Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for several posts in a row inspired by my latest Haiti trip. I can’t promise they’ll be entirely different than last year’s, but I can promise that each trip is different and brings with it an entirely new perspective on my time there. Today I’d like to tell you about a particular day on a mountaintop. If you have a good memory this may be familiar. That’s because it should be. I wrote about the same speech Adam gave last year, albeit on a different mountain. As I said, though, I think I have a different perspective every year I go there.
It was Wednesday, and we had just gotten back from a quick excursion into Chambrun, the closest village to the campus, and we headed straight for the bus to take a little climb up the side of a mountain. We didn’t go to the same peak as we did last year. Instead of heading into Onaville, we drove along the road winding up the mountainside. Stopping at an overlook on the side of the cliff, we all unloaded from the bus and gazed at the beauty of the land before us.
Just like last time, we could see from the bay to the Dominican Republic, from the northern mountain range to the southern. It’s beautiful. Even though a bit of haze threatened our visibility, the majesty of the experience was still incredible. Even though it’s the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, God’s masterpiece never ceases to reflect His beauty.
Once we’re done taking pictures and staring in awe, Adam brings us together to begin his talk. “This is not your mission field.” He likes to drive that point home with us, and I hate it every time. Most of you know that I would like nothing better than to be able to become a missionary overseas. My brief trips to Haiti are some of my favorite times each year, and I often daydream about what I could be doing in some random jungle a few years from now. Thus, this statement always makes me cringe. “But I want this to be my mission field!” Many of our team members would all say the same. I think that’s why Adam makes sure to say this to every team who comes down to NVM.
“This is not your mission field. Your mission field is in your schools and your workplaces, it’s your churches and your neighborhoods.” When we come to Haiti, we’re helping out in Adam’s mission field. We’re helping people and showing them Christ’s love, possibly changing the course of their lives. That’s all amazing and it impacts us for the better, but it’s still not our mission field. Should we not approach loving our coworkers and neighbors with the same passion as we do a week in Haiti?
The second point Adam makes is one I would like to spend a bit more time on than I did last year. The question is this: “Do the poor know you by name?” When we serve here, we show them that they’re loved and we heal their physical needs. They will remember us and know that we loved them. They may even remember our faces, but they won’t remember our names. But what about the people in our mission field? Do they know you by name? Now I’m not just talking about the physically poor, but the spiritually poor, the emotionally poor. Do they know you by name? How about the homeless man on the street corner you pass every day? The widow at church? The dozens of people at the Salvation Army? Do they know you by name? Not just your face, not just the clothes you wear, but your name.
At this point, I should note that Adam didn’t coin the phrase “Do the poor know you by name?” Aaron Elliott, his precursor, did that. I’m actually reading a book, In the Spirit of Nehemiah, right now. It’s written by Aaron and tells the story of his year spent there in 2011. I’m pulling a bit of the inspiration for this article from both Adam’s speech and a chapter in the book where Aaron describes his ‘talk on the mountain’. I wish I could just quote the entire chapter, but then again you may get bored reading that long of an article, and simply copying-and-pasting won’t do that much in furthering my writing skills. Still, there are some parts of the chapter worth sharing here.
During his talk, Aaron quoted Matthew 25:21-46 which I would encourage you to read. It’s a powerful chapter. In it, Jesus compares his sheep to the goats of the world. When he was hungry, his sheep fed him. When he was thirsty, his sheep gave him water to drink. When he was naked they clothed him. The goats, however, reacted differently. I think the way Aaron phrased it is extremely powerful:
“…next he turns to those on his left [the goats] and says ‘Cursed are you…goats. I was hungry, and you ignored me, I was thirsty and you walked right by. I was without a home and you told me to get a job, I was a stranger and you were too afraid of me to invite me in, I was sick or in prison and you told me I was getting what I deserved.'” – Aaron Elliott, In the Spirit of Nehemiah
The way he says these things really points out our favorite excuses for not doing what God asks of us. I need to protect my family. I don’t have time. They’re getting what they asked for. These are the excuses of the faithless. They shouldn’t be uttered by the mouths of Christ’s followers. When you look around you, you’ll see sheep and goats. Love them. Don’t reject them out of fear or pride. We spend thousands of dollars to go help the sheep and goats of other countries, but in the comfort of our home, we neglect to even take the time to acknowledge their existence. Serve in your mission field and love the poor all around you. Do they know you by name?