“And He said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” –Luke 9:23
“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” -1 John 2:6
Ever since my sophomore year of college I have wanted to serve in Haiti. A friend had told me about his time there helping the earthquake victims and sharing the gospel and it stirred my heart. Since then I have been praying for the right opportunity. My senior year of college I traveled on a mission trip to Nicaragua and had a great experience, but I still had a burning desire to work in Haiti. Finally, God provided me with the opportunity!
While in Haiti, I found that a big difference between Haitians and Americans is their wiliness to discuss their personal life and faith with complete strangers—like me—off the road. While in Cabaret, Haiti I was able to visit a number of nearby villages alongside our fearless translators, Hugan and Berdy. We were able to approach families, widow, children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, Haitians within all walks of life. They were all very receptive to speaking to us and hearing about our faith, despite our language barriers and very different backgrounds. Simply being able to take action and obey Jesus’ commandment to “Go make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) brought me the greatest joy.
*What is genuine, pure FAITH?*
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
There were a number of Haitians we met in these villages that I remember vividly. My last day, a few hours before my flight back to the states, we met a mother named, Mal Rose Demi, she was probably in her late 60s and had 7 kids—4 boys and 3 girls—she had previously have 9 children, but 2 had since then passed away. Mal Rose Demi shared with us her story of how she came to know Jesus Christ.
Voodoo is widely practiced throughout Haiti and Mal Rose Demi was one of it’s many victims. 3 years ago she went out back to feed her pig, she stepped on something sharp, with some kind of poison stuck in it and within a few hours she grew very sick. This random act of hatred is not unusual for a voodoo priest to commit. Our translator, Berdy, who’s family practices Voodoo, that it is actually common. Mal Rose Demi, who wasn’t a Christ follower at the time, continued to get weaker and weaker. She eventually did what most Haitians do when they grow sick: seek the help of a witch doctor.
Mal Rose Demi spent all her money on that witch doctor who failed to heal her. With no hope left lying in her house preparing to die she remembered a nearby church she had heard of. Mal Rose Demi decided to visit this church and see what this “Christian” stuff was all about. At that service, she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior. Although her healing wasn’t instant with the help of prayers and her new found faith a few weeks later she recovered.
Even though her health was now restored this was just the beginning of her fight. Her husband didn’t like this new faith she had so he left her and the kids to survive on their own. Today, she still independently raises her 7 children. Jobs are hard to come by, so like many Haitians she is unemployed living in a village where fights and violence among neighbors is very violent.
What kind of faith is that? How often do we see someone with that kind of faith? Jesus revealed that following Him doesn’t come without a cost. In Matthew 8:18-20 Jesus explains that it is not easy to be one of His disciples.
“Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of the disciples said to him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
If we want to follow Jesus we can’t let anything hold us back—no distractions, no desires, no idols—nothing. Jesus commands us to “Follow Him.” Mal Rose Demi is a woman lives her life with this pure, focused and sincere faith that Jesus instructs despite the cost.
“If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing.” –Matthew 13:2-3
A true act of love is haring all you have with your neighbor. In the states, we say we will help our neighbors if they are need, but rarely are we relying on our neighbor to help us feed our family. In the village of Lavek that’s how each day is. The majority of people in it can’t find work. It’s common to come across children running around barefoot over glass and a family of 5 living in a tin roof/tarp “house” that’s smaller than most American bathrooms (these are often called “hot boxes” because the temperatures inside get so high with no windows and surrounded in metal amidst the hot Haitian weather).
The community has water flowing through a canal for drinking, bathing and any other needs, but to get this water to their house a family member must fill up buckets—which you’ll often see is the chore of the children—and carry them to their homes. Even though Lavek lacks the material possessions and luxuries Americans might believe they couldn’t live without if that’s all you took away from their community you would be missing a pictures of one of Christ’s central messages.
Lavek is a picture of love in action far greater than I’ve ever seen before. Immediately I asked our MOH intern, Trey, upon driving through Lavek was “How do they survive if they can’t get a job? How do they feed their families?” He responded, “They share all they have with each other.”
It reminded me of the community among Christ followers that’s described within the book of Acts.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believe were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Acts 2:42-45
The community of Lavek is just this. They depend on their neighbors to survive—that is love.
