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.
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.
There is nothing like taking sixteen upper division units, doing constant missions work, fitting in Devotions and Shouts, traveling constantly, seeing a new city, and perform these things all while trying to get some form of sleep. That is the new norm for us on the trip and it didn’t take long for us to realize that completing homework was going to be an incredible feat. Unfortunately, taking class Around-the-World does not get any easier. As a matter of fact if anything they get more challenging. Nightly readings, constant written assignments, test and quizzes all show up in our agenda. The challenge becomes in balancing our schoolwork and missions while trying to get good grades. For me and a few friends we feel as though we cracked the code.
Ellie Johnson and I meet almost nightly. We do not meet to socialize or to play cards (something I haven’t played in months) but we are here to peer edit. We sit down, flip open our laptops, and dive into correcting our papers and discussing the reading. It is a great way to stay on track and turn in solid work even when we are tired or in a bad mood. This really comes from the concept living in a learning community. All of us “Rounders” have the same class and the same schedule. We have graduate assistants who eat and travel with us. We also have the ability to knock on our professor’s door at any given moment, day or night. We have difficult classes, yes, but we have an unbeatable support system. Most importantly we are learning we have each other.
Before serving alongside the Missionaries of Charity at Mother Theresa’s House in Kolkata, India, I did not fully understand what the meaning of service was. If someone were to ask me what it means to serve I would say it is a selfless act of love shown to others, but I did not fully understand this concept until now. I had the opportunity to serve at Prem Dan, which is the home of the disabled, handicapped, and mentally ill elderly women. I was finally able to understand what service really meant through this experience.
While we were in India we read “Finding Calcutta” by Mary Poplin for our Service Learning Practicum class. I found a lot of correlation with the book and my time of service in the home. Poplin, says, “It is a very different task to bathe a soiled adult when you see him as Christ than if you are simply cleaning someone for your job.” This was something that I constantly reminded myself of when I was serving at Prem Dan. God was standing right next to me the entire time. It was more than just washing clothes, feeding someone, or helping them go to the bathroom. I would look at them and see Jesus, and that is something that I had never done before. Looking into the eyes of the women, I realized that God sent us to simply care for them and show them His love. Ephesians 6:7 says, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” This is commanded to us by God and was lived out by Mother Theresa. What great examples for us to look to for our own lives.
I will be forever grateful and blessed to have been able to serve at Prem Dan. I am not proud to say that it took something like this to make me realize this and open up my eyes. God sent me to Kolkata to strengthen my abilities and knowledge in how to love and serve others. I realize now that true service is displaying the love of Christ that he shows to us every day and letting that resonate through our being. Prem Dan tore down every wall of pride that I entered with, which is completely and radically different from my day-to-day life. “The more we empty our focus on ourselves, the more he can fill us.” – Mother Theresa. I experienced what it was like to be totally emptied and filled up with Christ.
One of our projects in Thailand was to build a wall that would demarcate the new dorms for local students. Promise Lutheran Church in Chiang Mai is working with local people to accommodate students who cannot afford housing.The Christians in Chiang Mai have a vision for housing low-income students and allowing them to attend school, even when financial hurdles are crippling. To that end, the ATW II team was able to donate enough resources to start this project, and we were also able to participate in the building of the first wall.
As we were the first foreign team to visit this site, we experienced the fact that 37 volunteers are not always the most efficient means for accomplishing a building project.
However, the local church leaders and students were so thankful for our time that we were spending with them.
They considered our friendship a blessing, and the work that we accomplished alongside each other was a symbol of this new relationship. As we left that place for the second and final time, we thought about our time with people and how it is often more important than any wall we can build.
“Some of the most beautiful things you learn on the Around the World trip is that no matter where you go there is always a story to find. You can have a birthday in a different country or worship in the middle of nowhere. You can sail on a boat or ride a motorcycle to go to a secret destination were you will never go back again. The most beautiful thing is when you look back and all that matters is not where you went, but who did yo go with. That is one of the profound treasures of the trip”
Our time in Vietnam included working with the local commune leaders on a drainage system near the local health clinic. In the village of Phu Tho, the local government leaders were very welcoming and excited for us to work alongside them for this project. Students mixed cement and placed it where the trench was being built. Other students dumped dirt into the stagnant water, slowly soaking the water up and eliminating the mosquito-filled pond.
ATW II trench digging
At first, our project seemed mundane, even self-defeating. What happens when the drainage trench clogs? Why are we moving this dirt by hand when a tractor could accomplish the task in five minutes? We began to see, however, that our service project had less to do with the project and more to do with the people. We were able to work alongside them and to show them that we cared about them. We were able to tell them about ourselves and why we had come thousands of miles to mix cement with them. It was an amazing time to realize that we have not come to accomplish projects, but to love the people that we meet.
We were blessed with the opportunity to visit the Concordia International School in Hanoi and to facilitate a day of games and activities. We planned and implemented an “Around-the-World Day” for the younger grades, complete with activities that taught them about different places in our world. For the older grades, we led activities that would excite them about English and allow them to have a little bit of fun, even on a school day!
It was very enjoyable to spend time with these international students and to hear a little bit of what Concordia Hanoi has already been able to accomplish in a short three years of operation. The students as well as the staff were attempting to recruit some of our CUI students to come back and teach after just a few hours! Many of us hope to visit Vietnam again in the future, and to visit our friends at Concordia Hanoi soon!