Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | January 21, 2009

Closing the Distance

   Kolkata, India

   As our plane made its descent, the sprawl of Kolkata became increasingly distinct. Houses and streets and buildings took on clearer definition. Distance always impacts perception. When we are too close to something, it helps to back away to get a better perspective. And, when we are too far, it helps to get closer in order to see things more clearly. Today is all about closing the distance and seeing things in a new light.

   As we left the airport terminal building, the houses and streets and buildings faded into the background as the faces of the people who call Kolkata home came into sharper focus. I looked into the face of our cab driver and noticed his concentration as he wrestled our bags into the small trunk of his yellow Ambassador cab. And then, as our cab plunged into the river of traffic, I looked out the window at the teeming humanity swimming up and down the sidewalks. Day to day existence is a challenge for many of these. We moved so slowly through Kolkata’s log-jammed streets that I could read the expressions written across the faces of its masses.

   After we settled into our guesthouse we walked the short distance to Mother’s House, the place where Mother Teresa died and that serves as the headquarters for the Missionaries of Charity. As we walked down the filthy sidewalks, two street kids took my hands and offered to escort us from Mother’s House to Shishu Bhavan, the place where we had to go for our orientation and work assignment. The eleven year-old holding my right hand said, “I am a Christian and so is my mother.” I smiled and asked, “What about your father?” I learned that her father had recently died and how his death had rudely shoved her and her mother from a secure home and into the streets. Getting closer to people not only helps us to see them more clearly, but also enables us to hear them more distinctly. At that moment I distinctly heard one of a million distressing stories because I was close and not far.

   When we arrived at Shishu Bhavan, I met Sister Sandwana, whose name means “comfort.” She has worked here since 1972. She spoke to me about Mother Teresa and what a beautiful woman she was, but her expression lit up when she talked about Jesus. “The Christ of Christianity is the only hope for those we help,” she said. Soon, volunteers from Korea, Japan, China, France, Spain, Switzerland, and America trickled in for orientation. Three times a week volunteers from all over the world travel to Kolkata to work at Mother Teresa’s homes. I also listened to their stories, each a testimony to Mother Teresa’s compelling life. Almost twelve years after Mother Teresa’s death, thousands of volunteers continue to travel great distances in order to serve Kolkata’s poor.

   You don’t have to travel to Kolkata to serve the poor, but you must be willing to close the distance that separates you from the poor in your own community. Distance is what keeps us from looking into the faces of those in need and hearing their own distressing stories. Distance is what keeps us from holding dirty hands and connecting with hurting humanity in a personal way. What will it take for you to close the distance between you and someone in need? Take the first step and then add another until you begin to see people clearly and to hear them distinctly.

• • • • •

Note | Jon and Holloway and I have been assigned to work at Prem Dan (home for the very ill) in the mornings and Nirmal Hriday (home for the dying) in the afternoons. Our days will start at 6:00 AM and end at about 7:30 PM. We appreciate your prayers.


  1. Omar,
    I know you are on a very special mission trip–& it will be very emotional as you, Jon, & Holloway witness & work with the very ill & terminally ill people of Kolkata. We will be praying for your strength & testimony during these long emotional days~but I feel they will be very blessed & fulfilling days! I look forward to hearing more about this special trip to India and about the lives that are being touched by Jesus!

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