Our journey began a week ahead of the main group's arrival along with two others, Melody, who we flew over with, and Jeremy, who we met up with once there. Just upon setting foot outside our plane, we were met by a whole different world from the one we know. All around us could be heard the clamor of honking horns, ringing rickshaw bells, and people still bustling around even at 2:00 AM. Dr. Moskala, the contact for our team and the missionary dentist who works full time in Bangladesh, met us in Dhaka and after the warmest of greetings, proceeded to take us to the Adventist Dental Clinic, where we would be staying for the first week.
As soon as we pulled on to the streets, Dr. Moskala turned to us and said, "Now you will have to forget all the rules for driving... or just close your eyes!" We immediately saw what he meant, as not only were we driving on the other side of the road than what we are used to, but every square inch of road was occupied by some type of moving object - whether it was a car, bus, truck, rickshaw, pedestrian or animal, and each went forward (honking, beeping, ringing, yelling, or barking) whenever there was a free space amidst the chaos of travelers all weaving in and out of each other!
On the way to the clinic, we saw many sights, but one most sobering was that of a very thin man walking along the road with his hands behind him and his back to us. As we drove past, I realized he was completely naked. This one man was in many ways, a picture of the world's great need. Had we been able to stop, even Curtis' worn, give-aways would have been a luxury to that man; but his greater need was that of the hope we can only find when clothed in Christ's robe of righteousness. Though we knew our ability to share hope was limited to relieving physical suffering, that was the greater hope we longed to share if and when the doors would open in this country someday.
That first evening, Dr. Moskala took the four of us to get food at a restaurant safe for foreigners to eat at. We had not yet walked along the city streets, and absolutely nothing could have prepared us for the experience and the levels of poverty that we saw. We were met by a stench that seemed to pervade every turn and that was nearly unbearable in some parts. Small children followed us, some pulling on our shirts, or reaching out to grasp a finger. One man, whose legs had been eaten down to stubs, probably by leprosy, dragged himself along side us.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we could hardly eat knowing that there were multitudes of hungry people on the streets outside us. By US standards, Curtis and I don't consider ourselves anywhere near being wealthy, but here we found we were the wealthy. Going somewhere like the alleys of Dhaka will show any American just how much we have to be utterly thankful for. The need around us is so great. It is almost overwhelming to the point you hardly know where to start. When we learned that in Bangladesh bananas can be purchased for 2 to 5 taka ($1 US dollar equals 70 taka) and that for $10 (the same cost as our meal that night) you could feed 350 street children, we determined while in Dhaka we would not eat out again and instead use the money to feed the hungry people around us!
On the way back through the streets, the children especially touched all of our hearts. Two little girls became our shadows and followed us all the way back to the clinic, where we gave them each a sticker and some bananas. Along the way, we saw one naked baby just sitting on the sidewalk playing with a little piece of dirty cardboard. How I wished we could have taken him home with us so that his life would not continue on in poverty and find him just as the poor man I had seen at the airport the night before. But what could we do? Around every street corner was yet another child in need. When we returned from our first venture through he streets of Dhaka, we were moved to tears. Curtis remembered the words from the hymn entitled, Let Your Heart be Broken - it truly spoke to the heart of what we saw and felt that night.
Visits to the Schools in Dhaka ~ During our week in Dhaka, Dr. Moskala arranged for us to visit several of the little schools in the area, which he had helped to start. These were not at all the types of schools we in America are used to. Some had dirt floors and bamboo walls, but to the families living in the slums, these little schools were places of great hope.
On Wednesday, our translator Peter, arrived in front of the Dental Clinic with two rickshaws. We had seen these bicycle-type taxis the previous day, but could hardly believe now we were actually going to ride in one. That was truly an adventure, but by God's protection and the amazing skill of our drivers, we made it safely to the first school at Nojabari. There, we were greeted by a room filled with eager children, and gifts of flowers they had picked for us. Melody and I shared stories, and health lessons, and we all enjoyed singing together.
Later, on our journey back, we got to experience riding in a rickshaw in the rain! As soon as the rain began falling, our driver pulled the "convertible top" over our heads and unfolded a tarp over our laps, and we continued onward through the streets.
