Bearing Witness

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Have you ever felt paralyzed by the injustice of this world? I have.

There are days when I just want to stand up and scream with the inequality all around me. As I listen to people sharing their struggles, I often feel powerless to make a difference. It sometimes seems that what I have to offer the people around me is so inadequate compared to the overwhelming need. These are the days when the vibrancy of color and life of our community cannot overcome the need and the hopelessness.

There is a phenomenon called Baader-Meinhof. This occurs when the thing you read, heard, noticed, experienced or were told about crops up everywhere. For example, you discover coffee mixes by Frozen Bean and suddenly everybody is talking about this same thing. You see it advertised. It shows up on your Instagram feed. Friends start sending you packages with frozen coffee mixes. This has been happening to me lately. Not with coffee, but with the idea of bearing witness.

I began to notice the term bearing witness in things I was reading or listening to, and I knew there was some truth for me and not just a coincidence. I believe God is speaking through different people and experiences and it has certainly caught my attention.

This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bear witness.

  • 1  to show that something exists or is true
  • 2  to make a statement saying that one saw or knows something

And according to the Pyschology Today website, bearing witness is a term that refers to sharing our experiences with others, most notably in the communication to others of traumatic experiences.

I first noticed it in Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors. She had been struggling through a long season of grief. And she was questioning where God was in all of that and how could she possibly continue to open herself to the pain all around her. Ultimately she concludes the most powerful thing we can do is acknowledge and see each other.

“I cannot heal. I cannot perform miracles. Even for all my trying, I cannot make sure that someone will receive salvation from Jesus. But I can be a witness. I can look at another’s broken, bleeding mess and say, ‘I see you. I am with you. I will not turn away.’

It is a great honor to share the life of another, to bear witness in a way that says, ‘You matter. This matters. Your story matters.’ Because it does. It matters to God.” (p. 101) 

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 I read the book Night by Elie Wiesel long ago. But just recently somebody brought the foreword by François Mauriac to my attention. He believes that the power and strength of the book is in bearing witness to the horror of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel tells us events that are unthinkable. And because he has told us his first-person account, we can never not know again.

I have recently been studying the book of Acts. It has been a joy to see the impact of the early church on so many people and communities but it has also been challenging to read the passion the early believers had sharing the Good News. In Acts 22 Paul is telling his story to the people of Jerusalem and how his life was changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” Acts 22:15

 And in the next chapter, Paul is again instructed to bear witness.

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” Acts 23:11

 So what is so powerful about bearing witness? How can it make a difference?

The social scientist Brené Brown sheds some light on what happens when we don’t see people around us in our community. I keep a journal of quotes and the following one by Brené Brown on losing trust is yet another key to bearing witness.

“If I had to choose the form of betrayal that emerged most frequently from my research and that was the most dangerous in terms of corroding the trust connection, I would say disengagement.

When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing and fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in.”

Brené Brown is talking about relationships. And the harm that disengagement does to relationships. So how can I pay attention, and invest and fight for my community? How can I be engaged? I don’t want to just pay lip service to this. Yet the problems run so deep and life can be so hard.

So I will bear witness. I will bear witness by praying to God about what I see. I will bear witness by sitting in my community and sharing with the people in my community. Sometimes that will take words and sometimes that will take listening. I will bear witness by writing about what I see.

Because the people in my community matter. And as I bear witness I have hope that I can make a difference.

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How about you? Does this idea of bearing witness give you hope as you see injustice in your world?

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Losing the Familiar

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Fall has always been my favorite season of the year. I like the crispness of the air and I look forward to autumn activities like apple picking and yes, I always enjoyed back to school. For so many of us, fall is the beginning of new activities and programs in churches, schools and the community.

For the first 50 years of my life I lived in climates with definite seasonal change. I knew when it was winter, spring and summer because there were clear markers. And those markers were often weather related. Each season also brings holidays and events that are only in those seasons. Winter brings Christmas and hopefully snow. Spring brings Easter and hopefully beautiful flowers. Summer is July 1st or 4th, depending on your country, and family BBQs and hot weather.

