On fear and monks

On May 15th, I’ll board a plane in Pittsburgh and fly to Miami.  From Miami, I’ll take another plane to Cap Haitian, Haiti.  I’ll spend a week there.  Serving the people in the community and helping at a nearby orphanage.  I’ll be traveling with people I’ve met once or twice before, but we certainly don’t know each other well enough to be sharing inside jokes on the plane or splitting a bag of peanuts.  We’ll be living together and working alongside one another in the community and serving at an orphanage nearby.

I’ve never done something like this before.  I’ve never signed up to travel to a foreign country with people I don’t know.  I’ve never gone somewhere that doesn’t speak the same language as me.  I’ve never seen the kind of utter brokenness and poverty that I anticipate I’ll experience in Haiti.  I expect I’ll be overwhelmed.  In fact, sometimes, sitting and even thinking about the trip makes me feel overwhelmed.  The sheer magnitude of the experience grips my mind with such power that I have to make a conscious decision to think about something else.

I’m a planner by nature.  I like knowing what is coming next.  I carry a bright-red calendar around with me in my backpack and treat it like my second brain.  I love lists and the feeling I get from cross something off said list.  I love looking at what I’ve accomplished.  I’ve certainly been blessed to accomplish a lot in the short nineteen years that I’ve inhabited this year.  And I am proud of the person I am becoming and the things that I have achieved.  And yet, as the trip gets closer and closer, I can’t help but realize that I don’t really know what is coming.  My future is characterized by the unknown.  I don’t know the people or the language or the customs.  For someone whose life tends to be marked by accomplishing tasks, this is an unimaginable feat.

The orphanage where we’ll be serving is run by a group of Catholic monks who have committed at least two years of service to the people that live there.  They live among the residents, many of them severely handicapped, and make it their mission to lay down their lives for others.  There is so much unknown in their commitment. I imagine that every day looks a little bit different.  They are living in third-world country that is stuck in a cycle of poverty and corruption.  Every small hope has the chance to be dashed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those monks and their willingness to embrace the unknown.  Because, as each day passes and I fill out forms and go over last-minute details and make packing lists, I find myself growing more and more afraid.  Afraid of embarking on a week-long trip with strangers to a place where the fruits of my labor won’t be seen immediately.  Certainly, there will be freshly painted walls and repaired fences and children with full bellies, but besides that, I’ll arrive, I’ll work, and, just five days later, I’ll leave.  It’s hard to imagine lasting accomplishments, things that I can package up and stack up one after another on a resume, will appear after only five days.

I can’t say that I won’t be afraid of the unknown when I get on that plane on May 15th.  This trip comes at the end of my freshman year of college, a time when God has already displayed his redeeming grace and provision in so many other areas of my life.  I’ve just completed a small piece of what is sure to be a life filled unknowns.  And so, in the spirit of those monks, I’m choosing to hold on to a hope that very well may be dashed.  I’m choosing dirty hands and scraped knees and sore feet.  I’m choosing awkward get-to-know you games in the airport.  Above all, I’m choosing to love a God who has proven himself to be a remarkable orchestrator of my selfish ambition and human fear for the glory of his kingdom, wherever it may be.

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