Finding Your Calcutta
- Thursday, October 23, 2008
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25:40, NIV
In Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service, college professor Mary Poplin tells her story of volunteering for two months in Calcutta, India, with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.
It was the summer of '96, and being a new Christian, Mary was on a quest to explore all the parts of the body of Christ and to understand what it means to serve Christ as his follower. But never before had she been so close to such outward poverty or exposed to the "least of these" - those who no one else wanted to help.
During her time working in a home called Shishu Bhavan, Mary cared for children ranging in age from newborn to 10 years old - some were handicapped or deformed, others were sick with illnesses such as malaria or tuberculosis, and still others had mild forms of retardation. While helping these helpless, needy little ones, she came to realize that not all poverty is apparent to the human eye.
"Mother [Teresa] told me how people in the West are poor," she says. "In fact, she considered us the poorest of the poor spiritually because our physical comfort makes us believe we do not need God and our busyness makes us ignore him."
After her two-month stay - and with new eyes - Mary was able to clearly see the meaning of Mother Teresa's words: "Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are. ... You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have eyes to see."
But where was Mary's "Calcutta" and where was God calling her? How was she supposed to find it back in the comfortable and wealthy United States - where most of us never think we will encounter the "poorest of the poor"?
Mary says, "Often people teach that to know our calling, we must know our spiritual gifts, desires, opportunities and special skills. Clearly, these are useful. However it is perhaps even more the case that our crises and grievings reveal our call."
Her crisis of faith came as a result of her involvement in higher education. Like many of her colleagues, for years she had believed that Christianity was oppressive and the root of most social ills in the world. But through various measures - and a fellow professor whose life lived before her was a powerful testimony and whose "deep peace" disconcerted her - she opened her life to Christ.
At this point, it's not hard to figure out where Mary would eventually find her Calcutta. Upon her return home, her watershed moment came when she was asked to speak about her time with Mother Teresa before an annual conference of women school administrators.
While standing before her peers - and with the tears flowing freely - she knew at that moment that she was called to reach the university world with the love and truth of Christ. It was the very same world where God had revealed himself to her!
And it was there that Mary found her Calcutta.
Where is your Calcutta? As close as your home? Perhaps next door? Maybe further down the road at your workplace? Or even on a mission field miles away? If we empty ourselves, God can reach hearts and minds through you and me. Ask him where "your Calcutta" is today so that you may live out the love of Christ to the physically - and spiritually - poorest of the poor.
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