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In which God doesn’t look the same anymore

My world is being driven through Port au Prince, at break neck speeds, in chaotic traffic, in the heat, and the dust, and the crush of humanity and wisdom and grace, and so yes,  suppose it is just about right that my world is a bit shaken up tonight.

I keep trying to just write out what I think, but the truth is: I don’t know what I think.

Right now, my hands are opened, my eyes are opened, and even still, something in me wants to clench my fists, and just go to sleep.

So. Haiti: Beautiful. Chaotic. Overwhelming. Kind. Warm. Gentle. Joyful. Suffering. Perseverance. Guts. Horror. Graceful. And the fact that a place, and a people, exist in the midst of all of these things, at once, is something like a testimony, something like a prophetic call, and something so beautiful, it breathes.

When I first saw Haiti, deep emerald deforested mountains rising out of the blue water, I was peeking out of an airplane window in an unasked-for first class upgrade, three rows behind Presidente Martelly, and the irony of this was not lost on me. As the plane approached, there was no familiar patchwork quilt of roads and farmland, of suburbs and street lights, this was a raggle-taggle mish-mash of homes and dirt, nothing predictable which I took as a hint, and then we landed. There were white birds sitting on the tops of the palm trees, like candles, and I slammed into a wall of equatorial heat. The cacophony of new sounds and new sights and new smells, the strangeness, blared. (I wanted to turn around and go home.)

haitifb

We spent part of today having hard discussions about relief, international development, aid work, orphan care and prevention, all of the gigantic snarl of issues and mess and problems. We were beside a cheerful church, in the home of a local artist who created his own business, based on a micro-finance loan. Now his work is shown in galleries, and he provides for his son, and builds homes for other families. I think that micro-finance is empowering, I saw Richard, and I think he matters.

micro three

Can I just say this, too? I need to say it: I’m so proud of the Church. So proud of the people of God, of the people of the Gospel. You know how I have gone, in the last few years, from being ashamed to call myself a Christian, eschewing even the title, to feeling like I am part of something beautiful, and holy, and communal. But The Bride of Christ has never looked lovelier to me than she did today, from my spot on the stones, sitting in Richard’s home, because the Gospel is at this intersection of it all this truth and reality and hope and grief, it’s social and it’s spiritual and it’s physical.

I went to a hillside covered with school children, all because of the work of local Haitian leaders and pastors (Help One Now supports their work, preferring to keep Westerners in the background, empowering Haitians to lead).  A trio of little gap-toothed little girls gathered close to me, and they told me, through a translator, that they knew I was a mama. You know, I am most vulnerable about one part of my body: my baby-belly (three Bessey babies in 4 and a half years will do that to a girl), it’s the part of myself I want to hide and camouflage, but these girls, they rubbed my belly, and burrowed there, kissing it, they said, “you must be a mama” and the truth is yes, I’m marked as a mama, I know this, it shows, and it makes me soft, and I started to laugh because, well, what a joy.

Then we had more hard conversations about how vulnerable Haitian children, particularly orphans, are to being trafficked as slaves. They talked about how children are stolen, loaded up and driven over the borders, or to the ports, and then they are gone, and I could not bear to think of this evil, I had to stop listening.

This may mean I am a coward, but I still cannot think of it.

haiti_353

I felt angry at the main tent city. Angry with God, angry with the world, angry with my own self, how is this place even possible in our world, in 2012?  I could not bear the smell, the sights, the truth of this place, and I saw babies the age of my tinies there, naked, hollering HEY YOU snapping sass, and all of my carefully reasoned understandings about how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy.

I walked the rubble, and nodded my gentle Bonsoir as dusk gathered, and suddenly I thought, Oh, my God, I would be terrified here. I would be so scared here, in the darkness, how do these women bear it? And one of our guides said, before the spotlights were installed a few months ago, the night fell and it was “a rape camp.” Grim words.

And then we stood in the tent city, behind our Haitian brothers and sisters, and they sang the roof off that place, glory, glory, glory to God, he’s been good to us! Amen! Amen! Me? I want to throw things when I am disappointed in my nice life, I pout, and I do not sing praise because, apparently, I expect my life to be perfect and clean and ideal and pretty as Pinterest all of the time.

