Boarding my international flight, I plopped into my seat, clicked my seat belt around my waist, and took a look around the airplane. Next to me sat an Indian gentleman with a tightly wound turban and a full, black, curly-tipped mustache. Women in colorful saris filled the rows in front of us. As the plane gained speed and I watched the ground disappear beneath us into a layer of clouds, I prayed, “Lord, please go with me as I travel to India. And above all else, give me a deep love for these people and for the children that we serve.”
I work as the sponsorship manager for a non-profit organization that helps needy children attend Christian schools in countries such as India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. As the liaison between the child, the sponsor, and the school, keeping up with almost 3,000 children in over 50 schools definitely keeps me on my toes! So when my boss offered to let me visit India, and I had only 8 short days there to get a grasp of the enormity of what this really looked like firsthand, you can imagine what a packed, emotionally-charged whirlwind of a trip it was for me! Here are just a few snippets from my experience.
A Land of Contrasts
When I arrived in India, one of the first places we visited was a school that serves the needs of some very special children…in a very unexpected environment. Driving from our comfortable hotel, we stepped out of the car into the heart of the city slums. A narrow concrete alleyway where there is mafia, rampant prostitution, extremely poor living conditions in dark, dirty hovels….and children. Lots of children. Amid the tightly crammed concrete structures, I recognized the gate of the school right away from pictures I had seen, and going inside we were met by the cutest children you ever saw! They crowded around, adorable little faces looking up at us wanting a pat on the head, a handshake, and any attention we would lavish upon them. Most of these children come from less than ideal homes (many of them born out of prostitution) and to hear them sing at the top of their lungs “With Jesus in the family, happy happy home” was quite an emotional experience. It is not until you see things like this that you truly understand the purpose of a school like this and how it is changing the homes and lives of children who otherwise wouldn’t be going to school, but are now realizing that when Jesus is part of their family, every and any home can be a happy one.
After that stop, we visited a school for the blind, and were just in time for the opening of a new boys dormitory (the boys had previous been sleeping on the floor of a church building). We then spent a day at a school in the mountains where my breath was taken away when we were met by their 800 students, most of them from the surrounding tribal villages.
Hope and Opportunity: Personified
Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to an orphanage that we call Sunrise. Having been a major project for our small organization for many years, I had seen pictures of the buildings being completed, the children playing in the river, and picking vegetables from their garden. Now, I went down to the river and played with them myself! One thing you realize right away at Sunrise is that these children are happy. As their “Mummy”, the director of the home, described it to me, “These children are free. They can run and play, this is their home. They know that they can come to me for anything, because I am their Mummy.” And these children come from situations where they are in desperate need of a loving mummy and home.
“Mummy” took us to her office where she keeps a folder for each child. Inside are their grades, official documents, and a picture of them when they first arrived at the home. Looking at these pictures, you see pitiful little children, some taken off the streets as beggars, some brought from primitive mountain tribal villages by family members who didn’t want them. The children showed me these pictures themselves, and when I looked up from the pictures into the faces of bright, talented young men and women, clean-cut and excited about going to college, the contrast was almost too much to grasp. Perhaps what it really means to save the life and future of a child is something we will only fully understand in the hereafter.
As I saw firsthand the change in these children, I finally grasped and understood the real reason that I work for children and their sponsors – it was no longer just a job, it was a personal and experiential love for these children and the ministry of service. God had given me the answer to my prayer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But for me, my experience in India was worth a thousand pictures.
But it also made me ask myself another question. These children survive on so little. Sometimes the whole of their earthly belongings consist of just a few pieces of clothes on their bed. In the broad scheme of this world, the struggles of life, the meaningless of temporal, material things, why do we strive to save? Why do we try so hard to get out of debt? Why do we change our light bulbs and lower our heat in the middle of winter? All of a sudden, the things I write about on this blog seemed so shallow, so unimportant.
But as I thought about it, I remembered that as Al mentioned in a previous post, our ultimate goal and purpose for saving, scrimping, and being frugal is to be able to give more, serve more, and be more content. What I experienced is why we save. Because practically speaking, being financial responsible means we can afford to give a student an education, a deserted child a home, and a young man or woman a career. I can financially afford to take a pay cut to work for a non-profit organization or volunteer my time at an orphanage. And by learning to live on less, we do ourselves and society a favor by being more like the children I met – thankful and content with their little pile of clothes on their bed, their faces lighting up to receive a simple bookmark, and never complaining when fed the same lunch menu of rice and dal every day, every week, all year.
I still have much to learn, but my experiences in India have taught me much regarding what truly is valuable in life. Perhaps the reasons I live, work, save, and blog are bigger, broader, and more important than just saving a few crumbs – perhaps it’s about saving and serving others.