When Father William Beers speaks on Sunday, in a different church each week, he doesn’t use prepared remarks. Rather, he draws on his 17 years of experience as a speaker for Food For The Poor, and from the dozen or so mission trips he has taken.
Fr. Bill, an Episcopal priest, was in Nicaragua in July with a group of pastors and priests from our Speakers Bureau.
There, he met a woman who, he says, looked about 80 years old, though she was only 60. She lives with her daughters and her granddaughters, and Fr. Bill visited their home. He knows that he will speak about her at some point, but not quite yet.
“I have to let her live inside me and let her story percolate inside of me for a few weeks.”
Fr. Bill says that his direct experience visiting the poor in the countries that we serve allows him to connect with parishioners.
“Our credibility and our rapport with the people in the congregation really depends on being able to convey truth to them,” he says of the speakers. “Finding Christ in the poor has to come from personal experience.”
He continues, “They have to believe me. They have to know that I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. It’s the story about that woman or that child or that slum or that orphanage. That’s how I connect with the people on Sunday.”
Fr. Bill also bases his talks at the week’s Gospel message. He can often relate those teachings to something he has witnessed firsthand.
On his most recent mission trip, Fr. Bill met a couple who were living together with their children. He says this is very unusual. In his experience, men are working far from their families or have left home for some other reason. In this case, he met the couple, Reina Isabel and Ariel, in their home, or as he describes it, their “hovel”.
He was moved by the experience of seeing a young man, 42 years old, whom he describes as “handsome, thin and distraught.”
Ariel works as a farmer for part of the year, but there is often no way for him to find work and he has no other job skills. Yet he stays with his family, loyal to them and defending them, hoping for some support or a way out of desperate poverty.
Fr. Bill says that he must return again and again to Nicaragua and other impoverished countries for himself, as well as for his work with Food For The Poor.
He asks himself, and those he speaks to, “How serious are we about this life, the gift that we’ve been given? Is there anything we’re supposed to do in return for this wonderful life we’ve been given?”
He adds, “I think people are in church because they’re hungry for something. People are coming to church parched.”
In addition to his work with Food For The Poor, Fr. William Beers served as a hospital chaplain for many years. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in religion and the social sciences, and taught sociology at the University of Connecticut and James Madison University. He is a husband, a father and a grandfather, as well as a tri-athlete and a marathoner.
Sometimes when he speaks, he compares our life in the U.S with the experience of those in the Third World.
He says, “Whatever I preach, I take up the situation that we live in and translate to how it is to live in abject poverty.”
“Part of what I do on Sunday is to bring that living experience of the poor into that church,” he says, adding, “That’s when I know I’ve done a good job on a Sunday: when our world and their world come together and they get it.”