Helping people is really hard. Not only does it require lots of time and generous financial donations, but it also takes a good plan. Helping people truly get out of poverty, empowering people be able to provide for themselves can make anyone, no matter how smart or experienced, question themselves and feel hopeless.
This was a situation I faced last summer as I prepared to journey to Haiti. I had just been awarded a one year fellowship through my church and was looking to send a year helping with the community development in the rural town of La Croix.
I went down in September 2012 with my plan, but I was still unclear whether my work would be a successful or not. The mission is built with a large open roof that looked out to the surrounding mountains, and every evening I would go up to the roof and ask myself “What can I do to help that farmer, what can I do to make the small rural farmer better off?”.
One night, after much thought and prayer, I thought “goats! That’s the solution!”.
Families in rural Haiti do not have access to any form of commercial credit, and they struggle to keep large amounts of cash on hand. They have no way to store a large amount of money, so the only way they can afford to make large purchases is by keeping animals around that they can sell when they need to make a large purchase. If I could get more goats, I could help that rural farmer.
Now that I had the idea, my next step was to figure out a plan.
How would I get more goats to these poor farmers?
At first it seemed easy. I was heading back to the US in December to share my experience, what a great opportunity to ask people to “give a goat to Haiti”. This seemed perfect; I had a great way to help the small-time farmer and finding the funds wouldn’t be too difficult. How could this go wrong?
I was feeling quite good about myself at this point, and then I started talking about the project. I would proudly state my seemingly infallible idea to those back in the US, and instead of it being met with applause (as I had intended), the plan was met with a bunch of questions.
How do we guarantee that the people use the goats to better themselves?
Do we risk flooding the market?
How does this really bring people out of poverty?
With just a few conversations, I had gone from confidently victorious to hesitant and unenthusiastic. Was this program all I had made it out to be? What was I missing? I made a list of the questions and began to do more research. I spent lots of time talking the program over with all the Haitians at the mission. I asked anyone who would talk with me, and I’d ask them everything. I critiqued my own ideas, and I began to see the project through a “Haitian state of mind”.
This intensive questioning process was not easy.
Not only did I have to work hard to figure out a plan that would really help people come out of poverty, but I had to set aside my own ego. I had to trust in the wisdom of those around me as I ventured into the murky sea of uncertainty. My original idea, my sound byte plan of “raise money back at home to buy goats in the Haiti”, needed a lot of help.
When I eventually went to raise the money, I had a project that would not only help the poor rural farmers in Haiti, but a project that I could defend. The original idea was the same but there were so many details added in that would ensure the program’s success.
When I started to develop the project, when I started to move from an idea on the roof to an actual plan, I had to ask a bunch of questions. I had to take my idea with all its flaws, and turn it into a real project that could actually help someone. I had to add certain details that would prevent the program from being a simple hand out, and I had to strip other details. I was continually revising and editing. I had to take everyone’s advice and trust the knowledge of those around me. I couldn’t pass judgment on anyone’s ideas, no matter how far out they seemed. I was the one with the deficit, so I had to use anything that would make this program better. I had to set aside my own goals and focus on the well-being of the community.
To put it simply, the program had to be born again.
As Christians we have to go through this same process. We have to come before God with all of our flaws and shortcomings and leave them on the altar of God. We have to take all of us, the pretty parts and the ugly, and simply say to God “I need help, I can’t do this on my own”. We don’t always know the result, and there are many uncertainties along the way, but at the end of the day we are made whole.
If we judge those who God puts in our path, we will only be hurting ourselves.
God may have to add some qualities and remove others, God may have to stop us from doing certain things and lead us down other paths, but at the end of the day we are more fulfilled than we could ever imagine.
Whether in our own lives or in our attempts to help those in poverty, “the humility of a child” (Matthew 18:4) will deliver the greatest success and satisfaction.
Wonderful post, Ray. And really – it was a gift that people asked you questions for which you had no answers, because it helped you fill in the gaps you couldn’t see for yourself. Thank you for demonstrating your humility in this as you persevered to create a ministry that provides real help for the lovely people of Haiti. God bless you.