Yet another post that brought me to tears…
From Living Proof Ministries blog…
Thanks for letting me take a few days before I attempted to put something so indescribable into actual words. I had to let it all soak in. Friday was the climactic moment of our trip, the day when Compassion’s child sponsorship program was fully realized and finally personalized for each one of us. We had the incredible opportunity to meet our precious sponsor children in the flesh along with a translator so that we could communicate with them. It was a day filled with laughter and tears. I really had underestimated what this particular day would mean to me. It was an incredible thing to actually see their faces and to touch their skin. All of the sudden everything became so very real. My two India sponsor-kids, Manot and Pramila, along with their two Fathers, had traveled over a day’s journey just to see me.
I have to type it again. They had traveled over twenty-four hours just to see me.
When I learned that the four of them along with translators from their village had traveled such a distance, it really intimidated me and made me feel a little bit insecure. I thought, “Are they annoyed that they had to come all this way just to see me- I am so not worth it?” Since they knew absolutely no English I asked via the translator, “Are they exhausted from the long journey?” The translator then went back and forth with them and with a huge smile on his face, he said, “No, they’re just really excited.” And I took a deep breath, opened my heart, and let it all soak in.
Here is a picture of the five of us:
The four of them were dressed in their Sunday best. It was almost enough to deceive me into thinking that they really weren’t all that poor. I was thinking in my mind, “Why didn’t Compassion give me one of the kids from the slums we visited, they seemed like they needed sponsorship more.” A little bit skeptical, I asked our near-omniscient Compassion India guide Jaiashree if she had been to the village where my children were from.
She said, “Yes.”
And that was all she said.
And so I pulled the whole persistent widow act and said, “O-kkkaaayyy, so tell me about it. Compare it to some of the villages and slums we’ve already visited. I want a picture in my mind of where my kids actually live.”
And she said, “I can’t compare them.”
I responded, “Jaiashree, what do you mean you can’t compare them?”
And then she said words in her unforgettable accent that will continue to haunt me forever: “They are much poorer, Melissa. Poorer than any of the slums we’ve seen this week. They are very, very poor.”
Ouch. Why did she have to say it like that and why do I always have to ask so many questions?
I wanted to scream at someone but instead I just shook my head and said softly, “Don’t tell me that. Don’t break my heart.”
I came to find out that my kids live in mud-huts. Their village has absolutely no electricity. I have to clarify this because even some of the poorest slums in the city have some electricity simply because of the accessibility that comes with being in close proximity to a city. Their village needs potable water, for they often have to revert to drinking out of filthy water holes. After speaking to one of the Dads through a translator, I discovered that he makes $17 a month. In the very best of circumstances. Since he is a daily laborer, some months he doesn’t get any work at all. He supports a family of five. If you do the math assuming the very best scenario $17 is a little over half of $32, the price I pay each month to sponsor a child though Compassion. Talk about humbling. It is almost double what he makes a month. Again, this is assuming he gets work. I found this terribly discouraging and humbling but also very encouraging. Let me explain. The sobering part of the math breakdown is that $32 is about how much I spend on Starbucks coffee per week. And $32 is less than the price Colin and I pay for dinner on a handful of nights per week. Sometimes we pay less but several times a week we pay more. On the other hand, that my $32 is almost twice what a sole-supporter of a family of five makes per month demonstrates how effective my contribution can really be. In the long run, considering I keep up sponsorship for the years to come, my contribution truly can break the cycle of poverty in a child’s life. Relatively speaking, it is huge.
