Tricia Coburn travels a new road
Feel the heavy air, redolent with heat and unusual smells. Be mindful of the crush of humanity and zooming traffic. Try to speak above the cacophony of blaring horns and unfamiliar languages. It’s a long way from Georgetown to India, but Tricia Coburn would not have wanted to be anywhere else this past summer. Her journey with eleven youth and two other adults began long before the group boarded the plane, and Tricia came back with insights and goals that opened new paths for her day-to-day journey.
In 2011, a couple returned home from their mission work in India to speak to other members at Tricia’s church, Crestview Baptist. As she listened to tales of training teachers in remote villages, Tricia’s reaction was strong and immediate. She wanted to go. She surprised her husband, who arrived late after a flat-tire mishap, with the question, “How do you feel about going to India?” His reaction, equally immediate: “I don’t want to go at all!”
For months, Tricia continued to feel she was being called to India, although her husband still wasn’t sold on the idea. Around the same time, Crestview’s youth minister, Jordan Cobb, began planning a mission group to volunteer at a school for special-needs children. Tricia’s daughter, Kayla, was very excited about participating in this project, so to support her, the family attended a Mission 101 class once a week to pray, plan, and exchange ideas with others who wanted to learn how they each “fit into the puzzle of God’s plan”. At the time, they didn’t know they’d wind up in India but were committed to the teaching in 1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore prepare your minds for action.” Simultaneously, Tricia’s husband received an inexplicable email, offering a free book about . . . India. The whispering chorus—India, INDIA—gained strength until the Coburn family was completely committed.
All the preparations had been made, but as Tricia says, “Nothing could have truly prepared us for those first few days” after they arrived in New Delhi last summer. After landing, the group, dressed of course in the usual American style, visited a market to buy traditional clothing for the girls: kurtas (tunics) and dupatas (long scarves). Tricia described the shopping experience as “shocking, overwhelming because of more people than I ever imagined, lack of personal space, vibrant with color; there’s no eye contact, it’s strictly a ‘head-down, here-to-do-business deal.’”
The group was grateful to connect with the fulltime missionaries who had visited them at Crestview and who had warned them that “you could have a to-do list like at home, but here you’re happy to get one thing done each day.” Tricia’s eyes still widen in amazement as she remembers the day they traveled to see the Taj Mahal, a distance roughly equal to a trip from Georgetown to San Antonio; it took them ten hours, four of which they spent sitting in traffic, not getting a foot nearer the architectural wonder.
The group stayed in a hotel and traveled by bus on some days. On other days, they were closely packed into a smaller vehicle, maneuvering down streets where traffic lights and lanes are meaningless and honking horns the norm. The group found that the food was good and many people in the towns they visited spoke passable English. Tricia was even able to communicate with an Indian woman by sharing family photos on their cell phones. Each day, they worked at the Ashish Centre for the Differently Abled, a school where many of the children struggle with varying degrees of autism. The school, directed by a Christian headmistress, offers love and hope to children, some of whom return at day’s end to difficult homes where they are not valued. Sometimes the teachers are not paid for months, despite long, hard days, yet their message of love shines through. The mission group was divided into one or two volunteers per classroom. Kayla worked with seven-and-eight-year-olds, repurposing used costume jewelry, while Tricia worked with older kids in a nearby thrift store run by the school. They shared the joy of service with the teachers and gathered cherished stories to take back to Georgetown. In the evenings, the group hosted a vacation Bible school in another rural village. Amazingly, Tricia remembers not fatigue but a sense of being energized.
As this special time drew to an end, Tricia reflected on what the trip had taught her. There were so many special moments. She “had just known” she wanted to minister to the children because of her career as a teacher. Surprisingly, however, she realized how intensely she was drawn to the strong, dedicated women with whom she interacted at the school. The director of Ashish Centre had offered personal testimony about how she discovered her value when she came to believe that God sent His Son to die for her, a woman. This, from a woman surrounded by old concepts of a rigid caste system—in India, where only a small minority of the population claims Christianity, Tricia saw hopelessness first-hand. Now, homeward bound, the question for Tricia became, “How do I serve in response to this extreme example?”
Others in the group were enthusiastic about returning to Ashish to do more. Although Tricia says she would “absolutely” like to go back, she doesn’t feel that India is where she’s most needed. “I needed to write and pray, so I filled legal pages edge to edge, I talked with my pastor, and finally, from deep cores of emotion, I realized there are women all around me that feel devalued and oppressed due to old wounds and messages from the past . . . their difficulties may be well hidden, and they may seem ‘normal’ and functional.”
Tricia Coburn is a dynamic, people-oriented woman of faith with a new mission. Besides teaching, she has been a computer software instructor in the business world and trip coordinator for the local non-profit, MEDICO. She’s a gardener, a wife and mother, a reader, and now, an advocate and encourager for local women. Once Tricia decided to move into women’s ministry, various affirmations followed. First, her husband understood that she would need more flexible hours than teaching would allow, so she began working toward a license in real estate. Her school principal graciously released her from a contract for 2012–2013. Second, while cleaning out her home office, Tricia discovered a book she had ordered years ago, but never read, about effective women’s ministry. Not much later, she learned of an acquaintance who wanted to start a women’s study group based on a Beth Moore book, So Long, Insecurity: You’ve Been a Bad Friend to Us. Tricia and her friend began research for a multigenerational support group. And so, the vision marches toward reality.
Contact Tricia through Crestview Baptist.
Learn more about the school in India at www.ashishindia.org.