I've been home from Haiti for a week, and the words are hard to come by, and the ones that do trickle through are raw. The words flow slowly -- painfully -- it's rare for me, and unsettling. I hesitate to share. It's not pretty. I can't make it pretty, I refuse to.
In Honduras and Ghana, I shared stories, photos and our experiences while we were still there. Cameroon, the words and stories came more slowly... the words drying up before the stories were finished. Haiti.... I don't yet know what's about to pour out, I just know it has to.
I hit the ground running when I arrived home from Haiti, in more ways than one. I knew. I knew that if I slowed down, it would hurt. It helped that I had an overwhelming amount of work to come home to -- a bittersweet blessing, it would help me process the pain of what we have seen and experienced, and what we came home to. It always hurts, like a heart bruise being leaned into, poked and prodded, pressed down.
Things are never as they were when we come back from the mission field -- always a cost -- we come back to contrasts we don't know how to process, and an unsettling feeling that comes with our new shift of perspective. The reality that we as a church aren't doing enough to be the hands and feet -- we're not doing enough to get out of the comfortable and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor in a radical way. We're not doing enough to answer the call -- the knock comes, the call comes, but we turn away. Do we assume someone else will pick up the call for the poor? Are we leaving it to virtual voicemail? Not just the poor in the standard sense, but everyone in our path in need of the gospel, in need of love, hope, light. We're too distracted by the shiny and fancy trappings of this world, by preconceptions and attitudes and entitlement, by our own selves... our greed... by the enemy's deception -- that it's someone else's job, that it won't matter, that it's too hard or that the lost deserve it somehow, it's their own doing, isn't it? I've heard it before, the rejection of responsibility... "If they're so poor, why do they keep having kids? We shouldn't help these people, they do it onto themselves. They should all be given birth control before we give them any help. You know, help our own people here at home and let their government deal with their mess." Appalling. Unthinkable.
Yes, the coming home has always been the hardest. Coming home from Haiti, even more so, for two reasons:
1. Haiti has the most extreme poverty I've witnessed to date. I've only traveled to three other faraway countries, but it's by far the worst living conditions I've seen in person, and I can't shake the images from my head -- nor would I want to. I came there to know, to see, to feel, to experience, to walk alongside the hurting, the hungry, the lost, the lonely, the orphans, the widows, the poor, the broken, the sinners. I tasted poverty. It covered me in a thick, suffocating layer, seeped down deep into my weary bones.
In each place I had been to, I experienced a quiet but deep sense of community and connection with the poor, the broken, the lost -- this was no different. Being judged and shunned back home by some of the members of His body, His church, especially this past year in all the changes taking place here back home... it has hurt, and I don't want to do the same to others, I don't want to give anyone the silent treatment, the cold stare, the judging look, the abandonment, and I've been guilty of it before. May God have mercy on me. It crushes me to think that someone, somewhere, could have seen this in me and knowing I follow Jesus, assumed this was of Him. I don't want others to mistake this for Jesus' love. I don't want to walk away, to turn my back, to give up on anyone. I don't want that to be what the body of Christ looks like, and I want it to start with me. Yes, it hurts to be in the trenches, to serve the poorest of the poor. To see the desperation, to hear it, face it, see it, taste it... to relate... It hurt, but I can't look away, I won't look away. I want to see. I need to know. I have to remember... to memorize their faces is to remember the face of Jesus, and to not grow hardened in this world. It is the awareness that I am no different. I am just as broken, just as much a sinner, just as badly in need of a Savior. We all are. Those who judge, those who are judged -- equally loved by Him.
2. The day after I left for Haiti, my fourteen year old son Joshua moved 2800 miles across the country to live with his father. His father had been living in the basement of our home since October of 2011 when he left our marriage. After a long period of unemployment, he recently found work out west and made preparations to move. Joshua decided to follow him there.
Yet as I looked at the coffee table, the kitchen table and chairs, my mattress set, one dresser... all that was left... I remembered the homes I had seen, I remembered Medgina's grandmother lifting her arms in praise to God, shaking with joy while standing in her seemingly empty one bedroom home with a broken roof and no doors, thanking the One who provides... and it confirmed what I knew -- God is enough, and I am blessed.
