India is the seventh-largest nation by geographical terms and the second most populous. Of the 1.2 billion people living there, a mere 2.3% of them are Christian. That is to say that just over 2% of this vast nation has heard about the love of Jesus Christ and accepted Him into their lives. Just over 2% have heard Christ’s proclamation in John 14:6 where he boldly announces to God’s people that “I am the Way, the TRUTH and the Life”. In a land where the national motto is the sanskrit phrase “Satyameva Jayate” (Truth Alone Triumphs), I cannot help but be convicted even deeper that our Lord desires for India to draw near to Him. That He yearns for the hearts of these people who still do not know Him. That His heart aches for them to dwell in the fullness in His Divine Light, to be living in the TRUTH that they are all so desperately searching for!
Local men sitting taking a break on their rickshaws. They pull these man drawn “taxis” around for a living.
It was to this land that I was blessed to travel to this past winter for missions. Having heard about the poverty, both materially and spiritually, and the caste system, I had no idea what to expect while boarding my flight in Houston on my way to Kolkata (Calcutta). In my next few posts, I am hoping to attempt to share just a small part of the amazing things that God did and the things that He taught me while in the heart of India.
The view outside the bus station in Kolkata. This cement dividing wall separates the station and its parking lot for the junk yard where a number of families are living under these houses of sheets and tarps.
Over three years ago, the Lord placed India on my heart. Since then I have been praying and waiting upon the Lord to open that door up to me in my missionary life. This past winter, that desire was made real when God opened the door for me to lead a short-term mission trip to Kolkata and Puna for the three weeks before Christmas. With a group of 12 missionaries, our trip begins in the streets of Kolkata.
Washing laundry on the streets with whatever available water that can be found is a common occurrence in Kolkata.
The first half of our three-week mission was spent in Kolkata, with the better part of every morning being spent with the Missionaries of Charity in their homes of outreach. Each morning, our group would wake up early to join the MOCs for Mass above Blessed Teresa’s tomb at the Motherhouse. Following Mass, a communal breakfast and prayer we took off to serve for the rest of the morning. Walking to our first morning of ministry through the twisting and winding streets of the city, I am again struck by the foreignness of this new place. Having traveled to over 15 countries in the last three years, I did not think that I was capable to this feeling anymore. I had thought that ”foreign and new” was a thing of the past, that foreign was now my ”normal”. However this was not the case in Kolkata. The strangeness of this land extended far beyond the poverty and dirt that surrounded everything. It was a strangeness that stretched further than the sickness and death that was lurking around every corner. This was a strangeness that I had never truly witnessed before, the strangeness of being in a nation that was not predominately Christian. As I approached Prem Dan (Gift of Love), the home where I would be working for the week, I prayed, “Lord, how am I to serve you in a place where you seem so hidden? Please show yourself to me. Jesus, let me see that you are here.”
Beginning our mission in prayer at the tomb of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in the Missionaries of Charity Motherhouse.
Entering the home I saw that the world within these walls was much different than the world outside of them. There was still sickness, disease and even death… but amidst all of all this, moreover, ABOVE all of this was love! There was a love radiating from the Missionaries of Charity as they were already beginning to clean the residents, tend to their wounds, give them their daily medication, and wash their sheets and their clothes. However what was most striking to me was the way that they were loving the sick and the poor. Outside of these stone walls was a world in which the ”rich and elite” would move about, literally stepping over the poor and the dying. A world in which the privileged would do everything they could to avoid the very air being breathed by the “untouchables”, those who were unlucky enough to be borne into India’s lowest caste. And inside these walls was a group of servants, the Missionaries of Charity and many of the volunteers who were caring for these same people. They were feeding them, washing them, caring for their wounds and most of all giving them the love and affection that the world had kept hidden from them for so long. In their love I saw for the first time the real love of Christ in this land. Jesus was beginning to answer my prayer.
