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Twas not that long ago. I remember the face of a little child smudged with dirt in the usual places. She could not be more than two and a half years old. She was staring up at me with her big brown eyes that seemed to present a plea to me. Her pouting lips quivered in the cold. Unsure of who this stranger was towering before her, she hesitantly started a half step and stopped abruptly. Her eyes never lost focus as her mind was trying to gauge this stranger's trustworthiness. She wanted to believe, but her mother's words kept returning to her "Never speak with strangers". Was it curiosity or a natural survival instinct to get warm that made the decision for her? Slowly and guardedly her oblique path brought her closer while remaining at a safe distance. I smiled a knowing smile and said hello in my best reassuring soft voice hoping not to alarm her. She clutched her tattered doll with one hand to her chest and when she determined I could be someone that might be nice, she thrust her doll with outstretched arms as high as she could reach and standing on her tippy toes proudly exclaimed in Croatian, "See my baby".
Unbeknown to me, both the little girl and I were under the careful watch of her mother standing in the moonless darkness that permeated the refugee camp. The chill from the winter winds added to the forlornness of this place. Her mother was walking slowly towards us when I heard her footsteps send the loose cinders bounding down the path. That is when I noticed her partial shadowy figure that would temporarily appear and disappear as the swirling fog wrapped around, enveloping, and releasing her figure at the winds discretion. "MAMA", cried the little girl with a gleeful skip, as she simultaneously wrapped her arms around her mother's leg.
The mother invited me in her humble 10x10 tin hut, for coffee, I politely accepted. She pushed aside the blanket, which to my surprise was the door. Inside was a battered sofa and a small table which served a multitude of purposes. There was a sheet hanging from a clothes line which separated the bedroom from the living quarters. It was when she handed me the cup, that I realized she meant Turkish coffee! This one tiny demitasse cup plus a gallon of water would probably have made the coffee palatable to the average American coffee drinker.
Neither of us spoke each other's language, except for the universal sign of appreciation and gratitude. I awkwardly searched through the translation pamphlet for the appropriate words and upon drinking my coffee, I stood up, waved while pointing out the door, to signal I was leaving.
The dampness in the brisk night air chilled me to the bone. The silence of the night was disturbed by the sound of the crunching cinders under my feet. I walked by the communal bathroom, it too only had a sheet for a door. There was a hole in the ground and a hose. I shuddered when the wind came swirling in and the thought of using such a facility in the cold, which only sent more chills through my body. It was a long walk to the entrance of the camp and it provided ample time to reflect on all that I had seen. Images bombarded my being. Snippets of mental photos raced through my mind colliding with comprehension of how this place and these people exist. I recalled seeing people standing in line, waiting with pot in hand, earlier in the day. The kitchen had barely opened when the announcement came that the camps kitchen was out of food for the day. The camp director stood with a big book and placed a check mark next to the last family to receive food. The next person on the list would be the first in line for the next day's ration.
I continued to walk towards the entrance and a feeling of sadness overwhelmed me. I thought of all the food we have at home, the grocery stores, farmer's markets, restaurants, how can this place be without so many things. These people exist on so little food. Yes, they only just exist. Something must be done, who will help? The answer was painfully clear as I walked alone in the night. A tear formed as I recalled an old song heard during the Christmas season. I quietly sang the tune." I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams". The separation, the loneliness, the horrid conditions, how can these people smile? Where is the hope? A thought came to me "live for the day to make it to another day", survival, mental toughness. I'll be home for Christmas, maybe, but not this one. I turned to leave the camp and just outside was a series of broken train cars without bathrooms, where others lived like sardines in a can. Some insightful person wrote a sign in English and hung it on the side of the train it read "Nobody's Children." Oh, my! Anguish hit me like a wrecking ball, overflowing an already fragile ability to cope. I released a small cry of frustration as I continued to walk signing, I'll be home for Christmas, now the road seemed blurry for some reason. Nobody's children will become my children. This certainly will be, a night to remember.
Heightened spiritual awareness and extending comfort levels of communicating with God are an integral part of mission work. Love is an action verb and mission work and traveling on a pilgrimage are actions that move one closer to God. Thirty-two volunteers from our parish and across the country set out on such a mission, Catholic and non catholic, seeking a new experience and anticipating greater spiritual enrichment. Each trip opens new possibilities to see, to learn, to absorb, to share, to reflect.
His Work in Progress enabled volunteers to seek God's love, through giving of themselves as living proof that there are people in the world who care, and set the example of loving your neighbor even if those neighbors are thousands of miles away.
This point was driven home by one of the Franciscans priests named Father Svetozar Kraljevik. The topic of his discussion was "rocks". This was very appropriate since the local landscape is nothing but rocks. He used the example of St Peter, the rock on which Christ built His Church.. He pointed out how Peter was a rough rock and had to be worn down and chiseled into the rock that Christ wanted for His church. He went on to say "those that come on a pilgrimage are in the process of being worn down and shaped into the spiritual being that God wishes them to become". It is during this breaking down of the old that creates something new. Life is a pilgrimage, not a vacation therefore, we must deal with the many rocks in our lives. He references a literal example, citing how the local children of the orphanage were clearing the endless number of rocks around a new home by the Adriatic Sea.
There is an often used phrase that wherever Mary is, Satan is right behind. What you learn on a mission is that spiritual warfare exists, it is real. We walked into an unbearable heat wave of 120 degree days which can try anyone's soul. Daily Mass, the rosary and group prayer were our weapons of choice. To not engage in this amour is inviting total distraction and eventual individual despair from the trying conditions.
