Every Tuesday, two or three of us go to the Home of Joy run by Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity. It is the home of about eighty children with disabilities or chronic illness, usually from impoverished families, some abandoned by their families willingly, others left most reluctantly. Other children come for a temporary stay, while the sisters provide them with the extended term of medication needed for illnesses like tuberculosis.
The home in Tayuman goes by the name of ‘Home of Joy’. I had all the good intentions of bringing joy to the children, to what I imagined must be quiet, unstimulatd lives.
When I first went to Tayuman, those first few timid times at the start of my mission, I went with good intentions, but all I could really see was this: broken bodies. The children’s limbs flailing uncontrolled, their eyes struggling to focus. Some of the children’s faces were in a permanent grimace, as though in pain. I wondered at what was happening inside. Could the children recognise us as we came week after week? Why were they made like this?
I had never spent time with people with disability before. I was afraid of hurting the children as I tried to feed them or hold them. I felt uncomfortable to speak without the assurance that I was being heard, let alone understood. It was hard to see these contorted bodies.
Every friendship in Heart’s Home takes time. Slowly, I learnt the children’s names, and slowly the distinctiveness of each child made a gentle impression in my heart. One time, Mary Jo, a young woman encased in a wheelchair, painstakingly with her foot pulled up for me a little stool that I might sit near her. One evening, Eron, a quiet boy of about 12 who likes to closely examine my watch, or the wooden heart I wear around my neck, took my left hand, swung me around to his right of his wheelchair, back and forth. We did this for a long time, a kind of dance. Another time, Eyron, a bright child of 8 who moves freely but has limited vision, counted down with me the minutes until dinner time. Another time we laughed as Patrick, definitely not tired enough for bed by leaving time, climbed into the other children’s cots with a grin. And another time, when I got over my fear of entering the room where the babies and bed-bound children lay, I met Nina, a child of ten in the body of a much smaller child. Nina has a breathing problem and it is not possible for her to be anywhere but this bed. For anyone who takes a moment to be with Nina, there is a gift. The brightest smile you can imagine from this long-eyelashed child who has no words.
Slowly, this particular apostolate changed for me. Instead of bringing joy to children who I imagined must live dull lives, it felt like I was the one ministered to, week after week, with their smiles, with their presence, with the grace they are filled with because they are so loved by the Missionaries of Charity. After a hard week, or a week of doubts about the mission, the children would welcome us, expecting nothing but goodness from us.
Christopher, Ahllen, Eron, Eyron, Patrick, Nina … a litany of names something like saints. Uniqueness, character, and personality shine from these broken bodies. But more than this, there is a glimpse of something so pure: hearts accepting love freely, and loving gratuitously. The glory of God is revealed in them.