WATCH: How Mother Teresa helped this women’s rights warrior fight forced abortion in China
June 20, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- She has become one of the world’s most recognized voices in the battle against China’s oppressive regime of forced abortion, gendercide, and human trafficking. She has briefed the Vatican, the United Nations, and a number of Western world powers about the tragic loss of over 300 million lives due to China’s brutal anti-life and anti-family policies. And now she’s telling the world about a soon-to-be canonized saint who, years ago, personally inspired her to find a way to use her gifts to serve others.
It was 1987 when Reggie Littlejohn and her husband decided as a newly married couple to take a year away from their studies at Yale University and travel around the world. Their travels eventually brought them to Calcutta where they decided to stay for six weeks volunteering to help the poor at Mother Teresa’s famous Missionaries of Charity.
It is an experience that left Reggie, who at the time was working towards becoming a successful lawyer, not only profoundly changed, but which ultimately planted the seeds for Reggie’s future life of activism on behalf of Chinese women.
“It was really one of the most profound experiences of my entire life,” Reggie told LifeSiteNews in an exclusive interview in Rome last month. “And of course, Mother Teresa is being canonized in September, so now I'm coming forward to tell people about the amazing woman that she was.”
Thinking back about her time spent with Mother Teresa in the 1980s, Reggie said that she is “overjoyed” that the helper of the poor will be canonized. “She absolutely was a saint. She just radiated peace, power, and love,” she said.
The touch of her hands
Reggie remembers arriving at the home of the Missionaries of Charity and being personally welcomed in the warmest way by Mother Teresa, who at that point had already won the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for helping the "poorest of the poor" in the slums of Calcutta and for spreading her work with the poor around the world.
“What she does is she takes your hand in both of her hands, and says, ‘Hello, welcome, welcome. I'm so glad you are here.’ And she did that to both of us. She had these very warm and embracing hands that communicated so much, just with the touch of her hands. I was ecstatic for hours after that,” she recounted.
In a letter she wrote home during that time Reggie described Mother Teresa in this way:
“She is a short woman in her mid-seventies, bent at mid-back as if in a permanent posture of prayer. Her face is lined with love, and her deeply crinkled eyes pour out compassion. She is in such a state of grace that when she takes your hand, smiles and says, 'God bless you,' she opens the inner chambers of your soul and leaves you ecstatic for hours.”
Assaulted in the subway
The married couple began volunteering at several of the homes for the poor in Calcutta. One day, while taking the Calcutta subway by herself to work in one of the homes, Reggie was sexually assaulted. She attempted to punch her assailant, but missed. Then she tried to chase him down, but was hampered by her cumbersome flip flops. She returned that night to the motherhouse feeling upset and dejected. She told Mother Teresa about the day’s event, expecting to be scolded by her for trying to punch and then chase down her attacker.
“She didn't say that at all,” Reggie recounted. “Instead she said, ‘You were right to defend yourself and I'm glad that you did, but you should never go alone anywhere. That is why we go two-by-two. You should always have somebody with you especially when you are going on the subway.’”
“Then she took my hand again and hers and prayed for me, and again, I was just totally elated that she would take the time to talk to me about this,” Reggie related.
“She consoled me, prayed for me, and in the end left me feeling elated and stronger than if I had never been assaulted at all,” she wrote about the event to her family back home.
A few weeks later, Reggie’s parents came from California to visit their daughter in Calcutta to see for themselves the awe-inspiring wonders that she had been describing to them in letters and phone calls. As the parents were preparing to depart, Reggie’s dad asked if he could take a picture of his daughter with Mother Teresa, who was taking her usual “rest hour.” Reggie was at first adamant that Mother Teresa should not be disturbed, but at her father’s insistence, she went and knocked hesitatingly on Mother’s door.
“Mother Teresa got up from whatever she was doing, probably taking a nap, and stood there and posed with me for my father to get this picture of me with Mother Teresa, which I have and which I treasure,” Reggie said.
That Mother Teresa would drop whatever she was doing when asked to pose for a photograph spoke volumes to Reggie about Mother Teresa’s focus on other people and testified to her deep humility.
“What it also says is that mother Theresa completely poured her life out for everyone, and every single person was Jesus Christ to her, whether that was the pope, whether it was someone who was dying of leprosy on the street, or whether it was some snot-nosed volunteer who was disturbing her in the middle of her nap to get a photograph because her father wanted a photograph. No matter what, she had no resentment. There was no indication of [an attitude that communicated something like], ‘How dare you? Don't you understand who I am?’ There was nothing like that. She was so, so humble,” Reggie said.
The girl who was twisted like a dishrag
It was while working at Shisha Bhavan, the home for sick and abandoned children, that Reggie was to learn one of the most important lessons in her life. The home was part of Mother Teresa’s efforts to combat abortion through adoption after she had found an infant abandoned in a garbage bin. Reggie was given the task of feeding breakfast to one young girl whose spine and limbs were “twisted like a dishrag.”
“All of her limbs were going out in all different angles, and it looked like her jaw had never been formed,” Reggie recounted. The girl weighed about 20 pounds and appeared to be about three years old. She was actually twenty-three.
