Mark Saucier, Mission Director visits FCN projects

At the invitation of Tom and Geetha, I took a group from the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri to India. The nine of us planned as best we could with an endless flow of emails, sharing resources on Indian history and culture, and praying for open hearts to take in all that we could. It was an incredibly inspiring and memorable trip, but I suspect that had a lot more to do with India than our preparation.

Tom and Geetha put together the schedule with a keen sense of what would be of interest to their visitors. They allowed us time to see some of the great monuments of the country, testaments to the rich history and living faiths that make it so appealing. We walked through the marbled halls of grief of the Taj Majal, sat in the prayerful silence of the Lotus Temple, and worshipped at the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle. They were all moving, once-in-a-life time encounters, but still poor competitors to our experiences with the Foundation for Children in Need.

Thanks to Tom and Geetha, we were able to see another India few tourists can access. We met farmers in their fields, visited people in their homes, sat and talked with them over tea. We were entertained by children and welcomed as old friends by their parents and teachers. We learned that at the core of Indian belief -- be it Christian, Hindu, Muslim -- is a hospitality that is almost prayerful in its practice.

We found that hospitality first in our hosts. They shared their home, gave up their beds, monitored our meals and daily took the time to sit down with us and talk about what we were seeing and how we were reacting. That should have been no surprise. The very work of the Foundation for Children in Need is a ministry of hospitality, building the Kingdom by throwing open the doors and inviting all to the table. It is hospitality of FCN that brings kids into schools, shelters the homeless elderly, cares for the orphans, and sponsors hundreds and hundreds of other kids in hope of a new dignity so long denied in the past.

We visited FCN projects and partners in Hyderabad and Porumamilla. The cities are very different. In Hyderabad we awakened to the bustle and traffic of 7 million people but in rural Porumamilla the first sounds to greet us were the call to prayer from the minarets and the screech of monkeys outside your window. Still, in both places, there is this unmistakable sense of family among the staff and the beneficiaries of the foundation.

One day Geetha and I were talking to a group of about 20 students who were sponsored by FCN. After telling me how important the sponsors were in the lives of these kids, Geetha randomly asked them the names of their sponsors. There wasn’t a single child who did not immediately know his or her benefactor. Geetha would add a little biographical information: where the sponsor lived, how long they’d been involved or maybe their occupation. It was obvious that the sponsors were part of the family as well.

Kids would tell us about their lives. We’d often hear, “poor” or “a humble home.” At first, I was uncomfortable. Poverty seemed a shameful confession to be forced to make. But as I listened, I realized that it was a fact of their lives, albeit economic, but still just a fact like being born in a particular village or having brown eyes. The difference was that they were convinced that with education and with the help of FCN, this fact was going to change. There was no shame because they believed that their future and the future of their children would be better.

Our visit gave me a new respect for the vision of the Foundation for Children in Need. Tom and Geetha have a simple, abiding commitment to the people of India. There is no desire to become some large international aid agency. They want to preserve this sense of family. They want to serve their neighbors’ greatest needs by doing what they do best. For FCN, this will always be education and health care.

In that vision, there is a flexibility -- a willingness to read the signs of the times and to adapt accordingly. For example, their St. Francis Xavier Home for the Elderly is an almost idyllic place for the aged. In recent years though, other homes, mostly small businesses, have begun to appear. Tom and Geetha are not threatened by this. Instead of competitively expanding this service, they plan to actually limit future residents by accepting only those elderly who are poor and childless – who have no other alternative for care. FCN will use the space to begin an orphanage to reach out to another group of “the least.”

In that vision, there is a flexibility -- a willingness to read the signs of the times and to adapt accordingly. For example, their St. Francis Xavier Home for the Elderly is an almost idyllic place for the aged. In recent years though, other homes, mostly small businesses, have begun to appear. Tom and Geetha are not threatened by this. Instead of competitively expanding this service, they plan to actually limit future residents by accepting only those elderly who are poor and childless – who have no other alternative for care. FCN will use the space to begin an orphanage to reach out to another group of “the least.”

Mark Saucier, Director

Mission Office

Tom and Geetha,

How can I thank you enough for making possible such an amazing, inspiring pilgrimage to your wonderful country. I feel I experienced its people and culture inside out, exactly the kind of experience I value so much. I was inspired by your past accomplishments and ongoing work among "the little ones," the very ones to whom Christ directed us.

As a priest, I am always interested in how "Church" looks like in a different culture. Mass means everything to me; I will cherish my "barefoot" Masses at your home for the elderly and over the tomb of St. Thomas. However, my most memorable contact with Church in India was the both of you and your dedicated work. Different gifts are needed at different levels in our faith, but I find Church as you live it so admirable and refreshing.

I am grateful how you presented India as it is; I discovered a friendliness and prayerful spirit.

On top of all of this, I have a special place in my heart to both of you because of the "opportunity" to be the receiver of such competent and compassionate care on my arrival in India. As Tom promised, you Geetha, provided the best care I could possibly have had. I am so grateful.

My best to Parnitha and Bina.

Fr. Don Antweiler

Dear Tom and Geetha,

Words can hardly express my gratitude for the generous hospitality you extended to all of us from the Diocese of Jefferson City. I knew the visit would be an exceptional experience to visit your country, but I'm unable to thank you enough for all the opportunities you provided us. I feel so blessed to have experienced all that we saw and learned about the Foundation for Children in Need and about India in general. It was a full, rich experience to be treasured always. It will be shared multiple times and with many people in our parish and in my community. I will do all I can to further the message of the transforming work of your foundation.

Thank you also for the personal welcome in your home and family, and for lovely gifts given to us. The personal care you graciously extended for our safety and well being throughout our visit was an expected gift. Having the opportunity to visit the famous sites in Delhi and Agra with an escort and guide enabled us to see so much in the days there. You made this truly an experience of a lifetime! I will forever be grateful.

God is truly working through you. It is reflected in the faces of the people we met who have benefited from FCN. It is apparent in your dedication and selfless energy and commitment. You are God's hands for the people you touch.

Knowing God will continue to generously bless you and your work, and with gratitude always,

Barbara Swanson


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