Heartache

Posted Jan 15, 2010 by 14 Comments

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.

After standing on Haitian soil, the earthquake has taken on a new significance for me.


Awareness

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

I can never forget the faces of the children I met in Haiti.

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.

Hope

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.

Because of the kingdom, I have hope for these beautiful orphans.


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…”

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Next Steps
    • 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.
    Next Steps

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.

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Comments

  1. Curtis Honeycutt said... 

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    January 15th, 2010 at 4:08 pm  

    Barry, this is powerful stuff. Amen. Looking through our pictures in the eyes of the kids, you can’t help but see hope.

  2. Dave Rod said... 

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    January 15th, 2010 at 4:20 pm  

    Amen and Amen Barry. Thank you.

  3. Denise said... 

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    January 15th, 2010 at 4:58 pm  

    Great message and insight in the midst of total devastation. God’s Kingdom will come indeed!

  4. rob yonan said... 

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    January 15th, 2010 at 5:07 pm  

    “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.”

    So well said. Thank you!

  5. Steve Bliss said... 

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    January 15th, 2010 at 10:45 pm  

    Barry, I also live with the low grade fever of sadness lurking below the surface. My joy is always tempered due to what I see and have seen with the affects of injustice and the lack of action from those who can make a difference but are too distracted by the things they think are important. Maintaining hope and giving hope is what keeps me from getting really ugly. I really appreciate your writings.

  6. Abigail Skinner said... 

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    January 15th, 2010 at 11:19 pm  

    glad you have been there, Barry so you can pray by name.

  7. Aaron Sherrick said... 

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    January 16th, 2010 at 1:16 am  

    Just want you to know those beautiful orphans are all fine and the quake had minimal damage in the Chambrun community.

  8. Cindy Bannon said... 

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    January 16th, 2010 at 2:20 pm  

    Thank you for your thoughts and for your heart for the world. Please let us know if you plan to return so we can pray and support your efforts. Also if you have a team going I would consider either supporting or going myself. I too have traveled the world and have left my heart in several continents.

  9. Maeven said... 

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    January 16th, 2010 at 3:45 pm  

    Thank Barry.
    Your post has helped me to break through my stiffness and cynicism to really feel for the people of Haiti.
    There is the constant temptation not to feel…

  10. Jen Sherrick said... 

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    January 16th, 2010 at 9:44 pm  

    I have that low grade fever of sadness too. We have to be aware in order to ever seek action. This week has more than ever changed my perspective about what’s important… what really matters. There is so much hope.

  11. KIm said... 

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    January 16th, 2010 at 11:52 pm  

    Thanks for this Barry. POWERFUL stuff.

  12. Nick Kirongo said... 

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    January 17th, 2010 at 2:34 am  

    Wow, this is a very very powerful piece, I can feel the pain and yet still understand that hope should be the last thing ever to go, lets keep hold of it and surely God will see the Haiti people thro this…be blessed Barry

  13. Barb Day said... 

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    January 17th, 2010 at 2:59 pm  

    Thanks for letting us hear your heart….
    A higher and greater thought, still, is that God hears your heart. He must be smiling. You are making a difference!

  14. Jim.M said... 

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    January 19th, 2010 at 12:16 am  

    “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…” No matter if you find yourself on eagles wings, or surrounded by ravens..know that God is here with us my friend. Let that low level of sadness turn to joy in knowing that. You will be in my prayers, along with our brothers and sisters in Haiti.

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