My ordination was just months away, and despite hours of prayer and reflection, I was unable to discern my calling in ministry. My husband and I had recently relocated to Mumbai, India, following his recent job promotion. Whenever I ventured out into the city, I was confronted by the suffering of homeless beggars, blind lepers, and maimed and mangy animals. I felt there must be some work for me to do there, yet my path of service was still unclear.
I prayed for a sign, an answer to my question of how I could be of service in the world. The answer came one afternoon in the form of a homeless boy, a beggar on the street in Mumbai. With an outstretched hand, he walked alongside me as I navigated the crowded sidewalk. His body was filthy, and I was repulsed by the possibility that he might actually touch me. Beggars who identified my status as a foreigner and quickly assessed my relative wealth often targeted me. I was accustomed to shooing them away, but something about this boy was different. I wondered if he was the sign I had been seeking.
Following my intuition, I motioned for the child to follow me to the food vendor on the corner. I asked the vendor for two plates of food, one for the boy in front of me and one for unseen children in need. I offered up the meals into the boy’s dirty hands and he quickly vanished into the pulsing crowd. I returned home, feeling strangely touched by the encounter, and sensing that something in my heart had shifted.
Within a week, I began teaching at a local school for destitute children and orphans. It was through my ministry of teaching and serving homeless children that I started to understand my calling. A few months later, the city of Mumbai experienced a terrible and violent terrorist attack. I worked with international schools and various parent education groups to provide information and resources to help children cope with the aftermath of the attack. The opportunities to serve children began to multiply and my path of ministry became more apparent every time I said “yes” to service. I discovered that supporting the spiritual needs of children is my calling.
My husband and I later moved back to the US, and I was hired to start an interfaith preschool in suburban New Jersey. The children in my school may look very different than the orphans I served in Mumbai, but I’ve learned that the spiritual needs of the children in my community can be just as great. I’ve also learned that the answer to how I can be of service in the world can be found in one outstretched hand.
Photo by Marybeth Doctor, December 2008, http://mbdoctor.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/img_1202.jpg, used with permission.