It is enthralling how one experience…one moment of just fifteen minutes…could change your entire perspective on how you see the world and how everything fits in it. I tend to sit in those moments and soak them up for months afterward. It is such an intimate God moment that sometimes I wonder if it actually happened, and then realize God has sunk me deeper into his Kingdom and given me a clearer vision of what he needs me to be within his world to help bring restoration and reconciliation.
That, or, maybe I’m just over caffeinated this week, it could go either way.
What I do know is that God has brought clarity of the importance in telling his stories while he has had me living in Haiti. I remember sitting with our staff in the office during my week of training before I moved to Haiti. They were telling incredible stories that were busting open my worldviews. One of our staff said to me, ‘You will have your own stories to tell soon enough.’ Though I didn’t take him completely seriously…he was 100% accurate.
Somewhere along this journey of healing and calling I became a storyteller. Each of the stories we tell chaotically yet perfectly merge into The Story, it is just a matter of actually making the effort to see where it connects to God and his heart. It’s there, I promise. The stories we tell point to the first Storyteller, and Jesus spoke those stories to include all – believer and nonbeliever. You could claim to be atheist your entire life, but you will have a hard time ever convincing me God did not use a piece of your story to build his Story. As we are gifted with the opportunity to be storytellers like Jesus and point to the Kingdom of God, we get to actively point to the one who owns all our stories.
“Another story. ‘God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years, it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests into it.’ Another story. ‘God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread – and waits while the dough rises.’ All Jesus did that day was tell stories – a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day.” [Matthew 13:31-35 MSG]
In that spirit of storytelling, I am compelled to share a story that I could have told months ago, but there was just something so precious about it that I didn’t want to let it loose yet as well as things I still needed to learn from the experience. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m glad I waited, because last summer the story was only beginning…
At the end of the summer of 2015 in Haiti, church had just finished at our local church partner we were attending with our visitors that were in country, and the kids were running to hug their friends they had met the day before. I was standing off to the side when I saw one of the first year Global Orphan Project Pathways students with a woman that was crying. It’s not uncommon for us to see the students of the trade and discipleship program at the local church partners, since that is where they come from before moving into the Pathways building or their Pastor from home guides them to that church for Sundays while they live here for two years.
I remember praying in that moment for whatever was happening. Was it his mom? His aunt? Older sister? Congregation member he was praying with? But even within that prayer and those questions, I had no need to know what was happening, because I am an outsider to their culture and country.
Then he walked over, ‘Can I talk with you?’
‘We need Jonas to translate.’
‘I can understand you. It’s ok.’
‘No,’ he adamantly said. ‘We need Jonas.’
‘It’s ok! I can understand a little.’
‘No. We need Jonas.’
‘We need Jonas.’
I had been trying to avoid pulling Jonas away from helping our visitors communicate, but the young man standing in front of me was insistent and I had no choice but to ask Jonas to help.
As Jonas and I walked to the back of the church with the young man, he took us to where the woman was standing with tear streaked cheeks glistening in the sunlight.
Immediately, my mind starts raising red flags. What is he going to ask me for? What does he think I can provide? How do I gracefully and kindly tell him I can’t give him anything?
It is constantly a balancing act in Haiti between helping and hurting, and being an ambassador of sustainability in a culture that looks to someone like me as having everything: money, food, candy, soccer balls, etc. It’s not false in comparison, but as the random white person living here, I never want to elevate myself to being the one who can ‘save’ them from their circumstance or look at them in pity from posture of superiority. Whether it be perceived or unperceived. There is so much value in Haiti, but in action and vernacular, the world tells them they are nothing, even from something as simple as calling them ‘third world’ and the States ‘first world.’ In many ways, Haiti should be elevated above Stateside cultural norms, but in so many ways our government, actions and people make them feel inferior. Just as another government will not solve their problems, I will never be the answer to any Haitian struggle and my actions cannot make them rely on me…God is so present in their lives and he is their answer. Every time. Not me. God has given me permission to not feel guilty about saying no, and that it is sometimes the best word to use while in this culture and space. My mind settles on when he asks for what he needs, I will send him to the pastor. The local church will be what he needs no matter what the ask.
