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  • Writer's pictureRev. Christopher Tweel

Psalm 13 in reflection

How long does it take to grow a tree? We can get trees from Lowes or Home Depot or any of a hundred nurseries and have them hand delivered to us at nearly any age. Aged 5, 10, even 20 years if you have the money for it. Why we have trees in our yards, trees around our schools, we have whole parks devoted to trees, we have preservation areas that protect them– even our parking lots have trees most of the time.

How long does it take to grow a tree? We benefit from their shade the air they produce even the fruit they provide and might never stop and think the time, the effort, or the skill that went into its manufacture and cultivation. We are at times infatuated with them and use them as theological ideals, as spiritual touchstones and as places of refreshing inspiration. How many times have we heard Joyce Kilmer’s opening lines which leads us to the idea of trees that pray, and trees that look at God, and wear creation itself. This is, however, a wealthy western idea.

When your stomach is a hungry mouth and your eyes are tired from trying to eek out a meager living for an ever growing family, a tree is none of these things. A tree is whatever you can trade it for: A tree is a meal, a little garden seed, a tree is fresh water, a tree is a month of school, or material for repairing your meager shelter from the blowing rain.

But how long does it take to grow that tree? And when all the trees are gone, what then? When you are beyond the point of desperation and exhaustion these are idealistic questions that have no place in your consideration.

It might seem that in such a place of hunger and worry the words of Deuteronomy echo hollowly, but I think we found in Haiti they made sense in a strong and thunderous way. This little snippet of scripture is a reminder to the People of the Covenant that God keeps his Covenants. There is a requirement, but the relationship is established and it is a word that is going to be heard over all the people of the earth. It is a promise that involves everyone, everywhere in one way or another. There is the tie of this promise to the previous and previous generations of believers. There is an essence of remembering the eternal and undying care of God for his people. And in that relationship there is abundance, and there is a prosperity, and in that there is an ever loving hope chiming in again and again and again; at the top of every age, at the precipice of every disaster, at the end of every wave on the sand and of every last gust of wind. There is a word in this passage that says you cannot be washed away because God cannot be washed away. And in Haiti that is a powerful message.

The long remembrances of God, and the age spanning, the generation spanning story of that promise –from Abram in Ur to Joshua leading a people across the Jordan and beyond – this story is one echoed by foundations in Haiti like KODEP. This organization that has stood in Haiti through all kinds of disaster for more than 20 years is not a weeklong mission trip. It is an earnest attempt to facilitate, through the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit, a real and deep change at the heart of that country. And they have been having progress and success this whole time. But how long does it take to change a country? How long does it take to grow a tree?

In the picture behind me you can see some of the fruit of KODEP’s influence. Hundreds and thousands of seedlings like these are raised every year. All for sale for the reforestation projects, or for soil reclamation that works jointly with sustainable agriculture practices that are feeding people, but more than that these projects are empowering people. The work of KODEP is focused not on the proverbial giving a person a fish, and NOT even on teaching a person to fish. But instead it is intent on involving the people of a community and deciding together if fishing is even an option. Then empowering those people to teach the rest of their locale how to fish, and even creating some teachers within that group. How long does it take to change a country? How long does it take to teach a new way of life?

God’s Promise is not being forgotten in Haiti. And it’s not because of pop-over mission trips that essentially are a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. It’s because of pop-over mission groups plugging into a lager and sustained effort that stands against every natural and spiritual disaster, an effort that that has made a mission of relentlessly repeating a covenant made with a God who is relentless. It is showing real results not just in number of buildings constructed, or in the number of Haitian employees, but in the ratio of Haitian to American workers (around 200::1), and in the pervasive spirit that the people involved with KODEP have with one another, with God and with their larger community. How long does it take to change a community? How long does it take to grow a single tree?

To date 10-12 million trees have been planted.

The long term, unforgotten, unforgettable Love of God needs desperately to be emulated in Haiti and in all parts of the world in such a powerful way that people will stand in awe of it. I stood in awe this past spring break when we were able to take this trip. Over the decades KODEP has worked to restore the hope of a people in pain, not through the magnanimous efforts of foreigners, but through the love and tireless support of people who recognized the common God and inspired a generation to act in that love.

And now? Well now, you can walk through woods, in the shade of trees that are 20 years old and heavy with fruit. You can hear birds that sing sweetly as they return from far-flung forests on other islands to make their new home in Haiti. You can look down from the mountains and feel a cool breeze from shaded nurseries where people work together with humility and joy. And through the stars and distant rolling thunder a new people can hear the never ending promise of a covenant and join with a global brethren in seeing the Universal Power.

Not because people went to Haiti and said, “Let me tell you the Good News! Sit Down and listen!” but because they were sent to Haiti and said, “Brother, sister, I am at your service, and your servant. Tell me when I may go. Our Master sent me to live here at your feet. Come Let’s find the promise together. Come Let’s see how the world will change when we remember a Loving God together.”

How long does it take to grow a tree?

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