Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | November 3, 2009

Kolkata’s Litter

   On any given day, Kolkata’s streets vibrate to the rhythm of constant pedestrian traffic. The streets here are the fertile ground of a forest of humanity – people who look like trees walking around (Mark 8:24). Kolkata’s streets are also filthy. They have been stained by the incessant activity of millions of restless people and are cluttered with the debris they cast aside. If germs have a Riviera, it’s here on the streets of Kolkata. Consequently, there is no such thing as a five-second rule here. Whatever touches the streets of Kolkata becomes unimaginably filthy. The streets here are not passive — they tattoo and leave their mark on whomever or whatever touches them.

   We were up early this morning to walk along Kolkata’s streets to Mother’s House, the place that serves as base camp for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. The nuns celebrate mass at 6:00 A.M. every morning. It’s worth getting up early to experience worship with these dedicated servants and with the volunteers that come here to serve from all over the world. The sidewalks are not quite as busy this early in the morning and traffic is not as heavy. Merchants are out sweeping the litter on the sidewalks in front of their business, creating little mounds of festering filth that pedestrians must step over or around. The streets of Kolkata are just beginning to come alive with activity.

Homeless in Kolkata   Walking Kolkata’s streets early in the morning also reveal other mounds around which pedestrians must navigate. These are the mounds of Kolkata’s human litter, the thousands who sleep on the sidewalks – mothers with babies, old men and young children, the crippled and old women, and others. These are the cast-offs of a society segmented by caste and largely ignored because of a worldview that sees their plight as payment for the sins of a past life. These are the people who became Mother Teresa’s parishioners, the people she swept off the streets and into her homes. These are the people she invited to the banquet. She found Jesus hiding in the distressing disguises of these poor and vulnerable and dying people who litter the streets of Kolkata. And when she found Jesus hiding among the least of these, she offered Him food, water, clothing, shelter, medical attention, and more. She offered unconditional love, unrestrained kindness, and unlimited acceptance.

   I am glad that we got up early this morning to worship with Mother Teresa’s nuns. The priest who led the service sounded like an old Baptist preacher. His message was all about Jesus. “We must take Jesus into the streets,” he said, “and tell His story clearly, confidently, and convincingly.” And then, he talked about the persecution of Christians in Orissa, which is the next stop on our journey. “Christ’s followers will not be intimidated or stopped by threats or persecution,” he thundered. “We will take Jesus to the people and tell his redemptive story.” His challenge to tell and to show the love of Jesus to the people on the streets was right on target.

   This is my second visit to Mother Teresa’s homes. One thing that impresses and inspires me is the thousands of volunteers who come here from all over the world every month. Most come to serve for weeks and months at a time. Every one of them tells the same story of how they were inspired to serve God by Mother Teresa’s example of caring for humanity’s wrecked and discarded lives. And somehow, after serving and ministering to the broken lives swept in from Kolkata’s filthy streets, no one returns home the same. This experience changes you. No longer can you look at the sidewalks where you live with uncompassionate detachment. Ask God to guide you to show His love and to tell His story to those who live in the shadows and in the filth of the streets where you live. Determine that you will allow Him to use you to affirm the worth of those who live among the litter.


  1. Glad to hearing that, you are in Kolkata, to serving the Mother Teresa’s home of charity! You are not so far from Dhaka. Really, it is great opportunities to helping those people!


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