Who were some of the people we were helping...
The Entire community of the Mother's village (orphanage, drug rehab center and home for battered women) provides for the care of 220 people. They do not receive any help from the government and they completely rely on the donations of good people and a few organizations that recognize their work. This region remains at a very sensitive crossroads and continues to be a bewildering mosaic of hope and despair. Increase in the price of fuel and food, low standard of living, very high unemployment rate (45%) combined with very low wages have left many families and individuals on the brink of hopelessness.
In addition, His Work in Progress reached out to a starving family proving large quantities of food that would last this family of eight for a few months. His Work In Progress reached out to some children of varying ages that were discarded and put out onto the street by their father. We were able to buy them some food and give them advice on surviving via Mothers village as well as discussed the possibility of helping in their education.
So what is the impact of His Work in Progress efforts you ask...
This year our two forty foot containers provided 36,000 pounds ofdetergent, 40 bicycles for transportation, huge quantities of winter clothing, coats and jackets as well as 700 pairs of shoes. The very young children received 1500 brand new baby clothing items thanks to the generosity of "Red Wagon Baby" as well as diapers. His Work in Progress also provided clothing and shoes for over 100 former middle class people still living in the small one room tin huts of the refugee camp. We were informed of another orphanage in a town call Citluk where fifty boys, sixty girls and a few dozen elderly were under their care. His Work in Progress visited and delivered ample clothing, bicycles and detergent for these needy people. Our medical volunteers comforted the elderly and provided the much needed personal attention to sooth their souls.
Although on the surface the two containers sounds like an abundance of supplies we understood after conversation that the number of families that come and seek out clothing and detergent are in the hundreds, not individuals but families. We noticed how the supplies were quickly dwindling during our stay for only two weeks. Hundreds of families were alerted and waiting prior to our shipments arriving to seek out specific clothing that fit properly. They did not take what they did not need. I found that refreshing from the mentality often observed in America.
The final result was the clothing, shoes, detergent, soccer balls, and bicycles that filled two forty foot containers were distributed to those in need. New friendships were established and hopefully the face of Christ was witnessed by those we served through our actions. Thirty two volunteers learned something new after visiting the refugee camp and returned with a new appreciation for the blessing that God has bestowed on them.
We need to do more but we can only provide through your help.
While on a mission to Bosnia in May, I visited two families that our organization, HWIP tried to help in our previous mission in October of 2003 by providing money for food. In addition to the food, we supplied one family 20 live chickens and the other family with a wood burning stove for the winter.
One objective of our May trip was to return to these families and see how they have fared through the winter and the seven long months since our last meeting. Here is a story of a miracle in May of 2004.
Upon leaving their dwellings once again I couldn't help but feel inadequate in our efforts to raise awareness in the US about these two families and those hundreds of people living in the small tin huts. Nothing has changed except for the worse.
While being driven back to home base, I stared out the car window at the surrounding bold majestic mountains thinking how cold it must have been in the winter and why hadn't I done a better job of raising funds for these families. What was I doing wrong? Why don't people really listen and understand their plight? How can people with a lot of money give small token donations? Well you can not help everyone I would hear. This is not everyone this is a few families. What did I leave out of the story? How do I get more money to help these people? My thoughts turned to prayer as I asked "God to help them. I needed money, a lot of money to make an impact. God you have all the money in the world can you please help me to help them"? By the way Lord, I need it by tomorrow"!
The next morning I walked into the village towards St. James church with that same prayer playing repeatedly in my head. I finally approached the church and to my surprise, my favorite guide who has seen me approaching was waiting at the top of the steps to talk to me. "Where have you been hiding?" she laughs as she greets me. We both laughed and then told me that she had been carrying this money for our mission for about two months. She pulls out, one hundred and twenty dollars from her shirt pocket. "Wow", I thought, "that was fast Lord can you do it again"? I thanked her quickly as we hurried into mass that was just beginning. During mass, I thanked God for the $120.00 and asked HIM if He could bless us with even more money for these starving people. God you know what is in my heart, I want to help. You know what is in my wallet, nothing, can you in your mercy please help these people? Mass was over and my son Eric, Ivanka (my favorite guide) and I walked outside and I proceeded to tell Ivanka the story of the starving families. Then a crowd started to gather around us as I was telling the story. Suddenly, a young woman standing next to me and overhearing my story gave me a $20.00 bill. I was startled. I thanked her and continued to tell the story. I had just started once again telling the story when a man came over to this same young woman and she motioned for him to listen to my story. I continued and within fifteen seconds he stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash not neatly folded but in such a fashion as when someone simply shoves cash into his pocket without taking the time to neatly fold the paper, this is how the money came out. It took both of my hands to hold the money so it did not blow way in the wind. I thanked him and continued to complete the story. My son Eric was standing with me and could not believe his eyes as this man never even counted the money he pulled from his pocket. Finishing my story the man reaches in his pocket again and gives me another wad of money. Talk about an unexpected occurrence. I asked him if I could get his name and address to send him a receipt for tax purposes since we are a registered 501c3 non-profit and told him your donation is tax deductible. He replied his name is Paul from Oregon and he did not need a receipt. "What, I thought, no receipt"? He had to leave, as his group was ready to go on a day trip. As he walked away, I thanked him again. Two others from our group both named Michael (Michael F. and Michael D.) were nearby and I called them over to explain what just happened. I showed them the wad of money. There were at least two one hundred dollar bills showing. I happened to have a stone rosary made of the rocks from apparition hill in my pocket and I asked if Michael F. would walk over and give this rosary to him as a token of our appreciation. The two Michaels agreed. Michael D. always had a rosary around his neck. Parting, I told both Michaels I would meet them at the corner café Colombo's, where the pilgrims meet, when they were finished saying thank you. Eric and I arrived at the café still talking about what just happened as we found a side table outdoors for us to sit. We ordered our usual Cappuccino and I prepared to count the money asking Eric to do the conversion into local money (Bosnian Mark). The day before Eric and I had given about $850 Marks to one family who said they were starving. They only had four eggs in the refrigerator for six people. I finished counting the money, "holy mackerel Eric" I exclaimed, this guy just gave us $418 dollars and didn't even blink. I told Eric I just finished praying for money before I walked outside the church. Eric, I said excitedly convert the dollars and let me know what is the value in local marks. I silently said thank you to God while Eric performed the dollar conversion. Dad, Eric said, that's would be $850 Marks! The same amount we gave the family the day before!
