Doing God's Work
By Shereen Ann Ali. Published in TTARP Magazine, issue 1, 2022.
Link to magazine: https://ttarp.org/portfolio-posts/issue-1-10/
Rhonda Maingot’s sense of faith guides her along unconventional pathways. Her resilient spirit ripples out like waves, touching many people’s lives.
But if you were to ask her where she found the energy to create Living Water Community with Rose Jackman in 1975, and the many missions that flowed from it in later years, she’d simply say: “The Lord alone.”
Maingot, who’s earned a Chaconia Gold medal (2014) for her community service, talked to us from an upstairs meeting room at Living Water Community recently. In the room is a whiteboard headlined “Do not be afraid” in capital letters. Beneath it is a list of words: change; suffering; the unknown; separation; conflict; and others. It’s like a workshop on personal resilience—finding the courage to face life’s inevitable challenges.
“I was born and grew up in Pointe-a-Pierre, one of seven children,” Maingot shared. She enjoyed growing up in the oil company compound because of its strong sense of community. “Pointe-a-Pierre was a camp, like a big family. So, everybody was your Auntie and Uncle. When you went to school, or got on the bus, you knew everyone.”
She has fond childhood memories of playing kick the pan after school, and riding box-carts on the hills with other teenagers. She was also a water baby: she loved the sea. “We children were always by the jetty, bathing and diving. I could swim very well.”
Maingot liked going to Church on mornings to attend Mass, and sang in the church choir as a teenager. “But in those days,” she recalls, “we sang Latin. It was lovely.”
Maingot’s grandmother was an early religious influence. “Granny would spend time with us when I was a child. We were close to her. And she was a very religious person. She always had a rosary in her hand, and she’d say, ‘Come, you have to ask the Sacred Heart of Jesus for this,’ and pray. She instilled faith into us.”
Maingot entered the working world at 16, right after sitting her O’ Level exams. An early job was doing the books at an American oil firm. Although she had no formal training, she quickly learned the ropes of administration and accounting, and helped calculate the weekly payroll for some 1,200—1,500 people every week.
Maingot’s working life changed when her family migrated to Barbados, where her father ran gas stations. Soon, Rhonda found herself managing those gas stations for him, at the age of 18.
After three years, she returned to Trinidad. In her 20s, she enjoyed going out, partying, and was a big Carnival fan. She recalls: “I loved Carnival. I went to town in costume with Wayne Berkeley every year.”
Then, at the age of 28, in 1975, she had an experience of spiritual transformation. She described experiencing “a wave of peace, entering the top of my head, flowing right through my whole being. I could just feel it like a whole thing moving through my whole being, right through my torso, right through my legs, right out my feet, and as if I was lifted up from the bed.”
By the next day, a Friday, she was ready to quit her job and start a new kind of life. She sold her car, most of her possessions, and for a while was drawn to the idea of a monastic life. But God had other plans.
Her family were concerned; some thought she was crazy. Maingot remembers the genuine concern of her brother, who told her:
“I believe in God too, but this is ridiculous. How can you do this? How can you give up your job? What are you going to live on? It just doesn’t make sense!”
Within months, Maingot and her friend Rose Jackman (formerly a nun, Sister Assumpta of Rosary Convent in St Ann’s) formed the Living Water Community. Jackman had decided to leave life at the Convent to join Maingot in her new mission.
Maingot got herself a little motor scooter, and began helping families in need.
In 1976, she and Jackman started a prayer group which met every Wednesday. At first it was just the two of them. But after two years, the word spread, and it grew.
By 1980, Living Water Community was able to buy permanent headquarters, an old office building at 109 Frederick Street, Port of Spain. Community members worked hard to refurbish it, knocking down walls and building a base for prayer and outreach work. It opened in June 1981.
The Community grew to become a vibrant lay ecclesiastical movement for the poor and suffering. It became the wellspring from which flowed many other community missions. These include centres for the homeless, a halfway house for abandoned children, a hospice for the terminally ill, a home for the aged, drug rehabilitation centres, development programmes for young women, and most recently, child-friendly spaces for migrant children.
In 1993, the Community founded the Trinity Television Network. The Community also founded viable small businesses such as the Vision of Hope garment factory for young women, and a much-loved coffee shop on the ground floor of LWC headquarters, which also runs a popular breakfast and lunch service.
At the core of the Community today are 25 people who live by religious vows of commitment. Maingot explained: “We consecrate our lives to God, and we promise celibacy, simplicity of life, obedience to the spirit of the Community and the Church. We have a deep prayer life at home.”
Although her work with the poor, the homeless, the addicted and the troubled has exposed her to some of Trinidad’s darker sides, Maingot is resolutely optimistic, and proud to call herself a Trinidadian. She shares:
“If I had to choose a place to live in the world, it’s Trinidad I’d choose, you know. I love my country and I am Trini to the bone. Trinidad is the most beautiful place for me. The people of Trinidad for me are just very special.”
She is not, however, blind to Trinidad’s problems. She reflected:
“We have seen a real breakdown of family life. We’ve seen an anger coming to the society, and disrespect for people. We have degenerated as a people.
“It seems that we have dethroned faith, and we have put in its place secularism and notions of entitlement, and individual rights, which in themselves are not bad things, but there’s no avenue for God. We have left God out. And that is the biggest pain…We will not have a world if people don’t believe in God.”
Maingot believes the elderly are a treasured part of our communities, with a lot to offer. Yet too often, people exclude them.
Maingot thinks there are many things the elderly can do to stay active and connected to others. “For example, my mother, when she was 80, would come once or twice a week into our LWC kitchen, and peel potatoes, just to help.” It can be the simplest of things.
She believes we must respect and care for our older people, and that young folk can learn a lot from their insights and life experiences.
“The elderly in a family is part of a young person’s history, to help them move forward,” said Maingot. She quoted Pope Francis: “Grandparents are like the wisdom of the family, they are the wisdom of a people.”
She values the work of TTARP in its advocacy for the rights of senior citizens, saying: “I think TTARP has contributed to helping the elderly find their place in society.”
Maingot is now 75 years old (in 2022, when this article was written), and laughs when I ask her if she now considers herself to be retired.
“Retired? I did that when I was 28!”