Monday, December 6, 2010
This last weekend I had the unexpected opportunity to go on a bit of a retreat. I found out that I would be going last Thursday and Friday evening I made the trip into New York City. I went with 2 Ramapo College FOCUS missionaries and 5 of their students to St. Crispin's Friary in the Bronx. The Friary is one of the homes of the Community of Franciscan Friar's of the Renewal (the friars are often referred to as CFR's). We were visiting to go on a "Jesus Run" or "Midnight Run", meaning we would preparing some food and then delivering to people living on the streets of New York City. I knew very little about where we would be going in the city but was very excited to experience this.
We arrived around 7:30pm and helped put fresh fruit and vegetables in bags that families in the Bronx are would pick up the next morning. At the same time some other volunteers were making sandwiches and preparing hot chocolate and some hot soup to take the homeless that night. We left the Friary a bit before 9pm in 2 15 passenger vans and a few other vehicles. One van had all the food and drinks and the other had winter clothes and blankets. Our first stop was in what is no dead place in town, the corner of 5th Avenue and 56th Street, across the street from Trump Towers. There is a church on the corner and many people without homes sleep on the steps of the church surrounding and protecting themselves with only cardboard boxes.
I spoke to a woman on the steps with one of the friars, she had a very interesting story. She had worked on Wall Street in the last year, but her husband died in August and left her nothing and thus she ended up on the streets with only her dog. She was very appreciative of the hot chocolate, winter hat, and rosary that we offered her. We prayed with her and left. I as was leaving I noticed some people stopped on the sidewalk watching in awe as about 30 of us moved around bringing sandwiches, soup, and hot chocolate to these people in boxes.
I walked back to the vans and found a woman standing there with an empty cup, I asked her if she would like some more hot chocolate and showed her to the van. Once we were there another volunteer asked the woman if she needed anything else, she asked if we had any clothes. I showed her to the other van and she asked for some pants. I asked her how long she had been on the streets, she explained to me that she had only been out there for a month or two after spending some time living in the subway, but left. She also told me and a bit surprised herself how much peace she has found in living on the streets, she said it is much less stressful and dramatic than living in a shelter. I was surprised and she agreed that it may sound a bit "backwards". She then asked about the group I was with, asking if we were religious. I pointed out the friars to her and then said that the rest of us were volunteers. Then I offered her a rosary but she said that she's not religious. She then asked what I was doing there, I had mentioned to her earlier that I worked at Seton Hall. I told her that I was a missionary and she was surprised, she'd only heard of missionaries going to other countries.
At this point, since she had mentioned that she had a lack of belief in God, I wanted to witness to her somehow of the faith of mine and that of the people I was with. She asked me, still surprised at what I do, what is the most difficult part of my job. I told her that it would probably be to continually trust in God to provide for me to work for FOCUS, I explained to her how my friends and family contribute so that I can serve at Seton Hall. At this point she was very surprised and impressed, she looked at me and said, "I want to help you, let me give you something." She reached into her pocket and I laughed saying, "I'm not going to take money from you?!" She said that a woman had given $10 to her and her friend earlier and they split it. She pulled out a few crumpled bills and placed them in my hand. Shocked I did not know what to say. Finally I said, "Thanks you soo much." She said you're welcome. I told her that I would be praying for her. I asked her to pray for me also and she said that she would be. I hugged her and left.
As I was headed into the city I sent a text message to a few people asking them to pray for me that night, for my safety and warmth. After I talked to this woman, Sojourner, I sent another text to those people asking them to not pray for me, but pray for the people on the streets. I couldn't believe how selfish I had been. The weekend was full of great moments and a lot of prayer, but no moment impacted me quite like it did with my new friend Sojourner.
I ask that you say a quick prayer when you read this for Sojourner. She was a legal assistant and willingly left her job, thinking that she would find something else. But she is in a program where she will be sending out some resumes, so please keep her in your prayers.
And also pray that we may all be as loving and willing to give as Sojourner this Christmas season.
God Bless you.