By Norris Burkes Aug 20, 2017
With mealtime approaching, I take my wife, Becky, to a nearby patio restaurant that serves American hamburgers. We both order an American burger with Belgium fries because this is my idea of fusion cuisine.
We are determined that nothing will spoil this meal. Other diners eat their burgers with a fork and knife, but they will not shame us. Men smoke cigarettes nearby, but they will not irritate us. The meal fills our homesick souls.
As we stand and walk away from our table, a smoker emerges from behind a tree, devours the leftover bread on Becky’s plate and is quickly gone.
Honestly, I feel a bit guilty having stuffed myself in front of a hungry man.
While guilt can be self-destructive, God can use it like a smoke detector telling us that something is wrong.
Something is most definitely wrong. Hunger is what’s wrong.
On the following day, Becky and I return to the Rafael Center. If you’ve followed my columns this month, you’ll know the Rafael Center is an old hospital repurposed in 1994 to house more than 380 homeless people.
According to the center’s Facebook page, it’s “an intercultural Christian community based in Brussels that seeks to provide and achieve care, reception, integration and education of immigrants and other people in need.”
The center employs a unique strategy. They use refugees to help the homeless and underserved communities of Brussels. In other words, the helpless are encouraged to become the helpers.
Becky and I arrive at 9 a.m. to find Rafael residents offloading a truck of groceries from the Belgium food bank. It’s the same truck I’d driven the previous week. There are probably a few Belgians glad I don’t drive it more often.
Rafael residents come from many corners of the globe. However, this day I work with strikingly handsome and muscular African men from Nigeria, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. These are folks who’d been unable to establish residency because of paperwork snafus or family matters. They come to Rafael to snag a last bit of hope in this seedier corner of Brussels.
After the truck is unloaded, Becky and I spend the next hour helping pack the food into bags we will allot to the dozens of community residents lining up outside the front door.
Finally, at 10.a.m., everyone mans their distribution stations. The doors are opened enough to let people in one by one. The line is filled with families, single parents, disabled, addicts, aged and LGBT. However, nearly all who’ve come for help are Belgian citizens and, for whatever reason, aren’t making it on their meager income.
Each person shows their identity papers and then pushes a rolling cart through our line to fill it with free groceries. They are getting help from people who seem more hopeless than they are.
It’s a long morning, sometimes filled with arguments from those who feel shorted, while other sad cases are physically unable to stand in line. But still, most leave with enough to eat or perhaps trade for things they really need.
They remind me of the homeless man back at our burger restaurant. He’d passed too quickly to help, but, in some ways, I think we help him by helping others. Jesus backed up that thought in his teaching that whatever we do for the poor, the hungry, the naked, or the imprisoned, we do for God.
Such is the daily hand-to-hand work of places like Rafael Center.
Unfortunately, the mission of the Rafael Center is threatened with ill repair. If your church or organization is seeing an overseas humanitarian opportunity, please call me at 843-608-9715. Or email me [email protected]. Read more at my blog at burkesbums.com.