Some were mentally impaired, some were "former" addicts, and some were disturbed by their abandonment since childhood. Oh, the stories I heard! But there were still others who were by choice deficient. These were the administrators and employees who seemed to care more about their positions then about those whom they were meagerly hired to care for. They used food as a controlling bargaining chip. This was something to witness.
The staff members were by far worse to deal with than any of the troubled residents, and had to be dealt with gingerly. (There is nothing worse than the vindictiveness and cruelty of those with a little power.) Some of them didn't care for me much. They looked at me, the "proper and polite" American foreigner, with jaded eyes. Why would she come here? I mirrored what I desired them to be. I smiled often and spoke softly, even when I was enraged. "Soft words turn away wrath," I remembered my mother quoting.
The administrators and employees did not seem to be much better than those whom they "cared" for. Yet, they were often without compassion and worked so little. Their only task appeared to be preparing the food they delivered with the utmost precision and measurement. "Be in here by 5:00 sharp or you will miss dinner." The residents sat down one by one to such small portions. My tasks included scrubbing the floor of the sleeping areas on my hands and knees, washing the bunk bed sheets and the clothes by hand, hanging them on the line to dry, gray. In the beating sun, they dried in ten minutes flat. I folded them neatly and placed them at the bed of each.
The shelter was like a revolving door. Not only were there those with addictions and mental deficiencies, mothers came with children who were running away from abusive husbands. I cared for the children and took them to school as their mothers went to work afraid for their lives. I volunteered to get the kids off to school and pick them up. Little rascals they were. But I loved them.
Walking down the dusty street alone one afternoon, I just began to cry uncontrollably. After three months, I could not take it much more. I wanted to go home and could have at any time. But I thought that I was supposed to be there and I had a nagging feeling that my time there was not complete. The sun shone brilliantly and I looked up bathing in the light. I felt better. But it did not last. I thought, "I'm going home."
Then right at my moment of decision, a man appeared out of nowhere, dirty with knotty hair staggering towards me with the sun at his back. When he got within reach, I could smell his pores reeking with alcohol. He looked at me directly with piercing eyes of knowledge and compassion saying, "You are not to go home. 'Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.'" He then politely turned around and began walking in the direction in which he had come.
My tears dried. I stood there in complete amazement. Who was he? I didn't know, but from that very moment I felt so much better and amazing things began to happen thereafter. I got strength and courage in abundance and I was soon in the company of government officials, renowned clergy, the US ambassador, and the richest people in that country who could make a difference for those whom I loved most. I shall never forget these beautiful ones. I see their faces in others.
I did not know the man who spoke those inspirational words to me nor had I ever seen him before or since that "chance" meeting. When I returned home I told my mother about this really far out experience and she quoted this scripture to me:
Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.All I could do as she spoke was to think what would have happened if I had seen that man and crossed the street? What if I had looked at his appearance and decided that he should be avoided? I would have missed his words which changed my situation there and better enabled me to help others. Whether he was an angel or not, I do not know. But what I do know is that goodness often comes from the most unlikely sources. Remain open.
Sometimes in difficult situations we have to just "stand still." These were the life-changing inspirational words I received.