Notes From Haiti

It’s always the same for me, flying into the developing world.

I look at the miles of tin shacks, busted up towns, dirt roads and smoke and I get scared. The terrain rips my carefully-affixed American blinders off like Bandaids, and fear of the unknown whispers, “Welcome to ugly, welcome to depraved, you’ll probably be a victim of something heinous here and nobody will help you.”

Luckily, those thoughts are frail. As long, sweaty moments pass in immigration, the fear recedes, because staying mentally hysterical takes a lot of energy and everybody else, the Haitians I mean, are just waiting quietly.

Haiti, it turns out, is so much like West Africa it’s disorienting to recall that Florida is only 800 miles away. One hour and 20 minutes on American Airlines flight 337.

But Florida is so much farther than 800 miles away.

Kim Kardashian if you’re reading this, and I’m pretty sure you are, you ought to swing down to Haiti on your next trip to Miami. I think if you saw it – kids struggling to scratch out a fourth grade education, some of them eating only 4-5 times a week, – it might wreck you permanently.

America darling, we need a good wrecking.

Christian ministries like Nehemiah Vision feed local kids everyday, sometimes twice. They host English camps and the only community clinic for miles. They grow food, train local leaders and create jobs for about 80 Haitians. Plus, its founder is Haitian, and we, this rag-tag band of multi-national Mercy Shippers, work under his authority.

If NVM’s work sounds noble, I assure you it is, but I struggle to describe how grinding hard it is. On Monday, the heat index was 112 and it hasn’t rained since March. The streets of Port Au Prince are so choked with potholes and busses, pregnant stray dogs and noise, it’s hard to hear yourself think. Many of the children from English camp told us their life dream is just to get out.

On days where I secretly calculated the minutes until I would use my vast American privilege to get out myself, it occurred that if I learned nothing but deep compassion and respect for Haitian resilience, that would be a fine start.

Pastor Pierre, NVM’s founder, who grew up in a dirt floor tin shack, got out, but in an act of sheer obedience, he doubled back. Today, he’s responsible for a small slice of a new Haiti, a generation of readers, leaders and lights. His students are passing their exams in the nation’s top tenth percentile.

So I’ve been thinking, why is it fair to single out Kim Kardashian as the most irresponsibly gauche and indifferent American? To the Haitians who survive on $2 a day, my middle class life in the US is just as impossibly lavish as Kim’s. No sense in me sending the responsibility for poverty up the food chain to someone even better heeled than me.

I’ve bagged the white guilt though, recognizing it for the waste of time it is. What I have instead is responsibility to a generous maker to whom I’ll give an account. And when he says “Baby, I put you in a good family, in good schools, in America at its economic apex. What did you do with that?”

What will I say?

I’m rarely sure of the right answer, so at the start of each day, I sit with Jesus and ask “what do you want me to do today?”

Then, I just get busy doing that.


How Do I Defend an Orphan – Part II

Zambia…. Photo Credit:Wikipedia

Texas Cowboys...

Texas…(Photo credit: MyEyeSees)

This July, a passel of Texans are headed to Zambia on a medical mission trip, something I wrote about here. Though invited, I’d pretty well decided not to go.

But the truth is, I want to go.

I believe many of us, Christian and non, want our lives to matter more than they currently do. We want to help other people in meaningful and systemic ways, we just aren’t sure how. So, I’m experimenting with my life and reporting back to you.

And since I am a girl who worries about cultural imperialism, I’m reading When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. This month’s Conde Nast Traveler ran an article entitled Does Voluntourism Do More Harm Than Good? Its author asks:

Wouldn’t it be better, I wonder, if we had just sent money so Grace could hire an all-Haitian crew to build these houses? Aren’t we perpetuating the “white man coming to save us” dependency that has characterized Haiti’s relationship with America ever since the United States occupied the country in 1915?

In the story, aid workers deride the “Matching T-Shirt Brigades”- typically church volunteers who arrive with inadequate skills and little cultural knowledge, to shovel dirt and hand out bible tracts. Not surprisingly, their long-term impact is negligible or damaging. Even Christians like Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, who worked for years in Costa Rica, wrote a six-part blog about the perils of short-term missions.