“Just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” –John 15:11b-12
When you act in a way Christ acts it is guaranteed to bring you joy. That means joy brought about through you from humility, generosity and or even having a positive spirit. I could talk about the joy in the Haitians for hours, but I’ll try to keep this short.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about the Haitians joy are our Mission of Hope translators, Hugans and Berdy. Just before my flight in the village talking with Haitians about the gospel, I thanked Berdy for being so patient with us. He responded by humbly saying, “No, I want to thank you for helping my country, It’s my duty to help Haiti because I’m from Haiti, but you came here to help my people.” He then smiled and walked to our first house.
Joy can only be found in Christ, but to truly know Christ you must also have a humble heart before the cross. After all the ground is level at the foot of the cross. When Jesus looks at us at the end of our lives he weighs the way I walked in faith and the way the Haitians walked in their faith equally despite our living circumstances. My pride often gets in the way of the life of joy Jesus has prepared for me. Often I am too much like the Pharisee Jesus talks with about the sinful woman.
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little loves little and He said to her, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47-48).
If only I realized the immeasurable gift I’ve received—without any payment in return—in the death of Jesus Christ to cover my continuous mistakes. Then maybe I would find joy in all circumstances like I saw in these Haitians.
Following Jesus requires an “absolute surrender,” as Richard Stearns describes in The Hole in the Gospel. That life of surrender will ultimately bring about joy.
My favorite village we visited is Messia (not sure is that’s spelled right), also known as the Riverwalk in Cabaret because of the beautiful little river—now more like a stream because of the lack of rain—that runs throughout it. I saw joy all over Messia starting with the family we walked by picking mangos. The husband was up at the top of the tree picking them while his wife was gathering them below with their 2-year old daughter at her side. As soon as we walked past them and asked their names the wife immediately picked up 7 mangos—one for each of us—and generously handed them out.
In a village where rain has been scarce and selling their crops is their means to survival you can imagine the value of the mangos especially with 7 mouths of their own to feed. Christ joy was apparent in their generosity to strangers. But clearly this family is far more wise than I knowing the value in things of this world. Jim Elliot put it perfectly when he said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Generosity often blesses the giver far more than the recipient. But, I can’t mention the joy I saw within the Haitians without mentioning Hugens, our primary translator. Hugans’ life is filled with authentic joy, which is seen in his selfless attitude and daily reminders of the importance of prayer.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” –James 1:22
The difference between Christianity and most other religious practices is the inability to earn your way into Heaven through good deeds. Our sins were paid for when Jesus Christ, God’s only son, lived a perfect life then died for us on the cross to cover our multitude of sins. We have faith that this savior, who rose from the dead, is the only way to Heaven. A true Christ follower will not only have a personal relationship with Him, but also seek to live as He did. For me, serving in Haiti was a was obeying Christ’s commandment to spread His gospel—beyond Birmingham, Alabama—and attempt to become a better disciple of Him.
In Luke 7:20-22, John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus to ask if He was the Christ. Jesus’ response? He tells John’s messengers to
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”
Jesus essentially tells John’s messengers that the mark of his authenticity can be seen in his actions—the tangible evidence. How am I spreading joy, showing love and remaining consistent in my faith walk? My actions should mimic Christ’s life of service.
I forget how in need I am of a savior simply because I don’t realize my the severity of my condition. I was able to see a reflection of myself in the children of Cabaret. Covered in dirt, barefoot, not adequately clothed, seeking someone to hold them, love them and to wipe them clean. That is me. I am desperately in need of Jesus to fix me, take care of my life, protect me, restore me, and make me new. He’s taken this messed up person and is slowly sculpting me into a better image of Him.
Although short-term mission trips involve serving someone in need I found in Haiti that they are much more than that. Yes, we painted a church and a house. We did quite a bit of construction and washed dishes, but if we walk away with the satisfaction of what we have done then we miss how God really uses mission trips to change hearts—and not just the hearts of those in need.
God worked on the week-long mission trips to change me. Seeing Christ “up-close and personal” in Haiti revealed to me how I can be a better imitator of Him back in the states. Christ showed me what I need to do to be a better woman of God (Proverbs 31:30).
“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.” –Saint Tersea of Avila