Every day Haitians ask me for food, sometimes multiple times per day. It’s a terrible reality, but it comes with the territory. They aren’t strangers either, the people asking are my friends, neighbors, people I’ve known for years. It’s the most heart-wrenching question I have to face and the most humbling. Anyone working in an impoverished area knows this feeling; your friend looks you in the eyes and you have to explain that you can’t give them anything.
It’s a fine line to walk because some people are starving and need food, but we’ve already conditioned a generation of Haitians to be beggars. The people that are really in trouble are the ones that don’t ask, and we do our best to go out and find them. Almost every person who asks me for food, my shirt, cell phone, or money is a friend I know begs every white person that comes to town.
You can’t blame them, we are privileged and have more opportunities. I have money I could give, or my shirt, or some food. But there have been books written on this and it is widely known amongst missionaries that hand-outs aren’t the way to raise people out of poverty, and in turn isn’t showing them love. (There is a lot more to this way of thinking, and I could give you more stories, but I’m trying to get a different point across, so if you want more info just google When Helping Hurts.)
Well yesterday, through all this election news, my heart couldn’t take it anymore. I was in town and my buddy John told me he was hungry and wanted some food. I want to describe to you this moment, this pain I feel every time the question arises, and what happens when Truth meets Grace.
And so I stand there examining the motorcycle key in my hands, slowly kicking dirt and trying to think of something to say. But the only words bouncing around in my head are Jesus saying, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”. My stomach feels like it’s full of worms as the words echo in the background and I imagine myself standing in front of God at the gates of heaven, poised just as I am now. I can’t look him in the eye, so again I stand kicking the dirt with no words to explain to God why I couldn’t give John some food. Where do I begin to fill God in on the economics of mission work or the realities of give a mouse a cookie?
John is still standing in front of me, looking questioningly in my downturned face, and I can’t muster a word over the growing argument in my head because nobody talked about if the mouse was a living breathing person. Because the Gospel isn’t centered around economics.
What if I walk away from my friend and he never looks at God the same way again? What if that moment was his last hope, and he is just as worn out of asking for food as I am of being asked?
I am just buying time, waiting for someone else to say something, waiting for anything to stop the churning in my stomach. I could sit him down again and explain why I can’t give him food. I could grab a sheet of paper and show him the plan we have for pulling Haiti out of poverty, and how he doesn’t fit in it. I could even just give him a hug and pray with him, but I can’t. something is pinching my throat and I can’t bring myself to look up from my hands, still turning over the key in my hands.
In a break of silence, I hear John say in a rough accent, “You say nothing?”
“I’m sorry.” I say too quiet for even me to hear
“I can’t, John. You know that. Not right now. M’ Pa kapab, John. Ou konen sa. Pa konya.”
So I turn my back to my friend and walk away because it’s easier, but in my head I’m still standing there looking at the ground as I begin to explain timidly to God, “Give a man a fish…” But I am brought feebly to my knees, weeping in front of the King of all creation. I can’t help but think how my suburban theology didn’t prepare me for this moment. My white church and five-step Gospel don’t stand up to this kind of attack. This wasn’t anything like going to sit by the new kid at lunch or saying a prayer before a football game. This was what Jesus was talking about when he said follow me, and this is what he meant when he told Peter to feed my sheep.
I drive away thinking about how God’s love isn’t logical, how the Gospel doesn’t make sense, how love is more powerful than efficient business practices, and how inadequate I actually am.
Now, I wrote this for me, but I share it with you today so you can step into my shoes for a few minutes. I don’t have all the right answers, and I don’t want any comments on here about what the right thing to do is, because I’m talking that over with God.
So, I post this today because I think we all need a little perspective. Even answers we thought were right all along can be subject to change the instant they touch your heart, the instant they become real. How about today we act with a little more grace, speak with a little more humility, and love with a little more God in our hearts.