by Katie Kustusch
"There I was, a year ago, on the other side of the world, listening to my friend say:"mai mii phyan, jaak tai." ("I have no friends, nobody loves me, I want to die.")
I met Naa in Khlong Toei, the slum where I lived in Bangkok, Thailand as a Missionary of Compassion. I never expected this. I never expected that I would leave a great job, my family, and everything I’ve ever known to go and become friends with people in a slum. But when I first encountered Heart’s Home here in Brooklyn, the joy I saw captured my heart.
When I first met Naa, she was stopping for lunch at our house in Khlong Toei. She’s like any other 17 year old in some ways. When I first met her, I wasn’t sure why she needed our friendship so much. There are so many others who do. Every day in our neighborhood we encounter so many people who are lonely and forgotten. Each week we go to visit prisoners in an immigration prison, and people dying in a nursing home. But Naa? She calls us probably 5 times a day, sometimes obnoxious and melodramatic. She will tell us she loves us, then not talk to us for months. As I got to know her, beneath her facade I discovered a lot of pain. She began to trust me, just a little. She would call more often late at night, crying: "I have no friends, nobody loves me, I want to die."
These short conversations leave me powerless and aching in front of her raw pain. What can I possibly say to her when she tells me this? She has grown up in a slum, unwanted by her mother, and despised by society.
But I do reply with the simple words: “But I love you. We love you – all your friends from Heart’s Home, and we don’t want you to die.” And I hope she hears it. Sometimes we are given the privilege of saying these words directly to her. Most often we say it in much smaller ways. And so when she is losing hope, she comes to us to be reminded of her own beauty and dignity.
It’s hard to explain in a few short words the depth of our friendship with Naa, or my experience with Heart’s Home in Thailand. How do I explain that my heart aches more, because it is full of so many more beautiful and broken people like Naa? How do I share this seed of compassion, planted in my heart, that is blossoming in ways that I never expected? It is what compels me to begin a second mission with Heart’s Home in El Salvador in just a few days. I know that I’m not going there to do extraordinary things. But if I learned anything from my friends in Thailand, it is that we don’t need to do extraordinary things, only ordinary things with great love. This is how we build a civilization of love, and become ambassadors of compassion."