Many people used to come to my office door at the Catholic Chaplaincy of the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The university shares its campus with the national hospital with 1200 beds and over 1000 day patients. There is also a large slum called Jangwani situated not far from the hospital. The news must have spread that Fr. Michael will help people in need. That was nice, but it resulted in a steady stream of people coming to my door. I was getting a bit overwhelmed.
Many of the cases were genuine; but others were con artists; and still others, while poor, they pretty much would say anything it takes just to get some assistance. For so many, giving them money was just not the answer to the problems facing them. Poverty is such a horrible disease! I was getting discouraged. Sometimes I felt I needed a social worker that could listen and direct people to places where they could find the proper assistance. My own background as a social worker years ago came in handy.
I think the news also spread that Fr. Michael asks many questions and often does not give money; so the numbers at my door eventually reduced. Nevertheless, one day a lady came to the office. She was ill, stricken with AIDS. Her children and husband had died. She was told to vacate the room where her husband was renting. She had no money and felt it was time to return to her parents’ home in Mwanza, a city situated on the other side of Tanzania about 900 miles away. Her name was Rehema, which translated to English means ‘Compassion’. I tried to console her and direct her to the local parish. Already she was receiving medicine from the Archdiocesan AIDS outreach program named PASADA. She seemed lost, her spirit broken.
I decided to give her 50,000/= shillings ($50 US) for the bus trip to Mwanza. She thanked me and began to shed tears. As she stood to leave she said she would board a bus that very day. Rehema extended her hand to me and then went down on one knee thanking me so much for helping her. I took her hand into both of mine and prayed for a safe journey. As Rehema left the office, it occurred to me that this had been a precious moment. I had just been in the presence of God. Jesus had come to me as Rehema asking me to never harden my heart to those who come to my office in need. Jesus doesn’t say that we will not have trials and tribulations. Rather he says these will not overcome us, these will not destroy us.
Rehema felt blessed for my assistance, but in reality I was the one being assisted and indeed blessed! Later that day, I was the one on bended knee, grateful for such a precious moment.