Saturday, October 22, 2016
“The bread you store up belongs to the hungry; the cloak that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.” — Saint Basil
Fridays are “alms” days in Tanzania, so we always try to have coins in our pockets when we go out in public on Fridays. It is considered very bad form not to put a coin in the outstretched hand of the poor on this day, at least. The rest of the week, begging is discouraged but goes on, but on Fridays, everyone is fair game. When I was much more active and out and about more, I not only carried lots and lots of coins but I would also pray with everyone who asked for help. I became so well known for my prayers that some people sought me out and others shied away when they saw me coming. Even years and years ago, when the street boys would surround me in Peru, I would gather them together and pray for them. In Iquitos, Peru, just outside my hotel, boys would wait for me, and after a few days stopped asking for money and just wanted my arms around them and my prayers. I loved those moments. I also loved giving coins and praying here as well.
Yesterday, on alms day, John and Shaban went to Mwanza. Now John has been suffering greatly from gout and has taken a lot of teasing from me about having the “rich man’s” disease. He would always counter with, “I am rich, in God’s eyes.” I had no answer for that. Well, back to my story, yesterday, he made sure he had coins in his pocket. There was no place to park near the store he needed, so Shaban had to let him out a couple of blocks away and John had to hoof it to the store. However, because of the gout pain, John was limping badly and everyone could see the pain on his face. As he was nearing the store he sought, an elderly Tanzanian woman came up to him, pressed a coin in his hand and said in Swahili, “God go with you.” To his eternal credit, John just thanked her and offered her a blessing of his own—then limped on toward the store. When John told me about this, I almost wept. When the poor give what little they have to someone they can see is in pain, it is the way things are supposed to be and Christ smiles. That woman didn’t see John’s white skin, or nationality—all she saw was someone in pain and she wanted to help. Oh, if only we could all be like that woman and only see the need. Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to turn away those seeking our help and would be more like the kinds of people Christ calls us to be. Mother Teresa helped thousands of sick and needy people but only a handful were Christians—the vast majority were Hindus and Muslims, but all Mother Teresa ever saw was the need. May God grant us each the grace to see as she did, to see as the Tanzanian woman saw John, and may God also grant us the courage to act as Christ has called us to act in helping others. You can change the world, one coin in one hand at a time—if you will.