Later, when we visited another school in Nojabari together with Dr. Moskala, we learned that the little schools in Dhaka have a special program where they provide one banana to each child each day. Dr. Moskala told us that for many of the children, this is the very best meal they will get that whole day. At the next schools in the slums where we visited, we got to help pass out bananas to the students. Each child seemed so thankful to receive their banana. After leaving, Curtis and I decided that even though we may not be wealthy by the standards of some, we wanted give what we could to help these schools continue providing bananas for the children in the slums.
The next morning, before going out to visit more schools, we asked some of our translators if they could take us into town so we could get more bananas. Again, we were met by the great needs all around us.
Later that day, we visited a little school in the countryside of Bonorupa. This was among the first that Dr. Moskala had helped to start, and Mary (one of our translators) taught at that school. Upon our arrival, we were given more flowers, and although we were asked to share stories and health lessons, this time the students gave us a beautiful performance, too!
Thursday evening, we were joined by several others on the mission team. Before going to visit more schools Friday, we all went into town to buy some food. Mary was our faithful guide and gave us safety lessons on crossing streets in Dhaka.
Later, Friday afternoon, Dr. Moskala took all of us to visit a school at Banani. After, we took a big group picture.
Back row left to right:
Curtis, Janine, Jeremy, Dr. Moskala, Melody, Carrie, Tim, Daryl, Joy, Raja
Curtis, Janine, Jeremy, Dr. Moskala, Melody, Carrie, Tim, Daryl, Joy, Raja
The last school we visited was located in a small Hindu village, nestled in the hills of Pakeja. At our arrival, the children came out to greet us with flowers, but this time they not only gave us bouquets, but they also showered us with fragrant petals as if we were most honored guests.
From the river dock, where we arrived, we followed everyone back into the village to the little one-room school house, where we began singing songs with the children. Before we knew it, nearly the whole village had gathered outside the classroom door. Soon, there were even more people outside peering in, so we brought the students out to the front steps of their classroom and began singing and sharing with everyone.
Dr. Moskala had visited this village some time back, and had sharied with the people there about health matters. We learned that at his first visit, he had called for the villagers to make good decisions, such as, to stop chewing paan, stop smoking, drink only water clean sources, and wash their hands before eating. That evening between songs, Dr. Moskala asked the crowd if anyone had made a decision for better health, and several hands shot up. One young lady smiled widely, showing her still unstained teeth, and declared that she had made a decision to stop chewing paan. Another man said he had decided to stop smoking. That evening, we were deeply impressed with the needs for simple health education in these regions, and how open people were if they could but gain information.
As the sun began to set, Dr. Moskala addressed the whole crowd, saying, "Today, we have received special visitors all the way from America. Soon they will have to leave, but one day we will receive the greatest visitor - the Great Ranee. What a beautiful day that will be! We want to be ready for that day and then we will all be together." We longed to be able to share more with these precious people, but we knew that inspite of our limitations, seeds were being planted in hearts, which the holy Spirit could watervafter we were gone.
The people in Pakeja so greatly appreciated our visit, that as a thank you they wanted to show us their Hindu temple before we left. We later heard later that this was a rare honor because Hindu villagers do not often show foreigners their temples. But looking in at the god they had erected there, a painted statue of a multi-armed creature, filled our hearts with a wonder at how people could put their faith in something like that. But what if we had been born there in that little village? If that is all you ever come to know, one can see how it would just be a way of life. It was so incredibly eye opening to see the desperate need this world has for a knowledge of Christ. In America, we don't know how much the "other side of the world" suffers - not just on the physical level, but even more acutely, on the spiritual level.
As we parted, we were left with a picture of our Bangla friends' faces as they waved good bye. What precious people. Going to a place like this made us so much more thankful for the blessings we have in our own homeland. While we don't want to take for granted the abundance of good food we have in America, and of things like shelter and clothing, most of all we don't want to take for granted the freedom we have to worship our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. One of our friends who helped organize the medical mission trip said, "Last year we nicked the surfaced, this year we scratched the surface... but I want to take a big chunk... I want to bring my Bangla brothers and sisters to Christ." That is our hope, too. We don't know if we'll be able to go with the medical team again next year, but we really hope the videos that result from this trip will open many eyes to the great needs in Bangladesh.
The following are pictures from our second week at the clinic in Jalchatra. Watch the video to hear the rest of the story!