Can We Come Together?
December 16, 2011

R.I.P., Christopher Hitchens, April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011

(Image from his last article, featured in Vanity Fair)

Believers and nonbelievers both have at least one thing in common: We all feel there’s something broken, something wrong with the world. We may disagree on what that brokenness is, but bickering over that makes no difference in changing or helping what is really broken. It just makes us feel better about our own position.

There are brilliant minds, pure hearts, and strong hands in every camp.

It’s high time we agnostics, atheists and believers work together to address the very real brokenness that is, for instance, poverty and hunger throughout the world.

That is all.

Haiti: Perspective
September 7, 2010

I’ve gotten a little emotional distance from Haiti since I last wrote. It’s taken a bit to more fully re-enter American society. (And the insanity of football-season commercialism is still especially hard to swallow.) I’m struggling to resume what had become my normal life while also bearing in mind the struggles of those without. My life is here, not there. And yet when you see the things I saw, you can’t just walk away and do nothing, or not try to adjust anything at all. Still, guilt does no good, whether I hang it over my own head or try to push it on others. Making accusations of American selfishness also does no good. And the old “there are starving kids in Africa (or Haiti) so you’d better be thankful and clean your plate” just doesn’t cut it.

But I’ve sort of been Davey Downer for the past couple weeks, much to my wife’s chagrin especially. Because I’ve had a heavy heart in trying to figure out how I should now live, with the knowledge that I do have some small responsibility for helping, now that I’ve seen. But I can’t just drop my life like I may have been able to do when I was younger and single. That would be as irresponsible as doing nothing.

It’s with that tension in mind that I still want to recount for you one moment (among many) from my last full day in Haiti, and my first moments back in America.

On Sunday in Marfranc village, we attended the church we had been helping to paint their school. And that’s when I heard about Mishlove (sp?).

Mishlove is a baby girl I heard our hostess Joline talking about shortly after the church service ended. She was telling how she had found this baby with her family. How she had picked her up, and how the baby couldn’t yet stand on her own, and she would just immediately plop back down and couldn’t lock her knees. And how she seemed weak and a frail for a baby who appeared to be at least 5 or 6 months old. So Joline asked her family how old Mishlove was. It turns out that Mishlove is over a year old. About 14 months.

Now I wouldn’t consider myself one who gets all goo-goo about babies. And since I haven’t yet had one myself, I really haven’t known much about baby development. So, not knowing what was normal, I had to ask, “So when do babies typically start walking?” “About a year,” came the reply. And this baby can’t even hold herself up, much less stand? I had to know why. “Malnutrition,” was the one-word explanation. Her mother’s milk dried up because her mother was malnourished, and now this baby doesn’t have enough food. This lack of basic nutrition shocked me, even though I wasn’t surprised after seeing all I had that week. So I had to see this child.

And then I held her. To actually hold a little malnourished child is a profound experience. Nothing like lazing on the couch yawning at a weepy infomercial about Africa. To actually feel the lightness of her little frail body. To hold her to my chest, look down and notice her head tilting back and forth for lack of her neck muscle’s ability to hold it firmly in place.

And then she laid her head on my shoulder, not because of her affection for me or because I made her feel safe. But because she just seemed too weak to hold her head up. And this little girl is over a year old. She should be traipsing around, or at least pulling herself up and meddling in everything. But she can’t because she’s malnourished.

And that’s what malnourishment looks and feels like. To not just hear about it or watch Sanjay Gupta talk about it on TV, but to actually feel it in your arms, laying its head on your shoulder. To feel its dependency. To realize that a precious little human, by the mere fact of where she happened to have been born, through no choice of her own, through no consequence of her mistakes or even the mistakes of her parents, is helpless. Unless someone does something to help her, she will die. Literally. Die. Just because she doesn’t have enough food. And it’s entirely, easily preventable.

It does something to you. You just cannot look at the world as usual. And to think that just an hour and a half away is the world’s richest nation, with relatively unlimited resources, and we complain when we have to pay a little more for taxes and health insurance. You realize that something in this world is broken.

So the next day we flew home. And when we landed, as we taxied toward our gate, I looked out the plane’s window and noticed a seemingly endless row of shiny cars parked just beyond the fence surrounding the runway area. The airport workers’ cars. And beyond that cars packed in the main parking lots. And beyond that, cars jammed on the roads. And I wondered how much food could be bought for the price of even one of the cheapest cars. Or how many Haitian children’s school tuition could be paid. Or how many people could have shoes on their feet.

