“We need to do this,” Mark told her.
“We have a newborn baby,” Huldah replied.
“Who else will go?” Mark asked.
Huldah was reluctant. As a young girl, she had spent five years in Japan where her parents were missionaries. When the family returned to their home to Canada, Huldah decided she preferred life in the West. Laying in bed one night as a teenager, she vowed to never return to a life overseas.
Life has a way of throwing curveballs. Huldah met and fell in love with Mark Buntain, a Christian evangelist who happened to be head-over-heels crazy in love with helping anyone, anywhere, in need.
Huldah knew a trump card when she saw one. She was little surprised then when Mark jumped at a one-year opportunity to lead church services in Calcutta, India. They sold their car, packed their clothes, swaddled their newborn daughter, and boarded a ship bound for Calcutta. The year was 1954.
Three months at sea landed them in a city unlike any they had seen. Tens of thousands of people crowded the sidewalks, alleyways, and even the speedways, bound for untold destinations, yet with limited space to get there. Business men in freshly pressed suits climbed aboard rickshaws in a rush to meet clients; women nursed their children on the curbside; families peddled wares on a mosaic of blankets; and children amused themselves with whatever scraps of metal, paper, or plastic could be found splayed across the buzzing metropolis.
Whether working, playing, eating, or sleeping, it all seemed to take place on the city’s pathways.
Most shocking were the thousands of families devoid of work, shelter, and proper food and hygiene. Emaciated elderly men lay nearly naked on raw concrete. To their right and left, parents sat listlessly, their bony frames painfully jutting forth beneath their withered skin, duly pronounced from months of hunger.
And what to say of the children? There were children with cataracts or no eyes at all, and others with teeth splayed up through the nose, their cleft palates hindering their ability to eat and even breathe. Babies shrieked from the pain of dysentery and toddlers crawled awkwardly with limited use of their broken and deformed limbs.
It seemed in Calcutta, you either lived well or barely stayed alive.
Mark and Huldah spent those 365 days learning the needs and desires of the poor in Calcutta. They needed food, education, and medical assistance. They needed someone to give. They begged for someone to care.
The year ended, and the Buntains couldn’t bring themselves to leave. A wild idea had worked its way deep into their hearts. They had to do more, much more, for the poor of Calcutta.
One night, with heads laid resolutely on their pillows, as cows and car horns sounded faintly in the darkness outside their hot, sticky window, Calcutta became home.
Mark, the visionary, and Huldah, the tenacious administrator, wasted no time beginning a series of ambitious projects for the poor. In 1964, the Buntains opened their first school for 200 children. A year later, they began a feeding program, starting with free school lunches of milk and parathas. Concerned for the sick and injured, they built a small clinic followed by a multi-specialty hospital and outpatient facility.
Tragedy struck in 1989. Huldah was on an airplane in route to America for a fundraising campaign when she received the devastating news that Mark had suddenly passed away in Calcutta from a cranial hemorrhage.
Huldah grieved the loss of her husband. The city grieved with her. Over 20,000 residents turned out for Mark’s funeral.
Then came the overwhelming question of what would become of their work.
Huldah’s good friend in Calcutta, Mother Teresa, affirmed what Huldah could not deny: “I will miss [Mark] very much. We worked well together. You must carry on the good work. We must continue loving the poor.”
MERCY is the act of compassion shown someone when it is in your power to turn and walk away.
The bible writes: “O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Huldah chose mercy… and never looked back.
She chose mercy because she was head-over-heels, crazy in love with Calcutta.
Huldah celebrated 60 years in Calcutta in 2014. She continues to feed, educate, and medically assist the poor of the city. Under her leadership, the projects have grown to include over 100 primary and secondary schools, Bible and vocational schools, children’s homes, a daily feeding program for 10,000 people, rural clinics, and a 173-bed hospital serving 100,000 patients each year and providing 40% with free care.