If you’ve ever done any sort of international relief work, you know that a couple of things happen when you get home:
- Some people want to know everything about your trip and,
- the other people just can’t wait for you to shut up about it.
Those expectations, either way, will affect how you are processing your experience. And, I would think, most people are unprepared to give an adequate account—short or long—the moment they step off the plane.
That brings me to my last experience. It’s been about a week since I returned from Haiti and I think I’m ready to share a few observations from my time there. And, like I said, these thoughts are still under development, subject to change, and ultimately unable to describe the totality of what God is doing there, or even just what He is doing through me.
When You Leave the Shelter the Storm Will Blow Your Mind
This wasn’t my first experience with poverty, but it was my first time in Haiti. So, with some frame of reference and with a healthy understanding of what I was getting myself into, my experience with culture shock was greatly reduced. This comfortability actually surprised me because, previously, poverty of that immensity would have knocked me clean off my feet. Still, while I was relatively unaffected, I had the privilege of being reminded of that feeling. The rest of our team was deeply impacted by the needs some of them were witnessing for the very first time. As an observer, I remembered what it was like to realize I had been living in a dream world. I don’t think anyone can truly understand what life is like outside of North America by watching videos or hearing statistics. Five minutes in Port-au-Prince will change you more than a four year degree in International Development.
You can’t understand poverty until you go.
Those Needs Provide Circumstances for God to Move
Our world is far from perfect (what an understatement). I saw that reflected in my reading material on the way to Haiti. Paradise Lost, a book by John Milton, is an epic poem that illustrates the story of Adam & Eve and the fall of creation. There’s nothing like a little 17th century poetry to get you through a flight or three. In this book, the author expands on the Biblical account. He takes some poetic license, but the subject could not have been more relevant. In the story, after Adam has sinned against God, an angel tells him how everything is going to fall apart. When he realizes how bad it’s going to get (murder, adultery, poverty) Adam is ready to take his life to stop it. But, then the angel tells him what God has in store—that through all the failures of man, God has a plan. It’s a moving work, that I can’t attempt to describe with any justice. Adam realizes, as I did, that God is there even in the terrible mess that we’ve made.
If the world is broken, then God is ready to restore it.
Those Needs Provide Opportunities for People to be Faithful
I want to illustrate a point by talking about foot washing. Jesus set this example back in John 13. Whether or not you believe this act is something the Church should practise, you can’t deny the level of humility displayed by Jesus as he washed his disciples feet. This practise was, at one point, adopted by the English monarchy. Alister E. McGrath wrote in Christianity: An Introduction: “This has now been replaced by the ceremony of the ‘Maundy Money,’ in which the monarch distributes specially minted coins to the elderly at cathedrals throughout England.” When I read that, I immediately thought, "what would it have been like if Jesus had handed out coins instead of washing feet?” It paints a different picture. The truth is we would all rather give money than give our time, our safety, or our comfort. But, if God calls us to serve how can we say no?
Faithfulness is measured by obedience.
Let's Put a Little Life Back in the World
When I came back from my first trip to Kenya, I remember how big the problems seemed. That hasn’t changed. There is at least one problem out there for every person on this planet. But, our God is the God of life. He created our lives. He raised his Son from the grave. He promises eternal life. And, as His creation, we can follow in His footsteps. When you bring water to a place that had none, you bring life. When you bring the Gospel to people who have never heard it, you bring life. Physical or spiritual, we can bring life. What are we waiting for? Let's put a little life back in the world.