Monday, May 19, 2014

The Wretched

In finding ourselves fitted for the service of Our Lord there is the most ecclesiastical of epiphanies, a churchly charge rooted in the simple joy of usefulness and purpose. There is a wonderful filling up of the soul with a fresh gust of the Divine. Hope! Beauty! Love! Yet in this same present vessel there lurks also the untamed beast of Self, hungry and stalking to devour any morsel of that spirit. He savors any juicy taste of the Yielded. He waits in the shadows with a steely silence, anticipating the next lowering of the guard, that quiet surrender or sigh or longing. It's a cloaked mutiny, treason of the Most High, yet played out in the private chambers of the heart. This is what drives him. This is where he finds his growl, there in the choked throat of the struggling saint, in knees so deeply mired. This is the bane of his existence, to calculate and pounce, to fill his belly and lick his loins for yet one more day of wretchedness.

And for this, this wretch, Jesus did not run away.

This King knew every treachery, every double-cross, every broken promise, every coup d'├ętat, and yet no one took His life. Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself so that a table might be spread, that there might be a feast in your honor, and all this while you were yet a wretch. We are all yet wretches this side of Heaven, and there is none that are righteous. No, not one. It's not that any one man has risen to the Esteemed and is now deemed holy to teach the rest of the Wallowers. The very stink of wretchedness and a man's realization of his own wretched self yet embraced by the Splendid, this is what forms him, fitted and ready, for the service to The Lord. He knows what he is rescued from, and he knows it's himself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

When Helping Hurts

During a time of serious prayer and a breaking heart God brought me to this book. I'm not even half way through it, but I can tell you that with almost every page I can hear my spirit saying, "YES!"
This is exactly what I'm experiencing and feeling in missions. It's sharpening, convicting, and it's true.
There's come a time for us to rethink how we are helping. I'd like to challenge you in your growing, to take a look and spend some time understanding how and 'When Helping Hurts'.

This in particular is hitting home in Haiti:

'Managerial paternalism is perhaps the hardest nut to crack. We middle-to-upper-class North Americans love to see things get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Relative to many other cultures, including many low-income communities in North America, we are prone to take charge, particularly when it appears that nobody else is moving fast enough. As a result, we often plan, manage, and direct initiatives in low-income communities when people in those communities could do these things quite well already. The structure and pace might be different if the low-income communities undertook the projects themselves, but they could do a good job nonetheless.
You might be asking, “Then why don’t they take charge and manage these projects if they are so gifted?” There are lots of reasons that the people, churches, and organizations in low-income communities might not take charge, but here are several common ones that should give us some pause before rushing into a low-income community and grabbing the reins in any project:

They do not need to take charge because they know that we will take charge if they wait long enough.

They lack the confidence to take charge, particularly when the “superior,” middle-to-upper-class North Americans are involved.

They, like we, have internalized the messages of centuries of colonialism, slavery, and racism: Caucasians run things and everyone else follows.

They do not want the project to happen as much as we do. For example, they might know the project will accomplish little in their context but are afraid to tell us for fear of offending us.

They know that by letting us run the show it is more likely that we will bring in money and other material resources to give to them.

There are situations in which a lack of local leadership and managerial ability may require the outsiders to perform these functions, but we should be very, very cognizant of our tendencies as middle-to-upper-class North Americans to take charge and run things. Remember, the goal is not to produce houses or other material goods but to pursue a process of walking with the materially poor so that they are better stewards of their lives and communities, including their own material needs.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule! There are times when the Holy Spirit might move us to do something for the materially poor that they can do for themselves. But just remember that these situations are the exception, not the rule.'

When Helping Hurts

The Prince & His Bride

This was a treasured day for me. We took a break between harvesting and planting and ventured out to one of our favorite pastures with Jean Wilbert's family. For awhile I've wanted to capture his family in photos. 
We crossed the river right at the spot where Jean Wilbert was baptized and got away from the noise of the village. Benita even brought her new Haitian Songbook so I could record them singing. 

Kari showed up with some of the children from her kids club, and we all just relaxed together. When it came time for them to sing, I began recording and Kari almost fell asleep as she closed her eyes and drifted in the peace. Abby took the kids down by the river to play while we listened to this new Christian singing hymns with his wife.  I really think music will be the way 
Jesus speaks to Benita's heart.   