Now back to our day. If you read my post from last week, then you know that we took the children to a place called “Science City”. The kids had a blast and directly after we got off the seriously disturbing Gondola ride we set off for lunch. We took the entire crew to eat in a food-court at an upscale mall in Calcutta. I hate to use the word “upscale” because the mall itself would have been a very typical mall in the States. This was an enlightening time for me because I was able to ask a number of direct and personal questions through our translator, both to the children and their Fathers. My two kids are from the same village so their Fathers were actually friends, which was really neat. I asked them if they had ever been to Calcutta. One of the Fathers answered, “I am a poor man, I do not have enough money to come to the city.” I was shocked to find out that not even one of them, including the two Fathers in their mid-forties, had ever even been to a city before. It was their very first time and they were like little kids. They were having a blast. Some of my fellow bloggers had different experiences watching their kids eating the food we bought for them. Some of the kids were overwhelmed by all the food they were served. *Not mine* They ate for a solid hour. I was done with my pizza in less than ten minutes. But, they just kept eating and eating. I asked them how the food was and they just had these huge beaming smiles stretching across their faces. They absolutely loved the food and were literally the last ones to finish.
When we got back to our hotel, we each went to various corners in the lobby to present our children with gift bags to take back home with them. I had a blast showing them pictures of my home, my friends, and my family. I tried to split up the pictures that I brought between the two families but the Fathers insisted upon putting them in one safe place so as not to lose any of them.
He is saying, “Please pray for us.”
Seriously, can one heart take it? That’s what nine-year-old Manot was trying to tell me. After all the gifts I had brought him. After all the food we had served him. After all the fun we had. This was his one urgent request:
“Please pray for us.”
I assured him through my tears that I would never ever stop praying for them.
That was the last verbal exchange we had before we said good-bye with oversized lumps in our throats and then we waved and waved and waved. I can’t count the times they looked back at me. They hung out of the window of the van, and we blew about a million kisses back and forth. As the van started to move, I felt my heart sink.
Will I ever see them again?
Will they make it?
Angie and I both looked at one another, each of us looking to the other for some much-needed consolation. I realized quickly I wasn’t going to get it from her. And she certainly wasn’t going to get it from me. We were both a mess. Both of our eyes were fixed on the van. We just kept watching it. Until the van was no longer in sight. With tears welling up in my eyes, I asked Angie if she thought we would ever see them again. Then we both broke down and lost it. That heartrending moment lingered for what seemed like forever.
And then I knew we needed comic relief so I reverted to my humor defense mechanism and said, “Considering our tolerance for curry, the reality of a return in the near future doesn’t look promising, does it?”
And so we conjured up half a smile through our tears. We just had to.
Here is a picture of the two of us in a moment far less intense than the one I just described.
I can’t tell you how badly I wish my two kids had electricity and wi-fi to go along with it. How bad I wish that they could read this post. I know I can write them but I want them to hear my heart right this very moment. I would say to them, “Manot, I love you. And Pramila, I love you. And I’m not just saying it because you need to hear it or because I know your parents probably don’t say it often. A week ago that might have been the case. But not today. Today I awoke with thoughts of you. Wondering what you are doing this very moment, so many thousands of miles away from me. Hearing the faint pitch of your sweet voices and your quirky laughter. Worrying about what you’re eating. If you drank enough water to be satisfied. Picturing you, Manot, smiling and kicking around a soccer ball in the hot sun and you, Pramila, scribbling on the new drawing pads we bought you. Your project leader told me that you are going to be a great artist. Mostly, I want you to know that I’m praying for you. Praying that you will live to declare how lavishly our God has loved you through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Praying that in spite of all that you may endure, that you will know that our God is good and that He loves you with all of His heart.”
Oh, what a deep imprint Manot and Pramila have made on this hard heart of mine. And not just the two of them but all of the people, so deeply loved by God, in Calcutta and India at large who must fight for their survival, each and every day. I could never have prepared myself for all that I saw last week. For example, during one of my visits to a devastating slum, a half-clothed, poverty stricken crippled man with his back hunched over in a ninety-degree angle limped slowly over to me. He had purchased a coconut for me with whatever small amount of money he did have and then proceeded to slice the top up for me to drink so that I could be protected from the heat. And mind you, I was the one going back to the air-conditioned hotel. Not him. What was I supposed to do with that? And that is just one of about several hundred stories I could tell.
