Written by GO Fellow Ryan Hudnall
The first time I heard the question, the suddenness of the question caught me off guard. It’s something I admittedly take for granted. From my American eye, it was a matter of safety and entertainment as to why I first learned this skill. It was really quite practical. Yet, to the Haitian, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary risks for the sake of a mid-summer’s day leisure. However, after observing the keen interest in each Haitian’s inquiry, I have a new appreciation for the Haitian’s fascination.
Can you swim?
My immediate reaction upon hearing the question tarries towards a world of disbelief, and the typical conversation is quite amusing.
American: You’re aware that you live on an island, right?
Haitian: Why would I leave the island?
American: God has equipped you with the necessary tools for this. You use your arms to paddle and your legs to kick.
Haitian: That is not why God created me with arms and legs.
American: You’ll be like a little fishie, discovering new life under the sea. I shall call you Flounder.
Haitian: My name is Pierre.
American: Look, Flounder, I’m from Kansas. We got lots of wheat and lots of land. Beaches aren’t exactly our thing. Even so, I know how to swim.
Haitian: Can you breathe underwater?
American: No, but that’s not the point.
Haitian: That’s exactly the point.
At the heart of the issue, though, there is a real fear that exists. Swimming lessons are not a conventional undertaking for the Haitian. There are few swimming pools, and the only people who really need to engage the water are fishermen, lobstermen, and conch divers.
Let’s put it in perspective. When I read about Peter walking on the water in Matthew 14, my ability to swim dulls my response to Peter’s bold decision. Rather, I typically reflect on the impossibility of the act rather than the risks borne by Peter to get out of the boat. To the Haitian, though, astonishment abounds, and Peter entertains fatal consequences by choosing to walk on the water. It’s a new perspective on the passage that I’m thankful to receive.
It’s with this understanding that GO Haiti Field Director Mike Rounbehler and I traveled to Leogane on a hot summer Friday to meet with Pastor Claude. Trip leader, Adrien Lewis, and a vision trip team of eleven family members had been onsite for nearly an hour, pouring love and attention into the kids. Mike and I met with Pastor Claude as the team continued to build relationships.
That’s when it happened.
The team had begun a tour of the village, and it was just coming across the newly-constructed swimming pool that is adjacent to the newly-opened guesthouse. Pastor Claude is a perpetual entrepreneur and has been finalizing the guesthouse over the past three months.
At the same time, as the tour is approaching the swimming pool, Pastor Claude, Mike, and I are wrapping up a conversation, and to conclude our discussion, we began walking towards the pool to join the rest of the team. That’s when Pastor Claude asks us if we’d like to swim in his pool.
This is no ordinary request. Pastor Claude is 62 years old, and he’s never been swimming.
The kids had been in the pool once before. While under construction, Pastor Claude partially filled the pool to ensure that there were no leaks. At that time, he allowed the girls and boys to each take their turn in the pool. You can hardly call it swimming, though.
So, we all meet at the swimming pool, and Pastor Claude leaves to change into a pair of athletic shorts. The team soon realizes what is about to occur. We watch his best efforts at a dive, which, graciously, better reflects a poorly performed belly flop. The team begins to scramble to find swimming attire.
The kids stand behind the chain link fence, unsure as to how to respond.
But in the spontaneity of the moment, the kids demonstrate their love and trust in us.
Such a terrifying prospect for a child – for anyone, really. To truly believe that you are placing your life in another’s hands. To have no control of a situation except the ability to trust and to cling onto your guardian.
One by one, the kids seek to join in, and soon, we are basking in the unplanned moment, celebrating the existence of each other and the opportunity to share a new experience. It’s not by chance that this has occurred, for the fear of swimming had not simply been extinguished by our presence in the pool. Rather, this result is the product of a rich history of teams coming to Leogane to affirm the individual value of each child. It’s the simple moments that have accumulated over time that have led to the children’s bold decision to step out onto the water. Every single smile, every hand held, and every kick of the soccer ball: those have led to this moment.
Pastor Claude remains in the pool, rarely straying away from the bright orange ring buoy that he has brought into the water as his companion. His fear lingers, but not enough to deprive him of the joy of the moment.
It’s here that you witness the transformative power of the orphan. God has used the beauty and the tenderness of the orphan to awaken and to ignite the hearts of others. To awaken my very own heart. For in that moment, when my friend, Monell, sought to join me in the water, he had no other testimony other than a pure and bold declaration in my trustworthiness. That, despite the reality of not knowing how to swim, his life was well guarded in my hands.
My heart seeks to know such faith. It’s Matthew 18:3 before my eyes (Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.). And so, in that moment, as I gazed around the swimming pool – noticing the smiles and the laughs, the trust and the peace – my heart was drawn to the One who has never failed me. For in a world where nothing seems trustworthy and cynicism is the voice of our day, there stands One whose glorious light shines and redeems the hearts of those caught in the darkness. It’s the One who I can approach and cling onto in the stormy waters of life. It’s “the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”
 Zacharias, Ravi. Quote from Malcolm Muggeridge. Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture, Dallas, Texas: Word Publishing, 1996.