by Sarah Reeves
There’s a village in Ganthier, Haiti on a remote beach of Lake Azeui called Kanes [kah-ness]. A pastor I know was first introduced to them when he had been working at the language school building site in Fonds-Parisien and noticed a woman walking down the road with a carton of water on her head.
He saw her pass the school building and turn down a dusty path across the road toward the lake. It’s a mostly salt lake with hardly a patch of vegetation trimming this part of the shore. Confused and concerned, my pastor friend walked down the path and about a mile and a half later, past a few charred pieces of building equipment. There, he found a few clusters of huts constructed with mud, sticks, and dry grass.
As earthquake orphans and refugees began settling into makeshift communities outside of Port-au-Prince, some were lucky enough to end up in the care of well-intentioned (or even well-resourced) orphanages or NGOs. But those living in Kanes settled near the lake hoping to glean enough from a hardly sustainable crop of scrawny fish and chickens.
During my first visit to Kanes I hardly left the truck. Naked, bloated children were running through the dust calling for “dlo”—water. I was sitting on a ten-gallon jug of filtered water that we kept for the groups of volunteers that visited weekly. Okay, I thought, here’s the moment. Kwa Kok, the town I had been in before, wasn’t bad—at least they all had clothes on, and were generally self-sustainable. But the people of Kanes would go days without eating. I didn’t know a lot yet, but I definitely didn’t feel like I belonged there. I put the meal boxes together in the truck until I had to get outside to help serve. In the moment my sandal touched the ground, a little girl was asking to be held. All of the team members were holding children. This was the scene I had always seen pop up in profile pictures after mission trips. It was something I thought I should have been able to handle, but there, in the reality of it all, it was so difficult to take in.
Boldness and Jesus
In Haiti, I needed boldness. My experience reminds me of Peter and John, who when brought before the council in Jerusalem, stunned the Pharisees and Sadducees because they spoke with boldness after being with Jesus. I was praying for such boldness in Haiti. Jesus, working in us, can handle all things: “seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, [the Pharisees and Sadducees] had nothing to say in opposition” (Acts 4:14).
What we see in John and Peter is two men telling their story—that’s simply all they had to do. But we also see something else moving and working while they talk—they tie their words in with physical evidence of miraculous healing. Their work does not glorify themselves but the God they believe in. Perhaps, then, we should pray as the believers in Acts do:
“And now, Lord, grant your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal” (Acts 4:30).
Viewing Life Experiences from God’s Perspective
It’s natural to view our life experiences as building blocks: scrapes and bruises, callouses, tanned cheeks, and nuggets of information all decorate the mind and body. You travel, work, talk, embrace, climb, and eat to build your life—your experiences shape you. But if we profess a belief in the God of the Bible, it seems that we live for something other than “the self.”
By my second visit to Haiti, my relationships with the Haitian interns had strengthened, and I had begun to feel more comfortable with my surroundings. I went on runs with Eben in the morning, to the market with Wesley in the afternoons. When we got to Kanes, I jumped out of the truck right away and started singing with Dieph and the kids: “I SAID A BOOM CHICKA BOOM!” I met three-year-old Davidson who liked to be tickled. I sat on the tailgate of our truck with a couple of kids speaking French. When I asked a woman what she thought the village needed she simply said, “Singing.” Sure, food was necessary, but these kids didn’t hide cookies and juice in order to coerce a volunteer of an extra serving like in other villages we had visited. It was as though their “survival mode” was entirely community-driven.
I Didn’t Cry Much Then, But When I Did…
I didn’t cry much during my time in Haiti. It wasn’t until I returned to the states that I realized how broken my emotional and spiritual infrastructure had become. But one of the few times I did cry was during my third visit to Kanes, watching families trample over each other for access to the clothing and household donations we had brought for them. I can still hear a mother shouting for a pair of flip-flops that was likely purchased at Wal-Mart for three dollars. I walked away.
I walked through the village and down to the water, and I think God told me that these men and women, boys and girls, were my family. I think God told me this because it isn’t an easy or a natural conclusion to draw on your own. He told me that they were my cousins and that I wouldn’t see them again for a while and I should cherish my time with them, as I did an afternoon in my grandmother’s garden back home. I walked back, sat on a bag of rice, and Davidson appeared in my arms. I tickled him and he giggled in such a cleansing way that the grip of my own “survival mode” loosened and I felt free to love this child and look upon him with greater eyes, perhaps the eyes of God, our father.
This is the story of my experience and how it has helped to shape who I am. As I write this—and writing about it is an experience in and of itself—I am trusting that God is reaching out his hand to move, and to heal—you and me.
Sarah Reeves writes for Jesus’ Economy, a non-profit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus' Economy provides an online fair trade shop and is working to Renew Bihar, India.
John sits in prison knowing he has only a few days left to live, and for the first time in his life, he has second thoughts.
Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?
Even if Jesus isn’t the Messiah, John isn’t giving up. He’ll wait. Confident his whole life, never wavering and faithfully trusting—one more disappointment won’t derail his lifetime of ministry so easily. He believes the Messiah is coming, and until now, he’s believed it could be Jesus.
The reason for his doubt is that nothing has changed. No governments have been overthrown, Jesus hasn't been crowned Victorious King, and wickedness seems to be winning.
The voice crying in the wilderness finally falters.
Quick waves of doubt begin crossing his mind—maybe it wasn't him, maybe it isn't Jesus. So, John sends his friends to find out what he is desperate to know.
Are you the one?
As the world bends beneath increasing chaos...
In these difficult times, our questions might begin to sound like John's. Violence is everywhere. Disease threatens thousands. Despite our best efforts, poverty rules neighborhoods and lives. What can be done? Is there any hope?
In our grief for the world we remain faithful, but grow discouraged. Faced with the responsibility to care for the sick, the persecuted, and the impoverished, maybe we become disillusioned—sick with helplessness; we feel persecuted by the lacking nature of our efforts and perhaps by those who are simply apathetic.
We become impoverished ourselves.
We become poor in spirit. We are impoverished of hope—clutching the bars of our prison cells with white knuckles, our once confident voices now desperately crying.
Jesus, are you the one, or are we to wait for another?
John's messengers came back with a news report of their own.
"The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised."
True to form, Jesus doesn't answer directly. He lets the kingdom of God speak for itself; the very kingdom John had proclaimed was at hand (Matthew 11:3–6). “There are miracles everywhere, John,” Jesus seems to say.
Where is the Messiah?
I recently traveled to Central America to interview families affected by the poverty and gang violence destroying communities and driving hundreds of children from their homes—fleeing to other countries to save their lives from corruption. There are almost no jobs, no way to get ahead, and even fewer ways to stay alive.
I sat with bereaved parents whose tears moved me to an angry, overwhelming sadness. My heart cramped in pain as I spoke with mothers who sent their children away for safety, possibly never to see them again. I met eyes whose sparkle had faded in some combination of hopelessness and wearied resignation, and felt my own eyelids grow heavy, my shoulders slump, wondering how this world could ever be made right.
John's anxious question made more sense than ever.
Jesus, are you?
Are you the one who is to come, to put the world right, or are we to wait for another?
Jesus knew the impoverished weren't just following him throughout Galilee. He sends John—the poor in spirit, the man with failing hope—good news, and asks him not to give up for lack of understanding.
"And the poor have good news brought to them.
Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
Jesus sends us the same message.
As illogical as it seems, there is good news for the impoverished—including the poor in spirit, the hopeless—even when the world imprisons us in confusion.
Call me bitter, but Jesus' message can sometimes seem a little unrealistic in the wake of my experiences in Latin America. John was discouraged in prison, but how many more questions would he have if he were here now? He would be inundated, certainly, by the amount of suffering. Today, there are thousands of lame not walking, deaf not hearing, and dead not raised. Everything seems different. Where is this Messiah and his reigning kingdom? What if it wasn't Jesus?
Yet despite the world's many differences, we're more or less in the same place as John the Baptist was when he asked the same questions. We're waiting for God to make good on a promise while the world seems to worsen by the minute. And what consolation does Jesus offer us; the poor in spirit, the impoverished of hope?
He gives us a promise that those who aren't misled by offense—by continued suffering, by increased violence, by unending poverty—will be blessed. Trust me, no matter what the world looks like, he says.
He also offers good news for the impoverished (Luke 3:17–22).
He answers John's questions, and our own.
Yes, he is the one.
Jesus' kingdom is near. Where wrong is made right, and the poor are made rich, the dead are brought to life, the sick are cured, and the lame walk. In his kingdom no child flees his home for fear of persecution and no one goes hungry or thirsty, homes are safe and love is victorious.
But also, yes, we are to wait, but not for another person—for another moment. There will be another time when he will come to bring this good news to its fullness to last forever. Yes, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick, because, yes, he is the one. Yes, we are to keep holding on to this desperate hope—a hope that feels absurd when faced with impossible suffering, because yes, he is the one.
He invites us to trust that we don't see the full story, that there are better things coming, because, just like John the Baptist spent his life proclaiming, the kingdom of God is at hand—both now, and not yet.
