Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mountains and Mangos: Eight Days in Haiti

Haiti-01People talk about being the “hands and feet” of Christ, referring to the Biblical analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 between parts of the human body and the various talents of followers of Jesus. As I boarded the plane to Haiti and found myself among numerous medical personnel, I wondered whether I was with “hands and feet” or “white blood cells.” Most people traveling to Haiti right now are medical personnel, working to fight diseases.

I met up with three men, also on spring break, from the Boston area. One of them had been in Grand-Goâve, where we spent eight nights, when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck two months earlier on January 12. He slept next to me in our tent. On our last night, a 4.2-magnitude tremor woke us up at 2:16am local time. He and I experienced the tremor differently. I kind of wanted to experience a small earthquake, provided that no one would be hurt. I got my wish. When the tremor happened, he sat straight up, started clawing at the tent’s walls and said, “I can’t get out of this tent fast enough.”

Haiti-02I have compassion for the Haitian people. We spent several hours traveling within Haiti, from Port-au-Prince to Grand-Goâve, into the mountains, and even through Léogâne, the town at the epicenter of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake. We saw rubble and collapsed buildings everywhere we went. Many people are sleeping in tents. Someone said Haitians are afraid of buildings now.

The organization we assisted has a school, an orphanage and two churches. We spent the week working with Haitians to rebuild a structure where teams and workers will stay when they visit. We also helped build a temporary, ventilated structure that will allow about thirty orphans to move out of their sauna-like tents.

The orphans hung out with us as much as possible. When we walked from Point A to Point B, orphans would come up from behind and grab our hands. When we went to church, three or four orphans would find their ways next to us or onto our laps within the first few minutes. The seven- and eight-year old boys jumped into our arms and happily allowed us to hold them for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.

After spending several days with orphans in Haiti, I had a hard time not drawing comparisons between the situation in Haiti and the situation in North Africa. In early March, authorities expelled several Christians who were caring for orphans in North Africa. After seeing Haitian orphans starving for attention, I find it even more difficult to comprehend why a North African government would rather its children grow up without parents than grow up with a chance of hearing about Jesus.

Haiti-05God is gracious. As I sat under the shade of Haitian mango trees, listening to the ocean’s tide and watching hummingbirds sip nectar from bright red hibiscus flowers, I no longer saw the mountains beyond mountains in front of me. The mountains still existed, to be sure, and they will continue to exist for a long time. But God provides relief and hope in the midst of difficult circumstances.

The mangos fell regularly at the shady beachside property where we pitched our tent. The Haitians in our camp rushed to grab and eat mangos whenever they fell. They never tired of eating them. I ate part of a mango one day and enjoyed it, but as a treat, not as a staple of my diet.

A few weeks before we arrived, workers at our camp built a shower house, complete with a pitched tin roof. By the end of the week, whenever a mango fell on the tin roof, we would ritualistically yell, “Mango!” and the Haitians would come running. I even started groggily murmuring, “Mango!” in the middle of the night when I heard a thud against the tin roof. In the morning, I pointed out the mangos on the ground, and our Haitian friends appreciatively gathered and ate them.

Haiti-06When I first heard about the earthquake in Haiti, I wanted to go and help move mountains. At some point during our time in Haiti, I realized that the mountains would long outlast our visit. This was a sobering and humbling realization. Toward the end of our visit, as I watched the Haitians carry forward with rebuilding, I recognized the obvious: they would continue making progress after we left.

We carried a lot of rocks, concrete and timber in Haiti, but we did not move any mountains. We get too caught up on tasks sometimes. We forget that we serve a highly-relational God who sent Jesus to Earth to live, die and conquer death, that we might have a relationship with Him.

Somehow I suspect that each time we shouted, “Mango!” the smile on God’s face got just a little broader.

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