The way that God makes such big things, the mountains and the oceans here – and then works out the intimate details of lives overlapping, will never cease to amaze me. In this, He is a relational God and creates us as tools in the design to work as His instruments exactly where He planned. I got to see that happen this week.
This story starts with Tiffany, who remembered a boy from last June. She said she couldn’t get him out of her head from Grace Pickerington’s visits to Canaan last year. He squeaked when he talked and when she tried to communicate with him, others told her not to try because he can’t talk. We looked in March with the medical team, but he didn’t come around during the clinics.
Two weeks ago, there was a boy sitting on the side of all of the activity on a small pile of blocks getting ready to be used in the VIP for Canaan. I went over to talk to him and he smiled but did not talk back – I realized this may be the boy after spending some time with him. Sure enough, some kid comes over and tries to shoo me away. In Creole he basically told me “He can’t do anything, he can’t talk. He is Bebe.”
I had a feeling that wasn’t his actual name, and I was right. Tiffany got his phone number (telling me, yes, that’s him!) and through texting found out his real name – James. Bebe is just as insulting as it sounds – can’t do anything, like a baby. No wonder it’s hard to get James to interact, only a few Haitians (such as Patrick, an elder in the church) take the time to attempt to communicate by acting things out or being overly expressive.
So after meeting James, after wishing there was a way to communicate and let him know he matters…The team leader for the second Grace Fellowship team sends me an e-mail a few days before arriving: “Hey, I don’t know if there’s a need for it, but my daughter who is coming knows ASL.”
Our first day in Canaan with the second team, I see James pretty soon into the day and go over to say hi. Samantha, the daughter, walks into my eye line and I call her over. “This is the boy I told you about last night – the reason I’m so excited that God sent you, you know sign language! I have no idea if he knows it, but….” And she starts to introduce herself with sign language.
And he responds, with his face lighting up.
It gave a voice to James, dignity, the ability to share some of his story. He was immediately different for the entire week, he could ask to borrow my camera and he would use it and integrate with everyone else. He came into services, which I have never seen before, and Samantha would see him come in and immediately start interpreting. (Which is quite the process: English & Creole going on and being translated, and she has a kid on her lap and is signing around that kid)
He transformed last week – because one person could talk to him. Because one person took the time too. Because one person got on his level, understood him, stood beside him. What are the chances of someone even knowing ASL – and that James happened to learn American sign language instead of just French or Creole? God set that up.
Not many things make me angry, especially in this cultural context. I’m used to people seeing others in different ways, I’m used to being corrected, I’m used to seeing things that would be offensive back home – but there’s one thing that is universally not okay. You do NOT write off a human being because of a difference. And that is what most people do to James. All week as I learned basics in ASL or interacted more with him, people constantly came into the church and tried to stop me. “Don’t talk to him” “He can’t talk” “He doesn’t understand”
Not true. He’s smart, beautifully designed, and he’s been talking all week – thank you very much. And in my limited Creole, I would tell people that. And I came to the sad understanding that he is used to it, that it’s just life for him to be written off.
Thank you, God, for sending Samantha to remind him that He is yours. That he DOES matter. That the majority of people who choose to write him off – that they are wrong.
And God’s got that intricate design wrapped around all of our lives: weaved in and out in relationships we have or will have in the future, our personalities, life experiences and even our education – to serve His people, to further His kingdom. It’s a beautiful design that will never cease to amaze me.