Having a Vision as Big as Vuthers

On my way down to Haiti I talked with a Haitian man in the Miami airport for several hours.

His name was Vuther and he told me straight-up he doesn’t like America. His reason? The immorality we are exporting to his country. ouch. I find this a common complaint among Internationals. American culture is seen as “loose”. Argue how you will, but I have been told this by multiple foreigners. They say the way many women here in America dress is revealing. For instance, an Indian friend related to me recently how he was shocked by this very thing when he came to America, but now is desensitized. And my Kenyan friends also told me immodesty is much more prevalent here than in Kenya.

Anyways, back to Vuther. Even with his gripes about America, he nevertheless did appreciate our help.

After the earthquake, he sent his 12-year old son to the US. His son was here in the States seven months and studied in our public schools. Vuther explained we were so nice we even provided a Creole/English speaking para-teacher to accompany his son around school to interpret. He couldn’t complain about that. And he also appreciated all the folks who have come to Haiti from America to help with earthquake relief.

Though he added that he often feels the “mission teams” that came for short-term projects are completely ineffective. For instance, he pointed out how a team recently came to make new tarp shelters for those in a tent city because their old tents were rotting in the sun after a year. He thought this was stupid: his people needed permanent dwellings, houses, not new tents!

Vuther is among those fortunate in Haiti to have a decent job. When I was talking with him in Miaimi, he was traveling back home after having attended job training in South America.

He also told me he was a Christian believer, but when I questioned him on his beliefs he was uncertain. He was convinced there was a God, which is a start, but was trusting for his salvation based on merit rather than faith.

But as this man told me his vision, I was impressed by his “merit.” Vuther believed education is the key to helping kids have a better future and is acting on that belief. He and his wife have started a school in their home for families in their neighborhood too poor to send their children to school. So far, he and his wife currently have about fifteen kids enrolled (note that the literacy rate in Haiti is about 50%). His wife quit her job to teach full-time, which has put a strain on their finances as they now have more expenses, but less income.

Vuther was very excited about his school, and with the new model he is experimenting with. He told me how important he feels parental involvement is and how he regularly meets with the parents to give progress reports. He added that most parents can’t afford to pay him much in cash so he accepts pay in volunteering and barter.

Vuther was very adamant he had no desire to accept money from outsiders. He wanted this school to be completely Haitian initiated and supported. In particular, he didn’t want outsiders telling him how to run things or having any say in what he did. He was very independent minded. But he was also quick to admit he was super nervous about how his school was going to work out. He had put all three of his own children in this school to give legitimacy to those in his neighborhood. The first standardized testing was looming in June and he was nervous, hoping all passed.

Did I mention his house was destroyed in the earthquake less than a year and a half ago? He told me he had worked for years to have that house built. I asked him if he had insurance. The answer was no. Apparently they don’t do home insurance there.

An ordinary man with a dream: He said his dream was to help 100 kids get a good education.

Just 100, that was enough.

I asked, “What about 1,000 kids?”

He laughed and waved me off, “No, no, just 100. That’s all.”

But he also pointed out he is trying to develop a model, and if successful wants to share his model with others. He hopes that together Hatians can help change Haiti from the inside out. I was impressed.

I personally know many families who are into homeschooling their kids. And effectively, Vuther and his wife are homeschooling their three kids. But they are also homeschooling 12 other kids… and have a vision to homeschool 85 more!

How often do I run across someone with a vision like that? A vision to significantly impact the lives of 100 people? Meeting Vuther and having this random conversation was inspirational to me.

Vuther really appreciated I talked with him so long and commented on how friendly we are here in America to just approach a stranger and start a conversation. I liked him too. And was glad to promote a little American good-will.

He gave me his phone number and said to call him if they gave me any trouble in customs, as he would be there shortly after me – and had connections.

Speaking of connections, I almost missed my flight because I was so engrossed in talking (listening) to Vuther. Turns out, I was at the wrong gate: D32 instead of D33, and after a couple hours steeped in gab I should have noticed no one was in my waiting lounge area – but didn’t. What finally reminded me was a complimentary phone call from American Airlines:

“Mr. Middleton, where are you?”
“um, here In the Miami International Airport, why?”
“Where in the airport?”
“Sitting here at Gate D32?”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?! You’re supposed to be at gate D33, and this is the last call for boarding to Port-au Prince!”

I quickly bid adieu and ran to catch my flight.

Have I ever mentioned I’m absentminded?

The Power of Stick Shift

I got a surprise when I left work the other day: My car wouldn’t start.   The battery was dead because I’d left my headlights on at lunch.

Who should I call?  How long would it take for Dad to show up?  How long would it take for Mallikar or Pat to show up?  How long would it take for –

Dang, I don’t have time for this, I have a Bible Study to attend. 

What were my other options?  Besides prayer, of course, I didn’t think of that until now.

