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The thing about traveling the world is that it never leaves you.
Every time I travel to a new place, it’s as if a small piece of my heart is left behind. The incredible people at Truthseekers in India have a bit of it. So do the orphans I met in Ukraine. A pastor’s family in the slums of Nairobi has a big portion, and you can find it scattered all over the mountains of Panama.
This, of course, has some incredible benefits. I now have friends and family in countries all over the globe. I’ve learned at the feet of leaders and teachers from a whole range of different cultures. And I’ve discovered a whole new meaning for the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
But having my heart so spread out is not without its difficulties.
When a tragedy or disaster strikes in a far-off corner of the world, it now hits much closer to home. When terrorists attacked the city of Mumbai in November 2008, I watched the TV with mouth agape. I had walked in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel just three months before.
When post-election violence broke out in Kenya at the end of 2007, I sat helpless in my room, knowing that many of my dear Kenyan friends were at that very moment barricaded in their houses and afraid for their lives.
And now, as Haiti lies in the ruins of an unspeakable tragedy, my heart breaks once more. You see, I walked the streets of Port-au-Prince just two and a half months ago. I gave yet another piece of my heart to the beautiful people of that country, and now I watch with horror as the disaster continues to unfold.
But beyond just the emotional pain of knowing the danger my new friends are in, there is the mental burden of being aware.
Every time I travel to a new place, I try to keep my eyes open to the social injustices facing the people, the intertwining economic forces at play and the role of history in their culture. Inevitably, I discover injustices or hardships that I had never even heard of before (e.g. indoor air pollution).
When I heard that there had been an earthquake in Haiti, I knew immediately that it would be devastating. Overpopulation, shoddy building construction and a lack of infrastructure meant that it was going to be severe… not to mention the disasters of malnutrition, widespread illness and a lack of education that existed before the quake hit.
I knew all of these things before a single news report came out because I’ve seen them with my own eyes. And knowing what it looks, feels and sounds like in Haiti makes this whole situation that much more heartbreaking.
The Low Grade Fever of Sadness
Seeing images of the ruined presidential palace reminds me of how proud my Haitian friends were of their “White House.” What will happen to their already fragile national identity?
Watching videos of overflowing hospitals reminds me of the many people I met with no access to health-care during normal circumstances. How many more will die because there are no doctors to mend their wounds?
And seeing the vacant stares of children too shocked to cry brings to mind the faces of the children I met in Haiti. Children who will most likely never emerge from desperate poverty. Children who are still in the grips of generational injustice because their grandparents’ grandparents were slaves.
And now, this has happened to them. Will they ever have a chance?
Being aware of the deeper issues at play has made me a ball of emotions these last few days. Every image and video I see cuts me to the bone. At times, I just feel numb, watching helplessly as a sea of injustice rolls over the world.
Even in times of joy, I have a low grade fever of sadness lurking just below the surface, and it will not go away.
The world is broken. And after seeing what I’ve seen, no amount of video games or movies or shopping or eating will be able to make me forget it.
By all accounts, I should be a twisted and cynical wreck by now. I should have long ago thrown up my hands in resignation and turned my back on the world.
But I haven’t. I haven’t given up. And all because of one little word… Hope.
I don’t mean the sugary sweet kind of hope that leaves us feeling empty. I mean powerful hope. Hope in something beyond my tiny sphere of understanding. The kind of hope that kept the apostles up at night.
I have hope that the kingdom of God is coming. Hope that there is a mighty king who will one day redeem this world. Hope that though this world is broken, it will one day be made right.
Every time I learn about some new social injustice, my heart aches all the more. But at the same time, my hope grows even stronger. No longer is my hope relegated to the measly ambition to hopefully go to heaven when I die. My hope is now in the powerful release of peace and justice into this world.
Now, when I see hunger, poverty, illness, homelessness, disabilities, racism, slavery, terrorism, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and genocide, I know that my God will one day make all things right.
This is the hope that I cling to as I watch Haiti struggling to recover. It doesn’t change the fact that my heart is shattered for the people of that impoverished nation, but it does give me a reason to pray:
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
- How are you feeling about the disaster in Haiti? Please feel free to share your thoughts and emotions in the comments section below.
- Continue to pray for the people of Haiti. This crisis is far from over.
About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.