woman staff serving table at Marina Centre Regina

What Success Have You Had?

by Cheryl Ann Smith (former Director of Marian Centre Regina)

“What success have you had in serving the poor at Marian Centre?”

The man asking this question when I lived in our house in Regina was looking for statistics: how many people have we fed and clothed, or put through rehab, or taken off the streets?

The question was sensible in a “human resources” context, but not too relevant in light of the Gospel. Jesus asked us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked without counting the cost—or success rate!

I answered the question with a story of triumphant love.

One day, a poor man appeared in our yard and was hosing himself down. He needed to: he was wild-looking, dirty, and smelling like a sheep. He was also mentally ill. He would not speak, and his eyes were vacant. He seemed to take in nothing around him.

We began to see him on the streets, endlessly walking in a desolate solitude, and he began coming to our soup kitchen for some desperately needed food.

When I ladled out the stew, I liked to greet each man by name. For a number of days, I tried to engage our new friend: “Hello! Welcome to our home. My name is Cheryl Ann. What’s yours?”

I was met with silence and no sense of this man.

However, one day when I greeted him, I heard a soft response. I looked into his blue eyes, and I saw the person. I guess he finally felt safe enough to emerge. Very quietly and gently, our conversation went something like this:

“How are you?”

“Tired.”

“Oh, why is that?”

“I walk a lot.”

“Yes, I see you walking in town. My name is Cheryl Ann. What is your name?”

At this point he went quiet, and I feared I had pushed him too far. But then he whispered, “My name is John”.

That was my favourite “success story”.

“What success have you had in serving the poor at Marian Centre?”

The more appropriate question would be: what success has Christ had in changing your heart through His beloved poor? Thankfully, He has had many successes. Let me tell you of two.

I arrived in Regina at 5:30 PM on a hot July evening. The staff picked me up at the airport, gave me a little tour of the city and Marian Centre, and then they showed me to my room.

By the time I’d awakened the next morning and finished unpacking, I could hear the big pots banging in the kitchen and the rumble of men’s voices in the dining room, as they played cards and drank coffee before the noon meal.

I descended the stairs, opened the door to the dining room, and was suddenly struck with uncertainty and—well, fear.

Who were these men? Were they rough? Any of them inebriated?

I steeled myself to scoot through the dining room to the safety of the kitchen, where I could meet the volunteers and gradually get used to the feel of the men.

However, almost immediately someone called out, “Hey, Cheryl Ann!”

Surprised, I whirled around to see one of the men grinning at me. “I’m Bob, but everyone calls me “Corner Bob” because I lived on a corner. I already asked what your name was.”

I remain grateful to Corner Bob for teaching me a lesson in loving: rather than rushing by a stranger in fear, exchange names and you begin to meet as persons.

From that point on, it was the first thing I did with the men of the streets. It proved to be the key to John’s trust.

Another major divine success story was with Terry. Terry was an (understandably) angry and negative person who expressed his unhappiness through a constant stream of complaints. It didn’t matter what we served for lunch, he wasn’t satisfied with it.

One hot, steamy summer day, I was serving the stew in a fed-up mood. I saw Terry shuffling up the line and I muttered to myself, “If he says one word of complaint….”

Sure enough, I had just started ladling the stew on to his plate when he spat out, “I want lots of meat and not many potatoes”. Of course, what was now on his plate was many potatoes and not much meat.

Before he could protest, I held up my hand and hissed, “Please Terry, just take it. Come back for more if you want, but just take this”.

He was not happy. He grabbed the offending plate and stomped off to a table.

An hour later, when the staff and volunteers sat down to our meal, I suddenly noticed what I had served myself: a plate of stew with lots of meat and few potatoes. Without thinking much, I had just given myself what I wanted.

I was convicted: I had the power to take what I wanted, and I took the best. Terry had no power, and of course he wanted better out of life (or stew) and I withheld it from him. No wonder he was angry.

On how many levels do I hold back respect, friendship, my heart, and material resources from those with less? How often do I judge them for their poverty or their anger or their desire for better? How could I make amends to Terry?

The next day, he was still angry with me and refused to look at me as he thrust out his plate. As I spooned out a very full dish, I said brightly, “Look Terry. Lots of meat today!”

In the silent look that passed between us, my apology was accepted, along with a profound acknowledgement that we are all one in this human family: we all want more meat.

Some of us were born in families where there was love and security; others in war-torn countries or abusive families. Some of us have had opportunities for growth, and others barely survive. But we are all children of God, deserving of love and respect, food and education.

Those of us who have been blessed with more, must reach out to those with less. And all of us need to know we are poor before our Heavenly Father, all in need of his mercy and love.

What is the success story of serving the poor in Regina? It is coming to know that whenever we welcome one of the little ones in the name of Jesus, we welcome Christ himself; whenever we feed and clothe the poor, we feed and clothe Him.

And we are all poor before the Lord.