Saturday, August 26, 2006

Where Does Hope Come From?

A friend asked me...

Where does hope come from? Where does it originate? How do you find it? How do you feel it? I do. I am. I be. But I have no hope. Can you lend me a cup?

You can bet your sweet bippy that if it went on sale at WalMart, no discounts would be necessary - it would just fly off of the shelves. Carts would fly out of the store, loaded to the gills. Sam Walton's family would be so rich that they'd, well.... be richer than they are now. Believe me, if Sam could have stored it in Bentonville for sale everywhere, he would have.

No, hope is not that easy. You can't get it out of a book. You can't pay for classes that will teach it. It's not found in a bottle or at a buffet. You can't find it next to the Tylenol at the local WalGreens. It isn't locked within and needs to be let out. You didn't misplace it in another life. It is not easily found, but it is all around us.

Hope doesn't come when you've attained your goals, or bore the next generation, or persevered over life's obstacles. Hope is not a product of the will. It is a gift.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago (I can't really remember anymore), I was summoned into Joseph Bishman's office. It was a Monday morning.

"I want you to go Haiti. A member of the church left yesterday. You'll meet them in West Palm Beach tonight, and fly into CapHaitian tomorrow. Go see if there's a mission the church can get involved in. Your ticket is waiting for you in Toledo."

I was in my early twenties.... he was my boss. What choice did I have?

When you land for the first time in CapHaitian, the best word to describe the experience is "overwhelmed". Overwhelmed with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Overwhelmed with the abject poverty. Overwhelmed by a situation so immense, so complicated, so tragic that after you have a little time to process it, you become overwhelmed with hopelessness. There is nothing - not one thing - you can do to make a dent in the country. You are as sure of it as you are alive.

In the middle of that poverty, it was the first time I ever felt rich. I mean materially rich. I made $10k a year, lived in a house so dilapidated the church just tore it down, and I felt rich. That's how poor Haiti is. That's the depth of the hopelessness.

My time that first year was spent mainly in a little village, if you could even call it a village, called Borde' at Victory Christian Church. I spent my first day digging out a hole for a latrine to be used by teachers and children at an elementary school... oh, and us too. A couple of times hiking out into the middle of nowhere to do your business, and still be the main feature for hosts of curious Haitians to find out if you are white absolutely everywhere, is enough motivation to dig a latrine. The rest of the week I mixed mortar on the ground, hauled it in a wheelbarrow, and laid about two blocks. I wasn't real smart, but I could lift heavy things. I also preached and sang "Lord of the Dance". I made friends, good friends, and felt profoundly blessed.

But my first day back in the states, standing in front of a Ford dealer that must have had a thousand cars for sale, I wept. So many children hungry, and only a plane ticket away from a land of milk and honey. It was too big. I was hopeless.

Fast forward thirteen years. The young, dumb pastor was smart enough, or maybe dumb enough, to keep his hopeless message to himself, and a church goes back.

And back. And back. And back.

They all go... doctors and housewives. Engineers and high school students. Pastors and contractors. Truck drivers, photographers, guys who own restaurants.... they go back, and back, and back. They build churches and schools. They give out loans. They open vocational and secondary schools. They make friends. They feel blessed...

and something strange happens.

In this little corner of this Caribbean nation, a piece is annexed into a Shawnee Township. And a little corner where a church with a green roof stands in the heart of Buckeye country, Haitian explorers have raised their flag. They've raised their flag, and call it home. It's so close to home that today the pastor of Victory Christian Church, where I dug that latrine, helped my family move our stuff into storage today.

He moved my stuff, like a neighbor.

Where does hope come from? It comes when God confounds the expectations of man by turning two pastors, one from Lima and one from Borde, into neighbors, blowing needed air on a tiny spark of faith, gasping with its last breath...

"God, please, do it again! Take my expectations, and throw them on the trashheap where a cross stands not too far away from an empty tomb. Do it again God! Do it again!"

That's where it comes from, my friend. That's the origin of hope.

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