02-24-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-24-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-24-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1363 1363 SVDP USA

It’s been too long since I have seen a cockroach.

Lying on a resort beach chair while on a mini-vacation a few days ago,  I thought about how much my life has changed since growing up fairly poor. Some people will tell you that they were poor as children but didn’t know it. I remember it vividly!

In a divorced home as the oldest of four children, I watched my mother scramble for rent, school clothes, and even food. We lived in a meager apartment, a roof over our heads, but not much more. Roaches are common in apartments, though they were not, and are not, value judgements. You could have an immaculate home but whenever a neighbor moved out, their pests lost a food supply, so they migrated to you until you beat them back. I remember being mortified when on a rare occasion I would invite a friend to our place and a cockroach appeared. By necessity I learned the art of misdirection! Living with roaches was a constant battle that the roaches always inevitably seemed to win.

In my 60s now, education, the values Mom and others taught me, and income have taken me far away from those meager times. It would be fairly easy now not to see poverty in others — one could spend your way out, right?

Not really. Poverty, like roaches, is all around us whether or not we choose to see it. It’s in the cashier we paid to buy our coffee, who is working her second, or third, job to make ends meet. Its in the apartments just behind the shopping center that house the workers in the shops and office who can’t otherwise afford to live where they work. Its the frail, elderly grandmother we see in the grocery store, buying food for her extended family because her adult child is ill or in prison. You would likely be surprised to know how many children in your local elementary school are on a free breakfast and lunch program. It will break your Vincentian heart.

Those of us who grew up poor rarely thank God directly for the experience. Instead we thank Him for helping us to have the persistence, providential breaks, and the loving hearts of others who helped us escape poverty and “graduate” to the middle class or above. We also thank God for Saints Vincent and Louise, Blesseds Frédéric and Rosalie, and others who both set examples of serving the less fortunate and who educated others not to judge people’s character by their surroundings, misfortune, and  current circumstances.  As Vincentians today, we carry on these examples and works. We choose not to be blind to the poverty surrounding us, and then to do something positive about it, even if it helps just one person.

Everything created by God has a purpose. Maybe God created the humble cockroach not as a symbol of those who are poor, but to remind us of poverty itself. No matter how hard we fight it, poverty will still be with us. Perhaps we can’t totally eradicate it, but neither should we approve of living with it, either. What can we do ourselves, and how can we enlist others to see what we see and then to act?

Your in Christ,
Dave Barringer

  • Truly I never have thanked God for my childhood. I complained, asked for things and just ignored my status. After reading your story, I stopped and said a Thank You, God prayer. I grew up not really in poverty but we were certainly not middle class. My dad worked 2 jobs and mother was home, we didn’t have fancy things but we always had food on the table. It may have been just beans and maybe a little ham but it was food. I went to Catholic school because they had a program to low income families. I thank my grandmother for giving me my strong faith and the need to help people.While we didn’t have a St Vincent conference, at least I never heard of one, we were always to give to the poor and the missions. Now I have been a Vincentian for over 25 years and will probably stay that way until I get to feeble to do the work ( I’m old). So thank you for the reminder that I need to thank God for my upbringing.

    • Joann C ppRENDERGAST March 1, 2022 at 11:34 am

      Thank you for your comments. I grew up in the same type of situation. I was the oldest of 7 and my mom’s confidant. I was cooking meals at the age of 14 while she recovered from the effects of my brothers birth. My dad supplied the Catholic school kitchen with all fresh vegetables in place of us paying tuition. It was a true learning experiencne, but looking back, I am thankful my children did not go through this same thing, No one is rich, but 4 of my grandsons are employed in scientifc companies.
      We are truly blessed; God and our country have been good to us.

  • How true. Thank you for reminding me.
    A Mass. vincentian.

  • Always enjoy you perspective — excellent message.

  • Your article brings back many memories of my own life as a single Mom of two sons, scrambling to make ends meet, who lived in a roach-infested apartment in Virginia. I took my boys to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and learned how roaches multiply and “take over the world”. We still laugh about those days. One time, I was embarrassed to pour a guest some tea and roaches came out! They were living in my teapot! THANK YOU for the reminder … that those experiences are what calls me to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul … and to count my many blessings, too!

  • Mary Anne Michelet February 25, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Thank you, Dave for this powerful story. We may have learned about poverty as Vincentians but YOU lived it. Let us keep on keepin’ on to reduce/ end poverty all over the world.

  • A great reflection Dave. All of us are the sum of our life experiences, as children and now as adults. I do believe God places us where he did for a reason. One of the reasons he had for you is to remind us all of why this SVDP mission is core to who we are, and to challenge us to open our eyes and “tune in” to the poverty that is around us today. Thank you for that.

  • More and more I click on the ‘read more’ for the whole article. Always glad I did, because it helps me reflect on why we are Vincentians.

  • What a blessing for us to have you as a leader! The Lord prepared you well!!!

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