Willy Provides A Lesson on Giving Back

Willy Provides A Lesson on Giving Back

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


Willy, who was born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic, has lived in that country all his life. The two nations make up the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. But because of a long-standing bigotry toward those of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, Willy is relegated to living in a shantytown—a slum of major proportions—on a muddy mountainside, with little or no services.

He lives on a shoestring, as the saying goes, getting a small stipend from Health Horizons International, a non-governmental agency that was co-founded by a family physician, and friend of ours, several years ago. Its mission is to improve the quality of medical care in the country, which is no small endeavor. It does so while delivering basic medical care to villages such as Willy’s.

Willy, despite all the obstacles, works every day for HHI who trained him as a

community health worker. He is intelligent, but college isn’t likely, nor is a “good” job, due to very discriminatory attitudes in Dominican society. He continues to live and work in his home community. When my wife Barbara and I had the opportunity to see one of the communities HHI serves, it was Willy who was our guide for the day.

Humbled does not begin to describe our feelings when I asked Willy why he does what he does He said very simply, “I have to give back.” No frilly answer! Simply, what to him was a fact of life, “I have to give back.” That was it!

That response put life in a clearer perspective. With or without the material things and easy living, meaning is found in the realization that we are part of the human family and have something to contribute. Not to do so negates our need to contribute, and our humanity.

After our tour, Barbara and I were sharing our feelings about the day. Both of us said we wished everyone could meet Willy and learn something. We sure did.

As I am forever trying to gain insight into older adults, I had an “Aha” moment. So

many older adults have learned the wrong lesson and unconsciously found reasons to no longer give back, seeing their needs and limitations as excuses for doing so. Willy would lead them to do otherwise. He may not have the physical limitations so many older adults have, but limitations are his reality. Even so he still finds a way to be constructively involved in the needs of others.

Willy gets what the church, when it is at its best, understands, which any spiritual movement understands, what Jesus taught. To find the fullness of life that Jesus offers, we, at any age, have to give back.

Churches, in their ministry with older adults do well to consider ways to involve them in actively giving back. Most shut-ins can still write notes, make phone calls, and actively pray for the congregation and pastor. Almost everyone can be encouraged to deliberately love others and find ways to demonstrate it. There are no limits to “giving back.” Don’t shortchange older adults, expect that they too can, and need to, “give back.”