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Haiti, Heaven, and Hell

This morning I have experienced an interesting convergence of experiences upon which I must reflect. I sit in the guest house of World Wide Village in Porta Prince, Haiti as I write these words. Last night I reflected on my first two days here. This morning I read the texts for our Mark study. Those experiences and these texts are the convergence.

There were three texts; two since Ash Wednesday that we skip in the preaching, and the text for this weekend.

Mark 9:38-50
Mark 10:1-16
The preaching text – Mark 10:17-31.

These are harsh texts in which we encounter a word that no one likes to hear: hell. The text seems to indicate that hell is a place where those who do terrible things are thrown where there is unquenchable and unending fire.

The original word being translated is Gehenna. This was the name of the trash heap outside of Jerusalem where the people of that city threw their garbage so that it could be burned. Humans continually create refuse, so the fire continually burns. Things only get thrown on this pile of rubbish when they no longer serve their intended purpose and contribute to the good of the city.

I think I have seen Gehenna. Four times now. It is the river bed that runs through Porta Prince, over which we travel on our way to and from Williamson, where we work. The river bed is filled with garbage and it is continually being burned.

It is interesting that the collection of texts deals, not only with a fiery garbage heap, but also with rich people, poor people, and children. Today’s preaching text looks a rich man in the eye and, point-blank says that if you are not willing to give up everything and give it for the poor, then you will not see the Kingdom of God. Then, the earlier texts say that anyone who harms a child, or keeps them from the Kingdom of God, will be worthless and thrown on the heap. Then Jesus takes up the children in his arms and blesses them.

These familiar words take on new life when you drive through the crowded streets of Haiti and look into the eyes of the abandoned children.

The Kingdom of God is not found in giant cathedrals or multi-site campuses or luxurious resorts. It is found in the hands and feet of the local pastor who cannot say “No” to the next abandoned child who wanders in to the school yard that already has 300 children crammed into a 40’x40′ playground.

It will be interesting to see how God continues to slam these texts and experiences together throughout the upcoming week.

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