We played with their baby boy, Nathaniel, who is the baby I had the honor of naming last year after Benita's emergency C-section. Today he's just learning to stand. 
Eventually the kids all ran up and began to give me their best renditions from their favorite hymns. Jean Wilbert jumped right in with the low boom of his voice. This once hardened man, gentle among these little ones. It was a blessed day. At the end, the girls picked some flowers from the lilies in the river and stuck them in our hats. It may be the corniest picture in the world, but it speaks a mountain of words to me. This tough farmer, after a year and a half of struggles, wrestling with God, now my friend, even more my brother, and here he is brimming over with the fruit of the Spirit. We've had our ups and downs, times where we both had to lay ourselves down, and I can recall every moment when he fell upon the Rock of Jesus with little discoveries, nuggets of gold that God would use to highlight His presence for him with each passing day. Today Jean Wilbert doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks. He's set his face like flint to follow Christ, and that's the end of it. I see such peace in his eyes and joy in his smile. His family is setting out on a beautiful road together, a journey of eternal value, and God has given me just a peek of His handiwork. 

In my little, worn Bible there is a page with the name 'Prince Jean Wilbert' scribbled in to help me remember the day this man gave his life to the Lord. Prince is actually Jean Wilbert's last name, and in Haiti you always write the last name first, so literally his name is Prince Jean Wilbert. I always knew he was royalty. 

Just above his name is another inscription to help me remember what discipleship looks like: It isn't 'Here I Come to Save the Day'.  It's about doing life, caring, living, loving, one person at a time. To me, missions is about careful strokes, little calculations with Holy Spirit-sized movements. It's about getting your eyes off what the whole world thinks and focusing in on the heart and mind of what your Father thinks about the soul in front of you.
The inscription reads: Aim Small. Miss Small. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

An Honest Prayer

Today I stepped into the field, maybe a little deflated.
I've seen some things in missions lately that have left my hope a little weathered for the wear.

There was alot of work ahead. Half of the crop is finished. It was time to swing the hoe and the pick-axe again and begin the work of bringing in a new rotation of peppers. Before me lay alot of hardened dirt. I could see Jean Wilbert's hoe was standing in the corner of the field, but he was nowhere in sight. There wasn't a Haitian anywhere in sight.
"I guess the novelty has worn off." I thought. "Not so interesting to see the White working these days. That's ok."
I took a swing with the hoe, then another, then one more. And then there came a little conviction mixed in with the dirt.
I stopped and removed my hat from my head,
"Sorry Lord. I wasn't working this ground like I'm working for you...I'm not looking forward to the labor...please bless this work, please bless this ground and bring more souls for Your glory. Thank you."

I took a swing, and then another, thinking that when this crop comes ready for harvest I won't even be here. I won't even see the fruits of labor...
"I crack the ground...Jean Wilbert plants the seed." I thought.
The earth was a little harder than I realized, so I walked back to the house for the pick-axe.

When I returned I found Jean Wilbert in the field with a new young man named Henry.
Henry likes to sing. Sometimes he sings as loud as he possibly can and you can hear him long before you see him. Sometimes you're also not in the mood for someone who thinks they're the next Bieber, and sometimes as he's singing he's actually mocking you, except he thinks that because he's doing it in song, nobody's figured it out...
"Hello Henry." We shook hands.

The man had passed by the garden and Jean Wilbert had felt led to ask him into the field for a God-ordained purpose.
As we cracked the earth I listened to him ministering to this man, giving him Scripture from Romans 15:1-6, encouragement from the Word, and the assurance of truth and hope.
"I saw you walking by." He said. "I don't know why, you are not fit for this kind of work (Henry is a bit of a feeble young man), but I knew I was supposed to ask you to come and work. I don't have any money to give you. But God has something to give you." He said. "When you walk with Him, He walks with you, He fights for you. He loves you. You hear what I'm saying? I needed to tell you that."

Here was my neighbor, big, strong, tough farmer, now quoting this passage to his neighbor, "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up."

God's grace shatters every kind of man. He turns us inside out and upside down, and all for His glory.

I talked with Henry about the hearts of men, how we are sometimes just like this dirt. Some of us are harder, and we have to be broken up before we can receive the seed. Anyone that knows me knows I thoroughly enjoy a good garden analogy. I think God does too. I'm pretty sure that's why it all started in Eden.
It wasn't long after that and Henry finished and left the field, his head full of thoughts.

I told Jean Wilbert when he has a chance there's another verse God brought to my mind,
"What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." (1 Cor 3:5-6)
"Today I cracked the ground, you planted the seed, and God will give the growth."
"Yes!" He said.

We spent the rest of the morning working together, him trying to help me perfect my hoe-swinging to match the effectiveness and skill of a Haitian farmer, and me trying not to let on that my back is killing me. I'm going to miss these moments with my friend.

