But, she was grinning …



Haiti House


Another story from Haiti ….


I made a lunge for the window crank of the pickup, but then stopped. Which was worse suffocating in dust or heat? As the bus passed, dragging a chute of billowing dust, I buried my head in the crook of my arm and held my breath. I could feel  sweat make rivulets through the dust on my neck. Oh well, in another hour, I would be home. I was waiting in the truck for my husband, who was making arrangements for a sand delivery to a construction site. I always enjoyed the trips to remote areas of Haiti, but after a few hours of dusty and back-wrenching travel, I was always glad to get back home in Port-au-Prince to a hot shower, water bed, and a couple Tylenol.

In the myriad of constant movement and people that is common to almost any place in Haiti, one woman caught my attention. She had gray frizzy hair and was slightly overweight. In that remote area, few Haitians lived long enough to have gray hair and even fewer had enough to eat to gain weight. Her breasts sagged and flopped in a dress that hung crookedly, without buttons. It gaped at her waist and had been washed so many times, that no distinct color remained. Her feet, splayed and calloused, kicked up dust puffs as she approached. With a jack-o-lantern grin she called out to children playing soccer with a can, and waved at young girls who were sweeping yards. She was dirty, ragged, and grinning. Perhaps she lacked some mental faculties, or had been sampling some homemade  clairin.  Or perhaps she was just manifesting that incredible Haitian attitude of happiness in desperate situations. Whatever her reasons, she appeared to be dirty, ragged, and happy.  

As she passed the window of the truck we exchanged greetings. I watched her receding image in the large side mirror of the truck and made no attempt to squelch the pity that welled up in my heart. I knew that she was no-doubt going home to a lopsided, thatched house of mud and wattle. Water – for drinking and all other uses – would have been carried from the murky river in calabash gourds. Any bathing would be done with water poured inch-deep into a chipped granite pan. She would eat plantains and rice with beans. The only semblance of meat in her diet would be a chicken flavored Maggi cube. Tonight, her straw mat, infested with bed bugs, would be unrolled on the floor and placed among six or seven mats belonging to family members. She would lie down with worse aches than I would face, but without relief. There would be no repellant to ward off whining mosquitos and no fan to stir the air in a house tightly shuttered against thieves and supposed consumptive air.

As she moved from view I thought, “She has never known the pleasure of sinking into a warm bubble bath. She has never felt soothing lotion on her hands and feet, or the glide of silk or satin on her skin. She has never crawled between clean sheets and felt her body supported by a mattress that would ease her aches. She has never known the joy of sleeping without discomfort.” I felt pity mixed with love and amusement. She had no comprehension of a life without discomfort, but she was grinning

….. “This is how the people of the world look to me.”

The thought was like a newsbreak in the regular programming of my day. For a moment I was taken aback, then realized that God had been eavesdropping on my idle musings that morning. Earlier that day, as we had inched through the melee of market traffic, I had been struggling with cultural adjustment. My musings had gone from, “Did Christ encounter culture shock when He came to earth?” to “I wonder how we look to You,” thoughts.

And now God was answering my question. “The people of the world,” He seemed to say, “look like this woman to me. They are dressed in filthy rags. They have no comprehension of how much better their life could be, but they are going down the road of life grinning.”

The Haitian woman had no power to extricate herself from her physical poverty, but the Apostle Paul said that every person in the world could find deliverance from spiritual poverty. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (II Corinthians 8:9 NIV)

Smiling people, dressed in spiritual rags surround us. They have never tasted of the pure Living Water that brings health to soul and mind. They have never fallen asleep with the comfort of God’s presence and the knowledge that tormenting guilt has been exterminated. They are oblivious to the vast riches of wisdom and life-guidance available to them, but they are grinning. They are going down the road of life laughing and calling to their friends about the wonderful life they have.

We are all born impoverished – spiritually impoverished – but the rich life in Christ is available to all who will simply come, confessing their spiritual poverty and asking Him to fill their life with His abundance. Confess, ask, and trust Him to do His part.

Martha Hawn VanCise ©2013 Signposts on High Trails


3 thoughts on “But, she was grinning …

  1. Dale

    Martha, very appropo to life. A huge pity. Your observations and analogy remind me of one of my favorite books, The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. We are all dirty, little, raggady urchins without the robe of Christ’s righteousness, no matter how much money we have or how well we live.

  2. Donna

    Martha, this posting really stuck a note with me. I have a sister and a brother who are not saved. They have lived “successful” lives, raised their families, are now experiencing old age (89 and 94). Yes, they are smiling, but I have to think they are wearing spiritual rags. Neither of them will listen to The Message. I pray that God will work his miracles in them.

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