O LORD, my heart aches. My soul struggles to comprehend all that I see here in Dhaka. The poverty is too raw, open and exposed. God of light, lead me through this engulfing darkness.
Lying by the side of a bridge is a man with an unbuttoned shirt and wildly disheveled hair. As I pass by his eyes fix on mine.
Squatting beside a pile of garbage is an emaciated elderly man eating discarded rice. So focused on the rice, he doesn’t notice me.
At the side of a congested intersection, a man with no legs drags himself forward on his belly through the filth, a plastic bowl balanced on his back to receive alms. He looks up at me.
Over and over again I see you on the streets of Dhaka. Yet at times, overwhelmed and afraid, I pass you by.
Now it’s 11-year-old Rasel. For the past three years I’ve treated his occasional minor illnesses at the Church of Bangladesh drop-in center for street children. He lives just in front of the center, beside the Sadarghat bus stand, where horns honk relentlessly and noxious exhaust fumes hang in the air.
Rasel lives on the street. The place on the side of the road where his father stands all day selling papaya, at night becomes his family’s sleeping space. Rasel and his dad sleep curled up on the wheeled, metal fruit stand; his mother lies on a small wooden cart next to it.
When it rains, they tie up a thin sheet of plastic for protection.They use a toilet just outside the city courthouse and bathe at an outdoor tubewell. Whenever there is a public festival or a government official comes to the area, they have to shift their home to another street for a few days.
Rasel’s mother and father both grew up on the street. Through no fault of their own, they had no parents to care for them or shelter to protect them from the elements. Instead, people shooed them like dogs and police beat them for trying to sleep in public places. Living on the street is the only life they have ever known.
Why, O Lord, have you led me to Rasel, a boy who has no secure place to lay his head?
I was taken aback when I first saw how Rasel lives, but he didn’t seem at all embarrassed. Rather, he lives a life of gratitude. Unlike most of his friends, he has a place to call home, even if it has no roof and shifts location from time to time. He also has parents who care for him and encourage him in his studies. Soon he’ll complete third grade, a level of education neither his mom nor his dad ever dreamed of obtaining.
Twice now Rasel’s father has fed me fresh papaya and refused to let me pay. Another time his mother sent out for a cup of tea for me from a nearby tea stall. How can people so poor be so giving? Owning nothing, how can they so freely share what little passes through their hands?
When I stopped by to visit Rasel after church this morning, he was playing the board game Ludo with his parents and a friend, one of the more than 300,000 children struggling to survive on the streets of Dhaka. In his poverty Rasel shares his family and home with children who have no one. Hospitality, generosity, humility and joy are Rasel’s response to life.
My Lord and my God! In Rasel I see you. In his tender concern for children living on the street, I see your love for all children. In his sharing of his home with those who have nothing, I see the way you befriended outcasts. In the way he accepts each day as it unfolds, I see your total dependence upon God. In his suffering through the cold of winter without shelter, I see you without the security and comfort of a place to call your own.
Thank you, Jesus, for showing me how you are at work in the lives of Rasel and the other children living on the streets of Dhaka. Lord, let their suffering not be in vain. Rather, let it break my heart as it breaks yours. Cause me to feel ever more deeply the suffering of those who have so little. Shake me out of my comfort-induced complacency and free me from the shackles of fear and self-consciousness. Then, may I not only see you in the people on the streets of Dhaka but consistently and joyfully reach out and minister to you.
As you have revealed yourself to me through Rasel and his family, so open and fill my heart that therein they, too, may see you, the Savior.
Since 1989, Les and Cindy Morgan have been serving as PC(USA) missionaries in Bangladesh, home to the fourth-largest Muslim population in the world. In 1992 they helped the PC(USA) establish a formal partnership with the Church of Bangladesh (CoB). The Morgans advise and train workers for the health programs of the CoB, including community health programs in five regions of the country, two hospitals, and two nursing schools — all of which help the CoB reach out in the name of Christ to its Muslim, Hindu and Christian neighbors.