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For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, Matt. 25:42 (NIV)
As Trudy boarded the plane bound for Haiti, it seemed to her as if she were going home instead of actually leaving her home. The tears streamed from the corners of her eyes as she recalled the words “you are not our daughter anymore” that her parents had said the day before. She had spent the night in the airport and, despite her lack of food; it was the first time in three months that she didn’t have the hunger pangs. Settling into her window seat, she felt a sense of peace come over her and, even before the wheels left the ground, she began to drift off to sleep. Her mind drifted back to her last trip to Haiti and the events unfolded in her mind as if she was watching a DVD.
Three Months earlier…
Although you could see the poverty of the country from the air, a sense of excitement filled Trudy as she felt the wheels of the plane touch the runway. As she left the plane and entered the terminal, her eyes caught a rather small man dressed in a priest’s robe. As she tentatively approached, Father Ben greeted her with “bonswa” the Creole equivalent of “good afternoon”.
On the way to the feeding center, Father Ben thanked her for giving a part of her summer, between high school graduation and college, to help the poor people of Haiti. As they passed through the mud lanes that passed for streets, Father Ben explained how the needs of the people were so great but he did the best he could with what he had. On arrival at the feeding center which also served as the chapel as well as the home of Father Ben, Trudy felt her jaw drop. This was not what she had imagined. The building was a simple mud/brick structure with a covered patio in the front. On the patio were some plastic tables and chairs that looked as if they had been purchased on a KMART blue light special. On one post of the canopy, was a simple cross that looked so lonely.
As they turned to enter, Trudy was introduced to a dark rather large woman and her jaw dropped once again as Father Ben introduced her as his wife, Bridget. She quickly tried to hide her surprise as Bridget’s beefy arms surrounded her with a hug. There was not a lot of time for small talk as the crowd of hungry people had already started to gather. Bridget took her by the hand and led her through the building and out the back to the “kitchen” as Father Ben gathered her bags.
Trudy’s mind was in a whirlwind as she tied on the apron and Bridget stirred the rice mixture. She could hear the soft spoken voice of Father Ben leading prayer as the people lined up and the lucky ones got a seat at one of the tables. The next two hours were a blur as Trudy served the food to the crowd. Tears filled her eyes as her last trip from the kitchen was with empty hands yet there was still a crowd holding out the empty wooden bowls. With a few words in Creole from Father Ben, the remaining people stacked their bowls on the table and left without even complaining. They would simply slump their shoulders and trudge away through the mud.
The sun was setting as Trudy was shown to the tiny little guest house/room in the back. She lit a candle and sat on the cot as the thought “what are you doing here?” ran through her mind. After a shortened version of her bedtime prayers, she blew out the candle and settled into bed.
It seemed as if she had only rested for minutes when there was a knocking on the door. She could hardly believe her ears as Bridget told her it was time to rise. The next five days were what seemed like one very long day. The pattern was very simple and consisted of prepare the rice mixture, serve the meal until it ran out, clean the kitchen, and repeat. It seemed like there was occasionally a few minutes of having her eyes closed thrown in but, for the most part, it felt like swimming through a sea of faces.
The next day was different in that there was no knocking on the door early in the morning. Although she did not realize it, it was Sunday a day of rest. The sun was well up in the sky when she heard a faint voice ask her if she was ready for church. She could hear singing as she made her way out to the patio. Although she could not understand a word, she could still feel the joy as the people sang in worship. After a few songs, it became quiet and Father Ben read from the worn copy of the Holy Bible. He read from the Book of John chapter six. He read the words about Jesus feeding the five thousand and instantly translated them and spoke them in Creole. He explained to the people how they came on the other six days and were given the rice mixture, but today, they could receive the Bread of Life. The service ended with the communion emblems being passed out and shared.
After the service, Trudy wandered the neighborhood and prayed for the people. As she tromped through the mud, a little girl approached saying “manje souple”. As she bent down to explain to the little girl that she didn’t understand, the diamond cross that she was wearing dangled in the face of the little girl. The girl reached out and clutched the cross and an amazed stare and smile came over her face. At the same time, Trudy began to feel an uneasy twinge in her stomach. The scene was finally interrupted by the girl’s mother calling “Fabienne vini!” The encounter continued to play in Trudy’s mind as she returned to the feeding center.
