~Living for Hope ~
“And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…”
Members and Friends,
On a recent trip to Haiti—a trip I can’t stop thinking about—I noticed an odd thing in the capital city of Port-au-Prince: public buses painted to look like airplanes. I used to believe the most destitute city in the world was Douala, Cameroon, a shantytown of two million souls living in hovels without water, electricity, or sewage. But Port-au-Prince makes Douala look kind of fancy. Of course, in terms of natural beauty, few cities can compare with Port-au-Prince. Squint past the rusty corrugated metal rooftops and the decaying mounds of refuse, and Port-au-Prince is the San Francisco of the “two-thirds world.” Haiti’s hilly capital has dizzy heights and crooked little neighborhoods with steep streets and sweeping views of the bay. But it remains the impoverished capital of a worn-out country. Whereas Douala is nourished by a vast, wild interior with dense forests and rich plantations, Haiti’s little island of Hispaniola lacks natural resources. People flock into Port-au-Prince from a denuded landscape of treeless, eroded slopes and overworked soil. They’re hoping to make a better life for themselves in town, but to an outside observer, the hopes of a stranger can look like wishful thinking.
I gazed from the comparative comfort of an air-conditioned Kia truck, a vehicle with only four occupants, amid the crazy, swirling congestion of Port-au-Prince at rush hour. Almost every other vehicle in town was packed to the roof and beyond—quite literally—with people, and animals, and cargo. The buses were all emblazoned with Bible verses, often from Exodus 14 (the crossing of the Red Sea), and decorated with fanciful metalwork in reds, and yellows, and whites. Many of these buses had “Air Canada” scrawled on their sides, and they were painted to look like passenger jets. More good humor and wishful thinking from Haiti’s playful poor. And as we sat in the middle of that wild city, all of us snaking our slow ways to someplace else, I marveled as I often do in a crowd: “Each person here has a story as complex as my own. Each of them lives for a handful of hopes.”
What is hope in a place like Haiti? Emily Dickinson famously called it “the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” Rumi said, “Never lose hope, my heart; miracles dwell in the invisible.” The best truths can only be spoken in poetry, but Haiti somehow defies abstraction. Its poverty is real, seemingly endless, often fatal. Even after fleeing deep into the countryside of the South Province, we never escaped the mangy dogs, digging through trash heaps, the mountains of garbage, jalopies held together seemingly with rubber bands and Elmer’s, the searching eyes of the poor, the dispossessed of the world. All of them, each and every last one, is living for whatever hope they are able to believe in. Even the stray dog scavenging for a mango peel is living for some kind of hope, isn’t it?
Hope, in Haiti, is a tenacious striving toward the light. And it’s probably the same thing in your life and in mine. What is hope in our America today, with its extremism, its shootings, its destructive greed, its ecological crisis? What is hope in your life? Hope is the natural state of humankind—more noticed in its absence than in its presence, something to be taken for granted like water and air. Like pale weeds that sprout in the cracks of an old cellar wall, we humans reach for any ray of light that makes its way in. However meager, we strive toward the light. Hope is the imprint of God’s good future in our dreams and imaginations. It has to be nourished. Hope has to be practiced. It has to be attended-to daily. The longings of hope are the vehicles that bear Christ’s kingdom into a broken and aching world…just like all those colorful buses, painted like airplanes, bear their passengers away to places and to lives that I cannot begin to know: joys, laughter, sorrows, dreams. Hope “does not disappoint us,” for it keeps us going whether or not its goals are met…which is perhaps its highest goal.
In this new year, amid all the troubles of our world, I would encourage you to invest yourself in real and conscious acts of hope. Flagrant, daring, maybe even naive. Live for hope.
In Christ’s Peace,