69: Eyes to See
While sorting her late daughter’s belongings, Becky makes a surprising discovery that eventually takes her across the world to India, where her eyes are opened to a whole new world. Consumed with the desire to “do something” but unsure of what to do, the answer to Becky’s prayer is startlingly simple, and begins an effort that will eventually impact thousands, but most importantly, lead Becky to personal healing through Jesus Christ.
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, please reach out to someone for help. You can text: 741741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255. Chat options are also available online: suicidepreventionlifeline.org
See Sister Craig's full conference talk, "Eyes to See", here.
See Sister Linda K. Burton's full conference talk, "I Was a Stranger" here.
Becky lost her daughter, Amber, to suicide. After Amber's death, Becky found that Amber had been making donations to an orphanage in India.
Becky helped organize a non-profit after she took a trip to India and felt compelled to help the people who are suffering with leprosy:
For more information about Rising Star Outreach Foundation, see their website here: risingstaroutreach.org
Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people, who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host KaRyn Lay.
As someone who works full time – and maybe a little bit more than full time, because I really love my job – Saturdays are my only day to run errands. And when it comes to General Conference, I'm not organized enough to remember to get everything done ahead of the Saturday sessions. So I admit, sometimes I find myself on the road when conference starts. And I tell you this so that you'll understand why I remember that I was sitting in the parking lot of a dollar store when I first heard sister Craig's talk, "Eyes to See" from the October 2020 General Conference.
I picked it up right as Sister Craig was telling the story of a friend who was in the middle of a painful divorce. That friend really just wanted to come to the chapel and go unnoticed on the back pew, because Sunday's had become really hard days for her with the change in her family situation. But there was a 16 year old girl who had other plans.
She saw the sister sitting at the back of the chapel, and then made it a point to go and talk to her, to hug her, to comfort her that Sunday. And then she did it again and again, week after week after week. And Sister Craig quoted this friend who said, "It made such a difference in how I felt about coming to church. The truth is I started to rely on those hugs, someone noticed me, someone knew I was there, someone cared." And I of course, sat crying in my car in the parking lot, having all the feelings, because that concept of seeing others deeply from this talk, it resonated with my storyteller heart.
It's basically the whole reason that "This Is the Gospel" exists. Because seeing people deeply is the key to the kind of charity that isn't just giving things away. It's the kind of charity that demands and offers us Christlike connection to every person, and the kind of charity that defines our Christian discipleship.
The thing I loved most about Sister Craig's talk – look, I'm crying before we even get started – the thing I love about a Sister Craig's talk was that she acknowledged that in order for us to see others deeply, we first have to have eyes to see. And that part is going to take some introspection, and a commitment to examining the terms of our covenants.
So today, we have one powerful story from Becky, a woman who desperately needed eyes to see, and how the Lord offered that gift to her in a truly unique way.
A quick note, this story contains a brief mention of suicide and descriptions of disease that might be difficult for some sensitive listeners. Here's Becky.
My oldest daughter, Amber, was severely bipolar. Amber struggled in and out of mental institutions when she got into high school, for the next seven years, trying to find healing. And she eventually gave up and took her own life. I was devastated. The loss of a child is always soul rending, but the loss of a child through suicide is absolutely crushing.
She was in college at the time that she died, and when we went through her things, we found that she had been sending part of the money we gave her for college every month to support an orphan in India. I was really surprised to find this out because, you know, typically college students are really struggling to make ends meet. But I think maybe because she suffered so much she just had a tender spot for the underdog. And I think it lifted her and it kind of helped keep her going.
So we decided that her funeral, instead of having people send flowers, we just asked them to send donations to this little orphanage that she was sending money to. People were so generous than enough money was sent in that the orphanage asked me to be on the board of directors. And I thought, okay, if I'm going to be on this board, maybe I better go to India and see what it is I'm doing.
