A sacred piece of Chiclets gum

A couple of days ago I was reading Mark 12:41-44, where Jesus talks about a poor widow dropping her last pennies into the giving box at the temple, and I flashed back to a very touching moment in Haiti. Lizyanna Senterra is one of my young friends who lives in the neighborhood near the orphanage. Her family is very poor, and she comes to the feeding program. On Friday of our trip, our final feeding program, she showed up with her sister and brothers. I decided to sit with her for a while. I was playing with her and her sister Gigi, when her hand raised up toward me holding a yellow piece of Chiclet gum in its plastic wrapper. She held it up and looked at me. I asked, "Pou mwen?" (For me?) She grinned and nodded. I took the piece of gum, but I couldn't chew it right away. I felt kind of guilty receiving something material from a girl who has nothing. She had shown up to the feeding program wearing a shirt and a pair of boys' pajama pants. Her hair is tinged with orange in front, the telltale sign of malnutrition. And she's giving me a gift?

I held onto the piece of gum like it was a sacred object. About ten minutes later, I asked again, "Pou mwen, pa pou ou?" (For me, not for you?) Lizyanna smiled and shook her head "no." I wondered what purer gift there is in the world than a piece of gum given by a ten-year-old child living in poverty. I decided right then to honor Lizyanna, so I took the gum from its wrapper and popped it into my mouth. I started chewing and smiling, and in that moment I was ten again too. For the rest of the feeding program on Friday, I chomped on that piece of gum and relished what the gum represents: fellowship. Who cares that we can barely speak to each other? Who cares that we are from different cultures? Who cares that I'm an adult and she's a ten-year-old? We have fellowship, and that's what matters most in the kingdom of God. How grateful I am that this is what God cares about most of all!

I told some friends this morning that Haiti helps to reset my inner bearings. It's like a spiritual retreat. Ministry here can become very complicated. Schedules, commitments, plans, and the accessories of being a pastor attach themselves to me like barnacles to a ship. The raw realities of Haiti scrape them off. Ministry there, especially on the streets, is very simple. Be the incarnational presence of Jesus among people -- that matters most. For the last couple of years, I have been working on bringing the lessons of Haiti into everyday life here. It has proven to be an elusive goal, but it will be a good day when I can say, "It's not I who live but Christ who lives in me."

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