I did not want to cry in this place, out of respect, and so I snuck my tears down my face, and a boy about seven years old asked me to marry him someday. There was a little girl in a blue dress covered with berries, trimmed in red  gingham, her hair ribbons saucy and alert, and I wanted to remember her sweet and clean little dress there in the tent city always. I think I got born again, all over again, tonight, and now God smells like sweat, like shit, like charcoal, like pineapples, in addition to my northern lakes and pine trees and clean air and water.

I have no frame of reference for Haiti. I have no simile, no metaphor, but I see God here in Haiti, I do.  He just doesn’t look quite the same to me anymore.


You can sponsor a child here.

You can make a one-time donation here.

 Photos courtesy of the talented Austin-based Molly Donovan Burpo.

Instagram photo courtesy of Jen Allred with HelpOne Now. You can follow our Instagram feeds at #Help1Haiti.

 

 

Haiti, social justice
  • http://lilablackbird.tumblr.com/ Charlotte

    Well, my heart is just wrecked now. Thank you for everything you’re doing, Sarah.

  • http://www.redandhoney.com/ Beth Ricci

    my heart is in my throat. i’ve been there. not haiti, but rural tanzania, kenya, uganda. the beauty contrasted with the horror is too much to process. too much to wrap your brain around, the chasm is too wide, and the only thing that can cover it all is Jesus.

  • http://loveiswhatyoudo.wordpress.com/ J.R. Goudeau

    Just happened to be online when you posted–this is lovely. I’ve listened to your heart as you struggle with how to represent this trip and these people. You know I struggle with this too–can I tell you how much I love this post? It’s honest and it touches on your own experience, but I was in tears over two things: the church in other countries converted me over and over again. Because of seeing Christians who were rich and poor loving one another in the midst of struggles I can only ever imagine, I have been changed utterly. God really is the God of the margins. It’s why I’m addicted to struggling through how to approach poverty. The other thing that got to me? Your line, “I saw him.” One of the great truths of my life is that God is the God who sees. Sometimes those three words are enough–I see you. Thank you.

  • http://www.eloranicole.com/ elora nicole ramirez

    I have no words, only tears of knowing. Love you, sweet sister. Praying.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com/ Kelly @ Love Well

    Sending you so much love, all the love that can fit into prayers.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    I love it! This is what Albania did to me. I left part of me there, and I am dying to go back and visit it.
    The trick is how to really explain this to others. I guess the real trick is to get them to go.

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    I’m grateful to be on this journey with you.

  • Emily Wierenga

    I think I got born again, all over again, tonight, and now God smells
    like sweat, like shit, like charcoal, like pineapples, in addition to my
    northern lakes and pine trees and clean air and water.

    i think i got born again just reading this. thank you sarah.

    • http://www.redeemingthetable.com Kamille

      YES!

  • Sharon O

    wow… I am silent reading this.

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    WOW. so glad you are there. blessed to see through your eyes.

    i am alternately completely enamored by the mama/belly/body love(!) and horrified at the idea of a rape camp and trafficked babes. which i supposed is the story right there. thank you for going and listening and telling, sweet sarah.

    • http://www.idelette.com idelette

      Yes, those words “rape camp”–I gasped audibly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristabelieves Krista Borntreger King

    These words articulate the groans within me that I want to ignore and suppress. Provoked to righteousness.

  • Jennifer@GDWJ

    I feel every word of this. Every. Single. Word.

    I’m so glad to see Haiti through your eyes. I remember thinking when I was in Haiti in March, how lovely and awful that one place could be — all at once. In March, I scratched down these words in my Haitian hotel room:

    “This world, it’s a beautiful and hideous world.
    It is heaped with extragavant joy, and with tremendous pain, and I — a gape-mouth, tear-streak human being — bow in stunned awe. I don’t know what, yet, to do with the range of emotions stirring here. I do not think I knew fully how a human could experience such range within a few miles, a few minutes, a few breaths.
    Indeed, I did not know that those depths and heights could occur so jarringly fast within one human soul.

