Friends and family,
Round two has arrived. Due to busy schedules and technological difficulties it has taken some time to post this. We both have a section again. Courtney will go first again. Enjoy.
Today, I live in Haiti. I say these words not to repeat old news to you, but to remind myself that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”. This morning we dropped a team off at the airport. They are now in the air and making their way back to the States. It isn’t until the bus ride back to Jumecourt Inn that I’m finally able to have a true moment alone and retreat into my thoughts. I’m currently reading “Ruined for the Average: Finding God’s Riches in Haiti”. To read a book about the plight of orphans or the brokenness of a country from the comfort of your own home could perhaps allow an emotional response, maybe even create a desire to become engaged and “do something”. But to read a book about the realities my eyes encounter daily is a completely different experience.
And something has changed.
We drive through downtown Port-au-Prince and I forget to notice the trash encompassing life in Haiti. We pass mountainsides and I miss the over-populated, crumbling houses. I see passing faces and am blind to a deformity or missing limb. This is Haiti. From the world’s eye this is ash. This place is described with words such as dirty, poor, God-forsaken, messy, and dangerous. But really, isn’t this description synonymous with our condition before Christ chose to enter into our reality, our depravity? Without Christ we are messy, poor and dirty. We can’t possibly lift ourselves from our own wantonness. In the same way the Haitian people walk around in the trash-cluttered streets, we walk around in our trash-cluttered lives covering our garbage with comforts, materials, and distractions, pretending to be ok, to be good enough, to not need anyone, especially a Savior. Oh, but if only you could hear these people when they sing and audibly pray the words “Merci Seigneur” (thank you Savior). I need to correct that previous sentence…they don’t just sing or pray, they cry out! They shout their thanks and their need. In the midst of physical filth they lift their hands and are eternally cleansed, anticipating the day they’ll live in their home eternal in the heavens (2 Corinthians 5:1). I place my face in my hands and tears meet them. I am envious of the love these people have for their Savior, their King. Their inability to change their circumstances make them all the more hopeful of the day they meet this King who traded their place on the cross and loves and knows each of them dearly and intimately.
We are missing it.
Do you know that the same Christ that these people cry out to is the same Christ that we can experience? Do you know that, despite some church or cultural traditions, you can raise your hands toward Him, you can shout praise to Him, you cry out in anguish to Him, you can sing “halleluiah” to Him, you can share your excitement with Him, you can vent your frustrations to Him, you can give it ALL to Him? Why, oh why, do we hold back? Why have we adopted this “too cool for school” mentality? Instead of filling our lush sanctuaries with awe and praise, we come before the Holy of Holies with our hands in our pockets, eyes glazed with a lack of zeal, and believe He accepts this “gift” of worship. Friends, who are we to claim the name of Christ on Sunday yet claim the names of Me, Myself, and I the other six days?
We need a change.
And no, not an Obama-care kind of change. In fact, change is too timid a word. What we need is a collision. We need to collide with the Creator of the Universe and walk away radically altered – for His holiness and His purposes. We need to be stripped of our entitlements and recognize that, before God, we hold nothing in our hands. Now, I am not claiming that we are nothing and of no value. On the contrary, we know from Genesis that God created us in His image and values us enough to trade His Son for us. What I am claiming is that we can bring nothing to God that He hasn’t already created or given to us in the first place. So why not come before Him, empty hands uplifted, and offer Him our lives? As Jim Elliot said, “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (1949). But what does a collision with the Savior look like? If you will, allow me to share my collision experience…
About 5 months ago, I was given the opportunity to come to Haiti for the first time. Assuming what most Americans assume when they come, I thought I would be helping and blessing people, working in the name of Jesus, etc. And yes I was doing all those things, but not in the way I imagined. But the paradox occurred when these things (blessings) I was “doing” for others was reciprocated to me 10 fold. Our second day we drove 3 hours up into the mountains to a village called Hinche. This village is not visited as often as the other Global Orphan villages due to its location. When our group pulled in the children surrounded our bus, shouting and jumping with excitement that we had come to play with them and love them. Still unsure of my role, but excited to be there, I stepped off the bus and began to wander around the chaotic jubilation. I stopped when I saw a small girl, braids covering her head, looking up at me timidly. I could see she was slightly overwhelmed by the large group we had brought. I bent down to her level and smiled at her. She returned that with an even bigger smile and a laugh, and then reached up for me to hold her. We were bound together for the rest of the day, playing, laughing, and eventually, her falling asleep in my arms.
