Saturday, May 18, 2013
Bathing in the Overwhelming
I woke before 6 am to begin my trip up the mountain. I'd promised Oberline we'd go to find her Aunt who lived on the top today. I knew she'd be waiting to see if I'd keep my word.
By that time, high on the mountain, he was already awake and stepping out the door, leaving his wife and two little children, walking down the steep paths and ravines. His thoughts were already far away. He had a bounce in his step as he traversed the dry riverbeds. His feet found their way down, descending in rhythm over rocks he's walked ten thousand times, while his hopes ascended to the heights of the clouds. Today he was carrying his identification card, and in a special folder there was a certificate from the church along with a picture from the day he graduated seminary. He's pastored for 24 years, but he's bringing the only paper that bears his name, the only proof he has in the world that he's a pastor. The only proof on paper anyway. He's hoping to meet the blanc (white) who gives Bibles. There's a good chance that today he'll be able to bring Bibles back for his church.
At first I'd only planned to take Oberline on the motorcycle, just her and I, so the trip would be quick, but I felt for whatever reason that I should stir the family and ask if they'd like to come along.
First was Kari, who was eager and just waiting for the invitation. She right away began to make coffee and breakfast.
Then there were the two kids. Both had talked the night before about how they'd like to sleep in, since it was Saturday and all. I woke them gently and dropped the bug in their ears.
"Hey, wanna go for a little hike today?" I said. "If we leave early it will still be nice and cool."
They both stirred a little. I let the thought simmer just a bit. I walked out of their room and waited a few minutes. The idea began to percolate, a slow awakening to the adventure that the day might bring. I looked into the bedroom to see children stretching.
By now the man had reached the road and was just flagging down a tap-tap taxi, finally down the mountain, finally a little rest. He sat down, already weary from his journey, in the bed of the truck with many other people bound for the market.
Mom put breakfast and even a little coffee for the kids on the table. Eyes were getting a little wider. Yawns were finishing up.
There was talk of bringing the dog, then about how the dog is such a lover and not a fighter that he'd get himself half-killed when he ran into those mountain dogs. There were weepy eyes over not bringing the dog, and then we were finally on our way out the door.
As we swung open the gate, there he was. He was just arriving. We were just leaving. He had a big smile on his face. Finally Pastor Jean had reached his destination.
I showed him the Bibles we have to give, and other Bibles and literature that my missionary friend Harold has to offer, then I explained the process of how to sign up. He was hoping to come home with Bibles in his hands for the people on the mountain, hungry for the Word. I had to explain that it is a bit of a process, yet worthwhile, and other churches are waiting ahead of his. "We do what we can, but we're just one family."
He was content, although deflated. Happy, but also a little down.
"Just have a little patience, Pastor. God knows." I said.
"Yes. Okay. Patience...." he smiled. "Where are you going now?"
"We're going up the mountain to bring a girl to visit family. Do you know Marescot?"
"Yes! I live only 5 minutes from there!" He exclaimed. "I'm returning home now. This was the only reason I came to the city. Can I go with you?"
"Absolutely." I said. He jumped in the car and I explained to Kari and the kids,
"For whatever reason, God has decided we need an escort today."
Everyone shrugged, beginning to become accustomed to God's rearranging in Haiti.
We jammed the car full of kids from the old village on their way to a special school party. I checked the pastors face in the mirror, to begin to gauge the man. Is he going to get all bent out of shape, with children crowding in all around him? Is he going to become indignant?
No. He loved. He smiled. His face was pure joy.
We drove as far as the car could go and then began our journey. The people that we crossed paths with all met him with soft eyes. Some very tenderly called him Papa, a more intimate word for Pastor.
The further we walked into the mountain, the greater the warmth in smiles, the closer the bond.
Twenty four years he's pastored in these hills, in a wooden structure with bamboo.
"Maybe you can come to my house after the girl visits her family?" He asked.
"We will see, Pastor. There may not be time today."
We came to Oberline's family, and right away began the worldly discussions. Everything revolved around money. I watched this young girl who missed her family begin to deflate, as almost nothing was spoken to her but instead everyone asked for large sums of money to build a new roof for their house. She soon remembered what it was like to live as a restavek, a child slave, as one who goes unnoticed and unseen. She walked up to Kari and placed Kari's arms around her tightly in an embrace.
We prayed over the family and the house, and asked God for provision to help them, and I told them that would have to suffice for now. Oberline was very hurt that her family was asking me for money and things. I could see she was very bothered and ready to go.
"Pastor, let's go visit your house now." I said. It was time to shake free of the hurt.
We walked for 10 minutes down the path and came to his humble home nestled into the mountainside. He walked around the back of the house to the outdoor kitchen and called out to his wife.
As soon as we rounded the corner, as soon as her eyes met mine, she began to weep. She raised her hands to Heaven and gave all glory and praise to God, and the tears began to flow freely. She hugged us. Embraced us. She ushered us into her small home as if the Son of God Himself had just graced her presence. She began to sing to temper her crying, to contain herself as she sent her little girls scrambling for chairs so we could sit. She rushed into the back room and returned with a pail of water and a wash basin. We were on top of the mountain. Water here is scarce and precious. Children walk great distances for just one pail, and it's meant to last atleast half the day.