As my day went on, I finished washing clothes and bed sheets and hanging them out to dry, gave a mid-morning snack to many of the residents and then found myself looking around for another way to help. At this time the MOCs were now in full-swing with their medical help, giving daily medications to many and treating the wounds of many more. A result of much of these men’s sicknesses was the drying and cracking of their skin. Of the volunteers, those who wanted were able to take lotion and apply it to the men as needed to help with these side effects. One or two of the other guys grabbed a container of lotion and a pair of plastic gloves and began their work. I was hesitant. Many of the residents had open wounds, infections and worn skin. I soon remembered how St. Francis was convicted to embrace the leper and how his life was changed. Would I have done the same? Would I do so to these men? Yes, Lord. I walked over to the cabinet, grabbed the last container of lotion, left the plastic gloves behind and went to the nearest resident. “Do you want lotion?” I asked, pointing at the tub I was holding. With the nod of his head and extension of his arms and legs, I dipped my hand in the lotion and began rubbing it on his hands. He seemed surprised that I had not put on gloves. They all put on gloves. My skin is sick, my wounds are deep. But how could I? I looked at this man, into his eyes, and I saw my Jesus staring back at me. I had found Him!! He was hiding where He always does, in the sick and the poor. Why did I think it would be any different here?
As the morning wore on, I continued with my little mission… my mission to allow each of these residents to feel. Not to feel lotion and plastic, but to feel someone, the hands of another not afraid to embrace them. How could I place a barrier between my and my Savior who was looking back at me through each of them? As I rubbed their hands I felt the hands of Christ. I prayed. I thanked the Lord for placing those hands so willingly on the Cross for me and for all of these men in Prem Dan. I thanked Him for allowing me to help comfort those hands that very day. I prayed that He would not simply look back at me through these men’s eyes, but that He come to dwell in their hearts. I prayed that they would come to know Jesus and the love that He has for each of them. I do not know if any of these men were Christian, if any of them had the faintest idea of who Christ was, but for a few hours each morning, I was able to spend time with Him, quietly looking back at me through them. I was able to massage and comfort His bleeding hands, His feet that walked to Calvary and His back that brushed up against the grain and splinters of the Cross.
Residents of Prem Dan seated, waiting to be served lunch at midday.
I made this my mission, not only to feed these men, take them to the bathroom, wash their laundry and make their beds, but to let them know that they are loved. Not simply by me and my love or by the MOCs and their love, but by Jesus Christ and His infinite love. Being one of only a few of the volunteers to learn any Bengali, I was able to communicate and connect with the residents in a special way. I don’t know that I’ve ever said “Jesus loves you” more times in a week than I did that week in Kolkata. I also don’t know if I’ve ever gotten such an array of reactions to that simple phrase… confusion, anger, longing and intrigue. However the reaction that I saw rise up most in the faces of these men when I would speak those words in my broken Bengali was joy. A joy that I knew had come from Him, and one that I prayed would be lasting. A joy that would remain long after I, and everyone else had gone.
Ending a day of work, saying goodbye to the residents and leaving the home with some of the other volunteers.
My time working with the Missionaries of Charity was blessed beyond belief. Not only did they inspire me with their love and sacrifice, but it was working by their side, serving the lost and the lonely, the sick and the poor, that I was able to have my first glances of Jesus hiding in India. He showed me that He is there, that He is waiting, waiting to be known and waiting to be loved by those who do not yet know Him. Waiting to be given His rightful place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to be the One True God of India. He is there! He wants to be known, to be called upon, called upon to change their lives and their hearts! “But how are men to call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15)
Missionaries of Charity and volunteers washing the floors of the sleeping and eating quarters.
For India, and the rest of the world, to be shown the beautiful light of Christ, if they are to feel His love and His joy which we celebrate with our lives… we must go, we must be sent, we must preach, we must serve.
St. Francis Xavier was told by St. Ignatius of Loyola to go and “set all afire”. There is a fire that needs to be lit in India, throughout all of Asia, and it is only the love of Christ already burning brightly in the hearts of Christians that can create a spark and fan into flame a fire to burn throughout the land. St. Francis Xavier, after seeing India for himself write home to Spain saying, “Tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ!” Let us give up any ambitions that are not for the building of His Kingdom and the spreading of the Good News.
If you feel as though the Lord may be calling YOU to serve Him in a radical way, I would invite you to e-mail me at email@example.com for opportunities to do so. Also, anyone interested in coming to serve on a life-changing three-week short term mission trip to India this winter can contact me at the address above. May God bless you and may the peace and joy of Christ be always in your heart!