Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Living the Beatitudes: Do Those Who Have Nothing Have Everything?

November 15, 2017 by

Rebekah Domer continues her series on the Beatitudes. Catch up on the rest of her posts here.

I’m not sure if it was coincidental or if God arranged it for a reason, but on September 20, 2017, the day Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, I found myself outside an ancient brick church in one of the low-income neighborhoods of Holyoke, Massachusetts, as the newest volunteer at Homework House, a free after-school tutoring program for Puerto Rican children.

The windows of the old church were boarded up, and several young men hung around the parking lot, blasting music from a boom box. Having recently moved to Holyoke from rural New York, I was accustomed to open fields and wooded hills. Thus, I was momentarily taken aback by the sights and sounds that bombarded my senses.

Making my way up the concrete stairs, I entered a drafty and dimly lit foyer where I was met by three of Homework House’s young students. Their dark eyes sparkled and smiles lit up their faces as they shyly escorted me to their classroom in the basement of the building. I noted the efforts that had been made to brighten the dingy hallways. A hand-written banner on the wall advised, “If life knocks you to your knees, PRAY.”

Sister Jane Morrissey – a Sister of Saint Joseph and a good friend of mine – co-founded this tutoring program. Her fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students welcomed me into their classroom as somewhat of a novelty. Glad for a diversion from their homework, the kids crowded around, competing for my attention. “Miss, can you play a game with me?” one asked, as another unpacked the Checkers board and pulled out a chair, motioning for me to sit next to her.

girl with lantern

I got out art paper and pencils and began sketching animals. One child asked me to draw a panda bear drinking from a water hole. Another requested a leopard with many spots on his fur. It wasn’t long before they were engrossed in coloring in the scenes I’d drawn for them.

As we created our childlike masterpieces, the children told me what was on their minds. The smallest girl pulled her chair close to mine and whispered, “My dad’s in Puerto Rico. We don’t know where he is; we can’t reach him. You know, there’s a huge hurricane there.” Three kids, all from the same family, were out of sorts that day. Sister Jane informed me later that they’d recently been evicted from their home. The sadness in the eyes of the oldest boy went to my heart. He’s only eleven, and should be out shooting hoops, not worrying about where he and his siblings will spend the night.

The next day Sister Jane prepared a writing prompt for the children, which read: “If I were in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, I would…”

It took some creativity on Sister Jane’s and my part to get them to apply themselves to the assignment, but by the end of the afternoon, we had several short responses scripted in childish handwriting. Without exception, the children pictured themselves as heroes. One envisioned herself grabbing the nearest speedboat and joining the rescue efforts, pulling drowning people and pets to safety.

The project was not entirely academic in nature. I helped the children mount their hand-written responses on a long strip of butcher paper to be sent to Puerto Rico with one of their fathers who was participating in the relief efforts. The kids worked hard that afternoon penning Spanish greetings to their as-yet-unknown friends in Puerto Rico.

Several days later, there was another writing assignment, asking the children to reflect on their present lives, as well as their aspirations:

I am _____
I wonder _____
I hear _____
(and so on)

I sat down at a table with two boys who were chafing at the prospect of another writing assignment. Eventually one of them – a sixth grader – got down to business. As his words appeared on the blank sheet of paper, I found myself in tears. Knowing Luis’s desperate situation – motherless and fatherless, and in the care of an elderly grandfather – I was amazed at his childlike proclamation of faith:

I am fast and tiny.
I wonder if I will grow up to play baseball.
I hear a dog mewing.
I pretend to play baseball all day.
I worry about my family.
I cry when I get hurt.
I understand my family loves me.
I say God is savior.
I dream about having a good life.
I try to survive.
I hope I don’t lose my family.
I am fast and tiny.

When I began blogging about the Beatitudes, highlighting the lives of people who emulate its characteristics, I didn’t know I would find myself living among the poor of whom Christ speaks. Like Luis, the children I teach at Homework House live in rundown tenement buildings surrounded by graffiti and the constant wail of sirens and occasional gunfire. But as I gathered my kindergarten class around a carved, candle-lit pumpkin that I had brought from home, the light of hope shone from their eyes. In wonder they exclaimed, “It’s a real punkin! Miss, did you make it just for us?”

As the session broke up at the end of the afternoon, I was smothered in hugs. I’ve never experienced an intensity of love such as I received in those hugs. Gathering their bags, the children headed out into the jungle of their lives, accompanied by a confusing assortment of parents, grandparents, guardians, siblings, and step-siblings. As the last ones were leaving, I felt a small tug on my skirt. There stood one of the rowdiest boys in my class, his face glowing as he cradled the pumpkin lovingly in his arms. He pressed it against his face, begging, “Miss, can I please take him home?”

I watched him as he walked carefully to his mother’s car, holding the pumpkin in his arms.

The Beatitudes – as so many of Christ’s sayings – leave us with paradoxes upon which we must reflect. It can be difficult to recognize the blessings which Christ says lie hidden in poverty and meekness, in hunger and thirst for a better world. But as I leave Homework House every evening, I bear the love of these children home with me in my heart, like a precious jewel. And every day, I grasp a little more of Christ’s promise of blessing to those who, having nothing, have all.


Check back in three weeks for my next post in this series. Comments

About the author

Rebekah Domer

Rebekah Domer

Since Rebekah’s upbringing at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in New York, life has taken her on many diverse assignments, from the...

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  • I am moved by your faith and righteousness. GOD Bless you.

    Kennoth Gammill
  • Your latest blog is very moving and God certainly has a purpose for you. The children sound so vulnerable but it is wonderful that people care for them. It seems that they are in a desperate situation so this refuge from the struggle of their daily life is a true blessing. When I read it I realise how thankful I am for the life I have and how I must never forget those in need. I pray that God will support you all in this . Blessings Marcia

    Marcia Bullock
  • Dear Rebekah, God bless you for being there for those children. Sometimes, it is the influence of one person in a child's life that steers them to change their own life for the better. ~ Rosalie

    Rosalie Gambino
  • Wonderful article. I have visited Woodcrest many times and have experienced the same love.

    Donna Rochelo