Andre grimmaces as he describes his personal agony about Haiti. His pain is evident in his countenance. Twice in our conversation, he has to stop talking and choke back the emotion.
“We have so much here. We are so rich. We have so much.”
Haiti is an unfathomable tragedy. It’s almost surreal, and we are overwhelmed in our thinking by the devastation. The magnitude of destruction and carnage is almost an incomprehensible reality. I can’t imagine what people are experiencing or what they are going through. Everything has been shaken, and people are filled with fear that there may be more to come.
Andre’s words and compassion speak to me. His concern is deepened by his own personal story. He suffers from severe clinical depression, and there have been times when he will go for days without sleeping or eating. Sometimes he is quite beside himself with anxiety and worry. His family has ostricized him, even refusing to take him with them in their car to bury his mother. He has overcome a cocaine habit, but still struggles to take his medication and maintain his own health. He is all alone.
He sits across the table from me, and I marvel at how he is moved with empathy for the Haitians. How someone so impoverished and traumatized in his own personal life, can be so moved with such a deep compassion for others, is an enigma for me. I am dwarfed in comparison to my friend. His selflessness, concern and thoughtfulness for others is miles above and beyond my own.
We walk past people like my friend Andre on the streets all the time and we often look down on them. Why don’t they just get up and get a job? Why can’t they be responsible for their lives? Sometimes we might throw some loose change in a ball cap, but it’s more to alleviate our guilt and make ourselves feel better than to make any lasting change in their lives. We categorize and generalize. We become smug in our complacency, our materialism and self-absorbtion. We miss it, and we miss out.
There are people that do care. At OIM we currently have 91 active volunteers on the roster, and our Urban Intervention Training course (beginning January 30) is filling up fast.
One hundred percent of the time new volunteers come to us to ‘help the poor’ and ‘make transformational changes’ in their lives.
Another one hundred percent of the time: Three weeks after these same volunteers are involved in serving our street friends, they realize that it’s not about their ‘giving’ at all – instead it’s all about how they have become the recipients of blessing and growth themselves. One hundred percent of the time.