Just then, both Michaels came to the table and we could not contain our excitement telling them the rest of the story. Michael F. said to us "wait to you hear this story" and begins to tell us that when he and Michael D. approached Paul to thank him and give him the stone rosary he noticed Michaels D's beautiful rosary around his neck and commented how beautiful the rosary is and that he was looking for a rosary just like that one but could not find one to his liking. Without hesitation, they said, wait here we will be right back. They ran to the very store where they knew the rosary was sold, and then purchased it for Paul, as a thank you. That afternoon in a jubilant mood the group decided to shop for food with some of th is new found money for the starving families. The next day after mass, some of our group meets outside the rear door of the church and we are waiting for the stragglers to arrive when, who suddenly appears but Paul the man who had given us all that money. I said aloud "excuse me sir" as I called him over to our group, I want to thank you and also let you know what we bought for these starving people with your money. We told him of the pig, pasta, flour, olive oil and baby food that filled the many carts. He smiled as we itemized the purchase. He stuck his hand in his pocket and said, "Well here, here is some more money". In unison, we all said "No! put your money back in your pocket, we did not tell you in order for us to receive more money from you". Now here comes the second amazing part. He said to us, "No, I do not need the money this is why I came, here this is for your work! Blam! We stand in shock. Knowing our prayers, our group discussions and the events of the last few days are around this very issue of money for the needy. His words strike us as if hit by lightening bolts from the sky. He first pulls out some one dollar bills and then said aloud "Oh no not these" and he places the one dollar bills into his other pocket. His hand again digs into his pocket and again on the top is a hundred dollar bill and there were more than one. Again, he gave us the wad of money. Shocked, we again thanked him and waved goodbye.
Feeling awkward, we have no words. I stood there and counted the money. "Oh my God", I exclaimed, another $400.00 dollars and that makes $ 818 dollars in two days he provided to us without even counting the money. Two consecutive days immediately after attending mass and asking God for His grace to provide funding for these families, we receive. "He did not even blink when he gave us the money" I said, to Eric, Vince and those around us. I lookup and he is gone. Everyone is dazed, searching, struggling for some explanation as to the miracle we just witnessed. We stand there speechless! Loaves and fishes is all I can keep repeating in my head, loaves and fishes! An unbelievable experience forever remembered by this man's comment- This, is why I came here.
They say that angels walk among us. Was this an angel we just encountered that provided us the funds that we humbly asked for? You can decide for yourself but for our group this God incident has left us shaken, dazed, humbled. This doesn't happen every day and for some an occurrence like this may never happen in their life time. That is to say if you do not open your awareness that yes it can happen, if you knock, seek and ask. Many of us are so busy that we tend to not be in tune with the possibility that God lives in the present tense, which is to say He is here right now. So He may place someone in our path today or tomorrow.
So the question remains unanswered in human terms was that an angel we met? I can tell you the entire occurrence is certainly a miracle. One last note we found out from a tour guide that the man's name was not Paul but Michael. Hmmmm, naaah it couldn't be or could it?
Have you ever experienced the complete surprise and utter joy of an unexpected gift? It is an uplifting and enjoyable moment to receive such a gift. When we are young there are those special few moments that leave a mark etched in our brain and on our soul; very special times indeed. There is a modern term for this it is called paying forward, meaning doing good for someone in remembrance of the good to which you have been a witness. Every so often one hears of good being preformed for a person in need. There are times when people's graciousness far exceeds anything the average person could possibly expect to achieve. This news makes us feel good and renews our faith in the goodness in the world. Just like a rain storm after a drought the good arrives to wash away the evil we hear so frequently.
