By Norris Burkes Aug 13, 2017
After Becky and I spend a day helping Dan and Elizabeth Christensen distribute food at the Rafael Center in Brussels, Belgium, the 58-year-old assistant pastor from LifePoint Church asks me a question.
“Can you drive a truck?”
I raise a suspicious eyebrow.
“I’ll be out of town the next two weeks, so I need you to be the substitute driver for the center to pick up donated food.” Dan says.
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 is “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.”
In other words, the center feeds and houses not only the marginalized citizens of Belgium, but staffers also help immigrants who can’t attain permanence or are otherwise fearful of returning to their homeland.
Christensen needs me to drive his twice-weekly route to gather donated food from local grocery stores. The foodstuff will stock the Rafael Center’s food bank and be distributed among both center residents and the community poor.
Unsure of my driving status, I agreed to four daily pick-ups. On the following Tuesday, I rendezvous with Mathias, a 54-year old Nigerian long-time resident and my designated navigator.
Outside the center, we walk around the 25-foot box truck, tagged with graffiti. I check the balding tires. I climb into the cab and Mathias slides in beside me with the keys and driving paperwork. Squelching my doubts about the 15-year-old truck, I start the engine and pop the clutch. With the crazy Belgium driving rules, this has the promise of becoming a real European adventure.
The route includes four stops, probably about 15 miles round-trip. Our first stop is a popular supermarket called Carrefour. Mathias and I head into the chilled stock room where we sort through dozens of crates of discarded food.
Mayonnaise and yogurt containers have burst, giving me the feeling that we are dumpster diving. We wipe the crates clean so we can read the contents, but find the soured yogurt expired.
Still we find enough usable food to fill three dozen crates. I back the truck into the loading dock where I quickly realize that I’m expected to help load the heavy cargo.
We drive to two more stores before stopping at the Brussels Food Bank, part of the Belgium Federation of food banks. This place is more organized, but it’s still shorthanded, so Matthias and I spend a lot of time transferring the food from their crates into our crates and then loading the truck.
We return to the center where the residents help us unload. I accidentally bang my head on a metal hinge inside the truck. I rub the forming lump and flippantly ask Mathias if I can file a workers’ compensation claim. No one laughs. They don’t know that luxury.
When we finish, my back aches from the daylong lifting of 30-pound crates. I’m exhausted from the work, but mostly I’m fatigued with the enormity of the task.
According to Eurostat 2016, “In 2015, 121 million people, 23.7 percent of Europe, is at risk of poverty or social exclusion and 43 million of them are not able to afford a quality meal every other day.”
I say a prayer. I ask God’s hand with this enormous task. The answer comes in Matthew West’s song, “Do Something.” West’s song screams at God to do something about poverty, slavery and pain.
“I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’
He said, ‘I did, yeah, I created you’ (now listen)
If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something …”
It occurs to me that sometimes, God gives a hand by allowing my hands to become his, lifting one heavy crate at a time.
Norris can still be reached overseas at 843-608-9715. Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net or write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @chaplain.
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