Why Do Our Churches Go on Vacation?
Sheetal and I have been reading this book ‘Sensing Jesus’, in which the author Zack Eswine writes about a pastor’s insights on the value system he had been noting in his church. The culture involved professionalism to an extreme where hardly any grace was shown when mistakes were made. Something the pastor said struck me as oddly familiar:
We tried recently to invite folks for dinner and then spend time together with no agenda other than to get to know each other. 85% of the folks left immediately after dinner. Many… told us that, as pastors, we were wasting their time because we gave them nothing to do but sit with people.
Eswine was pointing to our tendency to embrace what is popular and Jesus’ disdain towards living the celebrity life. But I realized that the same tendency which the pastor saw in his people in that church ran deep in my spiritual veins.
“Why should we do holidays and (sinfully?) enjoy long fun trips?
Isn’t that all wrong?”
I tend to go there often.
The devil is the prince of extremes. He will teach us that the absence of enjoyment and celebration is a holy life. Then, anyone who appears pious should go to Heaven. Why does God command His people to celebrate His goodness in various festivals in the Old Testament which were practiced even in the New Testament? Why does then Jesus gladly participate in a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-3)? Jesus never stopped worshipping God, the Father. Can celebration be worship?
It’s the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in a person and His fruit that is indicative of His holiness in Christians. Along with this goes the growing hatred against and absence of sin. And God sees through fake appearances all the time. As the Marg membership handbook reminds me, it’s what or who we celebrate that matters. More than mere actions, the motives matter.
Jesus spent a lot of time with sinners at the dinner table and during feasts. Was our Lord not celebrating with them the right way?
God has created us to work hard with much faith in Him. We need to rest and celebrate with the same faithful dependence on Him. Marg continuously teaches us to celebrate our Father’s goodness. This is a great counter to the false humility and apparent holiness I can fool myself into.
Godly celebration is part of radical basic rhythms of the Christian life. Marg aims to live out rhythms of life in tandem with “death to self”, which Jesus teaches and exemplifies. We also believe such planned trips are great opportunities to learn how to serve one another within the church and outside too!
Are we saying that all of life should be celebration always and there should be no sacrificial living and missions? Of course not! But that’s for another day. 🙂
The 2016 Goa Trip!
Every year, all available members of Marg and friends take a vacation off to Goa. We usually go to a very nice resort called the Royal Palms, thanks to an unbelievable offer Lijesh and Anila have taken up and generously shared with whoever is opting for accommodation each year.
This year, there was a lot of planning on and off WhatsApp and general hullah before the trip. When the dust settled, one bunch found itself boarding a train from Pune to Madgaon. The other bunch climbed into four cars on 18th February, early in the morning, with Google Maps set for Benaulim beach, Goa.
Madgaon Railway Mania
This is the story of the blessed bunch who were scattered along the length of the train chugging to Goa. Thanks to some benevolent (mis)information, they thought their destination Madgaon was also the last stop. (Madgaon is about two hours away from Vasco da Gama, the last stop). This resulted in comic-panic situations where whole families exited a moving train early in the morning – no vacation from exercise, I say!
Others who were more fortunate and blissfully unaware of the drama, fulfilled their duty of sleep all the way to Vasco and later, showed up at Benaulim triumphant anyway.
The car convoy meanwhile happily ran into numerous wild packs of beasts on the Bangalore highway – fancy Harley Davidsons, Ducatis, Triumphs and BMWs to name a few, headed to Goa for the India Bike Week 2016. Those who heard and saw the gleaming bikes thunder past our caravan on the ghats would solemnly swear that they had already seen more than whatever the bike show had to offer!
In a few more hours, we had breakfast at Belgaum and the cars were soon hugging the road that snaked through the Bhagwan Mahavir sanctuary, not too far from the famous Dudhsagar falls. After we entered Goa, we parted ways with a lovely new couple, Timothy and Rozy Kaygude, who continued on their way to Panjim. The holiday mood had set in and we reached Benaulim by 3:30 pm and settled into the cozy rooms of the Royal Palms.
