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I’d somehow forgotten the intensity of the sensation I felt last year when I met my Unbound sponsored friend Jackilyn for the very first time in the Philippines. I recalled the joy, but that same immediate rush of intense emotion washed over me yesterday as I ascended a stairway in a concrete building in Southern India yesterday.

I had already been welcomed into the community by a group of Unbound staff and program “Service Scholars”, so my head had begun to adjust to Madurai and the many ways in which this place is so different from the other communities we’ve visited in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Lisa Hendey meets her sponsored elder Lourdhumary for the very first time.

But it wasn’t until I climbed those steps and embraced Lourdhumary that the “Wow!!” feelings truly hit me.

Lourdhumary will no longer be a tiny square picture and a set of statistics in a file folder on my desk. Her bio will no longer be a sad story of need and poverty. Gone is any sense of emotional separation from the challenges that fill this elder’s daily struggle to survive.

Because now, Lourdhumary is a real part of my life. But what also immediately occurred to me--and what I know from the scores of Unbound sponsored children I have met--is that for those in this program who receive support from sponsors, we sponsors are already very real to them. If you sponsor, please know that your sponsored friend thinks of you daily, because you have changed their lives in such a massive way through your support for Unbound.

Lourdhumary and I had the opportunity yesterday to sit for about three hours and get to know one another. With amazing help from Unbound Evaluator Paul, who was so skilled at simultaneous translation, we held a broad ranging conversation about our faith, our families and what like is life for this widow and mother of two surviving children.

I’m told that Lourdhumary is somewhere near my parents’ age--like many seniors here, she does not know the date or year of her birth. But she feels quite a lot more “seasoned”, perhaps owing to the challenges she has faced in life. Her eldest son died of an electrocution accident. Like so many mothers I know who have lost children, she bears this hurt deeply. Her husband, who was still working as a tricycle puller into his elder years, passed away two years ago. One of the few photos in Lourdhumary’s home is their wedding photo. When she beamed and showed the treasured memento to me, I remarked how much she looked like her eldest daughter, who was present with us yesterday to welcome me and to care for her mother. Lourdhumary struggles with arthritis and cataracts, but was quick to assure me that her health is good.

You might wonder what you would talk about if you had the chance to sit with an elder in India for three hours. I’ll admit that I wondered about that too... how would we pass the time? Would there be enough to talk about? What if we couldn’t understand each other?

Lourdhumary shares her wedding photo

I realize now that I shouldn’t have been worried. From the moment I entered Lourdhumary’s home, it was obvious that God truly made our “match”. Immediately evident to me was this grandmother’s deep faith. Hanging on the wall, as if in a little “wink from God”, was a Saint Teresa of Kolkata wall calendar with Lourdhumary’s rosary dangling from the nail that held it to the wall. It’s becoming almost comical how Mother Teresa pops up on this trip when I am most in need of comfort or reassurance. On the niche in the wall next to her bed (which was really just a metal platform with no blanket, pillow or mattress), Lourdhumary’s well worn Bible sat as evidence of what she told me later was her favorite hobby: reading scripture.

It seemed to me almost immediately that I had somehow received as my sponsored elder the original “Catholic Mom of India”. When I asked this mom, whose daughter is named “Fatima” and whose own name is a tribute to Our Lady of Lourdes who her favorite saint is, she immediately said, “Our Blessed Mother”.

Much of our heartfelt conversation consisted of me asking Lourdhumary for advice. My future daughter-in-law will be happy to know that I received a master course on how to be a good mother-in-law! Lourdhumary spoke to us of how her faith sustains her in the daily trials she faces. She begins every day with a rosary. The fact that she lives immediately across the street from her tiny Catholic church means that she can visit with Jesus daily, sometimes multiple times a day.

All too soon, it was time for us to say goodbye to Lourdhumary, her family and all of the neighbors who had gathered to be a part of our time together. But before leaving, we walked across the street to Our Lady of Fatima parish and knelt before Jesus, each praying aloud in our native tongues. For me, the most obvious prayers to recite aloud were the Hail Mary and the Memorare. While I can’t say for sure what Lourdhumary was praying, I’m relatively certain that she was asking Mama Mary to watch over me!

I will see Lourdhumary again one more time at a group celebration before it is time for us to say farewell. I’m already imagining how the letters we write to one another using Unbound’s wonderful “e-letter” service will play out: me asking her for advice, her reminding me to pray and to love and to put family first. At this point, while on paper I am officially the “sponsor”, it’s clear to see who is blessing whom in my friendship with Lourdhumary!

Lisa and Lourdhumary pray together at her parish

Our time together has also reminded me how important it is to be more attentive to the “elders” in my own life. The things that Lourdhumary taught me have already been poured into my spirit for years by my own parents and mother-in-law. While I would hesitate to call them “elders”, I realize how very blessed I am to have such ready access to the true wisdom that comes with age.

It’s good to know that our Catholic Mom family has now extended to include one more regular contributor. While you may not read any articles by Lourdhumary here at the website, you can rest assured that she is with each of you in prayer daily!

Be sure to watch here on the blog for my India Journal entries and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to experience the fun. I'll be using the hashtag #UnboundAdventure while on the trip. If you have tips for me, questions about this mission or Unbound or simply want to come along on the adventure, be sure to drop me a comment, tweet or message!

My patron saints for this journey will be the patrons of India: St. Thomas--called "Apostle of India"--who built India's first church, St. Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary to India, and our Blessed Mother in her titles of Our Lady of the Assumption, Our Lady of Bandel and Our Lady of Bandra. Please join me in praying for Our Lady's intercession in the work of Unbound and for the wisdom and example of Saints Thomas and Francis in understanding how the Good News of Christ's gospel calls me to be a servant in our world.

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Copyright 2017 Lisa M. Hendey