Haiti’s Darkest Hour

May 27, 2010

My world stopped the moment I opened and read the text message from a friend — Did you hear about the earthquake in Haiti? They’re saying it’s pretty bad.

Could my friend go back and revise his description, I’m certain he would. Bad just didn’t seem . . . well, bad enough. Catastrophic, maybe. Perhaps, even devastating would be better suited. In the end, words and pictures only hint at the plight of the Haitian people following the earthquake on January 12.

One phrase stuck with me. I first heard it on Wednesday, January 13, in the Miami International Airport. I was on my way to Port Au Prince, Haiti, not even sure how I would get there. I was supposed to meet up with the father-son tandem of Brian and Wesley Wallace, who were part of a Manna Global Ministries team that would be organizing relief efforts for Haiti from the Dominican Republic. I remember scarfing down an airport-terminal pizza while we waited for our flight when a newscaster on a nearby television uttered these words: “This is Haiti’s darkest hour.”

I do not remember much about that flight from Miami to Santiago, DR. I was too afraid to think of much else but the inner dialogue that was taking place, prompted by those ominous words . . . Haiti’s darkest hour.

Are you crazy? How in the world are you going to even get to Port Au Prince? The airport is shut down, and for all you know, all of the roads could be blocked by debris. What are you going to do, take a donkey?

If I have to.

You don’t even know the Creole word for donkey. In fact, you only know enough Creole to tell your Haitian daughter to “eat,” “brush your teeth,” and “sit down.” Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think those phrases are going to help you out much, chief!

I know it sounds like I didn’t have much faith, but that’s all I had. No answers. No solutions. No plan. Just go. Rare are the moments when I have completely put my life in God’s hands, knowing that if He didn’t come through, I would fail miserably . . . and in this case, tragically. That trip changed me. At no other time in my life could I empathize with the person who was the reason for my recklessness.

Roberta Edwards. Just typing her name presents a conundrum. I want to type it in ALL CAPS. Underline it. Embolden it. She, on the other hand, would not even want her name mentioned. We do have at least one thing in common — her life was changed on a trip to Haiti, too. The difference is, she is still there.

For 15 years, Roberta has been in Haiti, showing Christ to everyone she encounters. Of specific interest to her are the children. They come to her, each with their own unique story, looking for food, for compassion, for shelter. What they get is more than they could have ever imagined. Roberta does not run an orphanage. “They’re not orphans,” she would tell you. And with a smile on her face, she would say, “They have a Mom.”

Under the oversight of the Estes church of Christ in Henderson, TN, Roberta has provided a home for many Haitian children over the years, Sonlight Children’s Home. She also established a nutrition center, which she oversees from her home, feeding about 120 neighborhood kids twice-a-day, five days a week. Some of those children will leave the nutrition center on Friday evening, and will not eat again until they return the following Monday morning. She and her family are a powerful source of strength in their community of Santo, providing nutrition, clothes, school supplies, and emotional/spiritual support.

At the time of the earthquake, there were 30 children living with Roberta, ages 1 to 23. What made the situation even more intense was that Roberta was not there. For her 50th birthday celebration, Roberta’s parents had taken her on a Caribbean cruise — the first real vacation Roberta has taken in fifteen years. With Roberta out of the country, unable to return home for several days, and with no word yet as to the well-being of her children, we waited.

Finally, after numerous failed attempts to contact the kids, we received an email message at 7:35 am, the morning after the 7.0-magnitude quake, from Thomas, Roberta’s oldest:

Hey,Everyone our wall fell down,everything in the house turn went to the floor.I have a chance to bring everone outside Except for Nicky who was outside in the other land and It in his way in the wall fall on him and he died.The rest of us is ok.we slept outside last night and the earth was shaking almost all night every 40 minutes.

Think you for writing.

With love Thomas widlord

You might as well have told me one of my own children had been crushed beneath the wall. I knew that Thomas was fully capable of taking care of the daily responsibilities in Roberta’s absence. He is well beyond his 23 years, in terms of maturity and wisdom. Roberta has raised him to be the man of the house. But this was different. One of his brother’s was dead, crushed beneath the weight of a concrete wall. If one wall had fallen, had others fallen, too? Would the children be safe as the already-present desperation in Haiti — the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country — grew because of food and water shortages?

After arriving at the house on Friday morning, January 15, with my traveling companions from Manna, we immediately began to secure the property with razor wire where the two exterior walls had fallen. The children had been sleeping on the lawn since the quake, too afraid to return to the house. They had already begun feeding members from the church that meets and worships on Roberta’s property, who were also sleeping on Roberta’s lawn.

