“My Day with Mother Teresa,” Ensign, Sept. 1998, 66–67
In January 1986, as a student at Brigham Young University, I had the opportunity to travel with a music group called the Young Ambassadors. Our tour to India was an adventure that affected me profoundly.
It was summertime in Calcutta, and one of our activities included a brief audience with Mother Teresa, to sing to her and to present her with a few gifts. The 36 members of our group were driven to an alley made of high concrete walls. About halfway down the alley was a wooden door with a small brown sign that read “Mother Teresa.” We gathered excitedly inside a waiting area, and in a few minutes a tiny, unassuming figure entered. I was surprised at how small she was—much shorter than our smallest dancer. I strained to peer over everyone to see her.
She welcomed us to her convent and spoke of new projects she had just opened in the United States. Then she handed each of us her business card—a piece of blue card stock—and on it was written:
The Fruit of Silence Is Prayer
The Fruit of Prayer Is Faith
The Fruit of Faith Is Love
The Fruit of Love Is Service
John Stohlton, then executive vice president of BYU, presented our gifts and asked if we might sing to her. “Oh, no,” she replied. “Not to me. Come sing to my sisters.”
A bell sounded, and we went out into a courtyard surrounded by four stories of balconies. Each balcony quickly filled with women wearing white saris. We sang Primary songs to them, and my heart was full. This was to have ended our audience with Mother Teresa. Instead, she turned to our director and said, “Would you now come and sing to my Savior?”
We followed Mother Teresa up a winding staircase to her humble little chapel. As I climbed the stairs behind her, I couldn’t help but notice her feet. Twisted and worn from years of service, they looked somehow familiar in the dusty sandals she was wearing. She removed her shoes and knelt in front of the crucifix. We too removed our shoes and gathered around her to sing “I Am a Child of God” (Children’s Songbook, 2–3). The spirit was strong and sweet in the room as the words to the song rang through the little chapel.
Mother Teresa then said, “Now, come with me and we will sing for my children.” She boarded our bus with us and led us to one of her many orphanages. As we got off the bus, children were gathering inside the building. When they saw Mother Teresa, they began to shout in excitement, “Mother! Mother! Mother!” She went to the center of the group and touched each one on the head. To these orphans, she was mother. We played with them and sang some Indian folk songs with them.
Then we were beckoned upstairs to the nursery. There I saw row after row of hospital-green cribs. Each crib contained two, sometimes three, infants. Near a bay of windows there was a long pad on the floor, and lined up were 10 or more babies getting diapered. Despite the crowded conditions, the atmosphere was warm and happy.
I stood between a row of cribs dumbfounded. In front of me was a baby girl. “For heaven’s sake, pick her up,” Mother Teresa coached. I reached in and picked up a squirming little bundle with deep brown eyes. The baby immediately responded joyfully to the prospect of being held. I grew quite attached in the few minutes I stood there. The babies wailed in protest when all 36 of us reluctantly returned them to their cribs.
“Now you must go with me to my Home for the Dying and Destitute,” she told us. We drove through a very poor part of the city to a point where the road ended. We walked the rest of the way, passing whole families who lived on the street, some starving and diseased. When we arrived at the building, Mother Teresa told us that some people had criticized her efforts. “They say our service is only a drop in the bucket—that we do not make a difference. But we have made a difference to many people. We give them a place to sleep, a roof over their heads, and a hot meal. We give them a place to die with dignity.” Then she smiled. “And some of them actually get well and walk out instead.”
Inside along each wall were long rows of cots. On each cot was a tiny person wrapped in a golden yellow blanket. “Sing something cheerful!” she said.
We sat among the people and took them in our arms and held them. Though we did not speak their language, I felt their eyes pleading with me while we sang, “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, / Help me find the way.”
As we finished our day with Mother Teresa, she told us, “You are welcome back here at any time. But, enough singing. Next time you will work!”
In that day Mother Teresa taught me much about true charity. Her legacy of service to those who are the hardest to serve touched me deeply, and I knew as never before that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).