    I look at these people, and think …. They are missionaries to me.

    I might try to make myself feel absolved by saying something like: “Oh, but they know Jesus.” Which they do.
    I might try to excuse myself from doing anything more by saying: “They appear to have more confidence in God’s faithfulness than I ever did.” Which is also the bold-faced truth. I have never been in a position to have to trust God at this level. I could then, perhaps, walk away to my cushy life and never do a thing, reminding myself every day that “at least they have Jesus. And that’s what’s most important.”
    But Jesus is not OK with this.”
    (It felt right to share that with you here, Sarah. Hope that’s OK. I was there months ago, and I’m still trying to process it.)

    • Lydia R

      “I was there months ago, and I’m still trying to process it.” Me too, Jennifer, me too…thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.redeemingthetable.com Kamille

    Two things: when I saw your face on my instagram feed I thought, “Oh she gets to be mama to them. Sarah and her body gets to pull them close. Just like her Annie loves all her soft parts, these lovely Haitian children get to enjoy them (true story).”

    Second: “how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy.”–your words, your sight spilling into words spilling into my depths is doing work. thank you for being uncomfortable and honest and letting me see it, but also the hope in it.

  • pastordt

    I am literally gasping for air here, Sarah. Yes, you have captured it. ALL of it. And it is a beauteous, holy thing. Thank you. Thank you.

  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    I have nothing to say, because you have used all the words for this beautiful song! I’m with you, sister, and holding you close here while you’re gone!

  • http://annieathome.com Annie | annieathome.com

    Thank you, Sarah. We hear you.

  • http://www.idelette.com idelette

    Catapulted, I’d say! // You tell it so well … And I love this: ” … and all of my carefully reasoned understandings about how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy.” I love so much about everything in this.

    • http://www.idelette.com idelette

      PS: You make me want to get better at writing out my life. Thank you for blazing the trail. O, thank you.

  • http://itsalmostnaptime.blogspot.com/ Missy

    Oh, friend. Oh, yes. Tears. Love. Yes.

  • 1lori_1

    So wonderful to hear and see and read the posts coming in from the bloggers. I am proud of the church too. I will be following closely! Bless you all!

  • http://www.tothinkistocreate.com To Think Is To Create

    Oh my. Tears for that mama belly that I sport, too, that I look at with shame-filled eyes. Oh my.

    Dear one, you are so lifted up, and the way you feel is in that lifted up place, so it’s ok. It’s ok. It’s ok. Be shattered and it’s ok. <3

  • Sarah Silvester

    This just breaks my heart in the best and worst ways. I think having someone like you, someone who lives a “normal” life so much like many of ours, there to see and experience these things – it’s making it more personal and real for me. I hope one day I have your courage and can leave my family behind to be changed like this.

  • http://twitter.com/EmmieRoseT Emma Tomlinson

    Hi Sarah, don’t think I’ve commented before but have been subscribed to your blog for a while and regularly spam posts round to my friends. Thank you for writing in such a way that doesn’t make me uncomfortable, allowing my cynicism and critical thinking to take a break for a while so I cam jump whole-heartedly into the workings of God alongside you.

    Emma.

  • Holly

    Sarah, thank you for unleashing the truth of that place with such grit and glory. I can’t help but think of that Anne Lamott quote about grace: “I do not understand the mystery of grace-only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Here’s praying that as God continues to appear in the form of little girls with hair ribbons or as any one of the imaginable smells you’ve encountered, that His grace will continue to move you, as well. You will not return the same Sarah Bessey, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.

  • Marina Lehman

    Thanks for letting us take this journey alongside you.

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    this is the gospel being told anew.

  • http://twitter.com/RedefineFemale Redefining Female

    As God is opening your eyes, He is opening and reopening ours through your writing…thank you!

  • http://sarahaskins.com Sarah Askins

    Beautiful, friend, heart-wrenchingly so.