Living in Haiti has taught me something about the passing of time. I am one of those people who mark time by the changing of the seasons. Recently I was asked about an event that happened several months back and I was trying to remember when that was. I clearly remember the event but I couldn’t even begin to place the month it occurred in. I had no seasonal context around the event. The weather in Haiti is pretty consistent. It is sunny and warm; pretty much every day. Sometimes it rains at night. Rarely does it rain during the day. But I can always count on sun and heat.

Without the changing of the seasons and the snow, falling leaves, spring showers, or summer flowers, I apparently can’t keep track of time. Plants and trees do go through cycles here. However, it is not always the same cycle. Right now in our yard, the Almond tree is dropping brown leaves. But the Calabas tree is not. The Granadia vine has fruit but the Sitwon Tree does not. So, there is no rhyme or reason for the seasons and I have no seasonal context for events like I used to have.

Why do I mention this? Who cares if I can’t remember when something happened?

Our family is now 2 ½ years into living in Haiti. And almost every day little things that make a huge difference catch me off guard. There are things I used to count on to help me live… and I just can’t count on those anymore. There were so many supports in place for our family in Canada; spiritual nourishment within a loving church family, extended family members who engaged us all in fun and fellowship, date nights for Robin and myself, extra-curricula activities for Peterson and Gaëlle to help them develop and grow, and I could go on and on. But there is a danger when I focus on the past and those supports that I used to count on.

In 2017 one of the most meaningful passages to Robin and myself was Isaiah 43:14-21. After reminding the Jewish people in Babylonian captivity that He is the Holy One, God reminds them of how he freed them from their previous Egyptian captivity.

 But then He tells them to forget all of that.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19

This doesn’t mean we forget what God did for us in the past. But it’s a caution that we can miss how God is working today and we can undervalue what He is doing for us now, when we just focus on the past and the way God worked in the past.

God used this message last year as we continued to adjust to cross cultural living. As we looked to the past and the great things God did for us and wondered how we would manage here without those supports.

But our prayer as a family is that no matter what, we will continue to trust God. We will continue to put one foot in front of the other as God leads us. And as we continue to acclimate to life in Haiti, we will continue to shed those practices that helped us in Canada but have no place here in Haiti. And as we grieve, we will also celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Do you use the seasons to help you mark time?

What practices helped you in the past but have no place in your current life?

 

What Do I See?

Foundation RebarHow many of us will look at this photo and only see a rock foundation with rebar sticking out of it? Maybe see the beauty in the background? Red dirt?

I see complexity. I see the fear as the current home is set on the edge of a cliff where huge chunks of ground are starting to fall away. I see the need for a new safe home.

I see the backbreaking work of hauling rocks and then breaking them to a useful size; the determination required to save for cement and the family effort as they spend hours carrying bucket loads of rocks and sand to fill in the spaces in the foundation.

I see the hope for a better future as they include a cistern for storing rainwater in the foundation. The finish work on the cement is expensive and time consuming and so well done and shows a desire to improve their quality of life as so much time is spent walking up and down the cliff to access water from a WISH fountain.

House Collage

And I feel discomfort. I feel the tension of knowing this family and knowing how much I value the space I call my home while seeing this family’s race against time before their current home goes sliding down the cliff.

We are constantly questioning the best way to walk alongside our neighbors and friends. We are constantly weighing the needs of our community and trying to determine what God is asking us to do. We are always called to pray. But do we give? Do we ask others to give? Do we neglect our own needs because it feels wrong to spend money on ourselves?

The one thing we can’t do is turn away and not see. Everywhere we go, we see the beauty of Haiti and the beauty of its people, but we also see the struggle. Many times the struggle to just survive.

What do you see today?  What questions are you asking yourself? How is God asking you to respond?

ABIDE – Word of the Year

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The New Year is a time of reflection for many of us and since 2012 part of my reflecting back and looking ahead has been focusing on a word of the year. This year I have chosen ABIDE. I have seen it recently in many different ways and I think it is the perfect theme for me.

