A Heart For The World
I have a hard time trying to figure out my initial reactions of interacting in a hurting world.
I was raised in church for as far back as I can remember. I remember the Gospel in many forms (most of which allowed us a snack of the cookies that you can fit on your fingers like rings, and red koolaid that stained your lips - I enjoyed that.) I felt comfortable as a kid…and growing up in the Church.
All my best friends were avid church-goers and it was just out of the question to NOT go. It’s as simple as that. I went to all the camps and felt the spiritual high that tends to encompass your life for the following two weeks upon returning home. You contemplate going into the ministry, or starting an outreach in your local town. Then, real life sets in and you realize that this “stuff”, as I had come to call it, is not very ordinary and all I wanted to do was fit in and be comfortable.
I was used to the outreaches where the rich white kids would go play with little black kids in the poorer parts of our cities, and the places we visited for camp. It always made me uncomfortable, but I also remember the conviction I had. I was never quite sure what to do with it all. So, I mostly ignored it and stuck my head back into video games, music, and my feeble attempts to catch the eye of all the girls.
Upon entering my second year of college, I read a book called, “Under the Overpass” by Mike Yankoski. It was the story of Mike and his buddy Sam living homeless for 6 months in various cities across the States. Among many of their heartbreaking stories, were the ones where the Church had neglected the poor and failed to show compassion towards the “least of these”.
Now, I have heard the Gospel preached in several ways, but for some reason, this stuck out to me like nothing I had ever heard. These were humans, just like me, forced by a crushing economy and a health care system that loves the rich, to live on the streets. I was destroyed. Jesus’ upside down kingdom started to make sense.
The BSU at my college offered summer internships to various mission fields. I read about Chicago and fell in love. I was to work alongside the homeless community in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the infamous “Chi-town”.
I fell hard for the city. I loved my sisters and brothers that lived on the streets. As we hugged, “Momma Nicki” (as she told us to call her), would come in for our dinners we hosted a couple of times a week, and kiss our necks and smile so brightly. Homelessness and poverty were no longer a number or a story, but a hug…and a kiss. It was not all lovely, as several fights tended to break out...the smell of alcohol made its way into our church from time to time.
Street life wears on people. You can see it in their eyes that some have lost their shine. Stories of rape and abuse line the walls and couches where we sit and drink coffee and eat spaghetti. They were my sisters and my brothers and I was learning to hurt with them. I still think about them a lot…especially when Chicago welcomes its harsh winter. I could go on and on about Chicago…but it was only the beginning of a broken heart.
I read a book in Chicago called, “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. It was filled with beautiful and terrible stories of our aching world. But more importantly, it spoke so much great hope into my life. I was aching to be with the ones in our world who are forced and born into lives of great pain, along with even greater spiritual and physical poverty.
I read about Mother Teresa, and her home for the dying and destitute in Calcutta, India. I wept several times reading stories about the great pain and poverty of Calcutta. Mother Teresa had a saying to people who wanted to know what she did in India. She would always reply, “Come and see”.
So, I did. And I did very carefully because I have a lot of family that I make incredibly nervous with my sometimes-wild ideals. I was not a radical by any means, but I knew I needed to learn how to love people better. So, I found an organization by the name of “Word Made Flesh” – a missional Non-Government/Non-Profit organization that “serves Jesus among the poorest of the poor”. I was instantly in love with what they did and the changes they are making in some of the darkest places of our world.
I interviewed and filled out several applications. I got a call one day saying that I had been accepted to the Calcutta field and I went wild! The news was all but bittersweet to many…as I had grown close to many friends and knew that this would cause much worry to a lot of my family. In August I would be heading to Calcutta, India for four months to learn how to love better and to be the change that I wanted to see.
I never wanted to be a missionary. The word missionary has gained new meaning to me as well. If by “missionary” you mean – ‘one who sets out to share the Gospel with the world’- then, sure. But…if you accept that definition, then we are all missionaries. We don’t have to touch the corners of the world to show and share God’s love.
Since the language barrier would be evident, my words would mean little. So, my actions had to show others. I needed to be the hands and feet of God’s love - -who did the same for us. It was a culture-shock, no doubt, but I fell emotional for the things I saw. Baby’s defecating on the streets as you walk, men urinating in broad daylight (just because they can) and the reckless taxis that somehow dodged people and cows at the same time. I was a little impressed…needless to say a little worried we would somehow not make to where we needed to be. Ha!
But, we were fine.
Calcutta’s brokenness slaps you in the face daily. Beggars with their crying children pulling at your arms for a few rupees…victims of malnutrition, injustice and poverty breathing down your neck when all you want to do is close your eyes. It is easy to numb this pain in the comfort of our own country.
My work at Mother Teresa’s (or Momma T’s) began and it hit me like ton of bricks. I walked into the hospice she had built long ago, which they named “Kalighat”. This was the home to the dying and the destitute. This would be my first lesson in learning to love my brothers. Many had no fingers, hands, nor feet. Gangrene wounds would be infested with maggots. You grew used to it. You learned not to see them as patients but as children in the eyes of God. We were the same, though somehow I was born into a different world.
We would bathe the men and dress them in fresh clothing. We would spoil them…and give them massages. (Some would learn your face and would “milk the system”, but we would sit with them...they deserved to be spoiled.) I didn’t always want to clean up when they relieved themselves all over their beds, but you learn to do it. You learn to do the “small things, with great love.” People would come, and some would pass away within a few hours…and other would be there throughout my four months in India. It was an experience I think about every day. I continually see their faces..and hear their cries. They are my brothers and they are God’s.
Part of my work in Calcutta was also to spend time with women who were forced and born into prostitution in one of the most infamous red-light districts in Calcutta. We had learned haunting statistics that made me question God’s reason for our existence. We spent days at Sari Bari, the business created to help women out of the sex trade. They were our sisters and the chains of extreme poverty and injustice no longer held them. They all had a new life in the making.
I was able to visit the red-light district several times…hanging out with some of the women’s sons, as we drink soda and ate chips while playing poker on the rooftops of brothels. Often times, I looked towards the sky in wonder how I had made it here. Sitting on rooftops while the harsh reality set in that their mothers sell their bodies to put food in their bellies - an often harsh reality, met with laughter and singing. My heart grew full, and often times bitter.
My time in Calcutta will never leave me. It is now my responsibility to be an advocate and to share what I’ve seen, but to also help be the change. I have learned what it looks like to love people out of their hells, and into a life full of dignity and hope.
But, as for today, I will continue to focus on doing those small things with great love. I know I will see Calcutta again. I know my heart is constantly changing and I am now responsible for being in the forgotten places of our world. It is a feeling that has left me with a hunger to love deeply and instantly.
Brothers and sisters, the world needs what our hearts have to offer.