The evening was spent talking with Father Ben and Bridget. Trudy asked them what the little girl as well as her mom had been saying. Bridget skipped over the little girl’s words and explained that Fabienne was the girl’s name and her mother was telling her to come. After an awkward pause, Trudy asked what the little girl had said before that. Finally, Bridget explained that Fabienne had said “to eat, please” in Creole. The conversation then turned to Trudy’s future plans and her acceptance to law school. Trudy explained that she was not really that smart but that her father who was a lawyer had connections and had made a serious contribution to the school. As the conversation ended, it hit Trudy that she was actually leaving in the morning to go home.
Trudy tossed and turned as the vision of Fabienne asking for food played in her mind. She awoke early not out of excitement at departing for home but because of the sharp pain in her stomach. She masked the pain very well as she said goodbye to Bridget and left with Father Ben for the airport. As they said their final goodbyes before she boarded the plane, she noticed a single tear fall from the corner of his eye.
No matter what Trudy tried over the next two months, nothing stopped the pain in her stomach. The endless trips to the doctors were for nothing and it seemed like everyone started to look at her as if she were nuts. For that reason, she never mentioned the fact that she slept very little and always had the same dream. No matter how much she asked God for the dreams to end, each night Fabienne paid her a visit. The result was always the same with Trudy waking in tears and clutching the diamond cross around her neck.
This day was much the same but with a slight twist. Although she hated to admit it, Trudy didn’t know her Bible as well as she should but she finally found the verse that she was looking for. She had awoke with “Matthew 6:19” on her mind and was almost in a panic to find it and see what it said. As she read about storing up treasures in heaven instead of here on earth, she realized that God had answered her prayers but not in the way she expected. She clutched the diamond cross in her hand as she remembered the day that her mother had given it to her. She remembered how her mother had explained that it had been passed down through the women of the family starting with her great great grandmother and now was Trudy’s as a present celebrating her confirmation in the faith. She remembered the look of pride on her mother’s face as she explained that it was priceless and could never be replaced.
As Trudy left the pawn shop, it hit her that she was going to have a tough time explaining giving up the family heirloom. She counted again the stack of one hundred dollar bills that she had received as she made her way home. She paused outside and took a deep breath before opening the door. She could see the concern build on her parent’s faces as she told them that they needed to talk. It seemed like no time before the conversation turned into yelling and screaming. The yelling ended with the words “you are not our daughter anymore” and Trudy running for the door.
Trudy awoke to the sound of the plane touching down. She had to admit that it had been a very long time since she had slept that well. As she entered the airport, she caught sight once again of the small man in the priest’s clothes and saw the tears in the corner of his eyes. On the way back to the feeding center, Trudy handed Father Ben what was left of the stack of hundred dollar bills. He thanked her with the simple words “you are an answered prayer” and “just call me Ben”.
The next few weeks were much the same as the first week she had ever spent in Haiti but there was one big difference. Now, it didn’t seem like work or swimming in a sea of faces. Trudy began to see the individuals in the crowds and to see them as treasures and not just a hungry stomach. Each day she scanned the faces to see if little Fabienne was one of them holding the little wooden bowls. Each night she would pray to God to send Fabienne so that she could give her the Bread of Life.
Once again, Trudy woke on a Sunday morning to the familiar “are you ready for church?” The service began as usual with the joyous singing and Trudy was able to join in singing some of the words. Then, Ben opened the worn Holy Bible and read from the Book of Matthew chapter six. Tears fell from the corner of her eyes as Ben read about storing treasures in heaven and she remembered the last time she had read those words. She closed her eyes and once again prayed for God to send little Fabienne to receive the Bread of Life. A silence fell over the assembled church as the strange man and woman led the little girl to the front. Trudy’s eyes came open as she felt arms being placed around her waist and she found herself looking into the eyes that had been in her dreams so many times. Joy mixed with amazement as Trudy’s eyes rose to meet those of her mother and father who were behind Fabienne.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21