In August, I flew solo to Haiti, where I spent three weeks as an intern of a Christian organization. I spent most of my days serving in the medical clinic, interacting with children at the orphanage, helping during lunch at the soup kitchen, and providing massages at the elderly home. Interpreting my experiences was especially challenging as I did not have travel companions in a similar life stage with whom to debrief shared experiences.
I wrote the following on September 13, 2018, a few weeks after returning from Haiti:
Processing my experiences in Haiti has been a challenge, because I honestly didn’t know how to readjust to life in the US. It wasn’t easy reentering my life, basically right where it had left off, as a very different person. It wasn’t easy coming back alone. After other service opportunities, I haven’t been the only person readjusting and reinterpreting my life. But this time, I went alone and came back alone.
Processing what I saw in Haiti while still in Haiti is quite different than processing those same things in the US. It’s hard, if not impossible, to understand survival mode when you’ve never had that experience, but it’s especially hard doing so from the comforts of my college dorm when I am not surrounded by people living in survival mode.
I came back not knowing how to respond to social injustice. There were a lot of emotions: anger, sadness, and powerlessness. The challenges were heightened because I didn’t process most of my experiences immediately upon returning to the US, because I started straight into college classes. When I began to process my experiences, it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. There were maybe two or three days where I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t interested in reading my Bible, spending any quality time with Christ, or engaging with anyone for that matter. I had no idea how to interpret my experiences, and I felt very alone.
I went through a number of stages in responding to the injustice I witnessed in Haiti. Here are the stages that I moved through, along with the challenges and lessons from each stage.
Anger. Initially, I was angry at the injustice. It’s ok to be angry, and it’s ok to have those strong feelings. However, watching that anger does not turn into sin is crucial. It is easy to want someone to blame, and when there is no one specific to blame, it’s not hard to direct that anger towards God. Through this stage, I had to acknowledge that God is not the culprit or the perpetrator. I also had to choose to move into the next phase, knowing that I couldn’t stay angry forever; it’s not healthy.
Lament. This phase involved a lot of tears, but it was crucial to moving from the anger phase. I allowed my heart to break and allowed myself to grieve the broken state of this world. I think going through this stage opened my eyes more to God’s heart. God allowing bad stuff to happen doesn’t mean that His heart isn’t also breaking for the hurting. Our world is broken by sin, and the devil is powerful and is vey much at work right now.
At this point in the phases, I didn’t really know where to go next, and I hadn’t given names to the phases. With a quick Google search (we love Google!), I found an article on Outreach Magazine’s website from author Craig Greenfield. This article helped me phrase my feelings and understand the stages that I was passing through. It also proved helpful in guiding me into the final, long-term stage.
Mindfulness. I can’t ignore the things I witnessed, nor is that advisable. In the previously mentioned article, the following quote really encouraged me and helped me move forward:
Lament and anger immerse me in the hurt and pain of the situation. But mindfulness of God’s presence with me lifts me out.
God is present with us, and with the people who are suffering from situations of injustice. Many of the people whose stories have been weighing on my heart have professed to know Christ and have told me of the hope they’re finding in Him. Mindfulness involves recognizing the situations, trying to understand His heart for broken people, and resting in the peace and joy of His presence. But it also involves learning to love the enemy. Right now, I have no compassion in my heart for the oppressors and the perpetrators. This is something I need to dig into as I continue to progress in my pursuit of healthy mindfulness of social injustice.
Where I’m at now, a few months later:
This semester, I enrolled in a course called “Social Problems,” which involved reading memoirs and biographies and discussing the content with other students in the course. I have had other anger and lament moments regarding situations of social injustice examined in the course. This repeated practice has improved my responses to injustice since September; however, it is hard to say for certain, given that I did not have personal connections with the people whose experiences were discussed in the course. I have especially improved in my ability to critically analyze situations of injustice. I am slower to form judgements about the situation and thoughtfully consider several perspectives before establishing my opinion.
Regarding Haiti, I have been continuing in the mindfulness phase. I don’t think I have gone a single day since August without thinking about Haiti, and I pray daily for the community in which I served for a few short weeks back in August. I have had to embrace my current circumstances. I’m not supposed to be in Haiti right now. For now, prayer is the most helpful thing I can do. I’ve also been seeking out opportunities to share stories with friends and others to spread awareness and provide a personal connection to the social injustice in Haiti. (It’s easier to distance yourself from a situation when you don’t know someone who has seen it firsthand.) I’m continuing in my mindfulness journey and am learning to trust God with the people I have grown to love.
Also, I have a new cover up on YouTube! You can check it out here.