Saying goodbye remains one of my least favorite events in life. But it’s not the goodbyes I say to my family that get to me. Those are more like “see-you-laters.” I truly dread the goodbyes that might be the last time I ever see someone, and my first goodbye of this nature happened upon leaving the dormitory of MIU.
I often can’t explain what happens when I travel, but I develop friendships that emulate having been friends for years. Upon arriving in Mongolia, I met Johnny, a foreign exchange student from Korea studying at MIU. Our friendship developed through late nights of laughing, vegan meals, and simply talking. We came to the point of dropping by to hang out, loaning clothes to each other, and sharing about our being away from home. A brotherhood of foreign blood was present.
Despite all of our time shared together, there I stood, having to load the bus and leave another friend behind. As tears filled my eyes then, they do so now as I write. I was reminded by Johnny to be thankful where ever God may lead, whether to Mongolia or the streets of Irvine. I thank God for meeting Johnny and look forward to meeting again whether it be in Korea, the world, or heaven.
Mother Teresa is an iconic figure of what sacrificial, servanthood looks like. Even she recognized that it was not her love and her service but God’s through her. At first, I assumed God would give me strength and that his love would show through me automatically, and that I wouldn’t need to seek Him.
While reading Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin, I became excited for this awe-inspiring rush of God’s love to fill me and pour out of my work. Did you catch that? My work. This things I was going to do. The diapers I would change. The mouths I would feed. The good deeds I would do. It was going to be about what I would bring to offer.
On my first day of serving, I was handed a baby boy, who was about a year old. He was unresponsive to words or touch, but his eyes scanned the roof and never made eye contact. After prayer, the volunteers sang Jesus Loves You to the children and listened to worship music. I rocked the little boy I was holding and I prayed that God would help me love this boy. I prayed that God would be the one serving, not I.
After 45 minutes his hands began to reach for mine and squeeze them slightly.
I had prayed that God would show this little boy how much he was loved. And I believe God did. It was amazing to see God’s love everywhere I looked. I completely believe that it is because the sisters are continually in prayer with each child or person they serve. They ask God how he wants to love the person they are focused on.
God worked through my disobedience, He worked through my wandering heart. But it does not give me the right to justify walking away from His presence and expecting God to still work.
The first day of serving I was at Nirmal Hriday also known as Kalighat, the Mother Teresa house for the destitute and dying. I was guided by one of the sisters into a seat next to an older woman with buzzed-cut gray hair, smooth brown wrinkly skin, black and pink streaked nail-polished fingers and was a little chunkier than many others. I called her Didi, sister in Hindi. I helped her with arm exercises, smiled at her a lot and talked to her. She got tired of the exercises and the weight of her hand and arm were now placed on my left knee.
Her friend across from us moaned and struggled to avoid pain. In that moment of seeing her friend struggle, she trusted the weight of her pain onto me. She squeezed my hand tightly and shifted much of her weight onto me. She relied on me that I would support her and not let go. I learned that the best thing I could do as her friend yelled and cried was to love her by squeezing back, smiling and speaking words of encouragement. I let God work through me. He allowed me to love on her and stay strong for her, as He held me up as I held her up. Without His grace and presence I would have been lost. I would have expressed the sorrow I felt for her.
India can be a very overwhelming place. The noises, smells, sights, crowds, and even the flavors of food are very vivid and unique, and sometimes you just don’t quite know what to make of it. Trent and Josh go for a stroll on Park Street and describe what they see on the team’s first day in India.
I stuck my arm underneath the right arm of the Indian man and lifted. My friend Jim did the same on his other side. The man let out a loud scream and dug his nails into my arm then bit me. I grimaced, but continued to tug and pull on the man, all while he kicked and yelled. Our objective was to move this man from where he was sitting, the laundry area, into the restroom/shower area. I was serving at Kalighat, a home of Mother Theresa’s, where the destitute and dying lay. This man, who had just arrived an hour ago, was neither dead nor dying. In fact, this man was very active as he continued yelling and grabbing hold of various objects to further prevent my friend and me from getting him to his destination. We finally got him into the restroom and pushed him to the floor.
Sister Florentine arrived. She reached down and grabbed the man’s shirt collar. She then tore the shirt right down the middle; a button flew off and hit me in the chest. He tried to crawl away but this only worked as a disadvantage as she used the momentum to help pull off his pants and undergarments. She took a bottle of soap and poured it over top his head, immediately followed by a bucket of water. There he sat, naked and wet, his ripped clothes on either side. She then began her work on his wrapped foot. She began unwinding the layers of the bandage. I finally understood why we were so intent on getting him care. His foot fully exposed, revealed a gruesome sight. She took a bar of soap and began scrubbing directly onto the bone. I was frozen as I watched what appeared to be a nun torturing a naked Indian man.
After an eternity the sister finished cleaning his wound and stood up quietly. She adjusted her sari and began to walk out of the room. She turned to me and laughed telling me to go home, but not before saying, “love isn’t easy. Love is a battle.”
I can’t recall the last time I missed an entire football season. Traveling on the Around-the-World Semester® II means that there will be one less Steeler fan watching this winter. Ever since I was a little girl, I grew up in Steeler country watching football with my dad, uncles, and brother every Sunday. Not to mention, every summer the Steelers bombard our little town of Latrobe, PA and host their training camp at St. Vincent College right near my house. It’s a Pittsburgh tradition that anytime you travel internationally, you take a picture with your terrible towel. This tradition is a reminder that even though you are far away from home, Steeler nation is represented wherever you go. Traveling with my terrible towel in my daypack, I am constantly reminded of my home culture, memories, and where I come from. Being a Steelers fan is a part of me that cannot be removed and I am proud to carry the towel on this trip.
So far, the towel has been hoisted above a ger in Mongolia, above the Great Wall of China, on top a boat in Ha Long Bay Vietnam, on the beach in Thailand, in the slums of India, in front of an obelisk Ethiopia, at a palace in Slovakia, and many more to come. God has blessed me with this trip in serving him, and I am forever grateful to be trekking around the world with this community, towel in hand.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, Rounders taught English classes at a local middle school. Students are often intrigued but shy around a group of more than thirty foreigners. In order to break down barriers with these students, we often play some small and large group games. Here, Ellie and Kristine lead us all in some icebreaking games.
The ATW II team moves around very rapidly and through many different countries. Sometimes, remembering the geography of where we are is the most difficult part of the trip. Nicole describes the significance of the Golden Triangle, the location where three Southeast Asian nations meet: Laos, Thailand, and Bohmar the Great (also known as Burma).
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, we thoroughly enjoyed the natural beauty of the country. On our first full day there, we hiked through a rainforest to reach a nearby waterfall. Zach Oedewaldt explains what we did once we got there.