We have spent the morning at the Mother Teresa Center for Death and Dying, an experience I will NEVER forget. The images I saw there are ingrained in my mind. I spoon fed milk to a woman who appeared to have leprosy. She had no eyes nor had she a nose but only scar tissue where they should have been. She could have possibly been injured in some other way. I'm not sure. I fed another woman eggs who didn't want to be fed. She kind of reminded me of my Grandmother Susie who liked things the way she liked them and didn't want anyone forcing her to do anything. I guess I got a little kick out of her as she fussed and pushed us away, but not quite as much as another woman who was doing a little better off than these got out of me. This one was sitting instead of lying on a bed and could have a little more than eggs and milk. I fed her chicken and rice, potatoes, and a mango, and she was loving it. She couldn't have weighed more than 50 pounds, but she ate a whole plate of that food. I kept thinking, "Where is all this food going?" And, every time I fed gave her a mouth full, she would laugh. I don't know if she was laughing at me, or if she was just so happy to be being fed. I couldn't figure it out.
I sat by one woman for a long time who was very young and appeared to have AIDS. I didn't feed her but just sat there with her keeping her company which is really all she wanted. She seemed so sad and so lonely. I've never seen eyes quite so sad as hers. All of our hand signaling led me to believe she was 20, Brandi's age. I could have been her mother. Maybe she wanted her momma to stroke her hair and tell her everything was going to be okay. I hope I was what she needed for that moment in time. She was as thin as anyone I've ever seen. Her ribs were sticking out, and her arms were tiny. She would point to her arm and shake her head. She hated the way she looked and fought back tears about it. She told me her name is Namun (sounds like Na-moon). She pointed at my hand and then rubbed her head. She wanted me to rub her hair. When I massaged her back, she smiled and nodded yes. She pointed at her water bottle when she wanted me to give her a drink. She even asked me about my babies. I held my arms in a rocking position and pointed upward to tell her I had a baby in heaven. She understood what I was saying. She pointed to herself and held two fingers up. I pointed to the sky, and she nodded yes. She apparently had two children who had gone on to be with the Lord. I sang to her and prayed with her, and I hoped for heaven for this poor soul. "How happy would she be there," I thought.
Others weren't as sad as Namun. As I walked through another section where there were chairs instead of beds, the women were congregating together and seemed to be enjoying each other. I saw some smiles. One woman took me by the hand and led me to a picture of Jesus. She pointed to it. I nodded and said, "Yes, Jesus." She nodded back, and we both smiled a smile of sisterhood. She was so glad to know Him. Another woman stopped me and held her hands in a praying position. She wanted me to pray with her. I prayed as fervent a prayer for her as I've ever prayed for anyone. She noticed my cross necklace and wanted to kiss it. She kissed it a couple of times, and I hugged her knowing in my spirit that I would see her in heaven. Many of the women did the sign for Jesus pointing to their hands and feet for the nails of the cross. These people had hope and joy and hearts filled with love even in that place of death and dying. I feel so blessed and honored to see what God can do even in the very worst of circumstances.
The volunteers spent lots of time with the residents of the Center for Death and Dying, but we also did other jobs like laundry and washing dishes. The laundry was so much fun. We did it in assembly line style washing and ringing and rinsing over and over again. There was a wall of sinks that we would put the clothes that had been hosed off and disinfected into starting with the first sink dipping and rinsing. The next person would ring it out, and then it would go into the next sink, and that went on for about five or six sinks. We were so wet after that.
I was standing in the laundry line by a young woman from Mexico who had been volunteering there for several weeks. Paulina was kind of showing us the ropes that day. She told me she had grown up Catholic but that she really didn't have a religion anymore. She admitted that she was seeking truth and wanted to know about all religions. She said she had met people of many different faiths and was trying to decipher which parts of all of them she wanted to make as part of her own faith.
Paulina began to ask me about Baptists and what we believe. She loved how I described our baptisms. I told her that immersion is a picture of Christ's death and resurrection. She wanted to know about salvation and asked many questions about it. She was so pleased to hear how Brooks told me at six years old, "I don't want this black heart of sin anymore." I told her we don't baptize children until they make their own mind up about Jesus.
She was loving everything I said up until I answered her question, "Do you think that all other religions are wrong? Do you think the followers of those religions will go to hell?"