At Royal Palms & Benaulim Beach
Of course, we headed out to the beach right away and had a great time, relaxing, our feet in the smooth sand, splashing in the water and swimming!
My son, Abhay Barnabas, did some hand-held aerial swoops on the waves for the first time in his life, thanks to my dear wife. Meanwhile, John Mark, Samuel and other kids were enjoying the waves and stuffing whole jars with seashells!
The facilities at Royal Palms were top-notch and refreshing. A lot of us decided to become amphibious at the sight of the nice swimming pool. Others could not resist playing table tennis and pool- it was good to see the fun people could have, given the opportunity to rest.
We cooked meals together, chatted and laughed late into the night. Some of us managed to watch reruns of ‘Captain America’ and highly obscure Japanese Anime cartoons on TV, where one character just kept talking with a friend and gets emotional about his dad’s questionable life. Whatever happened to monsters and Samurai fights, right?
Benaulim in itself is a nice little place to be, with its bike rentals, street shops awash with clothes and artwork, the super-sufficient Kadar supermarket at the junction and eating places peppered all around.
Dinah’s was our popular haunt for breakfasts. Their scrumptious chocolate and banana pancakes, ham and cheese omelettes, coffee from the French press and ginger tea has to be tasted to be believed in. We also returned to our favourite dinner haunt, Firefly, and tasted some yummy culinary fare.
A lot of our dear friends did paisa-vasool exploration in Goa. Manbir, Shekhar, Romi, the Pulickels, the Chopras, Jonathan, Jibi, Zanna and Sachin, were the culprits.
Leading the pack though were our dear friends Manoj and Hadi, who went to Agonda beach, Palolem beach, spotted the Butterfly island and enjoyed some splendid boat rides. Sadly Butterfly, which once had a virgin beach, was reportedly littered with hundreds of used bottles. As a human being, it’s a shame to acknowledge that we are responsible for marring natural beauty that God made creatively, but that is nothing new.
The Wild Ice Cream Chase to Arpora
On Day one, late in the morning, some of us set out on a quest in the LUV machine to find a place that sold very weird ice cream flavours up North. After a short stop at Dona Paula, much driving and mapping the life out of our phones, we got hungry and decided to head to the nearest oasis of food at Arpora. Soon, we realized once again, that we found ourselves a few minutes away from thousands of bikers at the, you guessed it right, India Bike Week! So we had some yummy Goan fish thali and chicken thali to the background music (loud noise!) of scores of superbikes that revved through our ears. After lunch, we drove right up to the gates of Niko’s Icecream and found that the family had shut shop and moved elsewhere! Boohoo!
In order to not drive back tired AND depressed, we decided to google nearby attractions.
Arambol Beach and The Sweetwater Lake
Sixteen kms later, we were walking along a windy and balmy Arambol beach that lay nestled near some clay hills. Eager to see the famous sweet water lake that seasonally becomes saltwater whenever the sea nearby flows into it, we walked for about 15 minutes through a hillside tunnel that was actually a pathway hemmed in by shops on both sides and finally emerged onto a crescent-shaped beach with a patch of water for a “lake” that we had imagined. Jonathan went off on one of his solitary walks and Jibi, Sheetal and little Zanna happily bantered on the sands.
Sachin and I, carrying baby Barnabas, negotiated the dangerously smooth slopes of the hill as much as we could to get a glimpse of the expanse of the Arabian Sea, which held on to its lovely soft blue colours under a descending sun. Nearby, some paragliding enthusiasts frolicked with the cool wind. As the orange sky dissolved into the dusk, we drove back to Benaulim, stopping to get some dinner at a shawarma place by the highway.
The Menezes Braganza Mansion
Day 2 saw us hit the road again, this time coasting through brown and green fields and past whitewashed church buildings, to the Menezes Braganza Mansion in Chandor (Chandrapur), which we got to know later as the capital of Goa before the Portuguese occupied the land. The mansion, rich with the history of Goan autonomy and independence struggle, was built in the 16th century and renovated later.
