I WONDER AS I WANDER. . . An Encounter with Jesus

Have you ever had an experience so vivid that it came back to mind repeatedly for several weeks?  That’s what happened to me on Tuesday, May 5, during the Council of Bishops meeting.

Before 6:30 a.m. those who wished to, gathered in the lobby of the hotel where we were meeting in Bethesda, MD.  All of us had been given white t-shirts emblazoned with red letters: “ReTHINK Church.”  On this chilly spring morning we also sported red jackets with the logo, and some wore the red baseball caps that communicated the same message.

Quickly we were sorted into three groups of 30 or more each, and transported to two different sites in Maryland, or one in northern Virginia.  As we neared our destination, the sign at the corner of the street read “Temporary Workers Site.”  On a barren plot of land stood a moderate-size bare metal building, with steps leading up to two doors. 

Outside the building we were greeted by a pastor whose ministry is working with immigrants seeking day labor jobs.  He explained briefly how he sensed God calling him to this mission, growing out of his own experience as an immigrant.  He invited us to enter, and as we did we observed, around two sides of this overgrown trailer rows of old metal and plastic chairs, on which were sitting mostly men, possibly 60 or so.  They had registered with the small office on one corner of this building, where they were waiting to be called for today’s work. 

Gradually we began to move among the workers. We exchanged smiles or a few words in Spanish or English.  Those who were fluent in Spanish had more extended conversations, as they listened to what had brought the workers to this place and what life was like for them.

My Spanish is “muy pocito” (very little).  So I extended greetings to several.  Towards the end of a row, I heard one of the Filipino bishops speaking with one young man, in English.  The young man had a Filipino step-mother and a Salvadoran father.  As the other bishop moved on, I bent over to speak with him.  He offered that his name was “Will,” and shared that he had been in this suburban Washington, D.C. area for about three years, trying to sustain himself by finding day jobs – sometimes landscaping, sometimes moving furniture, sometimes construction, whatever was available.  Sometimes he would go several weeks without getting a job.  Other times it came more frequently.

After a brief time of conversation, “Will” asked me why we were there.  I told him that we just wanted to come and be with them, to share that we were interested in and cared about those who struggle to survive in this economy.  I noticed that he was looking at the ReThink Church logo on the 2XL red jacket that hung on me.  He asked what that was about.  I told him that we believed that church was not just for inside church buildings, but that Jesus was everywhere, and we wanted to go where Jesus was, not just stay inside the four walls. 

Will got a quizzical look on his face, and there was silence between us for what seemed like a long moment.  Then he looked down a bit, and mentioned that he also believed in Jesus, He mentioned that he prayed, but that he didn’t go to church, and that Jesus was with him. 

About that time, two of the men who were waiting for a job brought out guitars and played some music for us.  Others who were staff of the project or volunteers told a bit more about their ministry.  Then, after the pastor brought out three long, slender loaves of bread and some grape juice, Bishop Minerva Carcano offered a brief Eucharistic prayer in Spanish.  Together we communed, day laborers and bishops and spouses, bound together by our love for and commitment to the Jesus who loved us to the end, the Jesus who leads us outside the walls.  The Lord’s Table was a long rough table, around which workers sometimes gathered to learn English-as-a-second-language.

After the communion, several of the men moved outside, and shortly our group also exited in order to head back to our hotel and meetings.  As we did so, we observed the laborers lining up to pass by tables and pick up a breakfast sandwich and a bottle of juice, their breakfast for the day.  This daily ritual, feeding of another sort, was part of the ministry outreach.

As we headed down the steps, I saw “Will” standing at the bottom of them, waiting to enter the line.  As I approached him, I held out my hand. He smiled a broad smile and shook it.  I thanked him for the conversation, and said that I very much appreciated our talking together.  I also indicated that I would pray for him.

At least once daily since that time, I have visualized the smiling face of “Will,” a 23-year-old who is seeking a better life, and I have prayed for him.  For me, on that day, in that face I saw the face of Jesus.

While we went to bear witness to ReThink-ing Church, it was I who received that witness.  Jesus was already there.

By: Bishop Susan Hassinger On 5/20/2009
Topics: I Wonder as I Wander...