by Mark Bell
As most air travel begins, you’re asked to either place your electronic devices into airplane mode or turn them off before takeoff. I believe this request is more than just some techno sales pitch for safety (controlling those potentially dangerous stray electrons by incarcerating them in cyber confinement), but a reality check reminding us that we’re now leaving “Good Old Mother Earth” in what is believed to be a technologically sound Boeing 737 airplane.
Of course this departure cannot happen without us first taking on some meaningful risks (like leaving earth) that, at times, can elevate our vulnerabilities and challenge our commitment and submission to the authorities that be. Just watch the movie Sully starring Tom Hanks. Let’s face it, when you’re in the air still climbing in elevation opposing the law of gravity and superseding it through the laws of lift, it takes just a few birds to create a physical disaster by taking out both engines. Your thoughts are easily high jacked by fear, anxiety and the possibility of mayhem.
Sully tells the story of how Captain Cheslen Sullenberger was able to successfully lead a plane full of passengers through crisis and safely ground their fears with a sense of hope. He simply trusted his instincts forged over time by truth, teamwork and professional competencies.
Commercial flying is still viewed as one of the safest, fastest and most economical forms of mass transportation to cover vast distances in a relatively short period of time, affording us the capacity to perform meaningful work and play and experience relational connections at our choice destinations.
Still, some people hold to the old adage that says, “If God wanted man to fly He would have created him with wings”. Yet, He created men like Leonardo Da Vinci, Richard Pearse, Alberto Santos-Dumont, and the Wright Brothers, and put wings into the thoughts and imaginations of their hearts that soon took shape by their hands. Through air travel we discover an example of how inspiration can go a long way when we free up the flow from the hearts (what matters most) to the hands (where it matters most).
For me, air travel is a metaphor for how people are willing to ground themselves in the reality of “what is” and yet be moved into a vision of “what is to come” because they’ve a grounded reality in Hope. The basic purpose of air travel, to my business mind, is to create social and economic value by helping people move from here to there, where they can institute a positive or desired change. Or, as State Farm Insurance suggests in their ads, “to get to a better state.”
Now that I’ve shared my understanding of this metaphor, I’d like to tell you the story of how my most recent flight was a time of great introspection for me, and share my thoughts with you as they relate to Loving Haiti.
It is amazing how one flight can help bring about a new sense of perspective – physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. During my last plane trip, looking out the window and gaining altitude, I found myself also gaining perspective. Heading toward international waters, I found myself reflecting on this mass sea of humanity and how each individual on the plane had a unique story to tell – myself included. Two thoughts came to mind: 1) This “good old earth” is not always good to itself and others and, 2) “Humankind” is not always kind to itself, others and the earth.
Now, having tensioned this storyline with good and kind expectations, where do you think I’m headed? That’s right, the country of Haiti. Haiti – a country of good that’s mostly not doing so good, consisting of 10 million humankind with a political history of mostly not being so kind.
Could the source of its “mostly not good” and “mostly not kind” have taken root in the fact that life in Haiti has been chronically characterized by death, disease, disorder, disaster, dishonesty, discouragement, despair and darkness, like so many other impoverished or war-torn countries? YET – most importantly – there are good seeds to cast that can grow into good history for its humankind.
As I write this, I’m listening to the song ‘Give Me Your Eyes’ (Brandon Heath and Jason Ingram) playing softly on my Pandora station. It speaks to the story I am writing you:
Looked down from a broken sky
Traced out by the city lights
My world from a mile high
Best seat in the house tonight
Touched down on the cold black top
Hold on for the sudden stop
Breathe in the familiar shock
Of confusion and chaos
All those people goin’ somewhere
Why have I never cared?
Give me Your eyes for just one second
Give me Your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me Your love for humanity
Give me Your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me Your eyes so I can see …
Loving Haiti Inc. is not organized or classified as a religious organization, however we do believe in a God who is Love and goes public with His charity. We ask this God to give us His eyes so we can see … and His love for humanity … and His arms for the broken-hearted … and His heart for the ones forgotten … specifically, in Haiti.
As an organization, Loving Haiti sees the country of Haiti, its people, and our partnership as a great opportunity from which to learn and prosper, appreciate and celebrate their cultural perspectives, and recognize and display their unique contributions to this world as a gift from God.
Perspective. Working in Haiti has definitely been an eye-opening experience for me. Because of time spent there, the eyes of my heart have come to see a bigger picture of how God loves the world – all nations, people, tongues and tribes. When I embrace the fullness of this truth, I realize how He loves me no more and no less than anyone else and my eyes open a little more. When I am able to understand how none of us got to choose our parents, skin color, nation of birth, inherited socioeconomic status or class system, my eyes open further. My eyes are now completely open to recognizing that others’ reality could just as possibly have been my own, and I must choose to give love anywhere, anytime to anyone.
Loving Haiti recognizes that the reality in which our Haitian brothers and sisters live could just as easily have been our own, and we are motivated to share life with them. We, therefore, embrace the opportunity to love by pursuing tangible ways to give of our time, our talents and our treasures. In our Mission Statement we call these gifts charitable acts of relief, rehabilitation and development.
On my flight to Cap Haitien, Haiti’s sixth largest city (population ~ 250,000), I was seated next to two Haitian women. Both currently live in Florida, one as a legal resident and the other as a naturalized citizen. The woman to my left spoke very little English and motioned to me to help fill out her immigration and customs papers. The woman to my right spoke English and Kreyol, and I frequently turned to her with my questions while filling out the forms.
The woman to my left was older, in her early 60’s (I have to be especially careful how I classify age as I’m now turning sixty); the woman to my right was younger, perhaps in her late 20’s or early 30’s. Both were flying back to Haiti for personal reasons – one visiting family members and friends as vacation and the other visiting family members and friends as her mother had just died.
This younger woman hadn’t been back to Haiti in over 14 years, although she said her mother would occasionally come to Florida for visits. The older woman has permanently lived in Florida for the last 24 years where she would on occasions fly back to Haiti.
What the three of us shared in common was that we were all going to share life with people in Haiti, giving gifts of time, talents and treasures in different capacities from three different perspectives. I thought about the fact that the older woman was focusing on her life with her family and friends before death. The younger was focusing on her life after her mom’s death with her family and friends.
Perspective. I knew why they were traveling to Haiti, and I could see the story we shared in common – issues of life and death. For me, however, my primary focus around the issues of life and death reside in the community of Pignon, a township of approximately 39,000, where my missional focus is to create and sustain conditions that are teeming with life and fruitfulness and to help alleviate conditions that can lead to premature death and poverty. This mission is not mine alone; it is achieved in part through the generous gifts of the friends and family of Loving Haiti. But there are still more questions to be answered. Why Haiti? Why Loving Haiti? Why us? Why now? I’ll answer these questions in Part 3. I hope you keep reading!