By Ryan (serving as a GO Fellow in Haiti)
Your GO Haiti American staff has embraced a new slogan.
If I’m going to be honest, I wish I could say that our new maxim was a planned effort of the heart. One that we prayerfully considered and felt compelled to adopt. But I can’t say that or even admit something close to that: it would go against my principles of full disclosure. I am an accountant, by golly.
It was stumbled upon by the chance occurrence of three people wearing the same shirt. Humble beginnings to our new slogan, no?
Yet, perhaps this by-chance beginning is a suiting representative for the condition of the heart. Let’s explore that idea.
It was a hot and humid afternoon, and the team had decided to visit Pastor Claude’s village in Leogane. It was a big day for many of the children: their beloved Argentina national soccer team was about to compete against Belgium in the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup. Energy was high, and I just happened to be wearing a blue and white striped shirt. I was immediately identified as an Argentina fan. I can’t be too sure, but I’m fairly certain that some of the kids actually think I’m Argentine based upon my “bold” expression of fanhood.
At halftime of the Argentina-Belgium game, our soccer energy spilled onto the local soccer field, and we found ourselves attempting our best reenactments of Lionel Messi. I assure you: there was no resemblance – at least on the Americans behalf – of anything close to World Cup soccer.
During the game, one of the older boys rocketed a ball into the air. The ball appeared harmless enough, but it was flying in the direction of a path used by the children. Then, to my utter horror, I noticed a small boy standing where the ball was destined to go.
I had seen the boy Monell on previous trips to Leogane but had never really spent any time with him. He carries a tough expression, and he had never seemed too eager to engage. Monell is roughly five years old and stands a mighty 30 inches tall.
Monell didn’t see the ball traveling in his direction, and it hit him on the back of the head, knocking him to the ground.
I let out a resigned breath, waiting to see who would be the first to come to his aid. The incident had occurred so quickly that no one else other than those of us on the field had witnessed it. Much to my amazement, though, the game continued as if nothing had happened.
Emotions flashed before me. First, anger: how could the boys be so callous? Next, sadness from the understanding: because they likely did not have an advocate in their many days of suffering. The life of an orphan is a harsh reality: prior to joining one of the GO Project villages, the conditions that some of these children have endured are nearly unspeakable.
But ultimately, compassion overwhelmed me, and I let the ball skip by me as I rushed over to Monell. He was trying to fight back tears but had lost the battle as a solitary drop trickled down his face.
I held him for a moment, wiped away his tear, smiled at him, and put him down to continue on his way down that path. I returned to the soccer game, which came to a fairly prompt ending as the second half of the Argentina game had begun. The soccer boys and I rejoined the rest of the village under the shaded pavilion, listening to the shouts of the Creole commentary.
Minutes passed, and I found myself with a boy on my lap and my left arm over the shoulders of a girl sitting close. It was then that I noticed a small hand holding onto my left hand.
It was Monell.
I brought him closer, and an amazing thing happened: he smiled. The smile seemed to catch him off his guard, for he seemed surprise by his sudden and seemingly foreign expression of happiness and hurriedly removed the smile from his face. This would happen for the remainder of my time at Leogane that day: a quick burst of smile followed by an even quicker return to that hardened expression.
He never left my side, though.
The slogan is this: DTO Friday. On that fateful Friday, three of us were wearing shirts that proclaimed “Defend the Oppressed” [available at The GO Exchange]. We took a picture and declared every Friday to be a DTO Friday.
It’s not something I’m proud of, but I admit I’m thankful for the weekly reminder. It takes a conscious choice to defend the oppressed, and even then, complacency bears its ugly head. I may consider the moments where I have defended the oppressed, and those rightfully comfort and encourage me. Yet, at the same time, what am I doing to presently defend the oppressed? Paul’s words on running the race certainly prompt personal reflection here.
I recall that little hand taking hold of my index finger and then slipping into my own hand. It was no secret why Monell had returned to my side: he had found an advocate. He had found someone who, in his moment of need, had rushed to his side to ensure his well-being. Perhaps that’s what these children are truly looking for: not a hand-out, not another soccer ball, not even a free meal, but a voice. And for my part, seeing the preservation of Monell’s tenderness and the smile trying to burst through the sadness, it’s all worth it.
The next DTO Friday is almost here.
Are you ready to put the shirt on?