Letter from Michael B.
Sponsor letter #1
October 15, 2008
Change of Plans
On September 30 I left for Brazil. As luck would have it, I ran into yet another problem. Brazil is not one of the countries to which Americans are exempt from needing a tourist visa to enter the country for 90 days. Heart’s Home has sent missionaries to other countries before this way, but unfortunately that doesn’t work for Brazil. Therefore, I was left stuck at the Washington Dulles airport. I’ll spare you the details of how, but I returned to Brooklyn, New York where I had my training with the missionaries of Heart’s Home USA. I’ve been here for two weeks now living out my mission here. I’ve also obtained the visa for Brazil and I will be leaving at 9 am tomorrow morning (October 16). Life here with Heart’s Home is quite eventful. Eventful enough that I feel that I should write my first letter to my sponsors about my mission trip thus far. So I present to you my first letter.
It’s In Their Eyes
Why? Why am I here? Why did I join Heart’s Home? Why am I living this way? I ask myself this a lot. Many people asked me the same questions before I left home. I don’t remember my answer. Probably the typical “Heart’s Home tries to spread compassion.” But what does that mean? The answer has never really been that clear.
I’ve unexpectedly spent the past two weeks living with the Heart’s Home community in Brooklyn. Here I’ve tried to live like the other missionaries as much as possible. I’ve immersed myself in their prayer life, in the community life, in the apostolates, and even in the cooking and cleaning. (Albeit I’m practically useless in the kitchen). In the apostolates I go out to encounter Heart’s Home’s friends in the neighborhood. It was on the apostolates that I discovered something new, something great, something utterly magnificent. Not the answer to “why?,” but where to find the answer to why. In the eyes of my friends, I find the answer to “why.”
Why, in itself, is not even the correct question. A few years ago my baptismal priest, Fr. Mark Inglot, taught me that sometimes the correct questions are just as important as the correct answers. Without the correct question, one cannot look for the correct answer. I was looking for a single answer to why. An answer that was logical, simple, and universally applicable. I was thinking along the lines of “why am I here?” Well logically I’m here to complete my mission with Heart’s Home. And, “what is Heart’s Home’s mission,” you might ask. I can easily answer this question. Heart’s Home’s mission is to love. Love whom? Ah! That’s it! No it’s not the correct answer, but it’s the correct question. The question that I should be asking myself isn’t “why am I here,” but rather “whom am I here to love?” If I can answer that then, I will simultaneously have come to a better understanding of my mission and be able to give a final answer to the “why” that has been echoing in my mind. Do you understand this logic? I didn’t at first. It was taught to me while I glared into the eyes of my friends here in Brooklyn.
I met my friends here in Brooklyn while on the apostolates. From Tuesday until Sunday of every week the missionaries go on apostolates in the neighborhood. These apostolates can basically be thought of as visitations. In my way of thinking, there are two types of apostolates; the apostolates to the children and the apostolates to the elderly. It was on the apostolates that I looked into the eyes of the people who became the answer to my “whom.”
I looked into the eyes of the children and I loved them. Three times in the last two weeks, I was able to spend time with the children of the neighborhood. First, I went with my fellow missionary, Floriane, to an after-school program. At first I was nervous as I haven’t spent much time around children. I entered into a room of organized chaos. The children were divided into tables according to their age and grade, hence the organization. Floriane went one way and I went the other. I sat at a table with three boys. They were two second graders and a gifted boy who skipped to the third grade. The children were Christopher, Jose, and Wilson.
As I arrived at their table it was time to do homework. We began with math. We could have finished it quickly, but Edward had all the power of concentration that one would expect from an eight year old. Christopher and Jose continuosly joked with one another about “malachis” while Wilson boasted about being able to do multiplication. There was a great lack of focus at our table, but great fun also. I couldn’t help but laugh with them while listening to all of their childish jokes. Eventually we finished the math and moved on to spelling. At this point a girl from Christopher and Jose’s 2nd grade class, whose name I think was Tina, joined us. Once again hilarity ensued as we worked our way through the spelling assignment. We almost finished it before we were cut off by story time.