I read in the book titled "Pilgrimage by Fr. Svetozar Kraljevic " that when he was a young boy he used to walk to school over the mountains in his bare feet, for his brother's old shoes were too big for him to wear anytime soon. One day, while he was preparing to cross a road, a truck stopped and the driver motioned for him to get in so he would drive him to school over in the next village. This made the young boy happy for he would arrive at school much earlier. The driver stopped at the path leading to the school and the truck driver motioned to the boy to come inside a store with him. The driver spoke to the store clerk who pointed to a shelf full of popular rubber shoes. They had cloth linings, very cheap but they were magnificent.(1)
The clerk tried several pairs on the young Svet until they found one pair that fit! He could not believe what was happening. Then, as the truck driver paid the clerk, a neighbor who been watching all of this said, "God will reward you for that." God and the little boy will never forget that act of kindness.(2)
This past May there was a special announcement in the church of St. James. A priest who headed up the orphanage in Mothers Village made a request to all of the pilgrims that were coming to the village of Medjugorje. He simply asked if the pilgrims who normally travel with more than one pair of shoes would leave their shoes for the poor. Times were extra hard in this area due to the global economic downturn. Piles of shoe were left at the drop off location. The smiling priest who made the request was standing nearby: his name is Fr.Svetozar.
During one of our humanitarian missions, we traveled to a refugee camp called Tasovcici. This particular year we had some individuals from Florida travelling with us to experience the gift of serving others. Boxes were piled into a large room and clothes were sorted by gender and size. One particular box however was filled with shoes. The camp residents were assembled and the camp director announced each family individually as they would enter with children in tow in an orderly fashion ready to select a few items of clothing. While this process is long, it is always rewarding to see their happy faces and receive a warm thank you in their Croatian language. One particular event that stands out in my mind is this: a little girl wandered over to the shoe box and she squatted down and moved some of the shoes around and then something caught her eye. One of our volunteers, Gary, was observing and squatted down next to her as she picked out a pair of patent leather shoes. Gary said to her, even though she did not speak English, "You like these shoes? Let's see if they fit. " The young girl removed her tattered flip- flops with great anticipation. Now these shoes in the box were not sorted by size, but they were simply carefully placed in a large box. Gary helped the young girl try on these white patent leather shoes. He thought she may be disappointed if they do not fit for she was determined to have these shoes. This could have been a story from a fairy tale, for just like Cinderella's slipper, these shoes fit perfectly. This moment was not lost on Gary as his eyes filled with tears. He was filled with emotion and exclaimed "This was worth every penny to make this trip!" Once again a small simple act of kindness paying big rewards.
Once there was a banker in Philadelphia by the name of Drexel. His wife would open the doors of their home around 15th St. and Locust St. and provide soup to the poor. One day one of the young daughters was helping distributing soup when her mother leaned down and said to her: "Give these people socks and shoes, never let them go away barefoot." This was a lesson learned and never forgotten. The young girl's name was Katherine Drexel; when she grew up she started her own religious order. She built schools in the south after the civil war for blacks and out west for the American Indians. Given the times within the country she was quite brave and determined to help the poor. She later became Saint Katherine Drexel. Katherine always made sure the poor had socks and shoes.
This story is not about shoes, it is about small acts of kindness. Shoes are not that expensive but can make a huge difference in the lives of the poor.
Once while visiting a refugee camp in Grude populated mainly by the elderly, I noticed there were a few young families. I had decided to treat the young of the camp to bicycles. Our group, His Work in Progress, collects gently used bicycles via a program called "Pedals Around the World". These bicycles are then given a safety check and get broken or missing parts replaced by our friend Barbara of Endurance Sports in Yardley. God bless Barbara.
Our van entered the camp with its treasure. The children had been told in advance to gather near the communal kitchen. One by one the bicycles were taken from the van and placed in a line. The children were different ages and genders so this made the process much easier as we measured the children for the correct size bicycle. As soon as they received the bicycle they just had to ride around the camp. It was a wonderful sight to behold. Then when we were finished with all of our work in providing food and clothing we had to leave. Most of us boarded the van but some were missing. What was delaying them I thought? There was this one young girl who did not want us to leave: she was crying and had both arms wrapped around the leg of one of our volunteers. The camp director, Milenko, was speaking to her and he looked up at me. He was not angry and I noticed his eyes were full of tears. He explained to our interpreter that this young girl did not want us to leave because she was overwhelmed with emotion. She could not believe that complete strangers would come and chose her, out of all the children of the world, to give her this gift of a bicycle. Well that is all we had to hear and we tearfully delayed our departure until we could reassure this young girl we would return the following year. Do you think this little gesture made a lasting impact on her life? I seriously hope so and maybe someday she will return the kindness to a young girl somewhere in the world.
So you have read about the receiver being happy and the giver being fulfilled simply because someone made the decision to perform simple acts of kindness.
While on a mission in Bosnia an acquaintance approached me and told me of a family that needed help. I inquired as to what was their problem. He told me of an elderly family. The mother was in her seventies, the grand mother in her nineties, and they were taking care of two handicapped men aged forty five, who could not function or provide for themselves, and who still lived in diapers. It didn't take long to realize how difficult a situation he was describing. I had asked for volunteers to travel out and make a determination of what could be done for this family and to make sure they took adult diapers along with them. After a few hours the group returned looking emotionally drained from their experience. They tried to search for words and all I heard was horrible, and heartbreaking. Deplorable living conditions were described as the two old women tried their best to manage every day with what little they had. The two adult males were large and heavy. The women in our group wondered how the mother and grandmother could move their adult children around. So a group discussion ensued and the decision was made to purchase food, groceries and coffee (the drink of choice in this country) for this family. The next day with food purchased and spirits renewed the group ventured out once again. This time they returned excited telling how the elderly women were ecstatic seeing them return with food and supplies and offered them coffee. A mother's knowing glance of appreciation was all that was needed for the little effort and the little gesture that would cause a joyful cacophony in their souls. In a society that knows full well that only the fit survive, hope was given to buoy the mother's troubled soul for a long time to come by the little treasure we delivered.
