Learning about Pre-Judging: Reflections on Haiti

Post a Comment » Written on February 18th, 2013     
Filed under: Community Development
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Cheri Lane is a Covenanter who recently went on a trip to Haiti. While there, she visited one of our partners, the Haiti Christian Development Fund. Below are her reflections on her experience in Haiti:

Pre-judging vs. prejudice. The latter has more of a negative connotation, yet they basically mean the same thing. On this trip to Haiti, I was deeply convicted of how much I pre-judge others, thereby acting in prejudice ways towards others – people who God has created in His image. It often comes across as sounding harmless, with comments like: “The Haitians may not have many possessions and may live in a tin shelter, but their clothes are clean and they usually have a cell phone” or “I’m not sure if this group that we are going with from Riceville has even been out of the county, let alone the country.” I’ve made both of these comments and now realize that I was not respecting their unique personhood or their dignity when I made them.  I was also stating incorrect facts. The oldest couple in our group – age 70 – has been to nearly every state in the U.S. and was one of the most caring and supportive people in our group. I felt as if they cared for and looked out for me like my own grandparents would have … willing to help in any way needed.

There was a Haitian man that we met in the mountains during a walk one day who didn’t appear to have many possessions at all, other than his small hut and the nearby three-sided shelter to cook in. He was looking after his granddaughter when we stopped by. A member in our group asked if she could take his picture, and he agreed, but first wanted to put on a shirt. He didn’t bother to button it up and it didn’t appear to be clean (nor did he appear to have a cell phone, which I had generalized that Haitians usually possess), but he did have his dignity and put on his shirt, removed his hat and then agreed to the photo.

I was struck with the importance of a person’s dignity on this trip. When we speak carelessly about others, we are not caring for their dignity nor honoring God with our words. We often size up a person in a few minutes and focus on the negative. Yet God knows the unique beauty, personality, and gifting that He has created in each person. I don’t think God would approve of us slandering His handiwork.

Here some are comments about dignity that I read in the book, “When Helping Hurts,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert:

“For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” –Moldova

“When I don’t have any [food to bring my family], I borrow, mainly from neighbors and friends. I feel ashamed standing before my children when I have nothing to help feed the family. I’m not well when I’m unemployed. It’s terrible.” –Guinea-Bissau

“During the past two years we have not celebrated any holidays with others. We cannot afford to invite anyone to our house and we feel uncomfortable visiting others without bringing a present. The lack of contact leaves one depressed, creates a constant feeling of unhappiness, and a sense of low self-esteem.” –Latvia

“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house; no clothing, and no progress in her family.” –Uganda

“[The poor have] a feeling of powerlessness and an inability to make themselves heard.” -Cameroon

When I was with the Caleb students on the second session of our instruction time together, one young man, named Smith (dressed in the blue shirt in the photo below) asked why I used the phrase “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere” in my description of Haiti in a paper that I had written for a seminary class, and which I had sent to them a month earlier to read. I didn’t understand initially what the issue was. Then Joy (who is married to Jean Thomas – standing next to me in the above photo) expanded on the issue and said that her son, who is now married and living in the U.S., said that the phrase is so often used in reference to Haiti that it has almost become like the last name of the country: “Haiti – the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.” I stopped to think about how the description reflected on the people living in Haiti, and sensing from my previous visits that poor is not a term that the people of Haiti want to be describe as, realized for the first time that I was dishonoring them when I used the word. I apologized to all the Haitian men sitting around the table with me and said that from now on, when I described their country, I would instead say something like: “Haiti, a country that may not be rich by monetary means, but is abundantly rich in hospitality, love for their neighbor, and faith in God.”

I have since reflected on this incident, and then thought about Jesus Christ and how I think and talk about Him. I don’t think I have ever thought or said, “Jesus Christ – one of the poorest men on earth.” While perhaps the statement may carry some factual truth, it is not the primary identifying characteristic that I think of when I think of Jesus. It also doesn’t honor who He is or what He has done. Matthew 25 reminds us that what we do for others, we do for Him. When I speak of others, I need to think about how I speak of Jesus. It’s amazing to me how quickly I developed a love for my friends that I journeyed with, and met, during this trip to Haiti. Perhaps friendships formed in the context of – and love of – Christ naturally feel that way. The last thing I would want to do is insult their inherent dignity, value, and worth as people created in the image of God. How often do we use words carelessly as we speak of others? How often do we stop to think about how that reflects on God?

I thank God for every conviction and time that I have been humbled enough to understand His ways and wisdom over my own. I have come to learn that hard times can be the biggest growth times, and not to hurry past them. Rather, I have realized that I should look for Jesus in the difficult times and how they teach me to be more like Him.

Cheri’s reflections are a great reminder for us to think about how we speak about others. When we talk about other people, what are we saying about God, in whose image we are all created? We need to keep the dignity of all people in mind, remembering that we may not fully understand what our words mean to those we say them about. I love Cheri’s new description of Haiti: “a country that may not be rich by monetary means, but is abundantly rich in hospitality, love for their neighbor, and faith in God.” Praise God for Haiti!

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