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Were You There: Am I Just a Bystander?

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Editor’s Note: Missioner Misty Menis-Kyler reflects on her first weeks in Guatemala and how she has found herself called more and more to take action rather than remain a simple bystander in the face of the suffering and needs of those around her.

During Lent we often hear the question, “Were you there?” or “What did you do for someone to help them?”

During my short time in Guatemala so far, I have seen such pain and suffering, and I have felt so utterly powerless.

One day, my fellow missioner Erin and I were walking through a marketplace. Suddenly, a child who was sitting on the ground in front of a wheel chair grabbed on to Erin’s leg and would not let go. We had to keep walking as it was very crowded, but I remember how the child clung to her leg until he had no choice but to let go. It hurt to see that.

Another time, a small girl with a baby on her back came up to me in a church we were visiting and begged for money, saying she was hungry. I told her I was sorry and that I had no money. She kept patting my bag as if to tell me she thought I was lying. All my life I have been told that helping people was fine, but you can’t just give money to anyone. You never know if they are faking, or if they may try to hurt you for it. It pains me to admit that even now these thoughts cross my mind when I see someone begging.

I have always worked to be kind and caring and to help anyone in need. That is why I got into mission work to begin with. I want to help others, no matter the cost. So I often kick myself when I fail to help someone in need. I continually become the bystander who watches rather than helps. I know I cannot give money to every person I see on the streets. But I’m glad I feel this way, because it means my heart is moved when I see others in pain or in need. It is what motivates me to do and keep doing God’s work.  

Simon was a simple bystander who had no choice but to act. He was pulled from the crowd and ordered to help Jesus carry his cross. That could have been anyone. If I had been there, if I was the one pulled from the crowd, how would I have reacted? Would I have tried to protest or come up with excuses? Would I have tried to run? Look the other way? Or would I have been proud to help? Would I have leapt at the opportunity to help Jesus, to ease even just a little bit of his pain?

When I see others in pain, when I actually take the time to see them and look them in the eyes, do I see Jesus? I should. I should see Jesus in every person I meet. So why do I hesitate to help others?

Veronica was a women who felt Jesus’ sorrow and pain. Seeing him in such agony is what spurred her to step out from the crowd of her own accord and wipe the face of Jesus; she saw his pain and knew in her heart she needed to do something, and so—even against the soldiers’ wishes—she stepped out. I truly long to have her courage and pious heart.

I don’t want to just be a person in the crowd, watching the pain and suffering of others. Too scared to help. Unable to trust. I want to be a Simon or a Veronica, not just another bystander.

Reflection Question: Instead of remaining a passive bystander, how can you take action to care for someone around you in need?

Misty’s participation in volunteer experiences and service trips during college deepened her desire to live among and serve impoverished communities. She then spent two years teaching at St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana, with Cap Corps Midwest, a Franciscan volunteer program. In alignment with her Franciscan spirit, Misty’s path led her to overseas mission to accompany those who are marginalized, uncared for, and forgotten. Originally from Rochester, Indiana, Misty studied pastoral leadership at Marian University.