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Dealing with Death as a Student Missionary

Dealing with Death as a Student Missionary

Catherine Harwood’s Story of Losing Someone  

By Summer Boulais 

Catherine Harwood, a senior social work major, served as a student missionary at an orphanage in Bangladesh. After serving as a teacher for eight months, she returned home but got some sad news six months later around Christmas time. She found out one of the students she taught had passed away after she left.  

Harwood smiles with her fellow student missionaries from WWU. Photo by Abby Rodgers. 

Though Harwood was not on the career path towards teaching, she enjoyed leading lessons in several classes for multiple grade levels. She taught English to fourth graders as well as some advanced classes like Bible for seventh graders. The child that passed was one of her fourth-grade students that would have moved on to fifth grade at the time.  

Looking back, a lot of Harwood’s favorite memories occurred outside of the classroom. They played games ranging from cards to tickle tag. She had a special bond, however, with the one she lost after leaving Bangladesh.  

At the time of her student mission, Harwood still had braces as well as one of her fourth-grade students. They were the only one with braces, so they would get teased about it. Harwood would cheer them up by going to their orthodontist appointments with them to get their braces checked. “Their English wasn’t super good so there wasn’t a language connection, but they would give notes to me, and I liked not going through braces alone,” Harwood explained. [1] 

Harwood and one of the kids get a little silly for the camera. Photo by anonymous.  

This special connection with her student made the news of their passing very difficult for Harwood. “I would say I turned to God rather than turned away. It is frustrating, sad, and confusing when someone little dies because it doesn’t make sense,” Harwood stated. [2] It has been about three years since their death, so Harwood has found her greif to be less consuming with time.  

Harwood grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, so having God as her rock during this time was extremely helpful. “Death is a part of life and a part of being in this world,” Harwood recognized. “Frustration with God can lead to healing and understanding.” [3] She has experienced a lot of growth towards moving past this person missing from her life.  

Bangla Hope, the orphanage, is described by Harwood as giving the kids hope and teaching them about God, as well as instilling love and belief at the school. [4] This helped bring Harwood closer to God during her service. The belief that Harwood would see her student again one day was really helpful with coping. [5] 

SMs get to experience witnessing in a place that puts them outside of their comfort zone. Harwood explained how she enjoyed doing things outside of her normal daily life, and she felt the lack of typical comfort and distractions put her in a position to reach out to God more. [6] She is thankful that her spiritual connection grew during her time of service, and she was lucky enough to have had a friend from high school serve with her.  

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This photo shows the group of kids at Bangla Hope orphanage. Photo by Catherine Harwood. 

Harwood’s advice to those who lose someone back home or at the place of their mission is, “Find someone who they can talk to about it because either place everyone around you doesn’t know that person. Nobody I was with knew my kid but there were people willing to listen about the good and the bad.” [7] Though there was the exception of her fellow SM friends going through the same thing as her, this situation arises a certain type of loneliness of grieving someone who is unknown to the people close to you at home.  

Overall, Harwood is extremely grateful for the memories she made with the kids at the orphanage. She is excited to see her old student again one day because of the hope God has provided her and others who have lost someone they love. [8] 

References 

  1. Interview with Catherine Harwood, 11/29/21.  

2-8. Ibid.  

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