Thursday, October 30, 2014

Settling into the City of Joy

Kolkata is a city that leaves you drained. It is a city filled with noise, smells, and extremes. On the way to work each morning, I see people sleeping on the street, children headed to school, people huddling around the cha wallah getting their morning cup of tea, an array of vehicles honking and women working the line. I keep my head down carefully selecting each step navigating the variety of waste and puddles of unknown substances littering the streets. I begin each morning with a few cups of coffee and my Bible because I know by the end of that day I will be drained. Tonight my dinner was a handful of almonds, two chocolate sandwich cookies and a coke zero because I did not have the energy to cook.

One of my favorite things about working with Sari Bari is the sense of community among the women and the way they offer me a glimpse of the love they have to give. The greeting of "Joi Jesu" rings out as they greet me and embrace my lack of Bengali. They share their snacks (a small meal) with me over cha. I have been in the city for more than a week and had not yet gone to the south unit so today when I entered in the building numerous smiles greeted me. They remember me and asked where my other friends were and argued about which of my Bengali names to use. These are the moments I am filled up throughout the day.

Time seems to go fast and slow all at the same time in this city. It is hard to believe it has already and only been a week. I have loved seeing all the ways the city has changed and transformed over the last three years while still feeling like I know my around and where the best coffee shops are to relax and read. I have jumped into working at Sari Bari and I am looking forward to taking ownership of a couple big projects as well as teaching English. It is a full schedule and I love every moment. Here are a few things you can be praying for this week: continued health has been a huge blessing so far, learning Bengali so I can build relationships with the women and our community in Kolkata. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Familiar and Foreign at the Same Time

As I have explored and engaged the city, I have noticed the subtle differences such as new, clear signs on the metro as well as less spitting on the platform. There are more noticeable differences such as an influx of luxury cars fighting their way through Kolkata traffic and a new mall full of luxury brands which I could never afford even as an expat. It has been three years since I was last in Kolkata and there are so many ways it feels so familiar while feeling so foreign at the same time. There is the familiar hardness of a city where people live on the street and beg to get their daily needs. I feel myself harden as I join the crowds shuffling on and off the metro and hear fighting fill the lanes of the red light area. I fell the pull of western comforts of coffee shops when the stench of the streets becomes overwhelming. On the other hand, I feel my heart soften as I work alongside the women at Sari Bari. I loosen up as I begin to see familiar, friendly faces around the city. In many ways, city which seems so familiar and different is quickly becoming home.

I am grateful for the past week of little responsibility as I readjusted and became reacquainted with the city. It has been really fun sitting with Sarah and talking about the reality of business in a foreign culture . I have asked questions about what has worked and what has failed over the years. I am excited to take ownership of projects and continue conversations to help Sari Bari thrive in the future. Starting Monday, I will learn more about my my role for my time here. There have been a few conversations about how I can help but Monday things become my job. It will help establish a routine for each week. 

I ask for your prayers as I continue to settle into the community and my job at Sari Bari. Pray for Kolkata as a whole during the festival season over the next month. Pray that Jesus would be shown through me as I engage the city. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Assault on all Senses

Kolkata is a city that assaults each of the five senses. Upon landing at the Kolkata airport, the air was thick with pollution and the buildings were visually decaying. The air was hot and humid as I walked through the jet way to the newly built airport. The immigration area was fully of noise and chaos as people from all over the world joined the line to gain entry into the city. A sea of Indian faces greeted me as I made my way through customs and found Sarah's familiar face among the crowds. The taxi ride to my new home reminded me of the blaring noise of horns and people. The air was saturated with the smell of street food and the aroma of spices. It was a true assault on the senses, but it felt like I was home. 

One pleasant surprise was running into a familiar face on my flight from LAX to Dubai. It was a treat to sit and talk about our fears of our upcoming journeys to hard places. It was great share the fear of the unknown, but the goodness and provision of God up to this point. When we arrived in Dubai, we sat and chatted over lattes before his plane departed. It was truly a gift to have a friend along the way. 

I arrived safe and sound on Tuesday morning local time after about 30 hours of travel. I forced myself to hit the ground running. The route to Sari Bari was pleasantly familiar as I passed kids yelling and playing. I walked up the stairs to Sari Bari just as devotion time was ending and the women started on their work. I loved seeing familiar faces and the meted reactions of surprise and joy. Some of the women immediately recognized my face and gave me hugs and began asking questions in Bengali while other women took a little longer to recognize me. I loved every exhausting moment of that first day when I powered through travel and exhaustion to begin my time in a crazy, chaotic city that I love. 

