By Nate Livesay | Church Partnership Director
Written on August 6, 2013, after Nate’s first trip to Haiti. Since then he’s been back three times, taking groups of people for their first eye-opening trip.
This is the third time I have started to write this post. I start and I stop and I delete what I have written or I sit down and stare at the blank screen. The truth is I don’t have the words. I simply cannot find the words to describe what is happening in my heart and my mind after spending the last week in Haiti.
I saw dirt and grime and rubble and despair. I saw a tent city for the first time – row after row after row of families so desperate for a place to live they have turned temporary shelters into a permanent residencies. I saw families living in tents right next to a burning dump. I saw unimaginably difficult lives – individuals and families scratching and clawing simply to survive. I saw children suffering from malnutrition and a lack of simple medical care that has caused common childhood ailments and injuries to turn from minor inconveniences into life altering events. I saw people so desperate for medical care that they were willing to sit inside a sweltering building all day without complaint just for the opportunity to see the doctor at our medical clinics. I saw desperation and suffering and pain, but that wasn’t all I saw.
I saw mothers and fathers devoting every bit of their passion and energy into finding a way to feed, clothe, house, and educate their children with the hopes to break free of this cycle of despair and live a better life. I saw a pastor so concerned about his community that he has started an orphanage next door to his church. I saw a pastor so dedicated to his congregation that he was willing to take on Voodoo priests in order to break the chains of darkness they are afflicting in his congregation. I saw a poor church in the midst of constructing a building to meet in that was still so giving they insisted on feeding lunch to a group of Americans who were there to serve them. I saw a beautiful blue sky, I saw a beautiful green landscape, a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall, and I saw radically generous people.
I also saw again the work of World Orphans up close. I saw Haitian churches partnered with Western churches impacting their community by caring for the orphaned and vulnerable children in their community. I saw mothers who were filled with joy and gratitude because they were a part of the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program at their church (now called Home-Based Care or HBC). I saw what a difference church partnership makes in Haiti because it provides the amazing Haitian Christians with the resources to help more people than they would otherwise be able to reach.
The need is still tremendous. Our HBC programs allow the church to place 20 children into families and provide food, education, and healthcare for them but the reality is that there are many more than 20 children in these communities that need help. The families that care for these 20 children also have many stark and urgent needs. In short, there is much more work that needs to be done.
And this is the part that really bothers me – I came home and I compared the generous spirit of the Haitian people who have little with the reluctance of the American Christian to give sacrificially and just can’t reconcile the two spirits. I came home and compared the very real and pressing needs of the Haitian people with the perceived needs of the American church and I just can’t reconcile the two mindsets. I’m stuck with these dueling images – one the one hand there is a Haitian church who meets outside in the absolutely sweltering heat under a tin roof and plastic tarp while they try to build a building who chooses to use their resources to provide a meal to me when I was hungry, and on the other hand there are countless American churches meeting in million dollar state-of-the-art buildings who choose not to feed those that are starving all over the world because they don’t have the resources. How do I reconcile these two images and say that both are obediently following Jesus?
I was speaking with our Haitian country director about how best to guide my team and he said something to me that struck me as very profound. He said that teams come with the idea that they are here to “change the world” but that shouldn’t be their goal. He told me that we should seek to serve and learn from the Haitian Christians – to do as much good as we can in the time we are in Haiti, but that our real goal should be to LIVE BETTER when we return home. We can make so much more impact on the world by living better for the rest of our lives than we can ever make in one week in another country. That is it – we shouldn’t aim to change the world – we should aim to live better. We should aim to be obedient to the call of Christ. We should aim to live and love more like Jesus wherever we are. We should learn to die to ourselves daily, to love others like He did, and to be radically generous with all that He has blessed us with.
This is what I saw in Haiti. I saw radically generous Christians obediently living like Christ in the midst of despair and difficult circumstances and I learned that I have much work to do to be as rich in Christ as they are.