Because we each had experiences like this and because I am sure our eyes were about to glaze over, the leaders of our group called for a debriefing in lieu of a group lobotomy. During this debriefing they gave us a safe place to talk about what some of us were feeling and thinking. It was great but we really needed another entire week to hash it all out. I’ll never forget the words that Shaun Groves said before we left the debriefing. He asked us this question:
“Now that you know, what will you do?”
He continued by saying, “You’ve spent your words lavishly on the blog, now it’s time to spend your lives.” Talk about messing me up. And so it was to this tune that our re-entry began.
I will confess something about myself. You know that I’m going through an emotionally or spiritually trying time when I bust out one of the movies from “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy. Other girls may bust out “Sleepless in Seattle” or even “Pride and Prejudice” but I bust out Tolkien. There was one awful season in my life that along with reading the books, I actually watched at least one of the films every night for two months. I wish I were exaggerating. You can ask my Dad because he was so ready for me to get a grip. I was totally hogging the television and he had deer-show watching needs that definitely were not being met. And, yeah, I know…spending three hours a night watching movies wasn’t exactly good stewardship of my time. But it’s the truth. I nearly have the entire Trilogy memorized. And that is saying a lot since most of the proper names sound exactly the same.
Well, yesterday, it happened again. This time my victim was “The Return of the King.” Have you ever seen it? Do you remember the last scene when Frodo unexpectedly boards the ship to sail to the Grey Havens? Throughout their life-threatening journey to Mordor, Frodo and Sam kept dreaming about such things like the taste of the strawberries on the Shire but when Frodo actually does get back to the Shire, for some reason, it is like he can’t fully enjoy the normal comforts that the Shire has to offer. I’ve always speculated about why exactly Frodo has to sail to the Grey Havens. I think that Frodo has just been through too much. His scars run too deep. After years of being back at the Shire they still haven’t healed. In the movie he asks the rhetorical question: “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? And then he explains, “There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…they have taken hold.”
But I’m not a hobbit.
And this is real life.
I don’t get to sail off into the beautiful sunset with Gandalf.
Ironically, my life just happens to be deep in the heart of excessive American culture. And I’d by lying to you if I said I don’t enjoy it. The honest truth is that I know myself. I know that quickly normal life will pick back up and the temptation will be to forget all I have seen. To move forward without any change. While others around me may wish for me to hurry up and acclimate to normal life again, my fear is that I will too quickly move ahead. That I will forget all I have seen, heard, touched, smelled, and felt.
I know myself.
I’m just an All-American twenty-six year old girl, consumed with comfort, security, vanity, wealth, and materialism like the “best” of them. In light of who I know I am I feel compelled to ask that the Lord would perform a miracle on my behalf- that he would keep the emotional wounds that were carved during the past few weeks from healing. Now, I know you may think I’m a bit morbid, eccentric, or even just plain weird. But that’s okay, because I’ve been called far worse, I’m sure of it. So this is my prayer today- that time won’t have its typical way with me. That the sharp edge of the sting I feel deep in my soul won’t ever be dulled or alleviated.
With so much love and affection,
P.S. Thank you for coming away with me to Calcutta. This blog community has floored me with its willingness to pray for us and also to get on board with what the Lord is doing through Compassion. I want you to know that your generosity has been noted. Those of you who are already sponsors with Compassion and are interested in visiting your sponsor child in the future should click here for more information. I know the trips are costly and time-consuming but if the Lord paves the way or places it on your heart, then check it out. You are an amazing group of people and I am so honored to “know” you through blogland. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world. By the way, I also want you to head to read a post written by Patricia Jones, one of my new favorite people in the world. In my opinion, it is one of the most powerful posts from the entire trip.
— Posted on May 5, 2009 am31 11:32 am