After several days of meetings in early February, I joined the staff of Lutheran World Service India Trust (LWSIT) and partners from around the world for a cruise down the Ganges River in Kolkata.
[LWSIT is an Indian organization that engages in community development, empowerment for women and children, and disaster response in Kolkata and several states of India. LWSIT is supported in part by an ELCA World Hunger grant.]
The river cruise was meant to be a lighter relaxing moment away from conversations and dealings on the programs and great challenges at hand for LWSIT (okay, it was on what is basically used as a ferry — not very “cruise” like). As we were leisurely making our way down the river, sipping on tea, we came upon dozens of fishing boats (see photo). They were all sitting there, one large flotilla, in what perhaps is a good fishing spot.
Right at that moment, the next song that blared over the sound system of our cruise boat was Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles.
It struck me right then and there: “Ah, look at all the lonely people … All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” These lyrics were about the people out there.
I’m not saying the fisherfolk floating in their boats were lonely per se, though loneliness is part of the job of fishing at times. But out there; all out there in the world are lonely people.
Kolkata is where Mother Theresa roamed the streets ministering to the poorest of the poor, the neglected ones of the city. She once said: “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” Kolkata is a crowded city; everywhere you go there a people. As you walk the streets of Kolkata, you see these forgotten people. As you roam the squatter districts, you see these people. Those coming and going; walking, on buses and trains, sitting on the sidewalk; even the well-dressed or those in virtual rags: if you look into their faces, how many are lonely?
This all has made me think anew the role of the church and church-sponsored agencies that engage communities. It would be easy to overcome poverty in places like India with money and physical attention. But are we not more about building up human dignity, life and community? That is church at its best.
Y. Franklin Ishida
Director for Asia and the Pacific, ELCA Global Mission