What if your daily job were to work among the very poorest people in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? What if that job involved taking food to people in its “most ferocious slums”? Or routinely collecting bloated corpses from an unsanitary morgue? Or helping the victims of kidnappings, shootings, abandonment, and even much worse?
If that were your job, how would you survive without emotionally or spiritually shutting down?
One man, Pastor Rick Frechette, has not only survived, but thrived. Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard recently wrote a brilliant profile of Pastor Rick, which you can read by clicking here.
As director of the Haitian branch of the international organization Our Little Brothers, Pastor Rick runs a children’s hospital, an orphanage, and a mission to educate and feed some of Haiti’s poorest citizens. Once a week, he and a team of volunteers recover forgotten corpses and give them a decent Christian burial, “with a tiny modicum of the dignity that eluded in them in life.”
Having worked in Haiti for over two decades, Pastor Rick deals with horrors most of us couldn’t imagine. To follow him through his routine, as Labash did, is like touring hell. He functions by hanging on to his sense of humor and, even more importantly, “to his faith in a God that orders the universe even amidst the apparent chaos.”
If there were ever an example of the Christian worldview being tried by fire, Pastor Rick would be that example. He tells Labash that the most concrete way he can practice his faith and help the Haitians is to offer “countersigns” of grace-that is, to do something right for someone when everything is going wrong.
For example, Pastor Rick tells the story of a boy that he saw set on fire by thugs. Before he could reach him, the boy was dead, but he got buckets of water and extinguished the flames anyway. Then, he says, “we put him in the back of the truck, and do what we always do. Have a prayer right there. To make a counter-witness by our own behavior.”
He reports that the gang that set him on fire stood by and watched. And the boy’s mother-even overwhelmed by grief-was grateful for this act of love.
“It made her able to live with it,” Pastor Rick says. “It’s like God sent someone to help her, like it restored her faith in humanity again...I call it the countersign.”
Father Rick explains it this way: “The terrible thing that’s in front of you, you hurry, and offset it right away. Before what happens is too taxing and too poisonous...Sometimes with horrible things, you really feel there is nothing you can do...You’re just useless. But over time, you start seeing that to do the right thing no matter what has tremendous power.”
What a wonderful expression of what it means to live out a Christian worldview. We can’t change the past, but, empowered by God, we can show love and grace that offers people hope and a way to move forward.
Maybe you will never have the chance to minister in a disaster area like Haiti. But no doubt you will encounter people who need that countersign of God’s love and grace. Let’s pray we will all be ready to offer it.
This commentary originally appeared on March 10, 2010.