David’s #14 – Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service by Mary Poplin

Mary Poplin tells the story of her time serving with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. She takes the reader with her on what turned out to be an introspective pilgrimage. Sharing much of what she learned about herself, the tremendous growth in her faith and heart for service through the experience.

This book is also a wonderful look into the incredible work that Mother Theresa and her missionaries did and that is being continued today. Poplin’s growth is intricately woven in with truths and teachings from Mother Theresa as well as insights into so many aspects of the missionaries’ lives and work. She offers a few vignettes into the personalities of particular sisters. Ms. Poplin also examines the motives behind certain aspects of their lifestyle; silence (although not constant), chastity, poverty, and how these tenets allow an opportunity to better serve the poor, not only with food and water but also with the Word of God, love, and dignity.

In 1996 Mary Poplin’s was a relatively new Christian.   She describes that she decided to take a huge leap out of her comfort zone and requested to work with the Missionaries of charity. Mother Theresa accepted her request. This also happened to be just a short time before Mother Theresa passed away. As a secular university professor she shares that her teaching had become influenced by feminism, new age relativism, and dominant, anti-Godly worldviews. She offers perspective on America, particular the university environment and how we have turned our back on our foundation. She was hit with the conviction that her faith was not compatible with these beliefs and that in her teaching she had actually been withholding truth from her students.

She goes into great detail about Mother Theresa’s emphasis that their work was religious in nature, not social. We must live out our religion in our social spheres of influence. The two exist in tandem and are reflective of each other. They accomplish this religious work one person at a time.   We, the church, a finite, flawed vehicle, have the opportunity to express our obedience to Christ and our love for others, namely in this instance the poor, and work to accomplish the infinite.

Ms. Poplin appeared to learn so much during her time in Calcutta and she fills the book with so much of what she discovered.   On a personal level a few of the things that struck me were:

  1. Humility – How a lack of of humility can so often limit our life in a tremendous way. Mother Theresa did great things by keeping perspective of her nothingness and instead focusing on God’s greatness.
  2. Pride – Similarly, she talks about several ways that our pride is manifested. Our criticism of others, or organizations or programs with whom we are involved can often be dressed up pride. Our discouragement is evidence of our pride in our own power and abilities instead of a willingness to recognize and rely on God’s absolute power.
  3. Self-Awareness – We cannot come anywhere close to understanding ourselves without first knowing God.
  4. Lastly was the simple reminder that we are each called to serve and love in our own lives. Find the poor, sick and suffering anywhere that you are. You just have to have the eyes to see. She offers a call to find our personal Calcutta wherever we are.

This is not a self-help book but a is very practical in helping to discover ways to live out our faith through service. I enjoyed this honest, reflective, and inspiring work. It is simple and deep at the same time. It is both a unique look at Mother Theresa and a great personal tool for spiritual growth. It can be as easy or challenging as you allow. A great book for anyone striving to live and love like Jesus.

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