In serving we are served – “my experience with Home Visits has strengthened my faith with Christ as I am Humbled EVERY time a visit a family….Before I was introduced to Home Visits, I was ignorant of the struggles of many people” Phil Bondy of the London Ontario Vincent dePaul Society.
He writes….Home Visits are designed for Vincentians to have ‘Personal Contact’ with the individuals/families we serve. Personal Contact is one of the ‘Values ‘ from Our Mission and Values statement. Inclusive in this action, we are to ‘Live the Gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect justice and joy.’ I believe these are the cornerstones of being a Vincentian and it was initially what attracted me to become a Vincentian. However, my experience with Home Visits has strengthened my faith with Christ as I am Humbled EVERY time a visit a family. I have conducted over 1500 home visits and each visit deepens my resolve to advocate on behalf of those we serve. I am astonished at the struggles families deal with daily, how they respond to their challenges, how society ‘simply’ dismisses their plight and shuffles them aside. Through the families I visit, I see my sinfulness, my weakness and I am reminded and challenged to use the gifts God has given me to serve others. I often share stories of families who I have visited, whom in spite of their very profound obstacles, how they find ways to ‘live’ life when many of us with ‘material possessions’ would retreat and give up.
I visited a young mother (age 16) with a 2 year old daughter. She lived in subsidized housing, her apartment was very sparse. She was seeking food assistance and some clothing. With all my visits I remind myself I am a ‘guest’ in their home. I look for items that may provide me with some insight to the life of the family I meet. This young mother was a heavy set lady, with barb wire tattoo around her neck and arms. She told me how she was a very difficult teenager, always seeking fights and mixing with the wrong crowd. She was often abused, resulting in her skipping from school, running away form home, living on street. She describes her daughter as a ‘gift’ from God. That her daughter has given her a reason to better herself, but more important to give her daughter a life that she never had and only could dream about. She expressed how she now had completed her grade 11 and was at the top of her class. She was focused on achieving her grade 12 and had dreams of attending college and one day become a nurse. She was very aware of the dismal environment she lived in, the difficult past she came from but she was focused on creating a better life for her daughter. That focus was centered on ‘love’, something that she never experienced. Material possessions were secondary. She was grateful for the food and clothing vouchers we provided…….but declined any furniture assistance……she felt there were others who needed that help more….
I visited another family, recent immigrants to Canada. They were from Iraq. There were 7 members of the family, three teenage children, their 2 parents and 2 grandparents. Their journey started by fleeing from Bagdad, living in refugee camps in Syria, then passing thru the US before arriving in Canada. This journey lasted 5 years. They now had a ‘home’….a 2 bedroom apartment, with only 1- 2 seat loveseat in the living room and one mattress on the floor in one bedroom used by the grandparents. The children spoke English, the parents were enrolled in ESL classes, while the grandparents spoke Arabic and looked very tired and worn, no doubt from a difficult life. As they shared their story of their journey, we heard some noise coming from their kitchen. The youngest daughter came from the kitchen with a tray and 2 cups and saucers and a tea pot from a fresh pot of tea she just made. As part of their tradition, any guest in their home was always presented with tea. Here were are, 2 Vincentians, who by comparison have every conceivable material possession a person can have, and this family, with only 1 – 2 seat love seat which they insisted we sit on, while they sat on the floor or stood, they had very little food, yet they extended the most sincere offering of tea to us as we their guests. While we provided food, clothing and furniture vouchers…..we were humbled by their generosity to us.
Before I was introduced to Home Visits, I was ignorant of the struggles of many people…..the homeless, the mentally challenged, the immigrants, the unemployed, the under employed, those on social assistance, those with physical disabilities, isolation and loneliness of youth and seniors and many other marginalized groups within society. It was very easy for me to ‘dismiss’ these groups of people, to turn my back on them, simply because the material possessions I have made it easy for me to do. I found ways to ‘avoid’ contact with them, to dismiss them as someone else’s problem. I am forever grateful that the Vincentian calling to use Home Visits as our primary method of service. It has opened my eyes and my heart to the calling by Christ, to see him in others……those who are suffering, those who lack food and shelter, those who are hurt and struggling…..