Walls are built for protection. They are built to keep certain people in and to keep other people out.
Our construction project in Haiti was to rebuild the outer compound wall around the school. This would provide the children with a safe place to learn and play and would protect them from the neighboring slums and dangerous streets of Port Au Prince.
It’s hard however, not to think about the people you will ultimately keep out. I know I am guilty of this in my own life; I build walls around me emotionally and physically to feel safe and secure. But how do you respond when the Lord asks you to go over the wall?
Sarah Jane and I heard of an elderly man living in the slum across the wall. We learned that he was injured during the earthquake and had no family to care for him. He was blind, weak, hungry, and all alone. His home was made of scrap metal and tattered sheets and was approximately 3ft by 6 ft. I watched as his frail body worked to stand up and walk to the edge of his shanty. His knees were buckling and after standing for only a short while, he slumped back down onto a nearby chair. He wore a look of despair and hopelessness.
I definitely consider myself to be a cautious person. I lived in Memphis for 7 years and during that time we were named the # 1 city for hate crimes against women. I learned where not to go alone and how to be very aware of my surroundings. But on this day, I felt the Lord calling me to step out of my comfort zone and go over the wall.
Pierre was our new Haitian friend and translator. He had such a huge heart for his community and for Haiti. He told us that providing a safe place for a school and church to meet would be such a blessing for Haiti and that it would be a beacon of hope for the people of Port Au Prince. When Sarah Jane and I told Pierre that we wanted to go over the wall to see the blind man, he paused to think hard about what we were asking and then he smiled and led the way.
As I stepped outside the compound, I felt a wave of anxiety. This was the first time I actually walked through the streets of Port Au Prince. We traveled through the city in a large open bed truck with a covered tarp and at each destination we immediately got inside the compound walls and locked the gate. There were many stares as Pierre led us into the slum, some friendly some untrusting. Children began to emerge from behind piles of rubble and scrap metal. I saw an emaciated dog crouched on top of debris as roosters walked through a pile of trash. We were cautiously led to the very back corner, where we met Antonio.
Pierre explained to Antonio that we were there to help him and that he was not alone. As we listened to his aches and pains, I looked up and saw holes in his shelter. I imagined how hard it must be for him to fall asleep with the rain invading his home. We gave Antonio a hygiene kit that included soap, a razor, lotion and clean towels. As he rubbed his knee and explained his pain, I assessed his injured leg; something had fallen on him during the earthquake. He had significant atrophy in his quadriceps muscle and his knee felt warm to the touch; a sign of arthritis and inflammation. As Sarah Jane educated him on how to take his vitamins and medicines, I took measurements of his knee so that I could bring him a brace. I watched through tears as Sarah Jane literally fed Antonio her lunch that she had brought that day. I’m not sure where his last meal had come from.
As we took notes of all we could bring him the next day: a tarp, a knee brace, and clean water, Pierre asked Antonio if we could pray with him. We placed our hands on our new friend and thanked Jesus that he led us to him. We asked for the Holy Spirit to comfort his pain and bring peace to his heart. When we finished our prayer, I looked up at a very big smile and heard the sweetest thank you in Creole, “Merci, Merci.”
We made 3 other trips into the slum. I think it is funny that once you allow God to lead you over the wall your fears begin to fade and you start to believe the words in the songs you sing: “If our God is for us, then who could ever stop us”. In three days, we were able to clear the rubble outside his tent and place a new tarp over his roof. We even extended a portion of the tarp so he could have a place to sit in the shade. We filled a jug of clean water for him and made a path for him to walk. We even placed blocks on each side of the path so he could feel his way with a walking stick.
As people saw us return each day, I think trust was established. One lady approached me and asked for help with her back. With Pierre’s help, I was able to teach her stretches to relieve her back pain and give her a lumbar support brace. Children began to run to us and touch our arms. They loved having their pictures taken and I loved hearing their laughter as they saw themselves on the camera. Our last day on the other side of the wall, we handed out shoes to the women and children.
I am thankful that the Lord allowed me be a part of something so beautiful. Our last day at the school, Sarah Jane and I walked onto the roof and looked over the now completed wall. Through tears of joy, we looked at Antonio seated on his chair outside his tent, clean shaven, brace on his knee, and a smile on his face. His expression of hopelessness and despair was exchanged for a look of peace and dignity. I hate to think that my fear could have prevented me from blessing this sweet man. I definitely think that I am still a cautious person and I respect dangerous areas, but I hope I have learned that when the Lord calls me over the wall he is going to grow my faith and show me just how much He loves the “least of these”.