Monday, July 11, 2016

Presence and Touch

July 8th 2016 – Today we caught a profound glimpse into the pain of the people of Haiti—both the individual pain and national pain. We began our day at The Home for Sick and Dying Adults. The very name of this place causes my heart to cringe. By admitting that some of these patients are “dying” seems so hopeless, so final, so grim. But death is a reality we will all taste. It is the unavoidable horizon line all of our lives are headed toward. The discomfort we feel, I believe, is our lack of control over this reality. We want to somehow bargain with God so that somehow we can turn back the tide He unleashed the moment our ancestors chose to turn their backs on Him. Serving at The Home for Sick and Dying Adults inevitably requires a resignation of our grandiose plans of bypassing death. We showed up without medical equipment, without any knowledge of the specific sickness which plagued these men and women, and without permission to offer verbal prayers of healing—only lotion and a few bottles of finger nail polish. We were there to touch, to “be present”, and to trust that (despite what seems to be the case throughout Haiti) God is in control.

The men and women split up to serve same-gendered patients. There are only five men on our team, so we had our work cut out for us. After being directed to a large room full of beds and patients, we began pumping lotion into our palms and allowing the sick and dying men to tell us where they’d like us to massage. I hummed an old hymn as I rubbed the shoulders and chest of the first patient I met. Soon I realized my soft hymn humming was being matched by another voice. At first I assumed one of my fellow volunteers heard the tune and joined in, but soon I recognized it was the man whose shoulders I was spreading lotion on who, with eyes closed, was joining in. We hummed together, praising the God in the midst of the man’s pain.

We entered the care center with rubber gloves and expectations that we would need to protect ourselves from open sores and communicable diseases. But when the humming began and our eyes met the eyes of the men lying in beds, emaciated and in agony, the gloves felt like an affront, a statement that we wished to be separated from the pain of our new friends. The gloves remained in our pockets as we knelt down and served our brothers with naked hands. What an honor it was to minister the power of touch! By the time we had sweated through our shirts and each man had had an opportunity to receive a massage, we realized the humility involved in coming not with answers, cures, aloof prayers, but simple and intentional touch.

Our next stop brought us to the Haitian History Museum. So much of what we learned was about the pain which preceded Haitian freedom: colonial oppression and murder. From the time Columbus arrived on the coast of Haiti until the slave revolt in the 1800’s, the name of Jesus was used to justify unimaginable systemic sins. At one point along our guided tour I wanted to shout to our guide, “I’m so sorry…but the Jesus that was presented to you is NOT the Jesus of the Bible.” But the pain of the past cannot be undone. It is there, and it must be acknowledged and learned from. While an apology may be helpful, the best I believe we can do is continue to show up at places like The Home for Sick and Dying Adults and message feet, one at a time, and show the beautiful Haitians the beauty of Jesus.

Whenever I witness pain, the temptation is to devise strategic ways to alleviate it. Certainly, Healing Haiti is going to great lengths to do this. We saw strategic hope at Grace Village and Apparent Project. But what I learned today is that sometimes God isn’t asking us to be the remedy to someone’s pain. Instead, He’s inviting us to simply step into it and offer presence and touch. 

- Bryan M.