by Judy Joy Jones
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]other Teresa of Calcutta, India, started a group of sisters called The Missionaries of Charity who on any given day can be found in their blue-trimmed white saris, quietly feeding San Francisco’s rapidly growing homeless population.
The sisters find unsheltered and hungry people under bridges, behind buildings, in doorways and all the other places where society’s invisible poor go to try and find a place to lay their heads for a few hours before the morning light.
Without a place to rest, homeless people are often too exhausted to begin the day’s never-ending search for a few bites of food carelessly tossed in trash cans by people walking down the streets.
Watching the sisters offering hot plates of food to poor people reminds them that they are loved by someone, even though the person sleeping next to them the night before may have died from cold and neglect, or from the hands of a person wanting to kill the nameless people that line San Francisco’s streets.
The Missionary of Charity sisters start preparing the food in the wee hours of the morning with the help of volunteers. In the afternoon, they load their van, heading for the streets of San Francisco to feed those most in need.
I volunteered with the sisters recently and realized that even though the homeless population is rapidly growing in the Bay Area, they are often so hidden from our eyes that we haven’t a clue that behind our own homes, a baby and mother might be suffering in pain from not having enough food to eat and no blankets to keep warm.
When I arrived at the sisters’ house, the young nun that answered the door asked me if I would like to go in their chapel for a moment before beginning the food preparation for the homeless. Grateful not to be asked to fill out papers or to show proper ID to prove my identity, I gladly took her up on her offer.
I quickly learned that Mother Teresa’s sisters use prayer instead of paperwork to fulfill God’s will in their lives. And since I don’t have one single document that can show my heart’s deepest longings — which at this moment are to feed the hungry of San Francisco — that is great news!
As I walk out of the chapel, a sister escorts me to the garage area of the house where all the food we will be distributing that afternoon is being packed in bags by the sisters and volunteers such as myself and then loaded into the van. There are piping hot plates, filled with beans, spaghetti and mashed potatoes which look delicious.
The sisters, along with other volunteers, have used donated food items to prepare and cook the meal earlier that morning. They told me that donations of food always arrive just in time and that they have never had to turn away anyone who was hungry. “Prayers are always answered,” the sisters go on to explain, and they pray around the clock for the needs of the poor to be provided for.
Their joy is contagious and I know that today we will be distributing much more then food for the body. We will be offering love put into action which is as important for the sisters and volunteers as it is the hungry being served!
Mother Teresa’s sisters are guided to those suffering most to offer them a hot meal to help ward off the cold and gnawing hunger pangs that few of us will ever experience. The homeless are hidden from the eyes of people enjoying hot meals with their families in warm, cozy houses. The only bed for the night for those with no home will be a cold concrete sidewalk under a bridge.
Some people have been taught to ignore the suffering of others to such a degree that, unless they have a personal tragedy of their own which causes them intense suffering, they may never be able to open their hearts to the cries of babies starving to death.
One person told me people are homeless because they can’t take orders. Another told me people live on the streets in order to have independence, and yet another said it is because they have bad karma.
Does blaming the homeless for being poor help people feel it is alright if they don’t offer to help them? After all, if they are to blame for not being able to provide food and shelter for themselves, then why should anyone else bother to give them aid?
What does the city offer its homeless population? And why are the numbers of homeless people on our streets growing in leaps and bounds? I don’t have that answer, but what I do have are arms and legs able to help carry and distribute the food while volunteering with the sisters. And that feels good!
I know that it is only by grace alone that I have eyes to see the poor. The little I can do may not make a dent in feeding the large number of hungry people on San Francisco’s streets, but I can pour all the unconditional love I have in my heart to each soul I meet while offering them a plate of food. And maybe for one night they will remember they are loved.
After we find a spot in the park and set up our tables with all the food on them that will be given out today, I see a line of hungry people has already formed around the block. One man that walks up to the table has red swollen sores all over his face and is in dire need of immediate medical attention. The woman next to him has an eye that is almost closed from an obvious infection.
The sisters say a brief prayer and within thirty minutes all the food has been given out for the day. The homeless man next to me fills his sack so full of food, it looks like it weighs 50 pounds. He will burn off the calories he just ate within an hour while carrying his heavy backpack down the street.
When we have finished loading the van and start back to the house, the sisters begin to pray aloud. Their hearts and minds strive to be focused on their chosen mission instead of chattering about the normal worldly things the rest of us do. As I am leaving, they ask for my prayers for their vocations, reminding me that their lives are a work in progress as ours are. Praying around the clock helps the sisters avoid distractions and follow more closely what they feel God has called them to do — to be of service to the poorest of the poor
As I say goodbye to the other volunteers and young sisters who have taken time out of their lives and away from their own desires to give to the poor, tears fill my eyes. I would not trade this moment of my life which can’t be bought or sold. It’s called “God’s Gold.”
I know we will advance beyond homelessness and Mother Teresa’s Missionary of Charity sisters actions towards their brothers and sisters in need reminds all of us that charity towards our fellow beings is not something we do now and again when we feel like it. Instead, it is what we should wake up in the morning thinking about and go to bed at night praying about.
When we help another in need, it does more for us then it could ever do for those we serve. Our charitable actions shed light on the nobler sides of our own souls, often covered with the world’s glitter. We are all great beings of light which only grows brighter as we share it!
The homeless population of San Francisco will begin to decline when each of us truly sees that the person living and dying on the streets is our own mother, father, sister and brother. The silent cries of the poor cannot be answered by anyone but you and I. A city becomes great by the compassion it shows towards the forgotten elderly, the physically and mentally challenged and the orphaned children. The least among us can only turn to us for help.
While we sleep in our warm beds with dollar signs dancing through our heads, the sisters are chopping vegetables to make soup to feed the hungry and forgotten people on our streets and are busy picking up the remains of the nameless ones in the city morgues. While alive, they may have been homeless but now they are in the hands of angels. The sisters have given their lives to answering the silent cries of the forgotten on earth.
Volunteering with Mother Teresa’s sisters was a great gift. It reminded me that feeding, housing, clothing and offering medical aid to our brothers and sisters is the quickest way to creating heaven on earth. Homelessness will become history when we join our hearts and hands, reaching out together to those in need!