Message from Pastor Swanson (February 2020)
I met a man from Haiti today. Haiti is a Caribbean island country, a sub-tropical place where snow never falls and the sun shines almost every day…almost, because Haiti is in the path of hurricanes and tropical storms and has been hit by more than its share of earthquakes, too. Most people don’t know much about Haiti, except that it is a struggling place, which has been its condition for a long time. Most people don’t know that Haiti is the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, having gained its independence from France in 1804. But in all of those years of freedom, Haiti has been plagued not only by acts of nature, but by political incompetence and a lot of corruption, which seem to go hand-in-hand, as we know so well. The result is a lot of suffering on the part of the Haitian people. Through all of these years they have sought to dig themselves out of poverty and into whatever century they were living. Unfortunately, it is now the year 2020 and many Haitian people are still living as though it were 1804.
The gentleman that talked with me said that 80% of Haitians do not have access to clean water for drinking, cooking, bathing and other daily functions. Many people have to walk miles for water at open springs where there is a high chance that the water is already contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. Sickness and fatalities from water-borne disease is high by any standards. So my new friend asked if I might talk to my congregations about helping. When you’re thirsty, you’ll go to whatever lengths necessary to get a drink, even if it means coming all the way to Schuylkill County.
Jesus saw this same sort of thing. He looked around and watched people running up to him, begging for a small sign of hope, pleading for healing, hoping that at least the pain would subside a little. At first, Jesus kept his ministry close to home, and then branched out to help people of every persuasion. Once, he even met a foreign woman at a well and offered to give her “the water that gushes up to eternal life.” You can guess what happened next. Soon the naysayers were complaining that Jesus should “keep it local” because “we have enough problems here without having to worry about those other places.” Jesus saw all of this coming; he really did, because it’s a condition as old as humanity. Just read your Bible. When Cain killed his brother Abel, Cain ran away, thinking he had no obligation for the welfare of his brother. When the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother”, Cain responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I hope you know the response to the Lord’s question. Selfishness believes we only need to worry about people who look, act, talk, think, and live like us. Being created in the image of God means we care about God’s people who are as strange and different from us as we are to them. St. Paul once had to deal with a congregation (Corinthians) that refused to help the church in Jerusalem, where people were starving and persecuted. So he told that wayward group of Christians that he knew of yet another congregation (Macedonians) who gave support to the Jerusalem church even as they (the Macedonians) were in dire straits themselves! Paul’s message was simple: God’s love is not to be confined to the neighborhood of our choosing.
The clear word of scripture is that being Christian is never a matter of prioritizing our needs over and above the people God wants us to serve. We don’t save our skin by sacrificing others. We don’t live like Cain, oblivious to our responsibility to serve and suffer for the sake of others. When Jesus was here, walking the earth, he did all he could, touching lives everywhere, then said it would be left to his followers, you and me, to pick up where he left off. Could it be that God has sent a messenger to Hegins, pleading for help? I can’t be sure, but I was moved by his story.
I never met the man from Haiti before and I can barely pronounce his name, but something leads me to believe I know him from a previous encounter. He seems so much like a man, a stranger, who once went to a distant village, looking for water, only to change the lives and quench the thirst of all those he met. Perhaps you know him, too.