In the 20 seconds it took for that first interaction to take place, this little girl showed me what my posture toward Christ should look like. With arms reaching high, hands fully open, awaiting my bigger arms to wrap around her, God used this little messenger to tell me, “this is what I want from you, child”. That’s it. God wants me. God wants you. God desires you. And God desires that you would long for Him in the same way that little girl yearned for my love and affection. On the other side of that, God also revealed that He delights in Me, in my time, in my affection, in my adoration, in my attention, in the same way that little girl does. Our heavenly Father JOYS in us when we JOY in Him. The Creator of All doesn’t need us for Him to be glorified, but He DELIGHTS to have us delight in Him and He DESIRES His children to desire Him.
Having the love of Christ taught to you in 20 seconds by a tiny Haitian orphan who can’t speak English – that, my friends, is a cataclysmic collision.
We need a collision. We need to collide with the unfathomable Creator, Father, and Savior, and walk away radically altered, shouting “Merci Seignuer! Thank you Savior!” My prayer for you as you are reading this is that you would experience collision. I pray God provides that opportunity for you; whether that occurs in Haiti, in another country, in your church or your community group, at your kitchen table, over your cup of coffee, standing in the grocery line, in a conversation with a friend, watching your child play and need you, or however He chooses to do it. May God collide so fiercely with you that you can’t stand anymore the idea of being average, of being complacent, of claiming Christianity for the sake of wearing the badge. I pray you meet God and that His reality explodes to life for you, that you fall in love with Him and fall in love with pursuing Him, as He will pursue you. Friend, and fellow Child of God, I implore you to stop settling. You are called to a greater life. Everything you’ve longed for cannot satisfy your thirst, but Christ can. And all you have to do to start shedding the lies of the Enemy you’ve believed for so long is this…cry out to Jesus and say “Thank you Savior”. Amen.
The other week we had a church from Wichita, Kansas, come stay at Jumecourt as a reservation (when they use Jumecourt just as a hotel, they pay per night/meal). This group was in Haiti to work with a village they sponsor called Balan, it is just 30-40 minutes down the road from us close to the Dominican border. On one of our days off this group invited us to join them.
The issue. There were about two hundred people that came to the village and a lot of them were malnourished. Every couple of minutes a child would come up to you and rub their belly and ask “manje” which means “food” in Creole. The dilemma is that I do indeed have food but all my experience has taught me that feeding children in large groups causes problems, BIG problems. I think back to a story a team member told me from her first trip to Haiti (a year ago). She was over at Source de la Grace (one of Global Orphan’s villages), which was connected to Jumecourt before a wall was built to divided the two compounds. There is a small window in a shipping container turned store (a part of the clinic that is on the other side of the wall) that had chips for sale. This well-intentioned woman wanted to bless the children by giving them all a small bag of Doritos and, if it only cost $10 to feed all 80 of them, why would you not? Well, needless to say, she got a lot more than she bargained for and in her own words “It was the scariest thing I have ever seen in my life”. The people in the store could not hand her the bags of chips through the tiny hole fast enough and thus the term feeding frenzy was exhibited. The kids started fighting over the chips and the well-intentioned blessing became a curse. The security guards had to come and pull the kids off each other. Lesson learned. This is a perfect example of when helping hurts, which is also the title of a book that is full of story’s with equally tragic consequences of well-intentioned givers. That is, in a lot of ways, the reality of Haiti and how it has gotten to where it is now. Haiti sustained 3 hurricanes and then a 7.0 earthquake. Hundreds of thousands died, those who weren’t crushed in the rubble began to starve. There was and still is great need. The watching world rushed in to help and came bringing gifts of free rice, free clothes and chicken for pennies on the dollar. Initially this was a great help to feed the starving that lost their homes and livelihoods. But a long-term consequence emerged as the donations continued after the immediate need. I’m not a business major but it doesn’t take a genius to know that you can’t compete with free. And all the people who supported their families by growing rice, by making or selling clothes, or by raising and selling chicken suddenly found themselves completely out of business. Whoops. This is all a very simplified version of a complex problem in Haiti, but I use it to give an example, or more of an admonishment of the dangers that our good intentions can have.
Ok now back to my first story, dozens of malnourished kids are coming up to me asking for food. What is my responsibility as a human, or more importantly a Christian? Mathew 25 issues a biblical mandate to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty. It scares me that Jesus says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat” (Math 25: 41-42). And James would also condemn the inactive, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:15-17). But how can these two realities coexist? What are we to do? Are we damned if we don’t and damned if we do? Should I look into the eyes of the starving and say “Sorry kid, I read in a book that I shouldn’t give you food because it will teach you that you don’t have to provide for yourself? Or “Sorry kid I had a bad experience once, not doing that again”. I truly ask myself and wonder what would Jesus do in that situation? He can feed thousands with a loaf of bread and a fish. But for some reason I can’t multiply my Nature Valley bar to feed 5. So what do I do? I can feed one or two my meager snacks and they will be hungry again in a couple of hours. Or I can watch their confused faces as they watch me eat the snacks that I said I didn’t have.
