When most people go to work, they are reporting to a small but tidy office, a coffee shop, or a store register. This is a perfectly respectful way of life. I've just chosen a different one. One that involves seeing these images of stark life and death every day. How do I deal with that?
One way I process what I see is by writing. In a sudden desperation to get it out of my head I may fill an entire notebook with scrawled sentences that barely make sense, or I may struggle to barely scratch out a paragraph while I blink away the tears...
Here is where that writing goes.
[ Thursday, September 9, 2010 ]
I should have seen it coming.
Of course when you come back from a trip to Africa or Haiti or some equally far-flung country, people are going to ask you how your trip went. But even thought that seems so obvious, I wasn't ready for it. The first morning back in America, a good friend spotted me and ran to give me a hug. First question out of her mouth?
"So how was Haiti!"
Reasonable question, but all I could do was just stare at her... "How was Haiti?!" I thought in that frozen moment staring at her expectant face, "I just came back from living in one of the poorest, most devastated, nations on this side of the planet. Where death, destruction, and poverty are everywhere, where we slept in tents that would get flooded by island storms, where every fiber of who I was and what I was capable of was tested in the fire of the Haitian sun. What on earth can I say... how can I make you understand..."
Eventually I just smiled and said "Haiti was good!" And she nodded, and I nodded, and then we talked about what movies had come out in the theaters while I was gone. It was like we had a mutual, unspoken, understanding that what I had seen, I couldn't put into words, I could barely wrap my mind around, much less explain.
A week later and my thoughts were somewhat more organized, and when my neighbor makes the statement "Haiti must have been just life changing!" I could quickly agree, and even coherently add to the conversation "Yes. Haiti challenged me physically and spiritually--but out of the struggle, my character grew enormously." Because as much we all hate to hear it, the truth is that we grow the most when life is the hardest....
"Thoughts on Haiti, poverty, and life as a missionary"
As missionaries, of course we want to tell the world about Jesus, but I’ve found that we all have our ulterior motives in pursuing this lifestyle as well. Mine is the travel. I love to travel, especially in countries where there are no speed limits, lines on the road, or seat belts to worry about. Pure heaven is a cold coke, and all your friends piled into the back of a pickup truck, flying down the road to some new destination!
Those were the thoughts running through my head yesterday morning when team MA Haiti climbed into the pickup and headed to the beach town of Montrouis (pronounced mow-wee. Yeah, that’s right.) Our Mission Adventures students had thrown themselves into ministering to the Haitian people all week, so this day we decided to treat them to a day of swimming in the Caribbean Ocean. But what I want to tell you about took place long before we reached Montrouis. Just a little conversation between me, and God, in the back of the pickup.
There was nothing different or out of the ordinary about this day, I had lived in third world countries before, and the sights and smells of the Haitian countryside were nothing new to me. But for some reason, today God decided to open my eyes to the reality of poverty in a new way. Shading my eyes from the intense Haitian sun, I looked out across miles and miles of tent houses and little shacks, the kind of structure (if you can even call it a structure) that thousands of people here call Home. Suddenly, this intense anger started to rise up in me, as I could not understand how it could be possible that six months after the earthquake hardly any steps had been made to get these people into real houses again. Why?! Haiti got more publicity after the earthquake than almost any other country has ever gotten for a natural disaster, thousands upon thousands of organizations and individuals from around the world had mobilized to help this country. So why are there still 8,000 tent cities in Haiti—over 2,000 of them in the city of Port-au-Prince alone? Throughout all of Haiti you pass cars with UN, NGO, or non-profit charity icons blazed across the side, so why are the people still sick, malnourished, and dying in tents ripped to shreds by the Haitian rainy season? Why? Why? Why? It felt like there really wasn’t an answer.
Sadly, I leaned back in the truck and tried to focus on something else. Anything else. My eyes landed on the corner of a $10.00 bill sticking out of my pocket. That $10 was going to pay for my day at the beach. Suddenly my heart began to ache—how many children could that ten dollars feed? Not all of them, not even a lot of them, but some of them. We had earned that day of rest and relaxation, but what if we had decided to give up that right, and had given even the little that we had to help someone? It adds up—the $10 for the beach, the $15 I spent on sunglasses, the $25 dollars I spent on shoes… Okay, let’s try this: stop reading this blog for about 20 seconds—just 20 seconds!—and look around you. What have you bought lately that you didn’t need? Where have you spent money, time, effort on things that didn’t really matter? Could you live without them? Of course, it would be uncomfortable, but how can we even entertain the idea of living a life free of all un-comfort (is that a word?) when the majority of the world lives in complete abject poverty?
Now, I’m not daft in the head, I know that these little sacrifices aren’t going to save the world today, tomorrow, or ever. We’ve been struggling against these same issues of poverty, slavery, sex trafficking, unclean water, and starvation for the entire history of the world, and it’s only getting worse. But what if everyone started to truly love other people as much as themselves, to do the little bit that they were capable of? Picture this: if your son was a child soldier, your daughter trafficked for sex, your father forced to work in the fields, your mother dying from starvation—would you insist on your vacation time, spend hundreds of dollars a year on impulse buys, or even un-impulsive buys of worthless things? Probably not. You wouldn’t rest until justice was served and the battle was won! That’s love. Hard, uncomfortable, love.
All of these thoughts flashed through my head in about 3 seconds, and I was left with this question impressed deep into my heart—was I willing to get uncomfortable? I feel very strongly that this battle will never be won unless we rethink the way we live, and love, and look at missions!
So there’s the challenge. Now it’s up to you what you’re going to do with it.