This past year has really been an awakening of sorts for me. It’s become obvious that so much of my identity consists of what I do. What I am able to accomplish. And I have an inner critic that is all too quick to tell myself when I have messed up or when my efforts are not good enough. I also have a natural inclination to try to fix my world and myself. I am quick to read books, take classes, implement new strategies and processes, and just basically try to reform my life.

Some of that reading, listening, and studying has actually led me to my word for this year. ABIDE is not a word used very often in conversation. There is an archaic definition, which means to “live or dwell”. The Greek root is meno, which means “to remain”. There are different forms of that word in the Bible with different meanings. Basically, there is the subtle implication that abide means persistence and loyalty and clinging to hope and life even when it is hard; not letting exterior circumstances change you.

One author gave the analogy of a shipwrecked sailor, clinging to a rock, uncertain of rescue but filled with an internal peace. Meno. He is abiding.

I don’t want to imply that daily life here is like a shipwreck, altho there are days… But I do want to replace my need for approval from others with approval from God. I want to replace my inner critic with a words of grace. And I want to be fully engaged in a life that dwells, lives and rests on God. This is my time to ABIDE in Him.

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I’ve always known that God loves me. I know that more than anything He desires my love and faithfulness. I can stop the performing and I can rest in Him. And I need that. I need Him. I need His peace.

Come to me and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

In 2018 I will ABIDE in Him.

How about you? Have you chosen a word of the year?

This is the Way…Walk In It

group.jpgLiving in Haiti there are rarely 2 days that are the same but they are all usually busy. And then there are those days of complete chaos. Wednesday was one of those days.

I was awakened 5:30 am Saturday morning to a telephone call from the dental team flying in that day from South Carolina. Their flight was delayed which meant they would miss their flight to Haiti and subsequently, their flight to La Gonave. New travel plans were made and they arrived Sunday afternoon… just a day later then planned.

Sunday evening I received a phone call from Marie. Her plane to Miami was also delayed and while she waited in the airport, she had a chance to connect with the Dental Community Fellowship team. 14 years ago she started the ministry in Port au Prince called Caring for Haitian Orphans with Aids. She had several kids with serious dental issues and Dr. Bill Sasser told her that if she could get to La Gonave, he would take care of her kids.

When I was talking with her, she didn’t have any idea what was involved in getting to our little island. But she was determined. She was in Haiti. Dr. Bill was in Haiti and that’s all she needed to know. When it comes to these situations, I tend to look at the problems and Robin looks for solutions. We really do make a great team as we work together. So we put our heads together and came up with a plan.

On Wednesday afternoon as Robin was in the midst of a tele-conference, Dave drove the truck and I drove the mule to the public wharf where 23 kids and 7 adults were getting off the ferry. The first words out of Marie’s mouth, “I had no idea it would be so chaotic.” Which made me laugh. And that was just the start.

As we pulled into the WISH yard, the first order was a bathroom break. After all… 23 kids. So far so good. But then, the chaos let loose. Not with they kids. They were amazing and so well behaved. But just life.

It was now 4:00 pm and as I stood in the yard and took it all in, this was the scene.

– Jean Baptiste was driving the backhoe with very heavy dental chairs from the depot because 2 of the dental chairs were completely broken and needed to be replaced.

– Robin had the truck with mattresses from the depot and the small house. The group was going to sleep in the library. We offered this to Marie and she was happy to take us up on this to save money and still be safe.

 

– The dentists had finished their assessment of the group and were trying to figure out how to do it all in 4 hours because Marie had to leave by 6 am the next morning to catch the ferry back to the mainland.

– A local cook who has a business at the WISH mall was there to take their food order for the evening.

– A missionary came to talk about a friend with a dental crisis.

– Another missionary was there to talk with 2 locals about a concern completely unrelated to the dentists.

While I was standing there looking all around me, even in the chaos, there was a peace. Everybody was working together to make this happen. There was a beautiful sense of purpose.