And then we entered the airport and I nearly cried when I saw the magazine stands. Row upon row of glossy magazines with headlines like, “Retire Rich!” and “You can get more money!” And there were others that punched me in the gut: “Yachts of the rich and famous” and “Must-have fashions for fall!” “Designer shoes to splurge on” and “Home theater makeovers” and “Luxury iPad cases that cost more than the iPad.”And on and on, and the buzz of all the billboards and magazines perpetuating rampant, uncontrolled materialism began to spin around me, a wailing storm of confusion.

So I spent $8 on a little cup of beer. And tried to catch my breath. All I could think of was how completely. Fucked. Up. We are. When we think we just don’t have enough and how we “need” more and more and more or else we won’t be truly happy. Or how we think that because we were so disenfranchised by the system or by our parents or by our lack of toys when we were children (or adults) that we haven’t been able to live the exact life that we want to and we can’t afford to live our dreams.

And how Mishlove and millions of other malnourished children like her are just a short flight away. How half of our world’s population lives below the poverty level, on less than $2 a day. How Haitian parents can’t properly feed themselves much less their children on that. And at the same time we have an obesity epidemic in America. We have diabetes because we eat too much sugar in our oversized diets. Rural Haitians have diabetes because sugar cane is about all they have to eat.

So something is definitely broken. And I cannot fix it. But I can help Mishlove. At the very least, I can support my friend Joline who lives there and who is making sure Mishlove gets the food she needs. I can pay for one of Mishlove’s older sisters or brothers to go to school so they can at least have an improved chance of learning, growing up, getting a job that pays decently, and being able to later support others in their home village. So while I’m not Bono or Bill Gates and I can’t change the very complicated root causes of poverty, I can positively adjust the life situation of at least one person in one place.

So I’m trying to figure out the best way to do that. In the meantime, I may make mistakes and I may be irresponsible and I may waste and I may be greedy. But I will try to be better, and wiser, and more responsible and more intentional and more content with what I have. And that’s all I know for now. I’ll let you know when I get all figured out. 😉

But the really beautiful thing is, all the while, even in the midst of poverty, malnutrition, and general suffering, the Haitians have hope. They are strong. And they just keep singing and laughing and living. Doing whatever it takes. Somehow making it work. And that gives me some perspective.

I’m Off to Haiti…
August 8, 2010

By the time you read this (unless you’re up too late or a Kiwi), I’ll be on my way to (or already in) rural Haiti. Been looking forward to this for a long while now. Had a bit of panic today when I realized I misplaced my passport (but found it). Also whacked my nose and thought I broke it (but didn’t). Also mis-stepped and thought I tweaked my ankle (but didn’t). So I’m on my way finally.

While I’ve enjoyed the privilege to visit many nations before, this trip is a bit different. Until recent years, such trips found me over-preparing so I could be the most effective missionary possible. That’s not the case with this one. In fact, my biggest trepidation is that I am completely  unprepared. For instance, I feel like I haven’t practiced the Haitian language enough. Part of the problem is that this is one of the first trips that I don’t have the “plan of salvation” memorized in the language of my host country. In the past, that task gave me a big goal for learning more of the language. This time, however, this will be my first journey with a group that isn’t set on getting people “saved.” We don’t have team t-shirts or slogans or a mime drama to perform. Yes, all of us happen to be from my faith community, but we are simply going there to help and learn. Definitely not a vacation, but also not a “mission.” This is nice.

The main reason for me to learn the language this time is simply so we can listen in order to most effectively understand and  learn the best ways to help while we’re there. This is in significant contrast to multiple past “missions,” when we learned a language so we could talk more than listen, to be heard more than hear.

And so I’m a bit awkward feeling as I leave. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m just going there to…help. And watch. And learn. I’m  not going so I can preach in the streets. I’m not going with eyes geared toward seeing a country as a salvation project. I’m seeing it as a chance to be a guest in the homeland of smart, life-experienced individuals who may have a lot to teach me, but who also could use whatever helping hand I can give. But helping involves listening and working together, not just talking. So I’m going to try to listen, and just be aware.

I feel incredibly inadequate to be going for just over a week, thinking that I’ll be able to make a difference. But I’m trying to see it as just putting in my little shift, and working my butt off while I can. (My dad kindly described what I think I’m after by mentioning Isaiah 58:6-9. And even for those of us who don’t take everything in the Bible literally, I think that scripture captures it quite well for me.)

Anyway, I am incredibly grateful for the many of you who have made this trip possible with your donations, thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

As electricity, internet access, and time permit, I’ll post updates here (and possibly also at www.journeytohaiti.com).

Stay tuned.