All in all that day, we listened to the story, drew a picture, went around a circle saying something nice about the person to our right, and said a few prayers. While going through the circle of compliments Caezar (see-zar instead of see-zer) cut in line to be to my right. When my turn came, I told him that he was “very energetic.” It was an impersonal compliment, but he was quite pleased nonetheless. After the circle and the prayers it was time to go. I chatted with a few of the children as we made our way to their parents. Ah, what fun I had that day! Who could look into their eyes and not love them? If I didn’t know better, I would swear that the eyes of little children shimmer like stars.
On one of our apostolates to the Mugavero nursing home, Adriana accompanied us. The Heart’s Home missionaries usually go on visits in groups of two. I was with a missionary named Laetitia and we were going to a nursing home to pray the rosary with some of the people living there. School was out on this day, so Adriana came with us. Adriana is twelve years old and in high school. I wasn’t sure how she would feel about going to a nursing home, since it’s not exactly the kind of place that teenagers go to for hanging out.
Before we could begin the rosary, we had to gather the people. We generally hold the rosary on the 2nd floor in the dining room. Some of the people who come to pray with us live on the 4th floor, so it was necessary to go and help them down. Some of them are in wheelchairs and others are in strecher beds. Laetitia and Adriana went to retrieve our friends on the other floors. I was left with those who had already arrived. In order to pass the time while we waited for Laetitia and Adriana to return, I tried to sing a few hymns with the people. Let’s just say that it wasn’t the highlight of the day.
Anyhow, when they returned we began the rosary. The rosary prayer consists of prayers said over 5 decades of 10 beads each. Roughly 50 Hail Marys and a few other prayers all counted as one complete prayer. The person leading the prayer changes at each new decade. Laetitia led the first decade, one of the women in the home, named Ollie, led the second, I did the third, and Adriana volunteered to do the fourth. She seemed perhaps a bit nervous, but she did quite well. After we finished the rosary, we talked for a while with the people there and then finally returned them to where they were beforehand. Adriana was very attentive to the people and fully involved in all that we did. I was quite impressed by her enthusiasm. She said that she enjoyed going on the apostolate. I jokingly suggested to her that now she should become a Heart’s Home missionary. Who knows, maybe she will one day.
Last Sunday after church, Floriane and I went to the nearby park to play with a few children. Usually Slyvie is the one to hang out with the kids on Sundays, but since she wasn’t available, the task fell unto Floriane. She asked me if I wanted to go also, and I agreed of course. The children were Nelson, Thomas, and his little sister Amarantha. Nelson is 13, Thomas 12, and little Amarantha is only 8. We played all sorts of games. We ran around and around playing a French version of Monkey in the Middle and we were soon tired afterwards. Therefore, we resorted to playing Dominos and Connect Four. I brought Connect 4 as a present for the children in Brazil. I like to think that I’m pretty good at it. My first opponent was little Amarantha. I was contemplating how exactly I could take it easy on her and still win since we were doing a sort of tournament. Before I knew what hit me, she had me trapped in a two-way checkmate. My pride as a Connect 4 player was shattered as I watched the last red piece slip from her little hand lining up four in a row. Connect 4. “I just lost to an eight year old!,” I shouted in dismay. It was quite funny to everyone besides me. : (
The eyes of the children reflect joy. I saw so much joy in the children joking around with their classmates, I shared in Adriana’s joy of serving the elderly, and I felt great joy seeing Amarantha’s charming smile. I’m called to love the children. I’m called to love those who rejoice. This is probably the easiest thing out of all that I have to do as a missionary. It’s a piece of cake to love the smiling, happy children. Furthermore, they were all fairly well behaved. Thus, the faces of my friends now answer the question to “whom.” I’m here to love Christopher, Jose, Wilson, Tina, Adriana, Nelson, Thomas, and Amarantha. This is the answer that was revealed to me in the eyes of the children. Great. Problem solved then right? Not entirely. There are still the apostolates to the elderly to consider.
