Hope In Haiti
As we climbed into the back of the open pick-up trucks on Easter Sunday and took our seats, there was a sense of anticipation in the air. After eight days of living in the country of Haiti, we had become familiar with a number of things; namely the heat, dusty roads, throngs of motorcycles, perilous driving conditions and lack of infrastructure, unfamiliar language and the material poverty of a country with an economy that struggles to even support itself. We were returning to the Renault slums for our second Sunday morning Sunday School service for 1300+ children and though we were seeing the results of many years of dedication and hard work from the Wray family, there remained a multitude of differences from the Sunday Schools we are used back home.As we enter the slums by vehicle, the children start chanting “He-Rod, He-Rod, He-Rod.” This is not a specific Haitian greeting, rather it is what they think the name is of our host missionary Rod Wray. As we pick our way along the garbage lined, narrow dirt road, kids start to chase after the truck, excited to get to the compound for the service. While the usual morning routine of washing clothes in the nearby river, cooking meals on an open fire and tinkering around continues for the older members of this slum, the children are headed towards their highlight of the week.
We finally reach the compound and drive inside while some older Haitian volunteers hold the children back. The gate closes behind us and though we hear a mass of noise outside, we are separated from the children by a stone wall as we prepare the compound for the service. After the projector, microphone, sound system and benches are put in place, our team lines up to form a welcoming corridor. Through years of training, these children have been taught the importance of respect and order and as they stream in one at a time, they shake each one of our hands before taking a seat.
It would be difficult to find a starker contrast between that of a Haitian Sunday School child and one in North America. Children of all ages stream in without parents. They range from a few months old (carried by their three year old siblings) to pre-teen, from completely naked to clothed, from happy to sad to angry to despondent. As I shake each child’s hand, I wonder at their story. A few short minutes after the stream starts coming in, a young boy attaches himself to my legs. Quiet and shy, he attaches himself with an iron like grip to my left-hand and without speaking, looks up at me with large brown eyes. As we continue to greet the rest of the children, a few more attach themselves to me and others. Once the gate is closed, we return to find our seat around the outside of the seated group and those who have attached themselves to me race off to find their friends one-by-one. Only this young boy remains.
We find a seat around the outside and it becomes clear to me that all this child craves is attention, loving attention. He draws my hand around him and as I gently rub his back, he positions himself as close as he can beside me. Though I ask his name, I cannot understand what he is saying and so I leave the communication there.
The mass of children are led through a number of songs which they have been practising for weeks and the resounding chorus is almost deafening, “Jezi vivan, se vivan! Wὸch la woule (Jesus is alive, he is alive! The stone is rolled away). We join in with the choir, proclaiming the news of the risen Saviour. This act gives us a glimpse into the heavenly realms of worshipping God together with people of all nations.
The service continues with some more singing, Bible trivia and a brief message. The array of children and mental images are overwhelming. In the rows in front of me, a few boys tease each other, before it escalates to fist fighting and they need to be separated and removed. To my left, a boy sits on the ledge tapping my arm and pointing to a large boil on his leg that is the size of a golf ball and is oozing liquid. As he seemingly asks for help I helplessly shrug my shoulders and silently pray for him. To my right, a girl sits with an infection which has eaten away her upper lip. Again, I pray a silent prayer. In front of me a naked child paces down the aisle, looking for a place to belong. All the while, this young boy continues to lean into my touch, periodically gazing up into my face and stroking it with his hands.
After an hour, the service ends and the last portion begins, a food hand out. Initially, I must remove myself from the boy as I head to the gate at the front of the compound to form the farewell line. As the children meander out of the compound through our line, they tightly clutch their packets of rice and nutrition whilst shaking each one of our hands. Eventually, the boy finds me again, a rice pack in his hands and I pick him up, knowing that we will have to say goodbye soon. As the crowd of children dwindles, I know I must also send him on his way. Placing him down, I direct him out and with a small glance over his shoulder, he disappears through the gate.
Our short, one and a half hour relationship was brief, did not contain many words and will not continue as a result of our physical distance, yet there was something powerful about this interaction. This boy craved loving attention, not words or gifts or clothes or games, but the physical touch of someone who cared. I am humbled to have been able to give this to him.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14”
As our group loaded back onto the pick-up trucks, there was a sense of reflection and encouragement. Yes, Haiti is a place with much brokenness physically, emotionally, materially and spiritually, yet the overwhelming feeling was that it is also a place of hope. Hope because the name of Jesus is being proclaimed by a chorus of 1300+ children at the top of their lungs, hope because there are others working to share his name, hope because a little boy received some loving attention, hope because Jesus is present in Haiti, hope because Jesus rose from the dead. Jezi vivan, se vivan!