Lufkin native Allison Skelton recently returned from a 12-day trip to New Delhi with other students from Abilene Christian University.

ACU offers students a chance to be a part of a program called World Wide Witness that sends students on mission trips around the world for the entire summer. Skelton said that was a little intimidating to her, so she joined with a group heading to India on one of the 12-day global service trips.

Skelton and several other students started fundraising in February and began meeting weekly for three months to train for their journey. Skelton said the training was intense at some points, but it helped.

“The way that our team reacted to this trip was different than any trip I had been on,” Skelton said. “We all had such strong connections with the kids after we left that it was really hard to leave. Going through it with a team that was already close because of our training really helped. We’ve all still been in really consistent contact since we’ve been back.”

The group traveled to Dar ul Fazl, an orphanage in Manali (a village about 300 miles outside of New Delhi). The name translates to House of Grace.

“We called it a mission trip, but it was based on relational ministry because of the strict anti-conversion laws in India,” she said. “We mostly just spent time with the kids and loved on them one-on-one and gave them the attention that they wouldn’t normally get because there’s so many of them and so few workers.”

Being in a place that doesn’t freely allow worship was strange, Skelton said. In fact, the government visited the orphanage every day they were there to check in on them.

“The home is a Christian home, and they’re allowed to be a Christian home as long as they’re not converting any of the children against their will,” she said. “It’s not illegal for them to be a Christian or to practice what they believe in, but if they have missionaries there, that could become an issue.”

While a lot of the kids have sad situations, Skelton said they are in an incredible place.

“They don’t even like to call it an orphanage because these kids consider themselves family, especially with the adults that are there, so they call it a home because that’s how they see it,” she said. “They are presented with so many opportunities that you wouldn’t expect them to have.”

Every child goes to college and is encouraged to be a part of internships and jobs over the summer that prepare them to break the cycle and step out of a cycle to become someone who can raise a family and have a normal life, Skelton said.

Skelton said she hopes to return soon. As a nursing major, she said it would be amazing to return and work with the school nurse over the summer.

“I got to talk to her a lot this trip,” Skelton said. “I would love to spend time interning with her, spending time with the kids and getting to see all of them again, but doing it to further my education and cultural awareness, as well.”

The organization Skelton’s group travelled with is called Orphan Outreach. They offer an opportunity for people to sponsor orphans across the world, to see their stories and even communicate with them through letters.

Skelton said people can sign up to sponsor a child from the home she visited or from a home at one of the other orphanages at www.orphaoutreach.co by clicking “Get Involved” and “Sponsor a Child.”

Several years ago, a Canadian couple visited Manali and was touched by the community, Skelton said. They wanted to help in whatever way they could, so they created a ministry called Fazl Socks that sells handmade socks and other merchandise created by street vendors that they recruited.

The employees are paid a fair wage, and they create this merchandise with tribal and village patterns that can be purchased in the U.S. Money made by this goes to paying their wages and to the community.

For more information, visit shopfazl.com.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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