I planted my feet on Haitian soil with high hopes and a heavy heart.
I immediately realized that I had misjudged a lot of things.
The sun was hotter.
My heart raced faster.
I fell in love quicker than I ever thought possible.
It was March 2011 – one year after an earthquake shook Port-au-Prince.
I clung white knuckled to a shaky handle on the side of the vibrant tap-tap and prayed it could hold my weight. Whirling through crowded market streets, I laid eyes on what news stations and tabloids could have never prepared me for.
For the first time in my life,
I saw devastation.
I saw hopelessness.
I saw abandonment.
Abandoned cars blanketed in the dust of used to be storefronts.
Lost makeshift shoes left to collect trash in a sewer.
Uninhabited houses crumbling and collapsing.
Beautiful, forsaken people.
Even in all the hurt and loss I witnessed, I experienced something even greater: beauty
I saw mountains for the first time.
Picked fruit from banana trees.
Played dusty soccer with orphaned children.
I met people so full of life and love and beautiful resolve that they made even my greatest moments on my best days look frail.
There is something hauntingly beautiful to me about places that have experienced hardship, been forsaken, or left abandoned. They scare me and fascinate me and empower me all at the same time.
It started with Haiti, but it didn’t end there.
See, I have a list of places.
Places I desire to go
to experience God
to tell others of His glory.
While similar lists might have the romantic lights of the Eiffle Tower and the hustle of Times Square, I’m more excited by the unusual.
My list holds unique experiences.
Many of these places are abandoned or uninhabited.
Detroit Central Station: closed and abused since the last train departed in 1988.
Kolmanskoop, Namibia: deserted after the diamond rush in 1986 and left to the mercy of the desert sands.
Pripyat, Ukraine: evacuated in April of 1954. You may know it as Chernobyl.
I imagine trains coming and going under the ornate walls of the station.
I envision children playing outside under the shadow of the power plant.
I dream of what it would have been like to play in the sands of the Namib.
I envision Port-au-Prince when it stood on a firm foundation.
And then I wonder…
Oh, I wonder
What would it take to bring these places back to life?
To control the radiation and move families back into Pripyat?
To see children in Haiti with stable homes, fitted shoes, and crystal clear water?
To hear the whistle of trains rolling through the station again?
Someone asked me once, “Why would you want to go to such dangerous and depressing places?”
The only sufficient answer I can muster is this: Because at one point in my life, I was one.
I’m fascinated by these places because I used to be one.
I’m empowered by these places because I used to be one but I’m not anymore.
I was once abandoned. Or at least I felt that way.
I was dirty. I was forgotten. I was uninhabited
But the truth that rings so clear in my heart today is this:
Being abandoned is not a death sentence.
It doesn’t have to be the end.
What I know is that just like a place or a city or a building can be
and brought back to life,
so the Living God has come and made His home inside of me,
cared for me,
filled me with His Spirit
and made me new!
He has taken away the ashes of my old life and polished for me a crown of beauty.
He has poured over me so much joy that there is no mourning loud enough to be heard through it.
He has wrapped me not only in his arms but in a righteous robe of boisterous praise so brilliant that any despair I’ve felt becomes a mere shadow.
All it takes is a single breath of life,
the smallest drop of blood,
the shortest wave of forgiveness,
to bring LIFE back into an abandoned person.
I’ve been a Detroit Central, so dirty and abused
I’ve been a Port-Au-Prince, so easily crumbling
I’ve been a Kolmanskop, so lost and forgotten
I’ve been a Chernobyl, so sick with poison
I’ve been abandoned.
But one thing I know:
I’ve also been so miraculously,
brought back to life.