India: A long-term commitment of service

Long, dirt roads in an unfamiliar countryside stretch between towns and villages that are so far from home.

Humidity, orphans, foreign languages: India is about as far as it gets from life in Huntington, Ind., yet every year Huntington University students and faculty return to serve.

For the third year in a row, students worked, learned and served in the orphanages of India during the January term. It has become a tradition for the university one that moves people to tears regularly.

Chennai's Home of Love, an orphanage, has been a consistent destination with the trip adding tours discussing the history and culture of the native people. The team has been led by Dr. David Alexander, and his wife, Genevieve, for the past two years.

To the Alexander family, India is not just a missions trip but a home away from home.

"India is now on our radar at all times," Alexander said. "Every opportunity we have to go back, we are trying to take. We almost feel like we have two homes now."

In addition to the January trips with students, the Alexanders spent the summer of 2013 living in India. Dr. Alexander served as a visiting professor while he and his family made connections across Chennai and the surrounding area. It all is a part of his plan to increase involvement with India and to pursue avenues to further serve there. Indian philosophy has even began to influence his research.

"The girls at the orphanage that we have got to know very well, they really are starting to feel like family. With family members, they play a significant role in the decisions that you make," Dr. Alexander said. "So, it has significantly changed our lives, our decision making and our traveling."

Cate Rinchak, a senior graphics design major, was a first-time student to India this year. It was the abundance of love that she experienced over the trip and the tremendous lack of material goods that had the most impact on her.

"I had only been out of the country one other time," Rinchak said. "The first week I felt like it was a mistake and I shouldn't be here, but as soon as we started the VBS (Vacation Bible School) and we met the girls, I felt like this was definitely not a mistake."

With some time back in Huntington and in the midst of a new semester, Rinchak still feels an effect.

"One of the biggest things I took away from the trip is how I relate to people, especially my family. It was very striking, this love that they had, this love that they showed," she said. "They wanted to serve us. It has never been so hard to say goodbye to anyone before. I am so much more grateful for the relationships I have now and I invest so much more into them."