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A tribute to Mother Teresa: "Give us your garbage".

She came, dressed in the simple white and blue trimmed garment of the Sisters of Charity, a face so beautiful that it defied description, and dark brown sparkling eyes with a radiant smile that captured your attention, and warmed your heart. She was, I guessed, in her early twenties.

The Lutheran bishop in whose home I was staying welcomed her warmly, listened attentively to the request she had for his assistance, and responded immediately to the same.

This young woman, one of the 4000 who had left all behind to come and to volunteer their services to Mother Teresa, was, like the mother of her order, committed to bringing comfort and a little joy to the homeless, the destitute, and the dying.

I inquired about the specific type of work she was doing. "Would you like to come and see it?" I didn't need a second invitation.

As we made our way through the dusty streets of the town, so typical of most towns in southern India, I continued to make further inquiries about her work. "Here," she said, "we spend most of our time ministering to those whom we have found destitute and starving at the railway station. We bring them here, give them food, shelter, a mattress to lie on, and a place where they can die knowing that they are loved."

The building she and her companions were using was an old corrugated iron warehouse long since discarded and later donated to the Sisters by the local Lutheran hospital. There were twelve emaciated men stretched out on the simple mats which covered most of the cement floor. The thirteenth arrived even as we were talking--an old man slung over the shoulders of the tiny nun who had found him. One glance told you two things--he was alive, and he wouldn't be for much longer. But you also knew this--when that man died he would do so in the arms of a Sister of Charity nun, whose name he did not know, and for him that would not be important. What was important was that he would now know, through her loving touch and words of affection, that he was loved.

Though this was the first time I had actually encountered and experienced first hand the work of Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity, I was nevertheless very much aware of it, and like most of its members, I too had experienced the horrors of some of India's many railway stations. "When you travel by train here in India, Marney," my Indian colleague had counselled me some years before, "you never keep the windows of your compartment open when you are approaching a railway station. If you do, the beggars will come right through the window begging you for food or money. The destitute always head for the railway station as a last resort. Here they might get some small morsel of food that may see them through the night. Make sure your compartment window is always shut."

This I knew to be good advice, having forgotten it momentarily and finding myself overwhelmed as one after the other they came through the window of my railway car enroute to Ahmanadab. They begged, pleaded, and yes even cried, for help, and the more help you provided the more there were who needed the help; they came in an endless stream. This was and is the India of Mother Teresa.

To travel across India, as I have during twelve visits, is to get to know and appreciate the quantity and quality of the work done by Mother Teresa and her self-effacing nuns, many of whom come from India's finest homes and families.

My one and only experience of meeting this saintly soul came in the nation's capital of New Delhi. It was an experience I would never forget, driving home to me as nothing else would the enormity of the poverty which is today's India.

My Indian associate team member, Dr. A.B. Masilamini, and I, together with Mother Teresa, were sharing in the leadership of a women's conference sponsored by the Methodist Church Women's Association of India. As I have reflected on that experience, I have come to see that whatever I said on that occasion, however interesting and helpful it might have been, would surely have sounded rather irrelevant in the context of a conference attended and addressed by Mother Teresa, the one known around the world as one whose sole interest was helping "the poorest of the poor."

The short, pointed, and unbelievable remark which she made to the press on this occasion would forever change my definition of "poor" and my understanding of a country which can see no light at the end of the poverty tunnel. "While here in New Delhi," she said, "I have met with the owners of many of its beautiful hotels and with them I am endeavouring to strike a bargain. I have told them, 'Give us your garbage and we will give you the garbage bags. With your help we are going to feed the starving of India.'" She has been true to her word!

On Saturday, September 13, 1997, Mother Teresa became the first non-political leader in the history of India to have a state funeral. Nothing could have been more appropriate.

Editor: Mother Teresa is expected to be beatified next year.

Rev. Marney Patterson has been an Anglican clergyman since 1956 and the founder and director of Invitation to Life Ministries. He is the author of five books. Married in 1949, Marney and his wife, Joan, have two sons, two daughters, and 10 grandchildren.
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Author:Patterson, Dr. Marney
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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