengthen the network.
The meeting was followed by lunch at a local, traditional South Indian, government owned and run restaurant.
(Click the yellow arrows below to scroll through the photo slideshow.)
In discussions with the URI South India team, we were impressed with how passional they are about URI and how deep their knowledge of URI and the Preamble, Purpose, and Principles (PPPs) is. They proudly display the URI logo on their material and were thrilled when I distributed URI pins to each attendee.
They were thrilled when I distributed URI pins to each attendee.
Connie and I were welcomed as honored guests for Christmas Eve Carol Service at St. Thomas Mar Thoma Church in Karickam, Kerala. If we couldn’t spend Christmas Eve with our family, we couldn’t have asked for a better, more inspiring substitute. St. Thomas’s Vicar, Rev. Mathews Mathew, greeted us in his home prior to the service. We learned that St. Thomas has about 1,000 members with about 350 attending this evening’s service. In fact, the church was packed with overflow into the adjacent parking lots. From our observation, the enthusiastic congregants were of all ages with a choir comprised of both male and female teenagers and a 16-year-old male keyboardist who was terrific. There were several creative dance performances by six very cute girls.
In his welcoming speech, Parish Secretary, Sri. Jacob Arackal, a URI CC member, introduced Connie and me with an enthusiastic endorsement of URI and the work URI South India is doing bringing people of all faiths together to make the Kerala community better. URI and we were greeted by very generous applause. In his Presidential Address, Rev. Mathew also acknowledged the good work URI is doing in their community.
Our host and URI South India Regional Coordinator, Abraham Karickam, gave a Christmas message showing why he was such a successful teacher. A great Christmas message well delivered!
When “Christmas Father” arrived to spread joy and candy amongst the young people seated on the floor in front of us, he asked me to tell the congregation how we celebrated Christmas.
When “Christmas Father” arrived to spread joy and candy amongst the young people seated on the floor in front of us, he asked me to tell the congregation how we celebrated Christmas. I said that we traditionally shared Christmas with our grown and married children and with our granddaughters but this year for the first time they chose to spend Christmas with in-laws. So, we decided to spend Christmas in India because URI is so active there. To enthusiastic applause, I told the congregation that we were having a fabulous time and expressed our appreciation for being so generously welcomed and how much we enjoyed the Indian people.
After the service at St. Thomas, people of all ages came up to us to shake our hands and welcome us. After the service, Abraham, Rev. Mathew, Connie and I were generously hosted for a traditional, home cooked, Indian dinner at a congregant’s home.
Everywhere we went, we stuck out as Americans. People on the street stared at us, but reached out to shake our hands.
We observed that most foreign tourists, particularly from the US, visit Delhi, Agra and the Taj Mahal, with very few making it to South India. Everywhere we went we stuck out as Americans. But stuck out in a positive way. People on the street stared at us but reached out to shake our hands, asked to have photos taken with us, and gave big, embarrassed smiles, when we acknowledged them with a smiling “hello”.
Read more reflections from this trip: