Several years ago, I had the privilege of spending a few months working on a consulting project in southwestern Bangladesh. During that time, I became friends with a young woman named Khaldeja. She was 5’1” and slender, with jet-black hair and eyes, and the deep brown, leathery skin that comes from working outside in a sunny part of the world. Each morning, I saw her sweeping the office building’s front entry and picking up litter. She would then collect the trash and proceed to wash the floors. Khaldeja’s hands were always rough, but her smile was soft, big, and bright. Her favorite color was red, and she had two red saris that she wore interchangeably, day-by-day.
As the months passed and my time in Bangladesh neared its close, Khaldeja asked if I would come to her house for dinner. I agreed, and indicated that I was very excited for the opportunity. Khaldeja responded with her familiar warm smile, but I detected a hint of sadness in her eyes. She said, “It is not good – you no like.” I sought clarification to no avail and was left to puzzle over her statement.
Three days later, my life changed.
It’s tremendously difficult for me to explain, but I still vividly remember the flood of feelings I experienced. The route to Khaldeja’s neighborhood meandered through various alleyways and fence holes, past garbage piles, open sewers, stray dogs, and half-naked children flying homemade kites made of sticks and discarded plastic bags. Still, I was not prepared for my arrival at Khaldeja’s house: A bamboo-framed shack with woven palm walls lined with blue tarps for waterproofing. The front room was really just the roof’s awning, and a well-worn path on the dirt floor led through a small doorway only three steps away. I squeezed through to find an inner room with a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and two stark wooden platforms with dry foliage underneath plain sheets (their beds).
The entire space was no bigger than ten by twelve feet.
Khaldeja indicated for me to sit on one of the beds and left the room. She returned with several plastic plates of bread and chicken. Her sister followed in tow with a large palm branch and began fanning me. I started to eat, but could hardly choke down the food – not because of its taste, but because of the lump in my throat and my determination to fight off the tears welling into my eyes. Before me stood my friend, just like any in the United States; a person I had spent hours talking with; an individual with hopes and dreams, favorite foods, and favorite songs… and this was her home.
A torrent of thoughts and questions, frustration and indignation instantly overwhelmed me!
I was absolutely determined not to pity Khaldeja or her family – I respected her too much to allow myself to react so dispositively. Nonetheless, I knew they could see the pity written plainly in my expression. Frustrated, I wanted to stop them from serving me, from fanning me, from everything! Instead, I just sat there because it felt more appreciative to let them continue. My disparate emotions tore at me. I knew that they had no idea what life was like for me in the United States, aside from the fact that it was completely unlike theirs – and I was glad for this, because I felt ashamed.
As you can imagine, in that instant, all the blessings I took for granted became suddenly and painfully palpable.
I learned that 11 members of Khaldeja’s family lived together in that tiny shack. After bidding them farewell and smiling as best I could, I hurried home. Once safely back in my apartment, I let my feelings flow. I cried, and vowed that I would try to shed my cultural notions of entitlement and do something that would somehow impact and improve other people’s lives, and justify my own.
I share this story with you to convey a small piece of my heart. Whatever else this place becomes, it’s important to me that it involves serving others because it’s the most tangible way of loving them and the example God has given us. For God so loved the world, He served (i.e., by sending His only Son to die so that we might live). What’s more, Jesus tangibly demonstrated this standard by washing his disciples’ feet.
[Jesus] sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”
-Mark 9:35 (The Message)
I realize this kind of story is common, and that we are confronted with so many worthy causes that it’s easy to become callous and assume that someone else will pick up the tab.
Let’s be honest, we all feel that way too often.
But recognize too that you are an important part of this fight, and more capable than you realize of making an impact! Though the world is full of suffering and injustice, every broken heart is an opportunity to step into the fray. Regardless of which cause moves you, the first step is to engage. This is one area where picking a fight is a good thing, so please let me encourage you to join in!
Leave a Comment: Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you felt convicted or inspired in a similar way? What were the circumstances? How did the experience change you?