Short term and long term missionaries often say they go to serve the people of whatever (poor) country they are working in. I believe that is true and should be the motivation of any mission. Learning to serve those who are in need is important discipline of the Christian life. However, I think there is another discipline to learn as well – learning to be served by those in need. Let me explain.
When I first came to Haiti, I tried so hard not to be treated differently because I was a white girl from Canada. I wanted to fit into life here as much as possible. I didn’t want special treatment. This included using the same washrooms (latrines) as others and sometimes using no washroom (I am a farm girl and know how to squat in a field!). It included eating the same food as others (when it was safe). It included being squished into the backseat of a truck with 3 other people for a 6 hour bumpy, hot, drive to Port au Prince and sharing a tent set up on concrete with no mattresses for one night. It included many other things as well.
Haitians are very hospitable, even if they have nothing to offer you, they will do their best to make you comfortable. Often times visiting someone’s house, I would be offered one of the only chairs to sit on while visiting in the front porch. I used to be stubborn and refuse it because I didn’t like to be the only one sitting while everyone around me was standing. One time, we were watching a live soccer game in a neighbouring town (there are no bleachers so everyone stands), one of the vendors selling drinks out of her cooler offered me her chair. She was quite a bit older and looked tired and hot so I didn’t want to take her chair. Besides, 300 people around me were all standing just fine, I didn’t want to be the white girl that needed a chair.
You see, I used to think they were only offering me a chair because I was white and therefore for some reason deserved a chair. But, being here longer, I realize that that is not the case at all. They are offering me a chair out of care and hospitality, why should I deny that? And so, I’m learning to take the chair, even if it makes me uncomfortable, even if everyone else around me is standing. Because by taking the chair, I’m letting them serve me and give me a gift. A chair may be the only thing they have to offer.