Spending myself for the Senterra family
A couple of posts ago, I wrote about a shift that takes place when you are here for a while. I have realized in the last few days that our orphanage is an island of plenty in an ocean of poverty. Being here for a while has given me the ability to interact with a couple of local families. Their condition is deplorable, and Sunday for a few minutes I found myself buckling under the compassion I felt for them and my inability to do anything substantial about it.
I have already written about the Senterra family. Four kids, Johnny (12), Isyanna (9), Geneveau (8), and Lickson (5), live with their mother Ticia in a small house a couple of blocks from here. I met the girls at the weekend of fasting and praying we hosted at the Ben's. I described the incredible experience of standing for prayer at the end of the service on Sunday and having seven or eight kids pressed against me to receive prayer. The two kids attached at either hip were Isyanna and Geneveau. On the next Monday, I was delighted to find out that they are feeding program kids. That would mean that I would get to see them more. That was when I met the girls' brothers, Johnny and Lickson. All four kids are very sweet, and I have grown attached to them. What made things particularly painful is that I met the kids at the relatively "sterile" environment of the boys' home and have started to invest myself in that relationship. In the orphanage homes, conditions are good, and people are well taken care of. At the feeding program, you can play with kids, grin as they sing Christian songs, and serve them a substantial meal. But you have little idea of how they live the rest of the week.
With these kids, I have gotten to know them and have become very fond of them. We interact at the feeding program three times a week, and they like to follow me around afterward. Last week Geneveau went with me everywhere for a good hour and a half following the feeding program. We played and then went to pray with Sofiana, a neighbor girl, who was experiencing discomfort following an episode of spiritual oppression that had happened during the fast. Then a group of us, the four Senterra kids, Sofiana and her two sisters and I, walked down the street together. We ended up at another house, where we ran into Brooke and others, and I was introduced to a woman Brooke wanted me to meet. Then, coming back up the street, we ran into Sofiana's father, and I met him. I was becoming part of the neighborhood!
Becoming part of the neighborhood is a fundamental shift in one's experience here. It also represents a particular philosophy of ministry. We are here first for the MDL community -- the kids, staff, and Manasseros. However, our ministry focus goes not only inward but also outward. That means investing in the lives of the people who live in our neighborhood. And when you invest in the lives of people in the neighborhood, you encounter life as it really is for most people.
I have now been to the Senterras' house twice. They live outside. Why? Partly because of the earthquake. They are afraid to go inside the house. But yesterday I found that the house where they are living is not theirs. Like many Haitian families, they are squatting on a property that belongs to someone else. The wrought iron front door of the tiny, dingy, broken house where they live has been chained and padlocked by the owner in the last few days. There are two implications of this.
First, the Senterras live completely outside now. The family sleeps on one queen size bed that sits under a banana tree. The mattress is covered with a fitted sheet, and the bed sits open to the elements all day. When it rains, the family drags their bed under the concrete breezeway of the house. They cook near a block wall. It appears that the bed and the cooking pots are all Ticia owns. She has no store of foods on hand. No cupboard. No bags of rice and beans waiting to be used. She feeds the kids whatever she has on hand that day.
The small grounds of the house are strewn with trash and debris of various kinds -- pieces of metal and glass, broken branches, bits of food containers, and so on. There is also a cistern pit right next to the house that is about 20' by 20' and a good 12' deep. So far no one has fallen in.
Second, the Senterras could be kicked out by the house owner at any time. What then? They would find another place to squat. Ticia works, cleaning a house a couple of blocks away. I wonder what would happen to the kids if she fell ill or died. They cannot go to their father's house. I assume they would then end up with an aunt or on the streets.
Knowing this precious family a little better has been one of the deep joys of being here for a bit longer. It has also meant for me a more deeply broken heart. These kids are sweet, sensitive, funny, and smart. They are beautiful. The girls have 6-inch long hair extensions in their hair, making them some of the most attractive girls you will see anywhere. But yesterday I pulled back Geneveau's extensions and found that the hair on the front of her scalp is somewhat thin and orange in color. These are telltale signs of malnutrition. The kids have also been sick a lot since I have been here. Two of them were running a fever yesterday. Little Isyanna came to church Sunday with a fever and still had one at the feeding program on Monday.
I thank God that we are helping this family by feeding the kids a big meal on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I thank God that they are hearing the gospel. And when it is time to pray, the kids are serious about it. That tells me they are not the bitter poor. They are the precious poor. These are the people God's heart breaks for. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
In Isaiah 58:10 wants his people to "spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry." Spending ourselves means getting personally involved. It means becoming the presence of God in the lives of the poor and hungry. It hurts, because compassion is a reaction to suffering that comes from one's gut. Spending ourselves on behalf of the hungry is a high and noble ministry, and I can tell you that there is no deeper joy I have felt in the last month than blessing this family with food, medicine, prayer, and personal attention.