“…but now my eyes see You.” – Job 42:5b
My daughter Hannah and I just returned from a 10-day mission trip to Haiti. We journeyed with 8 other folks from St. Paul’s Church – our former church in Conway. St. Paul’s has had an ongoing relationship with a priest named Pierre Valdema (Pere Val) and his wife Carmel since 2002. Pere Val is responsible for 4 churches and church schools outside of Port-au-Prince and his wife Carmel runs a health and nutrition clinic in Croix des Bouquets. Pere Val had just completed building a new church and school in the mountain village of Crochu. His bishop was scheduled to dedicate the new facility on Sunday, June 21, so we were asked to help paint the entire church school! We made the grueling, 1-hour 15-minute trip up the rocky mountain path to Crochu every day by Land Rover and painted the interior and exterior of the classroom building. We renewed old friendships with our friends from Conway and we enjoyed fellowship time with new friends in Crochu. Because we were painting their classrooms, many of the school children helped us. We learned to speak some Creole and they learned some English so we could communicate with each other.
Our team from South Carolina did what the people of Haiti needed us to do, but as we were painting, I kept praying, asking: “Where are you, Jesus? What are you doing here and can I be a part of it?” I thought to myself, “Anyone can paint. UN relief workers can paint; atheists can paint. I am a Christian priest. Surely there is more I can offer to the people of Haiti besides painting labor.” But we continued to labor away, fulfilling the tasks we were asked to do.
Then Jesus showed up.
On Sunday, June 21, after four days of painting, we traveled up the mountain again for the dedication service for the church and school. I was invited to participate in the sservice with the bishop and other Haitian clergy. Since I don’t speak Haitian Creole and my French is a little rusty, I thought I was only going to sit with the clergy and watch. But at Communion, the bishop handed me a chalice of wine and he handed a paten of Communion bread to the Haitian priest beside me. I soon found out that the Haitian priest was actually going to be helping me. He handed me the individual pieces of bread, I dipped them into the wine, and then placed the bread and wine in the mouths of the Haitians. In our tradition, when a person receives the bread and wine together, it is proper to say, “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life”, so that’s what I said as I administered Sacrament. That’s when I saw Jesus. As I looked into the eyes of the Haitian people and said those words, I realized I was proclaiming the Good News about Jesus to them. Anyone can paint; anyone can provide humanitarian relief, but I was feeding them the Spiritual food of Jesus, asking our Lord to be present to them and to give them the Eternal Life that He promises. That’s the Gospel! Jesus is with us, comforting us in this life as He prepares us for eternal life in the age to come. I felt the mighty Presence of God, and a wave of love washed over me, so much so, that I struggled to say those powerful words through trembling lips. I felt like Job, who finally saw God after pain and struggle, and who praised the Lord for being present to him. When Communion was over, I returned to my seat behind the altar and wept, grateful for the privilege of being a servant of the Most High God.
To many Western Christians, mission work is humanitarian work: repairing houses, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked; doing good things for others, assuming that our actions demonstrate that we are Christians. Those things are important, but they are only temporary. Jesus is eternal, and He offers us Eternal Life and He commands us to offer Eternal Life through Him to others. As we at The Church of the Cross continue to explore new international missionary opportunities, we must make sure that the good news about Jesus Christ is the primary aspect of our ministry. I’m very grateful that I got to see Jesus and serve Him in Haiti. And the blessing was even greater because I was able to serve Jesus with my daughter Hannah. I look forward to seeing Him and serving Him with my family and yours in the future.