Meeting Sai

29 06 2013

For the first installment of our India Adventures, read An Introduction to India.

Tuesday, June 11
How do you describe a relationship you’ve had with someone for 14 years, but only on paper? We’ve seen Sai grow up. We were there when he decided to follow Christ. We were there when his father, a fisherman in the Bay of Bengal, died in a freak boating accident. But only on paper. The countless words on the paper became a real person today, and my life will forever be changed.

meeting Sai, a student we've sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years

meeting Sai, a student we’ve sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years

meeting Sai, a student we've sponsored through Compassion International for 14 years

more flower garlands and some other gifts

The drive from Ongole to Bapatla was about 45 minutes on the worst roads Vinay has ever driven on. Granted, he’s only been driving for a month, but still. They were bad. We went to the Compassion project first where Sai and the staff were waiting with flower garlands and gifts. Those first few minutes are always awkward for me. I’m usually pretty emotional so I can’t say much for fear of bursting into tears. I just smiled a lot and let Matthew do the talking.

Compassion project Sai attends

Compassion project Sai attends

staff members at the Compassion project

staff members at the Compassion project

We spent about a 1/2 hour at the project talking with the director, Vikram. We have been the second sponsor visit since the project began in 2000. They serve anywhere from 195 (current enrollment) to 300 students each year. I know full well how expensive it is to travel internationally as well as the difficulty in planning and getting time away from work, but it still really saddens me that in 13 years only two couples have visited their sponsored children here. (The other couple was from Wisconsin. There is something special about Cheeseheads.)

Vinay asked us about how much we eat out in America yesterday at lunch. We were eating in a restaurant, a luxury for him. We told him we only eat out about once a month. We said we prefer to save our money so that we can travel. And not just travel, but travel with a purpose: to help, to serve, to bless. Forgoing other luxuries, for that truly is what they are . . . luxuries, is worth the experience of of a lifetime in a land without email, Internet, flush toilets, air conditioning, or electricity. There is absolutely no possible way to compare a year’s worth of eating out each week to being able to impact a life with a 5-hour visit on the other side of the world.

Vikram told us that the local community is still fairly hostile to Christians. He told us that everyone in town, regardless of their religion, must pay fees to the government for the Hindu festivals. If Christians refuse to pay, they will be discriminated against, so even Christians must pay this “Hindu Tax.”

https://tokickapigeon.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/img_5182.jpg

Hindu temple near Sai’s home

another Hindu temple near Sai's home

another Hindu temple near Sai’s home

Normally, communities where Compassion projects are located see a noticeable improvement in economic and social relations, but this community is different. They attribute it to the fact that the local economy is served by fishermen, and as such, they really never want for food or a job. They have a “we don’t need you” attitude.

fishermen on the Bay of Bengal (Indian Ocean) - less than a mile from Sai's house and where his father worked

fishermen on the Bay of Bengal (Indian Ocean) – less than a mile from Sai’s house and where his father worked

Despite these hindrances, the students are thriving. Educationally, they have several top level students heading to college. Athletically, their students win a significant numer of awards and medals in various competitions from dance to karate. Socially, they have recently begun a coffee house one night each week that has been very successful.

coffee house sign

coffee house sign

This project has also implemented a new way to manage the children they serve. Rather than having different staff members responsible for different classes and programs, one staff member now stays with the same 30 student for their duration, overseeing all aspects of program. This, too, has been quite successful and is now being implemented in projects all around the world. Unfortunately, we later learned from Alan that this project was being phased out due administrative issues.

The project director and staff heeped praise after praise on Sai. He won the “Top Student” award this year. He’s won several medals in chess and karate. He is a leader at the project and within the Christian community where he lives. He refuses to deny his faith in the face of persecution and ridicule. Though he is not my birth son, I still felt a great motherly pride for him.

After our time at the project, we walked over to Sai’s home, one block away. His entire family, immediate and extended, were waiting for us. Sai has three sisters, two brothers, his mom, and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces, and one living grandmother. As with the other places we’ve visited on this trip, we were properly gawked at, being the only white people some of them had ever seen.

Sai's home is just across this field from the Compassion project

Sai’s home is just across this field from the Compassion project

Sai's home

Sai’s home

Sai's home - many people sleep outside during the summer due to the heat

Sai’s home – many people sleep outside during the summer due to the heat

Sai's family

Sai’s family

I like to ask our Compassion host about when they tell our children that we’re visiting. In our first three visits, our children were told the day before. With this visit, they were given more notice, so they were ready. I still get teary-eyed when I think about Sai first learning we were coming to visit him. He, too, got emotional a few times, asking, “Is this a dream?”

