Originally published August 4, 2014
Since I started this blog as a way to document a mission trip to Haiti in August 2014, it’s appropriate for my first real post to describe the point of this trip.
It’s a fair question. I never considered myself a missionary. I never had a connection to anyone there, other than the same kind of connection every American has had who has watched the news during the past several decades. I might have said something like, “Those poor people” as I watched news coverage of the devastating earthquake or a hurricane that left death and destruction in its wake or a political uprising or dictator or humanitarian crisis. But like most people, I soon changed the channel or picked up a book or any of the other myriad things we do in America to wipe the troubling images of suffering from our minds, and soon I forgot. Soon I would find myself caught up in the day-to-day routine that is life in the First World, and thoughts of Haiti would be gone.
But nearly 13 years ago, I began to realize something important about myself and the world in which I lived. Maybe you’ve noticed it, too.
Everything is broken, and we can’t fix it.
For me, it was a realization that began dawning when I watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall in Manhattan. There was no sudden epiphany. Instead, the acts of terror I saw as I watched the awful spectacle unfold from my living room that morning in September 2001 were the beginning of a gradual revelation that culminated with a more important insight three years later in that same living room: I was completely broken, and there was nothing I could do to fix that, either. I needed a Savior, someone to lift me out of the pit and set my feet upon a rock, and only the unmatched grace of Jesus Christ could save me.
Everything is broken. King Solomon realized this and wrote about it in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. With all the resources of the wealthiest king of ancient times at his disposal, he tried to find life’s meaning in riches, in military might, in relationships, in fleshly pleasures, in family and in just about anything else his great human wisdom could conjure. And in the end, he concluded this: “Utterly meaningless. All is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV)
Maybe you disagree. I get that. I surely pursued meaning in my own way for many years, and sometimes I thought I’d found it. Sensual pleasures? Check. And I found that Solomon was right: “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8) Everything I turned to — music, food, art, friends and plenty of less edifying pursuits — all just left me wanting more. I continually sought something better, something that would finally satisfy me and help me find meaning for a life that slipped away one day at a time.
What about wealth? What about love? I chased after those things, too. Money slipped away, and the things it bought left me more bereft than before I had them. And what I learned about love as I watched my marriage collapsing before my very eyes was that I loved myself too much to truly love my wife. Jesus saved my marriage when He saved me, but it was a close call.
The world faces the same existential crisis, and it is perhaps nowhere more evident than here in America, where we have access to wealth and resources that are unimaginable in the Third World. Americans pursue youth and health with a single-mindedness that completely ignores the fact that both are fleeting and that physical death is the final stop along the way for us all. Americans doggedly pursue wealth, even though it will avail them nothing when the train reaches the end of the line. Americans pursue “love” with a selfishness that leaves families broken, children fatherless and the word empty of any real significance.
Look around you. America is broken, just as surely as I was broken. The cure for our nation — and for the world — is the same as it was for me. We need a Savior. We cannot save ourselves, but Americans — despite the fact that we call ourselves a Christian nation — are not yet ready to admit it yet. Frankly, America isn’t yet broken enough to turn to Jesus. Even in our churches, there’s still a broad sense that we can fix things in our own power. It will not be a popular sentiment, but we still have too much of the “can-do” American spirit to surrender ourselves as a nation to Jesus. Even His followers here — and I’m including myself in this judgment — struggle with surrendering to Him.
So I want to go somewhere and experience something that’s completely out of my comfort zone, completely out of my control, something that forces me to put Jesus in his rightful position in my life: completely in control. Yes, I’m going to Haiti with a group of 26 others who have it on their hearts to help lift up the people of that battered and broken place. And I do hope and expect we will leave it a better place than when we arrived. I hope and expect that God will do marvelous things while we are there and because of the things we do to bless the people of Montrouis. I hope and expect that He will use us to draw broken children, mothers and fathers to Him.
More than that, though — and I can see where some folks might think me selfish for saying this — I hope and expect God to do a marvelous work in me. I want Him to break me and then re-make me into someone with the faith and obedience of Abraham, ready to step into the unknown at His simple command.
Upon returning from a visit to Haiti last year, a friend had a T-shirt printed that read: “I need Haiti more than Haiti needs me.” It took me a while to understand just what that T-shirt meant. Now, I’m starting to get it.
— R.E. Spears III