Among the lepers, the wretchedly poor and the abandoned of Calcutta, Kim Frantz found herself.
The 15-year-old wept for the millions of homeless people strewn like litter on Calcutta’s sidewalks. She hugged the tiny orphans who smelled her skin, wove their fingers through her blond hair and begged for her touch.
And she felt Mother Teresa’s gnarled hand wrapped around her own.
“I want to go back and work with people. I love helping people,” said Kim, who returned from India 10 days ago.
Marty and Cindy Frantz offered to take Kim to India for two weeks after their daughter began questioning our culture’s values. Of the seven children in the family, Kim came in the middle, but she never disappeared in the crowd.
Kim didn’t want to attend public middle school. She worried what it would do to her.
“I’m easily influenced, and I didn’t want to have to worry about swearing, makeup, guys,” she said.
With her parents’ help, she found St. Dominic’s Catholic girls school in Post Falls two years ago. The Mormon family liked the school’s philosophy that knowledge is food for the soul.
“It really saved me,” said Kim, a straight-A student who now homeschools after finishing St. Dominic’s. “They worked hard at keeping worldly stuff out of our lives.”
Kim had long suspected that Americans place importance on the wrong things: money, fame, looks. At St. Dominic’s, those suspicions blossomed into beliefs. Cindy and Marty watched their daughter struggle to find values with which she could live. Finally, they offered her India.
“We wanted to give her a different perspective,” said Marty, who builds low-cost housing.
The Frantzes saved money for two years and left a few days before Easter. Cindy called the Mother House in Calcutta before their departure and told a nun the Frantzes were coming to volunteer their help. She asked if Mother Teresa might see them.
The nun relayed the information to Mother Teresa, and in the background Cindy heard a long pause and then this: “You tell them to come. If I am here, I’ll see them.”
The day they arrived, the Frantzes headed to the Mother House. They found humble buildings distinguishable from others only by their cleanliness. Kim was shocked.
“I expected this big huge thing,” she said, widening her eyes to match her expectations.
A sister asked why they had come. Cindy told her the family had a good life and wanted to share. After a long silence, the nun left to find Mother Teresa.
The tiny, bent woman who entered a moment later stunned Kim. As Mother Teresa thanked the Frantzes for coming, Kim could hardly breathe.
Then the 86-year-old nun took Kim’s hand and quoted Jesus: “When you give unto others, ye do it unto me,” slowly ticking off each word on Kim’s fingers.
“I kept thinking that this tiny woman has had such a big effect on the whole world and I’m holding her hand,” Kim said, still a bit breathless.
Kim and Cindy spent a day in Mother Teresa’s adoption center. They held children who tried to wash off Kim’s freckles, changed diapers, sheets and clothes and realized that service does as much for the volunteer as it does for the needy.
The sights of India moved Kim as much as her visit with Mother Teresa. On a trip on the Ganges River, Kim saw sewage dumped and the dead burned along the shore, along with bathers and people brushing their teeth.
She filled her journal with three pages of things for which she’s now thankful: clean streets, toilet paper, ice, running water, candy.
“I didn’t think I’d feel different, but I have a new appreciation of things,” she said, scrubbed and rested again in her Hayden home.
The trip deepened Kim’s conviction that most Americans are shallow and her resolve to help the world. But it didn’t squelch her desire for a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt from Katmandu.
“The things that were important to me before just aren’t anymore,” she said. “I want to go back to Calcutta and work with the children.”