It has been a great week in Haiti. So many stories of God’s goodness, grace, and beauty in our lives and those of the girls in House of Hope. In my final blog about the trip I want to tell you about our friend Paul, who challenged me deeply this week. Paul is from east Tennessee, but lives with his wife Kate at House of Hope. Andy and I met Paul the first time we went there four years ago. So, to explain why Paul has been such an inspiration I need to give a little back story from our first trip to House of Hope.
When we arrived there the first time, I was struck by the drastic difference between life inside the walls of the orphanage and life outside. The streets outside were busy with people, trashy, and full of the evidences of poverty and the broken lifestyle in Haiti. Every home had a wall with razor wire, and the streets around the compound are pot-hole filled gravel/dirt roads (I use the term road in a very loose sense here). Inside the walls there was a joy and beauty around the one building that was House of Hope at that time. Girls were full of life and love. They sang, danced, and played freely. The walls kept them safe and made House of Hope an oasis for these girls. But it also made House of Hope feel a bit like Jericho in the book of Joshua, “Walls tightly shut up, none came out, and none came in.” While we were there we only left these walls and walked the streets once, and that was to go to church on Sunday. And we did not bring anyone from outside the walls into the compound.
As I said, we met Paul there. We really liked him right away, he is honestly one of the funniest people we have ever been around. But he was also a bit of a punk (I actually am using the word here because he used it to describe himself at that time in his life). He was doing a 2-month internship at HOH. He was a help there for Carole and the staff, but he was also a little bit of a wild hare with some crazy ideas, and a few life issues. We had some great talks, and Paul had some huge dreams about Haiti and HOH. But for those dreams to be realized I knew he had some growing to do.
In the last four years lots has happened to Paul. The big thing is that he found an amazing woman named Kate and he married way above his head (I can resonate with that). He has also spent much of the last four years in Haiti, living there in House of Hope for the past two and a half years. In that time he has grown in his faith, his love for the girls, and his love for Haiti. This leads to the thing that so deeply inspired and challenged me. Paul could have stayed there and HOH, loving the girls, and helping run the school and other ministries there, while staying mostly in the compound. Or he could have returned to America and gone on with his life. But Paul decided he wanted to change Haiti, or at least the area around the orphanage, and as a result he has genuinely become a missionary to Haiti. Now, of course, he chose to live in Haiti and be a missionary to House of Hope, but the thing that I noticed is that Paul is living incarnationally in the city.
We had a couple opportunities to walk the streets this week (that in and of itself is different). As we did this I noticed that Paul knows all of the Haitians who live around there. This white dude who totally stands out interacted with people everywhere we went. He had a conversation with the checker in the local market, with people walking the streets, with the guy who had a little corner business airing up people’s tires, and with a spiritual leader near a voodoo temple. He tells me that he goes and watches futbol (soccer) with three guys who are voodoo every week at a local place. I also saw him interact twice with a man who lives in the neighborhood, a man known as the “thug” of the area. He is a known supporter of Aristede, a former President of Haiti who was thrown out of office for corruption. Paul supports current President Martelly. The funny thing is that Paul likes to get in a debate with this guy over politics, which even Haitians probably wouldn’t do. The reason he can do this is that Paul has spent a lot of time in the city developing relationships with people, getting to know them, and genuinely developing friendships. With this guy, he has developed enough of a relationship that they can taunt and tease each other about politics while keeping a smile and friendship. In some cases the people are followers of Jesus, in others they are far from God. Paul seeks opportunities to share the Gospel, but his motivation is also a true desire to love Haiti.
Part of the reason Paul has fit in so well in the culture there is that he has also suffered with them. On January 12, 2010 Paul flew into Port-Au-Prince. The earthquake hit just as he walked out of the airport after clearing customs. Paul sat near the front of the plane, so he got out quickly. Twenty-two people on that flight lost their lives as a floor collapsed in the airport. In the following days, Paul was in the center of the suffering of that nation, seeing and participating in things he still does not want to talk about. For those who want to truly live on mission, this often is a part of the story. As God puts them in a culture among a people, they will often suffer with those people, and in a way, for those people. Not in an atoning sense, only Jesus can suffer in a saving way for us. But our suffering with people is representative of our being the Body of Christ in a place. Paul has suffered more than we can know, but so has Haiti. He has entered in, joined in their suffering. This is the story of the incarnation of Jesus, Jesus became flesh. He entered in, joined our suffering and suffered for us.
