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“This, my friends, is Ministry of Presence”


ME: I’m going to be Audrey Hepburn for Halloween. You know who she is, right?
MAC: Nah, never heard of her.
ME: Let me show you a picture. You’ll probably recognize her.
MAC: Nah, I don’t know who that is.

Hady serving coffee to the men at Fr. McKenna Center

I had this conversation with my supervisor (I’ll call him Mac) at the Father McKenna Center where I’ve been volunteering every Wednesday morning since moving to DC in September. There’s a reason Mac doesn’t know who Audrey Hepburn is. He’s been in and out of jail for the last 25 years.

During my Wednesday visits to the Father McKenna Center, it’s come to my attention that most of the staff are recovering addicts and formerly homeless people themselves. It was kind of surprising to learn this, to be honest, as it’s not necessarily obvious when you first meet the team.

I found out Mac was a recovering addict during my first month at the center. He mentioned it when we were talking about our current living situations. He lives in a house for recovering addicts and where support meetings are available on site. We didn’t really talk about his past again until recently.

It was a typical Wednesday. Mac and I were in the kitchen getting things ready for lunch, and we started talking about the fact that I only had three weeks left of service. I told him I was going to miss the men at Father McKenna because I was finally starting to understand their struggle. That opened up the floor for Mac to add his two cents on the topic. And that’s when he told me the story of how he was in and out of jail with weeks or months of homelessness in between. WOW. I didn’t know what to say. It’s a good thing because once Mac started telling me his story, he had plenty to say.

And as I was listening to Mac tell me his story and describe what finally made him decide to change his life, it occurred to me that I was having a special moment. And that moment might be best described as being PRESENT to Mac while LISTENING to his story and providing him with the SPACE to share. You might not realize this, but that is pretty much the textbook definition of “ministry of presence” – which is what I will doing for the next two years in Bolivia.

“There was nothing anyone could say or do to make me change,” Mac said. “I had to decide that I was tired of being in and out of jail, living on the street, and doing drugs, and that I was willing to put in the work to change my life.” Yowza! Talk about speaking the truth.

And so as my time at Father McKenna Center comes to a close, I’m so grateful that I’ve had the chance to spend Wednesday mornings with Mac, to have gotten a chance to meet the rest of the team there, and to have been a friend and listener to some of the men that come each Wednesday.

I’ve learned that being homeless can be lonely and depressing. That while some people get comfortable with being homeless, many people want to change. I’ve also learned that wanting to change and actually changing are two different things and that indeed being homeless “is complicated”. I’ve learned that all homeless people are not mentally ill, uneducated, or weird. Many are intelligent, opinionated, and wise. Just like the rest of us, I guess.

I appreciate the opportunity to walk alongside the men of Father McKenna Center. I will miss them – but will take the lessons they taught me to Bolivia. I will continue to pray that they get the help and support they need to change their life and situation. My biggest prayer — that they feel loved and worthy. Special shout out and much love to Mac and the rest of “my boys”. PEACE.

A self-described “Hija de Brooklyn y Puerto Rico,” Hady Mendez is the youngest of four daughters raised by Puerto Rican parents in Brooklyn, NY. A proud Jasper, Hady graduated from Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, before starting a corporate career in technology that lasted for more than 20 years. Hady has a true passion for world travel and social justice and recently returned from two years of mission in Cochabamba, Bolivia.