Several years ago when I served as the head of the Outreach committee at Grace-St. Luke’s Church, I was always asked by church members and community leaders alike, “What is your church doing in the way of ‘hands-on’ ministry?” Yes, we contributed lots of money and volunteer hours to outside projects like Habitat for Humanity, Bridges, The Church Health Center, MIFA, or soup kitchens organized at other midtown churches, to name a few. At that time we did not have an ongoing, on-location signature project of our own, which the members of our parish yearned to create and participate in on a more regular basis. I believe that people innately knew that to honor their calling as Christians, they had to have opportunities to “do ministry,” that is, to make Christ known to others in their surrounding community, not just in their immediate congregation. For us it meant getting out of our “comfort zones” to extend ourselves to others in the practice of our faith and, in doing so, to understand what it means to be transformed by that very ministry.
This became the impetus for our bringing the More Than a Meal program to Grace-St. Luke’s in 2003. Two short years later, Father Joe Porter introduced us to yet another program that would challenge us and our comfort zones even further. I’ll never forget that first trip to Haiti in January 2005 when I learned to overcome my nagging fears and uncertainties of why I’d been called to go there in the midst of this beautiful country and these wonderful people, both overwhelmed with insurmountable problems. I found that putting ourselves aside for the betterment of others allows us to honor not only them but also ourselves, as we increase the positive flow of energy in the world with our efforts to bring hope and healing. In essence, it is possible for only one person to make a global difference, and that difference can be all it takes to change the world for the better, like the parable of the starfish on the shore.
So much of what I’ve learned from the people of St. Paul’s in Montrouis or the children at St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children in Port-au-Prince can also be said of what we’ve learned in working with the folks at the soup kitchen:
• Mission trips require dedication, determination, discipline, courage, perseverance, coordination, flexibility, and certainly leadership, and usually involve patience, humor, tolerance, frustration, forgiveness, understanding, and appreciation on the parts of both givers and receivers.
• We learn more about ourselves and our own faith in acting it out for other people.
• We learn to honor and respect people different from ourselves as we share our various stories with one another. While some fears may be erased through understanding, we learn to create and honor boundaries as well.
• We learn to appreciate our strengths and weaknesses while acknowledging our limitations – we are not there to solve every problem, so we focus on a few human needs that we can address, such as health, hunger, education, and clean water.
• As in any other new project, we have good days and bad days; we succeed at some things, and we make mistakes along the way, but we continue to try and do better and improve upon the results and benefits for all concerned.
• The more we get to know the people we serve, the more we realize that fundamentally we are more alike than different from one another, and that in fact, we are exactly the same in God’s eyes.
• The time we spend “doing this ministry” is God’s time, and there is no more important work that we are called to do than this, at this time and in this place.
• Every trip brings with it a new lesson, a new opportunity, a new reason to keep doing this ministry. While it is always a mystery beforehand, it is inevitably revealed in the process and upon reflection, as we have become alert to its unfolding.
• The more we go to Haiti, the more committed we are to ministering well to the people we serve, as we know that we are all a part of the family of God.
So whenever someone asks, “Why do you go to Haiti?” I’ll quote Matthew 16:25 and say, “We always get back more from the Haitians than we ever give – our money goes farther, the people are more appreciative, and they teach us to be better, if not more faithful, Christians as we watch them share with each other whatever we bring each trip.” Just as God made it clear to Abraham that “My blessings carry with them the responsibility to be a blessing,” so too are we all “blessed to be a blessing” and have a prime opportunity to respond to those blessings through this Haiti Partnership.
For more information on how to become a part of this important ministry, contact The West Tennessee Haiti Partnership, 5865 Ridgeway Center Pkwy., Suite 300, Memphis, TN 38120, or any of our steering committee members: The Rt. Rev. Don E. Johnson, Bishop + The Rev. Drew Woodruff, Coordinator + Dr. Susan Nelson, Healthcare + The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher, Chaplain & Communications + Ruthie Lentz, Finance