I reflect on the scripture passage, "I will not leave you as Orphans; I will come to you." John 14:18
How often in our own life's journey have we felt lost and without an answer to resolve our difficulty? We pray and the answer is not immediately forthcoming. Try as we may there appears to be no hope, and no one to turn to for advice. It is in these times of trial that we are vulnerable and humbled. It is also our greatest hour, for that is when God comes to our rescue. He was simply waiting for us to ask Him to take over our problems. The people that we help are an opportunity to serve God by serving others. We recognize and give thanks for this opportunity, just as the people in these stories thanked us in many different and heartfelt ways. They had prayed for help because of the circumstances they had to endure. That prayer was answered in God's time and a lesson learned not only for those who had the prayerful request, but also for those who came to serve. Our efforts will not leave them as orphans. After the end of the Balkans war, the first make-shift refugee homes were old train cars and on one of them a big sign proclaimed:"Nobody's Children". We saw that sign and got inspired: His Work in Progress will not leave them as orphans, we will come to you and ask for your help in paying forward.
Footnote: (1) and (2) taken from the book Pilgrimage by father Svetozar Kraljevic
My Work environment had been stressed with the uncertainty of the economic times. Not unlike today's situation. Almost everyone in the office was in a mental malaise. Then, without warning, I was blindsided. How could this sudden change have happened to a level-headed workaholic? Something overcame me unlike anything I have ever experienced before or since. It reminded me of the evening sky, free of light pollution and clouds, reveals a terrestrial masterpiece. That is the simplest explanation of how life as I knew it would change. My mental compass was not focused in the normal manner but gyrating as I encountered a form of mental ju-jitsu.
That was over eleven years ago, and, now, it is still like a dream. Today the call to help the needy remains coupled with my desire to do something, anything, to make a difference in their lives right now. "The poor you will always have with you." We have been forewarned. So I am frequently asked how we often perform feats above and beyond our apparent means. The answer is simple; everyone is capable of working to the best of their ability without exhaustive delay. When people are starving, depressed and without hope one must act now! His Work in Progress has excelled in small workgroup successes. Quality over quantity, risk over delay. The unknown and uncertain are our norm. Frequently we are performing calculated actions without the benefit of exhaustive study or the concern of being criticized after the fact. Basic project management on the run, working without a home base or necessary transportation overseas brings an air of excitement and challenge to simply get it done to the best of our ability.
The individuals who have travelled to work with the poor and forgotten feel an incredible satisfaction, certainly unlike any prior experience they have encountered. They have answered the call. They speak of an incredible peace and a sense of accomplishment. Include in the reward a bonding and friendship that will last a lifetime, not only within volunteer group but also with those being served. People all over the world spend a fortune to be at a vacation location for peace and mental refreshment which they may not find. That fact is what startles so many of our humanitarian workers. They never anticipate that the work they do will give them incredible peace and a sense of self worth. The fact remains everyone who has ever travelled with us has experienced this incredible peace. They will be the first to tell you, not only about the peace itself, but also the doubt they harbored that such a peace was ever possible. Then they will explain how they were filled with an emotion similar to when they were a child on Christmas morning. Do you really comprehend that you can have such an experience? Volunteers return refreshed, satisfied and ready to return in the coming year.
One week a year is clearly not a lot to ask of most. The key is you own paradigm shift from your standard frame of reference. You say you want to help or that someday you will want to experience such a humanitarian trip. The fact remains that all you have to do is put it on your calendar right now, it is only a week for you. You will make a lifetime of difference to those you serve; it is not hard or exhaustive work. You do not need to have special skills - just desire, and a willingness to serve. What will make you want to go? Do you need reassurance you will like those with whom you work? Simply attend a meet and greet session with those that serve and you will find they are genuine, witty and dedicated. All of your preconceived notions and unfounded fears will be erased. So you see, there really is no excuse for not going, is there? You will be rewarded with so much more than you gave. Simply stated, to those that believe, no explanation is needed and to those who do not believe, they will be convinced. Action not apathy. So give us call, send us an email, be bold, be decisive act now. Begin with the end in mind!
Have you ever thought, "what is my life about"? What have I done to make a difference? Does my life have more meaning than just working or is something definitely lacking? Will I possibly ever experience a sense of fulfillment? Many people I have spoken with have told me that those were their exact thoughts and those thoughts were a compelling impetus for them to commit to a decision to go and make a difference above and beyond anything they ever have done in the past. It is only in these moments of quiet personal reflection that they experienced a deep burning passion to make a difference and to leave their mark on the earth; to leave their own personal legacy. What are your thoughts? What is your passion? Are you still searching for something but cannot identify what that "something" is? Or maybe you are the type of individual that wants to act rather than be a bystander. You want to make a change for the better and not just for the sake of change or simply to travel to a foreign land. You want to be a part of the solution and not the problem. However no one has ever asked you or maybe you did not know where to begin. Well here is that opportunity.
The beauty of our mission is that we keep it simple. We don't want to change the government, fly to mars or build the largest digital network simply for prideful purposes. You don't need to have your doctorate to hand a child a chicken leg or sunglasses or a pair of shoes. Compassion is so simple yet so profound. Throw your inhibitions out the window. If you were down and out, what would you want? Simply stated you would want someone to come and give you something to eat, to bring a smile and a warm greeting. You would want to be treated with respect as any of us humans would. The ability to make someone feel special and not forgotten is as simple as your presence, your being there to show them they are not forgotten. They are no longer "Nobody's Children" as the sign where they live once read, because you and I are present.
