Years ago Chris, then a college student, went to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa at the House of the Dying. Calcutta and Mexico City are the largest cities in the world, but Calcutta is the poorest. Most of the 13 million people there are destitute. Air pollution is oppressive. Poverty and disease are the way of life – and death – for most people. Every morning city maintenance workers find bodies on the sidewalk and in the street of those who died during the night. At the House of the Dying, Chris’ job was to look for dying people on the street and bring them in to give them a place to die with dignity. Their goal was not to cure these people. It was to give them a dignified place to die. Chris and his fellow workers lovingly cared for them, gave them a good meal, and shared the Gospel with them so they could die in peace.
In Calcutta, 70% of the homeless population have the tuberculosis. When you walk down the street, you find thousands of old men and women coughing up their lungs. Day after day, hour after hour. Chris’ ministry was to find those who had only hours or days to live and invite them, “Come with me. I’ll give you a place to lie down.” Upon arrival, their heads were shaved, and they were given a shower and a bowl of hot food. Chris then replaced their ragged, soiled clothes with clean ones. There, these people sat with other dying people who coughed their lungs out into a jar that was passed around. When it was full, the jar was thrown into the garbage with the soiled clothes and infested hair.
Lepers came in with their flesh rotting and their noses, fingers, and toes missing. Their clothes had the stink of rotted flesh. At the House of the Dying, Chris and the other ministers washed these lepers’ skin and gave them clean clothes to wear. The job of one of the workers was to stick a syringe into their puss-filled sores and extract the poisonous disease. Each syringe was used for person after person and day after day until it was too dull to pierce skin. Then it was thrown into the garbage.
Children invested with AIDS, usually girls about four or five years old, were brought to the House of the Dying. How did these little girls get AIDS? By a blood transfusion? No. The dominant faith in India is the Hindu religion. One sect of Hindus believes their men can get rid of a sexually transmitted disease by sleeping with a virgin – that means a four or five year-old child. Many children older than this are already prostitutes. Chris brought these children from the streets, and he listened to their screams and weeping. Chris once said, “We prayed the crying wouldn’t stop, because their crying meant they were still alive.” Lepers, children with AIDS, people with terminal tuberculosis – those were the ones Chris and his partners at that House of the Dying looked for each day.
Chris said, “One thing I begged not to do was taking out the garbage. The stench was almost unbearable. Can you imagine the disease, ragged clothing, and half-eaten food? I begged them not to ask me to do it. It haunted me forever after the first time I took out the garbage. As soon as we walked out the back door toward the dump, children came out of the alleys and ripped open the bags to get whatever was there. I yelled, ‘Don’t eat this garbage! It’s full of disease and death!’ But they were so hungry that they ate garbage because that was all they could find. They had no other choice. I wept as I saw them scramble through the spilled jars of disease, the clothing stained with rotten flesh, and used syringes, trying to get scraps of last night’s dinner that a dying person didn’t eat.”
Disturbing image, isn’t it? But in all honesty, how far are we from this spiritually? Can you see yourself feasting at the dumpster of the world?
Many of us are like those kids scrambling for garbage. We elbow each other at the mall, at the theatre, in the back seat, at home, at work, on the net, and at school in our hunger for food, but the food we lunge and fight for is rotten and diseased – and we eat it. We eat it every time we fill our minds and hearts with sexually suggestive movies or music, every time we make fun of somebody for whom Christ died, every time we value the praise of people more than the praise of God, every time we live to get revenge on someone who has hurt us, and every time we try to put things in God’s place in our heart. We are so full of this junk that we aren’t hungry for the food that really satisfies and nourishes. Sure, we may listen to a message or a song about God, and that message has as much appeal as another bite of pizza when we are so full we’re about to explode. Our souls are full of so much garbage that we don’t even recognize our need for God’s food.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
*From A Call To Die by David Nasser