Reggie’s hour-long attempt to feed the small girl porridge resulted in the gooey mush running down the girl’s face, into her ears, onto her chest, and mixing into her hair. She assumed that since the girl’s body was mangled, then her mind must be malformed as well. She was surprised when a sister told her that the girl understood Bengali and English and liked to be spoken to.
“I couldn’t think of anything to say to her. What do you say to somebody in these circumstances? So, I paused for a few seconds and then finally said, ‘How did you enjoy your breakfast?”
The girl’s response changed Reggie forever.
“And she broke into the most beautiful beatific smile that I have ever seen. Her smile was full of joy, it was full of love, it was so radiant that immediately I saw that I was in the presence of a spiritual giant and I was a spiritual midget, or a toad. I felt like a toad next to her, because in circumstances that would have made me feel really bitter — [and my attitude would likely be] ‘Why did this happen to me, and why can’t I be like other people, etc.’ — all she was was grateful and joyful and loving. That was her whole being,” she said.
The encounter with the young woman changed Reggie’s perception about the value and dignity of each and every person, no matter who they are and what difficult problems and circumstances they might have.
“And then I understood Mother Teresa’s passion for saving every single life, no matter what. Everyone has a purpose on this earth. I believe the purpose of that young woman — one of the purposes, at least for me — was to show the spiritual power of accepting a life of suffering like that. It really kind of blows the mind. It is so contrary when compared to the West where [life] is all about how much pleasure can we get and how can we avoid suffering,” she said.
The insight was to become foundational for Reggie’s future activism in China.
In a letter home, Reggie wrote about her encounter with the twisted and malformed woman in this way: “I found that I have something to learn from this young woman, whose bright smile is full of joy and love. I feel humble next to her, since her greatness of spirit enables her to be a ‘light of the world,’ shining blessings on others in a circumstance that probably would have made me a bitter and angry person.”
Women’s Rights Without Frontiers
Years later Reggie would become the founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an international coalition that exposes and opposes forced abortion, gendercide, and sexual slavery in China. As an international expert on China’s brutal policies she has testified a half-a-dozen times at the United States Congress, twice at the European Parliament, and at the British and Irish Parliaments. Reggie hopes to make an end of these injustices by bringing them to the light.
But, not content to simply be a voice for Chinese women, Reggie also founded the “Save a girl Campaign,” what she describes as a “boots-on-the-ground” program in China that provides a monthly stipend for a year to mothers who are at risk of aborting or abandoning their baby girls. The money helps the mother resist pressure to abort her baby. The campaign has already saved hundreds of babies. Taking the campaign to a personal level, Reggie and her husband welcomed into their home two Chinese sisters in 2013 after the girls’ father was imprisoned and tortured for speaking out against Communist government abuses.
Reggie said one important lesson she learned while working with the Missionaries of Charity, especially when she encountered their work with the lepers, was that if we do not feel the suffering and pain of others, then we have contracted what she called “spiritual leprosy.” She described how leprosy destroys a person’s sensations in their arms and legs such that they can no longer feel when their foot has fallen into fire or when they have wounded their hand. In many instances badly bruised, cut, or burnt extremities must be amputated.
“We are told that we are the body of Christ, and that if one part of the body rejoices, we all rejoice, and if one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. If we are not suffering with the parts of the body that are suffering in the extremities — for example the poor, the persecuted, the people who are struggling even to be born — if we cannot experience that suffering then we are suffering from a form of spiritual leprosy,” she said.
Reggie said that there exists an antidote to such leprosy.
“I think it is important to remain tender, and to not close ourselves off [to others], and to not look the other way. People sometimes say, ‘Oh, it is so overwhelming, there are so many horrible things that are going on in the world, there is nothing I can do.’ And unfortunately, they just don't do anything, and then they lead a very self-centered life. Of course, you can't remedy all the ills in the world, but if you're not doing anything, you need to be doing something,” she said.
Almost thirty years ago, Reggie wrote to her family that working with Mother Teresa “has been life-transforming.” But the experience left her asking some uncomfortable questions that she shared with her family at that time.
“As a budding Christian, which is what I suppose I am, how can I pretend to love my neighbor as myself when I am earning a large salary while my neighbor freezes to death on the steps of my office building? Will I ever find the answers to these questions, and if I do, will I have the strength to act on them, especially if it means turning down the elite legal career that beckons me so seductively?” she wrote in 1988.
From Mother Teresa’s example, Reggie began to see an answer to her questions.
“For me, Mother Teresa serves as a signpost in answering these questions. She says we frequently get so caught up in grand plans to save the world that we don’t see the little things right in front of us that we could do to help our neighbors. The result is that we end up doing nothing, pushing the grand plan into the future as it is always too intimidating to start now. She points out that when she started her order she had no ‘grand plans,’ but began by picking up one dying man off the street. If she had known in the beginning what a massive worldwide organization her order would become she fears she never would have had the gumption to start it,” she wrote to her family.
She concluded her 1988 letter this way: “She is also fond of saying that what counts is not how much we accomplish, but how much love we put into what we accomplish – so that if we are truly loving in the small project we undertake for your neighbor, God will soon increase our opportunities to love.
“Therefore, if we don’t know what to do with our lives, we should start our quest to find out by loving our neighbor in whatever humble way we can. In this way, we will get closer to God, whose design for our lives will unfold before us, day by day,” she wrote.