This past January-eighteen years after leaving Calcutta for Canada, Saraden Bok visited the orphanage she had been raised in, and the woman who had saved her life, Mother Teresa.
At Nirmala Shishu Bhavan, “Home of the Little Children,” not much has changed. One hundred and fifty babies sleeo on the top floor while a hundred young children are housed on the lower level. All the children have been abandoned.
“Eighty –five per cent of India is Hindu, only 2.5% Christian. If you are illegitimate or orphaned the Hindu caste system considers you worthless. There is still a stigma for the handicapped and if they live it is usually in asylums,” Sara explains.
Many of the babies have survived botched abortions. The missionaries of Charity search the Calcutta garbage for these infants who are so tiny, three can fit into a small crib. A sister showed Sara one baby who was found with a ripped lip and a nearly detached leg. “They had given her such care that she now looked healed.”
Sara is 23 but she was only three when police found her abandoned on the streets of Calcutta and took er to Mother Teresa’s orphanage. Her name was Bindu, Hindu for drop. Bindu is also the mark on the forehead of devout Hindus.
A year later, Eldon and Audrey Bell from Staynor, Ontario were vacationing in India. Missionary friends, Alfred and Lela Rees, had them visit Mother Teresa’s orphanage. The bells already had three children of their own and were not thinking of adoption at the time but after a morning of little children swirling around them, the Bells felt God was putting it on their hearts to adopt.
One had stood out, a little four year old with a scar on her forehead. Rees remembers her jumping up on Eldon Bell and wrapping her legs around him. It was Bindu. They went back the next day to look for the one with the scar.
But international adoption was full of red tape and took a year. The Bells had to return to Ontario and leave most of the arrangements to Alf Rees in Calcutta. Because Rees spoke Bengali he could negotiate with the lawyers and the archbishop. He even found an Air Canads stewardess to escort Bindu to New York.
In 1976 when Bindu was five she met the rest of her Canadian family; Dennis 24, Brian 21 and Cindy 11, Audrey Bell had only asked that her new daughter would be ready to start school and Sara Jane, as she was now called, was ready. At the time she knew only Bengali but within a year she was speaking fluent English.
Sara’s early years were remarkably free of any racism. She was the only East Indian in the Collingwood area but perhaps because her father employed a hundred people at his Rhinehart Vinegar plant. Sara felt she was treated with respect.
Sara does not remember anything of Mother Teresa, India or even of the trip to New York. Her first memories are of a Christian summer camp when at seven she was encouraged to “let Jesus into her heart.” She had such a strong sense of gratitude for what God had already done for her that it was an easy decision.
Her husband Tim accepted Jesus at the same camp but Sara didn’t know Tim until she was studying art in Toronto.
Each year Audrey Bell wrote a letter and sent photos back to the orphanage as the charity had requested. Eventually Sara herself started writing and now has two letters personally from Mother Teresa.
Sara, dressed in a traditional sari, married Tim two years ago; her bridesmaids wore Punjabi suits. Before their January trip Sara studied the Bengali she had lost.
All the children at the Missionaries of Charity homes are eventually adopted overseas. Sara, as a Protestant North American, is somewhat atypical. Mother Teresa will not now allow adoptions to countries that have high rates of abortion and child abuse nor to countries that are not predominately Catholic. Thus today there are no North American adoptions. Many children are placed in Belgium.
All the orphanage children are now taught English. Many visit as young adults but the sisters particularly enjoyed Sara because she could speak English. The sisters know Hindi, Bengale and English but not he European languages so it is hard for them to communicate with some of their guests.
Sara and Tim had a few special moments with Mother Teresa herself in which she encouraged them to pary together daily.
“She is so tiny, she seems only four feet and she speaks in barely a whisper. She is often silent yet there is a real peace and strength in her silence. Despite being 83, she moves with dartingly quick steps, she leads a life of great simplicity. She met us in bare feet. Like all the nuns, she owns only two saris and washes on each day. Being with her was a profound experience.”
As a gift for Mother Teresa, Sararendered Matthew 19.14 in calligraphy: “”Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” The scroll is decorated with a picture of four-year-old Bindu.
Sara only had time to visit her own orphanage. While she was there chicken pox and measles broke out in the nursery. The babies who had pox on the roof of their months had to be fed intravenously.
Sara and Tim spent their evenings at the Carey Centre for Post-Graduate Studies, a project of the Calcutta Bible College which William Carey founded. His motto is now the college’s “Expect Great Things for God.” Tim, who has founded Christians in Action, was invited to give a lecture at the Centre. He speaks and writes frequently for the pro-life cause.
Out of gratitude to God, Sara and Tim sponsor a little girl, Sunita, 10, from Calcutta through Pandita Ramambao Muku Mission in Madhya Pradesh, India. Mukti only sponsors and educates orphaned girls.
Tim works at Christian Horizons, an agency for developmentally handicapped adults while Sara is studying in Centennial College to be a Development Service Worker. They are considering working as a couple at Jean Vanier’s Daybreak. If they do then, they could be personally influenced by two people who are generally considered to be saints of the twentieth century: Jean Vanier and Mother Teresa.