Poverty and Paradise
If God, in my brokenness, didn’t give up on me, what right do I have to give up on my impoverished Haitian brothers and sisters?
It’s early morning as I relax in my warm home, stretched out in my comfortable, over-sized writing chair, sipping a hot cup of coffee.
My stomach growls and I easily quiet its demands by toasting a bagel. I recognize that the simple act of plugging my toaster into an electric outlet is a luxury not afforded in Haiti. I reflect on the pangs of hunger felt by the children and adults there.
I think about the dry cracked mouths of the children longing to receive something refreshing to quench their thirst. I think about how the beautiful blue ocean taunts them with its rushing waves from their barren tent city. It takes all of the children’s strength to walk over to the side of the road. They bend down, resting their dirty, worn clothes on their knees, revealing their calloused, mud-encrusted feet. Feet that walk a journey for which no one would dare ask.
Cupping their tiny hands, they attempt to draw brown-colored water from the ditch on the side of the road. But instead of clear refreshment, they scoop up a bacteria-laden substance and pour it down their parched throats. As it spills onto their hollow cheeks, it also flows into their fragile little bodies, threatening a destructive disease by the name of Cholera.
Preparing to Go
I visited Haiti for the first time in December 2010. I will admit that fear almost choked out my good intentions in traveling to this foreign country. Not only had I recently suffered a stress fracture in my hip, but the deadly disease of Cholera was spreading rapidly throughout Port-Au-Prince and the surrounding villages.
According to reports, hundreds were dying daily; and those were the ones that made the five o’clock news! Along with that, Hurricane Tomas was sweeping through the country, threatening to create mudslides that could overtake the mountainous, already dilapidated “homes.”
Friends and family lovingly offered advice that leaving the safety and comfort of my home (not to mention my hormonal teenager, vulnerable toddler, and devoted husband) was, to put it nicely, foolish. After all, God gave us wisdom for a reason. There were dangers at every turn and surely I would be even more susceptible to them because of my injury. I needed to hear from God.
I decided to shut out the voices around me and “unplug.” I fasted from anything that could hinder hearing from God. These included the internet, Facebook, and even TV.
After a few weeks of prayer and silence, I came to my conclusion. I never heard an audible “go,” but I deciphered that fear was the only thing holding me back. I knew that fear wasn’t from God. My answer was clear. If I said I trusted God with my life, I needed to make good on that confession. I may have been traveling to a foreign country, but I would be doing it with my familiar God.
As we stepped off of the plane and onto the black tarmac, I took in the beauty that surrounded me. The sun was setting as we made our way to the warehouse that served as a make-shift airport. As we met eyes with customs officials, I masqueraded as a confident, well-traveled visitor, in an effort to avoid any conflict or obstacles to our mission.
We brought with us ten 50 pound bags of supplies. Because corruption is rampant and stolen packages are common, these collected materials from the States can’t be sent in through the mail system. We located our bags and breathed a sigh of relief.
We had already been warned about the chaos that would pounce upon us as we stepped outside. Locals stalk the premises for any sign of relief through financial provision. We stepped outside and it immediately resembled more of a Hollywood paparazzi scene than a third-world country. Haitian men clamored about, laying their hands on our bags and feverishly begging in Creole to assist us. I thought about oppression and injustice as I witnessed with my American-bred blue eyes, it’s obvious consequences.
We hopped in our bus driven by a local, trusted Haitian man. I was thankful for the tinted windows. I felt odd traveling the streets and taking note of their plight. Guilt plagued me as I didn’t want to exploit or gawk at them anymore than they already had been.
Tent cities lined the streets by the hundreds, including the median. Fires loomed everywhere and I easily saw why rape had increased by 40%. There was no police presence to be found. Although our destination was only 20 miles from the airport, we traveled through the rubble for three hours until we finally arrived at our location. We turned on the generator and made our way upstairs. As my tired body collapsed onto my air mattress, I thanked God for a soft place to land. I knew others were not so fortunate.
Just a few days later, I learned the harsh reality of where these children slept at night. While visiting an orphanage, I witnessed a young girl sleeping on concrete blocks. She looked so peaceful and I was astounded as the Director excitedly explained how grateful he was for those blocks! When it rains, they have no protection from the elements. Floods can easily sweep you away without a moment’s notice — a concrete block remains a permanent fixture.
We also had the chance to visit some “middle class” Haitians, as we would say in America. We traveled up the mountainside into the crevice of a rock to visit with an elderly woman and her family. Through a reforestation project, she had earned her one room, humble abode and it housed ten of those closest to her. She brewed us her hand grown coffee and shared with us her baked bread. It’s a moment I will never forget.
Throughout the week, as I heard “bonjour” and “bonsai” echo out of these beautiful, charming people, a love began to grow in my heart for them. As I sit here and fill my belly with the easily accessible food from my kitchen, I think about the name given to Haiti long ago by the famous discoverer, Columbus. He deemed the island, the “Antilles Jewel” in an attempt to describe its majesty to others. The deep blue sea and the plush green mountains were nothing short of paradise. But something went very wrong. In spite of that, these gems of a people still radiated such grace and their hearts exploded with such resilience, that the love they exuberated almost erased or denied all the years of slavery and injustice.
And it got me thinking about another place, one mentioned in Genesis. This place was a fruitful garden and our ancestors, Adam and Eve, walked in perfect unity with God and nature there. It too was a paradise that seems but an unattainable luxury. But something went terribly wrong here as well. In fact, it was the first time sin entered the world. With all of its ugliness, it attempted to choke out all of God’s goodness and beauty. Corruption and greed grew where prosperity once had. How broken the world had become; how tragic of a story. Something had to be done.
God, in His gracious love and understanding “gave something up for something He loved more.” He sent His one and only Son to proclaim a gospel to His broken people. This was all in an effort to give us freedom instead of slavery, joy instead of mourning, and paradise instead of poverty; to fix the problems that we had indeed created for ourselves. We deserved death but instead He gave us life. What a gracious Savior we have.
With this knowledge, I face a dilemma. If God, in my brokenness, didn’t give up on me, what right do I have to give up on my impoverished Haitian brothers and sisters? And not only that, but what am I willing to sacrifice in order to help them and their barren land be restored back to its original, serene design?
I ponder these things as I transition from my comfortable chair into my bathroom where I can simply turn a knob and hot, soothing water pours out to cleanse and bring refreshment to my body. Do I deserve this more than anyone else? Am I more worthy?
Several scriptures from God’s Word come to mind. Luke 12:28 says, “To much has been given, much is required.” What exactly am I required to give? And James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I am reminded of the promise in Mark 10:29 that says, “‘Truly I tell you,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much.'”
There is so much searching to be done. And to be honest, I’m not sure what this means for me. But one thing I do know is that those sweet faces are forever burned in my heart and I would be nothing but honored to give my life to God’s glory and redemption story with the people of Haiti. I just hope my sacrifice is found pleasing in His sight. I hope my sinful self — with all of its greed and pride — can help restore “the years the locusts have eaten.” I hope that by being willing to obey a calling, I can somehow make their plight a little more bearable — and maybe even beautiful.
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