  • http://twitter.com/LoveFeast ChrisAnn and Kristin

    Oh! No words. Except, yes, yes, yes…He does smell like dirt, charcoal, shit, sweat, pineapple, rotting garbage, wet earth, Asian noodles, earthy mushrooms, sewage…evoking so many memories for me. Thank you. ~K

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-J-Teston/611354012 Michael J. Teston

    “I think I got born again, all over again, tonight, and now God smells like sweat, like shit, like charcoal, like pineapples, in addition to my northern lakes and pine trees and clean air and water.” The last six years have changed the direction of my life inside the institution of church. Those years were spent trying to lead a people who were so insulated from the world around them and that insulation was hung in the name of church, in the name of gospel, in the name of Jesus. The only thing that kept me going was mission to the world, in the last two years, 4 times to Haiti. It was there God was real, as you point out, I could smell God, in the sweat, in the shit, in the charcoal, the fruit, in the painful faces of the people, in my own exhaustion. It is no accident that the One who loves us is the one Luke insists was born off the main roads in a stall among the animals. In such places we are all saved. And by the way . . . thank you for writing.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    Thank you for this Sarah. God is on the move in our world, and I’ve glad you’re sharing that part of the story here.

  • HisFireFly

    Praying He continues to reveal Himself in glorious new ways…

  • SortaCrunchy

    It’s breath-taking, the pictures you paint for us. Hope in the hard places. Glory to God.

  • KimberlyCoyle

    I have no frame of reference for this. None. Your words are framing a picture I can only imagine and I don’t know whether to call it horrific or beautiful. Maybe both.

  • Trait

    I remember thinking very similar thoughts after my mission trip to Thailand a few years ago after the tsunami. In the midst of complete devastation, I met the some of the kindest and most generous people I had ever encountered. I remember thinking that these people (the majority of them Buddhists) acted more like Christians than many of the Christians I knew, including myself.

  • http://www.jamesprescott.co.uk/ James Prescott

    Sarah, there are few words which can do justice to your writing. The ‘born again’ line at the end moved me and challenged me deeply. It showed me just how pathetic and childish some of my moans about the little things can be. Thanks for opening my eyes yet again to what’s really important.

  • http://twitter.com/PJVesperman Patrick Vesperman

    Great thoughts Sarah. I love Haiti too and will be headed back in January for a second time. So glad the Church is making a difference. You can read my brief post here: http://www.ifyoucanstomachit.com/return-to-haiti/

  • Larry

    Thank You for Your Severe Honesty Sarah, it was refreshing
    ….. I’m pretty sure that this is true…. Certainty is the opposite of Faith….

  • Steve Clinkscales

    Sarah: in a similar manner, God wrecked me and my ‘nice little world” when I began working in Haiti. I have just shared your blog with several hundred folks via email. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for putting into words the indescribable joy and horror, agony and ecstasy of working with God’s precious people in Haiti. He changed my life and my heart as a pastor. Now I have the privilege of working with other dear children of our Father: refugees and the homeless in Des Moines. I pray He continues His good work in you and through you. God Bless! Pastor Steve Clinkcales

  • http://twitter.com/ClaireJDeBoer Claire J De Boer

    Wow – I don’t even know what to make of it Sarah – so much that makes me smile and cry has just smacked me in the face. But I feel blessed to share this journey with you and have Haiti become something real instead of a distant land that I close my eyes to. Praying for you :-)

  • http://www.kellysauer.com/ Kelly Sauer

    This might be my favorite, favorite post ever about going to another country. Ever, ever.

  • Katherine

    Oh how I love that those girls spotted your mamma-heart.

  • http://twitter.com/lisajobaker Lisa-Jo Baker

    Makes me think of when we were in Guatemala walking through the dumps and the squatters living there and I banged out the question in my head to God – where *are* you? And the Spirit blew back an answer so hard and so fast it nearly knocked me off my feet, “I am here. Where are *you*?!” Yea, that’s when we remember that God doesn’t live, breathe and operate just in English and the world suddenly gets tilted on the side and you get a glimpse through His broad, vast, eternal, intimate perspective.

    He has been there all along. So glad you all get to join Him with His Haiti people.

  • http://sandraheskaking.com/ Sandra Heska King

    I’m reading these words and I’m crying and I’m going here in two months and I’m afraid and I’m ashamed of the stupid little post I wrote this morning–and if God is in us, where are we and what do we do?

