Community and Societal Development

How can cross-cultural development workers help communities and societies thrive by following godly principles?

Reflection: Mother Teresa and Ramesh

Dr. Ravi Jayakaran is the Senior Associate for Integral Mission for the Lausanne Movement. He has over three decades of experience in poverty reduction and providing strategic support to development programs.

Dr. Ravi Jayakaran is the Senior Associate for Integral Mission for the Lausanne Movement. He has over three decades of experience in poverty reduction and providing strategic support to development programs.

by Ravi Jayakaran

This chapter is excerpted from Dr.Jayakaran’s book, Stories of Transformation. Used by permission. It was also published in the WCIU Press book, Agents of International Development and Shalom, by permission.

Principles of Transformation

Using the “Observe-Study-Inference” (OSI) principle, I have studied actual events of transformation and made inferences from these, including the story below of Mother Teresa and Ramesh. My basic assumption is that transformation is a “Default Intent” of the Creator.wThat is why I have defined transformation as “progressive, permanent God-intended change.” God intended for transformation to take place in all the people He created, and the scriptures make this amply clear. It is His desire that it happen. As development professionals, we should put all our energy and effort into facilitating transformation, and countering everything that intends to prevent it.

Based on observation, these are some principles that emerge in relation to transformation:

• If we are willing, we can each be an agent of transformation.
• Being an agent of transformation is sometimes at tremendous personal cost.
• Becoming an agent of transformation involves getting involved and becoming vulnerable to hurt.
• Transformation is about one heart reaching out to another to establish a relationship.
• Transformation takes place in those we least expect it to happen to, when we least expect it to happen, so don’t give up!
• Transformation has to first take place in the agent of change before taking place in those they serve.
• Transformation is not merely a one-time event, It continues to happen progressively through out one’s life.
• The agent of transformation has to learn to be able to see the transformed person “in embryo” and be patient with them while they have not been changed yet.
• Transformation in the life of an individual is a chain of events: one sows, one waters, one weeds, another is there at the harvest—but transforming power lies at a higher level, giving the growth.
• Transformation is attitude and perspective change.
• When we get involved in the task of transformation, we slowly become aware of the “big picture.”
• Transformation is labor and time intensive, and requires persistent effort. If you are too busy to invest time and efforts on individuals, then you better quit this type of work!
• Transformation is time consuming, but at the same time can take place instantly!
• Transformation is about widening one’s horizons of inclusion.
• Transformation is about changing one’s mindset and worldview, and this often happens when a person gets convinced about something he or she has been resisting for a long time.
• Transformation is dramatic, Unique, “Awesome” (as my older son Amit would put it)—and at the same time happening all around us and more often than we might imagine!!
• And, most important of all, God himself is the Author and Completer of transformation. We are merely instruments in His hands. So work as hard as you can, and leave the rest in His hands!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7).

Of all the stories I have shared, perhaps the one most shared, has been the story of Ramesh. Despite this, even now, as I write it, I feel excited and can feel the goose bumps on my skin. It is a story that involves Mother Teresa, and I had the privilege of sharing it with her. She in turn, quite typically, said she could not remember the specific experience, because she had had several experiences like that! Well, let me not run ahead with my story. Let me start at the beginning, and share with you how it all came about.

In the mid eighties, I was still working with the Usha Martin Group of Industries in Bihar. With my team, I was in the process of revamping the organization to make it relevant to the needs of the local communities of Oraon, Munda, Mahtos and other people groups who were small scale farmers. We were in the process of studying as many different approaches as possible, and testing out new means for subsidiary income generation. I had just returned from a trip to one of the North India states studying their Animal husbandry Programme, stopped over in Delhi to see a special project where someone was introducing high producing Italian honey bees, and was at the Delhi airport waiting to catch a flight back to Ranchi.

I remember that I had hurried to the airport to catch my flight only to be told that the flight was delayed. When it got close to the time of the rescheduled time they announced another delay! I had just heard this, and was irritated getting back to the waiting room when I saw an old friend from my student days—Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi. Vishal is a well- known activist, contemporary thinker, and prolific writer who had a great deal of constructive input into my life as a student, especially my spiritual life. I was glad to see Vishal and now the delay in the flight didn’t seem like such a bad idea, as I could catch up with what he was doing.

Vishal too was waiting for a flight, and introduced me to a friend of his, who was waiting for her husband to arrive on the flight that Vishal was planning to catch. We found some vacant seats, and gave each other a quick run through on what had happened in our individual lives since we had last met. Then Vishal told me about the lady who was waiting with him. She was, he told me, the wife of very big business magnate. Her husband was the one who owned (as part of his many businesses) the dealership for a major brand of soft drinks for the whole of North India. However, this was not the thing that was special about her, Vishal told me, but that she was a person with a very big heart. I listened silently, waiting for more details. Thus began a most unusual story— the story of a lady, her husband, and their incredible experiences. I am sure I was told her name, but the incredible details that followed, drove that from my memory.

The lady and her husband had a son. And as was expected, when he was born they gave him everything he wanted. He was brought up in the lap of luxury and his parents loved and adored him. In fact their love and devotion was so strong toward him, that they feared that at some stage if they had other children, they might not love him enough. Thus, both of them took a decision to get a “family planning” operation done so that neither of them could ever have children again! They would love their son with all their heart, and do for him all that was physically possible. The boy, understandably, grew into a spoilt brat, often demanding his own way. The parents on their part, danced to his tune, pampering him and giving him everything he wanted. Their whole life revolved around him.