If you are in the medical profession, you have the opportunity and the responsibility to touch the heart of those in need. They may not speak your language but love is universal. It is so simple, yet why do people hesitate to go on a mission? What baggage do we have that causes us not to go on a mission to help those less fortunate than we.
What is so important, so vitally urgent that we dismiss the notion of being an active participant? Try as we will, there really is no excuse!
We have received comments such as, "this is the most rewarding professional experience in my entire life". Another volunteer said, "I have no idea why I was so uncertain regarding this trip and now it has touched my heart beyond my greatest expectation." And yet another stated, " people back home in America have no idea. I heard the stories I saw the pictures but until you are physically here and spend some time with these people no one could possibly comprehend." Still another wondered, "why have I waited so long, why did I hesitate?" Finally, another volunteer concluded, "I will certainly tell everyone I meet that they seriously need to consider, no, they definitely need to go on this life changing venture."
A good analogy is this: I can tell someone from the mid America what the ocean looks like, how it sounds and the smell of the salt air but until they stand in the ocean and feel the tug of the current, smell of the salt air, experience the pounding of the waves, taste the salt in their mouth, while it also burns their eyes and attempt to focus on the far off horizon, then and only then will they begin to understand the power, the vastness of this enormous and powerful body of water.
So whether you are a stay at home mom, a retired business professional, currently employed, a college student, or medical professional, there is something for each of you to make that difference, to leave your mark. The smiles and hugs you receive are free. The hope you deposit in each and everyone will linger for a lifetime. Leaving your legacy is priceless.
Starting out in our youth we seek friends. This is a learning process for sometimes as we commence to befriend, we fail for unknown reasons. Over time and over many bumps we begin to understand the types of individuals that we feel comfortable with. Then, when we finally mature, there is a recognition factor of the qualities we need to exhibit to people that we meet. Treating people with respect is foremost. That alone will not win friendship, it is the tipping point. Respect allows one to enter into a dialogue with another human. What does the word respect contain that one may incorporate it in their daily activities? How does one seek out and find the key to understanding respect?
Jesus attracted throngs of people. Children flocked to him for children can sense a kind and gentle person. He was a listener and a teacher answering the multitude of questions from the crowds that followed Him.
I remember someone using the term "that man is a class act" after my first meeting a particular gentleman. I agreed and I launched a thought process to qualify and quantify this state of being a "class act". I immediately knew when I saw it: it is a warm smile, a friendly greeting of a stranger that gives you the feeling of meeting a long lost friend. This person is a wonderful listener. Did you know that listening is a skill? It can be learned. There are different types of listening skills. Most listen so they can quickly respond with their own viewpoint. The class act listens with intent, not to respond but to understand. "Seek first to understand and then to be understood" is one of Steven Coveys seven habits listed in his book, words of wisdom for us all to imitate. A class act may ask questions to further understand the situation and when you respond you feel that this person truly understands. When this person smiles you do not feel you are looking at a phony. You know the type: the plastic smile, the soft handshake, and then you check to make sure you still have your wallet. These are the antitheses of earning trusting friendship. What a gift the class act possesses! I recall engaging in a conversation with a doctor whom I met for the first time while in Medjugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina, as we chatted for hours after our day's work. The more we talked the more we shared ideas and laughs. I wasn't the only one in our group who recognized his unique traits. He was the son of a country doctor who still made house calls and learned at his father's side while living in the moose-filled woods of New Hampshire. Have you ever met someone who made an instant impact on you? The class act is someone that attracts you like a magnet. Hey, it is fun to be around a witty, smiling individual whose feathers are not ruffled at the first sign of a problem. You also identify quickly how this individual treats you and others with respect. A class act is not a whiner or as in society today, one who judges quickly. Everyone wants to be liked, loved and a class act fits like a warm glove on a winter's day. Mother always told me to treat people the way you want to be treated, these are simple words that carry a lot of importance in understanding the road to being a class act. The bumps we faced in our early childhood sometimes leave scars and as a defense mechanism we lash out. Not conducive to befriending fellow humans. One evening while sitting under the shade of a grape arbor, enjoying the sunset with my new friend, the Dr. with the class act shared a shocking personal moment with me. The discussion was on death, attaining heaven and the purpose of our lives. I had mention to him the only thing one leaves behind is one's character for this is part of our legacy. The good doctor looked at me and said, "you know Walter I have a bad heart and I have a brain aneurism and I was told I have cancer." I sat staring, stunned by his remark. How can this be I thought? I waited with anticipation for his thought completion. "I am not afraid to die, the question is simply which door will I go through when the time arrives for clearly it will arrive soon." He then said to me, he would like to return to Medjugorje with his children and grandchildren and would I join him the following spring? I agreed.
