When Jesus teaches us about generously sharing what we have with others He never advises us to carefully consider what the recipient may or may not do with our donation, nor does he warn us against seemingly unreasonable requests or fabricated stories. He simply tells us to give: "Give to the one who asks of you." (Matthew 5:42) This can be challenging.
Here in Santa Rosa, we've done as the priests have asked regarding the distribution of food so as to align our efforts with those already working to feed the hungry. If we encounter people on the streets, we invite them to the church kitchen and offer to buy them a standard plate: rice, beans, vegetables, tortillas, chicken, and homemade juice. When possible, we sit with them while they're eating to chat and pray. If a person's needs are more severe they are encouraged to visit the church office so that they can be added to the list which the Pastoral Social uses to distribute food. Representatives from the group visit people's homes to discuss their situation in more detail and sign them up for the church's food distribution program if/when appropriate. We want to "give to the one who asks" while following the rules that have been established, but it can be hard.
|Gallo pinto is a very traditional Costa|
Rican dish that is served at the church kitchen.
Almost every time we leave our house and head toward the town center we see Edrin wandering around begging for money that he can use to buy food. Sometimes he goes with us to the church kitchen, but other times he declines our offer. It wasn't until just recently that we noticed that he only agrees to go to the church kitchen when it's just Chris and me. I think he's embarrassed to eat around people that he doesn't know well because it's hard for him to chew without any teeth. Every few weeks, for over 9 months, we bought Edrin the standard "diario" as defined by the church's outreach group: rice, beans, tuna, pasta, oil, wheat flour, corn flour, salt, sugar, coffee, and an assortment of hygiene items because that's what it seemed like we were supposed to be doing. However, a couple of months ago we learned that Edrin doesn't know how to cook. Each time we gave him a "diario" he in turn gave it to his neighbors in the hope that they would prepare some hot meals for him. If the neighbors were honest and charitable, this arrangement might have worked, but they just took advantage of Edrin and his unfavorable circumstances. We needed to do something different, but what? Feeling frustrated I kept telling Edrin that I was only willing to buy him prepared food in the town center (empanadas, sweet bread, hot dogs) until we came up with a different solution because my family and I couldn't possibly afford to feed his entire barrio.
About a month ago, when Edrin saw us going into the grocery store, he approached and asked if I might buy him tuna and crackers. "Of course," I said as I continued walking, "come on!" I assumed he would follow me into the store, but realized when I saw him waiting outside, that he wasn't comfortable going in. I went back outside and explained that there are too many different types of tuna and crackers, and without his help, I wouldn't know which kind to buy. He was embarrassed, but after straightening the collar on the shirt he'd been wearing for a week and brushing the dirt off his pants he lowered his head and shuffled past the cashier. Edrin took forever choosing the tuna and crackers that he wanted. I imagine it had been a while since he'd had the luxury of picking anything for himself. Next, I thought we could get him some fresh fruit and veggies. "Come on," I called as I darted off for the produce section. "Do you like apples?" I asked, "What about oranges?" He laughed nervously and shook his head. Like any good mother, I explained the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet. "You need all the different nutrients that these foods have. You can't just eat empanadas your whole life."
Edrin wiggled his index finger back and forth, which is the local way of saying "no", and turned back toward the aisles of packaged products. He stopped in front of the canned beans, pointed, and smiled. Then, motioning toward the bins of produce, he said, "no se puede, no se puede, no se puede", which literally means, "it can't" but relatively speaking means that the produce doesn't work for him. As if the scales had fallen from my eyes I realized that Edrin couldn't eat apples or carrots without any teeth. He couldn't chew grapes or tomatoes. If I bought him bananas, the rats would come out of the woodwork, quite literally, and steal them. I asked the clerk if she had anything like summer sausage knowing that Edrin doesn't have a refrigerator, but he wouldn't have been able to eat that either. I'm not sure what I was thinking! We wandered up and down the three short aisles that make up the whole market talking about what Edrin could eat: canned beans, sardines, tuna, crackers, canned fruit, canned meat chunks in a sauce with soft veggies, small boxes of milk, juice, and oatmeal. We filled up our basket and headed for the check-out. As the cashier placed the items into bags Edrin shifted back and forth nervously, almost as if he was expecting there to be some problem that would force us to leave empty-handed. When the lady finally gave Edrin the groceries he started giggling. He was so excited it almost seemed like he was glowing. As he left the store he turned, and for the first time ever, thanked me without anybody else having to remind him to use his manners.
We offered to drive Edrin home so that he didn't have to carry the heavy bags, but also to reduce the chances of others seeing what he had and feeling tempted to take it. As we made our way to his barrio Edrin rifled through the bags giggling while I stared out the window in silence contemplating the virtue of hospitality: "The sacred duty of treating strangers and friends alike. It is welcoming others not just into our homes, but into our very lives. The virtue of hospitality opens us to what guests and strangers bring to us, things that can change us, enrich our lives, and open us to new possibilities and ways of thinking and living. Hospitality implies attentiveness to the other and his needs, even anticipating what might bless him." Prior to missions, I would have said that "hospitality" includes serving one's guests good, healthy food - not edible products that are chocked full of chemicals which allow them to sit on shelves for years... and yet, here I was buying Edrin fruit cocktail because that's what blesses him. People have asked how missions has changed me and I don't even know where to start. Suffice it to say that I've had innumerable opportunities to die to myself and detach from my prideful convictions. To strive for holiness is to do all we can to live virtuous lives. Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunity to grow in the virtue of hospitality, that through Edrin I'm learning to be authentically generous - to give freely and out of pure love, with no strings attached and no expectations. I encourage you to welcome strangers into your life so that they may help you to learn new ways of thinking and living, that through them you might have the opportunity to die to yourself and detach from any prideful convictions that you may have. Many blessings, Karen