BANGLADESH (BP) -- Najia Khatun* knows what her life would be like without the Light of Hope Center in Bangladesh. She knows she would be hungry. She knows she would be uneducated. She knows she would be working long hours at a garment factory.
Najia knows -- and she is grateful.
"Before there were a lot of problems in my family. There was no money for food," 17-year-old Najia said. "Now I have a job, and I am able to help my family. I am the main breadwinner in my family."
Najia and her 14-year-old sister, Amila Khatun,* began studying at the Light of Hope Center when it first opened in September 2006. Light of Hope continues in operation today with help from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.
Najia and Amila -- like the other 12 girls who come to the center -- live in a slum of tiny bamboo houses that have tin roofs and mud floors. While these seem to be only temporary homes set on swampland or along railroad tracks, the families do have landlords who expect rent money. Najia's father comes and goes, taking money from the family but never contributing any. Their mother doesn't work. One older sister is sick, and the other siblings have married and moved away. Najia and Amila are expected to bring home money, however they can get it.
Some of the girls at the center were raised by beggars to become beggars; others have mothers who work as prostitutes, a center staff worker said. But inside the Light of Hope Center, that world fades away. The girls eat a healthy breakfast, take showers, put on clean school uniforms, hear Bible teaching and sing Christian songs, and then begin their studies in the Bangla language, math, spelling, science, grammar and English. Before they leave to go to their places of work as paid apprentices or trainees, World Hunger Fund dollars feed the girls again -- a hearty lunch of rice and lentils with vegetables, eggs, fish or meat.
"Experiencing even in a very small way the lifestyle of beggar families ... just being around them on the street, almost makes you feel helpless, like there's nothing you can even do for them," said Isla Metzger,* who recently came from the Midwest to minister for six months at the Light of Hope Center. "But then I was reminded that these girls are from those circumstances and that this is something that can help them get out of that."
Providing lasting help -- the kind that will help cure hunger and prevent the cycle of poverty from proliferating -- was exactly the goal of the two American Christian women who founded the center.
"I knew that just giving money was not going to help the situation," Southern Baptist Geri Hennerman* said. "I wanted to do something that was going to help them long-term. Sharing Christ with them is going to help them for eternity; but also to give them some skills and education, that will help them get jobs and provide for their families."
Najia works as a Bangla tutor and hopes to become a translator. Amila has studied under a housekeeper, has learned to make jewelry, and currently attends a sewing class. Najia's best friend, Lili Sabarna,* works as a nanny in an American family's home.
"For my family, they have given me a job, and my family is able to be helped by food or medicine," Lili said. "I have learned how to read and write, school in general. I've learned about Jesus. I've become a believer. I don't know who gave us that but....."
Lili's family is Hindu; Najia and Amila's family is Muslim, as are the families of most of the girls. Several of the girls, including Lili, Najia and Amila, are now followers of Jesus Christ who are growing daily in their walk with Him, said Jane Wise,* the center's director.
"Thank you so much for allowing God to provide through your giving," Wise said. "It is allowing the girls to continue coming to the center."
The Lord directed Hennerman to Zechariah 9:16-17a, as part of her vision for the center. It says "the LORD their God will save them.... They will sparkle in His land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!"
"Most people in the world would just see them as nothing, as trash, but I was seeing them as these precious jewels, basically that God was going to take and make them something," Hennerman said. "We've just watched some of them come from little girls to become little women. And they are women who love the Lord and want to serve Him."
Yes, Najia is grateful, for she knows well what life would be like if there were no Light of Hope Center.
"I would be at a garment factory. I would not know how to read or write. I would not know about Jesus," she said. "I think that God directed to my house because He knew that one day I would follow Him and decide to go His path for my life. I know that God placed this center here for me."
*Name changed. Goldie Frances is a writer in South Asia.
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