Once home for six weeks I received a telephone call and he asked if I would join him in October in Bosnia. Unfortunately I could not. Then I received an email just after Christmas from his son who informed me the ambulance rushed his father to the hospital and the prognosis was not good. He had days to live. My heart felt as if it were ripped out of my chest with grief. Then in a few days I received word that the class act had died. I mourned as if a loved family member had died. I had obtained a wonderful friend. Now he was gone. Have I learned the lesson the good doctor lived? Well I don't know if I can be as gentlemanly as the good doctor but one thing is clear. I know a class act when I see one and he was it. His legacy lives on. Now when I meet people I think of what I learned and how would this friend act in responding to meeting new people? Obtaining friends is a rewarding process, losing them is devastating. Have you learned the lesson of obtaining and keeping friends? Respect and empathetic listening are the keys. Some say when a class act dies they use the phrase, "they threw away the mould when he died". Hey has anyone seen the mould? Don't throw it out, I need it!
Inventor Thomas Edison noted that "Discovery was one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. This formula for attacking problems and responding to them is as apt today as it was a century ago. To that, Walt Miller, retired from AT&T and a Yardley, PA, resident, would add prayer and a lot of it. The combination best describes what led him and a small group of adherents to form an organization which they dubbed His Work in Progress, or HWIP. What is HWIP? HWIP is an organization of volunteers based in Yardley, PA. Its mission is to bring aid to the sick, feed the hungry, and house the children orphaned by war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Why Bosnia? Since the war ended in 1995, the people of Bosnia have been forgotten by the rest of the world.
As Walt and his friends discovered on a recent visit, the Bosnians have received little or no help to rebuild their lives or their country. HWIP aims to change this by providing them with the basic goods, services and support they need to live meaningfully. They hope that their efforts will lay the foundation for a productive society, based on peace, hope, and love.
As the first step in this ambitious endeavor, HWIP shipped a massive container of medical supplies and other goods, contributed and collected by numerous individuals and groups to Bosnia. The cargo left Yardley April 28, 2001. Its destination was Mostar, the location of an orphanage and hospital in Bosnia.
A few days later, Walt Miller, the nominal head of the organization, headed for Bosnia. He went to insure that there would be no glitch in the arrangements that had been carefully made for the container's passage to Mostar. Pilfering of the contents could be expected if the container fell into the wrong hands. His contacts, Father Svet, a local Franciscan priest, and Sister Janja, director of the orphanage in Mostar, had alerted him to this danger.
The shipment arrived at Split, Croatia, the port of entry for goods going to Bosnia, June 14. It would stay there until it was cleared for travel to Mostar, a process that would take several weeks and which would be closely monitored by HWIP's representatives in the area.
What is remarkable about HWIP's effort to help is the tremendous support it has received from the local community. Once others learned of the group's mission, they wanted to contribute. Within a matter of weeks following its inception, the initial group of volunteers had swelled from eight to almost eighty. Local residents, like Mary Ann Galante, came forward with an offer of English textbooks, leftovers from a pilot program in an Atlantic City school that could be used by Bosnian students studying English. St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, NJ, at Dr. Bob Keene's urging, indicated that they might be able to donate unused medical equipment. And others are following suit.
How did this happen? What was behind such an undertaking? A decision by Walt Miller, his wife Janet, and a few like minded friends, including Dr. Dan Pisano and Dr. Paul Pascarella, to visit Bosnia in the Fall of 2000 became a life changing event for them and sparked the venture that became HWIP. They had heard stories and seen pictures of the devastation and destruction caused by war in the region and wanted to do something to help.
Each of them carried an extra suitcase on the journey, loaded with medical supplies; the brainchild of Dr. Pisano, Dr. Pascarella and Dr. Barbara Saracino's who served as consultants to the group. Among the items being ferried was antibiotics which the travelers had learned was in short supply in Bosnia.
At the time, the notion of helping others did not appear to be that difficult to accomplish, Walt acknowledged. He had not given much thought to the condition of the people themselves. Once the group arrived in Bosnia, the journey through the countryside changed their perspective. Damage on a scale much larger than they had anticipated confronted them. In the town of Citluk, an hour's drive from Mostar, they saw buildings and sections of buildings standing in ruins. No attempt had been made to reconstruct the blighted structures. People were living amidst the ruins. Further on, crosses and graves marking the sites where victims had fallen prey to the war attested to the savagery that had befallen the land. Most appalling to the visitors were the stories, told by their guide, of the cruelty committed against children: young girls raped to mar their virginity, children left homeless and living on the street, children maimed by the weapons of war. It did not seem to the onlookers that much healing had taken place. The lingering presence of wars cruel nature challenged their good intentions and began to overwhelm them. As Walt recalled, I doubted whether we could do anything to address the situation. A kind of mental jujitsu ensued as thoughts of being able to help and not being able to help competed with each other in my head.
Tension mounted among the travelers as they reached Mostar, the last leg of their journey. There, they were taken on a tour by the administrator of the hospital. What they saw gave them pause to question the quality of care that was available to the patients staying there. The equipment in use had seen better days. Most had not been replaced in decades, and to the physicians traveling with the group, some items appeared to be more than forty years old. Rooms were crowded with four or five patients occupying a small space. There was no place for privacy. Medicines, they were told were scarce. Never mind new technology or the latest medical devices. These would have to wait.
Before leaving, the administrator introduced the group to two sisters displaced by the war. One had been trained as a lawyer, the other as a physician. Destitute, they had taken refuge in the hospital so that the physician could be treated for a traumatic stress disorder. Now they were seeking help to live on their own. Could the visitors offer them anything? A promise, maybe? The entreaty left the group speechless. They smiled and nodded their heads. What else could they do? These people needed help. They would do it somehow for the two sisters and for the others. In the weeks that followed, the resolve to help took shape. Meetings were held and others who might be interested were contacted. A name was chosen and His Work In Progress was born. The effort is long term. The organization has been granted a tax exempt status which will enable it to accept donations from corporations. The promise made in Mostar is being kept. Another shipment is scheduled to leave Yardley, PA, later this fall.