Though John died in that prison, though families and children I met in Central America might suffer until they die, and though I might lie awake at night—wondering in doubt at whether there really is hope—the reality is yes.
Yes, He is the One, and there is good news for the impoverished.
Note: We don’t actually know if John’s inquiries showed doubt on his part, or if his understanding of the Messiah aligned with messianic expectations of his day (such as the Messiah reigning as immediate king in Jerusalem). Meredith's interpretation reads into John’s questions a probable emotion and probable cultural explanation.
Meredith Hastings guest writes for Jesus’ Economy, a non-profit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus' Economy provides an online fair trade shop and is working to Renew Bihar, India. She currently writes for World Vision International's Global Youth Initiative team and on her personal blog.
by Sarah Reeves
We’re at church under a tree, like every Sunday in Kwa Kok, Haiti. Dust thickens the air that sits like molasses. We crawl through it into the village after the truck falters off the main road.
By the time I find a seat in an orange plastic classroom chair, my feet are caked in gray dirt and my cheeks crack when I blink. But then a precious breeze tumbles through from across the plain lying between us and the hills. Garlands of pink and white paper flowers rustle in the low branches above our heads. I hear laughter and turn to see the Haitian girls from the village in brightly colored dresses, some dustier and more worn than others, standing by Pastor Valentin’s wife, Nadege, waiting to begin their lessons. Julie isn’t among them. She’s too young, for now. I try to imagine her as a young woman and choke on dust and dry tears. Julie’s sitting with her mother in her pink and white striped church shirt. I watch her clamber over her mother’s knees and jump into Nathan’s arms.
Eben sits down next to me, and we turn our attention to Pastor Valentin, who has begun to speak from the book of Acts. I scramble to catch up, but luckily I have Eben. He lends me his French Bible.
Pastor begins talking about the apostles Peter and John and how they responded to their persecutors: “… car nous ne pouvons pas ne pas parler de ce que nous avons vu et entendu” “… for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 ESV). Eben, a fellow intern and English teacher with The Foundation for Peace, is telling me that there are two terms in French: temoin oculaire and what sounds like “temoin oriculaire.” He asks me what the name is in English for those who witness to what they have seen and I say, “eyewitness,” and he writes it next to temoin oculaire. Then below that, naturally, he writes, “ear-witness.” I tell him I don’t think we really use that term, or at least I’ve never heard it, and he asks why we say, “eyewitness,” but not “ear-witness,” and I just laugh and say, “fou”—Americans are crazy. That’s always the answer. But later on I figure it’s probably because we don’t value stories heard with the ears as much as we do stories seen with the eyes.
I Saw the Impoverished
In Haiti, I was an eyewitness to oppression, extreme poverty, hunger, greed, and abandonment. But during the beginning of my time in Haiti, I didn’t cry; instead, I entered what Christina—the American English teacher we bunked with at Pastor Valentin’s house—called “survival mode.”
Three weeks into my stay in Haiti, I heard about a 12-year-old boy who had lost his entire family in the earthquake. His mother, his father, and his siblings—gone. His home: rubble. He sat among crumbled stone that had once formed a roof over his head and cried through the darkest and most senseless night of his life, “crying, crying, crying.” As I heard this story, tears burned through the pink flesh of my sunburnt face, hot as blood. My mind raged. “God, you watched this happen. Where were you? What were you doing? How could you?” I cried a long time. I cried until I couldn’t breathe. I had never seen this boy. I didn’t know what his face looked like. But everything hurt, all of a sudden, and I cried all night.
God Offers Hope for Those Suffering
In Haiti, I carried the book of Isaiah close to my heart. Isaiah prophesies:
“For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert, the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.… Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:7b,10 ESV).
Sobbing over that boy I didn’t know came with the realization that there would be no end to suffering here on earth until Jesus returns again. I couldn’t see in that moment a Haiti where streams flowed over dry, exploited soil, or where joy and gladness conquered all of the sorrow and loss. But I knew that God offered a greater hope than the one I could see. I just couldn’t see and hear the movements of God yet.
Sarah Reeves writes for Jesus’ Economy, a non-profit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus' Economy provides an online fair trade shop and is working to Renew Bihar, India.
The Samaritan woman has made the familiar journey to this well countless times before. She's made the journey so many times she could walk there in her sleep.
And here, on this particular morning, her reason for making the journey is the same as it has always been. She's come to this familiar place because of her familiar need: water.
This woman's need is a real need, just as it was for so many. Just as it is for so many.
And it is here, in this familiar spot at the well, that she's struck by something quite unfamiliar. When she arrives, she's taken aback to find sitting there a Man who she does not recognize, but who, quite mysteriously, seems to know her all too well. And it is somewhere in the midst of their conversation that she comes to understand him as “the solution” for her need.
