On April 23, 2016, EBS Rector Matthew I. Ayars baptized EBS Intern Andrew Robertson. A symbol of God’s regenerating, cleansing, and saving grace.
I hope you don’t mind settling in at the poor house for a while, because we’re not done.
I hadn’t talked to cried with Phida yet.
My heart’s aflame, my stomach is twisted with a whole new burden, and it’s not the poor.
She told me everything everyone else did. They are truly abandoned. They are truly in need. They are truly alone. It was utterly heartbreaking and eyeopening and convicting and inspiring and important and sad.
She told me worse of the same, too.
Said as she braided the women’s hair, one after another, and that there were two things every single woman told her.
First, that they were so thankful she was there, talking with them. They were so overwhelmed that she was touching them.
Second, that they wish they could just die.
They are tired of being hungry every day. Tired of begging, tired of being alone, tired of suffering. They wish they would just die already. They are the bottom of the food-chain, the lowest of the low, the shamed among society, and they wish they were finished.
For years, as students have questioned me about the very foreign idea of suicide, I have wondered if maybe it is nonexistent in Haiti because the culture is so incredibly community oriented. As hard as life may be, everyone is doing it together, and it keeps the spirit far from the darkness of wanting life to end.
This is the first time Phida’d ever heard someone say that, because it’s the first time she’s worked with people who were truly alone.
She said as she was washing the insects out of one woman’s hair, her hair was falling out into Phida’s hand in clumps. She was so malnourished, her hair hadn’t been rebraided in so long, it was just coming out into her hands. Phida’d never seen that before.
More horrifically, she said there was one old woman, tiny and twisted entirely, who was laying on her mattress, unable to get up or move.
Phida said as she approached her, the smell was so putrid that her eyes were stinging.
“If it were not for love,” Phida said urgently in my office this morning, “I never could have gotten near to her. It was love, His love, that enabled me to touch her.”
If not for love.
They scooped her off the mattress, and two of the girls took her to wash her, throw away her clothes, dress her in new ones and braid her hair. Phida asked two of the guys to take that mattress outside and DO something with it. Put it in the sun? Wash it? Something?
The guys went to lift it, and as soon as they touched it (I’m sorry to do this to you), a million cockroaches started pouring out of it. They jumped back, watching them scurry into other corners, and kicked the mattress a bunch more times until the outflow of cockroaches stopped. Then they bent to pick it up, and as they lifted it from the floor, a rat came flying out, down his leg, and out the door.
They bent to pick it up, and as they lifted it from the floor, a rat came flying out–out of the mattress this woman was just LIVING on–down his leg and out the door.
I don’t even know what to say but to say it again.
You can’t wash that.
It all happened on Saturday with our staff and students. It is happening still there today.
It’s happening in that house, it is happening in poor houses and orphanages and street corners all around Haiti.
It is happening in poor houses and orphanages and street corners ALL AROUND THE WORLD this morning family.
This is our burden, His burden–the poor.
But it is not the burden enraging my heart this morning, family.
Phida finished her stories in tears after tears, and her voice trailed off as she talked about how they should go again…they could go again, maybe next time they could take more food? but the need is so much greater.
“But Emmaus is not that solution, is it?” she asked, more herself than anyone. “Us driving two hours to a town we don’t live in to sit with the poor as often as we can isn’t really the answer, is it.”
And she is right, of course.
You know what the answer is? EXACTLY what God said the answer was, His hands and feet…HIS CHURCH.
“Is there no church?” I ask her, and her eyes flash and her voice deepens.
“There is a church in the very same corner, Stacey. It is a big church, a very big church. A Christian church. It is close enough to smell the smell, I know they can. I know the poor house can hear every song, every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Easter.”
I start to feel even sicker. Each student told me how the people said Emmaus was the first time anyone has ever come to see them, come to help them, from two hours away.
HOW CAN THAT BE, church?
How can that be.
