The day we moved to Haiti was exciting and exhilarating. We got up at 3am, headed to the Detroit airport with our giant suitcases, hugged our selfless middle of the night chauffeurs/friends and headed off on adventure.
My first thought when we arrived in Haiti was, “We can handle this!” With the warm greetings of our Haitian friends, our bellies full with plantain and celebratory cake, and the distraction of unpacking and settling in, the culture around me seemed a curiosity, rather than shocking. It took little more than four days and a trip to the Haitian marketplace to feel thrown completely off my footing, to know that “we can handle this” was hopeful at best, a mild delusion at worst.
In the marketplace, there were people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. I have shopped the foreign marketplaces before. I’ve traveled all over. I don’t love bartering, but I have some skills. I enjoy people, crazy mixes of smells, and the sound of vibrant language overlapping in the pleasant chaos of the day’s busyness. But I have never had to do it for my survival. I wasn’t there just to browse and procure a few souvenirs for friends back home. I needed groceries, and I needed them on a limited missionary budget. I needed to figure out how to cook said groceries, and I needed to not get hit by a mototaxi doing so.
I stood in the marketplace that morning and realized I was a foreigner. I was an outsider. I had no clue what I was doing, and do you know what that translates to? That feeling of utterly alone. Standing in the middle of a crowded marketplace, the sounds dissipate around you, the tears well up and you realize, in the end, it’s just you on an island. No one knows you here. If you fell, would someone pick you up? If you disappeared, would anyone notice?
In the marketplace, lost in my lonely thoughts, I felt a tug on my elbow that brought me back to the movement and the noises all around me. I looked into the chocolate eyes of my friend Sydney, who placed her arm around my back, held on to my shoulder for dear life and said, “Heidi, I am right here.”
That day in the market, Sydney gathered me. She didn’t just gather me in her arms to reassure me, but she also gathered me to be part of her people. Our friends in Haiti did absolutely everything they could each day to make us part of their lives. To welcome us, yes, but also to gather us as part of them.
Have you ever been the foreigner? Alone in another country, another town, another family? Think past the obvious. Have you ever been left standing in the high school cafeteria looking for a place to sit? Have you ever had to walk into a new church praying it felt like home? Have you ever rolled over in bed and realized afresh that the other side now lies empty and this world of loss is something harder than you ever imagined?
God promises that in all of our aloneness, all of our wanderings, all of our cast aside and walked away and went far off, He will gather us to Himself.
Isaiah records this promise in Isaiah 56:5-8. Read that below –
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
8 The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”
Child, you are better than a son, better than a daughter. That means that you who were once a stranger to God, a foreigner to grace and mercy, are now more than family.
You are gathered.
He has joined you to Him, gathered you up from your dark places or your regular middle-of-the-road day and brought you into relationship with Him. Verse 7 above proclaims that He brings us to His Holy Mountain and makes us joyful in His house of prayer.
God made someone else joyful in His house of prayer. She also felt like an outsider, a less than, and wondered if she was foreign to God in her barrenness. Look at Hannah’s story fresh. Read 1 Samuel 1:12-16.
As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14 And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”
Hannah brought all of her anxiety, all of her burden, all of her pain before the true God. Her heart overflowed, “pouring out her soul” before the Lord. If you think that Hannah’s prayer was polite, I would offer up a different vantage point. Hannah herself tells Eli in verse 16 that she has been speaking with the Lord in great anxiety and vexation. What’s the English definition of vexation? Annoyance, exasperation, indignation, aggravation. The Hebrew word here is marat, or bitterness. Hannah didn’t just pour out her requests, she poured out her bitterness in this house of prayer.
Hannah was gathered by the Lord.
He gathered her up to hear her bitterness, hear her dissension, to hear her shock and her distress at a world that was not fair. Is it possible that Hannah wondered in her distress if she even knew the Lord? Did Her beloved Savior feel foreign to her in her struggle? Have you ever been there?
You are gathered.
This is how God gathers. Maybe the house of prayer is simply honest relationship with God. Peak back at Isaiah 56. What did the Lord want from His people? He just wanted them to come to Him.
…To love the name of the Lord…
…to minister to Him…
…to hold fast…
…to place our sacrifices, on His altar…
You are gathered and He promises to gather others as well. That means all the Hannah’s you have around you, bitter and struggling with something. He’s gathering them. When He brings you to Himself, whether in bitterness or joy, He will use you to gather and gather and gather some more.
You are gathered. You may look a foreigner in this present land. You may feel a foreigner in your family, your church, or this culture. You may have some annoyance, some frustration, some distrust stored up to pour out before Him.
Go ahead and do it. You are no longer a foreigner to His grace.
You are gathered.
Trust in the One who holds you tight.
Present your requests before the Lord. Set a timer and challenge yourself to pray for 10 minutes straight with no distractions. Please feel free to pray longer, but let’s challenge each other to pour the cares of the day out to Him and spend time with Him and Him alone for just a bit. If you’d like to share some prayer requests, please feel free to do so in the comments below.
*psssttt – a birdie told me that the “No longer a foreigner to His Grace” photo makes a great iphone wallpaper. Just save it to your phone and insert as wallpaper under settings.