Finding a Daughter in Far-Off India

by Alan Stewart

From time to time, anyone who walks with the Lord will question how much of an impact his influence really makes. Last year, during the Hope for India 2004 Conferences, I was facing a miserable night of discouragement, having used an illustration during the evening crusade that fit well in our American culture, but was semi-offensive in the Indian culture. My heart was broken because I could have offended the people I was loving and trying to help. Early the next morning at the conference, I made eye contact with a thirteen-year-old girl in the AMG choir who gave a sheepish smile to me. She will never know what that smile did for me at that particular moment. No words had been exchanged between us, and I did not even know her name, but in her eyes I saw a reflection of myself. I knew this was a girl without a father. 

My mind began turning back the crinkled pages of time when as a two-year-old boy, my father walked out and deserted me. I remember how I built walls and sheltered myself to ensure I never was hurt like this again. I thought about all of the people I kept at a distance in my life because I was not sure if I could trust them with my life. All of these things I could see in the eyes of a little girl in India.

After I preached the first morning message, I did the unthinkable in the Indian culture. I left the seat of honor on the platform, and went to sit on the concrete pad with the girl in the choir. I saw adults in the crowd weeping and thought I must have offended them again. However, I was told my action in their culture was the same as Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. With a smile, this little girl had encouraged my heart, but by giving up my seat on the platform to sit on the concrete, I had honored the life of this little girl in front of a thousand  people.

I was only able to spend three days in her city, and most of that time was spent preaching and ministering. But, when it came time to leave, I knew I had to see her one more time and share my heart with her. I awoke early and went back to her school so I could say goodbye to her. When I arrived, they had to awaken her to come to the office of the principal. I held out my hands and she placed her hands into mine. I looked at her and told her, "I want you to know I love you with all of my heart."

Suddenly, the girl who had been so careful to guard her emotions shed a tear. She mumbled something in her Telegu language, and the interpreter told me, "she said this is the first time anyone has ever told her that he loved her."  When I stood to hug her, it was obvious she had never experienced a hug, as she drew back in fear. We parted ways, with me waving and crying from the car but with her standing frozen with a look of curious amazement on her face.

When I returned home, there was no question as to what to do—I was going to sponsor this girl. I learned her name was Sowjanya Talluri and her father indeed had deserted the family. The mother was left to care for the family on meager wages, and the AMG school in Bommuru was the only hope Sowjanya had for her life. Over the next year, I not only sent in my $22 a month, but I sent letters and made sure she received Christmas and birthday gifts. On occasion, I would get a response letter from her, and she was now referring to herself as "your daughter." My heart was ready for a return to trip to India.

As I left America in February for the Hope for India 2005 Conferences, I must confess, my heart was beating with excitement over seeing "my daughter" again.

She was noticeably absent when I arrived.  As I was walking around looking for her, I took notice of a small group of girls that I recognized as her friends; they were in a huddle, giggling as little girls do. 

Then it happenedSowjanya peeked her head out from behind the stairwell she was hiding in. With a smile as big as any smile I have ever seen in my life, she came running toward me. I was still remembering last year and how awkward she was with a hug, but not this year! With a swift move, she threw her arms around me and together we just wept on one another. She looked up and wiped the tears from my face, and then turned me around for all to see while patting me on the chest and declaring with great pride "MY Daddy!!" 

We were able to spend three days together, and I had some time alone with her to give her gifts from my family. I made the comment to the principal of the school that she was a different girl this year. This is the response she gave me:  "because of your influence in her life over the last year, in writing her and caring for her needs, she has become a confident young lady. She is doing well in her studies, and it is all because you took the time to be interested in her." I was deeply humbled, but yet so honored to be able to see what such a simple hug, smile, or letter was able to do.

The day then came that I had to leave.  I took her into the principal's office for a few moments to speak with her alone before I left. She was so broken that she dropped her head down like the shy girl I remembered from last year. I took her face into the palms of my hands, and I lifted her face to where we could look eye to eye. I said to her, "Sowjanya, you are not my child by birth, but last year when I met you, the Lord let you be born in my heart and you are mine." I handed her a watch for her birthday, and I told her, "every time you look at this watch on your arm, I want you to remember someone loves you, is praying for you, and is oh, so very proud of you." She cried on my shoulder for a couple of minutes and then when she regained her composure, she looked at me and held my face in the palms of her hands and said, "I love you Daddy."

For those of you who regularly receive and read the AMG newsletter, I am sure you are used to reading the needs from around the world and the challenge to join them by financially supporting the work. I have learned by the most wonderful experience, it is much more than giving money. It is giving myself and my heart. If you already sponsor a child through AMG, I want to challenge you, if the opportunity ever presents itself, to go visit the child you sponsor. It will forever change your life to do so. The price of the airline ticket could never match the value of what you will see with your own eyes. If you do not sponsor a child, I want to challenge you to take just one life and touch it in a simple way.

Although I have been in the ministry for twenty years, I am not sure that my eyes have ever seen a more clear picture of the reality of our influence. A little girl in India will never be the same because of the simple touches I have given to her life.  But a little preacher in America will never be the same because of the heart that a little Indian girl gave to him.

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