Walking through the chaotic, busy, noisy streets, we reached the entrance to Mother Teresa’s orphanage after just a few blocks. Like the Mother House, a few blocks the other direction, there is a sense of peace and serenity in the midst of all of the sounds of the city. Smiling was an important lesson Mother Teresa taught to all she met. It is a simple way to convey the joy and the love of God. And so the sisters, moving about their work, when they caught your eye, smiled, truly seeing you. As we walked into the large room with several rows of cribs and cots I saw a lot of smiling. The room housed the children with mental and physical disabilities. Only a few lay in these beds. Most were in chairs or special seats, sitting on the floor, surrounded by the sisters and the volunteers. The sisters bustled about preparing the meal, ladeling spoonfuls of food into metal bowls. With all the perceived sadness of children facing lives of indescribable difficulty and having been abandoned by their families, in this space was a sense of joy. The joy of being in the presence of these children. Joy at having the opportunity to serve and to bring a moment of peace to these lives.
Off in a corner one little boy stood staring out to the street below. He was dressed in a neat blue sweater and shorts. He stood at the window, hands clasped around the metal bars, swaying slightly to some internal melody, or perhaps it was the song of the honking cars. I knelt beside him and said hello. I was touched by the moment when he looked at me- directly at me, curious. He then looked back out the window. He seemed sad and that was an unusual thing in this place. What was he thinking as he looked down at the people, animals, and cars rushing past each other on the street below? I can’t know, but there was a sense of wistfulness in his face. And so I turned and looked with him. I took in the scene below and tried to imagine what it must seem to him. I prayed that my presence brought some comfort to him, but mainly I absorbed the peacefulness of just looking.
All too quickly I realized that the group was leaving and so I touched his shoulder and moved toward the door. He didn’t seem to notice me leaving. As I come to the end of a day filled with important learning, and meeting people doing extraordinary things for adults and children facing the challenge AIDS, it is this boy that stays in my mind. I came to India imagining that I would be doing for others, and what I found today was a little boy who helped me remember that beauty and the sweetness can be found in the midst of suffering by simply being in another’s presence and looking out a window. We’ve been consciously looking for the face of Christ in India and I found him in this boy and in this place.
I just couldn’t bring myself to leave so I asked a sister if I could help in any way. One child, in a kind of stroller, was unable to control her limbs. One person needed to hold her head still while someone else spooned the food into her mouth. The little girl wasn’t very hungry. She seemed more interested in this strange new face staring at her but I was able to coax her to take a few bites. The sister asked a few questions about our group, smiling her lovely smile. As I left I thanked her for the work she was doing. “Yes” she said, ” and now you will remember us in your prayers.” I smiled and thought, “yes, I will.”
- 01/17 Mariah, participant
While visiting the Arunima Hospice for people with HIV/AIDS, one of our participants, Anindya, became very sick. She needed time to recuperate before the one-hour congested traffic travel back to our lodging, so Mariah and I stayed with her.
The hospice was incredible! The staff, volunteers and children poured their love and care to nurse Anindya back to health. They set up a bed for Anindya and brought her medicine and bottled water. People walked in to check on her, some speaking Bengali and others being silent. Despite our inability to fully communicate, they all served as a ministry of healing presence.
While Anindya rested, Mariah and I swatted the many mosquitoes swirling around that tried to bite Anindya and the both of us. We were so grateful that we were taking our malaria pills! We were also visited by several mice that crawled in the edges of the room. Mariah and I shrieked, and we prayed that Anindya would hurry up and get better so we could go back to our lodging.
When Anindya got well enough to travel, she thanked the hospice administrator for his and the organization’s help. He replied, “No…. thank you! You gave us the opportunity to serve you!” We were humbled. All three of us got to experience this group’s ministry and love in action.
The hospice sent the three of us back to our lodging in an ambulance they owned and bought from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity
I am grateful to report that Anindya is feeling much better. Through this whole experience, we recognize the blessing bestowed upon us, and how wonderful it is to know and experience God’s presence.
- 01/17 Joselito, student
Creating Pathways to New Ways of Living
“I didn’t know what quite to expect— an organization that was working with former sex workers in making products so they could create an alternative life. Upon entering an old bedraggled former ice cream factory, down a narrow hallway that spilled out into an open courtyard with over two hundred women sitting knee to knee. Minutes later a woman begins praying in Bengali and the women begin following her, and then a song and more praying. I don’t understand the words but can understand the feeling of sanctity, specialness and community. A small white boy who looks to be two is passed from woman to woman being loved and hugged; the son of one of the Kiwi (New Zealand) staff. More so gas and more prayers and morning devotional ends.
