Even the very pious need exercise. While in Kingston, Jamaica last week I caught a peek at Father Richard Ho Lung, founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, playing a serious game of racquetball with Brother John, Brother Edward, and Brother Ramil (brothers of the Missionaries of the Poor ). It was about 6 pm, right after evening prayers, and after a day of serving the poor in any one of the seven centers in the heart of Kingston’s inner city ghetto. For me this glimpse of the athletic side of the MOP was important. Why? Because it speaks to who we are as human beings. Even those who have given themselves up totally to serve the poor, who gather to pray multiple times everyday, and who live as incredible examples to all they come into contact with… even they need to let off steam, to workout, to sweat a little.
The day after I saw this racquetball game I went to Lord’s Place (the MOP’s center for women who are elderly or physically and mentally disabled, and HIV/AIDs patients). While there, one of the brothers took us to see two women in a room, lying on their cots. They were severely physically and mentally handicapped, and they were both in their mid-twenties. Because of the severity of their disabilities they will spend most of their lives in those beds. As I rubbed lotion onto their bony bodies, I was struck by how different their lives are from mine. I wake up every morning and stretch out my body before I get out of bed to go for an early morning run. They wake up in the same position in which they went to bed, arms tightly gathered and clenched in a sort of permanent contraction. They will not rise up and greet the morning with a run, instead they will remain there…where they were yesterday, and the day before that, and the weeks and months before that. While we sat there with the brother, he bent down very close to one of their faces and smiled and kidded with her, and she smiled back.
Remarkable…that smile, I thought. How often do I get up and begin my day with such a smile? Perhaps I am worried about one of the kids, or dreading the laundry and the rest of the day that I know I must soon face, or tired after a restless night with a baby up crying. Or maybe it’s just a moodiness that I give into that often keeps a smile from meeting those I see in the morning. We all have sorrows, we all have concerns, we all have crosses. But most of us see more than the same wall everyday. Most of us get to move a little.
In this room with these two women and this brother I couldn’t help but think about the mystery that is life. I wanted to change things for these two women. To give them just one day to go for a run like I do…to let them know what that feels like. The brother must have sensed this longing of mine, because he turned to me and said, “We do the best we can.” I realized the profound meaning of those words. Sometimes all we can do is make someone smile. Like so many who return after a mission trip, or from helping someone in need, I understood that it is often those we think we will serve who serve us instead. They give us something we couldn’t possibly give them. To see this woman smile in the midst of her world was amazing. With that simple smile I saw courage, hope, even joy.
I know there will be days when I won’t recall these two women. When I will forget their faces and their small bony, frames. But I hope that I can remember them often. That thinking of them, I can be reminded to do my best in all things…and to smile. There will always be pain and suffering in this world. Maybe that is one reason I was so struck by Father Ho Lung’s intense racquetball game with three of the brothers. Those men see poverty and suffering everyday, yet it does not paralyze them. On the contrary, they seem to gain strength from their work, and to recognize a need to be strong themselves, physically as well as spiritually. They enjoy the friendly, competitive games of football (our soccer) or volleyball that they play twice a week. And whenever they find a chance to face off with some of the volunteers who visit, they do. The brothers are role models because they strive to do the best they can in all things…in their work with the poor, in their daily prayer life, and even in their times of exercise and fitness. Their life in Christ is an integrated one, as it should be for all of us. I don’t have to go to the ghettos of Kingston to recognize this … the best I can do is still required of me, wherever I am.
As we left the slums of Kingston on our way to the airport I saw a billboard with a picture of Usain Bolt, winner of three gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece (and now, of course gold medal winner in the London Games as well). In fact the Jamaicans took gold, silver, and bronze in the 200 meters yesterday. Billions of people have been born since the dawn of time… Bolt is the fastest on record, and those in Jamaica (where he is from), love him. Everybody needs a hero, and as we leave Kingston and watch the kids in the ghetto chasing each other, it’s easy to imagine how they see their homegrown star, The lightening “Bolt”. No doubt Father Ho Lung and the brothers of the Missionaries of the Poor are also their heroes. They certainly are mine.