Sailing over 7,000 miles to live in an under-developed country with no one other than your family might make the average American in 1957 at least a little nervous. Not Polly Hennig. Excitement, not anxiety, filled her as she spent over three weeks in a boat on her way to India with the only familiar faces being her husband and four children between the ages of two and nine.
Polly turns ninety years old today (December 5th) and looks back with a great sense of satisfaction and joy at where life has taken her. As a young couple, Polly and her husband Al were both interested in mission work, so when their church asked if they would be missionaries to India, they agreed without a second thought. Shortly after, Polly and Al packed up their belongings and family, and set sail for India, not knowing when or if they would set foot on American soil again.
Polly and Al were tasked with teaching at a school for children of missionaries in the mountains of South-East India. Originally, there were about 30-40 children in the school, so Al taught the upper level classes and Polly taught the younger children.
“We certainly didn’t have all the frills that you would find in the public schools in America, but we emphasized the basics. I remember nearly all our students graduated from high school and went on to college in America,” said Polly. She recalls that being in a foreign country was itself quite a learning process, saying it was more of an education than someone could get from reading a book.
Upon first arriving in India, Polly recalls being “interested and intrigued by everything.” One aspect Polly found to be difficult was the amount of poverty she experienced. She remembers riding in a van through neighboring villages offering milk, rice and medicine to those in need. “There is no way you can combat all the poverty, but if you can just help somewhat, that gives you much satisfaction,” said Polly.
One of the saddest days of her life was the day she had to leave India. Her husband, Al, became ill forcing them to move back to America and eventually to Fort Wayne, Indiana where she now lives. She said that some people “take to the life and the work there more than others, and we just thoroughly enjoyed our work there. We found it very rewarding.” Leaving behind all the work they had invested in the school and children left Polly and her husband heart-broken. Little did they know, however, that their work in India had only just begun.
Before leaving India, Polly met a woman who had a passion for helping impoverished and orphaned children named Dayavu Dhanaphal. This woman gave poor children clothes and food from her back door but wanted to help the children in a more structured way. Upon returning to America, Polly and Al decided to help Dayavu achieve her goal of caring for impoverished children in India. The Hennigs met with the Granner family, who were missionaries in India the same time the Hennigs were there. Together, the two families started fundraising to build a children’s home in Kannivadi, India.
The original plan for building the home was to house twelve children in need. After a short time, the families created a charity known today as “Bethania Kids.” They now care for over 1,000 children throughout South-East India in twenty different centers. When asked what she thought of how much Bethania has grown over the years, Polly answered, “Well, I am just grateful. Someday I am going to be in Heaven with all those children because we not only cared for their physical and emotional needs, but because we took care of their spiritual needs also.”