He killed his own father. He killed his own father and I sat there in silence, trying to wrap my mind around any of the words being said.
It was all so foreign. And I don’t just mean the language.
I don’t have a picture of him and all I remember saying at the end of all the telling was a quiet “please tell him thank you for sharing his story with us.”
With my eyes I pleaded thanks, begging him to see grace and mercy and forgiveness and love. Not from me, although maybe you could argue that way, but from God. He told me his story and I don’t even have a picture with him but he changed my life.
When I pulled out my teal journal with the long red line running down the left side, I began the entry for that day with the three things God had begun to press on my heart as I breathed in the open expanse of Haitian air.
He is infinitely big,
we are intricately small,
but we are intimately loved and known.
That day broke me. The village, the uncomfortable comfortable feeling that suddenly came when offered a brand name soda, and then hearing from the man who can’t read anything except the Bible.
But none of it prepared me for Nelson.
We sat at the long table where food was passed, stories were told, laughs were shared. We sang here and opened Scripture here and filled up water bottles here. It was a lot of ordinary but it all added up to something extraordinary. I think that’s a little bit of how our lives work.
Dinner had been cleared and we each pulled out a chair and waited. We knew that he had come to share his testimony. We knew that our host would interpret. And we knew that he had previously been a witch doctor.
I knew facts but I didn’t know the heart. So he sat there, across the table and a few chairs down, and I watched. I listened. I did my best to process and understand, to keep my face from making faces (Because it does that. My thoughts reflect on my face and I don’t even feel my brow wrinkle or eyebrows raise or mouth open.). I wanted to ask questions, not to belittle him or make him feel sorry for his choices, but to understand.
I couldn’t understand.
What would make a man kill his own father? beat his wives? set places on fire?
How could a human sit at a table and tell me he had signed a contract with Satan and would carry out his every command until the contract expired and death came? How he could kill or heal with one look, one act?
My American-ized Christian mindset couldn’t comprehend. I watched him speak, listened to our host translate, and all the while did my darned best to understand. But I couldn’t.
Right in front of my face was proof that voodoo existed (and still exists, to be clear) and there was no denying it or explaining it away or wondering or doubting or any of that nonsense that makes a lot more sense an ocean away, a life away. I had heard, sure. Somewhere along the way someone somewhere at some time had spoken the words voodoo and so yeah, I knew it was out there and it was bad.
But then I sat at a table with a self-professed former witch doctor and my world changed.
And then . . . his face changed. He looked up and he started smiling and he told us exactly how God saved him. In great detail, he told his story. The good and the bad and the glory of God in the middle of it all.
Nelson didn’t cover over his sin. He didn’t hide it or glaze over it quickly. He shared with us so that our eyes might be opened and our hearts softened, not with pity but with reverence for the God who comes into the dirty of our hearts and says No more. You’re mine. I claim you.
As he finished sharing, our host turned to us and said three very simple words.
Tell your story.
And I cried because that’s it. That’s it. I wished I could have recorded it because you’ll likely never meet Nelson. You won’t have the honor of sitting at a table with him and listening as he recounts the terrible that he’s done and the beauty and restoration God has poured out. You can click right out of this and never think of it again.
I would have. And I did, with so many stories that didn’t involve voodoo but did force me to re-think the world we live in and what I’m doing about it. It’s a lot easier to avoid thinking and guilt and lots of questions if you just click the little red X.
But I met Nelson. I heard his story. And then I had to think about mine.
I don’t believe He’s calling me or you to go save the world. He’s already come to do that. It is finished.
But I do believe that He has told us to tell our stories. Not because they’re beautiful or miraculous or life-changing. No, I think we’ve been called to share our stories because our hearts were just as dark, our eyes just as empty, our hands just as blood-stained. And then, Jesus. And now, because of Him, they are beautiful and miraculous and life-changing. Because He is.
We don’t need to tell his story or her story, we need to tell His story. If you tell your history then you tell His story. He’s the One who saves the day. He’s the One who enters into the very darkest, bleakest of nights and whispers truth and love so strong and right and good.
He is Light. Always breaking through.
Maybe you’re not cut out to be a speaker or a writer or a teacher or an author. Maybe you think you have to have a book deal or a stage to make a difference.
Just tell your story. You don’t have to be cut out, you’ve already been placed in – right where you are, at this exact time, to make a difference. And maybe for you it does look like writing or speaking or teaching.
But odds are good that it simply looks like showing up to the table, pulling out a seat, listening before speaking, and then telling your story.
Every story matters. And it just takes one to change the world. Because when our history is His story? Light pierces the dark.
Nelson taught me a lot and his story continues to impact what I believe and how I live. Among many other things, he taught me that covering over mistakes and quieting our stories takes glory from God. That isn’t to say that every detail needs to be shared with every person. Please, do not hear me saying that.
I am, however, saying that God has placed you among people who need to hear about Him. Where you are is no accident. And maybe, just maybe, when we choose to show the mess we’ve been and the Healer He is, someone else’s dark will be flooded with light.
I ended the journal entry that day with these words: I can see that God is at work here and I want to be part of it. Different color skin, same blood. And Nelson? He’s still there, choosing each day to tell his story. He hasn’t run from his past – he has chosen to run to those still in the dark to share the Light. Before clicking that red X, before going about your day and forgetting or sharing or thinking more about this, will you pray for him, his wife, and his two children? Pray as he continues each day sharing with those still practicing voodoo. Pray for boldness and brightness as he carries the Light.
For more stories from my time in Haiti, the following links may be helpful to you: