For most Americans, the title of this post has a certain connotation that will most likely cause a spike in blood pressure when brought up, regardless of what "side of the fence" you are on. Rest assured, that is not what this post is about.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
Technically, Haiti has been been "free" for 209 years. But freedom looks and feels very different here, than it does in "the Land of the Free" that I am familiar with. The shape that freedom takes is largely dependent on one's own generational experiences, "pre-freedom". I recently read the book "Same Kind of Different As Me", which sheds great light on the complicated transition from slavery to freedom, both physically and psychologically, in the modern world.
When someone is born into slavery, and their parent, grandparents and everyone else in their family has only known being enslaved, what happens when they suddenly find themselves with the gift of freedom, either by someone else's hand or their own? The knee-jerk reaction is to completely reject anyone or anything that has potential to exert power OVER them and take exceptional pride in the choices that they are now free to make. This is the culture I find myself in currently. Haitian people are long-suffering, resilient, determined, passionate people who are proud to have the freedom to make their own choices about the lives that they live. They are sometimes reluctant to embrace change from an "outsider" because they perceive it as a threat to their freedom to choose how they live their lives. It's hard to understand why they do the things they do the way they do them sometimes, until we see things from their perspective. Or better yet, God's perspective. Then we begin to see that, cultural differences aside, we are all struggling to understand and choose to live in true freedom, the kind that only comes from surrender to God.
I am a visual learner. I have to see things in action for them to really sink in. The longer I live in Haiti, the more I realize how much I still don't grasp the depth, and breadth, and width of Heavenly Father's love for me. I'm thankful for the "real-life" examples he shows me through everyday circumstances that literally makes the word come alive. There are so many examples in the new testament of Jesus teaching about choices: Mary & Martha, the prodigal son & his brother, the parable of the talents...Not every example has a clear "right" or "wrong" choice, but in every example, Jesus emphasizes the "better" choice.
Here is how this lesson played out in my world this week: I have had multiple conversations with the Haitian director and the the stateside coordinator of sponsorship for the girls here about state of their clothing and whether I had permission to take out the old, ratty stuff and replace it with the brand new, still-has-the-tags-on pile of clothes that sits out in the open for all to see, but it being "saved" for outings that never happen. I was given the green light, so I decided this weekend would be a good time to tackle the closets for the 16 little girls.
I measured each of the girls for new school uniforms and undergarments last month, so I set out to sort the clothes according to size for each closet (shared by 2 girls). It is impossible to do anything here without everybody being in your business (or at least observing it) and this was no exception. Anything with a tag size smaller than 2T, or a hole bigger than my thumb nail went in the "toss" pile. After a few hours of passive curiosity, the revolt started. The girls kept picking things out of the toss pile and trying to reclaim it, saying it was "bon pou mwen" (good for me), or grabbing shirts that were 4 sizes too small and insisting that it belonged to them. Many hours into the process of sorting/counting/folding/putting away, I took a 20 minute water break, only to come back and discover that the girls had mixed up all the remaining piles. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. My default choice was anger and frustration. It wasn't necessarily a bad choice, but love and a gentle answer would have been a better choice.
After day 2 of the tug-o-war in clothing choices, I began to ask myself the question,"Why would they CHOOSE to wear old, ratty, worn out stuff that clearly doesn't fit them anymore when there is brand new stuff waiting to be worn??" "Because they can." The answer that came back surprised me, and caused me to contemplate how it translates into my own life, both spiritually and physically. I can reorganize the closets all day long, but I can't force them to wear new clothes. They choose the old clothes because they are familiar, comfortable, stretched to give the illusion of actually fitting, safe. There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing to wear old clothes, there are no eternal implications. But from the perspective of the provider (in this case, me), there is a better choice. The better choice often comes with some degree of risk, and insecurities come to the surface: "If you throw away the old stuff, will you buy new clothes to replace them?" (ie. will I be left with nothing?) The better choice is not always (or ever, let's be honest) easy, but it is ours to choose. Therein lies the beauty of the the freedom we have in Christ. The challenge is allowing our freedom of choice to be influenced by the One who will always give us the BEST choice, if we will choose to accept it.