We have a tradition regarding Wednesday’s on our youth mission trips at Grace. It started in 2011 when we were on a Youthworks trip to inner city Atlanta. Our trip leader sat us down on Tuesday night and warned us that Wednesday was the toughest day of the week. He wanted to mentally prepare us for everybody being tired and grouchy. Some of us didn’t want it to be that way, so we made a pact that every time we saw each other on Wednesday we would have this exchange. One person would say, “What day is it?” The other would respond, “BEST DAY EVER!”
That stuck, and now it is not uncommon to get random messages from former youth group students on a Wednesday that says, “BEST DAY EVER!”
Chrissy Petersen was on that trip and is one of those tradition bearers. She began our Wednesday morning team prayer in Haiti with that mantra. “What day is it?” “BEST DAY EVER!”
I’m glad she started our day with that, because, to be honest, I struggled a bit yesterday. I had four things weighing on me in the morning. First, I was extra tired. Second, we worked in the blazing sun all morning, and that saps this Minnesota boy’s energy really fast. Third, I was feeling bad about the mural. It wasn’t turning out like I had hoped and I was letting my artistic self-doubt and ego rear its ugly head. Artists have this tendency to attach their ego and self-worth to the work they produce and then feel like they are standing naked in front of the world when people look at it.
The fourth thing that weighed me down was the really heavy one. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had a situation brewing with a 15-year-old boy. He and I connected on Saturday over art. I gave him a pad of paper and a pen and he filled it with drawings and brought it to show me. Then, at the end of the day, on Tuesday, he and his buddy tried to sell me a necklace and played the sympathy card on me.
I spoke to both our WWV host, Pat, and to the Operation Manager, Peter, for advice and they both told me the same thing. The students know they are not supposed to do that and we are not supposed to give them things unless we work through Peter.
I painted all day, in the blazing sun, waiting for the moment that the boy approached me to close the transaction, hoping he wouldn’t.
My heart sank and I told him to call the translator over. I told the boy that the students are not supposed to try to sell us things and that I felt that he used my kindness as a leveraging tool to manipulate me. That made me feel like a cheap tourist and I didn’t appreciate that.
Then I told the interpreter that it seemed like his friend saw the opening and convinced him to play me. The interpreter said, “That’s exactly what happened.”
When the conversation was finished, the con-artist friend left, but the boy stayed beside me for the rest of the day, watching me paint.
I felt awful. Actually, I didn’t know how to feel. Was I the jerk? Was I being petty? It was true that I had no money on me and could not have purchased the necklace had I wanted to, but I didn’t want to buy it. I felt like a sucker who had got played, yet again. My defense mechanisms went up so fast I couldn’t believe it. I was beating myself up.
But, then I felt bad for the boy, too. He lives here. I will go home tomorrow to my comfortable life where it is possible for an artist with moderate talent to make money drawing. He will stay here in the tiny school yard in a culture where children are probably never encouraged to pursue art as a means of making a living.
We left the school yard early to take a field trip to Wahoo Bay, a beach resort. My heart was so heavy when I left the yard that it took every ounce of energy to not burst out in a sob fest, right there in front of all the kids and all the families from my church.
I was tired.
Then we loaded up and went to Wahoo Bay. It is a resort on the beach that is very nice. Lori, one of our leaders and our nurse, told me I was dehydrated and I needed to drink more water. My head hurt. My heart hurt. The last thing I wanted to do was go play at the beach. But, another team member told me a story about the first time she came here and had a bad attitude about it. She regrets not engaging in everything. I heard those words again and decided to lube up the sun screen and hit the ocean.
I’m glad I did. The water was cold and refreshing, and soon the little kid in me came out to play. Greg Ackerson is a big help in coaxing him out, so, when he challenged me to try to cross the floating bridge, it was game on.
That refreshment cleared my head enough that it allowed me to observe a little miracle unfolding before us all. They tell me that this excursion in past trips has been an opportunity for the team to “escape” for a couple of hours. This time, however, they decided to invite Pastor J’s family and all the abandoned kids to come with us.
Words will not be able to describe what happened in that resort. These children experienced some things for the first time in their lives. Things like: the ocean, running water, flushing toilets, and…PIZZA! It was amazing to watch as they giggled and played, held in the arms of a bunch of “Blas” (It’s really bland, which means “white” and is what they call us) bouncing up and down in the water.
Last night, as we gathered for devotions, Greg asked us to share what our “thirty-second response” would be to the inevitable question, “How was Haiti?”
Kelly gave the answer that sums it up. She said, “Haiti is shokubuku.”
“What?” We all replied.
“Shokubuku,” she explained, “comes from the movie Gross Point Blank. It is the swift spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.”
Everyone erupted with glee and absolute agreement. Amy said, “I have a feeling that will come up in a Pastor Steve sermon.”
So, of course, I did a little research, with the help of Angie Hanson. It turns out that the movie version is usually spelled shockabuku. That is a mishearing of what Minnie Driver says to John Kusak in the movie. I watched the clip a couple of times and she does say shokubuku. It is a Buddhist word that means “break and subdue” and refers to the process of convincing someone that what they previously believed is wrong (read the Wikipedia article here. In my theological circles, we call that deconstruction. It is the painful process of rethinking everything that you once thought to be absolutely true.
My friends, Haiti is Shokubuku. It kicks the middle class suburbanite in the head and leaves you spinning.
My Journey reading for today was John 19:17-30. This is the moment that Jesus dies on the cross. That is also shokubuku, especially for his disciples. The one they thought was the Messiah, the son of God sent to rescue the Jews from the oppression of the Romans now hangs, dead. He was beaten and executed like a common criminal by the very power structures that they thought he would overcome.
A swift kick to the head.
I’m sure those disciples felt disoriented, discouraged, and definitely did not want to play at the beach that day.
Their entire world was torn apart. “What is God doing?” They must have asked themselves.
Indeed, what is God doing: then and now? What is really happening in, with, and through us as we dwell here in Haiti this week?
So, Wednesday in Haiti was the BEST DAY EVER and a swift spiritual kick to the head.
I truly do not know what to expect today. It is our last day on site. Pray that we will be open.