GRACED MOMENTS By Father Robert Schultz

| April 18, 2016


In my last article I shared a few experiences from my 12-day pilgrimage to India this past January.  I could probably fill up several articles talking about the trip, but I’m sure that if I talk about it too many times, people might “change the channel,” so to speak.  However, there is one more India story that I would like to share.  In my March article I talked about my experience of meeting the girl whom I had been sponsoring for the past few years.  In this article I’d like to talk about my new sponsor child, Jeswanth Akula (pictured here).  But first, I should explain how my sponsorship of him came about.

Foundation for Children in Need (FCN) is the organization that had invited me to come to India.  They are dedicated to serving the poor in the rural villages of India, and while they do have programs for teens, adults and the elderly, a large part of their mission focuses on children.  The people that I traveled to India with were all FCN sponsors of children, and FCN specifically invited us so that we could see firsthand the work that they do.  The majority of sites that we visited were schools.  They were poor schools.  They were rural schools.  But they were schools filled with joy, laughter, smiles, a hearty welcome, and simply beautiful children.

For the first week of our trip our schedule consisted mainly in visiting school after school.  And at each site the story was the same: we were treated like royalty (and that’s no exaggeration).  The children lined up to welcome us, greeted us with profound respect, presented us with flowers, performed amazing songs and dances for us, shared with us their personal testimonies of how FCN sponsorship has helped them, and most of all – they were simply thrilled to see us.  They absolutely loved swarming around us to take pictures with us.

What struck me most was how respectful, grateful, and joyful each and every child was, despite the fact that they have so little, and that they live and go to school amidst such great poverty.  In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the very first school we visited that later that day I pulled aside one of the co-founders of FCN and said, “This experience has really opened my eyes.  I’m so moved by the amazing work that you do here.  It’s made me realize that I can do more, and that I spend money on things that I don’t need to.  So, I would like to sponsor a second child.”  And thus, they assigned Jeswanth Akula to me.

Jeswanth is five years old.  He is very shy, and when we spoke through the translator I told him that it’s okay to be shy, and that I was very shy in school too; he seemed to smile at that.  Like many of the FCN sponsor children (for those lucky enough to have both parents still living), Jeswanth’s father is a day laborer and his mother takes care of the home.  On their own they cannot afford all the costs for Jeswanth’s education, medical care, and clothing, and that’s where FCN comes in.  And the FCN staff is so good that not only did they arrange for me to meet Jeswanth when we visited his school, but a couple of days later, even though we had moved on to another location, they arranged for me to meet Jeswanth again, this time with his parents.

His parents only spoke Telugu (the local language), so unfortunately it was hard to communicate with them.  I wanted to tell them how honored I was to meet them and to be able to sponsor their son.  And while I don’t know if that message got across to them, I do know that I understood perfectly what Jeswanth’s father kept trying to tell me.  He kept saying something to me, and even though I didn’t understand his words, I completely understood his eyes.  I could tell that he was thanking me profusely.  I was very humbled by this, and I wanted to say to him, “No.  Thank you.”

To my surprise, he and his wife then presented me with a few flowers, as well as an India shawl – and that moment was, for me, one of the high points of the entire trip.  Here was this family who had so little, and yet they made the effort to not only come see me, but to also offer me gifts.  I felt both very unworthy and very grateful.  And it was moments like this that made it all worth it: all the time, money and effort that it took to travel to India was all made worth it by these graced moments, the moments when I could feel God’s presence all around us.

If you’d like to hear more about my India experience, and if you missed the presentation at St. Beatrice on March 10th, you’re welcome to attend our second presentation on April 30th at 9:30am at St. Beatrice Church.  On that morning Deacon Ron Pilarski and I (we traveled together) will talk about our trip to our St. Beatrice Religious Ed. students.  Deacon Ron and I both want very much to communicate to our young people the truth that you don’t need a lot of material things in life to be happy.  What you need is God – the God who manifests Himself through the love of family and friends, as well as through the graced moments of life.

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