I hope you don’t mind settling in at the poor house for a while, because we’re not done.
I hadn’t talked to cried with Phida yet.
My heart’s aflame, my stomach is twisted with a whole new burden, and it’s not the poor.
She told me everything everyone else did. They are truly abandoned. They are truly in need. They are truly alone. It was utterly heartbreaking and eyeopening and convicting and inspiring and important and sad.
She told me worse of the same, too.
Said as she braided the women’s hair, one after another, and that there were two things every single woman told her.
First, that they were so thankful she was there, talking with them. They were so overwhelmed that she was touching them.
Second, that they wish they could just die.
They are tired of being hungry every day. Tired of begging, tired of being alone, tired of suffering. They wish they would just die already. They are the bottom of the food-chain, the lowest of the low, the shamed among society, and they wish they were finished.
For years, as students have questioned me about the very foreign idea of suicide, I have wondered if maybe it is nonexistent in Haiti because the culture is so incredibly community oriented. As hard as life may be, everyone is doing it together, and it keeps the spirit far from the darkness of wanting life to end.
This is the first time Phida’d ever heard someone say that, because it’s the first time she’s worked with people who were truly alone.
She said as she was washing the insects out of one woman’s hair, her hair was falling out into Phida’s hand in clumps. She was so malnourished, her hair hadn’t been rebraided in so long, it was just coming out into her hands. Phida’d never seen that before.
More horrifically, she said there was one old woman, tiny and twisted entirely, who was laying on her mattress, unable to get up or move.
Phida said as she approached her, the smell was so putrid that her eyes were stinging.
“If it were not for love,” Phida said urgently in my office this morning, “I never could have gotten near to her. It was love, His love, that enabled me to touch her.”
If not for love.
They scooped her off the mattress, and two of the girls took her to wash her, throw away her clothes, dress her in new ones and braid her hair. Phida asked two of the guys to take that mattress outside and DO something with it. Put it in the sun? Wash it? Something?
The guys went to lift it, and as soon as they touched it (I’m sorry to do this to you), a million cockroaches started pouring out of it. They jumped back, watching them scurry into other corners, and kicked the mattress a bunch more times until the outflow of cockroaches stopped. Then they bent to pick it up, and as they lifted it from the floor, a rat came flying out, down his leg, and out the door.
They bent to pick it up, and as they lifted it from the floor, a rat came flying out–out of the mattress this woman was just LIVING on–down his leg and out the door.
I don’t even know what to say but to say it again.
You can’t wash that.
It all happened on Saturday with our staff and students. It is happening still there today.
It’s happening in that house, it is happening in poor houses and orphanages and street corners all around Haiti.
It is happening in poor houses and orphanages and street corners ALL AROUND THE WORLD this morning family.
This is our burden, His burden–the poor.
But it is not the burden enraging my heart this morning, family.
Phida finished her stories in tears after tears, and her voice trailed off as she talked about how they should go again…they could go again, maybe next time they could take more food? but the need is so much greater.
“But Emmaus is not that solution, is it?” she asked, more herself than anyone. “Us driving two hours to a town we don’t live in to sit with the poor as often as we can isn’t really the answer, is it.”
And she is right, of course.
You know what the answer is? EXACTLY what God said the answer was, His hands and feet…HIS CHURCH.
“Is there no church?” I ask her, and her eyes flash and her voice deepens.
“There is a church in the very same corner, Stacey. It is a big church, a very big church. A Christian church. It is close enough to smell the smell, I know they can. I know the poor house can hear every song, every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Easter.”
I start to feel even sicker. Each student told me how the people said Emmaus was the first time anyone has ever come to see them, come to help them, from two hours away.
HOW CAN THAT BE, church?
How can that be.
You know what the solution is? THE BRIDE OF CHRIST is the solution. There are hundreds of people in that village. There are three churches, one of them large. There are 50 people in this poor house.
There shouldn’t BE A POOR HOUSE, people!!! I’m sorry. I’m yelling.
There shouldn’t BE a RAT MATTRESS. There should be 50 families with one person each living among them. Or there should be three churches, each taking 2-3 days a week to feed those 50 people. Or there should be a BED project instead of a Church Decorations project. Or there should be a feeding project instead of a bench project. Or if there is not one penny in not one of those churches, somehow, then there should be an after-church-we-go-and-sit-with-the-poor-people-and-braid-their-hair-and-give-them-baths-and-talk-to-them project.
The CHURCH in the WORLD, ladies and gentlemen, is plugging their noses and walking past the poor houses to “go worship.” The CHURCH in the world, people, is raising money for special kids programs and for new sound systems and for a beautiful Easter outreach and is NOT feeding the poor and the orphaned and the widows. The CHURCH in the world, friends, isn’t coming inside, isn’t sticking it’s hands in anyone’s hair, isn’t picking up the mattresses with the rats inside.
The Church isn’t going anywhere close.
And I’d GET that.
If not for love.
I’d get that if not for His love.
The reality in Riviere-du-Nord and the reality where you are probably sitting today is that the church is RIGHT next door, worshipping, potlucking, catchy-sermon-ing, but it has. not. love.
It has NOT the love that gets close to nasty. It has NOT the love that gets close to dirty. It has NOT the love that gets close to uncomfortable, to sacrificial. It has NOT the Love that JESUS HAD.
It is WHY Jesus asked, “Do you love me? Yes? Feed my sheep.” It is why Jesus said that the water and food and time and love we give to the least of these is giving it unto Him. It is why James says that “acceptable religion to the Father as pure and faultless” is to look after orphans and widows in their distress.
It is why Jesus came to US. It is why he spent so much time with the least of these. It is why He touched those no one was touching and asked the church to do the same. It is why He was washing feet, why He was cooking breakfast, why He was cuddling children and talking to sinful women and hanging with stinky fisherman. And telling everyone to do the same!
Because of LOVE. GOD’S love.
And if the church doesn’t HAVE that love, then the church has missed the boat Jesus is on entirely.
And THAT is my burden today. THAT matters even more than hunger. That matters even more than homeless. That matters even more than cockroaches.
There are churches full of people here and there and around the world, and MANY raise their hands in glory, hallelujah and yet have missed the message of the Gospel, the person of Jesus, the plan of God.
That is no drop in the bucket, no fleeting suffering, no temporal distress.
But man alive, that doesn’t solve it, folks. We didn’t solve it and it is a big ‘ole world.
There are hungry, sick, dying, lame, lonely people sitting on rat mattresses where you are RIGHT NOW, RIGHT THERE, and Jesus said that HE is the answer.
And that He is in us.
And that we are the church.
Someone suggested recently that I just can’t leave well-enough alone. That I just keep badgering. That I can’t stop talking about the same things.
I could, church. I could.
I could only share all the glory hallelujahs and leave the world to drink their coffee.
if not for love