There was nothing special about me, personally. I just said “yes” to an invitation. Somehow, I found my heart changing, as I entered into the life of a sponsor child. Her name is Rhaki Basfor, a Hindu girl from a low caste community in Bangladesh. My intention was to help her, but in the end she helped me.
Photo by Esther Havens
With each scripture verse God spoke, revealing his heart for the poor. Issues of poverty interrupted my life. When I would see a little face staring back at me from a sponsorship packet, I found myself asking, “God, what is it you want me to know? What are you asking of me?” Each time the answer led to a path of advocating for children living in poverty.
My first trip to Bangladesh
The sights, sounds and smells resembled India, horns honking, bumper to bumper traffic, vibrant colors, and the smell of curry. I arrived in Bangladesh on March 5, 2009, on a media trip with Food for the Hungry. A group of three of us had gone to collect photos and stories from the programs in Bogra, learning of women whose lives had been changed through lessons of literacy, health, and job skills.
My eyes opened each morning at 5 a.m. to the call to prayer, broadcasting from the local mosque. The morning’s mist made for an eerie scene, as we traveled to the rural villages. It felt surreal. The splash of fabric, blue, pink, yellow scarves covered the heads of women, lining the busy streets.
Bogra is a sea of concrete houses and the homes built in this Hindu community are ill equipped. There is no electricity, running water, and homes are built over an open sewage. That’s where I met Rhaki Basfor, a 9-year-old girl living in abject poverty.
I remember sitting behind her in class on the floor, legs crossed. She wrote messages in Bangla script on a small chalkboard, about the size of a book. It was a funny sight; she was trying to teach me English. She corrected my pronunciation of “sit”, as she ran her finger across the chalkboard. “No, s-e-et, as in s-e-e-t down,” she said. She was learning English, and I was falling in love with this delightful child in Bangladesh. At nine years old, she captured my heart.
“Girls are often forced to marry older men at the age of 13,” an FH staff member told us. ”And sometimes as young as nine years old.”
As we traveled to communities in the country, FH staff would tell us stories that gave real-life context to what we witnessed. This gave us the reasons behind the FH programs in the region, and I came to understand the cultural worldview and poverty issues behind child marriage. (Watch a video about child marriage.)
Food for the Hungry’s lessons help women in rural villages change the way they think about children. The mothers we met wanted their daughters to remain in school and have a different future. A movement to keep girls in school and prevent child marriage began, started by mother’s who had been married at 13, themselves.
My only response had to be, “God, what is it
you want me to know? What are you asking of me?”
The only thing I knew to do was to sponsor Rhaki Basfor. So, I did. Because she was sponsored, Rhaki’s mother made sure she stayed in school. In 2016, seven years later, Rhaki graduated the program at the age of 17, four years beyond the typical marrying age. I believe my sponsorship made a difference.
Getting the letter in December 2016, telling me Rhaki was graduating the program, came with mixed emotions. On one hand, she beat the odds and made it through school. On the other, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to write her again. Over the years, I’d written letters, responded to cards and hung the pictures of Rhaki on my fridge. I didn’t expect the tears to drop, as I prayed for her. I am grateful to have been a part of her life. She may never know the impact she had on me.
So, if you find yourself wondering, “What can I do? There is nothing special about me.” Ask the questions, “God, what is it you want me to know? What are you asking of me?” If you say “yes” to the invitation, you just may find yourself.
Matthew 16:25: “Whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
Advocate for children: Invite your pastor to host a Hunger Sunday at your church on May 7.