We’re at church under a tree, like every Sunday in Kwa Kok, Haiti. Dust thickens the air that sits like molasses. We crawl through it into the village after the truck falters off the main road.
By the time I find a seat in an orange plastic classroom chair, my feet are caked in gray dirt and my cheeks crack when I blink. But then a precious breeze tumbles through from across the plain lying between us and the hills. Garlands of pink and white paper flowers rustle in the low branches above our heads. I hear laughter and turn to see the Haitian girls from the village in brightly colored dresses, some dustier and more worn than others, standing by Pastor Valentin’s wife, Nadege, waiting to begin their lessons. Julie isn’t among them. She’s too young, for now. I try to imagine her as a young woman and choke on dust and dry tears. Julie’s sitting with her mother in her pink and white striped church shirt. I watch her clobber over her mother’s knees and jump into Nathan’s arms.
Eben sits down next to me, and we turn our attention to Pastor Valentin, who has begun to speak from the book of Acts. I scramble to catch up, but luckily I have Eben. He lends me his French Bible.
Pastor begins talking about the apostles Peter and John and how they responded to their persecutors: “…car nous ne pouvons pas ne pas parler de ce que nous avons vu et entendu”—“…for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 ESV). Eben, a fellow intern and English teacher with The Foundation for Peace, is telling me that there are two terms in French: temoin oculaire and what sounds like “temoin oriculaire.” He asks me what the name is in English for those who witness to what they have seen and I say, “eye-witness,” and he writes it next to temoin oculaire. Then below that, naturally, he writes, “ear-witness.” I tell him I don’t think we really use that term, or at least I’ve never heard it, and he asks why we say, “eye-witness,” but not “ear-witness,” and I just laugh and say, “fou”—Americans are crazy. That’s always the answer. But later on I figure it’s probably because we don’t value stories heard with the ears as much as we do stories seen with the eyes.
In Haiti, I was an eye-witness to oppression, extreme poverty, hunger, greed, and abandonment. But during the beginning of my time in Haiti, I didn’t cry; instead, I entered what Christina—the American English teacher we bunked with at Pastor Valentin’s house—called “survival mode.”
Three weeks into my stay in Haiti, I heard about a 12-year-old boy who had lost his entire family in the earthquake. His mother, his father, and his siblings—gone. His home: rubble. He sat among crumbled stone that had once formed a roof over his head and cried through the darkest and most senseless night of his life, “crying, crying, crying.” As I heard this story, tears burned through the pink flesh of my sunburnt face, hot as blood. My mind raged. “God, you watched this happen. Where were you? What were you doing? How could you?” I cried a long time. I cried until I couldn’t breathe. I had never seen this boy. I didn’t know what his face looked like. But everything hurt, all of a sudden, and I cried all night.
In Haiti, I carried the book of Isaiah close to my heart. Isaiah prophesies:
“For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert, the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water. … Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:7b,10 ESV).
Sobbing over that boy I didn’t know came with the realization that there would be no end to suffering here on earth until Jesus returns again. I couldn’t see in that moment a Haiti where streams flowed over dry, exploited soil, or where joy and gladness conquered all of the sorrow and loss. But I knew that God offered a greater hope than the one I could see. I just couldn’t see and hear the movements of God yet.
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