Margeret K. McElderry Books, 2005
For those of us who grew up in the closing years of the twentieth century, Mother Teresa is something of an icon. She stands for everything that is saintly, good, and – well, all too often, unattainable. “What do you expect,” I remember friends in high school saying. “I’m not Mother Teresa!” She’s one of those rare public Christians that nearly everyone can agree on: she is a Good Guy, a sort of secular saint.
Except that there is nothing remotely secular about her.
All we do is for Jesus,’ Teresa said to the Missionaries of Charity. ‘We are first of all religious. We are not social workers, teachers, nurses, or doctors. We are religious sisters. We serve Jesus in the poor, we nurse Him, feed Him, clothe Him, visit Him, and comfort Him in the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the orphans, and the dying. All we do – our prayer, our work, our suffering – is for Jesus. Our life has no other reason or motivation.’ “
Mother Teresa, an illustrated biography by noted author-illustrator Demi, makes the central focus of her ministry plain. Mother Teresa’s call, her obedience, the miracles she witnessed, and the astounding work God did through her are all recounted in detail; yet Demi allows the diminutive nun herself to speak throughout – and Mother Teresa could never speak of her work without speaking about who it was for: Jesus.
Although this is a picture book, it is really closer to a middle-grade reading level: there are lots of dates, facts, and details about Mother Teresa’s work, life in India, and the Missionaries of Charity. I was fairly familiar with her life story, having read Malcolm Muggeridge’s Something Beautiful For God. Nevertheless, I found this book particularly affecting and inspiring. The enormity and beauty of her work are on display alongside her humility and simplicity. Each page includes a quotation from Mother Teresa, a prayer she has composed, or a passage of Scripture. The illustrations are tender yet reverent: my favorite is one of Mother Teresa praying, face in hands, as Jesus looks quietly on her back.
(I found this picture especially poignant, given what we know now about Mother Teresa’s ongoing faithfulness through a lifelong dark night of the soul.)
Protestant readers, be aware: Mother Teresa was a faithful daughter of the Roman Catholic church, and the Missionaries of Charity are a Catholic order. The end of the book contains a detailed account of her process towards sainthood, and yes, there’s a picture of Pope John Paul II smiling from the back cover with his apostolic blessing for the book. Don’t let that deter you. You’d miss a wonderful opportunity to introduce kids to an ecumenical experience, in which we see God powerfully at work across confessions and man-made divisions.