“But they now desire a better country, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.”
-Hebrews 11:16 (KJV)
My thoughts are never in one place.
My mind is a well that fills to the brim with responsibilities, worries, and a growing list of things to do. Appointments to keep. Deadlines to make. People to satisfy.
It’s a game of balance. Sometimes I’m able to walk steadily across the bar of a desperately demanding day. Other days my mind swims in a sea of chaos.
And sometimes, I let myself fall.
You’re acquainted with these types of feelings, I’m certain. If only there were just a few more hours in a week; if only I could sleep a little longer; if only I could spend more time in the Bible and communicating with the Lord…I might not be so overwhelmed.
One particular experience, however, comes to mind when I need to be reminded of it most.
A revelation came to me in a broken little world—in a country known as Haiti.
Five months ago, when the fires that began to burn parts of my California home, I wasn’t anywhere near the United States, but sitting in an airport in the city of Port-Au-Prince.
Nine days earlier, we’d first arrive in Port-Au-Prince around nine o’ clock in the evening. It wouldn’t have seemed so late if we hadn’t been traveling the entire day and night before. Our first flight from Sacramento to Fort Worth left at midnight. From there, we were to fly to Fort Lauderdale, and then finally land in Port-Au-Prince.
Each flight was delayed multiple times.
Which was why, when all three mission teams from different parts of the U.S. had finally boarded a bus to Grand Goave, I was exhausted in a way I’d never experience. (And possibly a little bit delirious.)
Half-asleep, we bounced along the dark road where screams rang and music blared. My eyes began to water from the smoke, but it was difficult to look away from outside. I could only make out shadows from the fires that blazed, lanterns, and other vehicles.
All I could think about was home.
I never would have imagined falling in love with a country that was so devoid of…everything.
The sense of feeling overwhelmed never stopped. We were constantly being stretched in new ways. My heart was wreaking emotional havoc. Millions of different situations occurred every day. We would start our days refreshed, laugh, cry, sweat, work, and end in exhaustion.
I was never able to rest much. The day left me too mentally and emotionally stirred.
The Haitians, I found, are a miraculous people. They are brilliant. If something of mine breaks, I’m at a loss of how to live until I replace it with something newer and better. If something of theirs breaks, they simply fix it with whatever they have: wire, zip-ties, or rubber bands.
Speaking of rubber bands, I remember one little girl in the village who ran to me and held my polished ivory hand with her dark, mud encased one. Around her dreadfully tiny wrist was a red rubber band that fit so loosely, she had to fan out her fingers to keep it from falling off. I smiled as she took the band—also encased in mud—and put it around my wrist. Then, worried I might take off with it, the girl quickly slipped it off my wrist and put it back on her own.
I was only there for nine days. During my stay, I came to three conclusions:
- An American could not adjust to life in Haiti. Without the miraculous grace and aid of our Lord, we simply could not do it. The never-ending humidity, the cement homes, the lack of food, water, health care, and transportation would be too much for anyone who has lived a life in the United States.
- Poverty is not unusual. Haiti is most definitely one of the worst third world countries in the world—it’s even been called a ‘fourth-world country’—but North American life is abnormal. I realized this during the trip home. Our first time back in the U.S. was a totally different flight than we’d planned. It left us in New York for more than five hours. In the JFK airport, I watched the hundreds of people drag behind them pristine luggage as they raced from gate to gate, meanwhile chatting quickly to someone on the other end of their phone. We are living in a bubble of unreality, gagging on luxury, and we don’t even know it.
- Alone, I am totally helpless. Not just in changing life for the Haitians. Before I went to Haiti, I wanted to change their world. But after seeing it, I realize it’s impossible. Things for them will never change. But I am helpless also in wanting to make others realize. I want them to understand what I felt when I was there. I want to get through to everyone—my family, my friends, my church—everything that happened: the emotions, the scenarios, the people. And I realize this too, can never happen. Not unless they go for themselves.
What shocked me most about the Haitians was their submission and complete love for Jesus.
When I saw it, I wanted it—all of it.
I want that kind of love for Him.
I want that assurance.
I want it all.
Their church worship is not what many might consider church worship. Their hymns are livened with whatever they can find to make noise: trashcan lids, containers of beans, sticks and boxes. Children who can barely talk dance their hearts out to the joyful noise. The shouts of delight combined with the ‘music’ makes one unable to speak until it’s over.
And it does last for some time.
Their voices, though, are a gift from God. The first time a choir of girls from the children’s home sang for us, it brought tears to everyone—even the men.
Their prayers are not overly righteous words they shoot up to heaven in order to sound ultra spiritual. Sometimes we didn’t know at all what they were saying, but not everything needed a translation. We felt the assurance in our spirit from theirs. They were talking to the Maker of the universe, and I longed to have those kinds of conversation with my King, too.
One particular night I wondered. How? Yes, God is good. He gave us Jesus. He loves us. He showers us with grace and a multitude of other things we don’t deserve. For me, that’s easy to see. But for them? Who have nothing? Who have buried parents, children, brothers, and sisters? Who live in pain with no possibility of getting well? Who struggle to just survive?
I was reminded later that the life the Haitians are living is truly all they know. Had they been born into wealth, given education and healthcare, food and water…it would be different. To go from a life of wealth to a life of poverty would most likely destroy us.
We really have no idea how they live.
The Haitians are an incredible people of faith, resource, and love. I was kissed by Haitian women and men who didn’t know my name, nor I theirs. We were embraced, prayed over, thanked, and adored.
When I came back to my home in California, the urge to just want to return to my Haitian family was heavy. The responsibility of wanting to tell others of my experience was urgent…and seemingly impossible. You cannot make others understand just what you witnessed, or how you felt. You can only encourage them to come back with you.
In the moments of a day where I am keeping track of schedules, meeting deadlines, making appointments, and feeling overwhelmed…I remember a world where life is so devastatingly simple. Sometimes I wonder who is in a worse place: them, because they lack material fulfillment, or us, because we so often lack the spiritual.
They are a people longing for a better country. They can see it. Their focus is not on their famine, but on what they will one day possess. Their faith tells them God is preparing for them a city full of heavenly riches and beauty.
It far surpasses anything they could ever attain in this world.