OCTOBER 15, 2012
Does God See Us from a Distance?
In twenty-four hours we would be on a plane home to the Virginia mountains after a week of church reconstruction in Leveque, Haiti. But now, standing on a lush, tropical peak, 3,000 feet above the sprawling capital city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti,
our eleven team members rotated left and right and left again, trying to capture in one lasting memory the panoramic view spread before us: a blue ocean to the west interrupted by the mountainous island of La Gonave; more mountains spreading north and east and south; clouds breaking up the hazy blue sky, the lowest ones rolling up the side of the mountain and gently misting us; and below us, metropolitan Port-au-Prince with its 3.7 million inhabitants.
We were exhausted. I had been going on mission trips to Haiti since 1981, but never had I been on a team that worked so hard. At some point during our week in Leveque, my body had rebelled, deprived of electrolytes and perspiring at a rate that superseded my ability to take in water. Never had I longed for the luxury of air-conditioning as much as on this trip.
That’s why our side-trip to the mountain overlook that afternoon was so appealing. Three thousand feet above Port-au-Prince it would be ten degrees cooler. At 3,000 feet the air would be clearer, the stench of trash less nauseating, the maddening traffic and crowds a distant reality. I longed to get above and away from it all.
Looking down, we began to talk about how different reality can seem from three thousand feet. We could see houses and office buildings and ribbons of twisting roads. We saw no people. From a distance there was an almost pastoral aura to the urban mass that is Port-au-Prince. It was so still and so quiet and the scars of earthquakes and hunger and human blight had disappeared.
I thought of the Song of the Year from 1991, “From a Distance:”
“From a distance we all have enough / And no one is in need / And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease / No hungry mouths to feed / …. God is watching us, from a distance.”
Standing at 3,000 feet above Port-au-Prince I began to turn those lyrics over and over in my head, until I stopped in my tracks, realizing that no matter how high I climbed, no matter how much I distanced myself from the almost four million inhabitants of Port-au-Prince, it would not alter the factual reality of Haiti’s existence: disease and hunger and injustice remained its citizens’ constant companions.
Though a distant God may appeal to some, the factual truth of my faith is that the God who called me to Haiti is not a God who watches from a distance. This is the God of the manger and the cross; the God of the incarnation who weeps over cities and bleeds for our healing; who embraces our humanity and rejoices in our diversity. Like Peter on the occasion of Christ’s transfiguration, I wanted to remain on the mountain. It was pleasant there - a safe place to distance myself from the vulnerabilities and risks of relationships. But like Peter, Jesus sent me back down the mountain and into the painful crush of humanity.
The mission God calls us to cannot and will not be accomplished from a distance. It requires a people who will hold and comfort and work shoulder to shoulder with the victims of natural disasters and wars and injustice. It requires people willing to sweat and ache for the sake of the Gospel; people who understand that our greatest gift to our brothers and sisters in other lands is our willingness to stand with them - even if only for a few days - in the midst of their need.
Climbing back into our van, we descended into the hellish streets of lower Port-au-Prince. Away from the cooling mists of the distant overlook, back among the people of Haiti, I felt my heart strangely warmed.
- Pastor Bob