"Yeah, I saw it." That is what you said when you had seen something and now a decision was to be made. You had the power to sway the decision one way or the other. Being able to say or tell what you saw puts you in a position of power.
Sunday, February 11, 2007, I was sitting on the platform of the 10th CONASPEH Convention. This convention was in the heart of the city Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I learned something about being a witness that day. I witnessed something powerful. Let me share what I witnessed and then I would like to share some of what I learned about being a witness.
I saw a tent covered amphitheater that would hold around 4 thousand people. There was no electricity for lights or air conditioning. But they did have a generator running for the sound system. I watched as 13 people were marching down the stairs in the back toward the front to take their seat on the platform. This was the graduating class of Nurses. They were so proud. Down the other stairway came the 109 men and 1 woman who were to be ordained. Watching these men and women coming down both isles and finding their seats moved me. It was a powerful moment.
I witnessed our General Minister and President Sharon Watkins deliver a message to the whole crowd; Jeanty, translating with matched intensity. I was so proud of her and our church, our whole church. I watched as Patrick and Francois knelt and were anointed by the 2 oldest pastors in Haiti. I witnessed them rise and move to the 110 now kneeling pastors who were being ordained. In Haiti they are generous with the oil of anointing. I had Felix Ortiz's camera in one hand and Rick Lowery's camera in the other. I moved with them as they made their way through the sea of kneeling pastors. Oil, tears, and sweat were streaming down their faces. I saw it, I was there. I literally took pictures right and left. And then it hit me hard. I am a witness. Tears began to flow down my face unashamedly. My heart was full and running over. I was standing in the midst of the greatest hope for social justice and positive change in Haiti. I was standing in the midst of pastors who would proclaim God's word to a broken hurting world. I was standing in a sea of pastors who were putting their life on the line; to be called by and set apart for God.
I was a witness that Sunday morning. The lighting was not very good in that place so the pictures are not so vibrant and clear so I must bear witness to those moments.
Here is some of what I learned about being witness.
Being witness is powerful and carries the weight of responsibility.
When I sat there watching those men and women file into the National Theater, I knew it was an important event. But when I realized that I was the witness to this event it became very important for me to take in as much as I could. I would be someone who could say I was there. I saw it happen. I participated. As I stood there taking pictures, seeing those faces and the hands of Our General Minister and President, the hands of Rick Lowery, the hands of Felix Ortiz stretching out, reaching for the heads and shoulders of those kneeling pastors I was moved deep in my soul. I had to find a way to share the story.
It is powerful to be seen.
I work really hard and most of the time no one ever sees. In those moments of walking through and touching the heads of those Haitian Pastors it was an affirmation. I see you. I recognize the work you put into being here today. I see your new black suit and red tie. I know that cost you and your family dearly. I recognize that you are answering Gods call in your life. I see you. I see you. I see you. 110 times they put a hand on a head; it was as important for our team to touch those men and that one woman as it was for them to be touched. It was powerful for each of them to be seen and acknowledged. I realized there is so much that happens when we acknowledge what we see.
Being witness to powerful events changes me
All of us, Karen Yount, Sue Short, Marge Boyd, Felix Ortiz, Richard Lowery, Sharon Watkins, and I, Jerri Handy, are being changed by what we saw. We saw poverty like we have not seen in the United States. We saw slave children whose stories are devastatingly sad. We saw no plumbing, or fresh water for the masses who wander the streets each day. I cannot not know that these conditions exist. I can not forget the poverty. I dare not choose to be a silent witness to what I have seen. And yet I must also come to grips with the fact that I also saw more hope in Haiti than I do in most churches. I heard people share their reality: Jesus Christ does make a difference. I witnessed pastors and leaders who speak for justice for the people even if it costs them a beating. I witnessed and heard of these men and women working for human rights and the salvation of Haiti.
The need is overwhelming there, but HOPE is alive and well. Their hope is in the love, mercy and justice of GOD.
Well that was just some of what I learned about being a witness. It is important to see, to be seen, and to acknowledge what we see. It is important to be present in being a witness and it changes you in exciting ways.