But with great generosity of spirit they shared what little they had. As we sat around that steaming pot of maize gruel that day, I pondered on how little we comprehend what it means to give out of lack.
It wasn’t just the sharing of their dwindling grain supplies, but the giving of themselves. It took all afternoon to prepare and cook the meal. There were no kitchen appliances just a human-size mortar and pestle to pound the grain and it was exhausting work in the blazing sun, I know, I tried it and how they laughed at my feeble efforts.
I walked with them to the well, some 15 minutes away and was in awe of the strength they had to pump the water and carry it back in heavy buckets on their heads. They lit the fires and moved the large iron pots into place to cook the gruel that would feed the extended family, maybe 35, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
That night I shared their mud hut. One room. Bare earth. Given with much love.
For 44 years he has trekked the two and a half hours from his home in Anglesea to North Melbourne to man the St Vincent de Paul soup van, providing meals for the homeless. He’s 81 now and about to hand over the baton, but he’s seen a thing or two in those 44 years.
He once discovered an old school chum who’d become an alcoholic and fallen on hard times. Facing the number of young people sleeping rough never ceased to trouble him, but it was the families who had nowhere to go that hit him hardest. He ached for them, especially the children.
Week after week and year after year he would lay out a ‘table’ before them, homemade sandwiches and soup, warm nourishing food to ease their hunger and keep them healthy. But he knew food wasn’t enough, they were starving for more than physical sustenance, they needed relationship and connection and to know they were of value.
He began to spend time with them whenever he could, sometimes to chat and often just to listen to their stories and their fears. He saw the difference a short conversation could make; he understood well the crippling disease of loneliness. He got to know their heart.
The ‘table’ he offered was as real as any you and I ever sat at and who can know how many lives he changed over those years, giving nourishment of body and soul, hope and dignity. Maybe some lives would have ended but for his presence in their lives. His was truly 44 years of extravagant hospitality. He offered so much more than food, he offered himself.