See, I am doing a new thing!
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
I needed to get this down before the marks from Haiti faded from my body — the scratch on my arm from a fence in the tent city, a scrape on my knee from the roof of the Terre Noire church, mystery bruises from who knows where, a dozen mosquito bites. And I needed to get this down before the memories dulled, before a busy life flooded back into the space created by our time there, and before, frankly, I forgot what happened.
There isn’t a one word answer to the question, “How was your trip?”. The first time someone asked, I burst into tears. The second time, I paused to consider each of the answers available to me — good, great, wonderful, amazing, fantastic, beautiful, incredible, profound, sobering, complicated, troubling, convicting, difficult. It was all those words and none of them at the same time. So I say it was incredible when people ask, but that’s not what I really want to say. This is.
There’s nothing holy about poverty. Being poor can rob you of your humanity, but it doesn’t excise your human nature—having nothing doesn’t exempt you from jealousy or rage or lust or ill will. Yet … it does seem to narrow the space between you and God. If you do not have the means to build your life up as an altar to yourself—the education you got and the job you got with it, the house you bought, the car and the TV and the pile of possessions that grows up around you like tall grass–you have precious little to tear down so you can catch a glimpse of Christ. He’s right there, just there, and all you have to do is take a step forward. If your hands are already empty there’s nothing you have to drop so you can grasp His hands.
There’s a woman at our church named Katherine Wolf who had a massive brain stem stroke at 26—her story is truly a miracle and her faith is a beautiful thing to behold (you can read it at http://www.hope-heals.com). Today, she walks with a cane and one side of her face is paralyzed, her voice weakened by a frozen vocal cord. In a video they showed during Easter service she said something that stuck to my ribs: “I’m showcasing on the outside what everyone feels on the inside, which is brokenness and hardship and pain …”
Those words came rushing back to me in Haiti, after I’d taken one more photo of yet another tent city we’d passed and felt despair again over the awful conditions tens of thousands of people were living in, had been living in, and would continue to live in for the near future and maybe much longer. And not just the Haitians but hundreds of millions living in similar conditions around the world. I thought about Katherine’s words and the parallel hit me in the face– the exterior poverty in front of me was exactly the same as the inner poverty back home. The hidden conditions of our hearts made visible.
There is a lot of progress being made in that country. Thankfully we had people on our team who had visited last year and could speak to it: several tent cities gone, roads paved, traffic lights installed, a school where there wasn’t one. There are many amazing organizations like Haiti Outreach Ministries (who we were there with) working to bring medicine and education and clean water to the people who desperately need them, and no lack of short term teams like ours from all over the U.S. and abroad willing to help rebuild churches, schools, clinics, houses. God is at work in Haiti, He is on the move, and His presence is palpable—it seemed like you could hardly walk a foot without bumping elbows with Him, brushing against His sleeve, catching His glance.
Something can and will be done to remedy all that lacks in that beautiful and broken country, but what of the different sort of lack in ours? You can’t send an NGO in to relieve the poverty of the heart. You can’t bring a team in to silence the cultural din drowning out the voice of Christ. You can’t take up a donation of any amount of money for a fund that will get people to stop for a moment, be silent, and acknowledge what lies within–the rubble and ruin and barrels of burning trash, the open sewers, the leaning tents made of sticks and old tarps, overrun by half naked children and skinny wild dogs. In Haiti, every good thing is a small (or sometimes large) miracle–a roof without leaks, clean drinking water, enough food to fill your stomach–and it’s perfectly, beautifully clear that every last thing you have is from God. Here? We are our own gods, and our good things are our own creations. Maybe our lives look pretty great, or maybe that inner tent city is bleeding through, but it’s there regardless. And most of our culture is wrapped up in trying to distract us from noticing it.
I knew (and told my team several times) that it would take a while for me to process what I’d seen, and I guess as I’m writing this out I’m a little surprised by what’s come out of the process. My heart has been broken in witnessing the raw need of the Haitians, and I’m committed to doing what I can to alleviate it. But the pressing hope I feel for their country has left me a bit frightened for my own. Our needs are much, much fewer and yet in some ways so much greater. And I can’t tackle that with tools and paint brushes or donations to worthy causes, I can only pray and love people. It’s sobering. But ultimately, I’m thankful–SO thankful for this eye-opening experience and the things that God has and will continue to bring out of it. It was quite an amazing thing to witness what can happen when people pray that dangerous, wonderful two word prayer: Use me.