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‘My Church of Christ Mother Teresa,’ daughter calls caregiver

SYLACAUGA, Ala. — As Rhonda Fernandez tried to arrange the best long-term care for her parents, Jack and Frances Zorn, she needed temporary help.

Main story: From daughter to caretaker: Role reversal draws one woman closer to her parents — and to God.
Fernandez asked at the Broadway Church of Christ — the Zorns’ home congregation in this central Alabama town of 13,000 — if anybody would be willing to stay at the couple’s house at night.

“This adorable young lady with all this flowing black hair comes up behind me and pinches me,” said Fernandez, a member of the Concord Street Church of Christ in Orlando, Fla. “With the voice of an angel, she goes, ‘I’ll help you. I’ll come live at your parents’ house for a while and take care of them. It would be an honor to help Dr. Zorn and Mrs. Frances.’” 

• • •

Church member Helen Mulaparthi, 39, grew up the daughter of a preacher in India, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

She came to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering at Auburn University. She chose to study in Alabama because it was the home of her dad’s ministry sponsor.

Helen Mulaparthi hugs Jack Zorn during a visit to the couple’s home in Sylacauga, Ala. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Now, she’s a successful professional with clients around the world. She didn’t need the free room and board that Fernandez was offering.

But as a girl, she developed a heart for Christian service. She thanks her late father, Vizia Rao Mulaparthi, for that. He died in 2002.

“I used to go around with my dad for evangelism work … and visiting church members and sick people,” she said. “(My family) brought a lot of sick people to the house and took care of them for months. That’s all I have seen.”

Helen Mulaparthi knew Jack Zorn’s story — how he preached for many years and developed the national youth training program Lads to Leaders — and wanted to honor his service by caring for him.

“I thought I could help,” she said. “We are committed to Christ. He was about doing good. I don’t want to start preaching.”

Encouraged to keep talking, she added, “It’s so easy to go to church and sit down. The thing that is harder is to give your time and money and energy, and that’s why I’m like, ‘If you want to serve the Lord, you will serve him in every way.’ It’s not like, ‘I don’t want this opportunity, God, but give me something else.’ That’s not how it works.”

• • •
She viewed the Zorns as part of God’s family — and thus her family.

Helen MulaparthiShe stayed with the couple for three months and cared for them in ways — such as giving medications and changing adult undergarments — few could imagine.

“I never even changed a baby’s diaper,” she said.

But she handled the task before her and embraced the opportunity to study the Bible and pray with the Zorns.

She remains a frequent visitor to their home.

Both Jack and Frances Zorn hug her warmly when she stops by.

“I call her my Church of Christ Mother Teresa,” said Fernandez, wrapping her arms around Mulaparthi. “She could practically be in Calcutta.

Filed under: People

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