At 8:15 pm Robin and I walked over to the library to see how the group was doing. Every child was in bed. Wide awake but completely cleaned up and lying down. Every dental need had been met.

Upon reflection, it was obvious that this was a divine appointment. Marie and the DCF Team had a chance to connect in the airport. Those of us on the ground had a chance to bring fruit to that connection. It wasn’t easy for Marie. It meant a very long day for the DCF Team. It was extra work for Robin and the WISH staff.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

But my pray is the words of Isaiah. When we hear God’s voice, we will walk in it. I would hate to miss a divine appointment.

Out of Sync

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After a wonderful week away celebrating 30 years of marriage, I found myself sitting in a small plane getting ready to land on the dirt airstrip in our little community. Uncontrollable sighs. Stomach is churning. Holding onto my husband’s hand.

Anxious and fearful of being back in the place that has been my home for 2 years. My husband leaned into me and said, “It will be ok once you get back.”

It’s strange that I’m feeling anxious because I’m not facing the unknown or uncertainty like I did 2 years ago. I know exactly what is ahead of me, and maybe that’s why my body is responding and reacting this way. It is sending me the message that there is something ahead of me that is wrong.

I know there is potential danger but I don’t think that’s the cause of the anxiety. I know there is a lot of work to be done, but I don’t think that’s the cause of the anxiety.

I’ve spent the last week with the man I love with no agenda other than to be together. We have spent our time leisurely exploring our surroundings and have not spent any time thinking about our responsibilities to anybody else. It was pure bliss.

But now I’m back in this cross-cultural world where I’m living in tension. I face situations every day where I feel out of control. So I sit in the anxiety. I feel the feelings. I listen to my body. When I try to name the causes, I think of several options which all feed my emotions.

I can’t speak the language as well as I would like. When the women I interact with daily tell me about their lives, I miss so much of the context and the meaning because I don’t understand all of their words and I certainly don’t understand the culture. I feel defeated by my lack of language.

I know this is a community where a simple task like buying a tomato can result in incivility and jeers as I step into a world where I am different. I feel anger at women who would rather mock me than accept my money.

I have a to do list that on the face of it should be simple to complete. But every day I wake up to the same tasks. It is so difficult to make progress. At least progress in my eyes. I feel discouraged because I can’t cross out items on my list.

Then there’s the never ending sorrow as I listen to 29 year old women tell me they can’t feed their 7 children ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years. The material poverty is constant and the struggle to survive is real. As I sit and pray with them, I feel helpless because I can’t offer material relief.

When I mentally compile my list, I know those issues have been there almost from the beginning of my time living here. What is different now?

I think for the first time in two years, I feel it deep down in my bones, that I will always have those struggles. I will always face the hardship that is life here in my little community of Haiti. That is what my heart is feeling. My body is telling me that my struggle will always be here. It will never get better. It is hopeless.

So, now what?

If there is one thing God has taught me over the last 2 years, it is that He is faithful in the good and bad times. He is good in the good and bad times.

Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. Psalm 106:1

This not a cliché to me. This is the truth that I proclaim to myself when my heart is telling me otherwise. And as I sit in this truth, I allow the words to soak in and I wait for my heart to know and feel what my head already does. God is good.

 

Hear the Word

Since 2012 I have chosen a Word of the Year. In the past I have spent weeks considering different words and trying to see what word God would have for me and how it would fit in my life. January 2017 rolled around and I just didn’t have the energy to pursue a word.

This May has kind of rocked my world in a few different ways. And I have spent a bit of time in solitude over the past weeks. Almost from the beginning of that solitude I heard God speaking so clearly to me. “Hear the Word”. It seems as though it is time for a mid-year reset and part of that is choosing a Word of the Year. Except this time it is a phrase.

HEAR THE WORD

Of course, once I decided to choose the phrase “Hear the Word” I have seen reference to it everywhere. These are just some of the ways I have seen this phrase.