I tell this story only to help capture the helplessness I felt on that day. I don’t think that my salvation was in question in those moments. But it really challenged me having this very pressing need and not knowing what to do about it.
God has been challenging me a lot during my time in Haiti. I want to share two stories.
We are driving in the mountains on the way to visit a village in Hinche, which is about 3 hours away from Jumecourt. As we drive I begin to watch the people and I notice people spending a lot of time doing things that we can do instantly in America. For instance, getting water. This is a 30 second chore in America. I bet if you’re in your house right now you could get up and have access to clean drinking water within 30 seconds from one of the maybe 10-30 sources of clean drinking water available to you within your house. Then I think of the people who live on the mountain tops an hour away from Jumecourt. Odines, one of our translators, told me that they have no sources of running water on the mountain so someone has to hike 2.5 hours down the mountain then 2.5 hours back up everyday just to get water. When we arrive at Hinche I see one of the mommas doing laundry and she works and doesn’t even finish her load in the 3 hours we are there. Then we get back on the bus and I see people walking their livestock to the market, which is probably a few hours away. I think about how much free time we have in America. How much we are able to accomplish in a day. I mean we could throw a load of clothes in the laundry, fill up a water bottle and then take our cows to market in half the time it took someone in Haiti to do one of those tasks. And then with the rest of our day we could listen to a sermon, volunteer for a charity, tell that homeless guy about Jesus and still have time to watch like 5 episodes of Lost. But does it matter? It was hitting me that so many people in the world spend the majority of their lives doing the things that need to be done so they can survive just to do them again tomorrow. Find food, find water, find shelter. And is my life any more valuable than theirs? Is God so pleased by MY striving, by MY accomplishments, by MY résumé? Am I any more valuable to the Kingdom than the man that spends half his day just procuring clean drinking water? Am I any closer to God, made any more in His image? I swallow hard… Forgive me Lord for thinking otherwise.
The next day we lead our team to the nearby village that is run by pastor Calix. I have been conducting a little experiment with the group that we are leading this week seeing the difference in how well behaved the kids are based on whether or not we bring toys. My hypothesis is that generally the kids will be better behaved if we get off the bus, bringing nothing and just spend the entire time building relationships and playing, hugging, tickling, chasing and carrying them. Conversely, that if we get off the bus and begin to just hand out toys, not only will certain chaos ensue, but our team will not be able to build good relationships with the kids because they will be more interested in the toys than in the team. And thus far my hypothesis was being proven correct. (This is not to say that that toys are in anyway forbidden, but just more of a strong de-emphasis on giving vs. being with the kids). Anyway back to Calix. I am sitting outside of the village with my back leaned up again the massive sliding metal door, by butt sitting on hard pavement with Wendy (pronounced “Wenday”) sitting on my lap coloring. As one of the other children flip through the color book pages she discovers a hidden page of stickers. At that same moment one the team members standing above her also witnesses her discovery and quickly reaches down and takes the book from her hand and pulls the stickers out of the book (before coming to the village we ask that no one give out anything to the kids because it will pretty much always lead to fights). The girl becomes quite upset and starts to speak in Creole and conveys to all the other kids in the area that there are stickers. Instead of sitting quietly on laps coloring, all 5 of the kids sitting outside only care about getting stickers. The one girl who initially discovered the stickers spends the next 40 minutes just standing by the front of the bus asking every team member that passed by for the stickers (in Creole) to no avail. The girl eventually figured out that I was telling every passing team member to not let the kids on the bus or to let them have anything off of the bus and she directed her frustration at me in the form of a good old fashioned Creole tongue lashing that was punctuated by a surprisingly painful hair pull. Even Wendy (who I had hung out with the last 3 times I have been to Calix) was upset and wouldn’t play with me anymore. So I just sat there by myself thinking “Well that’s the last time we bring coloring books to Calix”. I was upset and even a little embarrassed. I’m supposed to be leading this group and now I have a small child rebellion on my hands. And then I also remembered that the trip leader’s church sponsored this village and I thought “man it’s embarrassing how these kids are acting right now, they have come so far and worked so hard to just hang out with them and just because they didn’t get one thing they wanted they throw a fit and don’t want to hang out at all”. As I sat there brooding in my frustration I felt the Lord whisper to me “Really? You have never acted this way? How many times have you asked for something that I didn’t give you and you acted this same way?”