The Tyranny of Servant Hood
Not yet broken in spirit, they laugh, play, and wear acceptance like a jeweled crown, despite the systematic monotony that emerges with each dawn and endures through the nights. Choices were as sparse as the chance for change, and poverty had locked the door and hidden the key. That’s all they knew.
And then we came; our mission to unlock poverty’s doors, if only for one week. We numbered fifteen well clad, well-fed, and well meaning young people on a mission to do good for ninety, hardly clothed and sparingly fed orphans who lived under conditions way beyond our imagination. Our benevolence was as wide as an eagle’s wings, and they eagerly nestled under them.
Although our intentions were noble, we could not share in the inflexible depravity of their days where morning meals never changed, and hot showers had first to be imagined before being defined or experienced.
As much as we wanted to stay in their world, when dusk settled over their impoverished land, we retreated to an enclave of comfortable familiarity where a bed, a soft mattress, and a breakfast menu awaited us.
How we longed to stretch ourselves to where we could abandon our shoes and walk barefoot with the orphans in the germ infested dirt. We wanted love’s banner to be big enough so that we could experience the hunger that a bowl of porridge and one meal a day could not satisfy? We wished for enough love to sleep on a cot that left little room for turning bodies much less entertaining dreams.
But we could not bring ourselves to completely let go of the world we’d left behind. While poverty was their master, all the pleasures of our world had also mastered us. In the strange twist of irony, just as the children, we fifteen do-gooders were also locked in servant hood to different masters. We could not escape the greed, waste, and self-centeredness that come with abundance, and they were trapped by poverty.
Nevertheless, for one week, we tried to fuse two worlds into one by shaking a defiant fist in the face of poverty.
Some would say the effort created a rather lopsided equation because poverty is always subservient to abundance. But we had come to serve, and God’s love, the great equalizer, defined our purpose.
For a moment in time, we gladly offered them freedom from the tyranny of confinement that often comes with poverty. Since many of the children had not experienced life beyond the perimeters of the compound, we decided to take the older ones, age five and up, out to lunch. Duly bathed and appropriately dressed in clothes we provided, each one waited silently to take his seat on the rented bus.
If the eyes are windows to the soul, then we caught a glimpse of their souls through eyes that lit up as they entered the restaurant in a surprisingly upscale section of Haiti called Petionville.
Here in the “Beverly Hills” of Haiti, they glared at the chandeliers and exotic plant decorations, white table cloths, glassware, and engulfed big plates of food while I wondered why we had to ask for bread with our meals. When dinner was over and we were about to leave, I noticed one of the children eyeing the too spicy chicken I had left on my plate. It occurred to me that with no one looking, he might stash it away in his pocket.
On our way home, we stopped for ice cream. Since poverty offers little chance to make choices, the children had no idea what flavor of ice cream they wanted.
“I’m don’t know”, one little boy piped up in broken English.
Then an older girl volunteered, almost apologetically.
“Ice cream never we have.”
Ah, why hadn’t we realized it? Not only did they not know about ice cream flavors, they had never tasted ice cream!
Our leader settled on vanilla ice cream for everyone. And while I caved to thoughts of home and a $3.50 cup of hazelnut yogurt topped with chocolate sprinkles from my favorite ice cream store, the children savored their plain vanilla ice cream as if they had been given a million dollars.
I watched as their tongue caressed each spoonful before slowly swallowing the ice cream, and I pushed back on my cravings. At least for now, surrounded by those enslaved by poverty, I refused to be a bondservant to the trivialities of my world.
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