Not Just Food, Dignity Too

God personally reveals himself to us through the poor.

Jesus’ role model and actions directed towards the people who are not happy, who are deprived, towards the victims of the greedy and unjust system, and people who are being mocked because they are different – all this represents a message to a Christian.

But not just his role model. Also the words he left for us:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25,40).

And so many other encouragements.

Everything is His

For a man who is seeking God and wants to build a relationship with Him, this should be enough for him to do something.

God wants us to continue sharing what He has given us (and still gives us).

We’re not giving of ourselves to the poor just because they don’t have what we have. It’s more than that!

We’re giving of ourselves because by that we acknowledge that nothing in this world is ours. In this way, we honor God and express our faith as well as acknowledge that all belongs to Him. God wants this acknowledgement!

What we have is His gift, a gift that we must continue giving. Not only money, don’t be mistaken. Not only clothes, toys, shoes… also our knowledge, talents, experience, skills, sensitivity and our time.

Reciprocal relationship

God calls us to the poor because he would like to meet us there. That’s what we believe at Operando. But what kind of meeting is this?

A relationship is always something reciprocal. Not only God wants to reveal himself to us and teach us through the poor, he also wants to reveal himself to them through us.

Silva and I never know how God will reveal himself to us when we enter a new community and meet new people. Even less we know how people will feel through us.

In the unknown

That’s why we always enter a community with some curiosity. As if entering a dark room that slowly illuminates, one light first, then the second, and so forth, until the whole space is lit and all the people in it.

This is the search and opening of the treasures that God puts on our way in front of us.

Our experience in Paraguay best suits this metaphor. We didn’t know where we were going, nor did missionaries know anything about us. Complete darkness.

Kitchen in Auntie’s Garden.

But slowly, day after day, the lights began to light, we met new people and joined the missionaries on their visits.

In the end, we found ourselves in the public kitchen of Auntie’s garden, where we have been regularly visiting and working for the last two weeks.

Dirty and neglected

Let me be absolutely honest with you.

As much Tia inspired us with her story about helping the poor and hungry families, as much we were disappointed by her attitude towards the garden and kitchen that were given as a gift.

The garden wasn’t even close to being taken care of. I’m not talking about things for which money is needed (that auntie doesn’t have), I’m talking about hygiene and cleanliness.

The brick wall that needed a make-over.

The kitchen where we cooked lunch and dinner with a missionary was neglected and unclean. As Silva and I were opening drawers, there were so many cockroaches that we haven’t seen even in Navotas in the Philippines.

After cooking, the dishes are washed, but fat remains on them.

The food that’s left over from the meal is left on the counters and shelves, which gives cockroaches a lot of fun when the kitchen door closes in the evening.

The problem is that Tia is poorly controlling the assistants in charge of cleaning and washing. And when they finish the work, she seems to be happy with what they’ve done.

Restore dignity

It’s true that the habits in Paraguay are different from ours. Also hygiene standards are lower than we are used to. But still…

Here’s an important lesson that can be learned.

Auntie’s help to the poor is only partial. It is not only important to feed the people (if needed). It’s important to return dignity to them and help them be aware that they have the right to it.

If you serve a man with rice where cockroaches played before, it’s devaluation, not humanitarianism. If you were aware that in fact Jesus is sitting at the table, would you serve otherwise?

That’s a mission too

Missionary Jurandir was surprised when he saw the kitchen from the inside. That was a first for him too.

As I have already written, the Augustinians in Paraguay have been active for only a year and the three missionaries are fully busy with managing the school for the children from poor families and taking care of the large parish. They have brought Tia food but they’ve never cooked in her kitchen.

Jurandir said that from now on he will regularly come to Auntie and teach her basic cleaning and hygiene skills. Yes, this is a mission too.

It hasn’t been easy for Tia too

The fact is that Tia is very tired, and aren’t many people who would help around the kitchen.

Preparation and distribution of food are not her primary job. At the age of 66 she still goes to work and prays every day for the state to finally grant her a retirement.

From morning to late afternoon, she works as a shop assistant for some company, and she comes to the kitchen daily after work. She has done so for twelve years.

During her absence she is replaced by her cousin, who also cooks lunch and divides food. Occasionally, a volunteer comes to sweep the yard.

Renovation of the wall

The children left their mark on the wall.

During that time, two volunteers from Slovenia started painting the brick wall surrounding the garden, as it was strongly spoiling the appearance of the garden. Moss and mold spread on it.

The children left their mark on the wall.

We bought paint and started working. We painted for a week and the wall got a new look.

What we liked most was the young and the children who offered to help. We brought extra brushes from the mission and the work was more pleasant.

“Es hermoso (it’s wonderful),” said Tia when we finished. Suddenly, the garden was more attractive and resembled a children’s playground more.

We will continue our journey to Bolivia. I’ll write about it next time.

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