This March marked the first group of students to spend their spring break at our headquarters in Washington, D.C. to participate in our Short-Term Mission and Global Awareness program.
Nine students from the University of Georgia learned about poverty in the U.S. from educational workshops to hands-on service.
One of the students, Jacob Spaulding, reflects on the afternoon his group spent at the Missionaries of Charity hospice for the elderly poor.
As the director of the Missionaries of Charities house took me aside to a resident’s room, I did not know what to expect.
He immediately began to lift this 70-80 year old man off his bed and grunted, “A little help please? please, take his shoulders!” I quickly wrapped my arms under the elderly man for support and quickly learned we were moving him into a wheelchair. The director reminded me how to operate a wheelchair (lean the chair back, and push) and we rolled him into the restroom a couple of rooms down-the-hall.
At this point, the man still had not said much and the director introduced me to him. “His name is Aaron, he is a long-time resident here, he has an STD, no use of his legs, and he needs some help using the restroom.”
When we reached our destination, we wheeled Aaron* into one of those extra-large-stalls, made especially for wheelchairs, and the director took me over the counter to get a pair of gloves. He said, “Now Jacob, have you ever worked at a nursing home before?”
I quickly nodded yes, but reminded him it was always topical stuff, playing instruments with the residents or card games.
He replied, “Well, I will tell you something I always tell people when it is their first time doing this type of work… Jesus helped all people. He touched the leper, and when you see the poor and vulnerable, Jacob, you see the face of God. This is Jesus in front of you, and he needs your help.”
Immediately, I knew what to do. Without hesitation, we walked over and helped him do what he needed to do. We lifted him back on his chair, and the three of us began talking as we moved back towards his room.
I was asked about my career path, my choice of major, my future plans… it turns out, Aaron and I weren’t quite so different! He studied economics, too and graduated from a four-year college with a finance degree!
I had a wonderful conversation with this 75-year-old man who grew up in Africa, moved to the United States, graduated from college, worked in business and led a successful and happy life, and ended up in the care of Missionaries of Charity – and ended up, if ever so momentarily, in my hands.
I know you don’t have to go to D.C. to volunteer at a nursing home, that in Athens, Georgia, and every city, there are people who physically need help or emotionally and socially just need someone to talk too.
Maybe it took this trip to D.C. with the Franciscan Mission Service to remember that in the spirit of St. Francis, in the spirit of Jesus…we are all God’s children, and any time we look into the eyes of the poor and vulnerable, we look into the face of God.
(*name changed )
If you know a group of students who would like to spend a week looking into the eyes of the poor and learning about systemic poverty, please contact Br. Paul O’Keeffe, OFM, at firstname.lastname@example.org.