I asked the director what would happen to these children if they weren’t here – at the hospice with their HIV+ parents. He looked for a minute as though he couldn’t believe the question – or maybe it was the unthinkability of the answer he didn’t want to believe: “They might be trafficked or put into some kind of bond servitude or just – die.”
We had just watched these children dance – expressive, interpretive dances of birth and rebirth and freedom. We’d listened to them play the violin, scratching out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in unison after just a couple of months of lessons. Boys and girls, toddlers to middle school, laughing, taking care of each other as children do sometimes.
We’d watched the little girl – six years old maybe? – dissolve into giggles as she received a prize for her accomplishments in her studies.
These would be the real life little ones behind the statistics about trafficking and street orphans. Instead they were at this children’s hostel at the AIDS hospice sponsored by the Calcutta Diocese of the Church of North India. They were being fed body and soul by an amazing team of faithful and loving adults – some of whom who had originally come to the hospice themselves to die and who had instead found life.
The Church of North India (CNI) is a partner with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ through Global Ministries. Our group had one quick day visiting the church in Kolkata.
The hospice children’s hostel was one project the bishop wanted us to see. “It’s a project run on faith,” the director explained. “We started it because we had to. Someone had to care for the children. But there is no money for it. God just somehow provides. And so far we are managing.”
Then he introduced us to nurses working far below normal pay scale just to be there, a nutritionist, a doctor, volunteers, house parents, college student interns, the CNI pastor who is the champion of the whole thing. I had watched them watch the children dance with tears in their eyes, matching the tears in my own. He showed us the garden that helps provide the food.
We also met the persons for whom the hospice was created – some deemed terminal, but some finding a new hope for life as they, too receive nutritious food and genuine care.
Jesus told us that the reign of God is at hand – just before us, breaking into the world already. Often it’s hard to believe it. But there in the middle of Kolkata, a crowded, noisy city, where strangers jostle and people go doggedly about their business, I saw in a courtyard, decorated by crepe paper and flowers – and the smiles of children – a hint of the reign of God.