St. Martin CSA has an ecumenical character. People of different church background feel inspired by the same spirit, by the example that Jesus gave during his life. They have found out that despite their denominational differences, they share the same dream and can work harmoniously together in trying to build a society in which vulnerable people are given a central position and in which the strong and the weak can meet and learn from each other. The ecumenical character of St. Martin CSA has become an enriching experience for many of us.
One day a volunteer reported in our office the case of Jane, a disabled girl of 17 years, who had been locked up in a store for many years. Upon going to the place, the staff found the girl sitting in her own waste and almost white skin because she had not seen the sun for a long time. The staff broke into the store and the girl came out, very fearful as if she is expected to be beaten up any time. All those years she had been abused, even sexually and had given birth in that store. It became a difficult case to handle: the girl was hyperactive, could not talk and was difficult to control outside the store. The staff and volunteer had to look for a place of rescue, where the girl could be accommodated temporarily because they did not want to leave the girl behind with those responsible for the abuse. The girl herself also clung to the staff, clearly expecting help from them. But, to find a place was difficult: it was Holy Thursday and almost Easter, not a particularly convenient time. The volunteer suggested that the staff ask a family in the neighbourhood. After explaining the case to this family, the reaction was amazing. The father said: “We have no problem; we have food, soap and many daughters who can look after this girl. If you are satisfied with this, she can join our family.” The mother said this:” This girl is welcome. Since we are approaching Easter, we believe she is the Risen Lord, who has come to visit us.” This was an impressive moment for those staff and volunteers present. The ability of this ordinary rural mother to recognize the Risen Lord in a disabled girl was an example of such deep faith that humbled the people present.
Putting it into action
Putting it Into Practice
The St. Martin CSA mission states very clearly that we want to actively implement the gospel of service. We believe that faith without action has no meaning, it is dead. During his life Jesus stressed on very many occasions that listening or preaching is not enough, we need to put it into practice.
"My dear children, our love must be not just words or mere talk but it must be active love, which shows itself in action. This will be the proof that we belong to the truth." (1 John 3, 18-19)
"Not the one who says 'Lord, Lord' will enter in the kingdom of heaven but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many in the last day will come and say: Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons and work many miracles in your name? Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evildoers!" (Matthew 7, 21-23)
"How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith brings salvation? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, 'I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty', without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? In the same way, faith: if good deeds do not go with it, it is quite dead." (James 2,14-16)
"What matters is faith that works through love." (Galatians 5, 6)
Acting Through Love
In St. Martin CSA we wish to be led by love in whatever we do. Our beneficiaries first and foremost need somebody who listens to them, who loves them, who wants to be their friend despite their problems and vulnerabilities. Do we really help a disabled person by giving him an artificial leg or a wheelchair if we do not also show him love? He needs to be accepted and appreciated first, to feel that he is worthy and loved. That is why St. Martin CSA wants to be an apostolate and not only a deliverer of services. We can only attain our mission by using the same love that Jesus showed during his life.
Set your mind on the higher gifts. And now I am going to put before you the best way of all.
"Though I command languages both human and angelic - if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. And though I have the power of prophecy, to penetrate all mysteries and knowledge, and though I have all the faith necessary to move mountains - if I am without love, I am nothing.
Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned - if I am without love I am nothing.
Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love never comes to an end.
As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love." (1 Cor.13)
Esther was rescued from the streets after having lived there for several years. She underwent a process of rehabilitation; yet, she could not be reunited with her family because her mother was an alcoholic surviving through prostitution. Volunteers approached a family in Ol Joro Orok and asked them if they could welcome Esther into their home. The family accepted, even though they already had 7 children of their own and had few sources of income. The new parents had to ask their own daughter of the same age to share some of her clothes with Esther. The mother was surprised when the daughter went to the wardrobe and removed some of her favourite dresses. She gave them to Esther, revealing a generosity the mother had not noticed before. It was then that the mother remembered the words of the volunteer: ‘you may think that this girl needs you, but you will come to realize that it’s actually your family that needs her.’
