Rob van Beek is the Director of Marketing for Many Hands. Above he is pictured with Ewand, a Mobility Cart technician, in Haiti.
Working in the nonprofit sector or in the missions field, there is an ever-present danger of becoming numb to the reality of the work you do. Sometimes your job requires you to set aside emotions to stay focused on the job at hand. However, when you forget to look into the eyes of those you serve, you run the risk of becoming apathetic to the very people you are trying to support. This apathy is dangerous for a number of reasons. It says to others that they don’t matter. They have no value. This widens the divide between us all. Then, eventually, we forget we need transformation too.
Many years ago while in Haiti capturing interviews and footage, I had a chance to see our PET Technicians in action. Riding on motorbikes with Erilner and Ewand, we traveled along the dusty roads through flooded rivers and busy markets, reaching people in need of PET carts. PET, or Mobility carts, are an alternative to wheelchairs that allow recipients to gain independence. Erilner and Ewand spend their days distributing these carts, taking assessments, and making repairs. This unique experience for me was just another day for these hard-working men.
…we forget we need transformation too.
What I saw that day was a beautiful gift. As Ewand and Elriner served, it was clear to see that behind the eyes of these social outcasts was a need for connection. A desire to be seen and known. That day I watched two men and a team of local Haitian leaders looking into the eyes of those forgotten by society. They weren’t only distributing carts. By their actions, they were showing these people the intrinsic value they have.
Over the years, we have seen incredible changes in people through this ministry. I think of Joslin, who we recently covered in a short story in 2021. This hard-working young man, who could not look anyone in the eye, now greets everyone at the gate of the Many Hands campus in Sylvain as a gate guard. The power of being known brought him dignity and equality, completely changing the perception of his own worth. When we know we have value, we aren’t ashamed to look into each other’s eyes.
Ewand (second from left) and Elriner (third from right) with PET Cart recipients at a distribution
So, when Tim Brand recently shared the PET pastor’s 2021 year-end update with our staff, I was thankful.
In their report, Jean Rubert, Elriner, and Ewand did not list any totals or statistics. They didn’t use the data they’ve collected to show their effectiveness and the growth they’ve seen. They simply shared their hearts and the stories of those whose lives have been transformed. Through this report, they gave me a chance to come face-to-face with people they serve and, with it, a powerful reminder to never forsake the ‘despised’.
The people that our pastors and PET Technicians serve are those that society might consider the lowest of the low. Because of their circumstances, they can be seen as ‘despised’ by the greater community. Cultural outcasts facing tough situations. Elriner and Ewands shared the following comments from these people in their report:
“They say if Many Hands hadn’t come with help for them that they wouldn’t be here anymore. That they would have died already.”
Let that sink in.
These are people facing life and death. These are people that God sees, beckoning us to see them and serve. Why? When we serve the despised, God blesses and uses this in mighty ways. Lives are transformed. This became clear to me when I read the report.
The day before I read the report, Pastor Brad Bierema at Calvary Reformed in Pella, preached on Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. He gave a solid reminder that we are called to serve outside our comfort zone. This sermon was sitting on my heart when I read the report and it helped me make a connection.
In the first verse of John 4, we read that the Pharisees were worried Jesus was gaining followers, especially more than John the Baptist. What I noticed here was Jesus’ action.
When Jesus hears what the Pharisees are saying, rather than engaging with it, he moves on. He doesn’t go and find the largest crowd to get the ‘Team Jesus” baptism numbers up. He isn’t worried about pleasing the Pharisees. Jesus hits the dusty roads. Specifically, he travels through Samaria, the exact place any Pharisee would scoff at. And the first conversation Jesus has? He spends time with a ‘despised’ woman, scorned culturally and in her own community.
Coming face-to-face with her in the heat of the sun, he shows compassion through his actions. He, a Jew, meets her, an ‘unclean’ Samaritan with no cultural claim to the Davidic messiah, where she is at. It is no small thing that she is the first person to whom Jesus publically reveals that he is Messiah. Through this ‘unstrategic’ and socially awkward action, Jesus ends up showing her that she has value.
Through this encounter, the heart of this woman is transformed. Then, through her, many more in that town. No baptisms. No competitive goals or targets to meet. He looks into her eyes and extends mercy and grace. After this interaction, just like our PET cart recipients, this Samaritan woman could now say “If you didn’t come…I would be dead already.”
An entire community was transformed because of one counter-cultural interaction with a social outcast at a well. That is the power of meeting someone face-to-face.
We hear an echo of this from Ewand and Erilner:
“We make them feel they have importance in the society. In spite of other people seeing them as something bad, we know they (are) people just like all other people….We share God’s word with them, pray with them, help them understand that they have the same worth as all other people in God’s eyes…”
Our staff goes the extra mile because they know that when you serve face-to-face, your actions speak.
The most beautiful thing about this kind of transformation is that it cuts both ways. Ewand and Erilner express this beautifully:
“We as the repair technicians feel joyful because we work with these people. It helps us understand people better and, as well, we must not feel we are better than them.”
Our staff believes in ‘transforming together to be love in action.’ God works powerfully through vulnerable servants who remember that they need transformation as much as those they are serving. It is something God calls us to do wherever we are and with whoever we are serving.
Over the many years of our work in Haiti, we have seen the blurring of lines between our actions and interaction across the organization. Our doing and our relationship building are working hand-in-hand to enable life transformation to occur. We could just distribute PET carts, add them to our distribution tally, and claim the success. But we know this is not enough. The last thing the people of Haiti need is a ‘resounding gong’.
Our staff goes the extra mile because they know that when you serve face-to-face, your actions speak. They say: “You have value. You are loved.” This is what it means to live a life that is transformational. We are intentional with our actions at Many Hands and I am thankful for it.