Happy Thanksgiving From Rich Stearns

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Rich and Reneé Stearns shared their Thanksgiving meal with Dipshikha, who teaches the children of brothel workers at a World Vision Child Friendly Space in Bangladesh.

After rearing a house full of children, Reneé and I are empty nesters. Sometimes I wander into my children’s quiet bedrooms just so I can miss them. But on Thanksgiving, our house will be alive with children and grandchildren. There will be noise, laughter, some squealing and maybe a few meltdowns, all leading up to Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving at the Stearns house is both vegan, for my daughter Sarah and her family, and carnivorous, for the rest of us. Reneé sets the table with a reminder of my former life as CEO of Lenox, the china we have collected over the years. She makes the turkey and, since 2005, a delicious dish called amaretto sweet potatoes, courtesy of World Vision videographer Tom Costanza.

Thanksgiving is simply wonderful.

But this year, as I preside over a family so fortunate, I know I will be thinking of a different dinner that Reneé and I are thankful for—one that took place a few years ago at Dipshikha’s home in Jessore, Bangladesh.

Reneé and I were in Bangladesh to see World Vision’s work in child protection. Staff, who reminded us of angels, teach the children of sex workers—boys and girls who live in the brothels with their mothers, who would have no chance at education if not for World Vision’s Child Friendly Spaces.

We visited one Child Friendly Space on an island made of mud. It was hellish. But World Vision provided a bright spot amid the desolation.

Dozens of children of sex workers filled a brightly decorated room capped with a sturdy tin roof where they are taught the alphabet, math, songs, and how to draw by former sex workers who now can call themselves teachers.

Dinner with Dipshikha

Five days a week, Dipshikha Roy teaches the children of sex workers at the Hat Khola brothel—18 squirrely, noisy boys and girls who love the daily respite from life across the street in the brothel.

After a visit to a Child Friendly Space, we went to dinner at Dipshikha’s house. Dipshikha, a young widow, lives with her mother and father-in-law and her beautiful daughter Chitra.

The family lives simply on Dipshikha’s basic salary. In fact, Dipshikha does not have a table, so Reneé and I sat on her bed to eat our dinner.

The food kept coming. No turkey of course, but curry, rice, and cucumbers and carrots cut beautifully into shapes that would have fit right in at the Waldorf Astoria.

The neighbors came to watch us eating on Dipshikha’s bed. When Dipshikha lamented that she had no table, Reneé told her that this is how we eat with big groups in the United States. We always put our plates on our laps.

Dipshikha’s daughter, Chitra, presented me with a beautiful gift — a pencil drawing she’d made of Jesus on the cross, surrounded by cut flowers. “I saw His picture on the internet,” she said. What a precious gift from a precious girl. 

Reneé and I will remember the feast at Dipshikha’s home as we welcome our family for Thanksgiving. 

Our family

Because of World Vision, our family is much bigger than five children, their spouses, and three grandchildren. Our family includes 46,000 World Vision staff and the million people  with whom we partner around the world.

It is the same for all of you. You are part of my family as well. Joined together, our families cover nearly 100 countries around the world. I am thankful every day for each of you. World Vision’s most valuable commodity is people—our staff and our supporters.

Without you, there is no us. Without you, we cannot reach out and touch the poor. We cannot live out Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This Thanksgiving, whether you are sitting at a table, balancing a plate on your knees in the living room, or even sitting on a bed, let’s give thanks for one another and for women like Dipshikha.

They are the servants of God who connect us with those whom Jesus loved the most.

Photo ©2014 World Vision, Jon Warren

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