Lately I'm not sure of the effectiveness of cross-culture missions, the inner-workings, behind-the-scenes of missions, or what we even consider missions these days. But I am sure of one thing, God is still working. He's still listening. He's still answering even the most honest of prayers because He is still on the throne.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It Doesn't Take a Village

You've heard the phrase "It takes a village...", an old proverb that today is a popular way of saying, "it requires a multitude of people".
I'm a missionary, strike that, a ragamuffin, with boots on the ground in Haiti. I very seldom get anything right. I've learned the longer I live here that I really know nothing. But I need you to help me out with this...

I was watching a cargo truck on the main road, normally filled with goods like coconuts or rice, instead being loaded to the gills with Americans. They were all bouncy, happy, drinking sodas and cramming their faces with food. They were snapping selfies, snapping photos of the truck, of their friends, of Americans standing up in the back of a truck. Americans love to do that here. On any given day you can sit on the National Road and inevitably a carload of Americans will go flying by with white people hanging on the floorboards or out the windows like dogs with their ears and tongues flapping in the wind. The more daring love sitting on the roof of the car. They have no clue how many accidents we see here. How if one goat or cow or moto hops out in front of them they will find themselves, maybe, in a Haitian hospital where the reality of medical care in a third-world country will come bitterly seeping in as you slowly bleed to death on the floor next to your Haitian brothers and sisters. Maybe a doctor will look at you. Maybe not.

But it's a liberty. Something they don't get to do in America because of those pesky laws and State troopers, but here, aha here, there are no laws. Americans love that. Freedom is something we crave, probably because it's slowly being prostituted away.
Still, we love getting completely immersed in....ourselves.

Around them was the picture of money. The latest in sports wear, technology, earrings, sunglasses. The most innovative water bottles and backpacks... This is the modern day missionary team...

This isn't Disneyland. America, please understand the rest of the world is not Disneyland.

Haitian people were standing there watching them. None of them were smiling. None were happy. Most look anxious like they are living in a bad dream. Those are probably the paid translators. The leaders of the group pulled out in an $85,000 Land Cruiser, and off they went. Most likely they'd already saved-the-day for a few dozen, or maybe a few Haitians, and this was just the now coveted "beach day" that all Americans must have if they are truly expected to take up the cross for a week, or excuse me, 5 days.

The Haitians are the most hospitable people I've ever met. They'd give you the shirt off their back, their best chair in the house, and the only fruit in their tree. I'm told much of the rest of the world is the same way. And we come here to serve or to be served? Are we coming in humility or pride? Are we placing them above ourselves, or are we thinking our ways, our ideas, our education, our everything is better and therefore superior? I can tell you this. In one of these options love can thrive. The other is a vacuum where life itself cannot exist.

Do you detect some cynicism? There is some I admit. Because I don't understand. These are the people, my people, coming here literally by the truckload, week after week after week. It's no wonder to me why the Haitians stereotype me. They see me and if they don't know me, they immediately yell, "Hey White! Give me money!" It's all they know.

They insult me in their language because they assume I don't know a syllable of their own. They think my only language is money. That's all my people have shown them. They don't see love because it's not what gets handed out.

The compassion of today, your hurt in my heart, is being translated, twisted into something self-serving. Is this the treasure, here? Where moth and rust destroy. Is this the end of the rainbow? Where my only hope as a native is to somehow get my family to your idea of paradise, so they can drown in the Sea of Forgetfulness.

Pleasure. Comfort. Money. Me. These are the names of Gods. The Living God? Who is He?

Folks, it doesn't take a village. We don't need a village to come here. We don't need to come here and create a village either. They already have the village. Thousands of them. Each one unique, there for a purpose. Natural communities, families, farmers, widows, orphans, problems. We're supposed to meet them in their afflictions. Help those who can't take care of themselves. It requires one + Jesus. Love them. Do life with them. We're not supposed to come and take the tour, build them what we think they need, hug their babies as if we know we are leaving them in Hell and then go home, armed with our memory-filled cameras...because that's exactly where our compassion lives, on some memory card, lost between a sea of family vacation photos as we get back to the grind... We can't just go back to Wal-Mart after seeing the heart of God.

Why does James say it? Ask yourself why?

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
He calls us into the dark places to bring the light. Without reciprocation. Unconditionally. Anonymously if need be. Where the only residue that is left behind is not the stench of another culture's gods, but the beautiful fragrance of the Living God, desiring to meet them in their needs, to walk with them and love them through His people. Christians bear His name. But if He is on our lips and far from our hearts, what are we really doing?

Let's revisit the Biblical model, can we?
This is the American model. It's the Money model.
It's a model for failure. It's broken.

Let's go back to the model God already laid out, and see what happens when the Divine intercedes.
Let's return to following Him and not ourselves, to obeying what He's telling us to do, not what our pop culture is into, and let's see if the promise of that Gentlemen doesn't ring in our hearts, "and surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age."