She knelt at my feet and asked if she could wash my hands. She placed the soap in my hands, but stopped me when I began to scrub myself. She asked that I be still, and then she bathed my hands. She poured the cool mountain water into my palms and then began to work the soap into a lather. She massaged my hands until there were no more traces of dust from our travels. Her touch was gentle, full of love, absolutely humble. Her own hands were trembling.
Lord, You've called me here to serve, and this woman serves me? I should be washing her feet.
When she finished with my hands and rinsed me, she gave me a towel to pat dry, and then started right to work on my feet, with the same tender care. I began to cry. To be still and simply receive this blessing was overwhelming to me, beyond my ability to compose. She finished with me and began to bathe the hands and feet of my wife, and then my daughter, and then my son. Logan looked up at me, visibly stirred in his spirit.
"Dad, what can we do for this family?" All of us were deeply moved.
Yet it was the next moment that took my breath. She turned to Oberline, this Haitian girl who was once a child-slave, and she began to show her the same honor, love and respect. It was as if she were welcoming a princess into her home.
"Do you remember 3 years ago when I washed your feet, Oberline?" I asked her.
Oberline gushed as she began to remember. Years ago when I'd first discovered she was a restavek, I sat her down and explained how much Jesus loved her. I told her it was more than words, that I'd have to show her, and I washed her feet.
"Do you see the difference between this house where Jesus lives, and the house we just came from?"
Why does this Momma bathe your hands and feet now, the same as I did for you? It's because of Jesus. In my heart, in this woman's heart the same. He's telling you that He loves you."
"Yes!" Oberline said. She was beyond words.
Her husband then walked in the door with fresh cut coconuts, cut just perfect with machete so we could drink them.
His wife finished bathing all of us and began to soak up the water spilled on the floor with a canvas sack. I knelt to help her, but she grabbed my arm.
"No! This is not the work for you. Please, sit." She said.
After she finished she washed her own hands and then asked her husband to have Abricot carried in. This just happens to be Abby and Oberline's all-time favorite fruit. This beautiful mother began to peel it for us, serving us on her best plates. I offered it to the children and their father. They only picked the smallest and least attractive pieces of fruit from the plate.
When we had our fill she finally sat down with us. I could see she didn't feel comfortable to just sit. The kids ran out to play and we all sat in silence, just enjoying the wonderfully cool breeze the Lord had brought up the mountain to break the mid-day heat. A very colorful and handsome rooster strutted slowly into the frame of the door.
"What a beautiful rooster!" My wife commented.
The pastor's wife looked at her husband,
"What do you think, Jean?" she asked.
"Whatever you want, honey." He said to her, his voice soft.
I couldn't hold back a chuckle.
"Kari, you just became the owner of a rooster!" I said.
"What!? No! I didn't mean-!" She looked at me frantically, but it was too late. She'd already made the comment, just acknowledging it was a beautiful bird, and by the hospitality of the culture, the bird was now hers. It's always a hard lesson to learn, and we Americans always forget it in this culture. If you don't accept the gift, then it becomes nearly the equivalent of slapping someone in the face. It's actually humiliating to them, and very embarrassing. But Kari couldn't hold back atleast trying to un-accept,
"We really don't need this rooster. It's too much! This would be too much of a blessing! He is for you!"she said.
I tried in vain to help, "You've blessed us so much already."
"No, no." The mother said, "You don't understand. We've already been greatly blessed. Not long ago my daughter had become very sick and was expected to die, but God rescued her and made her strong again. Today she is here. This gift is small and nothing compared to the gift He's given us."
I know the value of the water, the value of the coconut and the Abricot. I know how many mouths that rooster would feed. And this woman on the mountain in Haiti knows something too.
You can't out-give God.
We prayed over their home, their family and their church, and again asked God for provision to come alongside this family that is carving the Word into these rock-filled mountains that have long echoed the drums of voodoo.
When we finished, she turned to her husband, "Jean, you can walk them back down and carry the bird for them?"
He smiled, "Of course."Again, the hospitality of the mountain people. They will often walk you all the way back home or to your car, even it's miles and miles and hours out of their way.
My feet were already aching, and I couldn't help but wonder how he felt. Down the mountain, up the mountain, down with us again, and still another trip back up in this scorching heat.
Our legs began to take on the feel of jelly as we wobbled along.
After we said our goodbye's and finally reached our car, most of the day had passed. Some 'little hike', I thought. Hope the kids don't want to kill me.
I asked Kari, "Can you imagine if I'd experienced all of this on my own, and just came alone? What blessings might we have missed?"
I cannot begin to comprehend the love of my Father. It passes my understanding. To find His attitude in harmony with his people is such a marvelous mystery to me, reassuring and confirming. I know He walks with me. I have no doubt in Him. His Spirit binds us all together for something so much greater than ourselves. Something that I know my eyes will someday see.
In my rear-view mirror were my son and daughter, absolutely exhausted and collapsed, and yet both telling me they were feeling totally blessed. There was my wife sitting next to me with a content smile on her face, talking about how she loves days like these. There was a young lady, once a child-slave, now a child of the Most High King, lost in the Overwhelming Love of her Father. Her thoughts were far away, but she was nestled there between my kids, bouncing down the road, part of another family, adopted in our hearts. There were two Abricots rolling along on the floor, gifts for the road, and then this handsome rooster, staring back at me open-beaked with his feet tied. He was the only one who looked a little worried. I decided to name him Fred.
"Welcome to the family, Fred. I hope the dog and the cat don't eat you."