My friend Dr. Greg Hudson looked at photos from my travels and listened to me tell stories of my encounters with people in far off places. There were teenagers sitting with Greg in a classroom at Harvest Christian Academy. I told my stories and showed the photographs but I had to wonder if any of them could really comprehend what I was sharing.
I showed them a photograph of a cross built on top of a mountain in Nicaragua. I said, you know, in the western hemisphere there are crosses everywhere. There is virtually no place where people have not had some encounter with Jesus, even if it is only as religion. In many parts of Asia, I said, there are people who have never seen a cross or heard about Jesus. But I didn’t know if they understood what I was saying. Greg is a Christian, and many of the teenagers are, but that wasn’t really my point. I was trying to tell them something about the world that is not their world. I showed them a photograph of a little girl carrying water and said, you know, in most of the world people have to travel to get water. They can’t just turn on a spigot in their house. I showed them a photograph of a boy shining shoes and said, most children in the world have to go to work. They don’t get to wait until they are 18 or 22 before they get a job.
I was showing the photographs not for any particular reason except another friend, Rob Shumaker asked me to. I had all of two minutes to prepare what to say. Hahah. But it was ok. I long to show people the big world we live in but do not see. I long for the opportunity to share with people glimpses of not only other parts of the world, but of our responsibility. But then I always wonder, does anyone really comprehend what I am saying? Rob asked me earlier in that same day about poverty. He asked me about kids with distended stomachs who are starving to death. Are they actually starving to death, he asked? Or is it just the media? No, I said. I assure you those kids you saw in whatever picture or video you saw are probably dead. Poverty in America is not the same as poverty in Somalia, I said. It is an unfair comparison. I think he could hear the frustration in my voice.
When you have seen what some people have not you never really know if they understand what you are saying when you talk. Greg looked at me as I was showing the photographs and he asked me a very important question. It was the right question. He didn’t ask me to explain poverty. He didn’t ask me why there is poverty. He didn’t ask me about political structures. He didn’t ask me about religion or the gospel. Greg looked me in the eye and he said, what do you think when you see these pictures?
What do I think? I gave him an answer, but I forget what I said. But his question remains with me. It has haunted me all day. It was the right question because the message of the photos are not the messages a lot of people expect. The messages are not themes. The messages are not about “poverty” and “plenty” or “pain” and “praise.” The message is simply a communication. I was there and this is what I saw. This little girl was working a job selling tortillas and she was crying because it was 7pm and she was tired and she couldn’t go home until she was done selling all her tortillas. That is one story. But the point is it isn’t a story. It is a real person I met. Her name is Evelyn and she is not a theme or an idea or a trend or a statistic. I told Greg, I see individual people. And I can sometimes be overwhelmed by carrying their memory in me. This is one reason why I long to share the photos.
One of the most striking sights for a visitor to a place like Haiti are the squatter cities built up cliff sides. It is staggering to realize the poor hovels are stacked and stacked and stacked like pathetic, terrible, tilting toy blocks. Cities without streets. Can you imagine such a thing? A city without a street? Just horrible block on top of block.
What do I think about the pictures and the experiences? I think that most of the world is just like this scene in Haiti. Most of the world is like living in a city without streets. When I bring back photographs I am a reporter bringing back news from these cities without streets to you, my friends and family here in America, the wealthiest place the world has ever known. I am a reporter returned from the cities without streets. I hope you will not forget the citizens of these cities.
I like sharing with friends like Greg, Rob and the teens at Harvest Christian Academy because when I looked in their eyes I knew that they did indeed understand. I think it is because the same Spirit that dwells in me dwells in them. And this Spirit knows those other cities well. It is Spirit after all and does not require streets for travel.