You know what the solution is? THE BRIDE OF CHRIST is the solution. There are hundreds of people in that village. There are three churches, one of them large. There are 50 people in this poor house.
There shouldn’t BE A POOR HOUSE, people!!! I’m sorry. I’m yelling.
There shouldn’t BE a RAT MATTRESS. There should be 50 families with one person each living among them. Or there should be three churches, each taking 2-3 days a week to feed those 50 people. Or there should be a BED project instead of a Church Decorations project. Or there should be a feeding project instead of a bench project. Or if there is not one penny in not one of those churches, somehow, then there should be an after-church-we-go-and-sit-with-the-poor-people-and-braid-their-hair-and-give-them-baths-and-talk-to-them project.
The CHURCH in the WORLD, ladies and gentlemen, is plugging their noses and walking past the poor houses to “go worship.” The CHURCH in the world, people, is raising money for special kids programs and for new sound systems and for a beautiful Easter outreach and is NOT feeding the poor and the orphaned and the widows. The CHURCH in the world, friends, isn’t coming inside, isn’t sticking it’s hands in anyone’s hair, isn’t picking up the mattresses with the rats inside.
The Church isn’t going anywhere close.
And I’d GET that.
If not for love.
I’d get that if not for His love.
The reality in Riviere-du-Nord and the reality where you are probably sitting today is that the church is RIGHT next door, worshipping, potlucking, catchy-sermon-ing, but it has. not. love.
It has NOT the love that gets close to nasty. It has NOT the love that gets close to dirty. It has NOT the love that gets close to uncomfortable, to sacrificial. It has NOT the Love that JESUS HAD.
It is WHY Jesus asked, “Do you love me? Yes? Feed my sheep.” It is why Jesus said that the water and food and time and love we give to the least of these is giving it unto Him. It is why James says that “acceptable religion to the Father as pure and faultless” is to look after orphans and widows in their distress.
It is why Jesus came to US. It is why he spent so much time with the least of these. It is why He touched those no one was touching and asked the church to do the same. It is why He was washing feet, why He was cooking breakfast, why He was cuddling children and talking to sinful women and hanging with stinky fisherman. And telling everyone to do the same!
Because of LOVE. GOD’S love.
And if the church doesn’t HAVE that love, then the church has missed the boat Jesus is on entirely.
And THAT is my burden today. THAT matters even more than hunger. That matters even more than homeless. That matters even more than cockroaches.
There are churches full of people here and there and around the world, and MANY raise their hands in glory, hallelujah and yet have missed the message of the Gospel, the person of Jesus, the plan of God.
That is no drop in the bucket, no fleeting suffering, no temporal distress.
But man alive, that doesn’t solve it, folks. We didn’t solve it and it is a big ‘ole world.
There are hungry, sick, dying, lame, lonely people sitting on rat mattresses where you are RIGHT NOW, RIGHT THERE, and Jesus said that HE is the answer.
And that He is in us.
And that we are the church.
Someone suggested recently that I just can’t leave well-enough alone. That I just keep badgering. That I can’t stop talking about the same things.
I could, church. I could.
I could only share all the glory hallelujahs and leave the world to drink their coffee.
if not for love
I came to Haiti, the first time, because someone in the Dominican told me that Haiti was poorer. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that.
And that was it. My heart had a huge soft spot for a huge soft spot Jesus seemed to have, too…the poor. the orphan. the widow.
So I went. Came.
And there are days, even still, that you can’t even begin to wrap your mind around it. And you don’t know what to do, or what to think, and no matter what you thought maybe you could do, it isn’t. gonna. touch it.
It is to be at the very rock bottom of yourself.
So you swallow and blink and smile. You love through it as hard as you can. And you cry the whole way home.
I don’t think our students had ever quite felt that way.
Someone told them there was a place that was poorer. They couldn’t even begin to imagine that.
Where the people were so poor, that they didn’t even have what everybody else gets for free.
It wasn’t a home for the poor, like with programs and food and rooms and help and staff and stuff.
