By Melissa McLaughlin
When you think of love, what comes to mind? Hugs from your mom, dad, spouse, children? Dinners with loved ones filled with laughter and conversation? Special times like taking gentle walks in the woods, having joyous game nights or fun outings? Maybe a whisper touch from God like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds at just the right moment, a kind word spoken when you really needed it, a Bible verse that goes straight to your soul?
These are just a few of the images that come to my mind when I think of love. But I also know that love takes other forms, like the bleary-eyed mother awake all night caring for the sick child, the neighbor who helps the disabled person next door with grocery shopping, the husband who sits by his wife’s side as she goes through cancer treatments, never saying a word, but always there. This is another kind of love. Uncommon love.
After returning home from our second trip to the North Haiti Music Camp, my overwhelming memory was one of love. The previous year, our whole family was blessed to be able to volunteer at the Music Camp held at UCNH (North Haiti Christian University) in Haut-Limbe, Haiti. This special camp is a community outreach sponsored by the university with the goal of developing future Christian leaders by helping young people grow in their faith and music skills, thus nurturing, expanding and strengthening music ministries in area churches. This year, my husband, our son and I were blessed to be able to attend again. Though our days were filled with music from sunup to sundown, the memories that stand out and linger longest are the memories of love.
One such example was the day I ate lunch in the cafeteria and ended up being the only adult at table filled with young children. Though many of the teenagers and college students at the Music Camp are able speak some English, most of the children are not. So, we contented ourselves to smile at each other, tell each other our names and enjoy eating quietly together. It was a simple pleasure, but very, very sweet.
Many people in Haiti do not have enough food to eat. Some only have one meal per day or perhaps make it through with just the mangoes that have fallen from the trees above. However, while at the UCNH Music Camp, students are provided with three nutritious meals each day, a big part of the ministry offered there. What a blessing! A special Haitian treat that is served with some meals is plantain chips. Homemade of course, because everything in Haiti is homemade. These are similar to potato chips, only made from plantain. Plantain is a fruit that looks like a banana but tastes more like a flavorful potato. Plantain chips are crunchy and salty and so good! Each plantain must be thinly sliced by hand and then baked until crispy. Therefore, this beloved treat is quite time consuming to prepare, especially for a large crowd and understandably not served often. When these special plantain chips are brought out, each table in the cafeteria is given a small cereal-sized bowl to share among 10 people.
As we began our meal, the eyes of these precious little ones lit up at the sight of this small bowl. The children carefully passed the bowl from one to another and each child took his or her share, one small handful. As the bowl was passed to me, I put two individual plantain chips on my plate so that more would be left for the kids to enjoy, because I knew how the children would be thrilled with their much awaited treat.
When the bowl completed its circuit the whole way around the table, the little girl beside me noticed there were a few chips remaining in the bowl. She also saw that I had not taken my share, which should have been a small handful. She picked up the bowl, pointed to it and then insistently motioned to my plate indicating that I should take more chips, the very last of their treasured snack. I was unprepared for such grace. I looked at her sweet face in wonder. My eyes welled up. Rather than take more for herself, this small child who has known hunger in ways I cannot imagine, noticed me, considered me and offered me what was left of a coveted treat. I was profoundly moved and humbled by her small, but genuine gesture of selfless love and kindness. She conducted herself with generosity and beauty beyond her few years. So lovely was she in my soul.
Though I came from the United States, where we have more than enough to eat every single day and where we waste more than anyone should ever be allowed, this little girl didn’t give it a second thought. Though she is growing up in a town in Haiti where some people have homes with dirt floors, no running water and no electricity, this young girl didn’t take note. Though I didn’t look like her or speak her language, this mattered not. This precious little one cared about me, the strange woman sitting next to her who didn’t have enough plantain chips for lunch. This little girl simply cared that I got enough today.
If only we loved like this child. If only we shared out of our abundance the way this young child shared out of her meagerness. It was just a few plantain chips left in the bottom of a small bowl. But it was something more, something much, much more. It was uncommon love. Uncommon love extravagantly poured out on me through the heart and hands of a little girl in Haiti who ate lunch with me one day.
It is clear to me that our friendship with the staff and students who attend the UCNH Music Camp in Haiti is built on uncommon love. We spend about two weeks together. Who can be friends in just two weeks? Who can be friends when we only partially speak each others’ languages? Who can be friends with people from a completely different culture?
We are from the United States, the richest country in the Western Hemisphere. We are visiting Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. How can we be friends?
I don’t know. I can’t really explain it. Maybe it is our common love for music and our common love for Jesus that allows us to transcend all of our differences.
All I know is this, an experience of uncommon love is forever etched in my heart’s memory. I am so grateful to God and this tiny girl with the soulful brown eyes and a heart as big as the mountains of Haiti, for allowing me to experience a gift of such magnitude. A gift of such greatness. A gift I did not deserve. Out of her little, she gave. Lord, have mercy on me.
Mark 12:41-44 NIV – Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Matthew 19:23-30 NIV – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.