It was fall of 2005 and the events of the past twelve months in my life were not particularly kind. After a lengthy illness my mother passed away on the evening of our last scheduled meeting to finalize our preparations bringing Dr. Scott Hahn to speak in Bucks County. Seven months later, on the eve of preparing for a conference in King of Prussia, I felt overly weak and tired. The next morning I had to muster all of my strength just to sit up in bed and I had severe breathing difficulty. Never had I experienced anything where I had acute shortness of breath. So I took an aspirin and eventually went to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. Many tests and several hours later I was informed that my heart was fine, however they were looking at my lungs. My initial impression was, "Ok, I'll be home in an hour". Well that thought was misguided as eleven days later I was still in the hospital. I had a pulmonary embolism better known as a PE. I had heard the term before but never took the time to understand its meaning. It turned out that multiple clots had exploded in my lungs and I was very lucky that none of the clots had gone to the brain (although many may argue that finding – badabing) nor the heart. The doctor told me that most people simply fall over and die so I considered it a blessing I was still alive.
During the course of my rehabilitation I had time to reflect on my usefulness and purpose in life. It was back in 2003 while in Medjugorje that Dr. Ron Codario broached the subject of a medical mission to Peru. I decided that now was the time to reopen the discussions. The decision was made to target a mission in February 2007. That amount of lead time gave us a cushion of time and the flexibility to organize the team and plan the trip.
Fast forward to departure day and Dr. Ron and I were to meet in the Atlanta airport (not an easy chore). We eventually met and sat down to dine while waiting for our next flight. During the course of our conversation I told Dr. Ron that I had a few questions I wanted to review with him about the medical mission. I opened with the question, "Hey doc, what is your objective for this mission?" I was expecting a business-like response however he said, "Walt, I want those we serve to see the face of Christ in us and hopefully we will see the face of Christ in them." Well that unexpected reply stopped me in my tracks. No need for any more questions doc; I get it. I smiled and said that summed it up rather nicely.
We eventually arrived in Lima around midnight and the methodology to retrieve your bags and get through security was long and S L O O O W. The time is now near 1:30 a.m. and we are just entering the home of our host family. Much to our surprise we find we are not staying at this house but that we will have to get back in the car and we will drive another hour to the location that is nearer to where we will be performing our mission work. Needless to say, at six a.m. the next morning everyone crawled to the kitchen for coffee.
The ride to our mission site was scenic and quite amusing as drivers make up their own rules of the road particularly where a two-way highway can become four lanes. They also employ what I affectionately call motorized rickshaws where the motorcycle on the front powers the make shift tubular metal shell and wood seat frame encased in a cabana-like covering in the rear. It looks very unsafe and is.
We arrived to a very long line of people at the medical mission. The word had gone forth via newspaper and radio that American doctors would be coming to help those in need. They applauded our arrival and we were a little embarrassed to be treated as if we were special dignitaries. The good sister who ran the establishment said the service was not free because she knew they could afford a little token amount she was charging which was less than a dollar in our currency exchange.
The local native garb of the Peruvian women with their layered skirts and cowboy hats was something to behold. While the doctors were getting set up I ventured outside to take photos of the children and give them a picture card from Medjugorje. I thought this would be a good ice breaker and help relieve any tension they may have in coming to the doctors and my assessment was correct.
Every morning we viewed the same scenario, the same long lines of people waiting to be seen. We worked through lunch because the line was so long and it continued well after 7 p.m. One particular day no one came into the clinic around 1 p.m. and we asked what is happening. That is when sister said, "Today you will have lunch because it was prepared for you". We were to taste a specially prepared local meal with strange fruits and dishes. We agreed to eat the lunch but we made it clear to sister we did not come to eat but to treat the sick and in a couple of days we would be gone. Although we appreciated the gesture and enjoyed the food we told sister it was important that we see as many patients as possible and that we could not take time for lunch again. I suggested they provide us some apples or other fruit to nibble on while we continued working.
Wednesday evening arrives and the host family wants to treat us to a dinner show. First we would reconnoiter at their home before attending the show called, "The Breezes of Titicaca". We met and just before leaving for the show we were each given gifts by the host family. First Dr. Ron then I opened our gifts. Dr. Ron received a statue of Christ and upon unwrapping mine I suddenly saw this face meticulously made of leather.
It was the face of the passion of Christ with thorns on his head. I looked at Dr. Ron and we both said to each other with a smile, "see the face of Christ" which was the objective of the mission. We knowingly nodded that this was a very special "God incident" moment. God acknowledged our efforts in serving the poor. It is times like these that transcend any business objective. This was a spiritual objective.
Our purpose in life is to love one another. Love is an action verb. Whatever you do for the least of my brethren you do for me. We live to love our neighbor by taking care of them in whatever little way we can. We don't have to perform grandiose feats just simple acts of kindness, caring and giving hope, one soul at a time.
The show, just in case you were interested, was a four part dance routine with thirty dancers performing the four different regions dance routines in their four very different native costumes. In between the four presentations everyone could get up and dance to the live music featuring Salsa, Tango, Rumba, etc. What a memorable thank you for something we gladly do for nothing. A truly unexpected gift, I could have danced all night.