As Hannah and I were headed over to the school building on Saturday to work in our respective classes, I casually reminded her to “dodge the mangoes” on the way over. We have a mango tree that hangs over part of the path from our apartment and as we approach mango season, we need to duck and weave to avoid getting hit in the face! This, like many things, is part of our normal routine. As I said that phrase aloud on Saturday, I realized how crazy it is that this is part of our normal life now! I never imagined a scenario in my life in which I’d be living 100 feet from the ocean, dodging mango trees on the way to work, while enjoying 85 degrees in November! This place is definitely beautiful. But in all this beauty, the reality of living here has an ugly side.
Every day, in one way or another, we encounter our student’s home lives in our classrooms. I have students who talk about missing breakfast because their family ran out of money casually as it’s a normal occurrence. In my high school typing class, I assigned my students a creative writing assignment last week and every single student’s writing included themes of broken families, abuse, and abject poverty. Mr. John had the maintenance crew and a handful of one-day hires pouring concrete on the roof of a garage on Friday. Outside the school fence there was a crowd of onlookers hoping that Mr. John would hire them to help.
While poverty, abuse, broken families, and unemployment are not unique problems to Haiti, the quantity of them and the in your face nature of it can be quickly overwhelming. I can feed someone who’s hungry today but there are 100 more tomorrow. I can encourage my students all day long but as another teacher put it, “Sometimes you just want to sit down and cry with them.” Mr. John can hire 10 people to help with a job but there are literally tens of thousands in our city alone who need one. It’s hard some days to not feel ineffective.
On Sunday I was surprised when one of Sonlight’s high school seniors took the stage and led worship for several songs. I had no idea Melchi (mel-key) could sing! Not only could he sing, he was charismatic, passionate, and fantastic at leading worship! These are the moments when I am reminded of the larger purpose here. While education, food, and employment are all critical things for us to be helping people with, teaching students to have a relationship with Jesus has an impact beyond the short-lasting vapor of this life. And that is effective. I thank God for the opportunity to witness and begin to understand the meaning of Luke 6:20 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” While my student’s writing assignments reminded me of the ugly side of life here, every student in some way concluded their story with a projection of hope for their main characters at having a better life than the one they came from. I can’t feed a whole country. I can’t rescue every child, I can’t employ every person, but I can teach them the hope they have in Jesus and for today, that is enough.