Wednesday, November 13, 2013

humbled by a Clif Bar

I'm in Birmingham, but so often my mind wanders to my experiences last semester in Haiti. I am able to see how God used even things like Clif Bars to bring glory to himself. This is one of those times.

I was at a funeral. A well-loved Christian Haitian woman and mom to over 70 street boys had died just a few days earlier. This sweet lady had married a man who shared her heart for the street children- he also just happened to have been the leader of the most dangerous gang in Haiti. He left his gang, and together, they started a feeding program in Port-au-Prince, and hundreds of street boys came to know them. Eventually, they opened up a home, and their organization now houses over 70 boys and girls who are now able to escape the streets. But when the wife died suddenly, family, friends, and other people in the city showed up to pay their respects. Picture wife's side: everyone in their Sunday best, ready to sing their hymns and do their "Christian thing," amid anger and disunity with other family members. And husband's side: besides family, about 40 gangsters dressed nicely except for their dreads (in typical gang banger style for them), sunglasses, and the smell of weed lingering in the air- scowls on their faces. Not sadness, but anger. In between these groups were everyone else- the workers and missionaries from the orphanage where I was working, tons of people from around the city, and a few hundred street children who had been blessed by this woman who had fed and clothed them.

Haitian funerals start around 7 am- to avoid smelling the decaying body before it thaws out (they don't preserve the bodies). Around 6:30, before the pastor even speaks, 3 women start their wailing and alligator death-rolling, a common practice there for funerals. For some it's their way of expressing their grief. Other women are literally paid by the family to do it- the more wailing and rolling, the more they care about the deceased. The crowd tried to hush and calm them by dowsing them with water, to no avail. I moved seats from the wife's side toward the husband's side of the tent, to avoid all the wailers. With me was a young girl, one that I had met 5 minutes before. Right then, that 6 year old girl needed a mom, and the only one she had ever known was about to be buried. So she hopped onto my lap, and there we sat, taking in our surroundings.
And then I looked down our row, past the 5 empty chairs to my left and saw him. He couldn't have been more than 8, sitting alone, skinny as a rail, clothes tattered and dirty, and looking longingly towards me. I motioned for him to come sit by me. He sheepishly agreed. I put my arm around him and asked him if he had known Kathia. "She fed me" was his reply. I asked him if he knew where she was now. "Heaven with God" he said. That's right, she was. I asked him if he had a family. "I eat at the orphanage, or when I bring Chef things." Who's Chef?  (Haitian word for chief, usually means the guy who's in charge.) He slyly turned over his left shoulder and nodded to the man staring at the ground about 5 rows back. Haitian street boys usually work for a boss- they wash cars or get odds and ends and bring all their earnings back to him, and he divides out what they get that day. Is he mean? No answer.  Does he make you work every day? "yes." Does he give you a place to sleep? "yes he is good."  He is good. The boy thought his chef was good, because he sometimes got to eat and sometimes had a place to sleep....
Are you hungry? "yes, but.." and nodded behind us again. He knew that any food he received he must take back to his boss and he would decide what to do with it. He then looked down at my watch, eyes lit up and said "bamwe" (give me).  My $10 Wal-Mart digital watch that I had gotten at 2am right before I left for the flight in January. I said, "I bought this, it is mine." He turned and looked behind us again. By this time his boss had looked up and was glaring at us. He said, "please, I need it."   I decided to change the subject. I opened my bag and pulled out a Clif Bar, the staple missionary travel food. (I once found myself stuck in traffic with Angie and extremely hungry after a long day at the hospital. When a group of men in scrubs and women in blue jean skirts walking past chose to ignore my polite, "Hi, how are you?" I confess that I ended up angrily yelling, "I know you speak English, I know you're ignoring me, and I know you have Clif Bars!!") Needless to say, they may not taste that great but they became vital to my sanity.

The boy looked at the Clif Bar, up at me, and back at his boss. He shook his head in fear. "I cannot." Again I asked, are you hungry? "Yes." And right then, I pulled him up into my lap with my other 6 year old beautiful friend, who had not uttered a word this whole time. I put my arms around both of them. He ducked his head, and began to devour that Clif Bar. For the first time in my life I was thanking the Lord out loud that he had given me broad shoulders. I didn't dare turn around. I knew the boss would be staring at me. But he couldn't see, and that's all that mattered. When the boy finished eating, he licked his fingers and smiled at me. "Thank you." I asked him if he knew how much Jesus cared about him. He said he knew that, because of Kathia. I told him that Jesus would continue to take care of him, day by day, and that he should continue to go get food on Saturdays, and to continue to go to that orphanage and they would take care of him if they could. I took off my watch and put it on his wrist. He beamed. I expected him to jump off my lap and run off, since he had what he came for. But he didn't. He sat and stared at the watch. He couldn't take his eyes off of it. The $10 Wal-Mart watch. It was my last choice pick- it was literally the last one in stock, right after Christmas. It didn't matter. In that moment, the boy owned a watch. He and I both knew that if he walked back to his boss he would take it off before he got there and hand it over. But for that 3 minutes, it was his. Just then, I snapped back into reality. 10 of the gangsters who had been outside the tent for a pot break strolled back in. The pastor began to lead a hymn, and the woman in front of us began to wail, convulse, and alligator death roll. And when I say roll, I mean that folding chairs are flying and people are jumping on top of each other out of the way. We began to be crushed by the chairs pushing at us. I jumped up, scooped up the little girl, and jumped back and over 2 or 3 rows away from her. Our whole section was in an uproar. By the time I looked up, the boy was gone. I glanced back at the tent door and saw him walking away, following his boss. No watch on his arm. He looked back one more time, our eyes met, and I smiled. He grinned, and then got a serious face on again, as he turned and walked away, past the gang bangers outside showing off their hand guns to each other.

Chairs were still coming at us. I held on to the clinging girl and we moved again. Then, the rest of the service was relatively calm. Afterwards, we were instructed to wait in the tent while a family feud over the death was dispersed. The whole time, the boy was all I thought about.  "Why didn't I do more for him? How could I have just let him go back to the streets? All I did was give him a watch and a Clif bar- that wasn't enough." And then suddenly my heart was calm. Because the Lord reminded me that sometimes you don't get to be in the whole picture- sometimes, most of the time really, you're just a little Clif Bar or a watch in the big picture of his plan, if he gives you that opportunity. I am not in charge. I can't "fix it." I will never be able to do "enough." And that is okay. Yes we need to care, and yes we need to serve, and yes we need to (in the right circumstance) provide a way for a child on the streets to have a better future. But we can't do it all, so we do what we can. My friend Angie actually has the incredible opportunity to serve a few girls from the streets right now- read about her journey here: Angie's Blog. But there will always be physical needs to be met- always. And the knowing that we can't do enough to fix it on our own frees us up to do what we can, through His grace, to pray that the Lord uses it, and to trust Him through it. As for me, I returned to my house and orphanage and did what he had called me to at the time. And some days I needed a Clif Bar. I can't eat one without thinking of my friend. I don't know why God had us separate so abruptly. I don't even know his name. But I do know that through a Clif Bar, I caught a glimpse of something much bigger than myself. My God is large and in charge. He is always good and he is always God. He is enough. And he cares about the poor and about the hungry. And so I pray, and I thank him for it. Because he is always faithful to remind his people of Who it is they ultimately serve- even if he does it through a Clif Bar.