As we kick off the week of Valentine's Day, I wanted to share a post written by one of our sponsors named Nancy Peterson who went to India this summer to meet her sponsored children. This is love and connection at its best.
Channeling my Inner Elsa
I’ll start by admitting that I am used to being in control when I travel. I actually counted, and I have taken over 90 international trips over the course of my post-college life over the last 15 years. (I would ask myself where the time went, but then I look back at that trip count.) Almost all of these trips have been for work, where I managed my own travel and was most often the lead of the team I was traveling with. India was a good lesson in letting go and letting others lead…especially God, the real leader of this journey.
Landing in Rajahmundry, India was like a homecoming. Though I had never met the Thota family, who are the local representatives for Children of the Kingdom, our entire team was welcomed with open arms…literally! Big warm hugs all around, beautiful flower garlands placed over our heads, so many smiles.
And with that, we were off to our hostel and straight into learning the art of letting go (cue the Frozen theme!).
One of the big goals for our time in Rajahmundry was to visit the families of the kids Children of the Kingdom is supporting through sponsorship. I was of course eager to know when I would meet my kids…like, literally when, per the typed schedule we didn’t have, would I see them? And God being the jokester He is, meeting my first kid was a complete surprise.
We went into the neighborhood where many of the sponsored children live, but we were not sure who would be home. In particular I had asked (of course) and had been told we wouldn’t meet Preema Vani that day. But per God’s plan, as we exited one family’s home, it turns out right next door was the home of Preema and her sister! Suddenly then, there we were, being welcomed into the small space they share. This one room, which couldn’t have been more than 10x10 square, served as living room, bedroom, and storage for everyone. What I would consider a small bedroom back home contains their entire home life in India.
And yet it was the most beautiful space. Soft blue and lavender walls, beautiful saris in bright fabrics tucked away in cubbies, shiny aluminum pots on shelves high above the bed, framed photos of family and of Jesus.
There was instant recognition between the two of us, like meeting a distant relative. Preema was shy, but I was too and was trying to overcompensate with a huge smile that was probably overwhelming and adding to her shyness.
We also met Preema’s sister and I immediately connected with seeing them interact. It is so clear how much they love and look out for one another like my sister and I do. Unlike my family, they just have each other at this point. Preema’s father left long ago, and their mother also left for life in a city. They are the sweetest young women!
I got to see Preema a few days later after we served lunch for women in the sewing program (and many of their friends). Once again, God put her in front of me when I was least expecting it. And it turns out my friend Preema is a talented henna artist!
It was such a quiet and genuine moment to watch her create an intricate design on my hand and arm, including putting my initial in the middle of my palm. It was such a simple gesture, but in that moment I felt so known by her in a way that surprised and blessed me. Most fun was had at the Children of the Kingdom banquet. The shyness evaporated in the midst of celebration. Smiles and giggles came out of both of us. Selfies were taken…many, many selfies were taken. Like old friends we wanted to capture this time together and have a memento. It was an amazing time.
Meeting Varun was planned out, but it didn’t exactly go as planned. Welcome to India! We went to his school, initially planning to find him as school let out. But the distraction of few Westerners standing around as kids were being picked up was a bit too much, so we retreated to a spot outside the school yard. When Varun came up, it was a mixture of recognition and surprise. All the photos I had were of a little boy, but standing in front of me was a tall young man. Very different from what I expected! He was a typical teenage boy, trying to be polite, but totally self-conscious meeting this new person in front of classmates…and it probably didn’t help that I was a Western woman…oh the embarrassment we adults cause teens! It was so cute! We kept it brief, and I knew I’d see him later at the Children of the Kingdom banquet.
The banquet just made everyone more comfortable. Varun was clearly happy to hang back with the boys his own age…I’ve concluded teenage boys are basically the same everywhere in the world. As the evening wrapped up, we took a few photos and I was so happy to see a big, genuine smile on his face. I think I broke through his shell a little.
The best for me was yet another unplanned encounter…I got to meet Varun’s dad at the end of the banquet. Varun and his dad look so much alike! Their closeness was clearly not just in similar features. When so many kids that we met had dads who were not around or not supportive, it was heartwarming to see even in just a short moment how much Varun loved his dad and how his dad loved and was so proud of him.
Meeting the kids I sponsor seemed so fleeting and so impactful all at the same time. It has created a connection that turns my monthly donation from a simple deduction in my bank account and an occasional letter, to now a shared experience and memory with Preema and Varun. For all my travels and all my planning, these unplanned moments with Preema and Varun rank among the best of my life!