FreeSet is an extraordinary organization. Begun by a New Zealand couple, Kerry and Annie Hilton who decided to answer the call of Divine service to work with the poor of Kolkata they moved their family including two children to India in 1992. Through a strange set of circumstances they found themselves living in the largest red light districts in Kolkata. Surrounded by women who had been sold, kidnapped or indentured into the sex trade the Hilton’s realized that creating an alternative for the more than ten thousand women caught in a cycle of poverty and oppression was needed. Beginning with only twenty women FreeSet is now a social venture that employs more than 200 women
One of the core beliefs of this amazing social venture is their commitment to change women’s lives through business. The Hiltons recognized that sex workers could attempt to leave their lives of prostitution and change their lives if girls and women were given jobs that could support their families. So FreeSet began a Free Trade organic t-shirt and tote bag business. Now more than 12 years later, the business has distribution all around the world, makes more than 60,000 t-shirts and countless jute and cloth bags.
Free Set believes that Indian women and girls need to be free and that the circumstances that keep them “on the line” where more than 20,000 men come to engage in the sex trade can be mitigated by offering women skills, support and God’s love. Our visit was a powerful witness to and of Divine’s love in action. We took almost a three-hour tour of the facilities, seeing every aspect of this powerful and innovative program. We were indeed honoured to witness to the transformation that is taking place for each and every woman involved. We strongly suggest that folks go to the website for more information. An interesting and small world, as we moved up to one of the sewing room floors there was a Whole Foods bag on the side of the entrance to one of the offices and I asked, who left a bag here — thinking we are in India why is there a Whole Foods bag here. Turns out Free Set has the contract to manufacturer the artisan tote bags that we buy in the U.S. An incredible example of “what a small world” it is.”
01/17 Diane, participant
“We can feel the sacred spirit embracing all these beautiful women – women who work “on the line”- prostitutes in Calcutta, many from a young age. The organization has its main focus on empowerment, healing, and loving these girls back into hope, agency, and joy.”
- 01/16 Michael, participant
The PSR immersion participants had an opportunity to learn about and participate in prayers with Freeset employees.
“Today I looked around at Freeset and thought, ‘this is exactly where I am supposed to be.’ I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the devotional wash over me. The Divine was so present in that moment. colourful saris hanging from the heavens, inviting me to remember to look up.”
- 01/16 Jennifer, participant
“This morning we visited a ministry that employs sex workers — a powerful experience. I will never forget the opportunity to pray with about 200 women employed by the ministry/business.”
- 01/16 Bernie, faculty
Time in Kolkata
Walking in Memphis, Kolkota
afternoon prayer on the speakers
trees covered in soot
uneven side walks designed to trip you up
still images of Mother Teresa
Coke, Lexus, Lay’s chips
traffic’s waste and burning garbage lingers in my nose
Then just as suddenly, food wafts in to replace the unnatural smell, leaving me in a constant nauseous state of craving food or dislodging a lung
my body tells me to sleep. it begins to tune into the heartbeat of Kolkata, more apt and ready than my mind
- 01/16 Lewis, participant
Meeting Seminarians at Bishop’s College, Kolkata
The Principal and faculty of Bishop’s College, a seminary run by The Church of North India, welcomed us warmly to their campus for a lecture on contemporary Indian theology followed by small-group discussions on ministerial training in India and the US today. As always here, we shared chai tea and biscuits with our hosts.
After a tour of their beautiful campus (with stops in their library and chapel), we paused to watch several of their students engaged in a lively cricket match on their “quad.”
In my small group discussion we listened to seminarians from northeast India describe their current and future ministries which often take place in congregations made up of several church buildings spread across great distances. In addition, we compared youth ministries in India and the US and talked about PSR’s new direction in changemaking. They were fascinated to hear about American students who come from the world of NGOs and are eager for theological education and spiritual formation.
What struck me most about our time with these Indian seminarians was their passion for spreading the Gospel in a country where Christians are a tiny minority (2-3% of the overall population). It was also inspiring to hear them speak with pride about India’s success in building a democracy made up of people from many different tribes, religions, classes, and languages.
We will have the opportunity to visit with seminarians in southern India in the next few weeks. It will be fascinating to learn from them and understand a bit about their preparation for Christian ministry in India.
- 1/16 Bernie, faculty
Prayer Space & Church at Bishop’s College:
Meeting with Bishop’s College seminarians:
Mother Teresa’s tomb:
“I wandered around Mother House, the place where Mother Theresa lived, worked and prayed. This was where she walked, this was where she taught, this was where she lived out her call. She lived in the same small room for 47 years, her door always open. The morning of her death she went to mass, talked with the Sisters. And, she had doubts. I could feel God’s sweet spirit in this place. I pray that on this trip and when we return we can leave our doors open: to the Spirit, to our questions, to each other.”
- 01/18 Ashley, participant