Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reflections from Haiti

(Written May 25, 2010) I got home yesterday afternoon, and as I continue trying to process all of my experiences in Haiti, I find it rather disorienting. First of all, it's kind of hard to explain this trip. I've been on lots of missions trips in the past to many wonderful and exciting places – and when I got home I could say: “I helped build a playground or paint a wall” or “ Our team led worship services and did a Vacation Bible School.” But this trip was very different. It's not so easy to put into words. I don't take with me so much a sense that I did anything so much as that I experienced everything.

I wasn't there to do; I was there to listen and learn – to be fully present and take in whatever I could. And so it becomes problematic at times to find the right words to share with others in a way that they will understand and find meaningful. And yet, we live in a culture that is so focused on doing that oftentimes we never stop and take the time to listen and learn first. Our idea of missions has been one intent on doing, one intent on having something to show for our efforts, something that will look like progress to others. And so maybe this trip and my difficulty to explain it reveals something deeper to me. My need to do and to quantify my productivity is exactly that – it's my need. It's not God's need. God needs me to listen and and learn from Him – and then after listening and learning, perhaps, I'll know what it is that I should do. He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still, even when it doesn't make sense to everyone else what you are doing, even when you can't explain it satisfactorily, even when it would be easier to do something and feel better about yourself – be still because it's not about all of that anyway.

I take with me from this trip no simple statements about what I did or accomplished. Instead, I take with me a plethora of images and vignettes, feelings and experiences, which despite being a writer, I find hard to put into words. (Kudos to Kent here, because he did it so well in his book that I am still reeling by it! If you haven't read it yet, I think you would be blessed by reading his book: "Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle." It's published by Intervarsity Press and it's a fantastic and fascinating read in which the author, Kent Annan, is so honest and thoughtful that you will be amazed someone would be so transparent. There are gripping moments of sadness as you explore the realities of life in Haiti, but other moments that are just laugh out loud funny! I can't recommend it highly enough! I am going to start reading it again.. especially since the family he lived with and describes in the book is the one that I got to stay with and I can now put faces to all of the names!)

Anyway, back to what I take with me from this trip!

I take with me the deep imprint of the servant hospitality that comes from those who will wash your feet or sacrifice to buy ice for your drink (ice you can't even drink for fear of getting sick from the water). I take with me the lived ideal of community that makes loving your neighbor – not loving the idea of your neighbor – possible. In a culture like ours where we can so easily protect ourselves from our neighbors, holding them at a distance and only allowing them to see of us what we want them to see, I feel almost jealous, even desirous, of some Haitian cultural aspects which refuse to make escape from those we are supposed to love an option. Whether it be pumping water at the well for one another because we all depend on the same source or, as it strange as it may sound, not being afraid to wave and say “bon jou” to your neighbor who is standing there taking his or her bath, lathered up in soap, right before your eyes – I am encouraged by the idea of living with and loving neighbors whom you have seen and known – warts and all – and whose vulnerabilities are not hidden from you.

I take the laughter and courage of a people who have suffered deeply but who hang on because they believe in the goodness of life; because they understand that if they are still alive it means that there is work for them to do, people for them to care for, and joy and suffering to be found in it all.

On our first night in Haiti, we sang a song that was taught to us by Alex and Merline, John's brother -in-law and wife. The lyrics said: “Mwen se Ayiti.” It means, “ I am Haiti.” At one point there was a break in the song where we began to hum. Then we went around the circle, and one at at a time, everyone said: “Mwen se Ayiti tou,” or “I am Haiti too.” It seemed kind of funny to say it that first night, and some of us kind of giggled or wanted to, but for some reason, it doesn't feel funny any more. In fact, after what I have experienced, it feels completely natural.

And so, I say with confidence this time . . . Mwen se Ayiti tou. Amen.

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