When he was twelve years old, he demanded a special birthday present from his parents. He wanted to take a pony ride in Kashmir. His wish was, of course, their command. The family was soon off in Kashmir, taking trips on the Dhal Lake in Shikara boats, and pony rides alternately. On one of the days, as their son rode a pony on the mountain road, a truck turned the corner and blew its horn. The sudden sound caused the pony to sprint, freeing itself from the control of the pony owner. It ran uncontrollably, tripping over the barricade and into the valley below.

The parents who were following him ran in fear looking over the side of the road. Way down, hundreds of feet below, lay the pony and the boy. They ran down the hill screaming and fearing the worst. When they finally reached the spot, both the pony and the boy were dead. The lady clung to her son’s lifeless body and wept uncontrollably. Nothing anyone said could console her. She clung to the body, refusing to let it go, and had to be sedated as her husband made arrangements for them to fly back to Delhi where they lived.

“Time,” her husband was told, by one of those who came to the funeral, “heals all wounds.” But this was not apparently so in their case, because every night his wife had to be sedated, and only woke up again weeping the next morning. Both of them were shattered by the loss of their son, but the wife seemed to show no signs of recovery from the event. The husband tried everything, even hiding his own grief, but to no avail.

Finally, in desperation, he remembered that his wife had a classmate living in Calcutta who had been very close to her before they married. He rang her up, and requested her to come and try to help her friend. With the arrival of the friend, there was a new round of weeping. In her bid to console her weeping friend, she had inadvertently suggested to her to take heart because they could have more children. She was of course not aware of the decision her classmate and husband had taken, not to have more children so that they could give their undivided love to their only son. Now, with him gone, they were apparently hopeless.

With the utmost caution, she told them about a project that she was involved in, back in her hometown Calcutta. She was a regular volunteer at Mother Teresa’s Shishu Bhawan where they worked with abandoned children, including helping them find foster homes to get adopted into. To every one’s surprise, the idea caught. The lady suddenly stopped weeping—the first time in days. She suddenly seemed to have a new hope and purpose in life. She wanted immediately to go to Calcutta, and meet Mother Teresa, and ask her to immediately give her a child to adopt. She would shower the child with all the love in the world and never let it ever feel abandoned. Her husband was relieved to see that she had once again found a purpose for living. He was willing to support any effort that would help the healing process for his wife. They were soon off to Calcutta on the first available flight, and after some quick phone calls, had an appointment to meet with Mother Teresa herself.

Mother listened to all that the lady had to say as she shared why she wanted to adopt a child and that too as soon as possible. When she had said her piece, Mother looked at her with great admiration, telling her that she was a person with an incredibly big heart, capable of immense love. She however said she wanted the lady to do something for her before she gave her a child to adopt. She took them inside the Shishu Bhawan, past all the infants and little babies to meet a slightly older child.

As soon as she entered the room, a little girl got up and hugged her. “This child,” Mother said, “has been here with us ever since we found her abandoned. She was born like this, with a distorted face. No one wants her because of her appearance. No one wants to take her and get her treated and operated to repair her features. Every one wants to get a perfect child. She paused a moment as she held the little girl close to her heart, then said, “I can see you are a person with immense love. I want you to at least help two children like her before you take a child to be your own. ”

The lady spoke to her husband over the phone. With his consent, they took the little girl back to Delhi. They had soon contacted leading plastic surgeons around India. The girl went through a series of operations to have her face restored, and in a short period of about a year shaped up to be a beautiful girl. This time her husband joined her as they took the little girl to show her to Mother Teresa. Mother was pleased as she saw the child. When the lady asked her for a child to be given to her immediately to adopt; Mother Teresa reminded her of her commitment to help two children.

This time she took them to see another child. The boy’s name was Ramesh, and he was a little over two years old. Ramesh was an unfortunate child whose Father suspected him of having been conceived illegitimately by his mother. One day in a drunken fit, he had grabbed the little boy and thrown him in a well. The little child sustained countless fractures as he fell. He was in constant pain and kept groaning. Even breathing was an ordeal for him. His greatest misfortune was that he had survived the fall. Even the doctors felt it was futile to do anything for him. There simply were too many fractures. “Restore this child,” Mother said, gently patting his hand, “and I will give you the child that you so greatly yearn for.”

The couple went back with the child, strapped to a special stretcher, and a nurse taking care of him during the journey. For two years they had taken him from hospital to hospital, from one expert surgeon to another. Because of the immense wealth at their disposal, they had been able to give him the very best treatment available anywhere in the country. In the early stages, she had fought with one or two doctors who had told her she was wasting her time on a child who at best would become a cripple. She had known what it was to lose a child. She had known how desperately she had wanted to see her son in his broken body restored to life. She knew the value of life, and how precious it was. There was nothing that was ever going to stop her as she worked to help restore Ramesh to wholeness.

I listened to this incredible lady, absolutely transfixed. What incredible love, what determination! I was also suddenly conscious that the announcer was calling passengers on my flight to Ranchi to check in. I cleared my throat, wishing there would be another delay of my flight. “I’ve got to ask you something,” I said. “ What is it that has kept you going all this time, facing all these odds and hurdles with Ramesh’s treatment?” She was surprised at my question, and seemed to ponder over it a moment. Then with an amazing gleam in her eyes, she looked straight into my eyes and said something that I will never in my life forget “Dr. Jayakaran, I have seen a vision of Ramesh running, and God help me, I will not stop till I see that become a reality!!”

Those words still ring in my ears after so many years. I have shared this story with well over a thousand people over the years. On every one of those occasions when I have shared it at a meeting or a workshop, I’ve had people come over to me moved to tears, wanting to share how that story had inspired them to persist with something that they had given up on. Personal example is a trigger for transformation. Seeing someone first hand persisting against all odds can inspire, motivate, and completely change the perspective of people. Trace back from a place where you have seen transformation, and you will be sure to find a highly motivated individual as the cause for it.