Heaps of trash scattered all throughout the basement, junk in every possible inch of space, it felt as though what was once a home was ransacked, leaving only debris in the wake of the storm. Suffocating. A somewhat milder version of Hoarders, minus the team hired to make the nightmare disappear. That's how it felt. Brandon and I rolled up our sleeves, put our heads down, and worked our way through, room by room, hour by hour, day by day. Solidarity. My love poured out for Brandon, stepping up as a man, doing what was right and what needed to be done, taking charge with initiative and drive, and caring for his family. It took a week to nearly finish two rooms, and we're nowhere near done the basement. All this time, it threatened to eat away at me; the living conditions, the responsibility, the energy it would take to clear this mess and prepare this house to sell... how unfair it was that they walked away and left us holding the bag -- dozens of trash bags, and counting... and then the furnace broke down, then the fridge, then a leak in one pipe, two leaks... the used-but-new-to-us fridge in the middle of our kitchen, too big to fit the space left empty by the old fridge... all within the span of a week... and I wonder if the power is next, the property taxes, one income not enough to sustain... but I fought HARD against it, against being overwhelmed... fought hard to cling to gratitude and joy... and won... because....
... when I closed my eyes, I saw images of raw sewage running openly through Port Aux Princes, of one family standing about a hundred feet from the roadway in the city, adults and children alike, in a heaping, smoldering pile of garbage at a landfill, digging for food and anything else they could salvage for survival... a scene so brutal to the heart I could not raise my camera at the time, hand frozen, heart broken. It stayed with me the entire week we were in Haiti, and I looked for this family on our way back to Port Aux Princes at the end of the week, wanting to reach out to them, bring them rice, words of encouragement, love... Jesus... something... anything... but could not find them. Still, the image remains, much like the image of Richard permanently etched into the back of my eyelids -- pictures I can't and won't erase... and I knew that God would be enough to sustain, to strengthen, to nourish, to bless... them, and me.
We guessed her to be about two.... her name was Gwyneth -- she was the youngest of the 29 orphans at the Bethanie Orphanage. The women gathered all the girls, while the men gathered the boys around them, and we set out to distribute clothes to the children. Under the dark cover of night, we stood on the second floor balcony, the dimly lit area buzzing with activity, picking through dresses, trying to guess the girl's sizes. I had intended on helping the women find dresses for the girls, but the moment I saw Gwyneth, so tiny, so young... my heart convulsed violently and I found myself on the ground near her. She melted into my lap, quietly sucking on a lollipop while holding another, and the realization that this precious babe, this tiny little child of God, had no earthly parents to love on her and care for her... it was more than my heart could bear.
I broke down into quiet sobs, crying prayers over her and the 147+million orphans like her in the world. Millions and I am only holding one. ONE. One just as precious to Him as the others in the ocean of children crying out for a family. Still cradling her in my arms for as long as possible but not wanting to be selfish in holding her, I lifted her gently into Jillian's waiting arms, and as Jillian held her, explained to my precious 11 year old daughter that this sweet girl didn't have a mother or father to love her, to take care of her, to live with her and do life with her... Jillian's heartbreak was written all over her face as she gasped, and looked from me to Gwyneth and then back again... asking, searching, not understanding. "These are children from the orphanage, love -- an orphanage is a home for orphans -- orphans are children without parents to love them and look after them. This little girl does not have parents to call her own." Her face grimacing painfully, she shook her head and said "But mom, she's so little, she's just a baby, can't we take her home, I've always wanted a sister, I could take care of her?" Tears poured once more, this time from both of us -- the well seemed bottomless. "I know, love... it's not fair. For any of them. No matter what age. There are kids younger than Gwyneth who are all alone. Babies. Kids your age. Older kids. Orphans. One hundred and forty seven million of them right now, in this world, today.... orphaned. We, you and I, the church, the hands and feet, we're failing to respond to the call. We're failing to be enough. I know you and I would, in a heartbeat, take her home, but we don't have the ransom, the resources... not at this time... in His...?" We stared at each other in quiet disbelief, at a loss for more words, and quietly turned our attention back to Gwyneth and her friends in those precious few moments we had to pour love into them.
