I spend most of my time trying to practice James 1:27. But it seems like I’m always on the second part of it—“orphans.” Clearly the verse is about others too. True religion is also about helping “widows.” Most of my Haiti trip has been about helping orphans with water, food, education, housing, and spiritual training. But today it changed directions.
We went to an “old folks home.” That’s what they call them here. It is probably not politically correct where I come from, but that is not much of an issue here. I’m very familiar with them since we recently had to put my mom in an “assisted living center.” But this was Haiti. I knew it would have the same problems as in America. And I knew that the problems of taking care of the elderly in poverty would intensify the tough issues immensely.
When we walked into the home that Christian Relief Fund helps with, I felt a touch. Nicole, a fellow mission trip volunteer from Ole Miss, had just put her hand on my arm. She said, “I just need to touch you.” I knew exactly what she meant. She just needed a reality touch. She just needed to know that someone else was there. It was simply to know that you were going to be okay in this new experience. Touching can be scary as we were to find out. But the lack of touch can even be scarier at times.
Our job was to encourage. We would be putting lotion on the hands and feet of very old victims of extreme poverty who were not living now or perhaps ever in the best of conditions. The hands were wrinkled. The feet were disfigured. But the lotion was soothing. We didn’t need to understand Creole to know that these widows and widowers loved the touch.
Then Filesmon, the old man with few teeth but the best smile ever, came over to me and took my hand. He kissed it. Then he kissed it again. And again. He must have kissed my hand twenty times. He didn’t stop until one of his old buddies started laughing at him. But Filesmon was grateful. He couldn’t stop giving thanks. He blessed me over and over again. Then he blessed my family too. I’m not used to being kissed on the hand. I’m not used to a man kissing me over and over again. But most of all, I’m not used to this kind of gratitude.
Next we sang some songs. There’s nothing like the singing that comes from a bunch of students from campus ministries. They started out with some old hymns. Even though the Haitians couldn’t understand the words, they recognized the tunes because they sang those same songs in their language. In fact, they sang along with their own words. After a few songs, the students started singing some newer and faster songs—some of their favorites back on campus.
Sylvia, one of the older women, started fidgeting on the new contemporary songs. I had helped Sylvia to the porch where we were meeting. She slowly moved with a walker. I helped her sit down in a chair and put her walker away. And now she obviously wanted up, but she couldn’t get up without her walker. I figured that she must not like the new songs and wanted to go back to her room. So I went and got her walker for her. She still couldn’t get up out of her chair—so I lifted her up and put her hands on the walker. But she didn’t leave. No, she danced. She moved around in her walker and danced to the Lord. My tears flowed. Just a few minutes earlier, a student from Texas Tech and I had put lotion on her legs. Now in gratitude, she was using those legs to show her gratitude for the touch and for the Lord.
Touching. Kissing. Dancing. All of these were passions of the Kingdom. It was another country, but it was another realm.