I recently received a Christmas greeting from a friend and colleague. I would like to share the entire letter (as he shared it with me) as my Christmas gift to all readers of our blog.
In 1981 I began my career in nonprofit working for a fledgling organization in Akron, Ohio that was determined to feed the hungry. We operated, what were then called, soup kitchens and a school lunch program for children who would show up to school without a brown bag or the funds to buy lunch. Frankly, I am amazed to this day at how many children were hungry in Akron in 1981.
Without warning, our major donor passed away and left our little nonprofit a substantial sum of money. The donation was so large and sudden, in fact, that it unnerved our board of directors, who immediately began to look for creative ways to rapidly expand our mission. After much deliberation and soul searching, they decided to send an emissary to Mother Teresa in Calcutta to ask her how they might help her in her mission. They wanted to donate their enormous windfall to the person they felt could do the most good. Simply because I was a Roman Catholic, they sent me.
Well, you can imagine how shocked this young, impressionable, Catholic school girl was with the prospect of traveling to India to meet the nun who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. The preparations alone almost killed me. American doctors are not thrilled to hear that you’re traveling to India in the first place, let alone Calcutta. The communicable diseases, the food, the water, even the dirt can kill you if you’re not careful. They inject you with a series of shots over a couple of weeks trying to arm your immune system against every conceivable disease known to modern medicine.
After 24 hours of flying, I landed in the pushing and shoving melee of humanity that is the Kolkata airport and began a harrowing jitney journey through the overcrowded streets of Calcutta to Mother Teresa’s clinic. The strategy of drivers in Calcutta is simple: Forge ahead while honking. There are no stop signs to speak of.
Despite her worldwide renown, her clinic is unassuming to say the least, and Mother Teresa herself works on the floor alongside the other nuns rather than greeting you in a grand reception room. In fact, upon my arrival, the nun that greeted me had trouble even finding Mother Teresa among the overcrowded, suffering masses of sick and dying that seemed to be everywhere.
When, finally, we did find her, I was startled to be introduced to a little 4’11” elderly nun in a soiled habit who didn’t seem to know who I was or what I was doing there. The younger nun who had greeted me, slowly explained to Mother Teresa that I was the girl from America who had traveled to Calcutta from Akron, Ohio to donate a large sum of money.
As the nun slowly explained to Mother Teresa who I was, the tiny little nun slowly broke into a lovely smile and began to shake my hand.
“My board has sent me here to find out how we can help you,” I said as she smiled and shook my hand. She then asked me to accompany her as she worked among the sick people who filled every inch of the ward. After about a half-hour, she spoke again without looking away from the patient she was attending. “The greatest disease in the West today,” she said, “is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for.”
Then as if the idea just occurred to her, she turned and looked me in the eye. “I want you to be concerned about your next-door neighbor. Do you know your next-door neighbor?”
She wouldn’t take our money. Rather, she gave me that thought. I wanted to share that thought with you, Merry Christmas.
If you don’t know your next-door neighbor, perhaps you might knock on their door this Christmas.