But there was more than that. I was struggling to find healing for this gaping wound that seemed to have hit my own soul. And I was really hoping that when I got to this orphanage and saw what Amber was so involved in, that it would bring some closure for me, also.
When I got to India, the children in the orphanage were darling. 54 of them, and this was back in 2000. As we would go from our hotel to the orphanage and then at night back again, on the streets of India, every time our car stopped at a stoplight, these beggars would just engulf us. Pounding on the windows and these were not normal beggars. Their faces were sunken. Some of them their eyes were gone. They had pus dripping down their arms and rotting hands and feet. I just have never seen anything like it.
They're suffering to me just seemed almost palpable. And they were pounding the windows. And I was with three other women, and so we would just start talking to each other whenever the car started slowing down at a stoplight, because we didn't want to look at them. We didn't know what we could do for them. I said to our driver, "Who are these people?" And he said, "Oh, those are the lepers." I said, "What are you talking about? There's no leprosy in the world today." He goes, "Yeah, we have millions in India."
And I thought, seriously? Millions of people live this way? Why doesn't somebody do something? At night when I would be in my bed trying to sleep, I would just keep thinking about these people. And I just thought, this problem is huge. What can I do? I mean, who am I? I'm a homemaker. I mean, I'm not anyone that could do anything. But I kept thinking, why doesn't somebody do something? And then finally I thought, well, duh, you're somebody do something.
One night, I just started to pray. And I said, "If you want me to do something, you need to teach me. I mean, I have no idea what to do." And the thought just came to me, you can just look at them. And I thought, what? I just have to look at them? I mean, seriously, that's it? But I thought about it, I thought, well, maybe no one looks at them. Maybe they need to be validated or accepted as human beings. So I thought, well, you know, this is a little thing.
Yes. Okay, so I can look at them. So the next day, I was determined to look at them. But, as we got in the car and started to go in the morning, it was just that same sense of feeling – so sad to look at them. I had a hard time. But then we came to a stoplight. And the driver said, "Becky, open the window, stick your head out and tell that woman to back away. I'm afraid that when the light turns green, I'm going to run over her." So I opened the window and put my head out. And here's this woman who had crawled up to the car on her belly. Now, you have to know that everyday in India in the summer in Chennai is over 100 degrees, that blacktop is boiling hot. But she crawled up, she was bone thin. This ragged, sari draping, and of course, saris are just a long piece of material, there's no – they're not really sewn. And so it was, you know, separating as she crawled and she was there scratching the tires on our car trying to get our attention.
And I leaned my head out the window and yelled at her, you know, "Move away, move away." And she looked up, and there was just the split second that our gazes met. And I thought, oh my gosh, she's just a woman. She's just like me. She's probably a mother. I mean, I have no idea, right? I mean, it just, it was so fast. And then the light was green, the car was gone. And that was it. You know, there are moments of life – they're gone. You just can't get them back. And that was one of those moments, but I could not get her out of my mind the rest of the time I was in India.
When I finally got home to Georgia, I had the same problem. I couldn't sleep because these images just haunted me at night. And finally, one morning after a long night, I got up and I thought okay, Becky, well, you can have insomnia forever, or you can do something about this.
And so I called three of my friends who were also homemakers. These were people I'd worked with over the years in different organizations, Young Women's, Relief Society, whatever, and people that I knew were doers. And I said, "I have a project for us. It's a surprise, come on over to my home, and let's talk about it." They came over, we sat around my kitchen table and we talked about my experience. And I said "We gotta do something, ladies."
And they said, "Well, what are your thoughts?" I said "Well, I don't really have any thoughts." "Well, what do you think we should do?" "I have no idea. But you are very creative people. Maybe together we can think of something. At the very least we need to raise money and hire a doctor. Those people over there need to get their wounds treated for one thing." So they said, "Okay, well we could raise money to hire a doctor."
