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“So, how was India?”

It’s hard to find words to respond to that inevitable question.

Certain words swirl in my mind:

Incredible.

Vibrant.

Paradigm-shifting.

But words can’t do justice to the daily sounds of vegetable vendors calling out their wares, the voices of an Indian congregation singing jubilantly, the variety of languages heard as an audible backdrop to the Taj Mahal’s majesty.

I will tell you, though, that I have never been humbled so consistently. I learned so much in 6 short weeks, and learned to love ferociously––to love my wonderful team, the lovely nationals, the mesmerizing place.

My time in India challenged me to appreciate the beauty of life, its challenges as well as its high points. In new ways, I saw that true fullness of life and joy is only accessible through Christ.

Some favorite experiences included:

  • Fellowship with Indian believers at slum small groups
  • Exploring the city––taking rickshaws, the metro, walking around
  • Deep, soul-nourishing conversations with new friends and teammates
  • Cultural immersion: from the food to the clothing to witnessing temple worship
  • Being caught in a monsoon at midnight––after being locked out of our flat!

What sights I saw. From the begging mother pounding on my car window to seeing an elephant casually walking down the highway…alongside a camel.

Countless other memories could be recorded: English and computer teaching, developed friendships at an academy and kids’ camp, and several stunning scenes.

But more than all that, I saw God at work tangibly and beautifully in an oppressively dark place.

Spiritual warfare is real, friends. The problems and heartbreaking realities of India––its poverty, corruption, and hopelessness are large and seem impossible to overcome.

But I hold Christ to His Word. He promises that every nation will bow, worship, and glorify Him as King. And I pray India will be lit afire for the Savior of the world, to magnify and exalt Him.

“All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.” –Psalm 86:9

Nothing compares to the glorious and exceeding joy I had to share the gospel in at least 4 different settings––3 of them in front of larger groups. After all, that is my life’s purpose (Acts 20:24).

Was India easy?

No.

Was it worth it––to build friendships entrenched in eternity, to see God’s miraculous love fully and abundantly on display?

Yes.

Yes, it was worth it. God knew I needed to see my pride as the ugly monster it is––to view my insufficiencies so He would be my sole strength.

I tasted more deeply of His goodness––I saw more of His sustaining grace. Toward me, my team, and the people of India.

All through 120 degree days, frequent 12 hour workdays, late talks, sweaty afternoons, vibrant colors, loud laughs, heavy cries, and great praise.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” –2 Cor. 4:7

The power belongs to Him alone. And yet, in His perfect providence, He ordained my team––8 other weak vessels and I––to be His ambassadors and servants.

So. How was India?

Amazing.

Challenging.

Transformative.

6 weeks of life-altering experiences, lessons learned, and grace lavished. I will never be the same.

And by God’s grace, I will see my Indian friends again. If not on this earth, in eternity, when every tribe, tongue, and nation will encircle the throne of the Savior who loved us and commissioned us to proclaim Him in all the world.

Broken Streets

Carissa A —  November 13, 2016 — Leave a comment

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Four weeks ago, I walked onto the broken streets of Skid Row with trembling hands.

That day haunts me.

Everywhere I looked in that downtown Los Angeles district, I saw visible, blatant expressions of human degradation. I saw image-bearers of God in the literal gutter.

The people I met still haunt me, with hearts worn so ragged on their sleeves and all earthly belongings pitched under a sidewalk tent. Divine strength guided me to set my face like flint, having diminished personal dread but increased fear for lost souls.

On the corner of 6th and San Pedro, I dialogued––knees on the sidewalk––with 59-year-old Rachel, who toted a Mary Kay hat and plastic grocery bag of good works.

She recited Ephesians 2:8-9 from memory and smiled benevolently. So I took its context, the far-distantly memorized Ephesians 1, and shared its truth with her––a dying woman in need of redemption and forgiveness of sins offered by the richly gracious Savior (Eph. 1:7).


The gospel was a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere laced so heavily with smog and smoke and cursing cries and seductively rhythmic music. The background soundtrack of cursing and sleazy hip-hop echoed off dirty buildings and through alleys cluttered with trash and people. I collected every weight I witnessed in that spiritually desolate and depraved place.

Three men huddled together and smoked. Yelling resounded. The place smelled like hellfire––a strange concoction of urine, sweat and smoke plumes to go with a medley of sights and to some extent, horrors.

On one stretch of sidewalk, a misstep meant stepping on syringes to my left or a sprawled, passed-out man on his back to my right. I wanted to kneel down, grab the outstretched palm facing the sky and feel for a pulse on his wrist. He barely looked alive. A few steps later, a crouching drunk man gestured, squinting through bloodshot eyes that wandered and glazed over every sight with alcohol-soaked perception. 