When Roberta finally arrived on the morning of the 16th, after making sure to hug and love-on all of her kids, she asked Thomas how much food they had at the house. Thomas replied with the same answer he had given me the day before: “We have enough for one week.” Roberta’s response, however, was much different than my own thoughts of rationing and conserving. Her response, even in the face of Haiti’s darkest hour, is exactly why God has used her to make a difference in so many lives over the last 15 years.

It is why, when word got out that the Haitian-Dominican border was open, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent so that food and goods could be purchased in the Dominican Republic, and then transported to Roberta in Port-Au-Prince, where over 100,000 pounds of food have been distributed to local churches and organizations from Sonlight Children’s Home, as well as to the hungry and homeless in Roberta’s own neighborhood.

It is why, when news reports constantly warned of the threat of violence, Roberta and her kids continued filling food bags and offering kindness and love to those who had lost everything, knowing that safety and security were luxuries that some times they just couldn’t afford.

Her response to a week’s-worth of food — having no idea when more food would come, or where it would come from — is her response to life:

“Set aside two days for us and give the rest away. We have to start feeding people.”

The adoption process can sometimes be long and grueling, especially when you feel as if nothing is in your control.  You begin to question everything.

Are we doing the right thing?

Is this really God’s plan?

Do these people even care that our child is under-nourished, living in a country that is in a constant state of unrest, and that every day they don’t do their job is one more day that we miss of our daughter’s life?

In the face of such uncertainty, you begin to find strength in even the smallest gestures of concern and compassion.  My friend, Joe — whom I love dearly for his thoughtful, selfless, simple act — was just the source of strength that I needed.

After what seemed to be an endless cycle of let-downs, I decided, as my own personal protest, that I would not shave until there was some degree of certainty as to when we would be able to bring Florine home.  After about a month into my follicular face off with the powers that be, I ran into Joe.  When and where, I do not remember.  A month of facial growth was hard to ignore, and I was happy to share with a friend the level of my frustration that resulted in such an unkempt appearance.

About three weeks after seeing Joe, I received a text message from him.  J Dub, I just wanted you to know that I haven’t shaved since I saw you last, and every time I look at my face in the mirror, I say a prayer for Florine. Two years later, I still am overwhelmed with emotion just typing those words.  What means the most to me is that Joe could have just said, I’m thinking about you and praying for you.  That, alone, would have provided a great deal of comfort and strength.  But he didn’t.  He actually crawled into the pit where my soul resided, and sat with me.  To use a Biblical reference, he carried my burden (Galatians 6.2).

Shauna, you cease to amaze me.  You are not Super Woman, nor are you super-human.  I have never heard you utter a critical word about your cancer, but I do not presume that you have no questions, or doubts, or fears.  I am mad — at what, I don’t know.  I am angry — at whom, I don’t know.  Most of all, I am humbled.  I am humbled by the grace with which you live.  I am inspired by the way in which you bless others, even in the most difficult of circumstances.  I can only aspire to be so thankful.  Thank you!

Darren, I have tried to put myself in your shoes.  Selfishly, though, I stop.  I don’t want to imagine my life being any more difficult than I too often claim that it is.  Years ago, you exchanged vows with your then wife-to-be.  You have shown that those vows were more than just the romantic ideals of the young and naive.  Though you had no way of knowing the future that lay in store, you have selflessly and courageously chosen to love your family, just as Christ loves His own.

McKenna and Carter, you are beautiful, and you are blessed.  You were given life by a mom and a dad who are madly in love with their God, and madly in love with each other.  Every breath that you breathe is a tribute to the lives of two people that I love dearly.

Because you have blessed me more than you will ever know, and because I am thankful for you, here is a token of my appreciation, small and insignificant as it may be.  Just know that every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection, I am praying for you.

Humbly His, and Yours,

Joshua

Hiatus

February 28, 2009

To those of you who check the blog on a regular basis, you may have noticed the absence of posts over the last three weeks.  I have been on hiatus from the blogging world.  My apologies to those of you who feel slighted.  That was not my intention.  Keep checking in.  There will hopefully be something new to read soon.  Thanks…Joshua

The Numbering

February 6, 2009

God tells Moses and Aaron to number the people, and upon numbering, He assigns each tribe specific responsibilities and places of encampment.  What intrigues me most about the duties assigned is the apparent distance that God mandates to be kept between Him and the people.  Even the Kohathites, given the responsibility of carrying the ark of the Testimony, are not to look upon the things within the Holiest of Holies, lest they die.  This is unusual and difficult for us as New Testament Christians to understand.  We read passages like Hebrews 4:16 — Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need — and come to an appreciation of the intimacy that we share with our God.  In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, Our Father, a phrase unknown, on an individual basis, to creation until that time. 