But really, we were clueless. Frankly, we threw out ideas, we didn't know anything, but we were excited. And everybody left excited. So when my husband, John, got home a few minutes after they left, I was still very excited. I said, "John, you are never gonna believe what I did today." He said, "Becky, those are words that strike fear into my heart" –does have a history. But he said, "Alright, hit me." And I said, "Okay, so, you know, my friends came over and we have formed a charity. We are going to serve people in India that have leprosy," and he just was stunned. And he said, "Seriously?" He said, "Becky, what do you know about leprosy?" And I thought, oh, well, nothing. And he said, "Okay, well, what do you know about medicine?" And I said, "Well, not a lot . . . I mean, you know, nothing – essentially." And he said, "What do you know about India?"
And I said, "I was there. I was there for 10 days." And he just kind of rolled his eyes and he said, "What do you know about running a nonprofit or a business?" And I said, "Okay, nothing." And he said, "Well, what do you think you're going to do?" And I said, "I don't know. But we're gonna do something. And I know, if people donate to us, we're gonna need a license that says that they don't have to pay taxes, you're an attorney, you need to get us that license." And he said, "I see." He said, "That's called a 501C3 license, and normally, Becky, when you ask the government for one you have to tell them what you're going to do."
I said, "Great. Just tell them we're going to do something." And that's how we started. We were four housewives and a secretary. And we thought we were going to change the world, right? But I have learned since then, that it is possible for one person to make a difference in this world. There's all kinds of things written about the power of one, but when one person is joined by others, then that power is multiplied exponentially. And in our case, we just literally saw that happen. Not because we were smart, or we were anything, because we weren't nearly smart enough to create what has followed. And we made mistakes. And we were humbled. We encouraged each other though, rather than give up.
But I kept wanting – when I would go back – to find that one lady, I just kept looking for her. I never did find her again. But God brought many wonderful people to help us.
One day, I was sitting in my bedroom in Norcross, Georgia, and the phone rang and the woman was on the phone. As she said, my name is, "Padma Venkatraman and I work in India with people that have leprosy, why don't we partner?" And I just thought, well, who are you? And I didn't learn from her then, but later, I learned that she was the daughter of the former President of India, that she had been the permanent woman's representative to the United Nations from India for 20 years, and that during much of that time, she was the Head of the Council on women's affairs. So essentially, the top woman in the world on women's issues. And so she had all the experience that we didn't have, and she began to teach us and to try to guide us.
In India, there's a very strong caste system. The government claims that it was outlawed, and it no longer exists, but it's very much alive in the hearts of the people. And the leprosy affected know that they're not to be touched. In fact, they're that very, very bottom of the untouchable caste, there are hundreds of well defined levels within each caste. And they are the very, very bottom – they're the most cursed by God. In fact, they are so untouchable that until just the late 1980's, by law, if their shadow touched you, you were considered defiled, and you were justified by law in beating them almost to death.
So they were frightened when we first started touching them. Because in India, typically the lighter your skin, the higher your caste. And since we have light skin, they were afraid that if anyone saw, that they would become angry, and that they would beat them because they were being touched by a high caste person. So they were in fact afraid of being touched by us. So there was a huge gulf there that we had to learn to cross, and they had to learn to be able to cross it.
We could not find a single doctor that would work for us, because the leprosy affected are considered the very bottom of the untouchable caste. And they are so stigmatized that when we tried to hire doctors for any amount of money, they'd say, "Oh. I could never work with people that have leprosy, because then I would become defiled and all my patients would leave me and I would lose my entire practice. And so no, I can't work for you."
When Padma joined as she said, "Oh, I've worked with so many doctors at the UN, with leprosy, I can surely find you a doctor in India." And she did. And we were able to start a little mobile medical clinic. But every time I came to India, I noticed that the wounds weren't really getting any better. They seemed to be just the same to me. As I said to our doctor, "Hey, we're paying you all this money, how come these wounds aren't getting any better?" And he just looked so discouraged. He said, "You know what, it's because they never do anything I asked them to do." And I was astounded. I said, "What do you mean, why? Why won't they do what you asked him to do?" And he said, "I don't know."