We were served fruit and drinks (thank goodness it was healthy stuff this time) and were introduced to each member of his family. I must say, I’m not a fan of mango, but the mango Sai served us was amazing. Mango I’ve had in the States tastes nothing like this stuff.

gifts for Sai - a T-shirt from FRA's Spiritual Emphasis week, a USA flag and map (with Nashville highlighted), school supplies, and a box of Jelly Bellies

gifts for Sai – a T-shirt from FRA’s Spiritual Emphasis week, a USA flag and map (with Nashville highlighted), school supplies, and a box of Jelly Bellies

a feast of fruit - and the best tasting mango I've ever had

a feast of fruit – and the best tasting mango I’ve ever had

Sai's deceased father

Sai’s deceased father

After this, we headed back to Ongole for lunch with him at our hotel, and his younger sister joined us. This is where the conversation went from awkward formalities to authentic. We talked about his schooling–he will take his exit exams in August, and if he does well, he can get a good job teaching math in a government school.

eating together at our hotel's lunch buffet

eating together at our hotel’s lunch buffet

He was very curious about me, asking how I balance work with family and what the classes that I teach are like. He asked me to sing a song for him so he could record it on his phone. It didn’t matter that we were in the middle of a busy restaurant at rush hour lunch. I obliged but made Matthew sing “Amazing Grace” with me. Somehow Sai, Matthew, and Vinay got to discussing the Big Bang Theory and how does it mesh with scripture. I admit I tuned out for a while there.

As it became clear the time to part was near, our talk turned to thanks and blessings. Sai made us promise to continue sponsoring children after he graduated in August. We promised we would. What he said next brought me to tears. “You are my mother and father to me.” As I mentioned earlier, his father died quite few years ago, and his mother and the rest of his family are Hindu. She wasn’t hostile to Christianity, and she actually encouraged him to attend church each week. However, that still left a spiritual void among his family. From half-way around the world, we have been filling that void for him for the past 14 years.

He wiped a tear from my eye, and said, “Auntie, don’t cry. We will meet again. If not here, then in heaven.” He gave Matthew a long hug, we prayed, and said goodbye. For a male Indian to show such physical affection is uncommon in his culture, but we were very, very grateful for it. I wanted to give him a hug, too, but that definitely would have been inappropriate. I did get to hug his sister and the female project staff member with us.

We may live half-a-world apart, but our prayers will forever keep us bound together. He begged us not to forget him. How could we?

As I reflect back on our visit with Sai, I have two final pleas.
1) If you don’t sponsor a child, consider it. I promise you your $38 each month is being well spent and is changing lives, families, and entire communities for the better.
2) If you do sponsor a child, SEND LETTERS and photos of your family. Tell them stories of your life. Share your favorite Bible verses. These little bits of encouragement, even a few times a year, have an incredible impact on these children. Also, research has shown that children who receive at least two letters each year do noticeably better in school and are more socially well adjusted. You can even correspond via email so there is no excuse.

If you would like to sponsor a child, visit Compassion International, and remember,

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” –Proverbs 11:25

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13 responses

29 06 2013
Meeting Sai | Home Far Away From Home

[…] For the first installment of our India Adventures, read An Introduction to India. Tuesday, June 11 Hsource […]

3 07 2013
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3 07 2013
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[…] For the previous posts on our India trip, visit: An Introduction to India and Meeting Sai. […]

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14 07 2013
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15 07 2013
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[…] posts on our trip to India: -An Introduction to India -Meeting Sai -Local Celebrities -Speaking to India’s Future Leaders -Varanasi (Dark, Deceived, […]

17 07 2013
compassioncalling

Beautiful! We are traveling to the Dominican Republic with Compassion in November on our first sponsor trip, and we’re so very excited! We’ve sponsored with Compassion since 2004, and we agree with you that the letters, photos, and relationship sponsors give their sponsored children is a cherished blessing for all involved! I like the way the projects had staff members work with the same children all the way through and wish it wouldn’t have been discontinued as you’ve written. It seems like a wonderful way to encourage a mentor-role model relationship for the children over their years in the program.

17 07 2013
huddlestonk

Thank you for reading and thank you for sponsoring! Have a great trip to Dominican Republic. We were there a few years ago visiting another of our students. It’s a beautiful country. The way staff members work with/stick with the same kids over the years is a new process that is being spread to other projects around the world. Only that one particular project in India is being phased out; very sad.

17 07 2013
compassioncalling

Where in the Dominican Republic were you and where was your student located? Are they still in Compassion’s program? I’m glad to know this staff model isn’t being phased out completely and would be interested to learn how the implementation is working out elsewhere. We are also advocates with Compassion, so new developments such as this are very exciting and interesting!

17 07 2013
huddlestonk

We spent a few days at a resort in Punta Cana before taking a bus to Santo Domingo where our child was. We had sponsored her for 14 years, so she was close to finishing the program when we met her. She actually got married about 6 months after our visit and then had to leave the program.

22 09 2013
compassioncalling

I’m so sorry she left the program early. We have been through the experience of early program departures, and know how difficult is to let them go and trust the Lord amidst our sadness. We have mever lost a child after meeting them though, as we haven’t met any of our children yet. We are traveling with Compassion for the first time in April, and cannot wait to visit the Dominican Republic and meet our sponsored son of almost 5 years by then.

22 07 2013
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[…] posts on our trip to India: -An Introduction to India -Meeting Sai -Local Celebrities -Speaking to India’s Future Leaders -Varanasi (Dark, Deceived, Disgusting) […]

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