Solidarity: Sharing our Resources
Solidarity does not only involve the sharing of resources. It also means sharing in the suffering of the other: being there when a person is in physical or mental pain, holding somebody's hand, giving the other the feeling that he does not need to carry his or her burden alone.
Jesus said to his disciples: "Give them something to eat". They answered: "How can we buy food for so many people?" But Jesus replied: "You have some loaves: how many?" They found five loaves and two fish. Jesus asked them to make the people sit down together in groups of hundreds and fifties… (Mark. 6, 30-44)
In the gospel of the multiplication of the bread, Jesus invited the disciples to promote solidarity and to trust in people's capacity of sharing. The disciples wanted to send the people away because they did not see how they themselves could ever feed such a mass of people, but Jesus showed them that in that crowd there were some resources available: some loaves and some fish. They only needed to organize the crowd and make them share the little that was there. And, interestingly there was enough for everybody! There was even food in excess. That is what we are also called to do in our communities: to organize the people and to create a capacity of sharing, to promote solidarity. The resources are available, only some people have them in plenty, while others have too little.
"It is not that you ought to relieve other people's needs and leave yourselves in hardship. But there should be a fair balance - your surplus at present may fill their deficit, and another time their surplus may fill your deficit. So there may be a fair balance." (2 Cor. 8, 13-14)
Volunteering: Sharing our Gifts
"Whatever town or village you go into, search for someone trustworthy and stay with him…." (Mt. 10, 11)
In St. Martin CSA we believe that there are many trustworthy people in the community who are ready to volunteer, people who can promote solidarity and create chains of love among the other people. It is our role to bring these people together. That is why St. Martin CSA does not aim to solve the problems of the vulnerable people, but to involve the community to do so; to ask volunteers to share their gifts and talents with those who have received less. We believe that our gifts and talents do not belong to us but that they are given to us for a special purpose: They are meant to be shared, to be put to the service and benefit of the community.
"When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person; when someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected………." (Luke 12,48)
"Who made you so important? What have you got that it was not given to you? And if it was given to you, why are you boasting as though it were your own?" (1 Cor. 4,7)
"There is more happiness in giving than in receiving". (Acts 20, 35)
"Freely you received, freely give." (Mt. 10, 1-8)
Believing in the People
In St. Martin CSA we believe that there are many people in the community who have something to offer for the common good and particularly for those who are vulnerable. We only have the tendency to think that we have to do it ourselves, while at the same time we do not feel able to do so. We feel helpless in many situations and we forget that we have brothers and sisters who could assist us and who have special gifts; who would even be very happy to use such gifts to serve others. Like Moses, who did not want to accept the call of God, because he felt that he was inadequate, yet he forgot that he had a brother who was gifted in speaking and could perfectly complement him; somebody who would be very happy to be introduced into the joy of service.
Moses replied: "please, my Lord, send somebody else that you decide to send". At this God's anger kindled against Moses, and he said to him: "there is your brother Aaron, is there not? I know that he is a good speaker. Here he comes to meet you. When he sees you, his heart will be full of joy. He will speak to the people in your place….". (Exodus 3,7-11)
Targeting the Able People
In St. Martin CSA we focus on the able people in the community and make them grow in love and solidarity for others. Also, Jesus was very close to the rich and the wealthy because he was a master in seeing the weaknesses they had in the heart. He knew that they were in great need of his teachings and his love.
"When Jesus was at dinner in Levi's house a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When Jesus heard this he said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick'." (Matthew 9, 10-12)
"A rich young man knelt before Jesus and put this question to him, 'Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Jesus said to him, 'You know the commandments'. And he said to him, 'I have kept all these since my earliest days.' Jesus looked steadily at him and he was filled with love for him and he said, 'You need to do one thing more. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven; then come and follow me'. But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth." (Mark 10,21-22)
Happiness in Giving
Inviting the Poor Brings Happiness
The work in St. Martin CSA evolves around vulnerable people, those who have disabilities, those who are sick of AIDS and many others. Jesus asks us to search happiness in giving and in sharing with such people:
“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours—for they will invite you back, and in this way, you will be paid for what you did. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind; and you will be happy because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you….” (Luke 14,12-14)
We expect to hear from Jesus: “Invite the poor and they will be happy”, but interestingly, we are told: “Invite the poor and you will be happy. In St. Martin CSA we have learned that there are poverties and vulnerabilities of many kinds: disabilities and sicknesses of the body but also of the heart. There are many people, who have been hurt in life, who do not trust other people, who find it difficult to share their life and love with others. Jesus is asking us to invite them into our lives, to love them and be close to them, even though they seem to be difficult characters, even though they may not be able to pay us back.