It is a big room, with nothing in it, where if you have absolutely no where to go and absolutely no one to love you, you can sit. Hungry.
You can sleep. On the floor.
You can go out and beg all day, and if you find a hand full of rice, you can sit in this room and eat it.
If you dare to let on that you have it.
They left excited to be going, to love on some others, to give Jesus and to hear some stories.
They went to feed some people, but never imagined it would be the first time many of them had eaten in days. That it would be more food than many of them ever got. Never expected the violence that they saw with the food, feeding people who did not know WHEN they would eat again.
They went to clean rooms, tables, chairs, beds.
Instead, they cleaned around piles of treasured trash.
Almost every one of the 50 people living in the home are there because some type of physical or mental disability made their families abandon them. Many were lame, many were mute or blind, many were orphans and widows. Some came to the poor house because they were considered worthless at home due to age or disability and were being badly abused.
The students came to cut and braid hair, but most said having their hair done was the first time they had been touched in an incredibly long time.
There was no bathroom. So they washed everyone outside. Bugs in hair. Wounds caked over.
No bathroom, no medical care, no meal time, no physical therapy, no help.
Maurice (1st year) went out to a local church and got pots and pans and cooking stands, and Kerline (4th year, with five kids of her own at home) and MaCodo (EBS cook) cooked all day for over 50.
They told me stories, today. Of the circumstances in each resident’s life that brought them here. Of how the people just wanted to talk.
Of how people from the village were so surprised that people came to spend the day on those people that they gathered around to watch.
They told me stories, today, of how they couldn’t breath from the smell and the heartache, looking at their buckets of soap and rice and knowing it would never be enough.
It would never be enough to change things, next week. Never be enough to meet the many needs, always.
The girls said they chatted with the ladies and talked as they braided and tried to smile and be upbeat, try to sing. It was so hard, they said, when all they wanted to do was cry. Because they (they, from Haiti) had never seen poor like this before. And they didn’t want anyone to see the tears in their eyes, that they might not discourage them.
One of our students who went is from such an incredibly poor zone with such an incredibly poor family that we actually created a scholarship just for truly impoverished students who were called at the beginning of this year. And yet even for all of the poverty that he/she has known with 8 brothers and sisters, they have never known the poverty of being ALONE, and sitting in the middle of it Saturday BROKE them.
“Why,” I asked Maurice today, “Is what you did Saturday so important? If you weren’t able to really change their circumstances? If you weren’t really able to meet all their needs? If they are truly in such dire need of help and food and relationship and you were just there for the day?”
“It WAS important!” he said quickly, hot with burden.
Why? I asked again, pushing him wanting him to think through WHY, watching him go through that torrential rage of emotions and conflict that I have felt myself among his own people so many times.
“It was important because they said that if they want to live, they always have to go out. They sleep on the floor and they wake up and go out, searching for pennies, searching for an ounce of food, begging and begging the entire today, going from person to person, begging for their existence. If they don’t go out and beg, they die.”
“It was important because they said it was the first time someone came to them. They said it was the first time they did’t beg for help, but that we came and asked to help them. They said it was the first time they did not ask for food, and food was given to them. They said it was the first time they didn’t lay in the streets with their hands reaching for each passing person, but that instead clothes and food and love and care came to them, unmerited. Unasked for. Unsought.”
“It was important, Madame Stacey,” he said urgently, my eyes welling, “It was important because they saw something this weekend that they had never seen. Love came to them and touched them and loved them and fed them. That’s Jesus. THAT is His love for them!” Maurice was almost yelling. “They saw Jesus, Madame Stacey. That was important. That is important. They saw and felt and knew Jesus this weekend, and we told them too!, but even if we hadn’t, they met Him.”
“They know that they had value to us, that they are loved by God, and that changes things, doesn’t it? That makes it important!”
Even at the very rock bottom…the rock at the bottom is our God.
And so they cried the whole way home.