As we gathered around Father K during the send-off service, he said something that I will never forget— “Go with God, Go in God, and Go through God, for the seeds are already being planted.” Little did I know what these seeds were, what they meant, and who would be the ones planting those seeds.
Throughout the weeks leading up to this Service and Justice Trip, our group only knew that we were going to Wheeling, West Virginia, to learn about sustainability through Grow Ohio Valley and that we would be eating good food—that was it. And as our group hopped into the van ready to share the next week of our lives together, we had no idea what or who we were about to encounter. Listening repeatedly to “Take Me Home Country Roads” and “Little Wonders” while also making a few hairpin turns along the way, we arrived on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River at Grow Ohio Valley, which would be our home for the next week.
Our first night’s reflection set the tone for what our week would be like as we acknowledged that we were not in Wheeling to fix anything or anyone. Rather, we were there to be open, to be present, and to listen to the most important person—the person standing right in front of us. Sitting in Mass the next morning and looking around at a parish community that was not representative of the Wheeling population, I felt a certain tension when singing “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” If the Lord hears the cry of the poor, where are the poor in this church? This question connected me with what I’ve been learning this year in Liberation Theology and Catholic Social Teaching, as I learned that the true Church consists of the People of God who extend far beyond the walls of any church or parish community.
Wheeling is a city that suffers some of the worst health problems in the United States. Because Wheeling is in a food desert, meaning that most of its residents have low-incomes and have very limited access to nutritious and affordable food, people suffer from high blood pressure and an increased risk for cardiac arrest. One day, we were able to experience the problem of food security as we were handed 5 quarters and told to go buy our lunch. A lot of the people in Wheeling are earning a low income and many are living below the poverty line, so they are given a SNAP card to help pay for groceries. The allotted amount per meal given through SNAP is $1.25. This card was something good in theory, but it did not provide the sufficient funds to allow a person, let alone a family, buy healthy food. Many of the low-income residents of Wheeling do not own a car, and there are only three stores where people can buy food that are within walking distance. These stores include: Mama Duck’s, Neely’s, and 7/11. All three options are gas stations. When we walked into one of these three stores (my group in particular went to Mama Duck’s), we quickly realized that our $1.25 would not get us much food, let alone food with any sort of nutritional value. Most of us ended up buying two packs of peanuts or Ramen noodles, and a lot of us did not eat lunch that day. Yet, this is the reality that a lot of people in Wheeling, especially the poor, are suffering from. Because they have very little access to quality food, the average life expectancy of a low-income resident of Wheeling is 65 years old, which is 13 years less than the life expectancy of a middle class resident. Our group was very uncomfortable with the fact that so many people had to face this harsh $1.25 reality every day. We went so far as to ask how a lot of these people have the motivation to wake up everyday when there is an unjust system of oppression that targets the poor?
Our Service and Justice Trip was unique because not only were we learning about sustainability, but we were able to see how it affects the poor and homeless populations. Our personal encounters with the people in charge of Grow Ohio Valley and the people that walked through the doors of the Catholic Mission House reminded us that we must live simply, so others may simply live. Living simply entailed a lot of little things for our group that week like not taking a single shower, not wasting food, and simply being present and listening to the person in front of us. Our week with our Wheeling family really put into perspective what is important in this life. The people we encountered, especially the poor like Dave, Bob, and Bill, became our greatest teachers because they revealed to us a God who is Love and is relational, and that our relationships with others are the greatest experiences we are able to be a part of in this world. In Wheeling, we learned that the poor are not “the other,” but they are our family. The Daves, the Bobs, and the Bills of Wheeling are representative of the hundreds of millions of people around the world that are living in poverty. We learned that we became a part of their lives just as much as they became a part of ours. They are the ones who planted the seeds of love in us and reminded us that happiness consists in the things that nobody can take away from us. The love we are able to share with those we encounter is not something that can be taken away.
Class of 2019
The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.