I return home to the children's father gone from their home. Although they're not with their father, Brandon and Jillian are adjusting well to life without their father here... it's a new normal, but they're thriving. They are loved and cared for and there are phones and Skype and someday, perhaps they will even travel there. We are all blessed with a Father, and He will always be enough...
(Photo credit: Tia Kollar)
While serving, we met a team from one of the purest, Godliest Acts style churches I've yet heard of, who were also in Haiti being the hands and feet. These Christians from Antioch, Tennessee had, among many other acts of service, locally purchased four tons of rice to distribute to people suffering from hunger. We asked if we could join in their efforts to distribute the rice and minister to His people. They welcomed us into their family without hesitation, without question, loving us as we were -- the true and loving body of Christ. On Wednesday evening, we traveled to a field where a church was being built by their team, where the men had toiled hard under the hot Haitian sun earlier that day, and where there would be children waiting to receive precious rations of rice to bring home to their families. Several fifty pound sacks of rice had been divided up into small family sized portions, individually bagged for distribution. The rice was loaded on top of the bus, and as the bus made its way into the field, we immediately realized that the word had spread about the rice, and the entire village had shown up. As we stepped out of the bus, praying for God to multiply as He had the loaves and fish, people pressed into us, welcoming us with eager anticipation. The sun was setting, but it wasn't the only darkness that could be felt -- hope and desperation hung dangerously close to one another in the air, an intense and charged spirit weighing heavy on us... we were just as desperate as these people were -- desperately hopeful that God would multiply the rice and make it enough. When we realized that it would not be so tonight, we were told to quickly get back into the bus for our own safety -- they knew a riot would break out. They wanted us safely back into the bus before they were to announce that we would be back tomorrow not just with enough food, but with more than enough. Joy turned to mourning -- and in an instant, the bus was filled with the sounds of the desperate cries of mothers, angry shouts of men, children screaming and running after our bus as it was being kicked and pushed by a mob of angry, hurting, and desperately hungry people clawing for a shred of hope, trying to reach the bags of rice at the top of the bus. They were simply hungry. Hungry for the end of suffering. Hungry for peace. Hungry for hope. Hungry for nourishment. God had provided more than enough for Tia, Jillian and I through our fundraising, so we offered from God's abundance and provide for 3 or 4 more fifty pound bags of rice to the team to help ensure there would be more than enough for these people the following day. It wasn't much, but we knew God would make it enough.
Sitting at the table that night at the guest house, in front of a warm plate of food and a cold drink... it was hard to chew -- to chew through not only the food, but the reality of the multitudes that go hungry when elsewhere, there is more than enough. Thousands of children die each day from hunger and preventable causes. Yet God gives more than enough from which we are to bless.
More and more, as I travel to these countries and walk hand in hand, heart in heart with the poor, "rich" loses the hold it once had. I don't want stuff. I don't want wealth or riches. Black Friday makes me want to throw up. I want only to spend of myself in order to save someone else. I don't want what the world has to offer -- I want enough. Simply enough. For me, for them.
I want enough compassion for everyone, by everyone, everywhere, in every situation.
I want enough understanding.
I want enough awareness.
I want enough love. Love in action. Love as a verb.
I want enough service to others, at home, next door, in our communities, churches, throughout the world.
I want enough of us to hear the call.
I want more than enough of us to respond. Radically. Urgently. Lovingly.
And enough mercy and grace for myself as I find my way through this.
"The call of orphan care is not a call to simply "save the orphan". The call of orphan care is to share in the suffering of the orphan. It's to intentionally position yourself, your family, your community, to suffer alongside the orphan. To say, 'Your suffering, is now my suffering. Your story, is now my story. I willingly position myself to suffer alongside you.' "
-- Aaron Ivey, Adopted - The Cost Of Love.
That seems, to me, to be the very definition of Compassion. For the orphan, the poor, the sick, the widow, the broken, the sinner, the lost, the lonely... even the rich -- for all our neighbors. Compassion. Love. Hands and feet. The true body. Rather than turn our backs, shun, give the silent treatment, judge, shift the responsibility and the call elsewhere, to someone else, anyone else... what if we ALL joined in the suffering, the brokenness, and simply loved IN the trenches, simply loved and gave and served and looked and saw and shared and became one in Him until it was enough, even knowing it will never be enough until He returns?
It starts with me.