Do you ever wonder if an ordinary, everyday person can make a difference in the world? Are you an “ordinary, everyday person”? I know I am. And I know a lot of people who feel like ordinary people are unlikely to make a huge impact on history. We are not the Michael Jordan’s of the sports world, the Oprah Winfrey’s of the television world, the President of the political world or the genius of the scientific world. And when we compare ourselves to these giant talents (which, let’s face it, we all do), we feel ordinary and un-special.
In my opinion, nothing accentuates the feeling of “un-special” more than being a short term “missionary” in a one of the poorest countries in the world. Let me explain.
Whether its food, medical aid, practical information or spiritual guidance, a missionary’s primary goal is to bring HOPE in whatever form they can. But every missionary has a FIRST: first trip, first country, and first time seeing the world beyond their familiar borders. And that “first trip” is typically difficult to swallow as the message of hope seems to crumble under the unending onslaught of sickness, poverty, hunger and death.
Such was my experience the first time I visited Haiti in 2000. We spent a large amount of time in a medical clinic in the middle of the country. With no official medical aid provided to them, people would walk for hours and sometimes days to receive care. At first, I was overjoyed with the work the missionaries were doing. They were a light in the darkness. But the longer I stayed, the more I saw an endless need. Sick…sick people having to walk in the condition they were in to receive basic medical aid started to rattle me. And those who seemed to suffer the most were the kids.
Nothing shakes you to the core like coming face to face with ill or dying babies. Nothing. And what I witnessed in Haiti in 2000 left me feeling grieved. Hunger was endless. Sickness was endless. There were so many that I quickly realized the need outnumbered the resources to help them. No matter how much you gave away…no matter how much you did…there were always more you couldn’t help. I left Haiti in 2000 feeling “un-special.” Surely, I had it wrong. I wasn’t a carrier of hope…I didn’t have enough money, enough skills, enough drive…enough of anything to give to make a dent of a difference in the world of Haiti.
So what then, I wondered, was the purpose of a mission trip if we weren’t going to make a difference? I concluded that I was the focus of the trip…not the people of Haiti. I concluded that a short term mission trip had one purpose: to expand our own world view and challenge us to live differently. After all, what difference did my presence really make in such a short time? What hope could I really provide these people?
Thirteen years later, I met a Haitian man who would change my rookie beliefs. Meet Pastor Rene Joseph. He and his wife have been in ministry in Haiti for many, many years and regularly open their home and play host to visiting missionaries. It didn’t take us long to figure out that he was well known in Haiti, very influential in political areas and doing a WHOLE lot of work for the benefit of the country. I had one nagging question I just HAD to ask him. So, on our 2nd night in Haiti, I asked Pastor Rene to share his story. He laughed a deep, hearty laugh…his eyes glazed as he seemed to go to another point in time and when he realized an eager audience was waiting, he gently began his story in the coolest accent EVER.
Rene was dedicated to become a voodoo priest at a very young age. Right before his official dedication, missionaries came to their remote village and gave the children candy. Pastor Rene describes the day vividly with clear emotion as he reflected on the emotions he felt by receiving a single piece of candy. Someone had given him a gift…his first. No one had ever given him anything. Elation crossed his face as he described that wonderful piece of candy and then, seriousness as he explained that something inside him shifted as a result of that very small gift. He wanted to know what message these missionaries carried. What would compel them to come to some remote place and show such a gesture of kindness to strangers?
He never allowed himself to be dedicated as a voodoo priest and gave his life to Jesus. He has since planted over 40 churches in Haiti and a year after the 2010 earthquake, he hosted a massive crusade in front of the capital building and has seen over 1million Haitians give their life to Christ. He is a crucial part of the changing spiritual climate in Haiti…and all, he says, “…because of one little piece of candy.”
All I could think about was the lady who gave a little Haitian boy a piece of candy. She had no words to give him. She didn’t teach him a skill. She didn’t even stay to ask his name or play with him. She didn’t put on a show or provide a massive donation. She had nothing special to bring…just herself and ONE, SMALL piece of candy. She was “un-special”…like me. Like you. And yet…she was the most SPECIAL person to one little boy who would grow to influence an entire nation.
Did she go home feeling hopeless like I once did? Will she ever know this side of heaven, the impact in the world she made with one, tiny gesture? Do you still wonder if an ordinary, everyday person can make a difference in the world?
I don’t. Because I now believe whole-heartedly, that just a single moment can change everything. I believe the smallest act, be it a hug, a smile or a piece of candy from an “ordinary” person is really an EXTRAODRINARY event waiting to bloom.
Pastor Rene’s story shifted something in our hearts that night. We now had an unwavering hope and purpose, confident that the tiniest action of love from one person to another, could make a world of difference and bring life-giving hope to many.
And boy….did it make a world of a difference!
(To be continued. Part Two of the Haiti Series to come soon.)