Many have asked me, “How was Haiti?” It is both an easy and a hard question to answer.
Certainly it was a spectacularly positive experience – from the small 5-seater plane that flew us over the mountains from Port au Prince to Pignon, landing on a grass strip. I got to be in the co-pilot seat, with earphones and all! – to the bone-jarring, teeth-rattling, several-hour-long rides in the back of the open pick-up truck over National Road #3 that is pressed dirt and rock cut through by water-runoff trails – you maybe go 10 miles an hour – maybe. To the worship – I can still feel the wall of prayer – the hum of people praying, the sound of a cappella singing –to the tarantula crawling up the side of a wall, to our truck getting stuck on a rock and having the locals pour out from God knows where with all the tools that they possess to help us, as one in the group having intestinal issues raced over to the one-seater latrine.
If you haven’t been to the developing world, it is hard to properly describe. The poverty is overwhelming. The sights and smells and sounds come at you in waves. Each morning at 5:00 a.m. the roosters, dogs, chickens, the guy on the roof next door chanting prayers, the hum of motorcycles – there’s no rest for the weary. And if you make a schedule? Well, it could all change in a rainstorm that washes out the roads.
You have to hold all things loosely and expect nothing.
Inspiring, empowering, hopeful. Not words many would use when describing Haiti, but I would. I come back changed, more aware of my “stuff,” more concerned with the poverty, and injustice and inequity of our country, because the work that is to be done locally and globally are inextricably connected.
You raised $15,000 so that Haiti Outreach could build a well and bring a spring of fresh, potable water to back-country villages where – before the well – people walked miles to streams dirty with refuge, human and animal waste. The watering hole was used for everything: washing bodies and clothes, washing cars – and drinking.
I will never be able to hear Isaiah the prophet proclaim, “Ho, everyone who thirsts come to the waters!” or hear Jesus say, “Anyone who is thirsty come to me,” without thinking of clean water coming through a pump from a fresh water well dug in the soil of Haiti that you made happen.
Our worlds are so different (Haiti and America) The worst roads you can think of here do not even compare!
Health care is insufficient, hospitals are nothing like ours, social services are non-existent, and pity is one response but not a faithful one, I think.
And yet in a parallel sort of way, there is little difference. People are people. Children play, mothers and fathers fret, people get dressed up for church, there is cooking and cleaning, and laughing and crying, flirting, praising and cursing – people trying to get by – on less, so much less – and always the thought, perhaps they have more in some ways, and that agitation continues to haunt me as we enter the season of consumption and gift giving.
I saw a Down syndrome woman in Hinche. A dwarf standing in an alley. A little child who died with a very treatable hydrocephalic condition. Here doctors would have inserted a stent. In Haiti, a wave of tropical disease takes the weak and infirmed.
And yet there is joy and praising God and communities coming together around a well, and Deanne teaching hand games to children, and the human family connects.
Life is life. There are no guarantees. I might have been born in Haiti. You and I are no more blessed or loved by God then they. America is no more chosen than Haiti. We may be chosen to be generous, to forgive debt, to share the burdens, but we are not better or more holy.
And it is in the daily routines like fetching water in a clean bucket where you see hope. It is in the kindness of a stranger who found my room key and returned it to me that you experience connection. It is in trying to speak Creole as Haitians struggle with English that you begin to see the beloved community come into focus and what we can become.
I am reminded of William Stafford’s poem “Yes!”
It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could you know. That’s why we wake
and look out–no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
We gripe about so much, but each day you have to get up and get water! Or whatever you do that you have to do. We have no excuses, none.
Just like many Haitians, I know that many of you struggle and suffer and bear burdens and wonder why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? And the answer is, there is no answer. Let that go – you are who you are and live where you live and you must do what you must do.
Life is life – tragedies, joys, worship, people still living and loving and laughing, Violence, gentleness, oppression, dysfunction – and yet, creativity and compassion.
We are not so different. You and I may not need clean fresh drinking water, but you and I need the living water that Jesus gives. For many, our spiritual wells are stagnant: the pump no longer works, the mechanisms are rusty.
The great temptation of our day and age and culture is to think that the market rules, or that we can inoculate ourselves and protect ourselves and hide ourselves from reality but it cannot be done, cannot be done. It is a sin to think that we can. It is a sin to think that God is going to protect you, or you have done something to divine God’s special favor.
In Haiti it is all out there – in Cleveland it is all out there too – different but the same.
“Expect nothing and live frugally on surprise!” Alice Walker wrote that. It is my mother’s favorite quotation.
Accept what is in front of you – that is the only starting point. The only way through suffering is to accept the reality of it. The only way through poverty is accept it, claim it as holy. The only way through pain is to grasp it and breathe through it. The only way to be real, is to be real.
We think of God as the external fixer but God is not. God is the eternal and internal living spring that bubbles up and gives life. God is the sustainer that gives us the imagination to keep going to well and through the horrible, allows us to catch a glimpse of beauty in the midst of ugliness and to curse the darkness and to see beyond the shadow into the light.
It is the work of the demons that keep you asking the question “Why?” Or “Where is God?” Because those numbing questions have no answers. We become isolated.
But the living water of Jesus Christ gives life, offers us the hope through the question “How?” and “Why not?”
The life-giving water that we thirst for quenches and redirects the flow of our yearning away from self-absorption. It calls us into community – here! The power of Jesus is not to fix; it is to transform; it is to break you and crack you open in constant amazement.
You have to get up in the morning and fetch water, clean water. And that is both heroic and faithful. And you are doing it – all of you who refuse to give up and give in, who continue to press on along the path – and to such, Jesus is still Lord and Savior.
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts – come to the waters!”