"The spirit of the Lord is on me and He anointed me.
He sent me to bring the good news to the afflicted,
to heal the broken-hearted… (Isaiah 61, 1)
One day, two St. Martin CSA staff members were discussing how to solve a problem with a boy called Mwangi, who was HIV infected and sickly. Mwangi, had been staying with a relative, but after hospitalisation that was one of very many in a row, the relative gave up and refused to accept the boy back into the home. The family could not cope with this boy any longer. The staff felt defeated, knowing the nature of the decease the boy was suffering from. Where could they accommodate this boy? Who would welcome him, if not his own relatives? They felt that the best solution would be the search for an institution, but that would take several weeks. What could be done in the meantime? After exhausting the solutions, one staff member suggested that Mwangi could stay for some days with him. At that moment, a woman came out of the kitchen, outside which these staff members had been discussing Mwangi’s case. Through the window, she had followed the whole conversation and immediately she offered herself to welcome this boy in her home. The boy went to stay with this family and the idea of the institution was soon forgotten. This was one of the many times in St. Martin CSA that we had been challenged for not believing in the people who are generous and happy to assist where they can. We often have the wrong perception, that only we are the people who could solve the problems and yet the solution was behind the window, but we could not see it
Meet Jesus in the Poor
Meeting Jesus in the Poor
Jesus identifies himself with the marginalized and the least considered in society. In St. Martin CSA we believe that we can meet Jesus in our beneficiaries. That we should not be focusing on a Jesus who is in heaven or who is very far from us. Jesus invites us to meet him in our needy brothers and sisters.
"Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come you that are blessed by my Father! Come and take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me’. The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you? In truth, I tell you: so far as you did this to the least of my brothers, you did it to me." (Matthew 25, 34-40)
"Anyone who welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9,37).
Seeing the Poor as Resource
In meeting the beneficiaries we will come to a completely new understanding: That the vulnerable people are not a problem, but that they are a resource, a resource of love. God has entrusted them with an important mission: to help us to grow in love and to grow in solidarity; to help us remove our selfishness and to discover the love God has put in our hearts. In this way, the poor and vulnerable are not an obstacle for the development of our communities, but they are the people who can promote the development of the heart.
"God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and He chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises, and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important." (1 Cor. 1)
"Indeed it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the most important." (1 Cor. 12, 22)
St. Martin CSA aims to bring together the rich and the poor, the able people and those who are vulnerable, out of the conviction that nobody is entirely weak or entirely strong. The vulnerable people have their own strengths which are often hidden inside and not even recognized by themselves. It is the task of St. Martin CSA to bring these capacities out. At the same time, those who are considered strong may have weaknesses in their hearts, an inability to share, an inability to show love. In working for the poor and vulnerable we have a chance to overcome such weaknesses and to develop into more complete persons. That is why the vision of St. Martin CSA states that we aim at an integral human development of all people. And that is what we see happening. Many of us joined the organization thinking to make changes in the lives of the poor, yet many of us have come to realize that it is we ourselves who have been changed.
The street boys in our rehabilitation centre are focused on food. Having been deprived of proper food for years, you can easily see their excitement when they go for an outing and are given something special, like chicken, chapatti or a cake. Never the less, the moment that we saw them really happy was a different one. It was the day that they were taken to a special unit for children with mental and physical disabilities. They had decided to sacrifice their meat ration for a week to take to the disabled children and had carried together with them the potatoes that they had grown and harvested themselves. They spend a whole day with the disabled children and made a big feast! You could easily see how much they enjoyed playing together, how happy they were cooking for them and feeding them. It was an outing they would vividly remember long after.