A couple of days ago, I was hanging out with 18 year old Ismail, the third of seven children in the Dazma family.  We were sitting in a concrete courtyard across from his old house, chatting as the sun went down.

He was asking me all sorts of questions about my family, my job, my life, etc. and I asked him about his dreams for the future (finishing his education and visiting the U.S. someday, among other things).

He knew that I was heading back to Chambrun for a couple of days the following morning, so during a lull in the conversation he turned and asked me, “Can you bring me some chocolate?”

Ruined Port-au-Prince was the last place I would have expected to find genuine hospitality.

Normally I would have laughed and said, “Um, maybe… I’ll try” (blans like me get lots of requests like this because we are white).  But this time was different.

You see, Ismail’s family has been remarkably hospitable during my stay.  So much so that I am often desperate for ways to be hospitable back. 

I’m supposed to be the rich, connected American, right?  So why am I on the receiving end of so much generosity?  I mean, in a place filled with people who have nothing, I am living with a family that gives everything.

Despite the hardships endured by the Dazmas and their neighbors, they are still willing to give.

All that to say, when Ismail asked me for chocolate I left determined to find some for him.  After all the hospitality I have received from his family so far, it was the least I could do…

Generous Meals

My first glimpse of their unexpected hospitality came after we had been in the Dazmas’ tent for only a few minutes. 

After sitting and chatting for a while, Laneze (the mother of the family) jumped up and busied herself on the other side of the tent.  When she came back, she had in her hand a giant, steaming plate of rice and beans… much more than either my translator Denis or I could possibly eat (especially two hours after lunch!). 

We thanked her for her generosity but insisted that we split the plate between the two of us. 

It was a tasty meal, but it wasn’t until later that I realized how significant that small gesture really was.  As I quickly came to understand, the Dazmas barely have enough food to eat.  Their miniscule budget gives them enough to provide one meal a day for their kids… usually.

They struggle with malnutrition, and yet there they were, providing an enormously generous meal to their guests.  Wow.

But it didn’t stop there.

When we realized that the Dazmas were going to be feeding us regularly, I suggested giving them some money to cover the cost of food.  Denis agreed, but told me, “We’ll need to tell them to not start making expensive food for us.”

At first I was a bit confused at what he meant.  Then it dawned on me.  Denis knew that because the Dazmas are so generous, once they had a few gourdes (Haiti’s currency) in hand they would immediately go out and blow it all on nice meals for their guests.

Clothes drying on razor wire. When I accidentally left some dirty clothes hanging up outside their tent, the Dazmas gracious offered to wash them for me.

Can you believe that? 

When we did end up giving the money to Laneze, we had to insist that she feed us whatever they would normally eat instead of an expensive chicken dinner.  She actually needed convincing!

The Little Things

Another aspect of their unexpected hospitality has come from their almost fanatical dedication to my comfort and security.  Even the little things – the seemingly inconsequential details – point to a hospitality that is rooted deeply within their family.

For example, when it came time to set up our small air mattresses our first evening there, they insisted that we sleep inside the tent to stay out of the rain.  Presilma and Laneze, we understood, would be perfectly happy to sleep under the tarp outside…

I don’t mind sitting on the ground, but just about every time I do, one of the Dazmas runs up with their single wooden stool to make sure I am comfortable. 

Presilma and Denis washing up in the morning. The moment I woke up they offered me a basin of clean water to wash my face.

When I’m walking through town with Ismail, he points out every pothole, rock or crack in the sidewalk that might cause me to stumble. 

When I yawn in the evening, they ask me, “Are you tired? You can sleep now if you’d like.”  And of course, five minutes later I discover that our mattresses have been laid out neatly in the corner of the tent.

Open Hearts

But there is another kind of hospitality that I am discovering while living with the Dazma family: hospitality of the heart.  It’s making me re-think the whole concept of generosity.

The Dazmas have been remarkably honest and open with me about their lives.  They have let me enter into the center of their family’s day-to-day existence.  They have exposed the potentially shameful truth that they do not have enough to get by (an especially significant thing in a culture like this).

They have also risked all sorts of unknown consequences by having a blan stay in their tent.  What will their neighbors think?  What if some unruly men in the community decide to start making trouble?  What if the blan embarrasses them?

Despite all the potential outcomes, their hearts are open.  They have welcomed a stranger into their home… one of the purest forms of hospitality I can think of.

And that’s the truly mind-blowing thing about all of this.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says to those on his right, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” and “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” 

Me hanging out with the Dazmas in the evening (thanks to Denis for taking this picture!).

Is it possible that, to the Dazmas, I am one of the “least of these?” 

