I set out from church on the five minute walk down the street to the main road in search of our other teammates and the taxi that had not yet arrived, though it was the first to leave our guest house. As we stand on the street corner, I notice her. She is about 40 feet away. She has spotted us standing on the corner and she is making her way towards us. She is dirty. Filthy. Her hair is a matted nest. Her clothes are tattered, worn thin and covered in a layer of grime. With both her hands she is holding a deformed right leg. She throws her left leg ahead of her and roughly scrapes her butt across the ground as she painstakingly scoots toward us.
I look down at the ground, across the street, turn around, turn back around. I look over the top of her head as she inches her way towards me. I know she is going to ask for money. A sinking feeling in my gut; I want to avoid her. I don’t want the pain in my heart of rejecting her, and turning her away. I avoid eye contact as she continues to drag herself along. We wait on the street corner for about five minutes for our team to arrive; the length of time it takes her to make it 30 feet down the road. The team hasn’t shown up. She is about 6 feet away from me. As I turn on my heels, not looking at her, my heart begins to race.
“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth get up and walk!” Runs on repeat through my head. “Silver and gold I do not have but what I have I give to you . . .”
Do I turn around? Do I really say that to her? What if I do and she not only gets up but she dances all the way to church with us? Do I really believe that if I say these words to her she will in fact walk?
A deep sadness settles in my heart as I, not turning around, and on two perfectly healthy legs, walk myself right back into the church building without giving her a second glance.
After church we went on a walk around Calcutta. This involved a ferry ride down the dirtiest body of water I have ever seen. On the ferry I was sitting on the stairs. I was talking to Katie when I saw him. A man. He was in the same condition as the woman from this morning. He was scooting himself around from person to person begging for money. Pulling himself along by a healthy left leg, a limp and atrophied right leg with severe foot-drop wagged behind him. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He just held out his hand. Again my heart began to race,
“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk! . . . Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you . . .”
Do I say it? Do I believe it? Jesus I know you can but if I actually stood up and said that would you do it?! Would you?! Oh Jesus, I do believe, help my unbelief!
I took a deep breath and took a loooong look around the ferry. I was surrounded by many men in their long white robes and their covered women. And I feared. The ferry docked. It was time to disembark. My gut wrenched, the sadness in my heart grew deeper and darker, and my eyes filled with tears!
God, I am tired! I am tired of seeing your children maimed and disfigured! I just want to see them whole! Why am I so scared to offer them what I know in my heart will save them and heal them and make them whole!?
In my mind is seared the image of a man. From the ferry we walked to the place where the Hindus burn their dead. We stopped to talk and huddled around our guide to hear what he had to say. And that is when I saw him. He was across the street. Skin and bones. He laid by the side of the road on a make-shift mat. Soiled and squalid. A swarm of flies covered him. Long, over-grown hair and beard, unkempt and dirty. I count every rib. His shoulder blades look like the plates of a stegosaurus. He writhes from side to side shifting on his mat from one bone to the other and back. I imagine he hasn’t moved from that place in days, possibly weeks. He is about to die . . . alone.
“That man is in so much pain.” Corbin’s words send chills up my spine.
“He is dying” is all I can say. I want to run to him. I want to offer him a glass of water. I want to lift up his head. I want to hold his hand in mine. I want to offer comfort. He shouldn’t have to die alone on the street. . . .
But look at all those flies. Look at how soiled he is, possibly lying in his own excrement for days. This is my only pair of jeans and my favorite shirt. I would get filthy. What would everyone else think? That deep sadness in my heart only grows stronger and more looming. Once again fearful and tears welling in my eyes, I turn on my heels and I walk away.
When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed. We have refused to be instruments of love in the hands of God to give the poor a piece of bread, to offer them a dress with which to ward off the cold. It has happened because we did not recognize Christ when, once more, he appeared under the guise of pain, identified with a man numb from the cold, dying of hunger, when he came in a lonely human being, in a lost child in search of a home.
And now I am sitting in my comfortable bed completely grieved as I write it all out! And I realize I can’t even recall their faces. I never really saw them. I never really looked into their eyes. I looked past them or over them, out of fear, out of shame, out of doubt. And I can’t help but think that if that woman was painstakingly dragging herself over to Jesus he would have knelt down, looked deep into her eyes, loved her and helped her to her feet.
It was told to me when I first got here that all Indians assume white people are Christians. What if when she saw me, she didn’t see a dollar sign, what if when she saw my white skin, she knew there was something more that I could offer than just a couple rupies?! What if she was struggling to drag herself towards me because she saw Jesus?! And what did I do? I never looked her in the eyes. I didn’t treat her as if she was human. I turned on my heels and I walked myself into a church building like the righteous hypocrite that I am. I declare to believe and follow the Jesus of the Bible, but in my actions what Jesus am I following?!
“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? ‘ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'”
Jesus comes to meet us. To welcome him, let us go to meet him. He comes to us in the hungry, the naked, the lonely, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the prostitute, the street beggars. He may come to you or me in a father who is alone, in a mother, in a brother, or in a sister. If we reject them, if we do not go out to meet them, we reject Jesus himself.
– Mother Teresa