After four months of language school in Guatemala, I offered to take the Sunday Masses so one of the local pastors could have a vacation. Before leaving, he explained that after Mass some people might come for medicine from the little dispensary attached to the chapel.
I will never forget the elderly couple who came in with their grandson and a small piece of paper with the name of the medicine the boy needed. He looked to be about 12 and was dressed in what could only be described as rags. As I handed the medicine to the grandfather, he pulled out three small copper coins.
Thinking that whatever money they had should be spent on food, I told him the medicine was free. He put the coins back into his pocket and walked away.
When the pastor returned, I explained how I had not accepted the grandfather’s money. “You should have taken it,” the pastor replied. “In his mind he was getting $3 worth of medicine for 3 cents. That would have been a real triumph for him, but by not taking the money, you actually took away some of his dignity.”
Joseph A. Heim, M.M.
In the Marshall Islands, where I served in mission, there was a program to take high school students from the capital, Majuro, to an outer island so the youths could reclaim living skills they were losing in the city. The outer island high schools offered math and science classes each morning and then the local boys would share their living skills, including fishing, salting and drying fish; hunting coconut crabs at night; climbing coconut trees and knocking off the coconuts with bare feet and tapping coconut trees for jakuro, the sweet sap used for drinks and cooked for syrup.
The Majuro boys had a schedule of when they had to bring in the jakuro bottles that hung on the trees by a rope made of coconut fiber. One Sunday, I reminded a boy it was his turn to do the task. He replied it was Sunday, a day of rest. I reminded him that the tree did not know it was Sunday!
Janet Hockman, M.M.
At St. John Bosco Center for street children in Kitale, Kenya, where children learn English to prepare for high school, I teach language skills using a donated computer attached to a solar battery. One of the programs teaches the names of animals in English.
One day we were at the computer in a room where the teachers eat. I recited the names of animals as their pictures appeared on the screen and the children repeated the word using the same inflection I had used. As a picture of a horse appeared, a cockroach scurried across the table. I blurted out, “cockroach,” in a disgusted tone. The children repeated “cockroach,” just as I had said it. They were all staring at the computer screen, oblivious of the bug that ran by. I smiled and corrected myself, saying, “horse,” and they all pleasantly repeated, “horse.”
Margaret DeCrescentis, MKLM
At the annual Maryknoll Sisters’ bazaar at our center house in Ossining, N.Y., I set up my booth with prayer cards and papers and pencils for anyone who wished to write a prayer request. I caught almost everyone’s eye because I was made up as a clown, using pantomime to communicate.
At one point, a man, who I eventually discovered was mute, sat down beside me, smiling as he watched me interact with people. After a long time, he signed “thank you” and left.
The prayer requests touched my heart—children praying to be good or to come when their mother calls; adults praying for health concerns, employment, court hearings and the safe delivery of a baby. “Help me find my way,” was one request. A child with Down’s syndrome was overheard saying, “The clown gave me a medal and I am never going to take it off.”
Maggie the Clown ended her day, thanking God for the many who touched “a short, old clown” with their love and trust.
Margaret Sierra, M.M.