Tuesday, October 11, 2011

At the Intersection

It was about this time one year ago that I made my first very personal connection with the people of Haiti. We had arrived in Port-Au-Prince the afternoon before, and it felt like walking onto the pages of every missions brochure I had ever seen. Suddenly all the World Vision videos and television commercials became very real. But viewed from the inside the windows of a bus, it still wasn't the same.

I strolled outside early in the morning just prior to breakfast, where I saw someone from Mission of Hope talking to a pair of youngsters on the other side of the fence seperating the mission from a large field. They were deathly thin... a boy and a girl with a small donkey. I heard the young lady from the mission say, "You're hungry? I know... I'm hungry too."

We had already been told not to give anything to anybody. I didn't understand it right away, but the moment desperate people see that you have something to give, it creates a mob scene. To give anything at all to those two hungry children on the other side of the fence could have created a dangerous scene both for the children and the mission. Another missionary from our team and I approached the fence to see the kids. They introduced themselves (communicating as best we could in our languages) as Aylo and Tonya. Tonya was very stoic, but Aylo had a smile that could light a stadium. They wanted me to feed them. I couldn't.

I can tell you this, though. Breakfast never tasted so horrible as it did that morning. I had no appetite whatsoever.

For a brief moment, our lives intersected. And ever since, I've felt a certain responsibility for the two Haitian children I couldn't help. I pray for them often. I pray that God will see to it that they have a meal today. I pray that they can somehow get an education, and that they'll have a safe place to sleep at night. I pray that they are surrounded by family that loves them, and most of all that they will come to know how much Jesus Christ loves them.

Aylo and Tonya taught me just how small our world really is. They demonstrated to me that everyone is my brother and sister, no matter who or where they are. Hunger hurts as badly in Haiti or Africa as it does in the United States. Jesus loves them equally, and He has given me a corner of the world that I am now responsible to help make better. I want to see Tonya and Aylo again in heaven.

I'm just betting she has a pretty smile, too.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Best Sermon - EVER!

The best advice I've ever received in ministry came from a Pastor from Flint who told me, "Some people put me way up here on a pedestal. Others," he said, moving his hand down close to the floor, "put me down here. The truth is, I'm not as good as some say I am, and I'm not as bad as others claim."

He's right. For the majority of us in ministry, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I reminded myself of that this morning when a parishoner stopped me after services, shook my hand vigorously and said, "Pastor, that was your best sermon ever. I just had to tell you."

Okay... but frankly I thought it fell somewhere short of mediocre. I struggled this week with the subject, and eventually decided on "City on a Hill" from the book of Matthew. I prayed, I studied, cross-referenced, prayed some more and did the best I could. Trusting that God's word doesn't return void, I placed my best effort in His hands. Apparently God had something important to say, and through my human efforts, He said it. That never ever ceases to amaze me. Ask me what my favorite sermon is, and I wouldn't hesitate to answer. It was a message I toiled over, prayed over, and lost sleep over called, "To Build A Wall." In my mind, that sermon was a home run. Yeah, in MY mind. The response was somewhat, well... mediocre.

I have a habit of garbling my speech, making up some crazy new words, and digging myself into embarrassing holes, while the congregation has a good laugh as I try (sometimes in vain) to claw my way out. Yet somehow, some way, God manages to touch lives. He's good like that. He uses extremely imperfect people to work out His perfect plans.

Only my God is that good. Only He deserves to be way up there on that pedestal.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I didn't like this dog.

It pains me to admit it, and in retrospect it even seems a bit mean. But I'm just being honest. We had Freckles for nine years, and she was the most annoying pet I've ever owned. It wasn't her fault, really. We assumed she had some sort of doggy ADHD, because she couldn't remember anything. If we had to discipline her for something, she could forget within 30 seconds what she was told. I know that dogs are incredibly forgiving, but come on! This dog just didn't get it. She never learned to stay out of the garbage, or out of our food on the table or cupboard. She didn't learn right from wrong... just how to get away with it.

Yet in spite of her annoying habits, I never wanted to see her suffer. She had her little moments. She would sleep next to me on the bed and didn't steal the covers. She would run circles around the dining room table at lightning speed when she was excited, providing a fair amount of laughs for visitors. And I've never before had a dog ask to go outside by sneezing at me.

Friday morning, she wouldn't eat her breakfast. She didn't eat all day. She wouldn't eat at all on Saturday, either. By Sunday, I got her to munch a little bit of lunchmeat, but she had the dry heaves. By the time I took her in to the vet Monday morning, she wouldn't even open her mouth. The vet gave us some pills to try, along with some soft dog food for when she got feeling better. I went to work around 11:30 a.m. I returned home at 4:30 to find her lying by the back door in pain. She couldn't keep her balance. I called the vet, drove Freckles to the office while reaching behind to comfort her in the back seat, and then carried her inside. She took two painful gasps, making sounds I've never heard from her before as I rushed her in to the building. I laid her on the table, and I knew we had lost her. I laid my head on her chest, but it wasn't moving. The vet came in quickly and confirmed what I thought. No heartbeat. Freckles was gone.

Dang it. I didn't want to go through this a second time in a year. I had my favorite pet, my rabbit Mordecai put to sleep this summer. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. As I drove "Frecks" to the vet, I was sure she wasn't coming home. But I never expected her to die in my arms.

Maybe it's payback.

And so, as I promised when Mordecai died, I'm through with pets. I find myself painfully aware of how short my time with them might be. Instead of enjoying the days I have with my dogs, rabbits, or birds, I find myself doing the math. How many years can I expect to have with this pet? How old will I be when I have to drive this one to the vet and say good-bye? I'm an optimistic person. I live in the present. I live for today and all the good pleasures God gives me. But no matter how much we try to deny it, our circumstances and experiences do shape and mold us. I'm not bitter. I'm not angry.

I just don't want to hurt anymore.