It took about 5 seconds of gazing into the eyes of a stranger in Haiti to change the way I view the poor.
It was graduation day at the Reiser Heights school on a mountain in Haiti. Our team got out of the tap tap delighting in the cool mountain air, the tent decorated with colorful balloons, happy children, and an enthusiastic greeting from school staff member Jean dressed in a sparkling white suit and shoes. I stopped to chat with 3 boys. As I stood up I caught the pleading eyes of a man standing at the edge of the property. He was dirty. He looked hungry. We locked eyes for maybe 5 seconds. He rubbed his stomach asking for food. I shook my head slightly and turned away.
I had excellent reasons to turn away. If I handed him food, dozens more people would have materialized begging for food. If I handed him food every Reiser Relief team that day in the future would be hounded for food. It wouldn't be safe for my team or future teams. Our mission in Reiser Heights is educating the children. By employing teachers and educating children we are helping the community. A small act of kindness on my part could put our mission at risk. It would have been a selfish act. It was a brutal decision.
Haiti is a brutal country to be born into. 1 in 14 babies die before age 1. The unemployment rate is 70 %. Haiti is home to Citi Soleil, the largest slum in the Western hemisphere. Survival is a daily struggle for a great percentage of the population. How often has that man and countless like him been forced to make brutal decisions? Do they eat themselves or feed starving children, parents, siblings? Do they sell a child into slavery to feed their family?
During our week in Haiti my team helped deliver water in Cite Soleil. We held countless children. We helped care for babies in a home for sick and dying babies. We rubbed lotion into and painted the nails of elderly abandoned women. We played with. sang and danced with wonderful people in orphanages and schools. We met wonderful selfless nuns, brothers, and priests who are devoting their lives to helping the most vulnerable people in Haiti. None of the people I touched, sang with, ate with, worshiped with, danced with, impacted me like the man I locked eyes with for 5 seconds.
We spent the day in Reiser Heights celebrating with the graduates and their families. We were fed a wonderful meal. We ate our fill. That evening we ate our fill at the guest house and fed the scraps to the dogs. There are so many stories in the Bible that I could draw parallels to.
The man I turned my back on haunts my thoughts. I see his eyes before I fall asleep at night. I see his eyes when I casually eat a sample at Sam's Club. I see his eyes when I toss food that spoils in my refrigerator. I can only offer him prayers. I pray he and his family ate that day and every day since.