I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart…
— Philippians 1:3-7a (NASB)
As I prepare my remarks for the Haitian church I keep coming back to the greetings of Paul to the churches. He has some absolutely wonderful ones. Read Colossians 1:1-14 or 1 Thessalonians 1. How can you read these words and NOT smile? How can you read them and NOT get encouraged? Indeed, I think Paul writes them with encouragement in mind. In each of the ones listed, including the one above, Paul talks about either hearing or remembering something about their faith and love. Some, like the Thessalonian church, had suffered great hardship. It was tough to be a first century fellowship. Yet they remained steadfast in their faith. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Faith during trial never is.
Ah… remembrance. Thoughts. Emotions. Distant memories. Smiles brought forth out of the blue. Remembrance does not come in constant time. No. It comes and goes. Like the seasons, except it is measured in glances rather than months. But remembrance is not just remembering whether or not you turned off the water faucet. It’s more than that. Remembrance is memory mixed with emotion. For Paul, remembrance of the Philippian people was mixed with joy. Maybe even fondness. He thought about a quirky person, a humorous comment, a sincere gesture. He saw faces, heard voices, tasted the communion wine. He thought fondly of them and sent up a quick shout-out to the Lord.
Heart. Remembrances come not from the cerebral lobe of logic but from that secret and sacred place inside us called the heart. The heart contains many remembrances. I like the joyful ones. But sometimes the heart divulges hurt. Paul’s time with the Philippian church was more than a teacher with his pupils. It was more than a quick autograph session followed by a few pictures. It was more… Paul’s impact on the Philippian church can be measured by history. We know what happened to the church there over the centuries. It’s history. But the people’s impact on Paul… that can be measured by his own words. He had them in his heart. Did he think of them every day? Don’t know. But he did have them in his remembrance. Again, remembrance is not a constant thing. It comes and goes. Like rain in the Texas summer. When it falls, you look up and smile. When it’s gone… well… it’s gone.
It’s been 16 years since I last walked on Haitian soil. I was young. A lad of 18 years with a lifetime of experiences ahead of him. I had already been faced with horrifying poverty in Mexico and my heart’s eyes were opened. But utter poverty? Haiti exposed me to it. Being in a culture where I didn’t speak the language, where electric power lines were the exception and not the rule, and where beggars came up to our van at every stop… that I wasn’t used to. It was such a beautiful place of palm trees, fruit trees, mountains and beaches. Yet the people endured such trial every single day! And there was a church in the midst of all this? With smiling people and laughing kids and a kindred spirit? Goodbye, worldview. Hello, Christ.
When I look back on my time in Haiti in 1995 it’s more than memories. I feel longing to see the church in Chambellan again. Even as I prepare to shove off to Scotland, I’m about being able to go to Haiti. Emotion is part of it. A big part. I feel joy for their faith and concern for their ministry. I hear that the pastors are tired. So many needs. Only so much heart. They aren’t going to give up but they are exhausted. I want to go and encourage them to keep their faith and keep on loving while they do. I want them to know that they have been in my heart and whenever I’ve remembered them I’ve thanked the Lord for them. And that I look forward to the remembrances certain to come after I leave this second time. I’m no Paul but I love them anyway and have great joy when I hear they’re doing well. They are not forgotten to me. They are a joyful remembrance.