I love meeting new people. It’s kinda just a thing I really enjoy. And today I met a new person who I think may have changed me forever. Her name is Ritu and she lives in a tiny village in Bangladesh.
We drove probably an hour and a half outside of Dhaka past rice fields and brick makers. Smokestacks for giant brick kilns lined the landscape as far as the eye could see in some places. I watched people pushing carts of clay and making bricks by hand. I saw men and women with water and mud-covered ankles as they stooped over to plant and harvest rice. Bamboo poles and nets shot 8 feet into the air from the wetlands…set for catching fish when the rainy season comes and the waters rise dangerously high. Dust settled on giant palm branches so thick that it made them look brown. It was beautiful land. Foreign soil with a beauty all its own.
Our van pulled into the dirt road community and stepped out to more curious faces greeting us. When I later asked Ritu and her family if they’d ever met anyone from America, the answer was no. And from the fascinated stares, it seemed obvious they’d likely never seen anyone with light skin before either. One question and answer later, and my suspicion was confirmed. I bet that the indigenous people felt the same way when they saw Christopher Columbus in America. I guess I just never considered that 500 years later, I might be Christopher Columbus.
Before we broke off to go and meet our sponsored children, we met with the local FH staff for some introductions, devotions, and tea.
Shortly afterwards, we split into groups to head out to the different parts of the village to the homes of our sponsored children. We drove a bit to get to Ritu’s house and then walked down a sandy road and wound through some narrow carved out dirt passages until we came to her home.
This is Ritu’s house. It was made from corrugated tin and the ceilings inside were draped with fabric. The floors were concrete, and there was one large bed where the children slept. Ritu’s parents sleep on the floor.
(Something strange happened in the panoramic action of this photograph, so please excuse that it appears that my face might peel off at any moment. I wanted you to get the picture of her whole house though, so just know I’ve sacrificed my entire face for the sake of the cause here.)
I immediately picked her out of the crowd that had gathered. She was even more beautiful than her picture.
But I tell you what, there was definitely a crowd gathered! I’m not even kidding, the entire neighborhood turned out. I was Christopher Columbus, the event!
Sweet Ritu, who’s just 7, was obviously nervous to have all eyes on her. I’m not sure how they all expected the visit to be, and I’m not entirely sure that I knew either, but I can say that after the past couple of days observing the dynamics of communities and families here, I should have realized that this was going to be a major group event. Maybe somewhere in my mind, I had a picture of Ritu and myself sitting together coloring while her mother adoringly looked on from the side or something, but I’m pretty sure I had never imagined sitting on a blanket surrounded by 40 additional people who were in awe of my general foreign-ness.
I shared the letters from my son’s first grade class,
and gave the crayons and paint that my boys wanted me to bring for her. She’d never seen watercolor paints before, so I unscrewed the cap of my water bottle, poured a little bit in, and showed her how they worked. Immediately she drew a picture of her house and began to paint.
At the end of our visit, she tore it out and gave it to me.
There are so many beautiful things about this visit. Ritu showed us her home…where they sleep, where they eat, where they cook. Her father, a musician, played his trumpet for us. And I took a video.
They showed us how they make a fire in a clay form above the ground, their stove of sorts, for cooking.
Ritu’s maternal grandfather made hats for a living for the rice farmers. He just died 3 days ago, but before he died, he made a hat for me. I am honored to have such a lovely hat. They wanted me to put it on and make a super happy face…so I did!
I loved my time with them.
They showed me such love and hospitality. I can’t believe that our family has the gift of being able to love another family so far away in such a tangible way for them. When I left, they invited me to come back to visit with my family. I told them that we will pray for them, and write to them, and that we hope to be friends for a long time.
They said the same.
It’s not just something we can do or money that we can give….this sponsorship is about giving life, and love, and building friendships. It’s showing the love of Christ by loving others.