January 1st I started on a Bible Verse memory journey; 2 verses each month. My first verse was “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

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I just purchased a new worship CD by Elevation Worship. The first song called There is a Cloud starts with the phrase “Hear the Word roaring as thunder”.

Hear the Word

Recently I was looking up Bible verses where rain is used as imagery and I was struck by Deuteronomy 32:2 “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.”

I don’t know what the rest of 2017 holds for me, but it just seems as though I need to spend some time soaking in God’s word. I feel as though I need to be armed with the word. I’m ready for the journey.

The Long and Windy Road

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Our family has never been one to take exotic vacations or really even to travel too far from home. We have always enjoyed taking weekend road trips close to home to explore what is practically in our back yard.

Now that our home is in Haiti, we have continued those little family road trips. If we want to explore some place other than La Gonave we have to start with a 90 minute boat ride. Then hop in the truck and go.

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This past weekend we decided to explore the Kenscoff Mountain region of Haiti. I found a small guesthouse up the mountain, which was our first stop. It took us a while to actually find the place. We asked numerous people on the side of the ride for directions and we drove around in circles, but we finally found it.

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Even though we weren’t far out of Port of Prince, the area felt completely different. We walked up and down steep neighborhood roads surrounded by lush mountains and the people pretty much ignored us. We are used to getting lots of attention so it felt kind of good to just walk. The evening noises were not motorcycles or loud music or even roosters, but very loud frogs, crickets and lizards. Seriously, it was kind of hard to fall asleep.

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The next day we drove further up the mountain and explored even more. What an amazing place. We drove through crowded town markets and windy roads, always going higher up. Peter and Gaëlle spent the first years of their life in this area so it was even more special to get out and explore. Peter loves the mountains and has fond memories of climbing them. We were able to find the community of their birth and spent time visiting the area. Again, this was so different from the dusty roads of Anse-à-Galets.

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A bit of a delay waiting for the herd of sheep to move out of the way. 

There’s a Haitian proverb that says:

Sa je pa wé, ké pa tounen. What the eye doesn’t see, doesn’t move the heart.

We love visiting different parts of Haiti. Our hearts have been moved by the new people we have met and the new communities we have experienced. Can’t wait to do it again.

Back to School

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School and Village kids outside Ter Sel School in La Gonave. Photo taken April 2014. The school now has a roof.

For most of us the arrival of September means BACK TO SCHOOL and everything that goes along with that. Some of us may fight it, but we are usually glad to get back to a routine. Those of us who love pretty pens and paper and fancy binders eagerly look at the sales flyers so we can stock up on school supplies. Most kids don’t think about the value of an education and don’t consider themselves grateful for the opportunity to attend school. We really just take it for granted and accept it as a part of a kid’s life.

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Who doesn’t love a school photo? One of Robin’s grade school photos.

 

September in Haiti also means BACK TO SCHOOL. There are no sales flyers here but families still go to the market or local small stores to purchase their books and paper for school. It’s estimated that 85 – 90% of the schools in Haiti are private and so families have to pay tuition for every year of school. They also need to purchase school uniforms and new shoes. A few months down the road, exams will need to be paid for.

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An example of tuition at a local school. The fees are in Haitian dollars. Right now $1 US = $13 Haitian.

If tuition isn’t paid and a uniform has not been purchased along with new shoes, kids are not permitted to step foot in school.

September in Haiti means STRESS and scraping together the money necessary any way possible. I honestly don’t know how the families in our community do it. There are only a few kids who are sponsored by organizations like Compassion. Some of the private schools with connections outside Haiti work really hard to give scholarships or sponsorships to kids in those schools. But the majority of families in Haiti have to come up with the funds themselves.

Education is valued here. School is not taken for granted. Kids and families are grateful for the opportunity to attend school. Nobody takes it for granted.

School started in Haiti Monday, September 5th. But it’s kind of a rolling start here. Some schools were open Monday but not all teachers were in place. Some schools didn’t open September 5th but will start a week or so later. Some schools are open and teachers are in place and students are in classes but not all students. Some students still don’t have books or uniforms or tuition.

school-nationale

Wednesday morning there should have been a steady stream of students leaving a local school. But there were only a handful.

