by Frank Alexander Clark
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. — Psalm 118:1
I have read this verse many times and realize its relevance in my everyday interactions with people.
Let me reiterate: I have read it, but I’m not certain that I’ve always lived out the psalmist’s exhortation.
As natural catastrophes continue to destroy under-resourced communities and inequality becomes the status quo instead of an anomaly, I must admit that it is difficult to give thanks. However, my faith lens that was once distorted has now taken on a new shape allowing me to better comprehend the words of the psalmist. It is through my experiences as a medical mission worker that I have developed a better sense of what it means to truly give abundant thanks to God.
Take a moment and imagine waking up in one of the poorest countries in the world: Haiti. Here, every morning, young souls bellow sounds of praise and gratitude to Jesus before entering the classroom. I wish I could say this act would be replicated by our children in the United States on a daily basis. Instead, we see a stark contrast: fingers rapidly updating social media websites with the hope that at least one person will like their status.
I, along with nine fellow missionaries, had the opportunity to provide medical care to our brothers and sisters in Haiti in January of 2015. I’m not a novice when it comes to global mission work. Through God’s grace and blessings, I’ve been fortunate to travel to Ireland, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Canada and Africa. I would describe all of my experiences as transformative and memorable. However, there was something distinct about this experience. As we walked through the streets of Cité Soleil, regarded as one of the poorest and most dangerous areas in the Western Hemisphere, a visceral sensation erupted and spread throughout my body leaving me in a trance-like state. For the first time, poverty was palpable to me. We stumbled upon multiple rows of what at first glance resembled giant cookies. Much to our dismay, our tour guides informed us that these round structures were a source of nutrition for families in the area. They were referred to as “mud pies.” The ingredients included mud, salt, water and butter. My academic side began to wonder how this unhealthy concoction would affect one’s gastrointestinal system; the empathic side of my brain overflowed with emotion as I witnessed innocent children frolicking in the streets despite their deplorable living conditions. The words from Job began to resonate in my heart: Naked we come into world and naked we shall depart.
Poverty is a difficult concept for one’s gastric juices to digest. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and we often attempt to dismiss its existence. However, throughout the Gospels, our Savior Jesus Christ is a strong advocate for the poor and says, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” We often need to be reminded of these powerful words and what it means to be a true follower of Christ. I think our brothers and sisters in Haiti and other impoverished countries understand the concept of humility and grace. They understand that the true treasure of life comes from the inner light that can illuminate the souls of the destitute and the brokenhearted. They understand that faith allows one to absorb true riches and blessings in life. They understand that healing begins when one acknowledges that Christ alone is enough to nourish and rejuvenate the spirit.
Throughout the years I have often wondered why God has called me to serve in medical mission. I used to think that it was to utilize my spiritual gifts and provide healing to the sick. I quickly realized that this simplistic line of thinking was only the first step along my faith journey. As much as God loves a cheerful giver, God always wants us to be blessed. My brothers and sisters in Haiti have reminded me to always smile despite the storms of life; be thankful and gracious even when your faith is put to the test; and to make a joyful noise to the Lord for God is good and God’s steadfast love endures forever.
FRANK ALEXANDER CLARK is a board-certified adult psychiatrist at Carilion Clinic/New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg, Virginia, and assistant professor of neuropsychiatry and behavioral sciences at The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine in Blacksburg. He serves on the American Medical Association’s minority affairs section governing council.