motherteresaSaved – By Mother Teresa by Sara denBok with Tim denBok (LifeCycle Books, $5, 22 pages

Sara denBok’s story is remarkable and indeed miraculous. An orphan in India rescued by a police officer and delivered to the orphanage run by Mother Teresa. It is hard to imagine that denBok would be alive today were it not for the life-saving and life-affirming work of a 4-foot, 10-inch Missionary of Charity nun from Yugoslavia working in the poor neighourhoods of Calcutta.

The short review is the one I provided as a blurb for Saved – By Mother Teresa, in which I said: “Mother Teresa provided very real help to the poor and vulnerable because she said ‘they were Jesus in disguise.’ This is one such tangible story, with Mother Teresa rescuing an orphan from the streets of Calcutta and in the process transforming a little girl’s life.”

The title is taken from a Toronto Star article about denBok which ran in 1997 when the paper was looking for a local angle following the death of Mother Teresa. In the short booklet, the author writes at greater length about her own story and the saintly life of Mother Teresa.

denBok’s story does not have a happy beginning. She is rescued from the streets by a police officer who takes her to Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, the Home of the Little Children orphanage, “knowing that Mother Teresa never turned a child away.” The details are sketchy: neither the officer nor the nuns know Bindu the Hindu’s last name, her age, or how she ended up on the streets. The best guess is that she was three and abandoned because young girls are not valued in India, as evidenced by the high abortion and infanticide rate of baby girls. So in one way, denBok is lucky. She lived, perhaps even surviving a scrap with a stray dog as evidenced by cuts on her head when she is found.

She reports that Shishu Bhavan is full of girls. denBok is cared for despite the three-babies-to-a-crib accommodations. Two years later, she met her eventual Canadian adoptive parents, who were visiting the orphanage but not looking to adopt. She hugged the legs of Eldon Bell and found her “one-way ticket” out of India.

She moved to Canada and adjusted to western life; her first encounter with McDonald’s was eating the pickle off a hamburger because they didn’t have beef in India. She later became a Christian. denBok did not forget her fortunate, one might say providential, beginnings. In 1994 she returned to India with her husband Tim and visited the woman who saved her and the place she called home for two years as a child. Her impression upon being reintroduced to Mother Teresa as an adult: “It was hard to believe that this tiny woman was universally recognized as a moral and spiritual giant.”

denBok tells both her and Mother Teresa’s story, including how the diminutive nun afflicted the comfortable, such as when she castigated American president Bill Clinton, first lady Hillary Clinton, and vice president Al Gore at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast for their pro-abortion positions. And she shows how Mother Teresa comforted the afflicted.

A Protestant who will talk to any Christian church in the Collingwood, Ont.-area about her story, denBok says “I revere Mother Teresa as a saint” because “no one loved Jesus more than she did.” The truth is we are all called to live lives of service; to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Some are much better at it than others. And because of one such person in the gutters of India, there are many more people alive today as a testament to her love and compassion. Sarah denBok is one of the people she saved and our age needs more nice stories like hers.

 Paul Tuns is editor of The Interim.