My experience in Haiti this time was drastically different from the one I had four years ago. The walls were so much less imposing, and I think a large part of the reason is Paul’s influence, and his incarnational living in the culture. As I mentioned, a couple times during the week we went out in the city. We also opened the doors to people as they came into the compound on at least five different occasions during the trip as we served the grannies, hosted kids clubs, and held church on the grounds. There is an obvious shift in the mission at the House of Hope grounds. Of course, the care and safety of the girls is still paramount. Paul and Kate love those girls as if they were their own, as does Carl and Carole Vorst, Angelo (the Haitian man who works with them), and all others who go there. But there is also a direct and obvious mission to the community, a real desire to see the Gospel move outside the walls into the city, and all this for the glory of God and the good of His people. Paul is helping leaders at HOH dream of new and creative ways to develop relationships in the culture, and reach people. They are serving the poor in a myriad of ways. The clearest way we saw this was the ministry with the “grannies”. This is a group of about 30 elderly women who live in the area around HOH. They are single, and many of them without families who can provide care for them. Paul, Angelo, and the others there invite these beautiful women into the grounds once a week for a time of fellowship, sharing, and worship. We had the honor of serving these women while we were there (see Tabitha’s post from earlier on this), but this opportunity would not have happened if those living at HOH were not already welcoming these ladies in and serving them. As each lady leaves they are given a bag full of food packets from Kids Against Hunger so they can eat and feed others in their families for the week. They have also planted a church for people living in the community, and they are involved in planting two more churches. One of those is being planted in what may be the poorest section of Haiti, an area called Cite Soleil.
So let me sum this up. Why am I writing about Paul. I really like him, but believe it or not, this is not a sophomoric attempt to get him to think I am the coolest guy in the world (he already believes that). Actually it was challenging for me. Jesus put on flesh, dwelt among us, and actually hung out with sinners. What marked Jesus’ ministry was his willingness to get dirty alongside those who were broken, poor, and utterly sinful. He didn’t sin, but he spent his life with sinners, and He did this to rescue them. In fact, the religious crowd rejected Jesus partially because they thought a holy man would not hang out with the type of people with whom Jesus ate. But Jesus did not come for the healthy, but for the sick. He saves people, gives them a new heart, but He also calls and equips them for mission. And that mission involves us taking the role of Jesus in our culture. This means that we love the broken, invest ourselves in the sinners, and get involved in the lives of those who are far from God. We have friendships with those whom “religious” people may reject. Yes, we have an agenda, we want them to know Jesus. But this is not our only motivation. People are not an agenda, but wonderful creatures in the image of God, and our call is to be a friend of sinners, just like Jesus.
Paul is in Haiti. He has become a white Haitian. I love Haiti, but I am called to live God’s mission primarily in Eureka. Too often the church of Jesus really does function like the HOH compound the first time I went. The walls are not made of concrete stone and razor wire, but they exist, with church people on the inside and the “other” people out there. But missional, incarnational living means that we are always going beyond the walls, outside our comfort zone, and loving people in our culture. We do the things they do, but we do them as servants of a different King. We build friendships, hang out in the places they go, and love people just because Jesus loves us. So Paul challenged me to be an “Eurekaite” (yeah, I know, but best I could come up with). To be a person who loves Jesus, and loves this culture, lives on mission, investing my life in the people who live here in Eureka.
On our last night my son Andy said something profound that has stuck with me. As we were talking about what God was doing and teaching us, he said this. “I came on a mission trip, but I have come to realize that all of life is a mission trip. I need to work as hard and invest as much of myself in God’s mission back home as I have here.” So, will you join me on this mission trip?