If Necessary Use Words

“Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” St. Francis of Assisi

My first trip to Haiti I was young and the entire idea of a mission trip was glamorous to me, it was noble. Back then there was no debate about the value of short-term mission trips or poverty-tourism we just went on trips because we had the chance to go.  I was naïve and just organically excited to ‘do missions’. One specific event happened on the trip that challenged my thinking.

The plan for our trip was to help with a building project during the day and then hold crusades at night.  All day we worked in the hot sun, doing manual labor while a growing crowd of young and strong, yet unemployed, Haitian men watched.  I caught on quickly and wondered how much I would have to pay to trade places with one of them.  After all, surely they were much quicker at moving a pile of rocks from point A to point B, or placing block on the growing structure we were building.

After lunch one day we were out walking in the city, passing out little slips of paper that said, Vini kwasad aswea a la kwa, “Come to the crusade tonight at the cross”.

We were in the market area and I approached an older lady who was crouched down arranging the produce she was trying to sell.  I excitedly tapped her on the shoulder and handed her the paper. Then something happened I will never forget, she looked at me then turned to the translator and began to speak. When the translator spoke the words in English she looked me right in the eye as if she was the one talking to me. “You give me a paper, but I am hungry. What can I do with this paper?”

I was taken aback. I am a Christian and I wanted to tell her all about feeding her spiritually and the living bread. But, I also recognized in her a human need and I was so grateful she shared what she was really feeling in that moment. How could she believe in a loving God and have a willing heart when she had such physical need? It’s true that introducing her to Jesus is the greatest thing I could ever do for her. Yet, if she dies of malnutrition or some preventable disease, what of her children? What about the kids that die before the age of 5 from a simple lack of protein or clean water?  How will her orphaned children believe in a loving God? How is God’s plan being fulfilled?

My youngest is 9, and we often discuss God’s plan for his life and the things he has to do to realize it. He must learn everything he can, be kind to people, pray and read the Bible… but let’s be realistic if he doesn’t eat and is sick from lack of food how can he do any of this?

A few years, and many trips later we had one of the all-time best days in Haiti. We had plans to help the community of Charier and wanted to start by blessing them. We planned a very full day of service to the entire community: a medical clinic, gifts for the kids, a huge meal for the entire village, and a crusade at night. That crusade was the best we ever did- ALL the bellies were full before we started. It was a beautiful way for us to serve the people, in the name of Jesus. On the way home from that utterly exhausting day our friend Toto said he wanted to tell us something. Toto was raised in the church, he was very involved as the worship leader, and a respected Christian man in his community. Toto said, “Today I learned about God’s love.”

A Christian ministry that talks of preaching only if necessary is an anomaly. It is risky, many evaluate missions based on the number that come forward, the number saved. After 20 years in Haiti I can tell you this model works, and it works well. When we meet the physical needs, and keep showing up year after year; despite hurricanes and rising airline prices and the earthquake, despite our own growing families and careers; we PROVE the love of Jesus is real.  We have invested 20 years into a little part of Haiti, all because we are part of the same family: the family of God.  We are all worthy, each of us: Haitian and American, black and white, young and old, rich and poor.

One of our Haitian friends used to always say, “Thank you for helping the little ones.” He meant the least of these. He recognized that, unfortunately, he was the very person that Matthew 25:40 is talking about.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

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