‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
Last week, in part one, I suggested that the often-quoted promise in Jeremiah 29:11 came on the heels of utter devastation. Babylon had laid waste to Judah, burned Jerusalem, and reduced the Temple to a pile of stones. Many of Judah’s inhabitants were subsequently led about 1,000 miles, along a scorched road, to modern day Eastern Iraq, where they were given a unique assignment:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
The command, when taken at face value, appears absurd. God is essentially calling His people to willingly travel into the heart of their sworn enemy–an empire that had destroyed the only home they’ve ever known–and instead of returning wrath for wrath, to live for the well-being of the empire. God even calls his exiled people to “pray to the Lord for [Babylon].”
In a way, this command shouldn’t surprise us. Because about 600 years later, Jesus (God-in-flesh) would command us to assume the same disposition toward our enemies:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45)
Throughout his three-year early ministry, Jesus performed a litany of miracles, from opening blind eyes, to casting out demons, even raising people from the dead. But near the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus offered the starting promise to those would choose to follow Him,
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
What’s more miraculous than raising dead people?
Allow me to offer a suggestion: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
Of course, Jesus already did this while crisscrossing the Holy Land with his twelve disciples. So what’s the “greater things” Jesus is referring to?
Imagine that same enemy-loving compassion and grace being reflected by the 1 billion humans who currently call Jesus their “Lord”?! What kind of world emerge?
If this is true, then what we’re witnessing through the staff of Healing Haiti is miraculous. Here’s the big picture:
Since the start of 2023 (through June 23), our staff have:
- Treated 2,717 patients at Grace Clinic, many of whom were gunshot or sexual violence victims
- Served 92,868 locally-sourced meals
- Provided 655,200 gallons of clean water
- Witnessed 143 fellow Haitians surrender their lives to Christ at Grace and Hope Churches
While about 90% of Port-au-Prince (Haiti’s capital and by far the largest city) remains under gang control, the lines between “friends” and “enemies” is becoming increasingly blurred. And still, our staff show up to serve everyday.
The Babylon Strategy:
In part one, I noted the difference between Assyrian exile and Babylonian exile. While Jews from the Northern Kingdom (Israel) were scattered like buckshot across the farthest reaches of the Assyrian Empire, The Southern Kingdom (Judah) were exiled to a specific section of the Babylonian Empire’s capital. This dynamic made it possible for the Judeans to continue living as a community on mission (the mission described in Jeremiah 29:4-7).
In other words, the Judean exiles’ impact on the empire was made possible, in part, because they focused on transforming a specific city, not an entire empire.
Healing Haiti was founded in 2006 as a ministry committed to providing clean water to Cite Soleil. As opportunities for expansion emerged, the ministry was faced with an important choice: begin providing water to more communities or go deep in a couple strategic locations.
In many ways, the choice was easy, because staff realized that clean water without medical care still made the future bleak for residents of Cite Soleil. Similarly, medical care without education failed to forge a prosperous future for the mended. Education without jobs kept God-given potential untapped. And jobs without a spiritual foundation led to a lack of true purpose.
Over time, a model for comprehensive ministry was born. Instead of forging a single-faceted ministry (i.e. water) that had the potential to serve hundreds of thousands of Haitians a year, Healing Haiti was called to focus comprehensive care on just two profoundly under-resourced communities: Cite Soleil and Titanyen.
Cite Soleil: The poorest community in the Western Hemisphere
Titanyen: Literally means “Less than nothing”, and is a town that has never had electricity
Committing to a comprehensive strategy wasn’t an easy decision, but in the years since choosing that course, the benefits have begun to materialize. Here’s a just a few things we’ve noticed:
- In the wake of COVID-19 and the subsequent deterioration of Haiti’s government, the majority of nonprofits serving in Haiti have shut down and/or shutdown. In light of this, had we decided to focus solely on water while relying on other organizations to offer education, medical care, job creation, etc. Titanyen and Cite Soleil would be in a far more dire situation.
- Investing in just two communities has allowed us to build trust while more fully understanding the challenges these communities face. Being all-in for Titanyen and Cite Soleil has forged a potency we never could have imagined.
- Our commitment to both “practical” ministry (food, water, medical care, education, jobs) and “spiritual” ministry (the local church) has built a foundation for discipleship that we’re beginning to see unfold in remarkable ways. The 143 people who have given their lives to Christ so far in 2023 not only have the hope of eternal life after they die, but through our other ministries (especially education and job creation), they also have access to powerful platforms where they can, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear” (Phillipians 2:12)
What’s happening through the Healing Haiti staff in Titanyen and Cite Soleil, in spite of all obstacles these communities face, is both remarkable and replicable. You may not consider yourself an exile in the nation where you reside. And yet, no matter how comprehensive that freedoms you may enjoy are, Peter makes it clear that, in Christ, we remain perpetual outsiders:
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11)
The freedom, safety, and prosperity you enjoy ought not prevent you from living like an exile in the sense God (through Jeremiah) instructed the Judean exiles:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
I believe that it’s only by living with this uniquely missional disposition that we’ll experience the promise that follows a few verses later,
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
In other words, the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 presupposes a commitment to embodying Jeremiah 29:4-7. In this way, the staff of Healing Haiti continue to (as they have for 17 years) show us the way.