Editor’s note: Fr. John Adams is the President of So Others Might Eat (SOME), a DC Service Corps site partner. As a guest blogger for FMS’ 2017 Advent blog series, Fr. John reflects on being welcomed early on in his life, and in turn, finding a calling of welcoming others.
What I have witnessed over the years has reaffirmed my belief in the miracle of God’s presence in our world residing within the human heart. I have spent the last 38 years of my life at SOME (So Others Might Eat) in Washington, DC. During this time, I have seen innumerable encounters and outcomes that have shown me that God is in all of us. God is in the staff that come to work each day to reach out with care to those we serve. God is present in the men, women and children experiencing homelessness that come through our doors each day seeking comfort. God is in the hearts of the volunteers that give of themselves with incredible generosity, and the people who support our work with donations.
Sometimes, you have to search for goodness when there is despair. Every day, we see people who are unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, and health care. They must make difficult choices when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. It’s hard to imagine how someone can go from having a home one day to being out on the street the next. It happened to my family when I was seven years old and my father was seriously injured at his job. He never fully recovered from his injuries and died when he was in his 40’s. My mother, six siblings, and I were homeless for a while and were able to survive the cold Pennsylvania winters because of the quiet kindness and compassion of everyday people. The nuns in our parish in Erie welcomed us in and gave us food and clothing that enabled us to survive.
This kindness and welcoming spirit inspired me to open my heart to God’s calling to implement my faith in real and concrete ways. I became a social worker and then a priest. With others who wanted to live out the gospel and serve the poor in a real way, I helped found Christ House in Virginia. There we welcomed the poor and homeless as Christ and shared our meals with our guests daily. In doing this simple act of sitting down with someone who has spent their day feeling invisible and outcast, I can truly say that our eyes were opened and Christ became very real to me.
Who are the homeless that you see every day on our city streets? They are the elderly, they are veterans, they are physically and mentally disabled, many have addiction issues, have lost jobs or are employed but cannot afford housing. Many people experiencing homelessness start out with jobs and stable residences, like my family, but then social and economic factors intervene, causing a rapid change in their living situation. When folks first come to SOME they are worn down, depressed and drained of energy due to the constant struggle for survival in harsh conditions.
One woman, JoAnn, came to SOME to have a meal. She was homeless and addicted to drugs. She had lost her children and was beaten down. She was overcome by the hospitality she felt here. She slowly began to trust again, and then began our inpatient drug treatment program, followed by our job training, which she finished. She found a job, reunited with her children, married, bought a townhouse. She is truly a woman of courage and faith who inspires me.
I have witnessed God at work in the many staff and volunteers who live out the gospel message of Matthew 25: “Whatever you do for one of my sisters or brothers, you do for me.” These staff and volunteers have committed to walking the journey with poor and making a difference in our world by welcoming people like JoAnn and thousands of others in need every day.
Reflection question: How do you welcome the least of your brothers and sisters in Christ and in what ways are you a witness to God’s presence in them?