Viewpoint from Keith Morris for 8th Feb 2013
By Keith Morris, publisher of the Christian community website www.networknorfolk.co.uk
I simply never read books - websites and newspapers do me just fine. But there is one book I have been waiting to read for no less than 16 years.
The remarkable story of Norfolk minister Rev Canon Pat Atkinson, who has devoted the last 22 years of her life to reaching out to the untouchables in the slums of India, has just been told in full for the first time in her new autobiography.
It is a story I have been waiting to read ever since the day in 1996 when I first met Pat, just after her surprise (to her) appearance on Esther Rantzen’s Hearts of Gold TV programme.
Sitting in her Brundall lounge, surrounded by piles of charity documents, it was the first time I encountered this incredible Norfolk lady, who lives out her heart-felt Christian faith more than anyone I know.
Her passion for the orphans, the slumdogs, the elderly and the dying in the undescribable slums and rubbish tips of Madurai and Trivandrum was evident from the moment she started speaking.
It was all-consuming for Pat and, as I grew to know her better, I realised how it simply had to be that way to keep driving her back time after time, flying half-way across the world to just be there for each individual she met.
Pat’s modus operandi is simple - to reach out and love the individual right in front of her. From the teenage beggar dying of leprosy Pat met when she first stepped off a minibus on her initial trip, to the victims left homeless and without hope by the Asian tsunami and the elderly grannies who had nowhere to go and no-one to care for them until they met Pat.
Since an encounter with a missionary from India at the age of ten, Pat knew exactly what she was going to do with her life. But she had to fight through incapacitating illness and multiple rejections before jobs in a holiday camp, nurse training, hospital chaplaincy and for YMCA Norfolk led to her first trip to India.
From the moment she came face-to-face with that first dying youngster, Pat’s mission in life was divinely sealed.
Since then, in over 40 trips to India, first through the Cooper-Atkinson Charitable Trust for India and then the Vidiyal Trust, Pat and her many supporters have helped to establish homes, schools, care and tuition centres for orphans and Dallits (untouchables), feeding centres, medical clinics and outreach services for cancer and leprosy, and support for those affected by the tsunami in India and Sri Lanka.
Hundreds if not thousands of lives have been touched, many changed forever.
Pat was awarded the MBE for her work with street children in 2007 and in 1997 she met a dying Mother Teresa, received her blessing and was told “Don’t stop loving, don’t stop loving”.
Pat does not preach to those she touches - her actions speak far louder than her words, even in this book, ever could.
Touched by Untouchables – My Life and Work in India by Pat Atkinson, published by Connaught Books at £8.50 is available in Norfolk bookshops or online at Connaught Books
You can read more about the work of the Vidiyal Trust at www.vidiyaltrust.com