Jesus is alive! Alive and well! Wait a second, Easter was a month ago, this is a bit late, no? Or – after looking at a picture coming up in this post – you may be thinking, wait, *you’re* Jesus? No, that’s not it either. My wife lovingly reminds me of this on occasion, which definitely helps in the humility department. Besides, my skin is way too light and sandals way too comfortable to make comparisons with the Big Man on Campus that walked this earth 2,000 years ago.
So why talk about Jesus spottings at the end of May? We have holiday grilling to enjoy, pool parties to attend, summer vacations to plan, all that good R&R type stuff. Well, I found Jesus, alive and well, walking amongst the people of Haiti recently, and want to share this Good News. Or maybe, at least the way it turned out, Jesus found me.
Earlier this month, a group of six people from two South Florida churches traveled to Haiti to assist with a Vacation Bible School (VBS) at a school we sponsor. The trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Port-Au-Prince Haiti is only a 90 minute flight, and yet worlds away. For five days we’d jump in the back of a flatbed truck each morning, enjoying the local sights and sounds of an hour-long bumpy ride down dirt roads. Our destination was a rural school of 640 students, called the Village of Hope. On arriving we led VBS for groups of elementary grade kids. During the day students participated in games, arts & crafts, and a Bible story.
I helped with the Bible story portion, working with a pastor from our area and a local translator that bridged the gap between our English and the Creole that is commonly spoken in Haiti. During this time we covered the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers from the book of Luke. To set this stage, children were asked to put brightly colored stickers all over themselves, their arms, legs, face, ears, nose, everywhere. We then described leprosy, what it does to your skin and that because it was really catchy they would have to leave the village. To symbolize this, the kids with leprosy went to one side of the room and were separated from others with a black and yellow police tape barrier.
On the other side of this barrier, the three of us without leprosy spots then proceeded to throw a ball around for fun. “Would you like to play ball with us?” we’d ask the kids. After expressing interest they were told “no, you’re unclean, you can’t be by us.” Next we staged a small birthday party, singing Happy Birthday to You and blowing out a birthday candle. “Would you like to have some of the cake?” the kids were asked. Of course they would, but no, you’re still unclean kids, don’t come any closer. The looks on their faces told the story best: the kids didn’t like being unclean, and the separation from the life of the village that it caused.
Next, as one pastor began to tell the story of the ten lepers to the children I walked back behind a simple chalkboard at one end of the room for a quick wardrobe change, donning a robe, rope belt and sash. On hearing their cries of “Jesus, come heal us!” I went in character to the kids, first removing the barrier between them and the village and then asking them to “go show yourselves to the priests.” As they went they were told, amazingly you have been healed! The kids removed their spots, were now back in the village, and seemed much happier. The story then continues; only one of the ten that was healed went back to thank Jesus. This leads into Luke 17:19 where Jesus makes the distinction between being healed – as all 10 were, and being made well by expressing our thanks, as the one did.
The rest of the time was perhaps the best, with former lepers, now clean, partying with Jesus and others from the village, free of restrictions and full of joy. We celebrated with a balloon relay, enjoyed Oreo cookies, did a maze game and colored a picture of Jesus and a leper being healed. What a party.
After the first day of VBS the word got out: Jesus is here. It took me a while to figure this out. When I first saw kids walk by, pointing my way and whispering it brought back memories of my own childhood. Wait, what did that little boy say? “Jezi!” I heard. Whoa, this isn’t teasing, that’s Jesus, spoken in Creole! These sightings and exclamations increased throughout the week, with kids walking by shouting, waving, smiling, many wanting to walk with Jezi for a bit, to hold hands and touch the garment, hair and beard. This simple faith expressed with high energy and full of joy was an amazing testament. Here Jesus didn’t have a tainted image. Here he was a rock star. Yes folks, Jesus is alive and well in Haiti, I’ve experienced it first hand, and what a blessing it was.
And why not? In a country where 95% of Haitians profess to be Christians, Jezi is a well- known figure. Here, what Jezi, and by extension Christians, are best known for is largely positive – supporting schools, feeding programs and providing healthcare. Here, in a place still recovering from the earthquakes of 2010 that claimed over 160,000 souls. Here, in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere, where over 75% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Here, how we choose to model Jezi for those in need is welcome, and appreciated. And incredibly humbling.
Here, a central value of Christianity – of being the hands and feet of Christ – is much more than a slogan. Here it is a way of life.