Pastor Dave Burling of Memorial Lutheran Church of Neveda, IA, reflects upon his trip with MH4H to Gonaives, Haiti. This was written upon his return.
I was walking the hallway of the church, head down, spirit wrapped up in thought. My pastoral duties demanded my presiding at a funeral for a friend. Twenty-four hours earlier I had been walking amidst some of the poorest sections of the city of Gonaives, Haiti wondering how I could even begin to make a difference in the lives of these folk. I raised my head enough to avoid a collision with a good friend, who, with genuine sincerity said to me, “welcome back to reality.” That greeting has haunted me since.
What was reality, at that point? I don’t know specific percentages, but my intuition would say that maybe 10% of the world would define “reality” like that of our little Midwestern town with its share of struggles and challenges. That leaves a much larger percentage of the world defining “reality” in terms of its abject poverty and powerlessness in the face of economic hopelessness.
How does the church respond to both definitions of reality? I don’t pretend to have that answer, but I don’t want to let my deficiencies (or my fear) allow me to walk away from asking the question –how do we respond to the cry of Christ in both places? In its mission, and in its passion for justice, this is the importance of understanding and being involved in cross-cultural ministries. The neighbor, the focus of our love, lies both at our doorstep and at our border. I suspect there is a danger of forgetting (or ignoring) one need over another. As a pastor, as a member of a congregation, as part of the body of Christ, I need to “keep awake” to the reality of the whole body as it suffers. The church is always susceptible to becoming parochial in its vision, but the four walls of our sanctuary need to be busted open and challenged if we are to grow rather than simply maintain.
Hundreds of books have conveyed similar words of encouragement. Over the last 25 years of ordained ministry I have read my portion of them. And yet, to go and walk the streets of Haiti has meant that the words I have read over these many years have now made that all important journey from my head to my heart. My reality has changed. I cannot keep silent…nor can the church. I want to take the entire congregation that I serve to Haiti. I want them to experience another “reality”; not that one “reality” is more important than the other – I just want them to see the face of Christ in both.
I buried my friend that day. I told the gathered that Christ promised that he would not abandon his children in life or in death. I believe this to be reality. We have nothing to fear. Thanks be to God.