“Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure!”
My journey as a pilgrim walking in the footsteps of a saint, working alongside her sisters, and encountering Jesus in the people Mother loved the most: “the poorest of the poor.”
I returned last week to my hometown in Kansas from serving with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and I can confidently say with a heart full of gratitude that I have gained an unforgettable experience. God’s graces were abundant throughout my time away, and I can’t thank my prayer warriors enough.
Each day, as I walked through the hot, dirty, and smelly streets of Calcutta, I dodged relentless traffic and stepped over piles of trash, scurrying rats, and sleeping bodies lying all over the ground. Often, I smelled pungent stenches, which I would rather not remember. The day was filled with constant noise, from the manic honking of horns to the random shouting coming from every corner of the bustling and chaotic city. I often smiled to myself at the sweet sound of the sisters singing at Mass, which cut through the clamor of the city and could be heard from outside. The sisters prayed each night in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and the gentle rattling of Rosary beads in the hands of those white and blue-striped angels who held so tightly onto the Hands of Our Lady brought me joy. In that beautiful but undeniably crazy “City of Joy,” I found a home.
I never thought, as a small-town Kansas girl, I would leave everything to go by myself to a large city in a foreign country. I never thought I would share a room with strangers from all over the world and would develop some of the greatest friendships I have ever made. I never thought I’d dress in baggy, ridiculous clothing, have perpetually dirty black feet, smell shamefully of everything imaginable, and wash both myself and my clothes in a bucket of cold water at the end of each day.
I certainly never thought I would find myself walking the same streets as Saint Teresa of Calcutta and would profoundly and beautifully meet Jesus Christ, hidden behind the most distressing disguise of the raw and broken bodies of the “poorest of the poor.” I never thought I could love so much, be taken so far out of my comfort zone, and could see through someone to encounter Jesus fully present in front of me. He was in the stench of bad breath, diarrhea, urine, sweat, and thick dirt. He was behind the wounded limbs and rotting flesh, which were crawling with hundreds of maggots and covered in flies. He was beneath the shrill and violent screams, the unforgettable wild eyes of the mentally ill who lashed out, and in the undeniably gorgeous smiles of the homeless women who wore dirty saris and had hair crawling with lice. He was in the empty stares of those who had lost all hope and in the unresponsive faces of abandoned children who did not, and could not smile.
I never thought that, in my walk with the Lord, I would be physically attacked, followed, screamed at, and be so haunted by the site of suffering that sometimes all I could do was to stand paralyzed and cry. I would feel sick to my stomach with fear because my heart ached for those who were treated like scum from their own people. I never thought I would hold someone with poor balance in my arms so that she could relieve herself on the ground, would find and cover up a dead body in the street, and would shower an abused lady who asked me, “Are you going to beat me?’’
I never thought that, as I passed bread to an intoxicated homeless man who sat in his own excrement amidst piles of rubbish, I would see him immediately break the bread in half and give some to his friend in the same condition next to him before he thought to take any for himself. I never thought I would hold the baby of a mother who, while giving birth on the side of the road, was the victim of the father who tried his best to set her on fire. I never thought I would have to hitchhike to get a wounded man to the clinic in time, would hear the shrilling screams of the unwanted as they were laid on the train tracks and left to die, would encounter a lady who was left to be eaten by rats, and would have to go everyday knowing my friends on the streets might not be there the next day. I never thought I would experience the indescribable joy of taking my favorite clothes and giving them to the hundreds of extremely poor and topless ladies who roamed the streets. I never thought God would use me to help reunite a poor man with his family, especially with my broken Bengali. I never thought I could influence volunteers to go to the Sacrament of Confession after not having been in a church for ten or more years. I never thought I would push patients in a wheelchair through the hectic streets of India and would pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet at a dying woman’s bedside.
I never thought I would laugh to the point of almost falling over at things that were not that funny, because the days were filled with so much sorrow and hurt. I saw Jesus in so many eyes and said silently in my heart, “I love you and rejoice in the Lord that you exist.” I felt so overjoyed, excited, overwhelmed, so loved and so in love, yet so hurt, rejected, embarrassed, angry, confused, helpless, terrified; I never thought I would be so fulfilled.
I never thought I would be given the opportunity to kneel on the cold marbled floor for hours in the same chapel, which Mother prayed so faithfully every single day. I shared in the simple, beautiful, and completely self-giving life of those incredible missionary sisters and grew so much in my friendships with them. I truly love and admire them.
I never thought that I would experience so profoundly the incredible mercy, love, joy, peace, power, forgiveness, presence, guidance, goodness, strength, promise of salvation, and pure grace of our loving Father in Calcutta and would be able to discover everywhere else the same incredible beauty that I found there. Our dearest Mother Teresa once said, “Don’t search for Jesus in far lands-He is not there. He is close to you; He is in you. Just keep the lamp burning and you will always see Him. Keep on filling the lamp with all these little drops of love, and you will see how sweet is the Lord you love.”
All for Jesus,