And so families continue to work and scrape and ask for money.

It is so difficult to be here and to have people asking us for help with school. It’s uncomfortable. We know the need is very real. We know we cannot give money to everybody who asks. We pray for guidance on how to help and who to help. We have more questions than answers.

As always, what I write on the blog is meant more as my observations on life in Haiti, which won’t necessarily be everybody’s experience. This is a huge topic and not one that I can understand with just my limited experience. Thanks for reading and for joining us in praying how best to come alongside our friends, neighbours and staff.

The Ask

Haitian Money

Anybody who has been to Haiti or has any relationship with Haiti knows about the “ask”. When we talk about the challenges living here, this is often right at the top of the list for most people. In our compound, on the street, and even driving in the streets of Port au Prince, we are asked for something.

How do we respond when we are constantly asked for help? When do we help? When do we just listen?

The book African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz has 90 observations about African behavior and sometimes an observation about Western behavior that directly contradicts the African behavior. For most purposes, Haitian behavior can be compared to African behavior and this book has been invaluable to help shed some light on behavior we find uncomfortable.

Because here we are. Uncomfortable. Always. Being. Asked.

Let’s look at a few of the observations from David Maranz.

#25 A network of friends is a network of resources.

#25Western – Disinterested friendship is the ideal in the West. Any friendship that includes material considerations is suspect.

 Observation #25 basically tells us that Haitians have friends (and we’ll include family here) and they will look to those friends for resources that they need. Those of us from the West often keep friends and business or money separate. We wonder if our friends are using us if they come to us for money. Especially if it happens repeatedly.

So, how does this play out for us? People we consider strangers or maybe an acquaintance will call us friend. Or if we don’t have a relationship with them, they remind us of that they are friends of WISH, or a previous director.

And how do we use this? When kids throw the infamous line out, “Gimme me dolla!” We laughingly tell them to go ask their family. We’re not family. They usually laugh, shrug their shoulders, and walk away.

#38 When people ask for help, they will usually be content with being given a part (sometimes even a small part) of what they are asking for.

Observation #38 assures us that Haitians know one person won’t meet their need. They don’t expect one person to give them all the money they are asking for.

And how does this play out for us? We listen and try not to give a straight “no”. We sometimes ask what their family has done or their community of friends. We appreciate friends who have left money for a benevolent fund. We will donate money from that fund and explicitly state that it is from the fund, and not us or WISH. We will sometimes give out a personal loan and state that we expect it to be paid back. Sometimes we will give out a small amount of money. We always try to pray with the person.

Nothing feels comfortable about this. We would like to direct them to the local church or somehow empower their community. Because we have been humbled to hear and see people around us with very little to give who do give when they hear of a need.

 #47 People typically receive satisfaction from being asked for financial help, whether or not they are disposed to provide it.

 #47Western – Westerners are largely annoyed by requests for help, and find it hard even to imagine receiving enjoyment from being solicited, or from taking the role of a patron.

Observation #47 gives a little insight to the feelings around “the ask”. Haitians don’t mind being asked for money. Westerners often don’t like constantly being asked for money. There are even churches that no longer take an offering. They just put a box in the church for people to drop money in if they choose. Westerners especially don’t like being thought of as “the big man” who provides for all of the needs.

And this is the rub. How do we maintain our compassion when we hear “the ask” daily and often hourly? How can we, who have so many resources, keep from being a patron? Is there anything wrong with being a patron? We have the ability to provide so much. Not just personally but because we have our own network of contacts who are anxious to help. If we’re honest, it often feels good to help.

We don’t have the answers. We see the need. We feel the discomfort. We know that these observations don’t mean one way is wrong and one way is right. There are problems with both mind-sets. So for now, we live with this discomfort. We question. We struggle. We feel. And we continue to live each day. Asking God for guidance. Asking others for advice.

And now how about you? How do you feel about “the ask”? Do you have any thoughts that have helped you?