Then I remembered something I’d read recently from John Eldredge,

“…Adam is captured best in motion, doing something.  His essence is strength in action.  That is what he speaks to the world.  He bears the image of God, who is a warrior.  On behalf of God, Adam says, ‘God will come through.  God is on the move.’  That is why a passive man is so disturbing.  His passivity defies his very essence.  It violates the way he bears God’s image.  A passive man says, ‘God will not come through.  He is not acting on your behalf.’”

Yes, that entire quote flitted through my brain, and I then said to myself with a fierce resolve, “Far be it from me to be construed a passive man.”

I'm not the only one who has tried this.Pushing my car out of its’ stall, I lined it up pointing toward an open stretch of parking lot.  I’ve done this before and you have to get it going faster than you think. 

The power of stick shift is that you can (theoretically) start this type of car mechanically by getting it rolling really fast in neutral and then popping the clutch.

After making sure the runway was all clear for takeoff, I leaned on the trunk and give it an oomph.  Did I mention I was wearing dress clothes?  It started moving slowly, then faster. 

Was anyone watching?  I checked that I was still heading straight, then really poured it on – soon literally sprinting behind the Honda!  Uh-oh, looks like we’re gonna hit that Ford in about twenty yards.

Then it was time to get back in the vehicle, but I found it hard to catch up with a car already flying along as fast as I could run.

With an extra burst of speed I did a Jason Bourne and dove into the driver’s seat and quick popped the clutch: glut-gluuuut-gluuuuuuuuuut—-  silence. stopped.  At least I didn’t hit the Ford, near miss.

So that didn’t work.  But I didn’t necessarily expect it to.  My main plan was to cause enough commotion that someone would have mercy on me and offer a jump.

Sure enough, moments later a very large shiny SUV came lumbering around the corner.  The drivers side tinted window cracked open and a pair of eyes peeked over the top. 

A high pitched ladies voice emitted, "Do you need a jump?" 

I tell the eyes, "No, I just push cars around parking lots for excerci – yes, I could use a jump, thanks for stopping by!" 

The window rolled down a bit further.  A friendly enough face appeared.

The friendly face asked, "I don’t have jumper cables, do you?" 

Yes, yes, I live by the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Just pull your car around, thanks…  but see here, my jumper cables won’t reach that far, you’ll have to maneuver behemoth SUV a tad closer – Augh! not that close!

In no time flat I was on my way.  I’m very thankful for such a charitable co-worker, she was quite helpful.  A real live Samaritan. 

The Power of Space, Part 2

From the mail bag……  here is an excerpt from a letter I received in response to my post yesterday:

I’m not convinced that God tells us to go find misery and poverty in the world and then fix it. That would ascribe a God-like omnipotence and limitless resources to us. The Samaritan wasn’t traveling along the backroads trying to find someone he could minister to, he was more likely going about his day when he saw a chance to do good. Even most missionaries require financial support from churches back home since ministering full-time in and of itself is not economically sustainable.

This is a great point.  In fact, it gets to the heart of a very puzzling issue to me. 

The Teacher of the Law asked, "Who is my neighbor?"  to which Jesus answered with the story of the Good Samaritan.  As I understand it, the point of that story was that our neighbors are those, "within our physical sphere of influence."  Those we are in contact with in, "real life."  Those we come across in, “our daily duties.”

Back in the olde days, this concept was easily understood because there was no other option.  Now technology has changed all that.  In the olde days, it was obvious the influence of one person could only reach so far.  Our eyes could only see so far, our voices could only carry so far, our arms could only reach so far.  It’s interesting how we were made in the image of God in His likeness, but only given the tiniest fraction of His power.  Even with the aid of technology, we will always be limited by time and only being able to think about one thing at once (unless you’re female and can think about 4-5 things at once).

Now though, through Skype, my voice and presence can travel thousands of miles.  I’ve video-chatted live with my brother in Afghanistan as if he were in the same room with me.  And my “arms” are much longer today too.  With a click of a button I can lift a child out of poverty.  Or support an indigenous missionary.  After watching real-time footage of the earthquake disaster in Japan, I can provide real-time support by donating to the Red Cross.

As an aside, when we think of people having influence today, we think primarily of mass media.  Through radio and TV one person can reach millions.  I heard there were 2 billion people watching the Middleton-Prince William wedding.  But have you ever thought about how Jesus impacted the entire world but was never on TV or involved in any type of mass media?  In fact, it is likely he never talked to or communicated with anyone outside the sphere of his immediate physical presence.  We have no indication he ever even wrote a single letter.  Jesus restricted himself to face-to-face contact with folks.  That alone could probably teach us a lot.

But here’s where it gets tricky:  If my neighbor is that person who is directly within my sphere of influence, what happens when my sphere of influence is suddenly increased – like it has been through technology over the last 20 years – to include the entire globe? 

