Editor’s Note: Missioner Brandon Newland reflects on letting go of feeling responsible to help others who do not yet want to be helped and learning how to meet people where they’re at instead of where we want them to be.
It has been almost a year since we arrived here in Savannah la Mar and to say the least it has been a long, entertaining, and educational process. I remember quite clearly Father Max tasking me with keeping Larry, one of our most notorious visitors, out of prison. We attempted to do so by giving him small jobs around the campus so he would be less inclined to steal and have a little spending money of his own.
The first attempt at helping Larry seemed to be going well; he had returned to his happy self, he was smiling a lot, and he looked healthy. However, everyone kept warning us that it was temporary and it would only be a matter of time before Larry went back to his old ways. I was becoming very familiar with Larry’s family and he even mentioned that he would like to start a small farm. I was ecstatic to help him with this plan. Then, he disappeared.
I was later told that Larry was caught stealing mangoes from another church property and was taken to jail. He was released a couple months later and looked healthy again, but this time his sobriety lasted an even shorter time and we continuously caught him stealing from us as well. I saw him stealing a wheelbarrow in town and the police were about to arrest him again when I intervened and said I would take him away if they would give him a chance. They agreed and I whisked Larry away and sent him on his way. I heard a couple weeks later that Larry was in jail…again.
Larry was only in prison for about a month this time and came to us immediately after being released and told us he owed 5000 JMD (45 USD) for beating someone and asked if he could have some money. We collectively decided not to give Larry money anymore and would only help out with food mainly because he spends most of his money on various drugs.
Larry went on a stealing spree for over two months, taking anything not glued down. Chairs, chicken feed, coolers, chickens, bananas, okra, anything he could find to support his habit. During this period, he was macheted in the foot by someone he was stealing from. Again, we took him to the hospital, they fixed him up and literally that same evening he was back, hopping around and trying to steal. I was slightly impressed with his persistence. And a couple of weeks ago, I was told once again that Larry is back in jail.
What can I learn from all this? Larry will never change unless Larry decides it is time to change. It does not matter the amount of help you give someone, some people simply do not want to be helped and some people cannot be helped. So, I have let go of the idea that I can help Larry in any tangible way and pray that some day he will see how he is hurting himself and the others around him. In the meantime, I will leave my door open and do what I can to help when he inevitably returns.
Reflection Question: How can you reevaluate your understanding of a situation in order to see what the people around you really need?
Featured image: adaptation of photo by Flickr user Raymond Zoller – labeled for reuse