Finding True Grace Under a Tent In Haiti
When I was invited to go on a mission trip to Haiti, I thought it would be an adventure of a lifetime.
At the time, I deeply longed for something, anything interesting to happen in my life. I remember sitting in church and praying a strange prayer: I prayed that God would pierce my heart. I prayed He would change me, shake me up, anything but leave me as I was. Life was a steady stream with days of going through the motions, one day tumbling into the next. I longed for something more significant than weekend plans, tutoring in my local church, or what to make for dinner. All great things, but the sameness of it all left me longing for more.
Then the adventure of Haiti came up and I knew this was it. As I prepared for the trip, I felt like this was my chance to truly do something meaningful in the world. I would travel with several churches and pastors to learn about projects for orphans, widows, freshwater wells, and education for children. God had somehow placed me in a position where I could go, see and be able to contribute to important causes in the world. This was my defining moment and I was ready.
A few days into our trip we visited a place called “Tent City.” After an earthquake devastated the area and left buildings in rubble, hundreds of thousands of people had taken up the safest place they could find – on a resort golf course. There was no danger of buildings nearby and people fashioned homes out of whatever they could find – cardboard, scraps of wood, tarps, and boxes. Every night they would host a church service in the center of the makeshift community under a large circus tent.
People showed up in droves, meticulously dressed and ready to praise and worship. What struck me was how passionately and beautifully the attendees dedicated themselves to their faith. Without all of the trappings of technology, beautiful buildings, and vast choirs of music, nothing got in the way of the simple and pure worship of the people in Tent City.
Here were people who had lost everything, yet they acted as if they had everything.
As part of the worship service, the Haitian leader invited our group to share some words of inspiration. Traveling with a group of several pastors, this was easy for them to get up and share a few words that were meaningful. Then the leader turned and handed the microphone to me. At that moment, I can distinctly recall my heart beating so loud that all I could hear was the steady thump and the deafening pause of hundreds of people waiting to hear what I might say.
I walked to the stage and prayed desperate prayers that God would give me something good, anything that made coherent sense. As I fumbled with what to say, I realized how wrong I was about why I was there. I was embarrassed that I had traveled all this way and I hadn’t even given a small thought about how I would encourage or give light to the people I came so far to see.
1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (NIV)
Here I was, traveling to a Third World country, getting special vaccinations, clothes, and navigating precarious transportation and conditions just to be here. Yet in my pride and arrogance, I hadn’t given one thought to how I would encourage people who had lost everything. In my self-centered mindset, I thought I would somehow show up and be able to have a profound impact upon the lives of people who had nothing. But in truth, they had everything that mattered.
I can’t exactly recall what I shared. I think some lame words about telling their story and reminding them of how much they are loved. I told them things they already knew because it was plain to see. But perhaps those words weren’t really for them, but more for me. In the end, my words were a humble, pitiful offering. My failure left me ashamed at my painful inability to share something good with the people I came so far to encourage.
But God, and the Haitian people, in their kindness, cheered me on anyway. Despite my arrogance, my pride, my self-centered manner, they graciously and beautifully reminded me that it’s not about the doing. It’s about showing up in love. It’s about being able to sit with someone and bear witness to their struggles. It’s not about what I could have done or the fancy words or material things I could bring, but being present to reflect back the love they knew all too well.
God certainly pierced my heart in Haiti, but not in the way I expected. In His infinite kindness and grace, He demonstrated to me that faith and love are more than what we do and stuff we bring. It’s about who we are for each other. It’s about loving so fiercely, you don’t need anything else.