I shake my head every single time I hear the notes begin to play. There’s this song that is following me around and chasing me down and I’m thankful every time it finds me, if we’re being honest. It helps me remember.
So I sing it and raise my hands and I don’t frankly care what the person next to me thinks – whether in a church building, on a highway, or in a classroom. The song is a popular one and so it splashes across radio stations often, but every time I’m convinced it’s a gift just for me.
At least it was that one time in Haiti.
Standing in a conference room full of bloggers, argued about in a college classroom, while driving down the interstate, playing from my phone while I fall asleep or hummed quietly on the dirt streets of Haiti, this song has gripped my heart.
Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory God is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence Lord
I sing these words as I type them, instead of a quick Google search with a copy and paste. Welcome even here on a small blog in a little corner of the Internet. We welcome, He comes.
It was a regular day in March as I sat in my 9:15 Christian Theology class. I was super pumped because we would be discussing the Holy Spirit that day. (Can we hit pause and laugh over “discussing” the Holy Spirit? As if breath can be contained or explained.) After taking a class in the fall on pneumatology (the study of the Holy Spirit), I was nearly beside myself to dig back into the part of the Trinity I never heard that much about while growing up.
What I never saw coming, though, was getting into a “friendly discussion” on a popular song by Jesus Culture, titled Holy Spirit. Come to find out, my classmates thought it made no sense at all to sing a song about asking the Holy Spirit to come because, well, the Holy Spirit is already there. Some went so far as to say the song was wrong and they disagreed with its theology.
I don’t even know what came over me because I am not, mind you, the type of person to “start something” in class or to get into a heated debate. Especially with people I barely know on a topic (a Person) I’ll never begin to even grasp a small percentage of. But then words were coming out of my mouth and I couldn’t stop them, one after one tumbling out.
The room was quiet and not because of eloquence, but likely because I am not one to burst out and passionately defend a string of song lyrics in a classroom discussion. By that point in the semester it’s obvious that I’m a thinker, a processor, and would rather ask questions than make statements.
But there we were.
Well, there they were. I, however, was right back in Haiti with dirt between my toes. And that – that – is why I could not stop the words.
Monday morning found us back in the village visiting with the people and the children of Boukeron. Our team split up into three groups to go door to door collecting a census of sorts. To best partner with the people of Boukeron, we need to know what their greatest needs are. And so we walked. Mud house to mud house, person to person. We stopped at the first house on the left, and please understand that by house I don’t actually mean house, but I know no other word but hut – and were immediately met with opposition. We asked the questions and received no answer save but a refusal to give information. We continued on the beaten path and the same thing played out again and again. As we left each house children, teenagers and a few adults would begin to follow several feet behind us.
Voices raised and the following turned to arguing, the sound of our voices faded as their words grew heavy and pointed. You don’t have to know a language to be able to fully understand deep inside that something is very wrong.
We weren’t in danger but as a group of nearly ten Haitian men started shouting over one another, shouting something about us and what we were doing, we each quietly slipped a few feet away. Two friends stood in the distance and started whisper-praying. I racked my brain for anything that would bring peace to the situation, but I only understood the tone, not the actual words being said, and so all I could offer was a silent “God, I am so helpless here. I have nothing.”
My eyes searched the sky until I finally looked down into the eyes of a sweet girl in a little, dirt-covered pink dress. She didn’t have a smile in sight but I reached my hand out, her mother eyeing me. I could see the hesitation on her face and the dare in her eyes to walk further from the shouting, but there I was praying to the sky for bridges to be built and so out my hand went. I’m not sure if she took it or if I slipped my hand into hers as I knelt down to look into her face, but nonetheless my white skin was held in her brown hand and it was beautiful.
I don’t remember her smiling for more than a split second, just a flicker of white, but it was something. The noise died down and we continued on as the little girl ran back to her mama. That was when I started singing.
I couldn’t pray more than “God I have no idea what to say. Just be here. You’ve got to come and be with us.” Those sentences on repeat, not because He didn’t hear me the first time but because I had nothing else.
And then the notes played in my head and so I sang along. Not because He wasn’t already in Haiti, but because we desperately needed His presence. Not because my welcome would bring His power sweeping through, but because it acknowledged the power already belonged to Him.
Holy Spirit you are welcome here…
Quiet, timid, under my breath
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere…
Lord, only You can smooth the language barriers and bring peace to the chaos
Your glory God is what our hearts long for…
We’re here for You, only for You, always for You
To be overcome by Your presence Lord…
You’re already here and I know it, but come and sweep us up in your love, power and truth
Over and over from house to house I hummed the tune. Sometimes the humming turned to singing, and if you know me then you know that God performed a mini-miracle (can a miracle even be mini?) right there in Haiti because this girl does not sing out loud.
But embarrassment was the least of my worries. I didn’t care about the theology of welcoming God to a place He already was. And I didn’t care that I was sing-asking for His presence while knowing He was right beside me.
I couldn’t pray the words and so I sang them.
That evening I wrote the lyrics in my journal, followed by these words:
I tried hard to prayer-walk as we went around today but I didn’t even know what to say. These fit so much of what my heart was feeling and trying to pray. Maybe the lesson is to keep my ears and eyes open. I’m not sure – but I’m looking.
Jesus is so sweet. And this place may be dark, but He keeps showing me the light.
By noon the same people who had been upset with our team were coming up to their cactus fences and inviting us inside. One woman ran to her neighbor and told her we needed to visit for a little bit. And somewhere in the in between, we had stopped by the houses of two witch doctors, the song always on my lips.
When you don’t know what to pray and you don’t have the words to say, just say Jesus. There’s power in His name and there’s strength in humming a string of notes that welcome Him with praise.
So yeah, I had some things to say in that classroom. Because a Monday morning encounter in Haiti straight messed me up in the best way. When my words were few, He was found in abundance, His presence seeping through the mud-house cracks and overcoming language barriers.
It’s been a few months now and my memory is lacking, but to the best of my knowledge the classroom was dead silent as I said, “I love this song and here’s why. I just got back from Haiti and in case you haven’t been there, I want to tell you that there’s a lot of darkness there. We hear about voodoo and we believe it’s real but not fully, not completely. Because we haven’t seen it with our own two eyes. But guys, I have. And I have to tell you, it’s real. It’s so real.
But I also have to tell you that God is stronger. There is darkness, but He is brighter. And when Satan wanted nothing to do with us loving God’s people in a small village in Haiti, when I was empty of prayers and completely helpless in actions, all I could do was sing this song. Not because the Holy Spirit wasn’t there, but to acknowledge that He was. He doesn’t show up when we sing, but don’t you think He’s so happy when we recognize His presence and say ‘I want more of that’?”
In classrooms and on dirt roads hours from what we would deem civilization, may it solely be this:
Let us become more aware of Your Presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness
There are stories from Haiti that I long to tell you and are begging to be spilled out here. And yet I type with trepidation because I so long to honor the stories. So I wait. I relive the moments and reread the words scratched in that little blue journal and I wait until He says write. I don’t know who this one is for and quite honestly, it feels like the messiest of the bunch, the too tall flower in the vase of stories from that beautiful country. And yet, He said write. Now.
May these words be an offering to Him and a blessing to you. As my friend later told me, “Every time I stopped praying, I heard you singing. And so I began again.” And so may you remember the people of Boukeron, lifting up praise to Him and prayers for them when the tune comes out of your radio speakers.