Folding up Umbrellas

“Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

Our travel agent just called. Delta Airlines is pulling out of Haiti.

In October our team was preparing to leave for Haiti. The Sunday before our departure, we received word that Jenny, our missionary, had been stopped by rioting roadblocks. She was unable to reach the airport and pick up an arriving mission group (another agency picked up the group and they were able to travel safely the following day). As we monitored the situation, one of the team members noted, “a group of middle-aged men starting a long term project to build a medical clinic could probably reschedule in a few months.”

The image of bald spots and pot bellies was not how I pictured my missionary self. I imagined more Bruce Willis and yippie ki-yay… with a Jesus love you vibe. Duct taped carpenter tools rather than a gun… but I have to admit my hair is thinning, and I get nervous if I forget my readers…

So we canceled the trip and rescheduled for February. As we watched, the situation only grew worse. This NY Times article, with the image of the babies above, drove my prayer. Hospitals were running out of needed supplies. Violence was increasing. The country was spiraling. Jenny – who has lived in Haiti since 2010, right after the earthquake – let us know she had never seen things so bad. Then today we heard about Delta’s decision.

We should get a full refund. If things are not safe we can find another place to go. From my warm office – there is snow on the ground – I look out and think how easy it is to avoid a cold world. I live in the safety of the United States.

We all contribute to the sin and brokenness of our world. But the consequences don’t affect us all in the same way. On the individual level, we see the evil prosper and the righteous grow destitute. Karma is far from our reality. This injustice is not random, instead, the systems of our world have created an umbrella effect. When an umbrella shields people from rain the water doesn’t disappear but runs off. The upper crust — holding umbrellas built by status, wealth, and power — are shielded from the consequences of sin. As it rolls off it floods those below.

I have found the people of Haiti to be kind and joyful. They share with their neighbors. They find community and song in the most difficult of times. Their voices in church rise in praise alongside chickens clucking. And yet the blessing of faith never seems to arrive. On the contrary, the whole nation seems to be drowning.

And here I sit. Warm and safe. Dry. Not because I am more righteous. But because I was born in a certain place, with certain skin color, and certain gender. It is more difficult for me to be destitute than to succeed. Contrast that with Haiti, where success is nearly impossible and destitute is destiny.

But what can I do?

The problem is too big for me or you, but our hope has always been based in something that seems impossible. We believe that God came down, and the Kingdom of Heaven is now breaking into earth. So we must begin with this faith: believing the impossible — the world living in love — is in fact probable.

Our first step is to acknowledge the struggle. Always probing deeper. As we learn we must act to rectify. First our own judgment, which is a great task overcoming tradition and habits webbed into our existence (prayer is necessary). Then we must seek to rectify the world. Rather than use our status, power, wealth as an umbrella for ourselves, learn to use it as a shield for our neighbor. That our strengths may become love.

Again… this feels impossible. But against the improbable, cries the word of Paul, “we can do all things”.  This verse was never about opening umbrellas for ourselves, but always folding them up. Undoing the systems of sin. Made possible because of the One who left the safety of the throne to walk among the least of these.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.” — Reinhold Niebur

What to do about Haiti in particular? — First, we are praying. Which I am convinced is not ramblings into the breeze, but brings the Spirit Winds of change. Second, we hope to return. But while we wait we are in touch with Jenny. We will continue to support her and with increased urgency we will try to fulfill her requests.

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