Now an immediate problem arises.  If my responsibility extends to everyone within my sphere of influence, and if my influence has now exponentially increased to include billions of people, it is clear I’m spread too thin.  If I tried helping everyone, in about five minutes I’d be wiped out financially.  Then I’d be destitute myself, and was that really the point?

On the flip side, if I throw my hands in the air and say, "I can’t help everyone, so I’m only going to help those people I come into contact with in my day-to-day life," that fails to take into account that technology has also conveniently stratified my particular socio-economic class into a layer where desperate physical needs are all but non-existent.

It may be instructive to note that Jesus took his "physical presence" to places with high need.  But it’s also instructive that he apparently lived a fairly normal life in Nazareth until he was around 30 years old.  So go figure.

When I was in Haiti, I saw a number of people in public who were sick or injured.  I remember passing a kid sitting outside who had a large swollen jaw and a bandage wrapped around his head.  Another kid had a gross looking swollen eye that probably needed attention.  I saw a cripple.  I saw a teenager so emaciated I was sure he was about to die (he was in his home, but should have been in ICU).  I saw several sick kids lying on the ground partially clothed or even naked.  None of them were in a hospital or anything.  At one point I remember thinking, "This must have been how it was in Jesus’ day where the lame and blind and sick were everywhere, out in the open, and would gather around Jesus to be healed." 

In our suburbs, there is pain, injury, and sickness too.  But it is all sanitized and hidden away behind a sterile environment.  For the worst cases, paramedics in sharp uniforms transport the patient to hospitals where they are attended to by trained nurses, competent doctors, and given access to only the best diagnostic equipment, drugs, and latest surgery techniques.  When death comes here in the States, it is usually in a drugged state.  In Haiti, life is much more raw.  If something bad happens, you might just die.  Right there where it happened even.

I can drive myself crazy trying to analyze all the ins and outs of what exactly I should be doing to make the most impact.  At the end of the day, as a Follower of Jesus I have to come back to realizing my salvation does not hinge on what I do (or who I help), but rather on putting my faith in Him for my salvation.  I trust Jesus, as Lord of my life, to lead me on the path He has for me.  Whether that path is here in the emotionally and spiritually hurting suburbs, or a location with needs more raw and earthy, I know there is plenty of work to do in either place.  The primary thing is to follow Christ’s leading, and produce fruit where I’m planted.

I’ll end this post with another excerpt from the letter I quoted at the beginning,

The thing is, there are so many counter-arguments to any position that it is easy to become paralyzed by it. In fact, you could argue that the point of helping poor people is more to be obedient to God than to actually alleviate poverty, so perhaps it’s best to ignore counter-arguments to any one course of action and simply do something as intelligently as you can.

Meantime, Back at the Ranch

I notice there has been a dearth of content on this blog as of late.  What’s happened? 

The answer is I’ve had plenty of ideas to blog about, but been too busy to write them.  Too pre-occupied.

Most people, when they get pre-occupied, raise suspicion by acting pre-occupied.  Which, come to think of it, I have been doing.

For instance, this last week I’ve locked my keys in my car three times.  The first time I used the hidden key to unlock the doors, and I even remembered to put the hidden key back.  The second time I also used the hidden key, but forgot to put the hidden key back. 

So the third time I locked myself out, I was really stuck.  And as fortune would have it, I was at the Laundromat about 11 o’clock at night when this happened.  I didn’t want to bother anyone to come get me that late…  and since the Laundromat is only about a ten minute walk from my apartment and I hadn’t exercised that day yet, I hiked.

Since I currently own two vehicles, I drove my spare around the next day, leaving my locked one up at the Laundromat.  The bad thing is, my spare vehicle was locked up too so for awhile I was scratching my head wondering how I was going to break into it.  Fortunately, I remembered I had a hidden key for that one also – wiled away in a very secretively greasy location.

SO I called a lock smith and they quoted me $55 to unlock my door.  Were they nuts?  I wasn’t going to pay that kinda money for such an easy job.  Don’t they do it on TV all the time? How hard can it be?

Returning to El Laundromat with impudence and a Slim Jim, I attempted to break into my own vehicle in the parking lot.  Instead, I cut my finger, messed up the weather stripping, and got some strange looks. 

Breaking into a car is harder than it looks.  After further research online regarding the hidden arts of auto break-in, I returned and… amazingly unlocked the door in no time.  Neat, I’m getting better.  And I straightened out the weather stripping too, so all is well.  If I hadn’t been able to get it, my friend Danny assured me he knew more tricks vis-a-vis coat hangers.

My initial point was that most people raise suspicion by acting pre-occupied, but in my case I also raise suspicion by 1) breaking into my own car and 2) even when I do nothing.  To wit, I’ve been approached by several people lately asking me what was "going on" as I’ve been silent on my blog the last couple weeks.

So, changing the subject, I have 3 posts started and ideas for several more floating around, so stay tuned.  Will try to post again by next Wednesday.