Dear Family and Friends,
We obtained a small 125-year-old house in southeast Washington, DC on the last day of 2003! It was the cheapest house sold in the district that didnít need to be demolished. The house is attached on one side with two bedrooms, one bathroom, a large basement, and termite damage. My parents gift-leased the house and donated the renovation supplies sight unseen. Lawrence Kirwan, the brother of Michael Kirwan, has been extremely generous with his talents and time. He spent six days a week for three months working on the repairs. Because of the generous way we received and repaired our first home, most of the founding donations have been saved for direct ministry.
God has also provided the ministry with many amazing friends and courageous volunteers. Their actions have shown a great commitment to our purpose, and I thank God for all his blessings despite my faults. My friend Chuck Beck moved into the house from the start, and will be helping out for a few more months.
I would also like to thank the individuals and families who donated in response to my last letter (especially my former co-workers). Each donation was a personal encouragement and grace for me. Thank you for building my faith and making this ministry a reality.
On the Saturday morning before Easter, nine individuals met at a Simple House to pray and reach out for the first time to the Chesapeake neighborhood. 400 Easter bags were prepared full of candy, small toys, religious items, and information. Our plan was to invite people to Church, make sure everyone was able to celebrate Easter, and form contacts which would become the foundation of our ministry.
I had been praying that the gentlemen who congregate outside the apartment complex would be asleep, but as we arrived, they were already outside and business had begun. When offered Easter bags, the gentlemen declined and enthusiastically helped volunteers find the apartments with children. In Godís typical fashion, He converted what I saw as a problem into a blessing.
We are still trying to develop relationships with the mothers and grandmothers of the neighborhood. This outreach will grow more slowly, but God keeps things moving fast enough that our heads seem to be constantly underwater. If everything went as quickly as I would like, it would be a gigantic mess.
In addition to the Chesapeake neighborhood, our immediate neighbors in Anacostia have begun to find us, and various individuals from around the city who need our help stumble upon us.
We feel most called to serve mothers and grandmothers who struggle to get by with violence, promiscuity, drugs, and prostitution threatening to usurp their family. Helping children and men is a natural extension of helping mothers. There are situations where children are not allowed to leave the house due to the crime outside, neglected children are being taken in or fed by neighbors, and six children sleep without mattresses in a single bedroom. The women who raise children and reach out to others in this near impossible atmosphere are the real ministers. It is our job to support them and keep them well supplied. We do this by getting to know individual families and meeting their unique needs. These needs may include food, help with bills, home repairs, or cleaning. We try to do all this in the spirit of friendship, and we believe that our presence and support is as important as the physical assistance we provide.
A complete charitable act should have three parts which please God: the sacrifice, the caring and appreciative interaction of rich and poor, and the actual tangible alleviation of suffering. Modern charity and government programs often fail to capture even two of these three aspects. They can be obligatory, faceless, and received with a sense of entitlement. Sometimes they do not even alleviate physical suffering.
ĎA Simple House of Sts. Francis and Alphonsusí is only a small Christian charity, but it has the opportunity to capture all three of these aspects in a beautiful way. We are a ministry without professional counselors, social workers, fund-raising officers, etc. We are only volunteers trying to live the universal calling to Christian charity. Sometimes a professional is necessary, but only a Christian is needed most of the time. The people we serve are not clients. They are our friends and neighbors created in the image of God.
It is our goal to create opportunities for fruitful ministry and reach people that institutional charities are failing. Please pray that we will have the resources and graces necessary to keep this goal alive.
At the moment of our death, you and I, whoever we might have been and wherever we have lived, Christians and non-Christians alike, every human being who has been created by the loving hand of God in His own image, shall stand in His presence and be judged according to what we have been for the poor, what we have done for them. Here a beautiful standard for judgment presents itself. We have to become increasingly aware that the poor are the hope of humanity, for we will be judged by how we have treated the poor. We will have to face this reality when we are summoned before the throne of God: "I was hungry. I was naked. I was homeless. And whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me."
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
The sidewalk in front of A Simple House is host to women walking the streets, men selling drugs, and children walking to and from school. While parking in front of the house, Iíve had a woman try to get into my car and men try to sell me their wares. Behind our home, stolen cars are abandoned and stripped while children play in their backyard and watch. The Chesapeake neighborhood is in worse shape than ours. It is a place where:
there is enough food but children go hungry because of neglect,
cars are not stolen for profit but for fun,
people understand that drugs ruin lives but they use them anyway,
women are prostituting themselves without pimps or physical coercion.
This is also a place with few missionaries and many children. This is spiritual poverty.
Despite these problems, the inner city also has a special spiritual wealth. Many people concede that God controls the big things like hurricanes, earthquakes, life, and death, but the disadvantaged have a special appreciation of Jesus in the small things like favorite foods, coincidences, and little breaths of fresh air. We hope to celebrate the spiritual wealth and address the spiritual problems through our ministry.
We wish to embrace the good even in the morally muddled and difficult situations which are plentiful. Through all of the pain of a complicated moral problem, we should realize that babies are good, and itís okay to celebrate their arrival despite the moral implications of the situation. This does not condone the situation but concedes the goodness of babies! Children should be welcomed to the world with joy, not frowns and scowls.
A Simple House is not trying to slow pitch or water down the Catholic truth. Truth is plain, simple, and beautiful, and it is our challenge to express it this way. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God has a tender, particular, and intimate love for us, and He wants us to enter into this relationship with Him. Morality and styles of devotion are effective only after this initial good news has been preached with joy. We hope to show this joy in the help and friendship we freely give.
In the upcoming months, we plan to launch two projects. The first will allow families to donate cribs, baby carriages, and baby supplies through us to the poor, and the second will be a bible study/adult literacy program called ĎLearn to Read while Reading the Word.í Both of these programs will help us further develop relationships with the neighborhood and individual families.
In the long term, please pray that volunteers will respond to Godís call to help women suffering from prostitution, and that God will allow us to open a house run by women for women. Explicit and non-explicit prostitution is common in southeast DC. In the explicit cases, drugs may be driving the problem, but there are many ways that sex and relationships can be treated as a commodity. These non-explicit forms of prostitution also need to be healed.
I cannot properly express my gratitude to all the individuals and families who contributed through us to the spiritually and materially poor of Washington, DC. It is a great honor to work for you. Prayers, donations, and volunteers are still needed for the work, and it is your generosity of heart, self, and property which make the will of God more active in the world. Thank you. You are in our prayers. Praise be to God.
With board members: Laura Cartagena, Glynnis LaGarde, Kristina Massey, Richard Realbuto, and Fr. Adam Ryan OSB.
And live-in volunteer: Chuck Beck.
It seems to me that this great poverty of suffering in the West is much harder to solve. When I pick up some starving person off the street and offer him a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I can satisfy his hunger. But a person that has been beaten or feels unwanted or unloved or fearful or rejected by society experiences a kind of poverty that is much more painful and deep. The cure is much more difficult to find.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta