For I Was Hungry: Seeing Our Own Need for God

As people privileged with material wealth, we often fail to see where Christ is present in our lives, addressing our needs. We may look to the Gospel for guidance on how to serve and how to treat others, but do we really recognize our own dependence on God? Do we see ourselves as depending on God in the same way that a family living in a slum in Nairobi, does? The same way that a young person dying from AIDS in Cambodia might?

When I visited Haiti in October, I was with a group there to choose a parish to be in relationship with. The parish that we chose, Ste Anne, sits seven miles up a mountain road that is impassable during the rainy season. The church/school building was a simple wooden structure, the original building having been destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. After our visit, we learned that this temporary structure was also later destroyed, this time by Hurricane Sandy.

Being there, we all felt a strong desire to serve this community, but our experience was more profound in how Christ served us through the people of Ste Anne. We were completely dependent on the community, with the pastor offering us two meals while we were there, and even hurrying us along when the rains looked to be coming in and he worried that we would get stuck on the mountain (we, of course, were oblivious to this concern). We were walked through the community, meeting the people, playing with the children, learning about their lives. In the afternoon heat, an older man with clear bone loss climbed a tree and cut down coconuts. He and another man began to cut them open with machetes, offering them to us to drink.

Looking back, I am struck by the Gospel passage, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:35). We so often look at these words and see only a prescription for how we ought to act. Going to Haiti, we surely felt similarly compelled. But, while there, we were the ones fed, the ones given drink, and time and time again the strangers who were welcomed.

We are a project-driven culture: identify a need, develop a plan, raise some funds, and make it happen. This has its benefits, of course, but the problem is that these projects can sometimes take on a life of their own, and become more about what we want than where God invites and challenges us to go.

Many US Catholics have become more and more excited about mission projects and parish twinning. The impulse to look beyond our own parishes, schools, and local communities and serve is a great one, but I wonder sometimes if we are missing the fuller picture of the joy that can come out of these relationships - if we are focusing more on our projects than what God is offering us.

Realizing that we depend on God, that we are as in need of Christ's love as anyone else, can help us to focus on mission-driven relationships, not merely projects. The people of Ste Anne, after all, are not a project, and definitely not our project. They are brothers and sisters, and on our first visit with them, they showed us what that really means.