Hunger and love

I could hardly sit still throughout the day yesterday. Feeding program started at 3:00, and we were supposed to get there at 2:00 to help set up. Julie and I had a less-than-productive morning trying to talk our printer into cooperating with us so we could print out photos of the kids. But every time I got frustrated, I thought, "It's okay. The feeding program is coming."

The feeding program is an unforgettable charity event where about 100 local kids come to the boys' home at Maison de Lumiere every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a bowl of rice and beans, a lesson about God's love, and prayer. Once you go to the feeding program, you will never forget it. The kids are in a lot better shape than they were before the program began a few years ago, but many of them are still suffering from malnutrition and illness. When we welcome those 100-or-so children through the gate, within minutes they are screaming, laughing, and playing games. However, we have to recall that some of them would not be alive if it were not for that bowl of rice and beans three days a week. There is often not much food on other days of the week for those precious children, and many of them are literally in various stages of starvation.

I love seeing those kids laugh, because life on the street is extremely tough and merciless. These kids have homes, but for many of them it is a tent or a hovel, and life is riddled with the frustrations and heartaches of dog-eat-dog survival. Yesterday one of my little friends had her flip-flops stolen. I am not sure whether she owns another pair of shoes, so losing these flip-flops is no small deal for her. I wanted so badly to give her a pair on the spot, but I couldn't. We have to make sure donations go through proper channels or we create problems for the missionaries who live here and future guests.

For me, the feeding program has come to mean a lot more than feeding the hungry. I have been present with those kids every time I have been here, showing an interest in them and trying my best to communicate with them in my broken Creole. Many of them know my name. It's not because I'm more special than anyone else. It's because, like Jesus said, you reap what you sow, and I have sown love, attention, and laughter with the neighborhood kids. It's impossible to love all 100-plus of these children, so I have concentrated on just a few of them -- the Senterra kids from a few blocks away (see my post on getting the Senterras a tent) and Roseline and Widlina from the Ravine (here's a post about Roseline's tarp party). I hadn't seen these kids for 14 long months, and yesterday was my chance for a reunion. I couldn't wait! I couldn't sit still. I wanted to see those kids.

After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the boys' house to set up for the feeding program. As I was walking into the gate, three boys about 12 years old walked by. One of them stopped me and said, "Koumon ou rele?" ("What is your name?") I replied, "Pastor David." Then I looked at him and recognized him -- it was Johnny Senterra. I exclaimed "Johnny?" He smiled and jumped toward me with his arms open. This is a 12-year-old boy who has a soft heart but has to be tough because he has no other option. For those few moments, he didn't have to worry about toughness. He could simply be a child. Those are moments I live for down here. Love is simple and completely liberating, and we have the immense privilege of being a part of it.

Johnny told me his brother and sisters would be there, and now I really couldn't be still. I went inside to help set up for the feeding program, but I kept checking the gate. Not there yet. Check again. Not there yet. Check again. Not there yet. Now our feeding program staff were bringing the kids through the gate. I looked at their faces. Finally! I saw Lizyanna come through the gate. I tapped her on the shoulder. She stopped and looked at me. Then recognition. Then she smiled broadly, said softly, "Pastor David," and hugged me. After we said hi, Lizyanna went and got Gigi, her sister, and I enjoyed another tender reunion. The fourth Senterra, little boy Lickson, also ran up to me. As I spent the better part of the afternoon with the neighborhood kids, several times Lickson appeared, wanting to be picked up. I love those kids!

Lizyanna Senterra

What is more, I have learned that these Haitian kids remember us Americans who invest in them. This astonishes me. I have no idea what they think, but I know they remember, and they give as much love as they receive. Haitians in general are very receptive to giving and receiving love.

Lickson Senterra

The most remarkable reunion of the day was with 13-year-old Widlina from the Ravine. I was walking in the street, and some kids were inside the boys home walls looking through one of the gates. One of the older kids suddenly yelled "David!" I looked, lowered my sunglasses, and recognized the face. "Widlina!" I walked over to the entrance to the open gate a few feet away, and through the pack of kids she came, leaping off the top stair a couple of feet off the ground. I caught her -- because she was flying towards me -- in a very happy hug.

Widlina could tell me the month and the year when we had been here before. She asked about Susan, who met her in February 2010. I was stunned. They remember. This isn't just a missionary trip to make a bunch of Americans feel better about themselves. It is a relationship. That's what we are doing here.

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