“Find your own Calcutta.” That was the response Mother Teresa sent to a woman who wanted to join her in ministering to one of India’s most crowded cities.

Was there a touch of romanticism in the woman’s desire to leave all her past behind and serve in a distant, exotic land? Whatever her motives, the terse advice she received is a discerning word we all should heed. It captures the essence of Paul’s message to the church at Corinth: Serve the Lord in whatever situation He has placed you (1 Cor. 7:17-24).

I recall the illusion-puncturing challenge John Alexander, one-time president of InterVarsity, gave to a group of students: “What have you done this past year to make a helpful difference within a mile of your home?” The hungry, the suffering, the unevangelized at our doorstep lack the more appealing aura of the needy souls elsewhere on the planet. But the ones closest to us are those whose needs we are best equipped to meet.

Let’s take personally what Jesus said to a man He had set free from demons: “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you” (Mk. 5:19).

If we look around us through the eyes of Jesus, we’re sure to find a Calcutta close by.