As evidence of my multitasking skills, all of this is going on in my head while I am still listening to this young man’s story, with interjections by the woman every now and then:
The woman is his mother. They lost everything in the earthquake 5 and half years ago, but walked away with their lives. She has not been able to get a job since they lost everything. That was when he started being care for by the local church Pastor that Global partners with in Haiti. His mother comes to church here about once a month to see him, but it’s hard for her to get here across the city. He has three older sisters, and all of them are married. His mother lives with one of his sisters, but this morning she came to church crying. His brother-in-law has been physically and emotionally abusing his mom, but she has nowhere else to go. He feels sad, because he has no way to help her. He has no way to rescue her from that situation, but she is his mother and his desire is to see her taken care of and safe. He feels hopeless.
As they wrapped up, I looked at Jonas, ‘What did they ask for?’
‘Steph, they didn’t ask for anything.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, I am sure.’
As I looked to the young man, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Why did you want to share this with me?’
‘You saw my mother crying, and I wanted you to know why she was crying,’ he shared as the innocence in his eyes catapulted me into the deep depths of shame for thinking every thought I had been thinking while this young man and his mother poured their hearts out to me.
‘Could you please pray for your mother and I will pray with you? I would pray, but I want her to hear Creole words instead of my prayer being translated through Jonas,’ I asked him, unwilling to break the air of intimacy through garbled language.
As his prayers flowed over his mother, we stood there with our arms around each other in one of the most intimate God moments I have ever experienced, or probably will ever experience. Simultaneously, I had never felt so accepted and valued as a foreigner in Haiti, further exploding my view of God’s Kingdom with no borders, language or culture barriers in my soul. We were united, with God’s presence through the Holy Spirit at the very core of our small circle.
I hugged him and his mother as I thanked him for sharing with me, and promised them I would continue praying for their family.
As I walked away, my shame washed over me in torrents. ‘I am such as asshole,’ kept running through my head on repeat. Quickly followed by, ‘I am so ashamed.’
By the time Jonas and I had walked through the church and out the side door, I had to stop by the outside wall of the church. Jonas stopped and turned back to find tears running down my face and panic in my eyes.
‘Jonas, I am so ashamed. The whole time he was sharing his story I kept trying to figure out what they were going to ask for. I am such an asshole. I am so ashamed.’
‘Steph, I was waiting for the same thing. I was waiting for them to ask us for something.’
‘Yes, it’s not unusual for congregation members to come with needs on Sunday mornings and ask people to help them.’
‘But they didn’t ask for anything…’
‘I know. I was surprised, too.’
‘He only shared, because I saw his mother crying.’
‘He shared, because you are his friend.’
Within that shame I struggled with was also a realization that the Pathways program is not simply for these students to gain employment and have the means to provide for their future families after being raised as orphans in the care of a pastor. The Pathways program is a way for them to take care of their existing families. My friend was hopeless, because he had no means to take his mother out of a really shitty situation. He had put his hope in God that leads, and had placed him in the Pathways program. But my realization also came with the one truth that…he still had a year to go before graduation.
I’ve prayed so often over the last several months that God would protect his mother as he finishes the Pathways program, and that God would bring him peace, not hopelessness. I have been given a deep love for this young man, my friend, and the God moment he led us into last summer. I guarantee you I will ball like a baby when he graduates in August of 2016, and that comes from someone who rarely cries. Oh, man, get the tissues ready.
Each time I see him, I ask about his mother and how she is doing, always reinforcing that I am praying for them. In October, I saw him at the Pathways building, and asked again. Joy lit up his eyes to a level of sparkling I’d never seen, and his mannerisms exploded, lifting his hands to the air.
‘My mother has a job!’
As his friend, I celebrated with him that victory. I know what a victory that is in this economy. I have seen that weight on him, and then was relieved with her employment. I also celebrated that she will be okay until he can graduates and is able to take care of them both.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw him at Life, SA, the GOEX sewing production plant in Haiti, as I was giving a tour. Surprised at seeing a student there, I said, ‘What are you doing here?’
‘I am here two days a week to learn new things!’ he said with a big smile on his face.
A week later, I was there again and introduced some visitors to him. He graciously shook hands, as is Haitian custom, then putting his arm around me, telling them, ‘This is my friend!’
Choking back liquid ready to pour from my eyes at the compliment, I couldn’t even translate what he had said until later that night when I was sharing his story with them.
Because his story carries so much value in Kingdom currency.
Friends, these are the stories we get to tell. These are the stories that point back to God in such a way I would never be able to articulate on my own. These are Kingdom stories, and it is our responsibility as believers to share those stories as Kingdom storytellers, as well as all the times our story and God’s story has intersected.