Hal Donaldson’s story is one that illustrates what it means to be on a journey—to experience tragedy as a child and then face it on a much grander, global scale as an adult. It’s not always easy to find our life’s mission, but I believe we can learn from one another what it means to hear God’s still, small voice and respond with obedience. In his book, Disruptive Compassion, Hal takes us on an adventure – from distributing groceries to the working poor from the back of a pickup truck to the establishment of an international nonprofit organization. On the front lines of poverty and suffering, he reveals his private struggles and frank conversations with God. But, through it all, he became the revolutionary he was born to be. And that’s just it – we were all born to be revolutionaries. The only question is, what’s holding us back? It’s a grace to welcome Hal to the farm’s front porch today…
Zombie phobia kicked in as I climbed the hospital’s dimly lit cement steps.
For some reason, every hospital scene in every zombie movie I’d ever seen came flooding back.
But this was no ordinary hospital or hospice. It was Mother Teresa’s Home for Dying Destitutes in Kolkata, India.
I had arrived in the city just twenty-four hours earlier to write a book on legendary missionaries Mark and Huldah Buntain.
They had arranged for me to interview Mother Teresa—the chance of a lifetime.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’d heard stories of her work my entire life. I guess I imagined she had a halo over her head.
I said to myself, I’m just a kid—I don’t know the proper etiquette. Am I supposed to bow, shake hands, or kiss her cheek?Trying the latter seemed risky, so I decided to wing it and follow her lead.
Garbed in her distinctive white and blue sari, she shuffled to a bench. Smiling, she asked, “What’s your name, young man?”
Several beats passed before I could respond. “Hal Donaldson.”
“Where are you from and what do you do?” she asked.
“I’m a writer from the United States. I came to Kolkata to write a book on Mark and Huldah Buntain.”
Her face seemed to light up. “They have helped many in our city.”
“Yes, they have big hearts. May I ask you a few questions?”
She nodded. “If it will help them and their work.”
For the next twenty minutes, I scribbled her quotes in my reporter’s notebook, trying not to miss one detail.
As I wrote I thought, I feel like I’m talking to my grandmother—without the milk and cookies—rather than a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Repeatedly she deflected my praises. “It’s all because of God,” she said.
As our time came to a close, she leaned forward. “Young man, can I ask you what you do to help the poor?”
Her question wasn’t accusative, demanding, or condescending. It was just a question. But to me it felt laced with expectation. If I lied to Mother Teresa, I was surely putting my life in jeopardy.
So I told the truth. I glanced away and said, “I’m really not doing anything.”
She could have condemned me, chastised me, or struck me with a lightsaber and I wouldn’t have blamed her.
Instead, she smiled and said, “Everyone can do something.”
Internally I launched into protest: I feel enough shame already. Take away my milk and cookie privileges. Or ask God to give me a cavity or two. But please, no more guilt trips.
Little did she know how devastated I was by the sight of children living in tiny hovels, lapping water from streams filled with sewage, and climbing atop garbage heaps.
I was new to this scale of poverty, and my emotions were being squeezed.
Meanwhile, I was staying at the opulent Oberoi Grand Hotel. I had never seen such a display of marble tile, brilliant brass fixtures, ornate pottery, and crystal chandeliers.
Nightly, from the safety of that luxurious room, I heard the cries of hunger and moans of disease from Kolkata’s homeless population outside my window.
I tossed and turned in the plushest of beds. I wish I could say sleep eluded me because I was asking, “How can I help them?”
But in reality I was plagued by a very different question: “Now that I know, how can I carry on with my life the same way?”
I visited Kolkata prior to the present government’s rise to power. Since then, India has made great strides and become an economic force. In the 1940s, Kolkata was decimated by famine and disease.
So, in response, Mother Teresa and the Buntains started feeding programs, medical clinics, and schools. They defined their mission and, despite adversity and great risk, pressed on to meet their objectives.
As with them, sometimes your circumstances determine your mission. In other words, sometimes you don’t have to go looking for your mission—the mission finds you.
Mother Teresa came to Kolkata as a teacher and headmistress at a school.
The Buntains came to the city as missionaries to establish a church.
When confronted with poverty, disease, and illiteracy, they didn’t throw up their hands and say, “It’s someone else’s problem.”
They didn’t curse the darkness and walk away.
They took action.
The first (and most important) steps to accomplishing a mission are to recognize a need and accept responsibility for doing something about it.
Trekking across a schoolyard with Mark Buntain was like accompanying a rock star through a crowded arena. Children dashed toward him, clamoring for a hug or a pat on the head. He greeted each one by name and offered them snacks from his pocket.
“Do you ever get tired of this?” I asked.
“No, they’re our mission. They’re whey we’re here.”
“Do you ever feel like you’ve given up a normal life? I know you’ve sacrificed a lot.”
I struck a nerve with that question.
He turned and locked eyes with me. “This isn’t sacrifice—this is a privilege.”
Hours later, I sat alone in my hotel room, fending off tears, confusion, and shame.
I felt like swearing at the world and punching the walls until my knuckles were bloody—anything to redirect the pain.
Some people can easily block out the images of hungry children begging in the streets. I used to do that too.
But now that I was here, I couldn’t. I wanted to run down to the streets, round them up, welcome them into my suite, and order every item on the room service menu.
Instead, I closed my eyes and soaked my pillow with tears.
Today, I look back on this experience and realize it was about far more than simply realizing the depth of poverty around the world.
Facing Mother Teresa was a turning point in my life – a time at which I had to question the way I’d been living and begin to ask the tough questions.
I’d encourage you to take the same step in your own life.
Dare to ask yourself today: What’s holding me back from becoming the revolutionary I was born to be?
Identify what’s in your way and have the courage to step forward – step out – and see what happens when you step into disruptive compassion.
Hal Donaldson has authored thirty books and serves as founder and CEO of Convoy of Hope, an international, faith-based humanitarian organization. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from San Jose state University and a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Bethany University. He and his wife, Doree, have four daughters, a cat and a dog (both male…so Hal’s not totally outnumbered).
Disruptive Compassion dares to declare you can spark real and meaningful change. You can be the change you want to see in the world. The kind that comes through acts of kindness and compassion.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]