The Order of Malta today focuses on nobility of spirit and conduct. The Catholic order has dedicated its mission to service and love. What started in Jerusalem has now made its way over to parts of Europe and helps a large community of homeless people in these countries.
Last week, our group had the opportunity to serve the Order of Malta Homeless Shelter in Óbuda, located about a 30-minute metro ride away from the heart of Budapest.
Upon arrival, Mária Sántha, our guest lecturer from the beginning of the trip, gave us a tour of the city she also calls home. The city center was still, empty and quiet. Unlike Budapest, the streets weren’t full of people rushing through crowds to reach their destination.
Mária gave longwinded explanations at each stop we made, showing her passion for her hometown. When we finally reached the homeless shelter where we’d work, Mária stopped us under some trees that provided great shade for our group that was sweaty from only walking a couple miles.
As we stood and looked from afar, we pointed out the dull color of the building. It set the tone for the rest of our day and the things we would see in the coming hours. We walked in and were greeted by the staff and “clients” – that’s what they call the homeless people who come seeking shelter.
Thomás, the director of this Order of Malta facility, took us on a guided tour of the shelter and explained the types of help they provide and the system they use to be most efficient. He was a very knowledgeable, well-spoken and well-educated man. An obvious man of faith, Thomás’ long ponytail and facial hair resembled the hair of Jesus, or at least what we believe the hair of Jesus looks like.
We looked in on the showers as if we had never seen them before, although they resembled the shower locker rooms at Lifetime Fitness. Our next stop was the rooms where the homeless people slept; four to a room, they kept their things very clean and together. No one had things thrown around but instead everything was kept very tidy and it was obvious they took pride in the small amount of items they owned.
After our very somber and eye-opening tour, reality kicked in and we were able to head to the kitchen and prepare a lunch for them. When we walked into the cafeteria area, the tables were full of hungry people. Some missing teeth, some with black eyes, some who looked as if they hadn’t cleaned up in a few days. I was intimidated but nonetheless, ready to serve.
While preparing the open-faced sandwiches, I wondered if it would be enough food for them. How will these sandwiches satisfy their hunger? After we placed each piece of salami, cheese, pepper and tomato on the slices of bread, the sandwiches were served, and man, did they go quickly.
I think the most meaningful part to them was the12 American students who took time out of their busy schedules to come and attempt Hungarian culture. Maybe the sandwiches weren’t the best they ever had but they were made with love and appreciation for what these people go through every day.
Mária requested we sing a few songs: lunch and a show. Seeing the joy on the faces of these people was worth every note we sang. After singing a few “American” songs, from The Beatles to That Good Ole Baylor Line, we wanted to hear a few songs specific to the Hungarian culture and they gladly sang out for us. There was even one point in the “sing-off” when they sang a Hungarian version of Winnie the Pooh and were shocked when we didn’t know it.
Once the singing portion of the afternoon came to an end, they wanted to ask us questions. Thinking the questions would be innocent and typical questions about America, they instead began asking things about politics and homelessness.
Questions like: “Are there homeless people in Texas?” , “What are the programs like for them?” , “How do you help homeless people when you see them?”, “Would I be able to get a job in America if I could get there?”, “Why do you think there is such a problem with immigration?” to comments like “If you are going to welcome refugees, you need to have a place for everyone of them to stay” and “Now all you American’s need to do is build that wall between America and Mexico.”
The questions were very politically charged and showed their intelligence. I felt like I was on the stand in a courtroom. They know what is going on in the world, even though it may not seem like it at times. They see America as the land of opportunity when in reality America has many of its own issues and can’t help some of its own people.
As our time ended, we left on a peaceful note by singing That Good Ole Baylor Line; leaving some Baylor spirit with them. Although they had no idea what the words we sang meant, they loved the English words and especially the sic ‘em at the end.
During our six weeks here, we have been under the impression that Hungarians typically keep to themselves and don’t show much emotion, but in that time we had to sing with the people of the Order of Malta, the love and appreciation they had for their culture and ours was so evident.
Considering the small amount of things they do have, these people have a large gratitude for the smallest of things and it makes me take a step back and makes me more thankful for what I have.