Plowing through a formidable stack of mail that accumulated while I was away last month, my eyes fell on a large envelope from Food for the Poor. Inside was a tabloid newspaper with a bold red headline: “Answering the Call.”
The little girl pictured on the front page looked at me with tear-filled eyes, eyes that penetrated my very being. Who was this child?
Of course, she’s someone’s baby. And that someone is a woman just like me. A mother. Except that somehow, by some mysterious allowance of Providence, I was born in the United States to middle class parents. I never went to bed hungry. I never slept on the street or begged for food. I never searched through a dumpster, hoping to find someone’s half-eaten dinner.
This poor child, on the other hand, undoubtedly has a desperate mother who was born into poverty, who probably cries herself to sleep, unable to find enough food for her daughter. That much was obvious from looking at the picture.
We’ve all received envelopes in the mail from this charity or that. Many of them are from very worthy groups. Since we can’t lavish support on all of them, we pick and choose. Inevitably, some appeals wind up in the recycle bin.
Making a difference
A few weeks have gone by now and I simply can’t relegate the Food for the Poor mailing to the recycle bin. The girl — her name is Anali — looks at me as if to say, “Do something. Save me.”
How many times over the years did I scoop up one of my children, holding them in my arms to comfort them? They’re all taller than me now, but really it was only yesterday that they were 6 years old like Anali. If they cried because they were hungry or scared or sick, I was able to soothe them, to feed them. My husband has a job, and we’ve always had a roof over our heads.
Anali and her family, by contrast, live in Guatemala in a closet-sized shack with dirt floors, no electricity – and no food. Her father went to Mexico to find work but never returned. Anali’s mother has no one on earth to turn to.
No one that is, except you and me.
How often have we received a request like the one from Food for the Poor and set it aside thinking, “Someone else will help. I can’t.”
John Marshall is a man who decided to say yes.
The California software engineer found out about Food for the Poor when he and his wife made a Marriage Encounter weekend. They took a chance and traveled to Haiti to do volunteer work for the organization.
That’s when Marshall met Stevenson, a 12-year-old boy abandoned by his mother. Stevenson was born with no fingers on one hand and only a tiny bit of thumb and pinky on the other.
“He’s a very happy boy. He is overcoming his limitations,” Marshall said. Back in the United States a few weeks later, Marshall stumbled on an article in a tech magazine about a man who had created “Robohand,” a prosthetic hand for a person with the same birth defect that Stevenson has.
“It’s easy to create,” Marshall said. “It’s a little crude looking, but that’s done on purpose so it’s easy to deal with in primitive conditions.” It took months, but ultimately he was able to make a Robohand for Stevenson. And just like that, a little boy’s world changed.
“God called me to do this. We have an obligation to do something,” Marshall said.
The clock is ticking
God is calling each of us to do something, wherever we are. So keep some water bottles and granola bars in your car to pass out to the homeless. Volunteer to serve at one of the many soup kitchens in town. Send a generous check to Food for the Poor or Catholic Relief Services or some other worthy charity.
Wherever you are, say yes to God. Say yes to serving the poor, because time is running out for you and me. One day, sooner than we realize, we will stand before the Father and give an accounting of our lives. Was the purpose of our life to serve or did we live only for ourselves?
As one priest told Marshall, the poor — they need us. But we need them, too. They show us what faith in God is all about: mercy and love.