We weren’t even supposed to be there.
If I still weren’t struggling with communication problems, I’d have heard the slight difference between “Peris” and “Carries” when our ministry team was making plans for the week, and instead of telling our guests — 16 young adults from Adventures in Missions’ World Race — that we were going to help with a house build, I’d have told them we were dropping into a community we’d never visited before to gauge their interest in the Gospel’s message of love and hope.
At the very least, I’d have left my gloves back at home.
But as the 8-year-old boy stood in the midst of our small circle of prayer, it was clear to me that I had much greater need for a cotton handkerchief than leather gloves. By the time our group had finished praying for him, I was beginning to come apart. As he left our circle, I lifted a prayer for Peris, this community of a dozen or so tiny block houses that line both sides of a dusty lane across a dangerous road from a mission school whose American founder has been unheard from here since he became ill five years ago. Halfway through this prayer, I was choking back the tears. By the time I was done, I had to walk away from the group and pull myself back together.
We weren’t even supposed to be there.
But neither was this boy.
People in the community had found him standing in the busy road about a year ago. Questioning him, they learned he had wandered there from St. Marc, about 30 minutes away. His parents were dead, and he had no other family. He was an 8-year-old orphan with no place to go, and that’s exactly where he had been going when he was found.
A year later, he lives in Peris, meaning that he takes shelter wherever he can find it there and that he scavenges whatever food he can find in this community where one English-speaking man told us there are “a lot of starving people.” The boy has an untreated skin condition that has left tiny open sores on his face, and he seemed frightened and wary. He answered questions from our Haitian translator and ministry leader in a whisper and with the fewest words possible. He hesitated to look into the eyes of the light-skinned people who surrounded him.
In short, he was not that different from thousands of Haitian children.
The only thing that set him apart was that he was standing right there in that moment.
He should have been playing soccer with his friends. He should have been eating a bowl of rice and beans or slurping some of the hot soup that Haitians unaccountably love on blistering days like this. He should have been seeing a doctor for treatment of his skin condition.
Instead, he stood there with his head hung low and his eyes avoiding contact, and for a few moments I could almost feel all of the weight of Haiti pressing him down. In those moments, he was every orphaned child here, every starving soul yearning for food and a place to sleep. Sensing his burden, I was crushed.
And in that broken moment, I felt closer to God than ever before. In that broken moment, I sensed what must have been only the shadow of a tiny sliver of the compassion He feels for the fatherless, a group whose needs He addresses no less than 35 times in His Word.
Here’s what James, the brother of Jesus, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said about orphans: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27 NASB)
We spend so much time in the modern American church arguing over what sort of music is best for worship. We devote so much effort to choosing the colors of our choir robes, and we engage in such earnest debate over the question of whether to hold the church’s fall festival on Halloween or some other night. We work so hard to broaden our phylacteries and lengthen our tassels that we completely miss the opportunities around us, even in America, for true religion to take place.
And many of those who are most heavily invested in the choir robes and fall festivals are the very same ones who wonder why we spend so much of the church’s time and treasure on a place like Haiti.
Is it any wonder the world wonders what Christians have done with the Christ of Christianity?
Now that I think about it, we were exactly where we were supposed to be.
— Res Spears