I asked Padma, and Padma was quiet for a few moments. And then she said, "You Americans. You come to India, and you just give things away. I know it probably makes you feel good, but the truth is, nothing given free has any value. And anytime you give something to someone, you diminish that person, because in essence, all you're doing is making them beggars to you. If you truly want to lift people, make them responsible for their own well-being. You can't just give away medical treatment."
And I said, "They don't have any money". She says, "Well, they can pay two rupees" – which is like about three cents, U.S. – "and they'll feel like they're paying for their medical treatment." But she said, "If you want to lift them, give them the power to lift themselves." And so we started charging two rupees to see the doctor. Well, the amazing thing is the next time I came to India, those wounds were all healing. And the doctor said, "They're doing everything I asked them to do."
So we created a campus at Rising Star Outreach. And in this campus – all of our students have to live on campus because the leprosy colonies are so far spread apart, they couldn't possibly come and go every day. They're not welcomed on public transport. And so the donor who donated the money to build the girls and the boys dorm, they got to name them.
And they decided to name the little girl's dorm, the "Amber Douglas Home for Girls," after my daughter, Amber, who really was the one that started all this. And I have to tell you that every time I go to India, and I've now been 66 times – but every time I walk on that campus as see her picture over the doorway, I get chills. And I think you know, there are hundreds of girls on this dorm right now, and there are hundreds, over the years that will go through this dorm, and their lives will be vastly different. They will be able to go back into normal society, they will lose this stigma of being an untouchable. And these girls will one day marry and have children, and those children's lives will be vastly different. Because their mothers came to Rising Star.
And over time, thousands and thousands of little girls lives will be changed for the better, and all because my daughter suffered. I think that God is so incredibly wonderful. That he can take our most terrible tragedies, and he can find a way to bring beauty and joy out of them and healing out of them.
There was a time in 2004, this terrible deadly tsunami hit the Indian Ocean, and was ranked as one of the top natural disasters ever recorded, because it killed a quarter of a million people across several countries. And our little children's home was right across the street from the ocean. And that tsunami, it was six feet high. It was traveling over 500 miles an hour, it destroyed everything in its path. And our children's home was on a hill, and we were above six feet. And so that wave literally came to the bottom of our porch and stopped and pulled back. And it was just this unbelievable, tender mercy of God. We didn't lose the single life. But all around us were tens of thousands of deaths. It was just absolute devastation.
I caught the next flight to India, and spent the next several weeks trying to help these people recover. Trying to help mothers find their children or their husbands. We worked 18–20 hour days with just a few hours of sleep at night. And one day when we came home, the guy who was with me, his name was Gopi. He was the leader of our children's home. And he looked at me and he said, "Becky, I'm afraid I'm losing my belief in God. What kind of a God would do something like this?" He said, "Look at the suffering that we see, all day every day. I just can't believe that you talking about a loving God."
And I felt like I needed to have an answer for him. And so I just sent a little prayer heaven ward, and I truly felt the presence of my daughter, who just immediately was in that car with us. And it was so sweet and so overwhelming. And I knew immediately the answer. And I said "Gopi, the hardest thing I ever did in my life was bury my daughter." And he knew that, because that's what had brought me to India. And he, I mean a little tear came down his cheek and I said, "But Gopi, if I hadn't buried Amber, the children in the children's home that you love – as if they were your own – where would they be today? If I had not buried Amber?" And I said, "You know Gopi, God is so wonderful. He gave the Atonement for us and that's why he can take anything that is so horrible in our lives, then He can bring good out of it. And He will bring good out of this. I don't know how, I have no idea what. But He will bring good."
