Monday, April 15, 2013

Love Greater than Peanut Butter

Coming home from Nassau always feels a bit dizzying...and this time is no exception.  I'm also returning from my first-ever-soon-to-be-repeated trip to Haiti, which adds another layer of experience to debrief.

There really aren't words to describe the emotions of tonight.  Horror at some of the things I have just seen.  Immense joy as I think about the kids in Nassau and how blessed I am to call them friends.  Tremendous pride in my students, who wisely and bravely navigate cross-cultural relationships to share the love of Christ in the face of injustice.  My heart is swelling.  I am so thankful.

There were many highlights over the past ten days:

Playing with kids at the orphanages in Haiti and meeting the people who care for them.

Hiking up a hill to a little makeshift church where nearly 100 people have come to know Jesus since the earthquake, and hearing the pastor say that the Voodoo temples in the area have mostly disappeared.

Greeting my little friends in Nassau and hearing them read their nursery rhymes or tell me about school.

Watching my student, Will, fulfill the dream of his year-long senior project to plant a vegetable garden at Carmichael Church that will feed hungry kids in the neighborhood.

Dancing and giggling into the night with a group of middle school girls and women my own age at the church {{pure joy!}}. 

Spending a lazy Saturday playing with the neighborhood kids.

Taking peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and popsicles to our friends at Anna's house.

Tonight, I settle back into the old rhythms.  Take Aiden molasses cookies and feel the spring breeze on my back as I ride.  Get a manicure to remove the grime of the past ten days from under my fingernails.  Order takeout.  Cozy up on my plush sofa and call my parents.

But as I slide easily into my comfy life with all its little luxuries, the children I met in Haiti will still have to climb a half mile or more up hill with the day's water.  And as Will wisely remarked today, our friend Ronell is still sitting on the same dank stoop in the hot Bahamian sun.  The precious kids I love still don't have a clean spot to lay their heads.

And the same old question haunts me:  
what must change in my life to make a difference in theirs? 

It is one thing to travel to these places and offer love, encouragement, a PB&J.  But it's another to effect lasting change.  I want to do that.  To make a difference that counts.  And as I lie between my soft, organic cotton sheets writing this, I confess that change--real change--feels far off. How can it be near when I'm so comfy-cozy-not-lacking-anything?  These are the questions with which I wrestle, without exception, each time I return from the little Haitian slum on Carmichael Road.

Sister Mona at the Good Shepherd Orphanage in Carfour, Haiti says that presence is the most important thing we can give.  "When you come with your smiles and play with our children," the articulate orphanage director quips, "we know that we are no longer forsaken." 

And so it is with my Jesus, who had dirt under his fingernails.  He stopped to spend time with the down-and-out, the brokenhearted, and the outcast.  He invited children to come sit on his lap.  He offered some loaves and fish.  Even he, our Good Teacher and the Healer of the whole world did not solve the problems of poverty and hunger and injustice in a day.  He just moved on into the neighborhood (John 1:14) and visited a while. 

They know Him best, these little friends of mine with not much in their tummies.  And spending time with them, I come to know Him better, too.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The God Who Stoops Low

On Wednesday I was writing discussion questions for our area WHY Groups on the Beatitudes.  I hoped to draw the distinction between our world's view of success and what Jesus says about what it means to be blessed.  In a way only Jesus can, he radically redefines our ideas of blessedness: if you are poor, if you mourn, if you are meek, hungry, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking, or persecuted--you will be blessed (Matthew 5:3-10).

Lutheran pastor/teacher Brian Stoffregen's comments are helpful in understanding the Greek word for "blessed," makarios:

"The old Rabbi said, "In olden days there were men who saw the face of God."
"Why don't they any more?" a young student asked.
"Because, nowadays no one stoops so low," he replied.
"Who wants to be a lowly person? Who wants to be stooped down? Most of us spend a good part of our lives trying to pull ourselves up. We want to walk tall in society. But, according to this rabbi, it is the lowly – those stooped low – who see the face of God. According to Jesus in the Beatitudes, it is the lowly – those stooped low – who are blessed by God. This runs counter to the normal uses of that word for blessed, makarios."

Later that afternoon, I went to WestConn to hear a speaker from a New Haven-based NGO called Love146 that combats the child sex slave trade.  The organization is closely linked to IJM, but its focus is more narrow.

Love146 COO Jim Ehrmen expertly communicated the problem to an audience for whom the issue was relatively new.  "The market value of a slave in 1850 was $40,000 with inflation," he said.  "And pardon my crassness, but when you have a machine at that value, you take care of it."  Then he shared the shocking reality; a child sex slave in today's economy is worth roughly $90.  And so millions of children around the world are being trafficked and used as commodities that may be discarded when they are no longer useful to their owners.

"You wanna know what's fueling sex trafficking right now," Jim asked the crowd.  "Children who don't have a rudder, who don't have a home, who don't have a sense of well-being."  

In the face of such devastating information, I'm thankful that we serve a God who has stooped low for us, making himself nothing (Philippians 2) and taking on the suffering of the world.

I continue to wrestle with this question of how I am to join Him in this stooping low, this identifying with the suffering of the poor, the mourning, the hungry, the persecuted.  

This morning, I'm departing for Haiti--a part of the world that some have called "Fourth World," simply because the living conditions there are so far beyond anything else in the underdeveloped world (i.e. Third World).  I am thankful for this opportunity to meet those who have seen the face of God.  May we be a people who take hold of the same blessing.