[image by Anne Jackson of tent city of 5000 in Marassa]
About one month ago one of the most horrific disasters in human history struck the small island of Haiti. In the wake of that destruction thousands upon thousands of lives were lost, and thousands upon thousands of people were displaced. We have had the unbelievable opportunity to walk among and pray and worship with these people who were displaced and have now found themselves sleeping in dirt fields, under tarps, in the rubble of former homes, and in open ravines that will be washed away during the rainy season starting next month. Piled into these tents are entire families ranging from five to twenty-five.
In a displaced community.
One of the questions that has been going round and round in my mind is “How can these people who have suffered so greatly, worship and praise God in the midst of picking up the pieces? Because I’m not sure if I could do it. I’m not so sure that if such a tragedy came upon me that I would have even half of the hopeful spirit that the Haitians have displayed to us over and over again during our time here.
This spirit of hope and faith and love is not something that I saw on the news at night. It’s not a story you will read in the papers or online. While the rest of the mainstream media is talking about all of the destruction and mourning, they have failed to see the whole story. There has been no coverage of all the people pouring into churches by the thousands all over the city. Instead of a day of mourning, it has been days and days of hope and praise. A country in transition. In search of change.
How can the Haitians praise God when many of their lives have been destroyed, and they are deprived of basic needs like food, water, shelter, medical care and security?
I believe it’s because they, like us, worship a displaced God.
God is with us.
God who took on flesh.
God who has experienced our pains.
“The Lord, whose compassion we want to manifest in time and place, is indeed the displaced Lord. Paul describes Jesus as the one who voluntarily displaced himself. ‘His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as we are’ (Phil. 2:6-7). A greater displacement cannot be conceived. The mystery of the incarnation is that God did not remain in the place that was proper for him but moved to the condition of a suffering human being. God gave up his heavenly place and took a humble place among mortal men and women. God displaced himself so that nothing human would be alien to him and he could experience fully the brokenness of our human condition….In the life of Jesus, we see how this divine displacement becomes visible in a human story….Jesus Christ is the displaced Lord in whom God’s compassion becomes flesh. In him, we see a life of displacement lived to the fullest. It is in following our displaced Lord that the Christian community is formed. (Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Nouwen, McNeill & Morrison, pp. 64-66)
Displaced lives…who worship a displaced God…become a displaced community full of hope and joy.
That is what I believe. Because nothing else, beyond something supernatural can describe what I have seen and experienced these last few days.
This morning we walked into a tent city of approximately 5000 people who were living in a ravine that will be washed out in the next month. We were invited in this morning to pray for healing for these people. It was a humbling experience. We found ourselves walking down a windy dirt trail through tents (which are really torn tarps tied together), while smiling faces peeked out from them. The farther and farther I walked the louder and louder the music became, until finally I came to a make shift house of worship. They had brought in drums, and a keyboard and microphone (which ran on a gasoline powered generator).
In the midst of their displacement, they formed a house of worship in a sea of tents, spread out as far as the eye could see.
For a moment I had a glimpse of what it must have looked like for the LORD to lead the displaced Israelites through the desert.
As the music got louder and louder, more and more people began streaming through the aisles of tents and made their way into their house of worship. It was at that time that our team leader Seth Barnes tapped me and my friend Jeremy Zach on the shoulders and said we were going to be the pastors for the service.
As we made our way to the front I tried to figure out what I was going to say, but again, words were sparse. I simply told them that I was humbled to be in their midst. And though I have been a Christian my whole life, I have never experienced such an amazing time of worship. Moving out of the tent people streamed to us to pray for their healing and for an hour and half our entire team prayed non-stop for any individual or family that wanted prayer. It was non-stop.
There was tears.
There was laughter.
There was praise.
We — in our weak and vulnerable state, were simply able to be present with a displaced and hurting people. And in that community we came in