And by now, his head was in his hands and he was sobbing. Just, I mean, he was so stunned by this whole thing. He went home, years later after he left Rising Star I got an email from him and he said, "Becky, do you remember that night when we had that talk?" and I went, "Oh, do I remember that night. Yes, I do." And he said, "I didn't believe you." He said, "But you know what? You were right." He said, "Look at what's happened." He said, "All these international charities poured into India, those miserable huts that the fishermen lived in, have all been rebuilt, close – further inland, they now have water and electricity and bathrooms. They've made they've built schools for their children."
And he said, "And the best thing of all," he said, "You know what, I just thought about it. I've never seen a higher caste person reach down to help a lower caste person in India. But at that time, they came from all over Chennai. They brought food, they brought blankets, they brought cooking oil, they brought bandages, water, they came by the hundreds. And they came day after day after day trying to help these lower, untouchable people." And he said, "That's the only time I've ever seen India come together as brother and sister." And he said, "Good did come from that."
And I think that little moments like this, I did learn that each of us has a power within us to make a difference in the world.
We work with 65,000 people today, across the nine states of India, 160 leprosy colonies, we have 1300 children in school. And I think, God did this because my daughter suffered.
The other thing that happens is – I have to tell you, I feel her. When I go to India, I feel a closeness with my daughter, that I don't normally feel. And there have been times in India, when that feeling is so overwhelming, it just brings tears to my eyes. I feel like I'm being taught not only by God, but by my daughter. And that because of the sacrifice she made, many people have been healed. And of all the people that have been healed, I feel like I have been the most healed.
And I just have to humbly say how grateful I am to the Savior. Because it was His Atonement, that made this all possible. He was the great exemplar. It was his suffering that made it possible for all of us, to not – to be able to be healed of our sufferings, right? And I just feel like the fact that we can in some small way, do a small thing for others, we are following in His footsteps.
God has equal love for all of His children. I think sometimes we get confused by the term, "Chosen people." But I believe that we're chosen to serve and to bring God's truth to others. But God Himself, I don't believe plays favorites. Because I have seen as many miracles in our school for our Hindu students, as much as I have seen miracles in the lives of the few students that are members of the Church over there. I think that we need to learn to see people that same way we need to see them as God sees them, that every life has equal value. And I have learned that even through tragedy, He empowers us.
We sometimes say, "Who are we?" "I'm only a student, I'm only a wife, I'm only a mother, I'm only a secretary," whatever, "What difference can I make?" But the truth is, we all have a power within us to make a difference, because I've seen it happen.
You know, I have to admit that there are times in my life when I would walk past a beggar on the street, and I would purposely not see them. I didn't want them to think I had money and that I could give it to them. Plus, it made me feel helpless to see people that were homeless. And so the fact that this was India was not the first time I had ever not seen someone. But, I don't look at beggars the same way anymore. I see them as people that just haven't had the opportunity to develop their talents, and I don't look away.
If you have eyes to see, if you're willing to see, then you have to also have a heart that cares. And if you will see, and if you will care, then you have to take some action. And once you take that action, you bring the power of God into your life. When our volunteers come to India, they always say, "I'm here to help. I'm here to heal, I'll do anything you need to do. I just can't clean up those leprosy wounds." We go, "Okay, okay." And we assign them different duties to do, working with the patients and they fall in love with the patients. And before long, all those volunteers are cleaning out leprosy wounds.
Because when you love a person, you don't see them as a disease. You see them as a friend. You see them as a child of God, and that makes all the difference in the world. And people who never thought they could do it, they'll sometimes tell us when they leave that that was the most meaningful experience that they had. These are God's children. And honestly, I think when we reached out to help his children, I feel like it opens the heavens and God pours blessings on you and you are healed. And I just think that that's a beautiful thing. That God gave us a gift, that we can reach out to others so that we can find wholeness within ourselves.
That was Becky Douglas. We are so grateful for the years of soul searching and effort that she put into her quest for eyes to see. It led her to an understanding about the true value of every human life.