The lady, Judith, who gave us the tour of the place, showed us around and explained the lost glory of the house and the beautiful and unique artifacts that have taken silent residence in there for centuries. The furniture, dinnerware, the stunningly clear Belgian mirrors and the grand halls simply took our breath away. Photography inside the mansion is not allowed but Judith allowed our man, Kessington (Keloc_photography) to happily shoot away outside. Little Zanna gladly posed along.
Sadly, the mansion is divided into two sections and maintained by two families. The cold war between them for more donations (and hence, visitors) marred this otherwise beautiful visit down the corridors of Goan history. Also unpleasant were the unannounced “charges” – 150/- per head – that were levied at the end of the tour when we were slow to make voluntary donations. This is just a heads-up. It’s surely worth a visit! While leaving, I gently told Judith that for the Braganza mansion to survive, the two families will probably need unity more than anything else.
Bittersweet! I hope the Braganza mansion will stand for many more decades as a silent witness to the pages of history that have been written here. I am also certain it’s the decay within our souls that crumbles our characters and histories worse than the humidity that crumbles the paint on the mansion walls.
On the way back, we were on the lookout to get a suitable cake for little Kathy’s birthday. Our hunt took us to Anjona bakery near Colva which served us nice squid patties -for 15 rupees a piece! – and other goody snacks. This was lunch for poor Jonathan and Kessington at 4:30 pm.
We found the cake elsewhere and had a great time back at the Royal Palms, with Kathy who cut the cake. The rest of the kids bounced in a happy trance and we thanked Jesus for this girl’s life.
Buff Cutlet Pav Hunters of Benaulim
As dinner beckoned, we decided to get the popular buff cutlet pavs on the way back from dropping the Joneses at the Margao bus stand. What we thought would be a 10-minute search for a road-side stall turned into an hour-long drive with Sachin concerned about how I drive and me concerned about the absence of the stalls that were supposed to be ubiquitous! After multiple false leads and nice people in the darkness pointing us to bhelpuri stalls, Sachin spotted a blue stall under a tree in the darkness on the way back to Royal Palms.
Oh, the delight of a single buff pav stall! As the lady packed 11 crisp portions, she explained how difficult and expensive it had become to get the licence to run such a stall in Goa! We were glad we could help her run the business for one more night and bade goodbye, disappearing into the night in the LUV machine.
Return via Sawantwadi & Amboli Ghat
It was Sunday and our last morning at Royal Palms. After one last visit to Dinah’s for breakfast, packing and clearing our dues, we drove out of Benaulim. To start the day on a bright note, I blundered the directions for Manoj and led our car all the way North past Panjim while the rest who had left ahead of us, had headed East on the old route to Belgaum.
We would now meet them only outside Kolhapur after 4 hours. So Manoj decided to zoom through Sawantwadi, which he did, with his agile and deft driving. We also stopped to lunch on hot Maggi and egg fry at the shacks near the top of Amboli ghat. Here, we were again in for sights of the – you got it right – fancy bikes from the India Goa Week! One futuristic monster from Ducati held me spellbound for a moment. As the day gave way to the night, we drove along, chatting, taking turns to drive while Barnabas howled into the darkness to give us company. We reached Pune around 10 pm.
Londa Railway Mania!
So you thought the railway mania was over? Wait for it!
The happy bunch on the afternoon train back to Pune had a great start, playing ‘Taboo’ until the train stopped at Londa station. There the passengers learnt that the train won’t go further due to railway traffic held up at Pune triggered by the Jat agitation in north India. Incredible how things we are probably least bothered about can affect us, right?
They alighted at Londa, caught the next passenger train to Belgaum and then tried various options, finally landing a cab to Pune around midnight. The arduous but adventurous trip got them to Pune, safe by Monday morning, wiped out and just in time for work. Zzzzzz!!!
That’s all from this Goa trip. We eagerly wait for February again! We had such a lovely trip together and it’s good to think of how our Lord is so gracious and creatively good to us with His undeserved blessings!
What the most interesting experience you’ve had in Goa? Please share your comments below!