Why such distance; such precaution?  Our God compels us to come near.  The God of the Israelites warns against coming near, or face impending death.  It is almost as if God suffers from a personality disorder; as if the God of the Israelites is not the God we know through Christ.  This seems to be one of the major issues facing querists today.  Is the God of the Bible truly one God?

I think we all would agree that the Garden of Eden presented humanity, and creation, with an ideal situation.  God walked and talked with His creation on a regular basis.  There was an intimacy present in the Garden that we all long to attain.  No shame.  No guilt.  No deception.  No weariness of heart or soul.  No sin.  Therein lies great insight.  When sin came into the world, that intimacy was destroyed.  No longer could God walk and talk among His creation, for they had set themselves up  as their own gods.  They wanted to know what life would be like without God, to be free to become their own moral compass.  When the covenant was broken, so was the relationship. 

But God is not a God who can be surprised.  Ever wonder why God didn’t just cease His creation after the Garden?  Why did He create the rest of the world if His plan was to live among His creatures in Eden for all eternity?  Because He is an omniscient God; a God of complete knowledge and understanding.  The intimacy lost was an intimacy that God would restore; a relationship that would not come without great sacrifice.  What would have happened if God would have allowed the Israelites to draw near to Him?  He may have brought them out of Egypt, but it would take years to bring Egypt out of them.  John Calvin said it well:  The human heart is an idol factory.  Had He allowed them to stand in His presence, a people constantly wavering in their trust and loyalty, it would have led to their inevitable death.  His refusal to draw them too close was really His grace in allowing them to live; His longsuffering in allowing them time to come into a fuller knowledge of who He is.

It was a process that took hundreds and hundreds of years, in which the people of God experienced wonder and wander, prosperity and poverty, victory and defeat, freedom and bondage, redemption and exile.  All of these experiences would finally be consummated in the coming of The Great High Priest.  God will not allow man to create graven images of Him, because man’s attempts always come up short.  Any depiction of God from a human standpoint can never portray God in His entirety.  If anyone can depict God, it is God Himself.  And so He did, in the person of Jesus Christ.  Paul told the Colossians that in Christ the fullness of deity dwells.

I hope we can all appreciate this distance of which we read throughout the Biblical narrative.  We may not have seen God’s wondrous signs in the wilderness, or experienced first-hand His might in the plagues and through the sea.  But we have seen Jesus, and through Him, we are all the more blessed.

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.  So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.”  And all the Levites rallied to him.  Then he said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says:  ‘Each man strap a sword to his side.  Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’”  The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.  Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day” (Exodus 32:25-29).

There doesn’t seem to be too much mystery here as to why the Levites were chosen to assist Aaron and his sons in the priesthood and the tabernacle service.  The beginning of Exodus 32 tells of the golden calf incident, and how all the people brought their gold jewelry to Aaron.  We assume that when the Bible tells us the people involved themselves in revelry, all the people were involved.  If the Levites had not been involved, surely Moses would have intimated that.  Having written about these events after they took place, he would have seen the significance if the Levites had not been involved, knowing the role they would serve in Tabernacle worship.  So I assume the Levites were revelers, just as were everybody else.  

So here are the Levites, running wild with the rest of the Israelites, and suddenly they hear the voice of Moses.  Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!  The proverbial line-in-the-sand was drawn, and, it seems, without hesitation the Levites leaped across that line.  It’s not that they were innocent, or could feign innocence by hiding among the crowd.  They were as guilty as sin.  But when Moses spoke (which means, when God spoke), they listened.  Perhaps they got caught up in the disillusionment from Moses’ absence.  Maybe they were talked into doing some things that they didn’t completely agree with.  Whatever the case, it is hard for me to see the Levites as instigating the idol worship and revelry, especially considering their response to Moses’ ultimatum.  

So God chooses them.  He chooses them to represent His people in worship, in offerings and in sacrifices.  He chooses them to aid Aaron and his sons in their priestly duties.  He chooses them to transport the ark of the Testimony, the representation of God’s presence with Israel.  He chooses them to be supported by their Israelite brethren through offerings for their Tabernacle service.

God doesn’t choose the perfect; He chooses the contrite.  He doesn’t choose the sinless; He chooses the convicted.  He chooses those who, in the midst of their guilt, hear His call, and are willing to step out of their sin and into His grace.