My heart fractured time and time again.


Though secure in Christ’s all-sustaining grace and the truth of His atonement, I was shaken to my core.

“I’m too intoxicated to fellowship, man,” JJ said to a guy in our group, leaning against a camping chair perched on the sidewalk and smiling the slow smile of the inebriated––a smile that sent my stomach into lurching. In sudden sobriety, he said, “I’m a Christian, but I guess this makes me a hypocrite…” 

“How does a broken man get out of LA?” Darryl asked honestly and hungrily––hungry for hope, like the others wasting away all around us. “I want to believe in Christ. I do. I’m sorry, but some people are just too far gone. How can a man who has only ever done wrong his entire life be saved?”

“That’s the gospel!” I wanted to cry out. “I am also a wretched sinner and unworthy recipient of His grace. But praise be to God for His redeeming love!”

Instead, I stood in stunned silence as I beheld the visceral, exposed insides of a tortured conscience.

Darryl walked away with tear-filled eyes.


It’s been weeks since I visited Skid Row but I’m sure not much has changed. People are still there “having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). 

A few days later, I shared the solemn burden of my heart with my entire university in a chapel interview. I looked out on a sea of souls and said, “There is absolutely nothing preventing us from being in the exact same position they’re in––except the restraining mercy of God.”

Sin cannot be euphemized. Nor should it. Apart from Christ, I’d wallow in the same depths. But God.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”—John Bradford

That Sunday, my heart was troubled. I transitioned so jerkily from the sweat-stained Saturday streets of Skid Row to the spotless Sunday-morning pews of a well-respected church. Row after row of collared jackets. Well-respected and beautiful people. Among all the bright faces, I saw Andre, Byron, Rachel, Darryl, Robert, JJ, and Michael.

These people are still out there somewhere. They’re hurtling down a hell-bound track, unless the sovereign God of all men resurrects and redirects their souls into submission to His Word.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'” ––Romans 10:14–15

Their names and faces and voices are stuck in my head like a recycled radio tune, beckoning me to come back.

I beg the Lord to take me back––to take me anywhere where rebels may be redeemed through the proclamation of the Word. There is too much of an urgency to wait around.

I want to stride into our fallen world with an unshakable confidence and living hope, despite a sea of weakness and propensity to fear. May “His strength is enough” be my battle cry, as the Word of truth flows through my veins and thoughts and the gospel flavors every word spoken.

We should not flinch from looking at the reality of sin-saturation, seeing with wide-eyed devastation the wreck of a world we live in. But we must take our eyes from these dismal images and pray they drive our hearts to Christ.

There is no sweeter life’s mission––to trek broken streets and reach lost souls for Him.

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed.

Although other members of my family were killed, my great-great-grandmother and her children survived, and without their survival – a few drops escaping from the ocean of 1.5 million dead souls – I would have never existed. This is one of the many stories of their resilience:

In the Armenian wilderness, my 25-year-old great-great-grandmother holds her two-year-old little girl in her arms. Three other children cling to her, terrified.

Once a wealthy aristocrat, she is now desolate. Her home has been ransacked and husband slaughtered — she is forging a path for her four children against all hope.

That absence of hope materializes as a Turkish soldier storms on horseback behind her and snatches her daughter out of her arms, a scene straight out of an Armenian mother’s worst nightmare.

Falling to her knees, my great-great-grandmother cries out, begging God to save her little girl, fearing the Turk’s intent to kill. Prayers pour out of her like rain. Her little girl—my great-grandmother—cries with the same terror.

The soldier becomes a pinprick on the horizon. All hope is lost. In the careless flick of a trigger, I cease to exist and my family disappears with me. Everything I know vanishes like an elaborate illusion. 

But God works a miracle.

The pinprick grows larger and larger until the soldier returns. Irritated by the crying toddler, he releases my great-grandmother and rides away. My surroundings sharpen back into focus. 

I’m alive. 

The women who came before me were resilient; they were survivors. When they were spared, it ensured that I could write this 100 years later. That is not something I can easily dismiss. I cannot carry on with the mundane without understanding that I wouldn’t have the ability to experience it without the survival of that frightened yet determined 25-year-old mother and her children.

I don’t take my existence for granted. I am so thankful for the chance to live – to live fully, vibrantly, and without reservations.

I am not the product of random occurrences, and I refuse to be told that I am. I am part of something vastly greater than myself. God spared both my Armenian ancestors and me for a reason. And in that I find comfort.

