Follow Us

Crossing over into a tragic land

Today we fly to the Dominican Republic, and the next day we drive over the mountains, across the border, by the lake, and into Haiti, a land where the smell of death hangs in the air like a morning mist.   And I’m trying to take it in. How am I to feel?   I suppose I might fe…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Today we
fly to the Dominican Republic, and the next day we drive over the
mountains, across the border, by the lake, and into Haiti, a land where
the smell of death hangs in the air like a morning mist.
Haiti Refugee Camp

And I’m trying to take it in. How am I to feel?


I suppose I might feel like I did in the winter of 1980 as we
prepared to cross the Thai border into Cambodia. A great human tragedy
was unfolding in real time. Two million Cambodians had died or were in
the process of dying. We put 225 live, clucking chickens into a pickup
truck and crossed over to give them food. They were the survivors, the
lucky ones.

Driving across the border into Haiti, my heart will probably beat
as it did as a 22 year-old. But what will I see and what will I feel?
Families without homes or tents are huddled under sheets. A million
orphans, refugees and amputees are reeling, still in shock. Disease is
springing up in the fetid camps.
Will I notice? Will I notice:
The young girl whose mother, father, and siblings are gone?

The school-turned-graveyard that collapsed on the students?
The mother whose three-year-old’s leg was amputated at the hip?
The soldier whose uniform is all he has left?
Just how many details in plain sight will I miss as I navigate
through a world in chaos? Me just trying to get from one place to
another, trying to find the interpreter who is late, buying supplies,
wondering if the pastors will show up? Will I slow down enough to feel
the ache welling up from the ground, will I sense the emotional
tectonic plates shifting in the air? Will I sense God’s heart, still
breaking for a people so inured to tragedy that even this cataclysm
goes un-mourned?
I received an email that said, “There is a desperate need for
crayons, paper and things for the children to be able to express
themselves in the midst of all of this mess.” Crayons, people!
For the love of God, there is a desperate need for crayons!? What do
you feel in a land like that? Where does your soul retreat for oxygen?  

The same email said, to bring “masks for all of the volunteers
because of the dust and the smell of dead bodies.” And I wonder what it
will do to me and what I will do in response. What will I feel?
When we first prayed for Haiti the Sunday after the earthquake, I felt nothing.
Haiti is a nation I’ve studiously avoided over the years. Its
bureaucratic impossibilities frustrate me. Its intractable poverty is a
thumb in the eye of a kingdom predicated on a theology of abundance.
And for me, January 12, 2010 was another national catastrophe on the
heels of Katrina, the Tsunami, and Swaziland. I was emotionally cool as
we commenced praying.
But on that Sunday as we prayed, God gave me a gift I didn’t want
– he showed me how to feel. As my spirit reached up to connect with
God, his feelings began to flow down, into, and through me. First in a
trickle, a tear, something not from inside, but from him that began to
cascade down and rip at my soul. And soon, it was an out-of-control
surprise for me, a non-feeler, the stalwart in the crowd.
I don’t even know any Haitians! I’ve only been there once, and I
had no intentions of going back. But on that Sunday, he began to empty
his heart, his great, breaking heart, for that tragic land and its
people into me. Then, sobs began to rack my body. I gasped for breath.
It wouldn’t let loose. It convulsed me. I was beyond embarrassment or
saving face. And I was laid bare by his divine, molten love for the
people of Haiti, 
Thankfully, nobody made a big deal about this man crumpled on the
floor, heaving with unnamed grief as the prayers continued. Eventually
a measure of control returned. Blowing my nose, I welcomed the return
of my senses. But for minutes after, his heart seemed to convulse
inside me like aftershocks.
It’s not a place I want to return to. It’s not a place you’d
naturally love. And I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow. But for one
day at least, I understood something of what God feels about Haiti and
its suffering people.

Comments (14)

  • When you write it makes it accessible for us here who want to feel and do something but can’t or don’t know how. God has trusted you with pain. And with people. I’m honored to be a small part along side of you. And I can just see you driving a truck of chickens in Cambodia…

  • I’m so proud of you, Dad! So proud to talk about you with others and just think about the heart that you have for the least of these. Thank you for maintaining that incredible faithfulness through thick and thin. I pray that God will use me as he is you and similarly breaks my heart.

  • Travel Mercies . Grace . Blessings . Health . Strength . Safety . Eyes open to His beauty . Ears open to His voice . Heart open to His people . Our prayers are with you

  • My dear friend……

    In a world of ministry marketing madness and self promotion you have been a beacon of hope for me through the years knowing that we can feel pain, loss, care and mercy for those we do not know. The father knows your heart.

    You are in my prayers.

    Be aware of the small miracles all around you and I look forward to connecting when you return.

  • It is always such an encouragement to me when you open up and share a deep thing like this. One of the most powerful things is to know that you’re not alone in your thoughts, feelings and experiences…and that it’s okay to struggle with them. Because if Seth Barnes is struggling with this whole thing, than I can too.

  • Thank you for being so open and honest with your feelings. While “it’s not a place you’d naturally love”, there is such beauty in knowing how completely and utterly our God loves us and hurts for us when we experience a piece of His heart in such a way.

  • Wow!
    Thank you Seth, your openness and honesty in this blog were words from the Abba Father for me as well today! Prayers and blessing to you and the team. The people that He will put in your path will come closer to His love, His strength, and His plans for them.

  • Thanks for sharing this… love the honesty. So glad God has shared His heart for the people of Haiti with you… He will no doubt continue to do so this week. I love it that God SEES and FEELS so deeply … blessings on the team.

  • Thank you for your honest sharing in this blog. The kids and I are praying daily for the people of Haiti and those helping, but it is so easy to say our prayer and move on in our comfortable life. I needed your reminder of how deep the pain is and will continue to be… the comment about crayons stabbed me in the heart. First, it reminded me how desperate the needs are for such basic physical things, and second, I was reminded again of the need for deep emotional healing for the survivors who have lost everything and often, everyone. I just can’t even comprehend it. Thank you for the call back to serious prayer and asking what else God would have me do…

  • “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” You reflect the heart of God for Haiti.

    I ask God to do this work in me too.

    Thank you for this transparent look at God in skin.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Radical Living:

Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

© Adventures In Missions. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed | Sitemap