It seems like I learn something or gain spiritual insight each and every time I visit Haiti. The lessons come more subtly now, but they are still there.
April 1st was my ninth trip to Haiti and my fourth trip to the island of La Gonave. For fear of losing these lessons or feelings… I’m writing them out. The last couple of weeks that have followed this trip have been full of emotional highs and lows. The next weekend after we returned was Easter and we had a retreat with the church. More emotional and spiritual highs. As I am coming down from the high and settling back into the normal I want to make sure I don’t… settle back into the normal. Meaning, I can’t lose some of this fire even though life is getting routine again.
Through the Eyes of a Child
I took the above photo while we were in La Gonave. This young boy never spoke. I don’t know his name but he took a shine to me. At one point we were walking around and praying for people. Now a hand full of white guys walking around this part of Haiti is completely unheard of. So we attract a lot of attention. The children just throw away all inhibitions and chase after us. Before long we have kids walking with us and holding our hands. This little boy kept looking at me while I was walking. I already had a child on both sides of me holding my hands. A girl who was a little older than he, presumably a sister, was one of them. She reached over and took the boy’s hand and put it into mine replacing her own. The boy grinned from ear to ear but still never said a word. He just squeezed my hand tightly.
The people we visit on La Gonave are some of the poorest people on planet Earth. My little friend here wore that same orange shirt the whole time we were there. He wore no pants and I don’t think underwear is even a thing over there. He had no shoes. This child followed me everywhere. After I got home, I was going through my photos and saw the photo above which I mainly took because he had sand burrs in his hair. I snapped the shot then pulled them out for him. But as I was cropping the photo (to hide the burrs) and getting ready to use it, I noticed something. I was just looking into his little face with that expression of longing and amazement which was almost saying, “are you here to help me?”. Look closely at his eyes… go ahead and click on it. If you look closely you can very clearly see my image being reflected in his eyes.
When I noticed that, a flood of responsibility hit me. Because that’s the same look I have when I look to my Father in heaven. When I saw myself in this child’s eyes I realized how I had been a reflection of our Father. Not because of any good qualities I have, but because I was there doing what He would do. What a weight I felt all of the sudden. I thought of how I reach up to heaven in my time of hurt and need, looking for comfort and love from the only one who can provide it. Then I saw this boy reaching up to me looking for comfort and love. What a responsibility! We often talk about being God’s representatives and ambassadors here on Earth but never had the concept hit home like it was here. It’s one thing to say we are ambassadors, it’s another to see someone so desperate look up to you with such longing. I don’t know what he was doing with his hand in the photo, but it looks like he is cupping his ear as if waiting on a reply to that hypothetical question. YES! Is my answer. I am here to help. Thank you for taking my hand and trusting me… even if you did so reluctantly. Although another had to guide his hand into mine, once he grasped it… he didn’t want to let go.
I realize this boy is me! I too am broken. I am starving. I am naked. I am thirsting. I am filthy from my time in the dirt. I am reluctant and sometimes I need someone to just take my hand. But I too have found strength, comfort, love and life from a man who also left HIS comfortable home and has come to MY desolate land… and now I never want to let go of His hand. THIS is why I go to places like this! There are many ways and many places where people can find the footsteps of Jesus, but this has been the best way I have found to step into those footprints. In this way, I have been covered by the “dust of my Rabbi, Yeshua”… by first being covered in the dust of places like La Gonave.
Living by Faith… in a Thirsty Land
La Gonave was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew back in November. This destroyed crops, fruit trees, and shade from the heat. Now they are in a drought. They have had very little rain since January. On the night we got there we learned all of this. They wanted to worship with us that night and they asked me to speak to them. My message was about the prophet Habakkuk who pleaded to God to know why he had forsaken them. Why had so many troubles come to Israel? I asked them if they ever felt this way. Wanting to know why. Almost demanding justice from God. I saw heads nodding and amens were shouted. I then explained that God’s answer to Habakkuk was not to fix their troubles but to bear their troubles by faith. He even announced more trouble to come… but the righteous shall live by faith. I suggested that what was needed in La Gonave was not that God should show up, but that they should. Live by faith. Habakkuk ends his book by singing a praise to God and so did we. We prayed together for rain.
That night I was laying in my hammock finally asleep after the long day of travel and heat. At 1:00 am I was awakened by drops of cold water hitting my face. Within minutes the heavens were opened up and God blessed my brothers and sisters for their faith by answering our prayers. It rained solidly for the next eight hours. It is in moments like this when I just stand in awe and amazement at God. I was completely shocked as I stood staring up into the falling rain. It was as if I could hear Jesus laughing softly and shaking his head… “Oh, ye of little faith”.
I have been finding La Gonave to be a prayer amplifier. All the comforts of life are gone there. Life is hard for everyone. The message of Habakkuk has to sink in. Because if these people don’t live by faith… they can’t live at all. Every time we come and pray… and every time we see prayers answered. I’ve been told about dreams people here have had about us. Dreams of white people drilling for water and bringing help long before many of them had ever even seen a white man. I wish I had the faith I see in these people. I feel like a hypocrite, preaching to them about faith and then being genuinely shocked when God actually showed up! As I was later lamenting this, it was suggested to me how cool it is, God could use me to bring a message they needed, even if my own faith was weak. After all, this isn’t about me.
I Need Haiti More than Haiti Needs Me
Well, I guess this part is about me a little bit. On our last day in Haiti, we had traveled back from La Gonave to Merger. After resting for a bit we took a gift of some Kreyol Bibles to Pastor Junior. As we talked and prepared to say our farewells, the pastor looked at me and said in very broken English, “Brother David… you must learn Kreyol. When you learn Kreyol, then you and I… we travel into the mountain and we preach the Gospel!” This was very convicting. No matter how good our translators are, there is always this language barrier that keeps us at arm’s length. So we talked about the value of language which led us to celebrate the idea of being one people in heaven with no language barriers! One day, every Christian from every tribe and nation will be gathered in complete harmony. No divisions. No classes. No poverty. No wealth. No race. No denomination. With one tongue and in one accord singing and shouting praises to the Father and the Lamb in perfect harmony.
We spent our last few minutes with Pastor Junior entertaining this thought… but then I went home… and slept in my air conditioned home in a soft bed. Tonight my brother in Haiti is sleeping on the floor of his non-air conditioned, unfinished church building.
Culture shock is always a problem in third-world nations like Haiti. I thought my culture shock had passed after the first few visits there. Now I spend my trips watching others deal with it and counseling others… because I’m used to it. But maybe, we shouldn’t get used to it. Maybe we aren’t supposed to. Maybe the reason some missionaries burn out is because they get desensitized.
I don’t want to be desensitized.
But how do you reconcile this? How do you go back to such a life of privilege? Honestly, I still struggle with that question. And thank God the Father I do. It is a paradox to be sure. But because of the privilege, I can do what I do. I can invest in the lives of those who are in great need. God put us all where we are for a reason. Some have more “talents” than others. Remember the lesson of that parable was all about investment. Are we good stewards of our privilege… or do we squander it on ourselves… or do we just hide it in fear?
When you have treasures to lay up… lay them up in heaven. Put them to the exchange. When you’ve been given a crown… cast it to the feet of Jesus. I need culture shock to remind me of who I am and what I’ve been called to be. But the greatest thing I’ve learned from Haiti is this:
I need Haiti more than Haiti needs me.