Here are my reviews for the top five singles on Billboard.com’s Hot 100.

lorde-21. “Royals” by Lorde

Soon to be a household name, Lorde is a 16-year-old songstress who crafts tunes so well she might as well be a seasoned artist. She could easily pass off as a young Florence Welch, Lana Del Rey, Grimes, etc. “Royals” is easily adoptable as the indie anthem of kids who take the train to go chill with their friends. When I first heard the sultry beat and husky strains of “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh” at a high school football game, I mentally passed it off as a newer, toned-down Icona Pop song. How wrong was I. Lorde incorporates criticism of fame and society’s warped definition of success with playful yet rebellious cries of “We don’t care/We aren’t caught up in your love affair.” She exhibits a lyrical wisdom that far surpasses her years, while displaying a fierceness that seems as raw as it is authentic. “Royals” is a refreshing and bitingly cynical return to carefree idealism of youth and the philosophy that you can have fun without material excess; you only need to be surrounded by the right people.

katy-perry-roar-leak2. “Roar” by Katy Perry

Anthems are Katy’s new game, and people seem to eat it up. As cautious as “Christian” listeners are of K-Perry’s music after her blatant turning away from Christian values several years ago, you can’t really point to any offensive material in “Roar.” Typical anthemic idealisms are thrown around lyrically, from “You held me down/but I got up” to “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter/dancing through the fire.” The tune is a fairly predictable, upbeat pop confection, no surprises lurk around musical corners. The extended “Roa-a-a-a-a-ar” at the end of each chorus got old pretty quickly, considering that Katy’s voice seems strained as it is. As far as popular, insistently positive songs go, “Roar” is an easy pick for the listener who doesn’t stray far from the radio to find pick-me-up tunes. I’m wary and predict that Katy’s encouraging side will soon be overshadowed by a plethora of tongue-in-cheek risque songs on her new record.

best-bets-albums-miley-cyrus-650-4303. “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus

At first listen, “Wrecking Ball” is a song that could easily belong to any number of pop divas. Following in the footsteps of female music giants like Pink and Rihanna, Miley Cyrus tries her hand at the “vulnerable ballad,” which seems like an inevitable rite of passage for female artist, potentially making or breaking their careers. Cyrus’s voice, which was admittedly grating on the ears after the first whine of “We clawed/We chained/Our hearts in vain,” pleads through the simple melody dripping with angst and regret. Her voice seems a little too gleeful for the mood of the troubled (albeit relatively shallow) lyrics. Lyrics which, by the way, are self-contradictory. If Miley “came in like a wrecking ball” why is HE the one who “wrecks” her. To be honest, the whole wrecking ball analogy is weak and far too unfitting for the emotional message of the song. “Wrecking Ball” is an uncomplicated track that perhaps possessed a lot of potential with deeper lyricism and, quite frankly, a completely different artist accompanying. Even if the song was likable, it’s hard for me to support an artist known primarily for her racy, and now infamous, VMA antics.

avicii-photo4. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii

As mainstream of a house DJ Avicii is, he does know how to make likable music. “Wake Me Up” kicks off with a folksy tune that leaves no doubt in the listener’s mind that this is another Mumford & Sons (or some such folk giant’s) wailing with raw, urgent guitar accompaniment. It, much to the listener’s surprised delight, morphs casually into electronic mimickings, before launching into an full-on electronic dance interlude. True to form, Avicii returns to the acoustic motif, finding the delicate balance between overproduction and over-simplicity. The tune is driven by the empowering lyrics, which determinedly plod along, Aloe Blacc’s vocals straining hopefully in a way that makes the listener want to take on the world. “Wake Me Up” is an empowerment track that mixes two seemingly un-mixable genres artfully and with surprisingly engaging results.

Drake-15. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” by Drake, feat. Majid Jordan

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting this track to be good. Drake is known for his predominantly racy songs and questionable actions on stage. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is, to put it simply, charming. The vaguely, but not excessively, funky, disco-esqe beat drives ardent lyrics that are delivered beautifully. The lyrics are pretty straightforward, “I got my eyes on you/You’re everything that I see,” he croons. “I can’t get over you/You left your mark on me,” he breathes tenderly later on. Probably the best thing about this song is the fact that it does not objectify women as sex objects, which is characteristic of the majority of “love songs” these days. (see Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines…Or don’t. Yeah, don’t.) “Hold On, We’re Going Home” gives the mainstream lewd love song cubby hole a wide berth, while serving as a good vibes serenade.

Which is your favorite song?