At some point in late July or early August TNMBC Senior Pastor Patrick J. Walker and Pastor Angelo Berry tapped 10 men on the shoulder. Of course, this is figurative language for the challenge they put forth for some to take hold of the opportunity afforded by partnership with Lott Carey and Grace International to be a blessing to the Haitian people for the glory of God at Lambi Village. The slogan was "100 Men, 10 Homes" and the idea was to help rebuild the lives of Haitians who lost homes during the 2010 earthquake. I knew I was going and with a little re-shuffling, TNMBC ended up sending 9 men including two Haitian-Americans: myself and another brother from Cambria Heights (Queens), NY- Ricardi Damille. More on him later...
One of the first things I understood about the trip was that this was a work-based missions trip. There are all kinds of missions trips and this would be my second one centered on building/construction. I knew that the labor itself would be an expression of God's love as demonstrated by Jesus on the cross, but not exactly the proclamation of it. As Ephesians 2 teaches us, we are saved by grace through faith- not of works. But the same chapter also informs us that even before we came to Christ, God had already drawn up plans for our lives that included specific works--good works-- that would distinguish and mark us as masterpieces; His very own handiwork (Ephesians 2:10).
To me, life itself is nothing more than the unfolding and discovery of God's dream for how my life should glorify Him. So, I can say that I truly felt led to go. I was ready for the grunt work. I welcomed the sweat. Lord knows, I ate a pound of dust everyday going to and from the work site via the dusty roads between Carrefour and Leogane. While I was prepared to follow through the day-to-day rigors of construction that the mission called for, I am truly grateful for moments orchestrated by Providence when the greater mission emerged. With Ricardi's permission, I'm glad to share one such experience at this time.
The team had already spent half of the day under the Haitian sun at heavy labor when one of our team members took ill. I happened to be walking up a hill with Jonny Jeune, our host and construction engineer for the village. When we spotted our brother who was obviously suffering from some kind of heat exhaustion, Jonny quickly decided he should go back to our living quarters. He wisely asked Ricardi, fluent in Haitian Creole, to accompany our brother who is also an elder pastor. They headed back to the hotel together.
Once the pastor was comfortably seated, Ricardi went to find some water to bring him more relief. However, when he requested water from the owner's son, the young man mumbled something to himself and walked away completely dismissing Ricardi's plea on behalf of the pastor. Not sure what to make of it, Ricardi returned to the pastor to care for and keep an eye on him. At that time, an employee of the hotel observed Ricardi speaking with the older pastor and immediately left the vicinity only to return with cold, bottled water and this apology,
"Oh sir, please forgive us! We didn't know that you were with the foreigners!"
You see, Ricardi had made his request to the Haitian hotel owner's son in perfect Creole but was then heard speaking perfect English with the American pastor.
Please understand that under normal circumstances, virtually any U.S. citizen would receive preferential treatment. Even for people like Ricardi and myself, although we are 100% Haitian-blooded, we are still American citizens by birth and are therefore thrust into the ultra upper-class in terms of economic freedom and political protection in Haiti. But because Ricardi looked like a Haitian, spoke like a Haitian, appeared to be begging (asking for water) and was in work clothes doing heavy labor like many Haitian males, he didn't at all resemble a man of comparably privileged origins. And because he looked like a common Haitian, he was treated accordingly and suffered the humiliation of being ignored and cast aside. Why? All because his appearance didn't match his actual station in life and also because he had assimilated and "fit in" so well.
"He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty of majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" --Isaiah 53:2-3
As I reflected on Ricardi's experience, I couldn't help but think of God's divine Son taking on flesh and blood for our sake. So many would sell their own parents for a chance to rub shoulders with the rich, famous, and powerful. But how many people walked right past the Son of God every day without knowing it. Even worse, how many who saw Him at work with awesome and wise teaching not to mention mighty acts of miraculous power still chose to reject Him? And why? All because he didn't look like the kind of person who was important. In fact, Jesus looked so normal that even with His message and miracles, people couldn't get past His "average-ness". Christ, the Almighty Foreigner in our midst, was disregarded, despised and doubted because He looked too familiar and spoke our language too well.
I'll say a lot more on this blog about other experiences I and others shared in Haiti from Dec. 1st to the 8th. But I wanted to start with this one because we are in the Christmas season. I thought it was fitting to think about the sacrifice Jesus made long before He got to the cross: the sacrifice of relinquishing status, position, and honor to become like us. Calculate the miles I and my teammates may have traveled and consider what comforts we passed up and missed out on. Combine all that we missed we may have given up in terms of distance from family/friends and multiply that by whatever we may have paid and others donated in terms of cost to go to Haiti, etc. Put it all together and it's virtually nothing- not even a drop in the ocean- compared with what Christ endured for our sake just in coming to the world.
In closing, my deacon brother Brad Lee told me something on the way back from Haiti that his basic training sergeant told him, "I won't ask you to do anything that I myself wouldn't do." With respect to evangelism and specifically this missions trip, a lot has been made of the fact that Christians have a duty to "Go" and fulfill the Great Commission. But how many have considered the fact that Jesus asked us to "go" and had a right to do so because when He was asked to "go", He did it. The True Missionary and the Real Evangelist is none other than Jesus Christ. And because He came, we can certainly go. Because of all He went through, we can certainly endure all things with His power. Man, I love Christmas!