I’m chasing a food truck. I leap in through the window of the old Ford Ranger because the driver’s side door doesn’t work. I need those rice and beans.
We cut a deal in front of Jia Wang’s restaurant. Per our agreement, Wilmer brings his food truck on Monday. As we unload 2,000 pounds of rice and 2,000 pounds of beans, he stops in the driveway and begins to cry. His eyes look at dozens of hungry people, these 50-pounds sacks, and at me. “I came to Belize with my family; I was 13 and starving. We had hope as we crossed the border from Guatemala, from the war. But there was no work. No food. We lost our hope. But a Catholic priest found us. He saved us, gave us a shack to live in, kept us alive. Now here I am, standing with you, feeding all these people. People like me.”
Covid-19 closed the doors of our schools. Some 21 months later, the joy of 1,000 voices at play has yet to resound from Mount Carmel Primary School. Lockdowns. Police in the streets. No leaving home except for pharmacy and fuel, finances and food. Then come armed soldiers. Nobody leaves home on Sundays. Two years in prison is the penalty if they catch you after curfew, moving for unapproved purposes, or outside on a Sunday.
Desperation drives people to risk steep fines and harsh prison sentences. At 4:40am, 20 minutes before curfew lifts, 80 people assemble in the street at the church gate for our 40-family food bundles. The first person I have to turn away says, “What do I say to my baby now? I told her I was leaving to get food so she wouldn’t have to cry anymore.” All I give him is a donated piece of bread. That afternoon, I learn one of his daughters is our student at the junior college. Jacqueline responds to my message. “It is okay we didn’t get food, Father. I am just happy that some people are getting something. It helps all of us to see that people care.” The following week, Jacqueline helps us expand our efforts to share faith and frijoles. I apologized again. “Father, that bread was given to my dad with love. And it was enough that we all got to share in that love.” She identified 25 needy families and brought them to the junior college for faith teaching and food bundles. Somehow a moment of sorrow multiplied through relationships into something beautiful for God.
We begin to give. Eventually, 2,500 people receive nourishment from the Church each week—4,000 pounds of rice and of beans! We received a donation of 30,000 bananas. Scores of massive frozen fish. Youth groups sack food. Junior college students give faith talks. The sisters shepherd the peripheries. The volunteer remnant give food everywhere. Carrying food lets us be on the street. Our SOLT initiative swells until 150 parishioners are volunteering. We bring faith and frijoles to the out-of-work needy. Strangers pray together and neighbors serve neighbors. Dawn breaks upon us. Through a time of darkness, love begins to triumph. During the long lockdown in Benque, we could hear the rumble of a slow-rolling stone. In Jesus Christ, Benque arose.
Fr. Beau Schweitzer, SOLT was ordained a priest in 2015. He is originally from Idaho and has been serving in Benque Viejo, Belize since his ordination.