It was a very straightforward question, and I gave it a very straightforward answer. She did not agree with me on that one, and the smiles began to fade. Then we were called inside right afterwards. I was so disappointed. But, thankfully, I was able to talk with Paulina again after we left the Center for Death and Dying walking back to the Mother House where we began our day with bananas and bread, chai and prayer.
I told Paulina that the thought that there is only one way to heaven, through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who ransomed our lives for God by dying on the cross for the sins of all who would believe, may seem harsh at first, but that God set it up this way to test people, to grant salvation and eternal life only to those who really wanted it, who desire a relationship with God.
"We choose to follow Jesus," I said. "We choose to love Him and live with Him forever. Some people don't choose God. They would rather follow their own hearts and desires."
Paulina asked me, "But, what if someone has never heard of Jesus?"
I told her that that was our job. "That's why I'm here in India, because of my great love for Jesus. He told us to take the good news of the gospel to all the nations."
She pressed on, "But, what if you don't make it to everyone?"
I told her of stories I had heard of people having dreams and visions of Jesus in the Middle East and that upon waking they went to find out more.
She asked, "But, what if you don't have a dream or a vision?"
I said that the bible speaks of a time when God overlooked ignorance and that maybe He still will. Then I remembered something Rick likes to say, "But that doesn't really apply to you, does it? You've heard the gospel. How are you going to respond?"
I told her that there are rewards in heaven according to what we do here on earth and that I believe there are also degrees of punishment. "I believe it will be far worse for those who hear of Jesus and reject Him than for those who have never heard."
That really seemed to stir something in her. She said, "I didn't know there were degrees. I've never heard that before."
I told her that if she's not ready to make that decision right now as she had told me earlier, that I would recommend she read the Gospel of John.
She said, "I've read the bible before. I know what it says."
I responded with, "It doesn't matter that you've read it before. You need to read that gospel right now while you are seeking truth. Read it and see what it says to you."
She said she would. She even said, "That is really good advice."
When we arrived at Mother Teresa's Home for our tour, it was closed. I said goodbye to Paulina, and we embraced hopefully not for the last time.
I really have hope for her. She seems so much like I was at her age, a very compassionate person who didn't want to think of God sending anyone to hell especially those who seem so devout in their own faiths. I remember asking Rick about the same thing when we first got married. He read to me John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
That's all it took for me. My own husband reading me the Word of God. I believed from then on that Jesus is the only way. I guess that's why I'm so evangelical minded, and I told Paulina that.
I said, "If I really believe that Jesus is the only way, then shouldn't I be very adamant about telling people about the gospel?"
She thought that was a good point. She was very young but very smart. She was asking all the right questions. I am hopeful for her that all her searching does lead her to the truth.
Paulina wasn't the only young volunteer I talked with this morning. On the walk to the Death and Dying Center, I met a young man named Eric from Georgia. He was Catholic and deciding on a life as a friar. A friar is very much like a monk except friars do not live in a monastery.
"They're more with the people," Eric said.
The way he described life as a friar seemed very much like a Baptist Missionary except for one very big detail, a life of celibacy. As we walked, I was able to describe to him the benefits of marriage. I told him that I am my husband's helper.
"God made woman out of the rib of man," I said, "and there are a lot of men walking around with a missing rib."
But, we did discuss the benefits of being single as well.
"I can't stay in India for as long as I want," I said. "I have to go back to my husband and children to take care of them, but you can stay as long as you want."
A single person has the liberty to serve the Lord in a very free way. "You can go wherever and do whatever the Lord calls you to do without having worry about your family back at home," I said. But, we know that a life of celibacy is very difficult and many who choose that lifestyle fail.
I told Eric that failing as an unmarried person in a leadership position within the church is so much worse than getting married. He completely agreed and was very torn. I told him that if God was truly calling him to a life of celibacy, then God would give him the strength to walk in it, but if not, then he should get married. We both agreed that marriage is holy and that God uses men and women together to do his bidding. Eric read to me from the bible and seemed very well versed. He seemed to truly love God and His Word. I was impressed with him and told him that he would make someone a very good husband if that is the way he chooses.
I thought we had said everything that had needed to be said, so when we arrived I walked ahead to where the women were going. But, he called me back and asked me to pray with him saying, "I may not see you again."
So, I prayed for his decision, and I continue to do so. He seemed very special and good and had so much heart and love to give. Whether all that love is poured into a wife and family one day, I may never know, but Eric will love and care for God's people either way. I am sure of it.