I broke the cup. Not only that, I broke one of the three cups that this family of 5 owned. This wasn't just any family. This family had been through a lot. No, they were still going through a lot. Natural disasters. Poverty. And now a "rich" white American girl carelessly enters their home and breaks what little they own. Can you see why I was devastated?
Just about 2 hours earlier my friend, Ryan, and I were walking across the small village's soccer field (think dirt clearing). Woodson, a boy of about 10 years old, had become my shadow minutes after we entered his village. Woodson was smartly dressed in a tan, gingham button-down shirt with brown shorts to match. After the first couple of minutes he made it clear that he wanted me to come to his house.
Woodson was nearly dying with anticipation. He grabbed my hand and led me down the path on which he lived. His steps quickened and I didn't have to understand his Creole chattering to know how excited he was! As we passed through the rickety gate, I noticed a curious slab of concrete that took up most of the yard. I didn't have time to consider what purpose that foundation served because we were suddenly at the door of his tent. Woodson was beaming. He, along with his mother, father and siblings called this little blue tent (think 15' x 15' plastic square box with no windows or ventilation) home.
My friends and I could not all fit in the tent with his family so two of us entered. The others peered in from the doorway. The best way for us to carry our water bottles, sunscreen, Bibles and other necessities with us was in a back pack. So, as I cautiously stepped through the doorway and turned to meet Woodson's mother who had been resting on her bed, I heard the dreadful crash. My little backpack had knocked over the dishes on their "kitchen table," which was simply a small table in the corner where things were neatly drying after being washed from breakfast. Horrified, I quickly stooped to the dirt floor and began picking up the little pieces. The handle was in bits, yet the cup remained whole. I was beside myself. My mind was racing for a way to make up for my mistake. There was no way to buy a new cup for there were no stores in the little village that sold them. We were strictly instructed not to give Haitians money directly as it encouraged an unhealthy dynamic for future visitors to the village. Any humanitarian needs are provided through the churches. There they know the villagers and can discern the needs. On top of that, I didn't have cash on me! Ugh. I felt helpless. There was no way to undo the wrong I had done.
My money, my college education, my years of ministry experience, my good intentions - none of these could erase my sin. In my desperation, with tears in my eyes, I turned to Woodson's mother. I didn't know Creole, so I could only give her what I had - a weak, heartfelt apology and a hug. Later I remembered that our training warned us that Haitians don't like to be touched! In my awkward attempt to make up for my mistake I was making matters worse! She graciously yet stiffly accepted my hug. I prayed for the little family and was told we had to go. Were they sorry this clumsy, American woman had literally crashed into their home? They didn't appear nearly as distraught as I was. Humbling.
I was devastated. They were not. They seem perplexed by my reaction. As we left the gate, Woodson's friend explained that the mysterious concrete slab was the foundation of Woodson's little house.... before the earthquake. They did not have the money to rebuild their home, so they lived in this small, one-room tent. Why weren't they upset by what I had done? They lost their home. They lost loved ones. They lost so much and I came in and broke what little they had!
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on that day. As I look back on my time in Haiti I can see that these dear people who have been through so much, who are going through so much, do not allow what they don't have to steal their joy. On the contrary, they are some of the most joy-filled people I've met.
The obvious contrast is found in my home town, Dallas, arguably the most materialistic, self-centered city in the world. We may not be the richest, but we like to act like we are. We behave as if our possessions define us - as if life is found in stuff. The people of Haiti know that is not the case. So I broke one of the few cups this family shares. The cup isn't a treasure, it is just a vessel. So the handle is gone. It still holds water - it can still be used. Though this little family didn't have much, their treasure was not in the few possessions they had. "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I was a friend of Woodson's. HE is their treasure, not a simple cup. They have no emotional attachment to the cup, but to things related to their heart, their treasure, their Woodson. Woodson barely seemed to notice. He cheerfully chatted with me, introducing me to his friends and proudly holding my hand as we walked through his village. Because of Woodson, I was one of the last to board the bus. He kept pulling me back from the door and asking when I was coming back to visit him. I was experiencing mercy and lavish grace from a 10 year old boy. Humbling.
Cheryl is on staff with Cru where she currently serves with digital strategies and in launching a new ministry among Millennials in cities across the country. For 12 years she called Russia home as she helped give national leadership to the campus ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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