  • Dipunk

    I love the last lines so much! God does smell and look like more than we can possibly imagine or comprehend. He is a BIG God. I welcome your new understanding of poverty and of this big and glorious world. And I am excited for you. Because there is a reason you are there and a reason that He is revealing this new world and broader view of Himself to you. I can’t wait to see why…and to continue to follow you on this journey. :) Blessings and peace on you as you travel, assimilate, and serve.

  • Anastasia at eco-babyz

    Thank you Sarah, thank you for letting Jesus use you and change you and fill my eyes with tears. Remembering moments from this past week, I’m ashamed for the way I am so centered on this ‘Pinterest perfect life’. Change is around the corner…

  • Kim Sullivan

    I’m with Emily, I’m definitely shifted, realigned in my person after this read. I’ve been some places, sort of like Haiti…but this you shared…these words press through my remaining intelletual and emotional stiff arms…and bring me to the ground, crying mercy for these, for me.
    Thank you for going and for taking us with you. Praying.

  • http://www.leahcolbeck.com/ Leah Colbeck

    Whoa! I love so much of this. How you see God and differently, and how you see the church’s beauty there, I loved that thank you. And this ‘all of my carefully reasoned understandings about how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy.’ I have only been in relationship with Canada’s poor in Edmonton’s downtown for four years, which contitions are NOTHING like this tent city in Haiti, but yes, this was one of the first lessons God impressed on my heart to. There is nothing like the sex trade of someone else’s little loves to do that to a person. Thank you for sharing your journey and causing us all to reflect for the first time, or again.

  • Allison

    Thank you for this…I am following closely each blog entry, each picture. I FEEL what ya’ll are writing. Thank you for sharing it all with us. Thank you for making me realize the pull I feel to GO is more like a big SHOVE from Him!

  • http://annkroeker.com Ann Kroeker

    Sitting here, silent. What can I say?

  • Lydia R

    Sarah, I was in Haiti at the beginning of August this year for two weeks…and suffice it to say, that everything you describe is how I saw it. A vibrant church, full of prayer and thanksgiving. Sights and sounds sooo overwhelming that you want to hide, to shut it all out. And then there’s the people… your description is so on point, I’m weeping as I read – tears of joy, sorrow, longing, heartbreak. It’s a place where, if you let him, God will turn your life on its head. He surely did mine. Thanks for loving God enough to go, and thanks for loving the church enough to report back about Him there. Glwa pou Bondye!

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    No words, Sarah. Holding you in my heart and praying for you, your team, and all the beautiful souls you’re encountering in Haiti.

  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    You do have a gift of words, you’ve brought me to the altar on my knees and I’ve opened my eyes with new perspective.

  • http://www.brandonclements.com Brandon Clements

    Incredible truth spoken so powerfully. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  • http://www.themommyhoodmemos.com/ Adriel Booker

    Yes, yes. There is hope. The presence of poverty and injustice and pain does not mean the absence of hope and possibility and beauty. I’m so glad you’re there to help give a voice to it.

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  • http://twitter.com/erinblueburke Erin Burke

    beautiful. just now reading through all of your haiti posts and this one is a treasure.

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  • Stephanie

    If ever people in highly-developed countries lose faith in the Church, I often recommend a trip abroad. To places of hurt and hunger…places where God is needed, places where miracles happen. I don’t quite understand the mystery of that, but it’s true. God is present among the poor.

    Thanks for “taking us” to places that are hard to see and challenging us toward new perspectives.

  • Val

    I have just returned home from Haiti…, Wed. I could feel what you said as you wrote. One thing I learned this time…, different from last, God spoke to me that I was seeing the Face of God in every little Haitian child I held. Let us be the hand of Christ extended…, even when it stinks! I loved your blog…, will be sharing it with my team.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christina.gavenda Christina Circle Gavenda

    Oh man. This hurt. Thanks for writing it.

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  • http://twitter.com/mwestramke Megan Westra

    “and all of my carefully reasoned understandings about how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy.”

    truth in its rawest form. beautiful post.