These past four months I was lucky enough to spend the winter in Key West, Florida. This was my fourth year there and I felt called to contribute something beyond putting money in the Sunday morning collection.
St. Mary’s Church bulletin had a request for volunteers to help St.Martha’s Ministry prepare food for the soup kitchen and food bank. Four nuns with lay volunteers make food 365 days of the year for the disadvantaged and homeless.
St.Mary’s was founded by Cuban Jesuits in the mid nineteenth century; it’s now staffed by diocesan priests who are social justice minded. Four sisters from Tanzania Africa live in the convent above St. Martha’s Ministry kitchen.
My first day Sister asked me if I would be willing to make 150 peanut butter and cranberry jelly sandwiches? She showed where the donated bread and other supplies were kept. A half hour later she came to my work station and said: “we make these sandwiches with love.”
I have never made so many sandwiches before, but when I reflected later I thought about the people who would eat them. I would not meet them, because they were distributed at a different location. I didn’t know their names, but God not only did, but also knew that they were “made with love.”
The sisters are kind, and their peace and joy is palpable. One of them told me that she was raised in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. She said Tanzania gets chilly in winter, and it was cold walking to school shoeless. During the following week I thought of her whenever I felt like complaining.
After a few months when I told them I was coming home to Canada, they told me how much they liked my presence in their kitchen: “because you are peaceful.” I wanted to tell them that they inspired me with their joyfulness, but I found myself starting to tear up, so I kept silent.
These African nuns witness the true meaning of Christianity. The old adage worked for me about getting more out of helping others, than the people being helped. I was moved just by being present quietly beside the sisters “making sandwiches with love.”