In this photo, a lady in the market outside where Immacula lives.
FROM MY JOURNAL
18 July 2008 6 a.m. on the restaurant veranda at the Kinam Hotel, Petionville, Haiti
A new chapter perhaps.
In my life I have been blessed to recognize God’s miracles in providing my needs and desires in ways that can only be described as miraculous. I could record so many of these moments in a book of what might seem fantastic stories from simple things like a new phone arriving in my college mail room after I broke a roommate’s phone and did not have the money to buy him a new one, to more complex gifts such as my season as a surrogate son of millionaires Bob and Kim Zuckerman in New England (at a time when I believed that that kind of life was exactly what I would aspire to—but the season with them revealed to me the false security of wealth).
Others have recognized the miracles. My friend Rick Butler has pointed out to me so many moments as we have reviewed our lives together in the past few years.
It has seemed that no matter how hard I have attempted to mess up my life, no matter the obviously fearful or foolish decisions I have made, still the gifts of new opportunities or needs-met have come. The perfect job—as a teacher at the Chop Point prep school in Maine (me, at the time a university drop-out)—the opportunity to be mentored by one of the most influential Christian leaders alive, Doug Coe, or my arrival at Harding University in Searcy.
Then last night I watched as my new friend Immacula learned she would have to vacate her little hovel of an apartment in this Haitian slum by tomorrow. Her roommate who holds the lease is not renewing it and is leaving for another town and Immacula has spent all her money for school and has nowhere to go. She didn’t volunteer the information to me, I was there when the news was given. Usually happy and spunky, her face sunk and I could see hers was not a drama for show, she was worried and frightened. This is life in Haiti–precarious. School, the possibility for work, everything was suddenly at risk and she didn’t know what she could do.
I don’t have much money, have gone way beyond my budget this summer in Haiti, but I knew I could pay the lease if I wanted ($361 for six months—six months to be paid in full in advance—not even one month’s rent for me in the states, even if it puts a dent in my in-country travels for the completion of my book). I knew the payment would provide her a bit of security in this insecure place. I thought of how I have felt over the past two years struggling to make ends meet, sometimes myself not knowing where I would sleep and being taken in by my friends. I told her I would cover it.
Immacula bowed her head and prayed. Before she looked at me or acknowledged the offering she thanked the One who she knows is actually responsible for the gift—our Heavenly Father. She and I had not spoken much about our faith. I suspected she might believe in God, but until that moment I did not know the depth of her devotion. She prayed silently and then she sung a soft Creole melody. A kerosene lantern burned on a little bureau and we sat in plastic chairs and the weird orange light danced around the room and her song rose like a chorus and I was aware of something very important transpiring. I was aware I was being allowed to see something sacred. Then she thanked me and said how grateful she is. Then she pointed out that our chance encounter so many weeks ago was no chance, of course, but part of God’s forward-looking care for us—for her. It was not idle speech. She meant what she said.
My friend Rick Butler speaks of these things, these webs we see in our lives as we review the passage of our days. We see how this or that seemingly insignificant moment was the moment of God’s beginning this or that. Two Haitians notice a lone American in a crowded restaurant of foreigners and I am probably the only one who wasn’t going to try and bed them. How could they have known? How could I have known how God was going to use Immacula to instruct me in something new?
I sat in the dusky yellow light of lantern fire and watched a person who has never had the opportunities I have had and I recognized God was allowing me to grow up a little and finally be His vehicle for giving back in some of the ways He has used so many to provide for me. And I realized I don’t want to just be this, a vehicle for providing some means. I realized it is in some ways better to be needy and full of praise for our Father’s gifts than to be somewhat secure and being the vehicle for delivering the gifts.
Yesterday I received updates from a friend about his ongoing struggle to find a better job and a better house. He is a follower of Jesus, dedicated church-goer, successful high school teacher who makes good money. So much God talk, praise for God’s supplying guidance, opportunity and so on, but at the center of it all was the talk of the security of material. Security of material wrapped around talk of God like a thick thread.
Then I realized this has been the center of my own thinking for the past so many years. And last night God was in some way allowing me to take part in His delivery of these things—stuff. And it is important. People do have needs. But it is not the needs being met that is so important—even for a frightened girl in Haiti. Last night I saw something from God’s perspective. What was important was that God was being communed with. When Immacula prayed and sang in reverent thanksgiving the most important thing in the world happened—God communed with his child. With His children, for I was there communing with Him too. And I realized this is how I want to spend my life, not being comfortable so that I can be able to help people like Immacula in the way people have helped me, but I want to struggle in prayer for my Heavenly Father to provide my needs like He promised He will—“Look at the birds….” I want to live a life in Immacula’s world where we seek and knock and ask and then praise, praise, praise.
I slept on her balcony on an old sheet because it was too late to walk home and as I fell to sleep under a breeze my heart welled up with awe and praise and I imagined the smoke I could see rising from so many fires even at such a late hour from so many poor houses were prayers and that angels stood guard at the ends of the pathways between the houses to guard the poor people inside. I imagine prayers like smoke rising from the complex geometry of our hillside slum and I can almost hear the angels singing with the poor.