I have learned in life that everyone has to go through difficult trials. No one gets a pass to escape! It seems that during the most difficult of trials, sometimes the hardest thing to endure is not knowing—not knowing how long the trial will last; not knowing how it might end.
Those are the times that we have to dig deep within ourselves for conviction, for faith, and for strength.
I am reminded of a time early in our history that Rising Star Outreach was thrust into just such a situation. In order to bring foreign money into India you need to have an FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act) license. Issued by the government of India, these are not easily obtained. There is a requirement that you must wait a minimum of three years after organizing your charity, before you can even apply for this license. This means that you have to rely strictly on local funding for three years.
This is particularly difficult for a charity dedicated to serving families affected by leprosy. Leprosy carries a dreadful stigma in India, with many people even believing that it is a curse of God, given because a person is deserving of suffering as retribution for mistakes they may have made. To try to find sufficient funding in this atmosphere of stigma is nearly impossible.
Fortunately, there is the ability to get permission from the government to bring in foreign funding during this 3-year wait period ONE TIME, for a specific purpose. At Rising Star Outreach, we were very fortunate to be able to obtain one of these one-time permissions to bring in some funds. We used these funds to buy some land and build a school, which doubled as a dormitory for the students at night. We had just enough money left over to provide food for the children until the three-year waiting time was over.
Costs rose faster than expected and it became quite difficult to provide for the students and teachers as we neared the end of required three-year waiting time. We applied for our FCRA license well before this period ended, fully expecting to receive the license.
However, our resources were being pushed to the limit as the awaited time approached. Rations for the students and staff were cut. In several instances we were fortunately provided some food by local residents. We felt like we were limping to the finish line. Then the unthinkable happened.
The deadline came and passed without hearing any word from the government. Each day became a trial of faith, just to get enough food to feed the students at the school along with the teachers and housemothers. Finally, we ran completely out of money and food.
Our director in India wrote to me to say that we needed to send the children home, or they would starve. But the catch was, if we did not have a functioning school, we could not receive our FCRA license.
This was one of the most desperate circumstances in my life, as I sat staring at my computer after receiving that letter, not knowing exactly how to reply. I had prayed relentlessly during these past few months for our FCRA license to come through, but weeks and weeks were going by with no response from the government.
As I sat in a stupor, without a clue as to the best path forward, the light began to fade from the room. I had been sitting there for more than an hour, and evening was now approaching. I knew that our director would be anxiously awaiting my response.
So many little lives hung in the balance of my decision! So many years of work to create a chance for these kids and to give them and their families a hope for a better future. I felt a 500-pound weight weighing down on my chest.
Slowly, I finally began to type. “Do not send the children home. Dig up worms if necessary, but don’t send the children home.” I stared at those words for what seemed like forever. My room was now almost completely dark. With a lump in my throat, I finally pushed send.
The next morning, I booked the first flight I could get to India. I packed my bags with packaged food, knowing that it wouldn’t even be enough for one day, as we had more than 150 students. But I felt driven to go and be with these children and leaders I loved so much.
When I arrived in India at 6:00 in the morning, after traveling a day and a half, I dropped into my bed to try to get at least a couple hours of sleep before heading out to our little school. I slept longer than expected, and at 8:00 AM I received a call telling me that I needed to get to the school immediately.
I quickly showered, dressed and ran out without breakfast. My car was waiting. During the two-hour drive to our campus, my heart was heavy, and I kept trying to focus on what I could possibly say to the children and their teachers. But the truth was, I didn’t have any idea what I could say.
When I arrived at the campus, I noticed that everyone was gathered in front of the school/dorm. The children seemed excited There was a banner on the wall. Due to the architecture of the school I could only make out the first three letters, “C-O-N. . . “As I ascended the steps to the main landing the children all started jumping up and down, clapping and laughing. Two children pulled at each of my hands to make me hurry my steps until I could see the entire sign. It read, “Congratulations on the FCRA!”.
I looked speechlessly at our director, who now was also smiling and clapping. “We got it?” I asked breathlessly. “Yes! Yes! Yes!!” everyone shouted. Tears were stinging my eyes. “But how . . .?” One of our older kids stepped forward and said, “Becky auntie, in India we have a great tradition of fasting taught to us by Mahatma Gandhi. We students decided to have a fast and ask God to give us the license. We got a call this morning from the government to inform us that the license had been granted and our formal license will soon arrive.” At this point, I was also laughing with the students through my tears.
Not every trial ends up with a happy ending, but just finding the strength to endure however long the trial may last, is what I seek. On days when it seems my current trial seems to be lasting forever, I can remind myself of the time we waited seemingly forever to get news that we had received an FCRA license. Every day during that time, we feared for the well-being of our students that we loved so dearly. The wait was agonizing. Not knowing the outcome was even more agonizing.
I have no idea how long the Covid-19 trial may last, but I’m guessing that most of us have an experience we can look back on that may help us muster the strength to go on through this trial. One thing I do know for sure, is that God is aware of little leprosy-affected children in a remote village in India who needed a license to continue their schooling and He is most certainly aware of each of us as we struggle, not only to endure, but to even find blessing in this journey. May you find strength in those memories and may peace and health be with each of you!