I left my comfort zone in Pittsburgh, PA seven years ago to become a missionary and evangelist. But I got a whole lot more, a loving witness in community and learning valuable lessons from the materially poor. I found myself through being with others I normally wouldn’t have contact with.
How can you not be affected seeing Tom, our founder, manage the ministry affairs and tend to the needs of his ailing wife, our departed co-founder Lyn. Lyn almost always smiled and said kind things even when her body was under attack with earthly pains. What a lady. Monday after Monday she had to be assisted to our weekly community gathering, but when she got in her seat it was like having the zeal of St. Peter exhorting us missionaries onward in our call to serve the poor with a love that can only come from Jesus, not from ourself. And what a witness of selflessness seeing Marybeth and Ed take care of us missionaries, putting aside their needs for ours.
The warmth of LAMP was easy to enter into, and my life started to drastically change. I began to realize through other Christians and their unique and personal witnesses of unselfish acts of love that a deeper love in life could be possible for me! Having many blessings through my life, I never thought I could deepen my heart until I witnessed many acts of love while at LAMP.
I’ve had the privilege to serve with dozens of missionaries through the years, sharing our triumphs, challenges, and ourselves, learning so much from each and everyone of them. I remember the “man’s man” Timothy, now 3-years deceased. We approached a person on the street face down wearing a dress, but we could tell the person was a man. Without hesitation, (I was frozen) Timothy picked that person off the ground with so much love you would have thought it was his own mother. Knowing the tough old school Timothy, it had to be God at work! What an eye opener it was that day at the Bowery.
Though I’ve learned many lessons at LAMP, one sticks out the most. All people have the capability and tendency to do both good and bad, that we as Christians are challenged by Jesus to take the narrow way and choose the good in the other and ourselves. I really needed to learn that, and still have a lot to learn. Coming to LAMP, I thought I knew myself, my good and bad side, and had life figured out and under control. Well, being with the materially poor in the Bronx day after day, you learn more than you bargain for.
Like the time I encountered a Muslim woman who frequented our canteen truck ministry LAMPcafé. She was in full Muslim attire and would bark orders at our truck loudly demanding food, even trying to cut the line. Needless to say she wasn’t the most popular amongst us there. But LAMP trained me to react in love and compassion, so I tried it. I would talk to her in loving tone, and save her extra scraps of food and sundries we had donated (she could not eat our staple ham-and-cheese sandwich), and give her a little extra when I could. Well after a few months coming weekly, she softened. Then one day she came and I handed her a bag of food, and she said, “I want something else”. I shuddered to think, “What else lady?” on that very busy Friday serving 140 folks. She said, “I want one of your Christian prayer beads”. She meant the rosary. I nearly fell over. I explained what it was, that we believe Jesus is God coming to save His children; she accepted it. The next week she brought another Muslim woman to get a rosary for her.
This lady taught me about my tendency to sometimes be quick to judge, and the power of seeking the deeper, sometimes veiled inherent goodness of each person. After she starting bringing her children to meet me, I realized she had a lot of mouths to feed, that she had to have tough love to be a mother and scrap and survive. Before I met her I thought Muslims were closed to Christianity, but I guess I was wrong again! I’ve been humbled many times about my initial inclination. As things unfold, I learn more about what is Christian humility and my need to grow in it, such a stinging lesson!
I must not leave out the materially poor nursing home residents I bring Holy Communion and minister to; how they persevere through loneliness and severe physical debilitation, but still find love inside themselves, praying and receiving Communion and showing me love despite their deteriorating physical and emotional condition. They teach me to not give up or give in and to reach inside myself when I want to give up, to seek God and the better things in life, love. That life is not about being comfortable, but seeking and finding the richness of life, God and love, no matter the size of the cross we have. It is a joy to see God never abandons anyone, only we can abandon Him. I must keep going to those nursing homes, where more learning is needed.
In closing, if it weren’t for being with my sisters and brothers in LAMP Ministries, and doing for others, the materially poor, I would never have gotten to see the deeper more Christ-like goodness I am capable of (with God’s Grace), unless I saw it lived out by others. My life would not now be filled with as dynamic of love, love of a community of missionaries, and the poor, who teach us to grow and to see who we really are, people capable to grow deeper if we step outside of our comfort zones.
As for me, I am much less a follower of myself. I am one of many Christians who have worn the LAMP mission Crucifix going out face-to-face, loving the materially poor, seeking to be followers of Christ day in and day out. I may not have completely found myself, but one thing is for sure, I want to be like Jesus and only Him. I am grateful He puts His qualities in the many folks who will let Him bring His Light in them.
And thank you beautiful Bronx, may heaven shine on you like you shine on me and in me.
–LAMP missionary Steve Patterson