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by Austin Knowlton

Growing up, my introduction to India was primarily through film. By the time I was 15 I knew about Bollywood, monsoons and the Taj Mahal, but otherwise my knowledge of the country and its billions of residents was slim. That’s when my mother introduced me to Tamilarasan, a boy we started sponsoring through LPGM. While my parents financially sponsored him, I was responsible for communicating with him.

In truth, writing those letters felt like going through the motions at that point in my life. While I knew we were helping support someone less fortunate — an important lesson my parents had instilled in me — it
was not something that my teenage self truly appreciated. Only once I graduated from college and took over the financial sponsorship myself did I truly gain an appreciation for what sponsorship meant for Tamilarasan and his classmates.

For the price of a few Twins games and some $15 stadium beers, I could give a student not only an education for the year but also food, clothing and shelter? I had gotten to the age of 22 without once in my life having to worry about having food on the table, a roof over my head, or getting the schooling and opportunities I needed. I was grateful to have the chance to offer this gift and gain a relationship in the process.

Then I got to meet Tamilarasan. On a work assignment I spent the first
two months of 2020 in Bangalore, India, and arranged with LPGM to meet my sponsored student while I was (relatively!) close by. I thought that putting a face and personality to the name would be an amazing and rewarding experience for us both.

A five-hour cab ride later (only $50!) and I arrived in Tiruvanamalai and the Saron Boarding Home late in the evening. The staff greeted me with a fantastic dinner and a place to sleep. The next morning, I was able to meet Tamilarasan for the first time. It was a remarkable experience, even with the language barrier and Tamilarasan’s shyness.

Previously I had only known him through words on paper – and my life back in Minneapolis couldn’t have been further from his world. Yet, here we were, enjoying a meal of chicken biryani together. This is his favorite meal and something he told me through our letters, but which I’d never eaten.

I only had time for one full day with Tamilarasan, but the experience I had in that day — the outpouring of love and generosity — was truly incredible. I was humbled by all the attention I received, which included multiple ceremonies where I received a flower garland, dances and special events. The kindness I experienced at Saron was special, and something that I’ll never forget.

The high point in my day there was the time I spent playing cricket and volleyball with the students. The enthusiasm and pure joy the students had was infectious (I was mobbed and dragged in multiple directions). I have
a few selfies on my phone from those hours and every time I look at them, I
cannot help but grin.

Although I wish I would have been able to spend more time than I did at Saron, that one day was enough to make a mark on me and is something
I will never forget. There was so much love and kindness there, and ultimately it was a big part of the reason I returned from India with it being two of the best and most influential months of my life.

Hopefully I will be back to India, and Saron, soon.

Author Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry

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