I looked into the eyes of the elderly and I loved them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. This is a basic command to those who seek to love. I’m not even sure how many times I visited the nursing homes in the past two weeks. Most of my apostolates were to the nursing homes. We often go either to the Bishop Francis Mugavero nursing home or the Greenpark nursing home. At the Mugavero home we sometimes pray the rosary, sometimes we hold Communion services, but mostly we just visit and talk with the people. This can be quite hard. It’s not because I find them boring or that I don’t care about what they have to say, but rather it’s because some of the people don’t hear well and others can’t speak well. Some can’t speak at all. Additionally, the nursing home is a place of great pain and loneliness. There’s so much pain there both physically and emotionally. To be perfectly honest, every time before we go to the nursing homes I’m afraid. Before we leave I go into our chapel before the Blessed Sacrament and I say a quick prayer. I pray for a good apostolate. I pray for the grace to love as God desires me to love. There’s nothing special about me that makes visiting a nursing home easy. I pray for the grace and it’s always given to me to an astonishing degree. If I get scared or begin to doubt, I simply repeat to myself the words of my patron saint Joan of Arc, “I fear nothing for God is with me!” Each time I trust that I will feel His presence just as strongly as the last time. And so I go to love and to be loved by the elderly.
When I talk to the people in the nursing homes, I stare into their eyes. Sometimes they have positive things to say, and sometimes they speak pessimistically. Just yesterday a woman named Genevieve was telling me of her plans to work her way up to being able to get around without the use of a wheelchair or a walker. Alternatively, there was a woman at the Mugavero home who was causing trouble during one of our rosary prayers. She kept complaining and moving around. “I wish I were dead,” she blurted out. We tried to be nice to her, but that did little to affect her bitter disposition. She has a bitter look in her eyes too. Very much unlike Peter, who I met for the first time yesterday. His eyes are kind and soothing. He liked to talk about the “Supreme Being” and his mother in Jamaica. His eyes lit up in a funny way whenever he told a joke. I really liked talking to him. I also talked to Maria a few times in the past two weeks. Maria had to have her legs removed because of gangrene, so she’s always lying in a strecher bed whenever we see her. Most of the time she’s quite positive, but she cried the other day. She told us a story of some guy who jumped out of a window and broke both of his legs. Out of nowhere she began to cry as she said that sometimes she wants to jump out of a window. She wept as she told us of how her family doesn’t often visit her. She understands that they’re busy, but she was saddened that they don’t come to visit even when they have days off like on that particular day. We tried to comfort her as much as we could, but we’re really powerless. There’s nothing that we can do to completely save people from their sorrow. I feel this limitation especially strongly when people plead, “don’t leave me.” I wish that I could rid them of all of their sufferings, but I can’t. All I can do is look into their eyes and try to love them for as long as I’m with them. This is also the answer to the “whom.” I’m called to love those in mourning, those in pain, those without hope or joy. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to love Genevieve, Peter, Maria, Gwendolyn who cannot speak, and Charles who cannot walk.
The eyes of my friends staring back into mine have shown me why it is exactly that I’ve come here as a Heart’s Home missionary. I came here for them. I came here to love them. It’s as simple as that. The problem with me asking myself “why” was that I was looking for a concept. Love doesn’t exist as a concept. Love only comes to life in the beloved. To have a true answer to why, I needed faces, names, and life stories. It’s only in meeting my friends that my being a missionary makes sense. Making the necessary sacrifices and dealing with the hardships of missionary life only becomes worthwhile in the loving encounter with my friends here.
So now it comes to pass that I have a clear answer to why. I’m here to love. There’s great strength in that. The answer has come not a moment too soon because tomorrow I leave for Brazil. From what I’ve heard from all of the people who have been there, I think it’s going to be hard. Very hard. The children who once lived on the streets aren’t like Thomas, Nelson, and Amarantha. They’re not necessarily going to be well behaved and easy to love. This brings me to my next question: “what?” What am I going to do when the children don’t listen to me? What am I going to do when I’m tired of eating rice and beans and I just want a cheeseburger and french fries? What am I going to do when I can’t stand the lifestyle in Brazil anymore? Is “what?” even the correct question? I don’t know. What do you think?
address in Brazil:
Fazenda do Natal - Ass. Ponto Coração
A.G. Correio/Simes Filho – CxP.28
43 700-000 Simoes Filho (Bahia)