I have spent 22 of my 38 years as a Franciscan living among, working with and for the people of the inner city. For five years in Dayton, Ohio, I managed a shelter for homeless people. I ran a soup kitchen, pantry and after school program in Detroit, Mich., for eight years. I have lived the last nine years in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. We operate outreach programs to help people here with their basic needs.
While these may not be the usual people we think of when talking about missionary activity, nonetheless the ministry in which I am involved is truly that of a missionary. The GOOD NEWS of JESUS CHRIST needs proclaiming among people who are downtrodden, marginalized and poor.
We who come from backgrounds of relative financial stability with post-high school educations usually make a mistake when we first come to missionary work. With our faith and our value systems we often believe that we have the answers which will help people pull themselves out of poverty, homelessness and into better health. In my years in the inner city, I have heard: “If only they would get a job”; “If only they would stay in school”; “If only they would get help for their mental illness.”
Let me share with you my reflections on the first statement. I found myself asking the question, “Why do I get up every morning and go to work?” I discovered that this value was taught to me by my parents. Mom and Dad worked two jobs so that they could provide for their family. They got up every day, whether they felt like it or not, and went to work. They came home from a full day at work and prepared to go to their next job. Many people I have known in my ministry do not have this example in their lives. Should people be taught the value of work? Of course they should. The point is that it is not as easy as it sounds.
This brings me to the most important part of my reflection: God is already present in the lives of the people in the inner city. It is their strong belief in God which helps them make it through the day when faced with poverty, homelessness and hopelessness. They daily evangelize me with a simple greeting which is common on the streets, “Have a blessed day.” Our call, then, as missionaries, or as Christians for that matter, is to discover where God is present in those areas outside of our comfort zone. Jesus shows us the way, going among those who were considered unclean, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, etc. even when contrary to the conventional wisdom of the day. Let us proclaim in words and actions the GOOD NEWS, the great love and mercy God has for us all. We may have to step out of our comfort zones in order to do this.
--Br. Tim Sucher, OFM