The journey to Symon’s place
A PC(USA) mission letter from Bangladesh
July 21, 2014
Getting to Symon’s place is not easy. First you have to climb up on the back of a bicycle rickshaw and let the rickshawallah take you through some crowded streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and down to the Buriganga River on the south end of the city.
You’ll have to dodge buses, trucks, people and maybe some goats along the way, and you’d better hold on tight so that when he stops suddenly to avoid crashing into a three-wheeled autorickshaw that has swerved in his way you don’t fly off into the air.
The road next to the river is the most crowded, especially when passengers are disembarking from the large, overnight riverboats arriving from the south. Then there are the men with baskets of mangoes, watermelons, papayas and bananas on their heads, unloading the fruits from boats onto trucks blocking the narrow road.
After getting down from the rickshaw, you walk through a dark, riverside marketplace and then down some steps and across a short strip of rubble and garbage to the small boats waiting on the edge of the water. Once you step into the boat, you have to take off your shoes and sit close to seven or eight other people on a straw mat and balance yourselves out so you don’t tip the boat over.
The scariest time crossing the river is when a big riverboat or cargo vessel comes barreling right toward you and you’re not sure if your boatman with his one oar will be able to paddle fast enough to get out of its way. You don’t want to turn over in this black, foul-smelling water filled with industrial and human waste. You think you would rather die than fall in and have to keep yourself afloat.
On the other side the boat doesn’t go all the way to the shore. You have to step up onto wooden planks supported by a makeshift, bamboo frame stretching out from the bank. You’re now in a shipyard filled with the sharp, unrelenting bang, bang, bang of hammers against metal — men knocking off old paint from the sides of ships.
From the riverbank you walk past a couple of wooden tea stalls where some rough-looking guys in T-shirts are smoking cigarettes and drinking strong milk tea out of small glass tumblers.
You still have about half of a mile to go, through crowded markets and over a small bridge across a canal lined with garbage, to get to the slums of Khejurbag, where Symon lives. His place is tucked away among a cluster of one- and two-room dwellings at the end of a dark, narrow alley.
I know the Khejurbag area well, because I’ve been going over there for years to assist in the work of the Church of Bangladesh’s Social Development Program. Currently I’m helping plan and implement activities promoting maternal and child health, clean water and sanitation, the reduction of substance abuse, and improved access to health care.
I also minister directly to the sick, which is how I met 6-year-old Symon. He can’t walk, so his grandmother carried him to me while I was seeing patients on the veranda of the program office in the area. Symon has cerebral palsy, with intellectual as well as physical disabilities.
His father deserted him when he was very young, and then last year his mother died. Now his grandmother dresses him, feeds him, gets him to the bathroom and carries him wherever he needs to go. Because of his disabilities he doesn’t get to go to school.
I try to visit Symon whenever I’m in the area, and I’m doing all I can to help him. Now I’m working on getting him linked up with physical therapy services in the city back across the river, but transportation is a big problem. Even with physical therapy he faces serious, lifelong disability. He has to live with this reality, and without parents, in the slums of Khejurbag.
The journey to Symon’s place is a spiritual one that, in essence, is every missionary’s journey. If you follow it far enough, you always end up here — at the side of people for whom you can’t make right all that is wrong in their lives.
You come to realize that your money and medical supplies are no longer of any value, and your know-how has become irrelevant. The journey strips you of everything you thought you had to give and exposes your self-delusions of saviorhood. By the time you get to Symon’s place, all you have to offer is yourself, the powerless you.
Then you find yourself holding Symon in your lap, and he is smiling. This is when you begin to understand that Christ has given you something of his own, something the journey can’t take from you. And you realize that Christ has sent you to this very person, at this very time, and for his own purpose.
My prayer is that I will be able to bring to Symon that which Christ has given me to take to him — the message of Symon’s belovedness and Christ’s promised hope of healing. Your presence with me gives me strength and courage and reminds me that Christ himself is with me, sustaining me on this journey. I pray that through my words, my hands, and my presence at Symon’s side, he will be able to hear Christ’s message, and believe.
Since 1989, Les and Cindy Morgan have been serving as PC(USA) missionaries in Bangladesh. In 1992 they helped the PC(USA) establish a formal partnership with the Church of Bangladesh, a denomination of over 19,000 members in 94 congregations, and since then have nurtured and helped carry out that church’s health ministries.
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