Who says…?

by | Jan 9, 2019 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

Who says one person can’t have an impact? One man, who happens to be a priest, is having an impact.

Who says you have lots of training to change the way things are done. One man who has no special training is having an impact.

Who says you need to have lots of money to bring about systemic change?

Who says you can’t combine evangelization with changing lives and the environment?

If you think about it, this sounds like a description of St. Vincent!

Let me tell you about one man who has had no special training or lots of money who is cleaning up Detroit with the help of homeless people. That man is Father Marko Djonovic whose ministry is unofficially dubbed Better Way Detroit. He is one man but he has enlisted the help of Marcus Robb a formerly homeless person who understands homelessness from the inside.

Together Djonovic and Cobb are the two-man crew behind Better Way Detroit, and since May they have been teaming up with the city of Detroit and willing homeless workers to clean up the city’s parks, overgrown alleys, and vacant lots.

It started simply enough with him reflecting on a conversation he had with one person. See the video. While he never worked with the homeless in any official capacity prior to starting this ministry, Djonovic said he was inspired by the individual interactions he had with people on the streets. After helping a mentally ill man get off the streets and into housing, he said he realized that while the homeless agencies are a “well-polished machine, there are gaps in that sometimes they can’t go out on the streets and find people and meet these people.”

He said he also discovered that many of the homeless had a strong work ethic and a desire to work for pay. “When I see the homeless I don’t see hopeless objects of pity, but I see persons…with a sincere desire to work. They want to work. And there’s a great need in the city of Detroit, so putting those two things together moved me to do this project,” he said.

In short, he saw a need and asked himself what he could do. Again, that sounds very much like what St. Vincent de Paul or Frederic Ozanam would do.

“I learn a lot from Marcus, he understands the homeless culture; he’s very wise,” Djonovic said. He said Cobb has taught him the importance of being attentive to even the smaller needs of the homeless, such as if they want cigarettes or water, and to let them know they are respected. Cobb said he believes the ministry has been well-received among the homeless because “it gives them something to look forward to, and a chance to give back, and to get back into society.” “Just because they’re homeless…doesn’t mean they don’t want to give back or try to get back in to society,” Cobb said.

Djonovic said he feels privileged to get to work alongside the homeless, and as they work, “sometimes I get to know their story, and they get to know my story,” he said. “It’s happened a few times where guys ask me, why did you become a priest?” he said.

Every project concludes with lunch and a reflection on a bible reading. They have also handed out prayer cards to the homeless and do their best to connect them to housing, healthcare services, or other resources they might need.

See their Facebook page.

Some thoughts…

Do I really listen to people and hear their deeper yearnings?
Do I reflect on what happens when I encounter people in need?
Do I look for opportunities hidden in these encounters?

Thanks to Mary Rezac and Catholic News for the material and inspiration of this post.