I am well aware of the topics I blog about. I know that most of my posts are fairly light reading and I'm ok with that. There is nothing wrong with exploring local eats, taking pretty pictures and rambling about gel pens. Fresh flowers are lovely and insight on my vocation as a mother is important. However, once in a while we all need to read something to put a little perspective back in our life. I believe this blog post will do just that.
My brother Thomas recently made a mission trip to Calcutta India. I asked him if he'd like to guest post on the blog about his experiences. This is what he sent me...
This past May I had the incredible opportunity to partake in a mission trip to Calcutta, (or Kolkata to the natives) India to serve the poorest of the poor alongside Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Life changing. I know it sounds cliché and all, but that’s simply what it was – life changing. The mission trip was through my university (Ave Maria University). Eleven other students and myself were led by our university president and vice president into 120-degree weather to serve those in need. Now, I’m gonna be honest - this trip was HARD. The unprecedented heat, (Calcutta just decided to have a heat wave during our trip #thanksobama), the physical and emotional stress, the affects of traveling halfway across the world in a span of 35 hours made for some intense jetlag, and eating curry for almost every meal got real old after day two. But regardless of all the challenges, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Being pushed outside of our comfort zones is exactly what we needed in order to fully embrace the spirit of service that had captivated Mother Teresa so many years ago.
One of the several highlights of the trip was our interaction with the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. The sisters embody the mission of Mother Teresa. Their ministry to the poor, their commitment to prayer, and the joy they so easily radiate is simply beautiful (but don’t get me wrong, these sisters can bring the heat - just like Mama T, they can be tough stuff when necessary). These sisters get it. For these holy women, it’s Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and Jesus in His distressing disguise of the poor. Having the opportunity to attend mass and holy hour in the Mother House with the sisters gave me strength when I most needed it. Being able to visit and pray at Mother Teresa’s tomb daily was such a peaceful experience that words fail to articulate such serenity. We also had the unique opportunity of meeting Sr. Prema, the current Superior General of the MCs (aka the big cheese). She told us that we must strive to create an interior silence within ourselves – for it is within the silence of our hearts that we will hear Christ. A minute with these sisters felt like a minute with Mother Teresa herself.
Now, the highlight of the trip was the service. I was assigned to work in Kalighat, the home for the dying and destitute. Kalighat was the first home founded by Mother Teresa back in the 50s and is often referred to as ‘Mother’s first love’. The men I encountered at Kalighat ranged from being extremely malnourished, mentally ill, amputees, etc. These men were at the end of the road – and they knew it. As a volunteer, it was expected of me to partake in chores such as feeding the patients, cleaning up after them, doing their laundry, helping them take their meds, and what not. As important as these chores were, I soon realized how spending quality time with these men is what they desired most. Sure these men were suffering from horrible physical aliments, but they were suffering from an even worse ailment – one of abandonment and loneliness. Whether it was holding their hand as they told me a story, or sitting in silence with them, all they simply wanted was a presence. Heck, I even had a guy sing to me in Hindi for like 10 minutes. As long as I was available to them, I was able to help reaffirm their dignity as a human person. Mother Teresa said the hunger for love is much more terrible than the hunger for bread. Kalighat offers the men there both love and bread. Such a beautiful place.
We typically determine the success of the mission trip based upon what kinds of tangible and concrete results are produced. Whether its building a clean water supply for people in Africa or offering medical service to orphans in South America, we want to see the fruit of the missionary’s labor in a physical form. These things are great and all, and it’s very easy to idolize the work of a missionary, but we often forget about the actual missionary. We tend to praise and focus on the work done by the missionary for those in need, while so easily forgetting the significant work that is done on the missionary in their service of those in need. I witnessed the extreme poverty of Calcutta while simultaneously recognizing my own internal poverty. The poor of Calcutta by no way live “comfortable” lives by our standards here in the West, yet their joyful spirits and cheeriness to life would argue otherwise. It leaves me pondering, “I live a comfortable life, why am I not more joyful than these people?” Calcutta taught me that I’m incapable of ending poverty in one simple mission trip, but I am capable of realizing how easily I take so many things for granted. Mother Teresa reminds us that service is not our work but God’s work. His work done by the missionary and His work done on the missionary. His work in Mother Teresa’s heart. His work in the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity. His work in Kalighat. His work in giving me the experience of a lifetime.