Upcoming Trip to Haiti: Nothing to Offer But Our Vulnerable Selves
Last week I wrote about some of my initial thoughts on my upcoming trip to Haiti, and with each passing day I’m getting more and more excited, and a bit more nervous as well. One of the really exciting things is the coming together and completion of the team I will be serving with. The team is being sent out by Adventures in Missions, and is composed of Anne Jackson, Tim Schmoyer, Adam McLane, Mark Oestreicher, Seth Barnes, Jeremy Zach, Lars Rood, Clint Bokelman, Ian Robertson and myself. This is a great team of people and I’m excited to serve alongside of them in Haiti.
There are lots of things we will be doing on this trip, and there are still many unknowns, and like any trip abroad, we will just have to be flexible when opportunities arise. Mark Oestreicher has a good break down of some of the work that awaits us, as well as some of the things we will be doing among the Haitian pastors. What I do know is that we will be serving the people in Haiti and doing a lot of work with those who have fled out of Port au Prince and who are currently living in refugee camps.
One of the things that we have been asked to do along with serving the people of Haiti, is to also bring awareness to not only the situation that all of you are witnessing on the nightly news, but to also tell the stories of our personal experiences, and in doing so, hopefully encourage you, as well as further laying the foundation for future teams to follow after us, and serve long after Haiti is not the top story in the nightly news. If you are interested in following our journey you can do so at our team Facebook page, our team Twitter feed, or just stay tuned to this blog or my personal Facebook page. You have lots of options. I hope to do a good job of keeping you all updated through writing and video.
Offering Our Presence
I’m not a doctor, I’m not an engineer, and I’m not a professional in disaster relief, but I’m hoping and praying that my experience as a pastor and as a marriage and family therapist will come in handy as I work among the Haitians. And no, I’m not preaching sermons on performing therapy, but my work in those fields has given me the opportunity to travel the world and provide relief in the area of mental health. I was blessed to live for three months in Guatemala where I volunteered at Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro; I’ve been able to serve at the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India (the week of Mother Theresa’s funeral); I’ve been able to serve on several occasions at the Sisters of Charity in Mexico City. And my work as a college pastor allowed me the privilege to lead numerous trips during my eight years at Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. One of the real exciting things for me is that I’m not leading this trip, but just get to be a part of an amazing team.
One of the lessons that I have learned, and am continually learning is that all we can do is come to others with our vulnerable selves, and simply offer all that we have to give…which is our presence. In and of ourselves we have nothing to offer, but it is simply our willingness to be broken vessels, jars of clay, in which God can shine his light through…through us to others.
Nouwen gave several concrete principles on how to care. The most prominent in his writing goes back to the idea of being present. Nouwen believed that caring means, first of all, to be present with each other, ‘offering one’s own vulnerable self to others as a source of healing.’ One does not need to be useful as much as to be present. To be present is to listen and to identify with each other as mortal, fragile human beings who need to be heard and sustained by one another, not distracted or entertained. Nouwen’s most powerful expression of this idea is found in Here and Now. (The Spiritual Legacy of Henri Nouwen, Deirdre LaNoue, pp. 129-130)
I’ve always loved that passage by Henri Nouwen. It speaks deeply to me about what we should be about as followers of Christ. And it speaks deeply to me about what I can offer the Haitians and others that I come across during my trip to Haiti. Rather, what God has to offer the Haitians through me.
I’m going to leave you with a journal entry from April 5, 2001 when I was living in Antigua, Guatemala. It was a reflection after my first day of work at Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro. I was overwhelmed at the time, and I’m still overwhelmed to this day when I realize I have little to offer others.
Yesterday was my first actual day of working/volunteering at Obras Sociales Del Hermano Pedro(Social Work(s) of the brother Pedro). It is a hospital clinic that is run by the Franciscan Order and they minister to, feed and care for the poor in Antigua in a variety of ways. It is an amazing operation by Guatemalan standards and the people do an amazing service, though we would probably only scoff at the lack of equipment, money and personal attention they are sometimes only able to give to the people. I am working in the Santa Maria unit with children who have problems ranging from cleft palettes, to Downs Syndrome, paralysis, etc. I gather from my first day’s experience that the ages range from approximately 5 years of age to about 12. Currently they are housing and caring for 34 children with a staff of about six nurses and some volunteers including myself, two others being from Arizona as well.
Like any good American I was aware that I have the attitude within myself to believe that I can change circumstances, that when I enter into a situation, especially a hospital, I ask myself what is it that I can do to minister to these people, how can I make their life better. How can I change their circumstances? Thankfully, God has been quietly speaking to me these last few months, that the best gift we can offer someone is often the the power of presence. The power of our presence. Solely when we sit in another’s presence, offering all that we can, which is nothing more than a comforting presence that may not have any answers, but the presence of another is enough to suffice. A presence that is able to silently speak. This is the attitude that I entered the hospital yesterday, knowing that I was empty and unable to offer these children anything more than myself. And if I was open to the moment, they would offer me more, and teach me more by their presence than mine.
I was shown more in my first day as a volunteer that has radically changed my life than a multiplicity of circumstances in other enviroments and situations. In my first five minutes in the hospital I was hastily handed a baby bottle with some type of formula and I fed a young girl her meal through a tube that entered through her nose. It was pure agony for me to watch a young child of God to struggle through such a simple thing as a meal, yet at the same time, enjoy it immensely. And I realized in the first five minutes as well that the most beautiful thing I could do for this little girl was to constantly repeat her name and tell her how beautiful it was. That instantaneously brought a smile to her face and put a sparkle into her eyes. But I was not able to sit long in the moment with her because there were many other children that needed attending and the help was short yesterday. The next boy I fed I fed through simply a bottle to his mouth, but he was not able to communicate, only display a conglomerate of hand signals and mutter untranslatable phrases. This is how it was from one child to the next. One child I spent the better part of my time with him trying to keep the flies out of his mouth because he was unable to, or trying to comfort another child because he would not stop hitting his head into the wall, or would continually slap his or her face. In those moments I had yesterday, I realized that the most beautiful thing for a child who is in pain is the moment of slumber. When for those few moments they are able to completely rest in the peaceful rest of God’s arms. The expression on a child’s face who was caught in this moment was priceless, and I only prayed that they would not awake from the loud crying or screams of the others. How sad it is that we can not rest in God’s arms more often, but that we only cast off our illusions of control for possibly 6 to 8 hours a night, when we fall asleep, and our trust, whether voluntarily or not, rest completely in our Father.