by Jason and Jessica Wilde
But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
He was hidden in the shadow of the stairs, his palm outstretched, face shielded under his tunic in shame. Most would hardly notice the grey figure hiding beneath the staircase, focused instead somewhere else with a more important task on their minds. Or maybe you do subconsciously notice, but your aversion to the conditions causes him to be removed from the scene, to make him not exist anymore, in an attempt to not feel repulsed by the sight of him. Yes, a conscious acknowledgement of the figure would be the first step. But, if you were to even notice him begging for life, would you approach him? Would you come close enough to see the dark shadows under his eyes, the look of pain and suffering, asking for just enough to live another night? Would you reach out and grab his hand before noticing his scars, the scars of a tortured life, the scars of punishment...the scars of crucifixion?
It was an image, a statue to be exact, hidden under the staircase to the basement of a church that still flashes in my mind every time I see someone hiding from existence. In fact, I think half of the challenge exemplified by the parable of the good Samaritan is just this - seeing and then acknowledging the person in need. Look him in the eye and smile. Sometimes the biggest gift we can give someone is to make them feel human. Ask him what his name is; you wouldn’t believe how long a homeless person can go without hearing his or her name spoken, a dire sign of dehumanization.
My child, do not mock the life of the poor;
Here in the U.S., it is hard to miss the beggar on the street corner or the shack in disrepair that someone lives in on the edge of town. But, for every person you see on a corner, there are communities where the poorest are hidden out of sight. In one case, this can be by force - such as by law, or less forcefully, such as when a ghetto is bought and redeveloped into commercial property, effectively forcing those living there to move to the fringes. In another case, it is because they have given up any hope and have stopped asking for help.
One of the saddest adoption stories that I remember was used to explain why an orphanage nursery is so quiet...not by fear of punishment or force, but because the babies had learned that crying didn’t help - they had given up any hope of their voice being heard.
Manila was like this for us. Walking the busy streets, we saw many families living on the sidewalks, children waking up in the seat of their father’s peditrike, or running around naked while their mother was busy cutting fruit to be sold for 5 pesos per serving (less than 3 US cents). Groups of older children ran around in the middle of the school day, hitchhiking on the back of a passing Jeepney. Westerners might call these examples of ‘hard working people’, when in reality, they had no other choice. They were a part of the large population living a homeless existence in extreme poverty and had given up any hope of a handout. Worse yet, the cycle was never ending since they couldn’t even afford the supplies, transportation, or food to send their children to the free public schools.
The poorest people in the world were literally all around us, and if we traveled like a typical tourist - hailing a cab instead of walking a couple of blocks, avoiding public transportation like the plague, and only visiting the popular tourist sites with a guide, - we would never see them. We rob them of their dignity of life.
We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”. (Evangelii Gaudium, 53)
On our mission trip in Malaybalay, we visited the local public hospital. We prayed, visited and provided supply bags for patients in the pediatric ward. After seeing all of the patients in our ward, we decided to join the other missionaries in their wards. Suddenly, our missionary leader for the day, Junar, noticed a mom and her daughter sleeping underneath a staircase on a piece of cardboard. I would have completely missed them, but Junar, with the eye of a missionary and the heart of the good Samaritan, stopped to see if everything was ok. He bent down and felt the little girl's forehead when his smile quickly turned to concern. She was burning up. After talking with the mom for a little, he found that her sister was in the maternity ward upstairs, and she was there as an advocate. They had been there for 3 days when the little girl got sick. We had already given away all supply bags, so another missionary ran to get one from another team in the hospital. Jason ran to the pharmacy for some children’s fever suppressant. In the meantime, Junar talked with the mom, prayed over the little girl, and advised the mom to let a doctor see her if she didn’t feel better soon. Unfortunately, seeing a doctor may have been out of the question for this family, but we did all we could to see, acknowledge, touch, help, and pray for the girl under the staircase. Once again, I couldn't help but think of the image of Jesus in the church in Toronto, hiding under a staircase.
It is so easy to become lost in our own personal plans that we don’t notice, acknowledge or help God’s children hidden in the shadows. Even when they are in our sights, we put on blinders so we don’t see them or help them. Instead, we need to be like Junar, living as the good Samaritan and always on the lookout for Jesus. We must not only stop to help but also be on the lookout for God's precious children who are most in need of our help.
We have to state, without mincing words, that “there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor”. May we never abandon them. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 48)
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.