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Missionaries of the Poor thriving on kindness of strangers

AS HE prepares to take over the day-to-day operations of the Missionaries of the Poor organisation from its founder Father Richard Ho Lung, Trinidad-born Vicar General Father Hayden Augustine is mindful of the kindness of Jamaicans.

He has seen this kindness manifested in so many different ways, even in the face of economic hardships.

With no stipend from government the organisation is totally dependent on the kindness of corporate Jamaica and other people who continue to be impressed by the sacrifices of the 140 brothers, drawn from countries such as India, Haiti and the Philippines, who serve about 600 Jamaicans through the various facilities and schools in which they operate.

During an interview on Monday, Father Augustine recalled an incident when a woman from the ghetto came to their offices with her daughter and grandson in tow, demanding to see her friend, Father Ho Lung.

After explaining that the Father was absent, he invited them into the office. She then pulled out US$1,200 and gave it to him, explaining that this was her Christmas gift for Father Ho Lung.

“Every year I give him a Christmas gift as a thanksgiving for what he has done for us poor people,” she explained before going to show him pictures on her phone, of her family interacting with Father Ho Lung. What made her sacrifice even more heartwarming was when the woman explained that she made a living from the sale of plastic bottles.

“I had to hold back tears,” Father Augustine admitted.

However, Father Ho Lung pointed out that a lot of the gifts they have received over the years have come from people who felt compelled to donate, without fully understanding why. He said they continue to be surprised by the kindness of strangers and even the government.

“They will see that we need a broken-down house that we want to convert to a home and they give us the land, they give us the building. There are times when I am just absolutely surprised, people just give us land and this is coming from, ‘This is what the Lord told me to do, give it to the brothers’.”

This scenario has played out time and again, such as when a man gifted the organisation a plot of land heading up to the Blue Mountains, or the story of how they acquired a storehouse.

“A man just said to me, ‘Father, I see that you need buildings’, and give it to us just like that,” he recalled.

He also recounted the kindness of a woman who gave them a place near a river on the north coast to facilitate the relaxation of staff.

Good Shepherd Home fire

However, the act of community selflessness which still resonates with Father Augustine goes back to the August night in 2019, when their Good Shepherd Home at 71 Tower Street burnt to the ground.

Despite the difficulty of working in darkness and being able to access only some sections of the blazing building, every one of the 70 residents, many of them crippled, were rescued.

Now, at the age of 83, as he prepares to hand over the reins of the organisation he has led for more than four decades, Father Ho Lung admitted to having some concerns.

“I realise that it is foolish of me to think that way because it really is in the hands of God and also in the hands of the brothers who God knows when I see the work that they do, when they pour themselves out and there are challenges; the day-to-day demands and so forth, the situations that arise. Just the other day a little girl was murdered just outside our gate. We’re handling situations like that,” Father Ho Lung said.

“Despite the fact that people do really admire us, people come in and they steal. There are other matters, as well. How do we deal with the fact that aside from the homeless and destitute, there are other problems – such as food? People come in off the street just asking for food and we have to find ways to respond,” he continued.

Father Augustine put the rising demands on the organisation’s human and economic capital in context.

“We get at least three, four calls every day for admissions. Some of them we have to refer to other institutions, so it stresses us because we don’t want to refuse anybody but we can’t accept everybody,” shared Father Augustine. “We have all these concerns now such as COVID and spacing, and the government has new rules about housing children and taking care of children, and we have four children’s homes.”

Meanwhile, Father Ho Lung, whose parents were from China and so he was raised as Buddhist, reflected on the impact of their decision to migrate to Jamaica and where that has taken him.

“I am Buddhist in background but became a Christian in Jamaica and that has been the greatest gift to me; to find Christ and to find a way of living that directed me to something purposeful,” he said.

Part of that purpose will be directing this year’s musical, Ruby, a well-anticipated and riveting drama about a woman’s journey to find her rightful place in society; her journey embodying all the love, passion, energy, and power which characterise the most emotionally powerful gemstone after which she is named.