“If you knew the gift of God," He tells her, "and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” He is, she realizes, the one who can help satisfy her thirst in a real, permanent way.
"Sir, give me this water," she says in haste, "so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” But what she doesn’t quite get in their interaction is that there is a qualitative difference between what she thinks this Jewish man offers her and what he actually offers. And, in this way, this woman is a lot like you and I.
“Give me this living water,” she tells Jesus, not knowing the meaning of her words, even as they pour out of her mouth. And Jesus knows this. The look he gives her in response must be one of deepest sympathy. “Oh, child,” He must think. “If only You would let me.”
“Give me,” she says to Jesus, with her thoughts still on her thirst, with her need for water motivating her words. And even before she finishes her sentence, the Samaritan woman has already projected her own interests onto Jesus, with complete disregard for what Jesus is actually interested in offering her.
As for her, so, too, for all of us.
“Give me,” we say to Jesus in our prayers each morning or before bed at night. “If only You would just …” we say while rubbing shampoo into our hair, or while bowing over our cold cereal, eyes closed—all the while ignoring what Jesus actually desires for us.
The woman's need for water is a real need. Jesus understood that. But he knew her needs went beyond water. And we would be fools to think her needs end there.
"The Kingdom of God is what we, all of us, hunger for," Frederick Buechner once wrote (The Clown in the Belfry), "above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for."
"My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee," St. Augustine put the same point, many hundreds of years earlier.
Both men are, of course, speaking of, pointing toward the same thing we find here in this familiar story of the thirsty woman at the well.
“If you knew who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” Jesus says to the woman at the well.
A blind hunger for the Kingdom of God. A restless heart. A woman fetching water that will never fully satisfy.
"Go, call your husband and come here," Jesus says to the woman at this point, which is Jesus' way of telling the woman, “I know you need more than water, and I know you know that you need more than water. And what's more, I know you've been filling that need with that which does not satisfy.”
As for her, so it is for all of us.
I Am He
Before their conversation is through, the Samaritan woman tells this mysterious Jewish teacher she can see he is a prophet. Perhaps to prove her religious knowledge, she goes even further and tells him she knows the Messiah will, one day, come to tell her and everyone else all there is to know.
“I who speak to you am he,” Jesus says. And her life, we can assume, was never the same again.
He Understands Me
Following her experience at the well, the woman rushes back to town to tell everyone she knows, everyone who will listen to her about this mysterious man she has just met.
“He told me all that I ever did,” she says, still struggling to catch her breath. Which is to say, “He knew all about me, even though I didn’t tell him.” Jesus understood this woman, just as he understands all of us. He understood her as a “Samaritan,” and he understood her as an “adulterer.” Even in the “Give me” of our prayers, Jesus understands each one of us, too.
Long before we come with lunging arms to grab what we imagine he has to offer, he understands us. He knows our needs. And it is only in our encounter with the Living Person of Jesus Christ that we, too, find our posture changed from one of “Give me” to one of “He understands me.” He can change our “give me” to “Thank you for understanding me.”
It is only in Jesus understanding us that we begin to understand ourselves. And it is only in our understanding ourselves that we begin to realize what Jesus truly offers us—something far better than our “Give me” posture.
What We Need, Not Always What We Seek
What the Samaritan Women came to realize is that Jesus offers much more—not less—than the water she originally sought from the bottom of the all too familiar well.
What she sought is different even from what she understands by his words, “Living water,” because she is still hearing him speak to her out of her own “Give me” posture.
It is only after she sees Jesus as the one who knows her that she begins to see Jesus as someone who has something to say—not just to her, but to everyone. And it’s not long before she’s off in a flash, running to tell others—running to tell anyone who will listen.
The Savior of the World
“We know this is the Savior of the world,” the townspeople who hear the woman’s story say to one another, which is to say, “We know this is the One who understands each one of us.”
The woman at the well came that day seeking water, but she sought much more than just water. She was starving to death, even as she did her best to satisfy her thirst.
"If only you knew," Jesus says. If only you knew from whom you requested a drink, you would ask, and you would be satisfied. And in your satisfaction, you would tell the world.
Come, Lord Jesus, and change our posture from, “give me” to, “He understands me.”
Ryan Pemberton is a board member of Jesus’ Economy, a non-profit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Jesus' Economy provides an online fair trade shop and is working to Renew Bihar, India. Ryan is a graduate of Oxford, Duke Divinity School, and is the past President of the Oxford University C.S. Lewis Society. A communications consultant, Ryan has authored two books, including the forthcoming memoir, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis's House and Back Again.