With that in mind, I am reprinting here a story of feeding the 3,000, an extraordinary day in my life in April 2005, with one of my sons, a good friend, Greg Dix, and two of the Missionaries of the Poor serving the poorest of the poor in Jamaica. The actions of one farmer and a few willing volunteers can make a difference to so many lives. Won't you join the #PrayerWave today? #Food4All Won't you pray for an end to hunger every day?
If you have eaten today, please pray for all those who have not been so lucky!
A spring vacation in Jamaica! Doesn’t that sound exciting? After a cold, damp winter, I left on Easter Monday to travel to Kingston, Jamaica, with ten others from Our Lady of Good Counsel parish. But this was no Spring Break – we were journeying to the facilities of Father Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor. Ten of us were going, and five, like my son and I, had never been on such a visit. We were an eclectic group of women and men, from teenagers to grandparents, students, teachers, doctors and managers. For those five of us who were new to this experience, we were both excited and anxious about the unknown journey ahead of us for the next few days. We would soon be changed by this encounter in ways we are still learning to understand.
When we arrived, Monday, we had brief tours of the Brother’s living quarters and chapels, which were simple, but beautiful. They were, however, far from the resorts, located in the neighborhoods with the poorest of the poor in Kingston. As we drove from the airport to the Missionaries of the Poor, we saw street after street lined with homes. Not homes as we know them, but shacks put together with scraps of wood and metal that were all that the poor could find. Blank stares from the adults were cast in our direction as we drove by, and the occasional wave from a child seemed to recognize that we were not part of the usual traffic on the streets.
Our work really began on Tuesday, when I joined two other volunteers, Carol and Lisa, at Good Shepherd mission. This facility, for men (and a few boys), held about 60 residents. I had never experienced such levels of poverty, where even the clothes that the residents wore where not theirs, but were provided by the Brothers through donations and gifts from places like Moorestown and Mount Laurel. The residents suffered from many physical, mental and emotional challenges. I had expected to encounter various mental handicaps among those who lived at Good Shepherd. What I had not been prepared for was the physical handicaps that were the daily challenge of so many of the residents. It took some time to get acclimated, and to see past the scars, wounds and bent limbs to see the person behind the eyes and smile.
My most startling realization, made during the first two days in caring for these residents, is that they are not the poor, or the homeless. They are not people to be classified or generalized with these categories. They are God’s children, and they have names. They are Trevor, and Sheldon, and Jasper, and Duncan. I quickly found that they wanted to know my name, and for those who could speak, they were excited when someone else knew their name. When Sheldon heard that someone had been speaking about him the night before we arrived, his smile and whole face beamed with joy – someone outside these 12-foot high walls knew who he was. Or in his words, “They know my face!?”
Our new friends wanted to be touched, to be held by the hand, especially the children. It didn’t take long before I wanted to touch and hold them just as much, and it was hard to leave at the end of each day when our time with them was over. By that afternoon, Jasper was falling asleep in my lap as I read stories to the older residents. I wondered when was the last time that Jasper had been held, and didn’t want to disturb his rest.
The second day brought a visit to a one-room schoolhouse outside of Kingston, and the delivery of cases of books donated by members of our parish and school community. The joy was electric – it was a school holiday, but about 15 children streamed from the shacks surrounding the school to help us carry the boxes. Something exciting was happening for them that day, with both visitors and all the boxes coming into their neighborhood, their school – their world.
That afternoon took us back to Kingston, and to Bethlehem House, the mission for children. We met many who were physically and mentally tortured with illness, and yet we felt their happiness at our presence and our touch. After dressing one young man of about 14 after his bath, I was waiting for the wheel chair that had brought him to me to come back. He reached out to me – to hold my hand – and with strength I could not have imagined pulled himself up, and with limbs that should not have supported him he walked toward the door, meeting the wheelchair halfway! This noble, bent but strong youth had a spirit and courage that I could only admire, watching his accomplishment that to most of us would be taken for granted, but for him, was perhaps the hardest thing he had done in weeks. Tears of both joy and pain flowed easily at Bethlehem House.
For my son, Will, along with Greg Dix and myself, the third day was almost surreal. We had been invited by the Brothers to assist with a “Chicken Run.” I was a tentative participant, balanced by Greg and Will’s excitement – this was going to be something else! We traveled in a 2-½ ton open truck to a farm outside of Kingston, where we helped to catch and carry 800 chickens. Up until that day, my experience with farms was limited to orchards and pumpkin-picking hay rides. Now, I know where both the chickens and the eggs we eat are raised!
|Yes, that is how you catch and carry chickens!|
We soon were back in the truck – the three volunteers along with Brother Ronald and the 800 chickens in the open back of the truck – heading back to Kingston. After the 90-minute ride, we drove into the poorest neighborhoods, and would stop with the horn announcing that we were there, and Brother Pierre calling out, “Food, food”. In moments, we would have 50 children, adults and elderly people surrounding the back of the truck. Eager hands reached out for the chickens that would feed their families and friends at a feast on Sunday, as we distributed the gift of a generous farmer to those in need. After about eight or ten stops, the chickens were all gone. We were tired, dirty, and amazed at what had just happened that day. We did not get to know their names in these neighborhoods, but could tell from their smiles that Thursday had been a very good day, as we fed perhaps 2 or 3,000 people.
|Two chickens for each family, which they will happily share with neighbors.|
Returning to our homes on Friday, security check-ins and air travel was somewhat anti-climatic. We would miss our new friends. And perhaps most importantly, we would remember their names and faces. I will always remember Sheldon, Jasper, O’Neill, Duncan, Trevor, Sallie, Willie, Andre and many others. These are just some of the names of God’s children, the names of His Poor.
- Deacon Jim Grogan
December 10th - 2013: Won't you give someone a lift up to a better life? Start with a prayer to end hunger!