People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-15
Without question what I remember best about Haiti is the children. It would be hard to forget them. Most Haitian families have at least six children, and one of the most common diagnoses that Albert, the nurse on our trip, made during the clinics he held was pregnancy. Many parents cannot afford to send their children to school since all schooling is private, so children are constantly visible, not hidden away in schoolrooms as they are in the US. As we neared the village of Desab, and as we turned off the main road and onto the dirt road that leads into town, the children began to come. Sister Eunice sat shotgun, and the rest of us lurched happily on top of our luggage in the back of the pickup. The children ran down from cement and mud huts tucked behind the bush and brush of the landscape. Their legs were thin enough and fast enough that they became a blur as they raced to be first to stick their hands into Sister Eunice’s window. “Peewilli, peewilli?” they cried, saying the Haitian word for lollipop.
Sister Eunice is not a sentimental woman; in her dealings with the village elders who led the cooperative, she never minced words. Only with the children did Sister Eunice’s hard edges begin to soften, and while she never handed out money, she could always be counted on for a tasty treat. She was fastidious with the care she took maintaining equity in all her actions. She once recounted with great indignation how a priest had accompanied her on a trip to Haiti; when they arrived in Desab, he without asking began handing out soccer balls and candy on a first-come first-serve basis, and before long, of the dozens of children who had swarmed down the mountains, half were “haves” and half were “have-nots.” The thought of creating more inequality in a country already infamous for it was intolerable to Sister Eunice, and she always managed to conserve her lollipops so that every child on the dirt road to Desab left the window of her truck with bulging cheeks or pockets.
In the US, where over-stimulation and access to too much of everything force many children to grow up too fast, to know too much and yet understand, and value, so little, it is difficult for us to properly appreciate Christ’s words to us in Mark. When I was a child, receiving something meant getting presents for my birthday or for Christmas, and I did not often receive them with proper thankfulness. Instead, I compared them to the bigger and better things I saw in storefronts and on billboards; knowing all that was out there made it very difficult for me to receive anything with true joy. The children of Desab, on the other hand, know of very little. Many have not been to school; Port Au Prince, the nearest city, is inaccessible; and I rarely saw children play with manufactured toys. Yet at the same time, their understanding of life is much deeper than that of the typical American child, simply because they’ve experienced firsthand hardships that I, even at twenty-one, had only heard of.
The children of Desab understand hunger. Subsistence in the mountains of Haiti is uncertain and, even in the best of times, insufficient. Despite the best efforts of the cooperative, many children still show signs of malnutrition: distended bellies, loss of pigment that turns hair from black to a yellowish orange, and rotting teeth from a lack of calcium.
The children of Desab understand the powerful grip of disease and the despair of seeing no relief in sight. I never saw one child cry despite the fact that as the nurse’s assistant, I waited on children who came to us with day-old machete gashes that had not been washed or bandaged, or with a case of scabies so severe that pus-filled lumps swelled up beneath the hair and down the back of the neck.
Even in the midst of all this suffering, the children of Desab are also the most joy-filled and trusting children I’ve ever met. I had always wondered what it meant to truly receive the kingdom of God like a child, and the children of Desab showed me the way. Rather than expecting us to earn their trust, they implicitly gave it, climbing onto our laps and vying to hold our hands within hours of meeting us. This, I thought, was how Jesus wants me to treat him—not for me to wait for him to win my faith, but to trust him unconditionally.
The children of Desab demanded our attention. They called out our names incessantly, insisting that we listen to them or look at a picture they had drawn. In turn they listened to us, and they struggled with utmost concentration to understand our strange English words. If God could be tired out, I thought, then surely he would want me to exhaust him by calling on his name, demanding his attention incessantly throughout the day. The children of Desab received us with a delight and joy that made me believe they desired nothing more; that they were fulfilled completely. I hope that I can receive the Kingdom of God the same way.
Anna Bingham ’06 is a History of Science concentrator in Leverett House.