July 19, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels, MD
In the fall of 2012 I visited Bondeau, a small and remote community in rural Haiti. I was accompanied by three nurses, a teacher and his college-age daughter and a good friend who wanted to learn more about Haiti. We had a definite goal for ourselves. We would meet as many men, women and children as possible and we would visit for an extended period of time with community leaders and learn from them what they saw as their most immediate needs.
Let me take a moment to paint a picture of the Bondeau community. Bondeau is situated on the eastern shore of Haiti about 100 miles south of Port au Prince. It is about 8 miles from the nearest town, the port city of Miragoane. Bondeau consists of a school building, a rather large guesthouse, another large house that is home to children whose parents cannot afford to keep them at home, and multiple one-room concrete dwellings where the school teachers and their families live.
The residents of Bondeau live in huts that are strategically placed in the shade and scattered around the surrounding countryside. These dwellings have no sanitation, no running water, no windows and no floors. Residents of the Bondeau community live on approximately $1.00 a day, or less. This area of Haiti is unusually arid. Agriculture is not a viable way of life. There are no stores or other businesses within a 6 mile area. Several people own small motorcycles, but aside from that community residents must walk everywhere. Some children walk up to two hours to get to school each day.
During that fall visit to Bondeau; our little group was welcomed with open arms. The hospitality of the community residents, a key value in Haiti, was so very touching. Those who had literally nothing went to extremes to ensure that we had sufficient food and comfort in a setting where food and chairs and other such amenities are far and few between.
The morning before we were scheduled to leave, the priest in charge of the church and school arranged for us to meet with about 18 community leaders. He also served as our translator, although I am happy to say that as garbled as my French is, most people understood what I was trying to say.
We talked about a lot of things and we touched on many community needs - big needs like clean water, better education for the children, reading classes for adults, ways to start small businesses – but, again and again, both men and women came back to their perceived biggest need. Healthcare. “We need a clinic here,” they all said. “We have many people who are sick, many children who die. We have no way to get to the town. We need a clinic here,” they said.
Moved, but also cautious, we all replied, “We understand. We will try to make this happen for you.”
Six months later, in March of 2013, I returned to Bondeau with a medical team of ten doctors and nurses - that was the first of now six fully staffed medical missions, with a seventh planned for this October. To date, we have treated over 1500 unduplicated patients for a wide range of diseases and we have established a school nurse program that provides basic nursing care and medications to the men, women and children of Bondeau five days a week, year round. The people of Bondeau have a clinic.
It is on the first medical mission trip - way back in March of 2013 - that I want to focus. Naturally, we were all very nervous and totally unprepared for almost everything that happened. We were thinking America where people have had healthcare everyday of their lives; but, we were in Haiti where people had had no healthcare whatsoever.
Our biggest fear was that no one would show up. Let me just say that as we arrived at the clinic site early the first morning, there were over 100 people waiting for us, with more people arriving, on foot, from every direction.
After managing our initial shock, we attempted to strategize. Our biggest question, how would we manage patient flow? Our second biggest question, how could our pharmacy team of two possibly fill prescriptions fast enough to get everyone home by the end of the day?
Those were important questions for us to consider, but we were still totally unprepared for the desperation of the crowd. The minute we opened our doors to see patients, the crowding and the pleas for help were completely overwhelming, and at two points during the day the crowd became completely unmanageable. I found myself in the middle of at least 100 people attempting to calm them and to assure them that we would not leave until every person had seen a doctor.
I know for certain, the Holy Spirit was with me as I entered that crowd absolutely scared to death and yet able to remain calm, and to calm them.
Of course, there is a point to this story - and, that is, that the moment a frantic, pushing, pleading community member entered the doctor’s room and sat down, that person calmed down completely. The compassion and caring of each doctor and nurse was uniform, the care with which they examined each patient was so very gentle. A few compassionate words, a gentle touch and the anxious and frightened were healed.
When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:54-56)
When I read today’s Gospel passage, I thought immediately of that first medical clinic in Bondeau. I can just imagine the anxiety and the passion of the crowd as they see Jesus approaching them. In my mind’s eye I can see them rushing, crowding, pushing and pulling each other every which way. I am sure it would have been a noisy crowd with lots of shouting and angry outbursts. The children would have been frightened and started crying; the dogs and sheep, barking and bleating.
Total chaos and confusion.
Jesus, tired, ready for some respite with his disciples - some time to pray and reflect after an aggressive journey of always moving, moving forward to preach, to heal, to amaze and to bring hope – Jesus is desperately needed. The people need him; to be healed; to be saved from oppression and slavery. Saved from the brutality of the Roman Empire. Saved from the greed of the high priests and the wealthy Jews. The people clamored for Jesus – demanded to hear his words; yearned for his healing touch.
And then, Jesus was among them. He was with them in every way - his compassionate gaze and the authority with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God, together with simply touching the fringe of his cloak was enough to heal them. To be one with Jesus was to be healed. To be one with Jesus is to be healed.
The other piece of Good News is, of course, that Jesus does not work to the beat of a time clock. He is not a 9-5 person who takes vacations. No, Jesus, and by extension God, is always with us - never too tired; never too busy for us.
Jesus made his presence in us and with us absolutely clear when he said in Matthew, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
However, it is up to us to reach out for the “fringe of his cloak” - it is up to us to cry out “we need to be healed.” Jesus will always respond – always be in us; always be with us; always be among us, compassionately healing our worries and
our anxieties – but, we need to reach out. We need to be with Jesus just as he is with us.
“I am with you always to the end of the age…”
A couple of weeks ago I assisted at a memorial service here at Christ Church. The second reading was from the Book of Revelations, and as I read it I marveled once again at the powerful images of God with us set forth by the author of this
controversial last book of Scripture:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the
end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Rev. 21:1-7)
Powerful words from an all-loving God. A God who gave his Son to be with us always, to the end of the age.
Just as the crowds pushed and pulled to touch Jesus, to be healed by him - Just as the residents of the Bondeau community pushed and pulled to get to the head of the long line of patients waiting to see one of our doctors - So, you and I who weep and worry in our own stress-filled lives need push and pull - to actively reach out - to touch the fringe on Jesus’ cloak - if we are to be healed - if we are to be one with him and to allow him to be one with us. If we are to be truly children of God. AMEN