It has been a wonderful few days getting to know my roommate and relearning how to navigate the city. Today is a holiday so it is a day to rest and readjust. I am looking forward to unpacking (yes I have been here 2 full days and not unpacked), drinking coffee and watching movies. I am so grateful for your prayers as embark on journey of serving the women of Sari Bari. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being Sent Out

Last Sunday, I was commissioned by Grace Church of Glendora to be sent out. It was a really cool time where the congregation heard about what I will be doing, and I was able to share things they can pray for as I join the Sari Bari community in Kolkata. I shared in the three English services as well as the Spanish service. I was blown away by the way the entire church came alongside me to pray and encourage me as I step out in faith. In a way, I know physically I am the only one going to India, but I will be accompanied in spirit by all of those who are praying for me.

Last night, my friend Karen and I had a joint birthday party which served as a going away party as well. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who showed up just to share a few moments with me before I leave. My worlds collided as my friends from high school, college, camp and church all came together to eat, laugh and hang out. I felt honored and blessed to have so many people show up to send me off well. I appreciate every single prayer, hug, tear and laugh. I feel truly loved and ready to follow God to Kolkata.

People have asked for a mailing address in Kolkata. Here it is:

sari bari private limited
attn: Natalie Cook
9b Imam Box Lane
Kolkata 700006

Monday, October 13, 2014

Expectantly Waiting

At the beginning of the year, I didn't know what this year would bring or where God was leading me. I first read the phrase "expectantly waiting" during a quiet retreat in Kolkata. I decided this phrase would be my anthem this year. I would seek God in all decisions and say yes to all the paths He asked me to go down along the way. I wanted to sit with open hands so I would not miss little blessings like coffee with a friend who lives down the street or visiting a friend in London. Often times, waiting periods seem tedious almost as if God forgot to continue leading our paths. I love this phrase because it implies we know God will show up and show up in big ways. I am expecting God to do some amazing things during my time in Kolkata and I hope I have the eyes to see God work.

Expectantly waiting. These two words sum up all of the thoughts and emotions running through my mind. I leave in 6 days. I move from one community to another. I go from working with middle class high school students to women who cling to hope of a better life outside the trade. I am stocking up on coffee because it is a treat in Kolkata. Peanut butter and nutella are neatly packed along side my Forest Home mugs. Packing is a process of choosing things that are necessary and things that feel like home. It is a process of filling a suitcase, weighing the suitcase and reshuffling everything I packed so far. It is a process that can't be put off too long but I am avoiding for as long as possible. On Sunday, everything will be packed, I will go to the airport and I will leave. I still sit with open hands to remain open to how God will work over the next week and throughout my time in India. Expectantly waiting. 

Many people have asked how they can pray or how they can help as I leave this week. I ask for your prayers as I prepare to say many goodbye over the new few days. I ask for prayers for the Sari Bari community I will be joining. I ask for your prayers for strength as I work among broken people in a very dark part of the world. I also ask for prayers for financial support. I am so grateful for the may people who have already supported me and I know God will provide each step of the way. If you are interested in supporting me financially, go to and click online giving, select "team India" from the drop down menu to ensure the money will go into my account. 

I continue expectantly waiting as I prepare to leave. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Eventful Week

The last week has been filled with the awesome, wonderful news of my visa application being approved and the awful, terrible news of a friend passing away. There have been encouraging conversations of genuine excitement for my upcoming journey along with hours of conversation with my best friend as we process through our friend's death. It has been an emotionally exhausting week, but I know this is preparation for my time in Kolkata where crisis is a normal part of daily life. I am grateful to have people who love me through the tough stuff.

This weekend I spent time in Tucson visiting a church that was on my team at camp this summer. It was a gift to visit a group of people who spoke words of truth and encouragement. During their week at camp this summer, they prayed for my journey and were genuinely excited for me to pursue God's leading in my life. I love how camp connects people who love God and encourage others to passionately pursue Him. A few weeks ago, I visited a church in San Diego and it was this youth pastor that spoke truth at camp and encouraged me to go where my heart was which at this point in Kolkata. It was good to sit and share how his words helped push me towards returning to a place I love. I am so grateful for the community camp has provided and new friends who encourage and point me towards the cross. My time visiting churches is refreshing, life-giving and a gift as I prepare for departure.

I leave in less than two weeks! Pieces are starting to fall into place. I am starting to say my goodbyes. I am getting my fill of In-N-Out, good Mexican food, donuts and lattes. I am taking time to sit with friends sharing hopes and fears of my journey to India. I am thankful for those who ask questions and are willing to listen. I am looking forward to sharing stories along the way.

I am almost half way to my financial support goal. If you would like to partner with my financially click here and select "Team India" from the drop down menu. All donations are tax deductible.