Aaron, brother of Moses, was selected by God to become Israel’s High Priest.  As such, his duty was the administration of atonement and fellowship offerings to God on behalf of the people.  He has already been serving in a leadership position throughout the Exodus.  Aaron was Moses’ spokesperson, when Moses couldn’t speak for himself.  Aaron’s position of leadership, though, was not part of God’s direct will, but His permissive will.  God directly chose Moses, but Moses did not feel adequate enough for the task, so God permitted Aaron to help.  In this way, Aaron served as a crutch for Moses.  Crutches, though intended as an aid, can become more of a hindrance (see golden calf incident).

Aaron, as the people’s High Priest, has shown that he may too often entertain a desire to please the people, as opposed to pleasing God.  But he has found redemption in God’s sight, and he and his sons proceed with the seven day ordination rituals.  When their ordination is complete, they present sacrifices and offerings to God on behalf of the people, just as God had commanded Moses.  Their priestly offerings are acceptable in God’s sight, as fire comes from the very presence of God and consumes the sacrifices.  The people are filled with such joy for the atonement of their sins that they are moved to worship, but that joy is short-lived.

I am not entirely sure of the time that has passed between chapters 9 and 10, but from the context, here is my guess as to what happened.  Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, were so elated at the thought of their newfound roles as leaders and representatives, that they celebrated themselves into a drunken stupor.  The Biblical narrative tells us that the fire that they offered before the Lord in their censors was unauthorized fire.  

In Exodus 30, God instructs Moses concerning the incense that is to burn before the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, and is not to be used in any other way by the Israelites.  Perhaps, Nadab and Abihu used this incense in a way that was not authorized.  We do not read of God speaking directly to Aaron about incense until Leviticus 16.  That is why it is difficult for me to believe that God would have held Nadab and Abihu deathly accountable for doing something concerning which they had not received much instruction.  Maybe it is just the fact that they took it upon themselves to make an offering to God, without consulting Him as to how that offering was to be made.

The context in which I most often find a discussion of this narrative is in the area of silence.  One of the great theological questions for centuries has been over the authoritativeness of silence.  Is silence prohibitive or permissive?  That is, does the silence of God’s word on certain things prohibit us from doing those things, or does it permit us to do those things?  I do not believe Leviticus 10 is where we need to turn to answer this question.  There are too many unknowns in this text to confirm a “prohibitive silence” view.

What we do know is that God has a discussion with Aaron immediately following the death of his sons concerning the importance of not drinking wine when entering the Tent of Meeting.  Either this conversation is highly insensitive on the part of God, or highly appropriate.  Never being one to imply that God is insensitive, I choose the latter.  Two things are key in understanding this passage.  First, look at the statement that Moses makes to Aaron.  “This is what the Lord spoke of when He said, ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’”  Second, look at God’s statement to Aaron in the context of not drinking wine or other fermented drink when going into the Tent of Meeting:  “You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the clean and the unclean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

Honor is a big deal to God.  Nadab and Abihu were not only representatives of the people before God, but of God before the people.  They had defamed what was holy with common revelry.  In doing so, they dishonored God before the people.  Moses and Aaron, themselves, will be guilty of the same thing in Numbers 20, and their punishment will be their exclusion from the promised land.

In general, I believe silence can be both permissive and prohibitive.  To me, it seems to be more of a common sense issue.  To use this passage as a proof text to prohibit or permit certain New Testament worship practices is a great disservice to the Scriptures.  It makes God into a law enforcement official setting a speed trap on a busy highway that changes it’s speed limit somewhat discreetly from 65 mph to 45 mph, unbeknownst to inattentive passing travelers (I won’t say names, but the town begins with an OA, and ends with a KLAND).  I do not view my God in that way (and I do not view most law enforcement officials in that way).  I hope we are not always so quick to pick and choose passages that give us easy answers to complex questions.  Our God is better than that, and so are His people.

As The Lord Commanded Him

February 2, 2009

It really is that simple.  As if bondage to Egypt for 400+ years wasn’t enough; as if the plagues did not confirm God’s distinction and choice of the Israelites over every other nation of people; as if the passage through the Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian armies did not show the power of an Almighty God; as if the countless miracles of provision performed by God in the wilderness, bringing the Israelites food and water did not show a God of compassion and care — what would it take for the Israelites to see that God had chosen them to be His people?

It’s not rocket science.  It could have been.  God could have made entrance into His presence so difficult and bogged down with complex mysteries and equations, that only the truly capable would be able to approach Him.  But then, man’s ability would be glorified, and not God’s accessibility.  His commands are not arbitrary.  Behind each one lies a principle that, to this day, is viable and lasting.

Trust Him.  Give Him your heart, your life, your all.  He is deserving.  He is trustworthy.  He is God.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert (1 Corinthians 10:1-5).

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