By Ralph Wendt
My wife, Mary J., and I recently traveled through Maharashtra, India for three weeks. The journey actually began nearly 68 years earlier when my wife’s parents (Gillette & Mary Vandegrift) fled from Maoist China with the assistance of the famous Flying Tiger, Claire Lee Chennault. Just a few years prior, Gillette had been a Chaplain Major under General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. 7th Army during WWII.
Soon after being rescued, they were on their way to India where they shifted from being missionaries to Tibet to that of India, spending nearly 30 years there. Immediately, they were involved in many activities, of which I will focus on three that were a major part of our journey to India.
Our plane landed in Mumbai, a city of over 18 million, on Jan. 31, 2017. Formerly called Bombay, this is where my wife lived for a couple years when her parents were involved in seminary training in the early ‘70s called TAFTEE (The Association For Theological Education by Extension).
The major cities of India are so air polluted that it causes 1.3 million deaths per year. Both air and water pollution in India make one so appreciative of our clean air and water in Northern Wisconsin; something you cannot put a price tag on.
After just two days there, we were glad to be on our way toward a remote village area, where my wife spent most of her growing up years when home from boarding school. Maharashtra Bible College (MBC), founded in 1907, was where her father was the principal for nearly a decade. Then, plenteous foreign funds had the college looking solid and beautiful. When missionaries were kicked out of India in the ‘70s, those funds dried up, leaving so many Indians tasked with keeping up those facilities, when so often they had trouble just surviving.
You could see the wear and tear and how sacrificially they strove toward self-sufficiency. The structures still needed work, but the vibrancy of the students, teachers and workers made the place shine like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. My wife was delighted to share this place with me, including the deep relationships we were able to build in such a short period of time.
Our next journey took us to Pune, a city of over 6 million people, which is amazing when you realize that all of Wisconsin has only 5.8 million. Here, we visited Union Biblical Seminary (UBS), founded in 1953. Gillette taught there during its early years. We had a chance to talk with the President of the college who had just stepped down to focus on teaching and fundraising activities. The college had grown to 299 students who work on Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees. They too, were working on innovative ways toward lowering costs to bring them closer to self-sufficiency, such as a sophisticated water reclamation system.
About 37 miles east of Pune was the last of our three major destinations. Mukti Mission was where Mary J. spent time when her father was involved with various board activities. Her favorite part of Mukti was the orphanage nursery and on this trip it was once again her favorite.
There was another important reason for going to Mukti. Besides caring for orphans, the severely handicapped, and those rescued from the sex trade, they also cared for widows. One of the widows (Vatsala) had worked at MBC when my wife was just a young girl. Vatsala had a strong influence on her life, especially spiritually. Just about a year ago we tracked her down and found out she was at Mukti Mission. Upon our arrival, she had just gone through cataract surgery and we visited with her in the hospital. Later, Mary J. spent hours with her in her room with many of the other widows, having a marvelous time.
Why did I call India hidden? It is because we seldom hear how the work that was started 64, 110, or 128 years ago is wonderfully going on. How they strive for self-sufficiency; needing only boosts, here and there, to help keep the structures from deteriorating. And seldom do we see their intricate relationships with one another; graduates from UBS both teaching and a part of the MBC administration; some graduates from Mukti Mission now students at MBC; and a history of graduates from MBC going on to further studies at UBS. What a b
eautiful weaving together of all these ministries.
There is so much more we could share but this article demands brevity. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.