And we agree, if you or someone you love is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, please, please reach out to someone for help. You can text 741741 from anywhere in the U.S. or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, because there is always hope for healing and light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe after listening to Becky's story, you feel like I do, that there are almost too many lessons to take from it. There is so much good stuff here. But one thing I love about the spirit is that it helps us to hear what each of us needs to hear individually. So maybe what you heard was that when people are united in a righteous cause with hearts turned towards the Savior, they can accomplish anything. Or that sometimes we need other people like Padma and Gopi, to show us what we don't know as we embark on our mission.
Maybe it was the lesson that when we see each other with the pure love of Christ, it transforms any act of service from an obligation to a true joy. Whatever it was, you heard, write it down. Don't forget it. We've been lucky enough to sit together in the Spirit today, to have our eyes open, and it's our privilege to write it somewhere permanent so it can be written in our hearts.
Since first recording this story I've been drawn to look closer at a painting that we have hanging in our living room. It's Carl Bloch's healing at the pools of Bethesda. It shows the Savior moving among people who were by many objective standards, untouchables, like the friends that Becky met in India. They were lame, diseased, disfigured and hidden from society.
In the center of the painting, there's a little shack made of sticks and straw and a drape of fabric covering a man who we learned from scripture is at the pools because he hopes for healing from its waters. But there's no one there to help him get down from his perch and into the water fast enough. And of course, he has no idea that the source of all true healing and hope is standing right in front of him, not until the Savior tells him to take up his bed and walk. That he doesn't need the pool, he's healed without ever having to touch the water.
I love that story. But I love the painting because it shows Christ actively uncovering the hiding place of this man. Lifting the curtain of his darkened makeshift shack, and bringing him into the light so he can be seen and see the miracle that is about to occur.
Sister Craig said this, "Jesus Christ sees people deeply. He sees individuals their needs and who they can become. Where others saw fishermen, sinners, publicans – Jesus saw disciples. Where others saw a man possessed by devils, Jesus looked past that outward distress, acknowledged the man, and healed him." End quote. He looked, He acknowledged, and then He healed.
I loved how Becky put it in her story, if we will have eyes to see, then we'll care and once we care, will act just as the Savior did. Loving action is the natural result of the gift of Godly vision and eyes to see. And that action definitely doesn't have to look like all of us running off to India to do exactly what Becky did.
I always think of Sister Linda Kay Burton's talk, "I Was a Stranger," where she wisely reminded us with a story I might add, that as we seek to do good in the world, we should also go home and serve our neighbors. I say let's start there. Let's start by asking humbly for eyes to see what's really going on around us in our current sphere. And let's ask for the courage to look beyond the things that feel strange or different or confusing.
As we practice the spiritual skill of looking, opportunities to see deeply will come. We'll grow in our ability to acknowledge one another the way that Christ did, and it only gets better. From there, our vision, our vision will bloom and grow and deepen and expand until, like those volunteers who couldn't possibly imagine cleaning the wounds of a leper, we will be filled with the love of the Savior that makes it possible for us to do whatever we are called to do. To lift the curtains of those hiding places, to bring one another into the light to be seen, and to finally see the miracles of Christ's healing.
That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to our storyteller Becky Douglas and all the people she works with at Rising Star Outreach. We'll have more about Becky and her experiences in India including pictures in our show notes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel.
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All of the stories in this episode are true and accurate as affirmed by our storyteller, and we find a lot of our stories through our pitch line. If you have a story to share about a time when maybe you were sitting in $1 store parking lot and learned something new about the gospel of Jesus Christ, well, we want to hear from you. The best pitches will be short and sweet and have a clear sense of the focus of your story. You'll have three minutes to pitch your story when you call 515-519-6179.
This episode was produced by me KaRyn Lay with so much story production and help and editing from Sarah Blake, Erika Free and Kelly Campbell. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at Six studios, and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and all the other LDS Living podcasts at LDSLiving/podcasts.