Romans 5:3-5 – not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Today, my 2nd day in Haiti (and first full day), I was relentlessly pursued by hope.
On a human level, this seems completely illogical. I witnessed so much pain, so much loss, so much destruction. I saw miles and miles of downtown Port-au-Prince streets with every other building smashed to pieces, the streets piled high with rubble (many of the rubble piles doubling as temporary graves). I saw trash overflowing in every stream.
And the squatter villages. I’ve seen squatter villages in other countries; but they’ve always had a sense of semi-permanence to them, having developed over years, with shacks poorly cobbled together with solid materials. But the squatter villages here are different. They’ve sprung up all over the city – hundreds of them – each with hundreds, if not thousands of temporary homes. All built in the last few weeks, they’re built on wobbly scrap-wood frames and wires, with sheets and blankets for walls, and tarps (at best) for roofs.
I listened to story after story, and they started to blend together. Everyone knows someone who died in the quake – most know many. And even if their home didn’t collapse, it’s broken enough that it’s not safe to re-enter. Little kids accepted power bars and bottles of water from me as if I’d just handed them the keys to the kingdom.
But this suffering is producing perseverance, which is producing character, and hope is overflowing in a way I’ve rarely seen.
Today was Haiti’s first-ever National Day of Prayer. We originally had other plans for the day; but when we learned of this beautiful expression of hope. As we drove into the city center, we passed dozens of churches overflowing (literally, out onto the streets) with people singing and praying (and fasting, I understand). The main gathering at the city center is reported to have about 60,000 people at it.
We stopped at one of the large gatherings (not the one at the city center), and I sat in the scorching sun near a few young adults. One of them – Johnny – noticed the tattoo on my leg (the cross of St. Patrick), and asked me about it in broken English. He and his friends were fascinated by it, and by each of my three other tattoos. Since each of my tattoos represent Christian themes of life and re-birth, we struggled gloriously through a conversation about spiritual things. Johnny, and another guy named Junior (pictured with me here), both spoke some English, and translated everything I said to their friends, as well as translating questions from their friends for me.
Later, after driving through the heart-wrenching city center, we visited a large prayer gathering at the church of Pastor Christian, one of the pastors we’re hoping Adventures in Missions groups will be working with. I’d guess there were about 3500 people at this site. As we made our way into the crowd, I realized I was in observation mode. I realized my post yesterday had been more of a travelogue than a reflection of what was going on inside of me. And I knew I had to move into co-participant mode. So I broke from our group and wiggled my way deep into the crowd. When I got to a place where I couldn’t proceed further without being rude, I stood and prayed in the midst of the crowd. When they suddenly all sat down, I realized I was the only person standing. I looked down, and the woman next to my feet was making a place for me to squeeze onto the blanket she and several other women and children were occupying. I sat, looked around, and realized I had somehow ended up in a section that was all women and children – but the welcome was palpable. Throughout the next hour of singing, dancing, prayer, preaching, leg cramps and back spasms, I participated with these Haitian women and children, calling out to God on behalf of Haiti. It was a profound, tangible experience of hope being birthed out of suffering.
Later in the day, after many stories I don’t have space to share here (including a beautiful conversation with a group of young men constructing a tent-home for someone, all of whom had decided to follow Christ on the day of the earthquake, as they heard others crying out to Jesus), we met with Pastor Christian. A 70-something man of deep wisdom and grace, he pastors a group of 11 churches totally about 10,000 people. We talked with him about bringing groups to help, about his vision for Haiti, and about how he saw his country responding. At one point, Pastor Christian was sharing something about all the work to be done, and he let out a very deep sign. We could all see, in that moment, the immense burden he was carrying, and how tired he was (he hadn’t been showing this). We gathered around him and prayed for him, while he sunk into the grace of Jesus. About 10 minutes later, he asked if he could pray for us. As we bowed our heads, he began singing. He was singing a prayer over us, and it was truly one of the most beautiful things ever to enter my ears and soul, even though I couldn’t understand the words. I instantly started crying – but they were tears of hope: hope born out of seeing a man, and a hundred thousand others, place their hope-born-of-suffering in a Savior who brings redemption. I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite Bible verses: Zephaniah 3:17, which describes God “rejoicing over us with singing.”
I’m emotionally and physically spent, and a little bit sunburned. So I’ll leave you with this:
Zephaniah 3:17 – The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.