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If you only have men who will come only if there is a good road, I do not want them. I want those who will come if there is no road at all.Right now, the little country of Haiti is on the world's radar screen for at least a couple of weeks. Once again, this one-time financial jewel of the long-ago French Empire has had another change of government, which is about as common as the annual hurricane season.
The most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere is once again experiencing a frightening cycle of violence and destruction.
By the time you read this column, the nation of Haiti and its inhabitants may already be fading into the recesses of our minds as the bigger headlines of the American political season, a potential trade war between the European Union and America, issues over Iraq and the same-sex marriage phenomenon claim the bold type on our news pages. Awareness of Haiti's plight will again dim for perhaps a few more years until the next volcanic eruption of spoil, greed and corruption spews from a would-be dictator.
Values that guide beyond the bullets
But I've got a story to tell you that can't wait. It is a story of courage—of men and women with a calling that moves beyond common sense. This is a sense of duty based on faith toward God and devotion to those less fortunate. As I was thumbing through the front section of my Saturday newspaper, skimming over the headlines, I came upon an article that grabbed my attention. It made me ask, "What would I do?"
The article, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times of Feb. 28, is titled "Standing on Faith, Some U.S. Citizens Stay in Haiti." Times staff writer John-Thor Dahlburg guides us beyond the bullets, fires and throngs of angry people into the rock-solid value system that allows some to stand and not run.
Before I picked up the paper that morning, I was thinking of the fate of the Haitian people. I had heard that the rebel guerrillas were slowly but surely approaching the capital of this nation of 7.5 million people. As is often the case, a state of anarchy was created. A decade ago, in my own city of Los Angeles, when much of the city exploded in riot and anarchy ruled the darkness, violence spilled over into areas thought to be previously untouchable. I remember the next day as the freeways were clogged with cars trying to make it home to safety before darkness would once again unleash lawlessness. No cars were headed into the city—only out! Mr. Dahlburg's article speaks of people who never left the storm, and it spoke volumes to me.
Knowing why you risk loving
Dahlburg describes a political climate in which the embassies of nations have been shuttered for a week and all foreigners have been encouraged to evacuate. The U.S. embassy at the time of his report had sent all nonessential personnel away. Marines guard the premises in machine-gun nests. He then focuses our attention on what may be the largest professional base of U.S. citizens left in the country, missionaries. These are individuals emotionally tied to the people they serve and philosophically attuned to the risk they are undertaking.
Susan Hill, a Buffalo, New York, native and office manager of the largest nondenominational church in the country, put it this way: "If we leave, we are saying that our trust no longer is in our God, and the needs of the people are not important." Linda Counts, another church aid worker, who along with her husband, Tom, runs a free English-language school in the carport of their Port-au-Prince home, puts it bluntly: "What's keeping us here is knowing that if we walked out, things would just completely fall apart."
She knows firsthand what can occur when she and her husband go home for just two months' leave. One boy almost died during their absence because he was reduced to eating dirt.
Reporter Dahlburg quotes U.S. embassy spokeswoman Judith Trunzo: "First we asked people to consider leaving, then we asked them to make plans for leaving, then we told them to leave!"
Susan Hill told Mr. Dahlburg, "Not a single person wanted to leave. They were crying as they left." But the facts are that most of the larger religious organizations withdrew their missionaries and educators as the news grew worse and worse. Unlike the many missionaries who are supported by major organizations, Tom and Linda Counts remained. They support their English-language school through their own retirement account, which is monitored by a board of trustees composed of other family members. The board simply trusts their judgment. Reporter Dahlburg captures the Counts' determination: "When we said we are going to stay, the board said, 'Go for it!'"
"If you faint in the day of adversity"
Long ago a mission board wrote to David Livingston: "Have you found a good road to where you are in Africa? If so, we want to know how to send other men to join you."
Livingston responded: "If you only have men who will come only if there is a good road, I do not want them. I want those who will come if there is no road at all."
If you will allow me, let's take Livingston's thought a step further. What if once you get there, having blazed the road, you now know the way out as well as the way in? In other words, you know right where the emergency exit is when the fires of life break out. Some people in Haiti recently had to decide if they would head for the exit to save themselves. God asks us to figure out what we are really made of.
In Proverbs:24:10-12, we are challenged to consider: "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?"
Long ago in Persia, a certain Jewess named Esther had to make a determination whether to hide behind her role as the queen of Persia, or stand up for what she was and make a difference for others about to be overrun by their enemies. Humanly, it had to be tempting to shrink away and slip out of sight into the confines of her palace.
But her cousin Mordecai reminded her: "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther:4:13-14).
"The good Shepherd vs. the hireling"
The Bible is plain about the fact that the people of God have never been promised reserved seating in the soft-cushion section of life. On the contrary, they have been challenged to rise to the challenges of life and follow the example of Jesus Christ as found in His own words in John:10:11-14:
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own."
It's been said that dedication is signing your name on the bottom of a blank check and handing it over to God to fill in as it pleases Him. That's what each of us do when we commit ourselves to follow Jesus Christ. We not only accept His death for us, but also say we will strive to live His life in us—the life of one who cares for others, in spite of what it might entail for us. That life is exactly opposite of the life of the hireling who is looking for the closest escape route available. I think the people in Haiti that are acquainted with Susan Hill and Tom and Linda Counts know that they aren't "hirelings," because they are still there in the thick of the troubles.
Haiti can be a state of mind
Perhaps the bigger question is the headlines, or rather the "heart-lines" that you are making in your own life. For you see, "Haiti" can actually be a state of mind. Life can seem out of control and just as turbulent as any Port-au-Prince street scene you have viewed. Just like Haiti, it may seem as if the swirling state of affairs threatens to overwhelm you. And, right now, all you know is that you want a "one-way ticket" out of despair.
But what will you leave behind? All Linda Counts could remember is the little boy eating dirt. What will you remember? Or are you even thinking of that person—be it your mate, child, parent or good friend? Do those who need you know you are sticking with them for the long haul? And that nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to separate you from your care and concern for them?
Before you answer, allow me to acquaint you, courtesy of Dahlburg's article, with one more person with a story. Her name is Dorothy Diehl. She is a 59-year-old former supermarket manager from Bethel, Ohio, who now distributes Creole-language Bibles and operates a mobile health clinic in the Haitian countryside. She, too, has not had any seats reserved for her in the soft-cushion seating row of life. Dahlburg reports how Diehl had to run gauntlets of armed thugs to escort a departing couple to Port-au-Prince and how her Chevrolet's windshield was almost smashed in by youths as she left the airport.
Nothing is holding her there. She's free to decide whether to depart. But you see, she is waiting for notification from just one more source. In her statement we can hear the echo of the millennial refrain of Isaiah:30:21, "This is the way, walk in it." Dorothy Diehl says it this way, because her faith is bigger than her eyes: "God sent me to Haiti, and God hasn't told me to leave."
For her, it was for such a time as this that she came to Haiti. We, too, need to be sure we're waiting on God's voice. WNP