Every writer needs a few tricks in their bag that will grab the reader's attention. Sometimes it's a silly title (a favorite of bloggers), on an enigmatic allusion - back to alliteration I guess.
Most of the time, it's the first few sentences, or even the first few pages of your novel that will either grab the reader or lose them. I have proven that in writing contests I've entered in the past ten years. Often it is best to delete your first three chapters and start the story at the fourth, because nobody cares about the backstory.
Today wasn't a "Chapter Four" kind of day. The first sentence of our day was written in the crystal-clear heavens before God lit the sky. There was no smoke from trash fires, no traffic on the roads, only a hush over the metropolis of Port au Prince. 0600 is mighty early in January for a nation with sporadic electricity, and a paucity of street lights. Yet that's when we arrived at "The Church On The Rock." I'm sure it has a formal name, but I've not yet committed it to memory after three trips to Haiti.
My first visit was on a morning that was sweltering, and the big-top tent was full of people who came on that Ash Wednesday to give thanks to God for sparing them from the earthquake just a few years earlier. Today, in contrast, the church is a modern building that resembles a gigantic indoor sports facility. Like many structures in Haiti, there are no real doors on the main entry, but a 57 functioning ceiling fans. The altar/stage is huge, and the sound board would make most church audio visual ministries drool in jealous admiration.
We were among the first to arrive, and I was a bit disappointed that perhaps people in Haiti had quit raising up the thanks now that almost a decade had passed since the 2010 earthquake.
I need not have feared. The church filled nicely over the next 30 minutes. In a mixture of Creole and English, the praise and worship band and pastor lifted my spirits to a needed level for the day ahead. I'm a weirdo, and sat alone in the back of the structure to watch the people and pray privately. I love my team beyond words, but this morning I chose to take my spiritual nourishment alone at the counter. Some of the best meals are spent in the comfortable solitude of deep thought.
We continued to worship long after the sun came up, and walked back to the mission house for breakfast. As always, the staff blessed us with an abundance of delicious things. We needed them in the coming hours.
Our first stop was Grace Village. A tour of the facility, gazing out to the Caribbean, and some deep reflection were all welcome.
The next two hours were spent on the goat paths around Titanyen visiting elders. A paucity of asphalt, and abundance of cactus, create some exceptional balance exhibitions. But they weren't the only balancing act on Friday morning: balancing the joy of serving with the sadness that the elders can bring is a tough one. While washing feet is an enjoyable task (the smiles it earns are priceless) the living conditions, and the fact that they have outlived all of their peers (and often their children) brings a bit of sorrow. So, a mix.
Haitian Deaf Academy was our final serving stop of the day. I was challenged to a non-stop session of arm-wrestling. While I'm a big guy at 6' 300 (or more) pounds, I'm actually only qualified to pit my skills against 8 year-olds if I'm honest. Fortunately, I was not overly out-matched until they teamed up and had 3-1 odds in their favor. I allowed myself to be defeated with dignity.
That sounded awfully personal, didn't it? I think all serving is personal. Today that's what those children wanted to do: arm-wrestle with Pere Noel. And I was glad to meet that request. I try very hard to do what the people I serve need most. Whether it's making bacon-cheeseburgers for the homeless instead of a fancy meal, or arm-wrestling with a long line of little boys, you have to do what makes their lives best in the moment.
In our lives in the United States, we have so many conflicts and demands on our time that we frequently serve in the manner most convenient to us. We do something, anything, and feel it's better than doing nothing. It's as easy as dropping the clothes we cleared out of the closet at the Salvation Army. But is it what God is asking of us in the moment? Isn't He the ultimate consumer of our service?
Today we served in ways those we served needed. I think that's because when you're on a mission trip you can focus on what He wants, not the internet, or your kid's sports schedule. God brings us here to serve in our best capacity. Tomorrow we'll try it again.
I can't wait.