But remember Christians are literally required by their faith to serve and that’s why they keep showing up in matching t-shirts. So give them some credit for being faithful. Plus, the article says, $15 billion has poured into Haiti and it’s still a mess. So what do you do? I want to obey Jesus’ command to defend the orphan, but I don’t want to just hammer a few 2×4’s, and blithely photograph kids so I can gush about them on Facebook. Nor do I want to use Africa as a key to unlock my own spiritual prisons.

After all, what is the trip about? The mission or the missionary?

“It’s both,” said Holly Garland of SCRUBS Medical Missions. She explains with a story about a deeply burnt out local dentist who went on a trip with them. He came back rejuvenated and excited about serving his people in his own practice. Other missionaries, she said, have never taken another trip because they got so busy serving their own communities. The mission shifted their whole paradigm.

“And we are not the great white hope,” Holly said, adding that humility and relationship-building are at the core of their work. That’s why SCRUBS has committed to work in the same village, with the same pastor. SCRUBS was invited there and it defers to his leadership on development projects.

And they pray for people, sharing what they know about Jesus.

Holly said, one elderly woman had been told God hears only the priest, not her, and his prayers are expensive. The woman cried when Holly told her it wasn’t true. When the village leader asked for a Bible, they gave him one in his language. He had heard of The Proverbs and wanted to try them out in his next conflict.

That doesn’t sound like cultural imperialism to me. It sounds like friendship.

Mother Teresa famously said, people in the west are dying of spiritual disease like people in the east are dying of physical ones. While the people in Chongwe are materially poor, Holly said, they have a strong sense of joy and contentment.

What is the number one struggle in my materially abundant American life? Ironically, it’s contentment. So maybe if I accept, I am just as broken as the villagers of Chongwe, only in different ways, that might keep me from acting like the great white hope. Maybe by humbly offering myself, broken parts and all, God can use the whole thing to help someone else. And that’s what I want.

So yes, it absolutely is about me, just not in the way I thought. I don’t have to have it all figured out, so I can fly to Zambia and get them figured out. Yuck. At best, this trip, if I go, is less a gift from me to them, as an exchange of gifts between us.

Where Do the Righteous Rush?

Author, speaker, blogger Jen Hatmaker, posted recently about the upcoming election. She took to task Christians on both sides of the political fence for cozying up to their chosen party’s un-Christlike shenanigans.

And, she was pilloried for it. (Pause here for a moment of surprise.)

Haiti 2010

(Photo credit: Cap’n Brian)

The week before, Hatmaker was in Haiti blogging on behalf of Help One Now a Christian relief organization, attempting to address, among other things, the conditions in Haiti’s tent cities which have earned them the nickname “rape camps.”

Did those posts go viral? Engender outrage? Nope. The response, Hatmaker says, was sincere but small.

Why are we comfortable with a version of Christianity that bears so little resemblance to Christ? What do we think we are doing? How can you call yourself a ball player if you don’t actually play ball?

“Yah, take that,” I can hear the non-Christians saying.

Well, wait a sec. It cuts both ways. When I was not a Christian, I still considered myself a socially conscious, defender of the poor. Unfortunately, that mostly meant I sat around with my socially conscious friends and talked about the problem of poverty, but none of us did that much about it. No ball playing there either.

Hatmaker considers this in thoughtful post about our priorities as followers of Christ – especially those of us to whom much has been given, ie: most Americans.

“It’s so easy to get incensed over American politics; that pill goes down like a dream compared to rape camp. Identify with Jesus in His sufferings? Pass. Identify with a political party? Sign me the freak up.”

Her post is worth a read for the solid reminder that God cares a great deal about widows, orphans and the poor. Hatmaker suggests that God cares less that we defend His honor during election season and more that we defend theirs in rape camps.

The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.” ~Life of Pi (quoted in Hatmaker’s post)