Berni Bell grew up in India and worked in the cosmetology and beautification industry. She also is a devout Roman Catholic, which began her connections with Mother Teresa. Every time her church had Mass, Bell made sure to attend. Even if she had a client in her salon, she would try her best to make it every time. She often rushed from the salon to Mass without any time to change out of her work clothes. One day, she was rushing through a crowd before the 5:00 p.m. mass at her church when she felt a hand grab her own. She immediately knew the hand belonged to Mother Teresa. “She had hands like a lizard because she always was working.” Mother Teresa took Bell without a word in front of the whole congregation. On the stage were all the best doctors Bell had heard of, with Mother Teresa. Bell felt out of place there with these great names. Mother Teresa sat on one of two chairs and still held on to Bell as she began to speak. “We will fight abortion with adoption” is all Mother Teresa said before standing up and walking away with Bell. Bell says that Mother Teresa was bad at speaking, but she was good at working. Even though she was a such a small person, when she did speak, there was a power within her that everyone respected. After that Mass, there were more adoptions than ever before.
Bell went to hair school for five years where she worked with Mother Teresa. Bell often worked with the infant orphans at Mother Teresa’s orphanage. Bell would make sweaters and clothes for the children, as well as bring sweets to them for special occasions.
In Indian orphanages, older girls were taught to become nannies and housekeepers for rich families. Whether they wanted to or not, this would be their only option of work after they got out of the orphanage. After finishing hair school, Bell decided to create another option for these girls.
One day Bell saw one of the older girls was being scolded for wearing nail polish. When Bell asked why, she was told that nannies were not allowed to have nail polish because they work with children. Bell asked, “What if she doesn’t want to be a nanny? Does she not have a choice? If the girl likes nail polish and cosmetology, she can come train with me instead of being a nanny.” After that, the orphanage allowed six to seven girls a year apprentice with Bell in beautification.
Bell also made it a point to take in disabled girls who could not easily be nannies. She taught deaf and mute girls massage therapy, so they could work with their hands instead of relying on speech. Not only did she apprentice many of the girls from Mother Teresa’s orphanages, but she also acted as a sort of matchmaker, as well. “I helped many of them find boys, because nuns aren’t good at finding husbands,” Bell said.
There were many times Bell witnessed Mother Teresa’s mercy and bravery over the years. One that stands out in her mind, is when Bell and Mother Teresa got word that there was a man in a dumpster a ways away. One person said he was dead, another said he could have been breathing. Mother Teresa ran as fast as she could to the dumpster and found a barely alive 90-year-old man. He had been in the dumpster for so long he had begun rotting away. There were even maggots eating the skin off his legs. Without any caution Mother Teresa lifted him out of the dumpster and took him to the nearest hospital where they were able to save him.
Bell asked Mother Teresa how she could see this disgusting sight and instantly reach in for the man without gloves or any fear of filth or sickness. Mother Teresa replied, “I just see Jesus in everyone’s face, I see Jesus with his cross and I want to ease his burden.” Many years later at Mother Teresa’s funeral in 1997, the same man from the dumpster sat on the front row of the church and wept at her passing.
To this day, Bell’s life has been shaped by Mother Teresa’s kindness and selflessness. Those who visit her Yukon hair salon will see pictures and quotes of Mother Teresa. Many of her wise words are deeply important to Bell, but her favorite is Mother Teresa’s quote on doing the best for others and ourselves.