Boom.  Mind blown.

Who would have thought that the tables could have been turned so significantly by a simple plate of rice and beans?

I’m learning a lot from the Dazmas about what it means to be hospitable. Their willingness to give out of the little they have makes me wonder why I am often so stingy with my abundance. 

My hope and prayer is that the lessons I have learned from these generous people will stick with me… that I won’t quickly forget what it means to be a generous giver.

———

When I returned to Chambrun for the weekend, I knew that I had a good first place to start.  With Ismail’s request echoing in my head, I rooted around in my suitcase until I found what I was looking for…

Chocolate.

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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. Jim M said... 

    Reply

    September 6th, 2010 at 10:16 am  

    I would like to think that we are internally programed toward hospitality, and generosity…you know that “hard wired” thing (I prefer to think of God as the electrician when I hear this). You see it in it’s rawest form in your host family.

    But I am beginning to think that some of us re arrange the wiring and rather than being gracious servants we become self centered “what can I get”, rather than “what can I give” persons. It’s easy to see which category you are in…look at how you live, and what you do with what you have. I am humbled by this story. It is very similar to what we read in 2 Corinthians 8 especially 3-5.

    There is so much in this story about generosity and giving. Unfortunately this story is seldom told. On the contrary the story of human suffering and the cry for “what can I get” “my need is so great” is always in front of us.

    I wonder if on a neurological basis we are as a culture being “rewired” by the constant reports we see from the other perspective. Turning away from those in need, feeling a sense of powerlessness.

    This story should create a tension in all of us.

  2. Sara said... 

    Reply

    September 6th, 2010 at 8:57 pm  

    Barry,

    This retelling of your experiences with the Dazma family are incredibly powerful. In a word, humbling. I love your example of generosity of the heart. Stories like these hit me like the blow of a battering ram how much I need to grow in Christ’s likeness.

    Oh Lord – bless this generous family with your Spirit, your provision and protection.

  3. Jenny Fitzgerald said... 

    Reply

    September 7th, 2010 at 1:24 am  

    Barry ~ WOW!!! Tables turned. What a beautiful experience being “the least of these” Good food for my soul, this amazing story. Thank you, dear brother!!!!!

  4. Lisa M said... 

    Reply

    September 7th, 2010 at 10:48 pm  

    Thanks so, so much for this one, Barry. Looking forward to more processing as you continue to take in this experience long after it’s over. Grateful for you and for these gems that fill the soul. I have a Kit Kat bar sitting on my counter right now. It’s probably going to stay there a while as a reminder for me to pray for us all to be more generous.

  5. Melissa Reed said... 

    Reply

    September 9th, 2010 at 5:31 pm  

    Wow. Just wow. MY mind is blown. I’m humbled. I’m crying.THANK you for sharing, Barry.

  6. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    September 9th, 2010 at 9:07 pm  

    This quote by Greg Moretenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, totally reminded me of the work of World Next Door, and this article, especially: “…the people who live in the last places – the people who are most neglected and least valued by the larger world – often represent the best of who we are and the finest standard of what we are meant to become. This is the power that last places hold over me, and why I have found it impossible to resist their pull.”
    — Greg Mortenson (Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan)

    Oh yeah.

    Mind blown.

  7. Jo Nading said... 

    Reply

    September 10th, 2010 at 9:03 am  

    Barry – you are exactly correct on hospitality of the heart. seems we (the collective ‘we’ of the “most of these”) consider this kind of hospitality a task, a work that deserves a pat on the back – recognition – whatever. i often wonder if I would be as hospitable if I had less. Gosh I would hope so – but it really must be a hospitality of the heart. I admit that I would not likely want my own children to have less just to give my guest more…but I sure hope I’d go without in order for everyone else to have plenty.

    as always, thanks so much for sharing. truly a blessing (albeit a frequent slap in the face and kick in the gut and pinch on my heart).

    Jo

  8. Vic said... 

    Reply

    September 12th, 2010 at 3:05 pm  

    True and right on. I often felt the same feeling in Haiti. They see God so clearly because it is not mucked up with all of the “comforts” we have. At a celebration dinner the last night at the hospital we, the blans (can you imagine they called ME a blan!), thought we were doing something by taking them to a much loved local cafe and buying them dinner. Well, wouldn’t you know that they came with MANY (about 5 each for me and my co-worker) gifts for US! What?!?
    A good reminder that yes, it all belongs to Him.

  9. Kristen said... 

    Reply

    October 16th, 2012 at 10:42 am  

    I forgot all about this blog. Thanks for reposting it! My mind is still blown over these generous acts of kindness.

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