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Seeing and Believing - by Mike Reesman
Recently, I had the opportunity to accompany Cynthia and Darlene of Franciscan Peacemakers as they ventured through the streets of Milwaukee on a beautiful sunny morning for Street Outreach. This wasn’t a totally new experience for me - twenty-something years ago, I volunteered regularly with Franciscan Peacemakers to collect and bring lunches to the parking lot on 16th and North Ave for distribution. It took some time for me and those we met to get comfortable with each other. But at some point, after repeating this Outreach regularly, we’d get to a point where friendships developed, trust was gained, and love was felt. Things changed, and we could not meet at that location anymore. Street Outreach became mobile and Steve invited me to go out to the streets in the van with him several years ago. The mobile experience was very different than the stationary experience we had at 16th and North. And when invited to sojourn along with Cynthia and Darlene, I wondered how it would differ from my outreach adventure with Deacon Steve. As you know, every new day brings new opportunities.
When we started out on our journey, I felt a real sense of calmness from Cynthia and Darlene. They were so relaxed and confident that it made me feel at ease not knowing what to expect on my end of things from the back seat. My role was to have a lunch bag ready to give out and to simply observe. I knew the areas we traveled but would have never known where exactly to go to those in need, but Cynthia and Darlene sure knew where to go. Their game plan was well established.
During the first hour, we encountered a small number of people - each person someone Cynthia and Darlene greeted by name. While the encounters were brief, they were always positive, with smiles exchanged and always ending with “ Be safe, I love you!” A hungry stomach was supplied with food and a hungry heart was supplied with love, as well as an open invitation for further help when appropriate.
Darlene mentioned that it was a “slow” day, with many women they were expecting to see not around like usual. Shortly after that, we pulled into a gas station where there was someone they knew. As Cynthia and Darlene talked with her, it was apparent to me that she had been to “hell and back” with everything she had been through. It was amazing to witness the listening skills and empathy that Cynthia and Darlene shared with this person. I could tell that they really understood the pain and difficulty that she was enduring. They listened with their hearts and responded in truth and love.
Conversion begins with conversation, and this conversation was not cut short by Cynthia or Darlene. They allowed this person to talk as much as she needed to. They were very encouraging and assured her that they would take each step with her and accompany her when she was ready to take the next step to get the help that she needed. She was not ready at that moment but was now one step closer to making the first move to recovery. I felt helpless as I watched this take place, all I could do was pray. I will continue to pray - and encourage you to as well.
As that conversation ended, another one started up from another person who approached. Again, everyone knew each other. This conversation took place outside of the vehicle that we were in, only this time I could not hear what was being said between Darlene, Cynthia, and the other person while I sat inside. All I could do was watch. I saw two people listening with respect to another person who had much to say. It was apparent that this person also respected who she was talking to. Out of respect comes love. There were tears, laughter, hugs, and of course a bagged lunch. I could not hear what was said, but “seeing was believing” for me in what was happening, a relationship that was growing. This person then came up to the vehicle, saw me inside and said “Are you Charlie? These two must be Charlie’s angels”. “I’m not Charlie” I said, “but Cynthia and Darlene certainly are angels!” She gave me a smile that was priceless.
With the help of many people providing the lunches, and with the compassion, empathy, perseverance, and love for those in need, Franciscan Peacemakers are certainly making the difference in the lives of women surviving the streets. The Street Outreach of Franciscan Peacemakers is the starting point to respond to those suffering and their thirst for love. I was blessed this day to see and believe. Blessed are those who have not seen all the work that Franciscan Peacemakers do, but believe in them and provide support.
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