Pope Francis has said, “Do not be afraid to go out to encounter the marginalized. You will find you are going out to meet Jesus.” Dr. Esther Miranda is always up to something in this regard and she is practically bursting with ideas, projects and collaborations, with stories of soul and service.
Esther moved to Bryan-College Station thirty years ago, having grown up in India in the presence of Mother Teresa where the Missionaries of Charity used to meet in her grandfather’s house. “Poverty is much more visible there. Every day there were people at our gate.” Early in life she learned how much getting to know the poor could open her eyes, and she was inspired to do more.
When she came to College Station for the first time, she thought, “OH what a beautiful town!” It seemed so clean and prosperous. She didn’t even see any poor people around. She assumed this was because there were none. She volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic organization that works with people in need (where she is now Vice President,) and was quickly disabused of this notion. “There were people living with no windows, no bed, no electricity! There might be eight people sleeping on the floor, getting up and working all the time but there was no food in the kitchen!”
“It’s about opening eyes, Shawn, opening eyes.”
She goes on to say passionately, “We are the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this messy world! Sometimes we have to reveal the mess to do any good!”
Her favorite representation of Jesus is of him as the Good Shepherd knocking on the door for us. “He is there waiting! In quiet, just ask him to tell you about himself.”
She doesn’t think that is all we should do though.
“So many people want to talk talk talk talk about knowing Jesus.” She thinks the proof is in what we do. As St. Teresa of Avila said, our prayer must lead us to good works.
Esther says, “You want to know Jesus, get in my car! I’ll show you!”
If you’re nervous about meeting those in poverty or crisis, remember, “You don’t have to have all the answers for them. More than anything, listen. They need that! It’s good for us too. We shouldn’t assume they have nothing to teach us.”
Pope Francis says, “The poor always evangelize us because they show us the true Face of the Father.”
After the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus in Rome (259AD,) St. Lawrence was ordered to turn the treasures of the Church over to the Roman government in accordance with the law that an executed Christian should have his property confiscated.
First, Lawrence distributed every bit of it to the poor.
Then he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to deliver, he presented the indigent, the crippled, the blind, the sick and the poor. “These are the true treasures of the Church!”
“OOOOOOH! I LOVE THAT STORY!” cries Dr. Miranda. Of course she does. It’s her story; holding dear and caring for the true treasures of the Church.
Some have objected, “The job of the Church is evangelization.” Esther doesn’t see the conflict. She is evangelizing!
“ Have you ever seen anyone come to church from preaching? I haven’t! If people’s physical and emotional needs aren’t met, none of that stuff makes any sense to them! They can feel Jesus in a warm meal, in someone who cares. They aren’t waiting for a Bible verse, they need someone to care about them and to show it!”
She repeats several times her favorite maxim, “REACH BEFORE YOU TEACH!”
“When someone is hungry and has no place to sleep or take a shower, you give them these things, and you listen to their stories. This is what they need, and to know somebody cares. The next morning, maybe they are feeling a little bit better. You get them some coffee and maybe after breakfast you can say, ‘Would you like to pray with me?’ They may say, ‘yes I would love that,’ or maybe not, or maybe they will do it because you have been kind to them.” We should never judge them or require them to do anything in order to be helped. Always respect their dignity. Then maybe you can find out what to do next to help them along their way.
She says maybe you have planted a seed just giving them a good example of a Christian who is kind and compassionate. “Today this is not the impression a lot of people have of us and it’s very sad. If we can help them see the heart of Jesus in us we will have done something important.”
Dr. Miranda has some tips for being a better listener with people who are in trouble. “If you are talking, ask yourself, ‘Why am I talking?’ Remember to slow down, to pause, to listen. Own what you are about and remember that listening doesn’t threaten that. Welcome what they have to say.”
Esther started a furniture ministry five years ago that has grown from two volunteers to thirty- two and has helped two hundred and fifty local families in need so far.
St. Vincent de Paul and the furniture ministry are not all she wants to do. Esther decided to spend “the year of Covid,” calling every organization that does anything for the poor, getting to know the work they do. She asked each one, “Tell me what doesn’t happen, what frustrates you, what you wish somebody would do.” She found out there was so much she didn’t know about what others were doing.
She realized, “Our beautiful town needs a community center that does not seek to duplicate the work anyone else is already doing. We need a place where anyone, regardless of who they are, can come, where they can easily get answers! When people are in the depths of despair, they don’t need yet another brochure or list of numbers to call, that may end up being a wild goose chase or a series of dead ends. They don’t need to be told to fill out a form online when they don’t have a computer!”
Dr. Miranda envisions a place where a single mom can come in and use the computers for her children’s homework, even ask someone to hold the baby for her.
“If people have one problem, there are a whole slew of problems, complex problems,” she says. We can have the information right there and call for them, help them fill out the forms they need to fill out right there!”
She wants people to be able to come in and be given a cup of coffee or something to eat, have someone listen to them as long as is needed, and walk them through their next steps.
She wants there to be not only a focus on service and collaboration but on education and leadership. There can be skills classes people need to better their lives, classes for people who want to serve, programs to train young people to be community leaders. “Government and churches cannot fix these problems alone. It takes small groups of committed, like- minded people.”
Dr. Miranda is “so grateful, so grateful” for all of the people who have joined her on this journey. “So many wonderful people!” She welcomes everyone to join her in this new echumenical collaboration.
She has dreamed of this but she felt that Jesus said to her not long ago, “Esther! What are you waiting for?”
“So I have to go forward in faith! And Jesus has never once let me down! Everything comes to me when I have that attitude! If one organization or one person won’t help, I try not to let it anger me too much or discourage me! I move on! I move on to the next one, and the next one, and the next! And it’s working! It’s coming together! God is making it happen!”
As for us who are among the more materially fortunate, she says, “We all need places where we can go to get closer to Jesus.” This center will be one.
- This piece originally appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle newspaper in my monthly column. This is the extended uncut interview with Dr. Miranda
I hear you.