I came to Haiti, the first time, because someone in the Dominican told me that Haiti was poorer. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that.
And that was it. My heart had a huge soft spot for a huge soft spot Jesus seemed to have, too…the poor. the orphan. the widow.
So I went. Came.
And there are days, even still, that you can’t even begin to wrap your mind around it. And you don’t know what to do, or what to think, and no matter what you thought maybe you could do, it isn’t. gonna. touch it.
It is to be at the very rock bottom of yourself.
So you swallow and blink and smile. You love through it as hard as you can. And you cry the whole way home.
I don’t think our students had ever quite felt that way.
Someone told them there was a place that was poorer. They couldn’t even begin to imagine that.
Where the people were so poor, that they didn’t even have what everybody else gets for free.
It wasn’t a home for the poor, like with programs and food and rooms and help and staff and stuff.
It is a big room, with nothing in it, where if you have absolutely no where to go and absolutely no one to love you, you can sit. Hungry.
You can sleep. On the floor.
You can go out and beg all day, and if you find a hand full of rice, you can sit in this room and eat it.
If you dare to let on that you have it.
They left excited to be going, to love on some others, to give Jesus and to hear some stories.
They went to feed some people, but never imagined it would be the first time many of them had eaten in days. That it would be more food than many of them ever got. Never expected the violence that they saw with the food, feeding people who did not know WHEN they would eat again.
They went to clean rooms, tables, chairs, beds.
Instead, they cleaned around piles of treasured trash.
Almost every one of the 50 people living in the home are there because some type of physical or mental disability made their families abandon them. Many were lame, many were mute or blind, many were orphans and widows. Some came to the poor house because they were considered worthless at home due to age or disability and were being badly abused.
The students came to cut and braid hair, but most said having their hair done was the first time they had been touched in an incredibly long time.
There was no bathroom. So they washed everyone outside. Bugs in hair. Wounds caked over.
No bathroom, no medical care, no meal time, no physical therapy, no help.
Maurice (1st year) went out to a local church and got pots and pans and cooking stands, and Kerline (4th year, with five kids of her own at home) and MaCodo (EBS cook) cooked all day for over 50.
They told me stories, today. Of the circumstances in each resident’s life that brought them here. Of how the people just wanted to talk.
Of how people from the village were so surprised that people came to spend the day on those people that they gathered around to watch.
They told me stories, today, of how they couldn’t breath from the smell and the heartache, looking at their buckets of soap and rice and knowing it would never be enough.
It would never be enough to change things, next week. Never be enough to meet the many needs, always.
The girls said they chatted with the ladies and talked as they braided and tried to smile and be upbeat, try to sing. It was so hard, they said, when all they wanted to do was cry. Because they (they, from Haiti) had never seen poor like this before. And they didn’t want anyone to see the tears in their eyes, that they might not discourage them.
One of our students who went is from such an incredibly poor zone with such an incredibly poor family that we actually created a scholarship just for truly impoverished students who were called at the beginning of this year. And yet even for all of the poverty that he/she has known with 8 brothers and sisters, they have never known the poverty of being ALONE, and sitting in the middle of it Saturday BROKE them.
“Why,” I asked Maurice today, “Is what you did Saturday so important? If you weren’t able to really change their circumstances? If you weren’t really able to meet all their needs? If they are truly in such dire need of help and food and relationship and you were just there for the day?”
“It WAS important!” he said quickly, hot with burden.
Why? I asked again, pushing him wanting him to think through WHY, watching him go through that torrential rage of emotions and conflict that I have felt myself among his own people so many times.
“It was important because they said that if they want to live, they always have to go out. They sleep on the floor and they wake up and go out, searching for pennies, searching for an ounce of food, begging and begging the entire today, going from person to person, begging for their existence. If they don’t go out and beg, they die.”
“It was important because they said it was the first time someone came to them. They said it was the first time they did’t beg for help, but that we came and asked to help them. They said it was the first time they did not ask for food, and food was given to them. They said it was the first time they didn’t lay in the streets with their hands reaching for each passing person, but that instead clothes and food and love and care came to them, unmerited. Unasked for. Unsought.”
“It was important, Madame Stacey,” he said urgently, my eyes welling, “It was important because they saw something this weekend that they had never seen. Love came to them and touched them and loved them and fed them. That’s Jesus. THAT is His love for them!” Maurice was almost yelling. “They saw Jesus, Madame Stacey. That was important. That is important. They saw and felt and knew Jesus this weekend, and we told them too!, but even if we hadn’t, they met Him.”
“They know that they had value to us, that they are loved by God, and that changes things, doesn’t it? That makes it important!”
Even at the very rock bottom…the rock at the bottom is our God.
And so they cried the whole way home.