I heard a sermon almost fifteen years ago that came crashing home today. The pastor was speaking on John 2:1-11, when Jesus performs his first miracle, changing water into wine at a wedding. The focus was the following text: Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars to the brim with water”: so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” His point was that the servants had no reason to understand what was about to happen, they had been ordered to deliver wine and instead they were carrying water. They were doing something that, for all they could see, was pointless. But something amazing happened, in the midst of their obedience the water turned to wine without their knowledge, and instead of just witnessing a miracle they were a part of it.
Water is precious here and we carried a lot today at the orphanage, figuratively and literally. I spent the morning with two younger children. The first was a little girl named Louve Dani who was totally content sitting in my lap on a swing set as I sang to her. The second was a little boy named Van nel St. Pierre. He didn’t want to do anything except cling to me and fall asleep curled up on my chest. There were games happening, crafts, worship, and good conversations with the slightly older kids. I confess to feeling like I wasn’t contributing to the team, that I wasn’t building on the relationships that had begun a few days ago. Was this what I came to Haiti to do, to hold this little one as he slept, both of us sweating from the close contact in the hot sun?
The rest of the afternoon was spent literally carrying water. In hands, cups and buckets we lugged water from the large water tank. It was a massive group effort to wash the hair of every child we worked with, to apply medicated lotion to their bodies, and to wash all of their sheets so the clean children wouldn’t go to sleep on dirty beds. We’ve been washing the children’s hands each day as part of finger painting and they take great care to keep themselves clean, but this group effort contained both absurd moments and trauma. Imagine twenty kids, from three years old to eighteen years old submitting to having their hair washed and scalps examined by people they met three days ago. All of the relationships we’ve been building paid off. The lotion stung some of the children, and while most put up with it patiently one girl had a severe reaction, hinting at past trauma and reminding us that while we are seeing these children in good spirits some of them come from difficult pasts.
We passed out new clothes that we had brought with us and my little friend from the morning sought me out and climbed back into my arms. He was quiet for about five minutes but was wadding his shirt into his tiny eye. I checked with an older child who told me some of the medicine had gotten dripped his eye. As I found one of our nurses and the bottle of saline and an interpreter Pierre cried louder and held me tighter. The interpreter told him we were going to make things better, I held Pierre on his back, and the nurse did the saline wash. More tears, but eventual relief, then before we could even wipe his face he was back cuddled into me with his face under my chin and his delicate fist holding my cross. He slept for a while, waking up suddenly a few times, turning to see my face, then settled down again. Finally he moved himself to a cooler corner by himself and I went to help with other things.
The last piece of business for the work day was washing all the sheets at the orphanage, and doing it quickly. Each bed has only one sheet, so if they didn’t have time to dry the children would be sleeping on bare mattresses that night. We lugged bucket after to bucket from the water tank to the washing area – first to set up the assembly line, then to empty the dirty water and to fetch clean water. We frantically scrubbed sheets and struggled to find places to hang them all to dry. If the house mother thought it was funny to see us wash the children’s hair she thought it was hilarious teaching us to hand wash sheets in five gallon buckets.
So that was today – we carried water. I spent the morning holding a child so that a painful experience in the afternoon was a little less scary. We play games with the kids for hours so that they trust us when we say, “You need to spread this all over you, even if it stings.” Kids are great judges of character, even when they don’t understand what you’re saying, they know we are only trying to help them. In the meantime, I’m learning to be more patient, to wait and see if maybe something is happening even when I can’t see it, to see if maybe what I’m actually doing here is being part of a miracle.