Reading about a hurricane-torn country might not exactly seem "Christmasy" to you. But is it? Read on as Jennifer Grant nudges the doors of our hearts open in this season of serving.
Developing a Bigger Imagination about Haiti
By Jennifer Grant
Before I visited Haiti in September, my imagination about this country was constricted.
After a lifetime of seeing grim headlines and news stories, I'd become desensitized to the volume of unmet need and the suffering of the Haitian people. The numbers are overwhelming: 230,000 people lost their lives after the earthquake. 100,000 children under five years old suffer from malnutrition. Fewer than 50 percent of households have access to safe water, and only 25 percent have adequate sanitation. And the punishing natural disasters, corrupt politicians, severe deforestation, disease ... I'd come to accept this as the nation's unlucky fate.
But, things changed when I traveled to Haiti on a learning tour with Hope Through Healing Hands. We visited medical clinics, including one that serves severely malnourished children. A close friend of mine, also on the trip, touched my elbow lightly as we entered. "This is hard," she said. "I'm not sure you should look." But, at the beginning of our trip, I'd reminded myself that I must look. I'd turned my gaze away from the people of Haiti for too long.
Yes, there were disturbing sights to see ... but the trip did something more than break my heart; it unleashed my imagination about the Haitian people. Seeing their lived reality, tasting their cuisine (grilled red snapper, pumpkin stew, spicy rice and beans), singing together, talking with artisans about their work (vibrant paintings, jewelry and textiles), and meeting Haitian doctors and nurses who are committed to serving the most marginalized left me with another story to tell.
No longer letting my mind take cover in a predictable (and useless) narrative, an "us/them" of inexplicable affluence vs. the "poorest nation in the western hemisphere," I saw the Haitian people as members of the global community with many gifts to offer. I came home wanting to develop our collective imagination about Haiti.
And then, less than a week after I returned, Hurricane Matthew hit - and, of course, more big numbers and tragic headlines ensued. Hundreds of schools were destroyed, and, at present, more than 175,509 people still live in temporary shelters.
In his memoir, The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham wrote, "Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young." Pause and read that again.
As mature women, we can continue to exercise our imaginations about how we can better love our neighbors, both at home and abroad in places including Haiti. We can ask ourselves where our vision is obstructed and how we can better serve those in need, people whose lives are as precious and fleeting, their love of their children as deep, and their dignity as God-given as ours.
I pray that my imagination will grow and thrive, and that, as a result, I might provide philanthropy with wisdom and advocate with confidence on behalf of those who are too often ignored and forgotten.
Note: You can help with post-hurricane efforts in Haiti, by supporting Hope Through Healing Hands, founded by Senator Bill Frist, a physician and follower of Jesus. Also, our prayers go out to those affected by fires and tornadoes in the U.S. Consider how God would have you respond to the needs around you - near and far, especially those on the margins.
Jennifer Grant (left) and journalist/author Cathleen Falsani in Haiti.
Jennifer Grant is the author of five books, including the forthcoming When Did Everybody Else Get So Old? Indignities, Compromises, and the Unexpected Grace of Midlife (with a foreword by Jeanne Murray Walker, May 2017). She is part of Hope Through Healing Hands' Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. Her first book for children, Maybe God Is Like That Too, will be published in February. Find her online at jennifergrant.com or on Twitter @jennifercgrant.
Photo by Josh Estey/CARE