The 1 Thing Radical Really Definitely Has to Look Like — Right Where We Are
by Ann Voskamp
No one just straight up tells you that the things you’ve seen — become what you see.
That you’ll close your eyes a thousand nights from now and it will all be real again — where you were and what they wore, that one look, that one moment, that one frame.
That you’ll see the world through what you’ve seen of the world and there’s no going back ever again and you get tinted by what you’ve touched, you get changed by what you’ve been shown.
And I can close my eyes and I’m laying on some steps under a Haitian sun.
And there’s never enough wind for the way the earth burns close here and I shield my eyes and Levi asks me what I just asked him:
“What’s the one word you’re going to carry home from Haiti with you, Mom?“
And I want to roll off that step and dig my hands into this piece of the blurring planet and you can’t drag me from here, can’t make me leave my kin, and what if you find your home with people who only have a home in Him? But I lay still. Take this deep breath. No matter how scared you are about what everything means now, you can’t scare a kid. So I stare up at the sun. And when it comes, I murmur it like a plea: radical.
“Radical? What do you mean, Mom?” Levi leans over me like the shade of a tree.
And I want to loose this heart howl — that I have no idea, that I’m wild to become because it’s got to be more than doing but actually becoming, that radical has to be the Christian’s new normal, that radical isn’t radical but the regular to the disciple of Christ, and what if we’re all fooling ourselves with the American Dream instead of waking up to the Christian Reality and His Kingdom Come?
God forgive all the lukewarm blood.
“It was those boys, wasn’t it?” Levi kneels down on the step beside me stretched out like it’s time to be an altar.
“Yeah…. yeah, Levi, it was them too.”
They’d wanted to tear a Bible up, for crying out loud.
They’d taken the Bible the Farmer had in his hand to give to the boy who could read —- and these 3 boys in Minotiere who have never owned a book, who have never had a Bible of their own, they’d decided amongst themselves in this grand generous gesture — to split the Bible between the three of them, to tear the Bible down its bloody spine so each of them could carry a bit of the God-breathed home under his arm.
They were going to rip up a Bible so they all had a bit of God.
I’d looked into the Farmer’s eyes and shook my head: all three of those boys had decided that it was better for them all to have less, so they all had something, than for one to have everything and the rest have nothing.
And at home we’ve got a bathroom in the basement, 2 on the main floor and one off our bedroom, a garage, and 20 Bibles on how many shelves, and who is ready to have less so we all have something, or do we all want everything so most get nothing?
We’ve got all of God. Why not share the rest?
Or maybe we don’t — because we don’t really have Him at all?
I have no idea. I have no idea about anything.
I just know that we carried 3 Bibles back with us to Minotiere the next day. And after we picked up the garbage, after our hands got dirty, I sat in the street under a relentless sun and pulled a Haitian Jesus Storybook Bible out of my bag and asked if anyone could read.
His name was John Peter. He read regally. Like every word was a decree. Especially the lines about “I will bless you” — benediction, that word rolled off his tongue.
(Want John Peter to read to you too? See video I shot of him here).
When he looked up from Abraham, after he’d read the same page out loud twice, benediction twice, I said it was his, the whole love letter of God. He held it to his chest.
“Where you from?” His halting English startled me.
“Canada.” I looked into his eyes. Benediction.
I smiled. The boy knew his way around this globe. “No, near Toronto.”
Somebody hollers that it’s late. That it’s time to go back to the mission. And we stand and John Peter walks beside me, half step ahead of me, toward the bus, Bible clung to his chest.
“You love Jesus?” His voice sears me like a brand.
I stop in the middle of the street.
John Peter turns. Our eyes hold. The words choke out like a chest pounding.
“With all my heart.” As if that makes any difference? Like it’s meant to?
And it’s right there, Paul’s words, one’s I’m memorizing, that I pound on my chest like a repentance: “God, whom I serve with my wholeheart in preaching the gospel of his Son… “
And that’s what preaches the gospel: it’s the arteries that preach the gospel, a whole heart.
That the best preachers embody gospel, make words move through their skin and their synapses, and the best sermons are the flooding whoosh of a heart wholly living it, a life poured out.
Give me preachers who can also lay aside microphones and make the whole of a body be a megaphone of grace and truth and Christ.
That’s what Paul said, “I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.” And there are prayers to be made eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in the kitchen hungry, you in the nameless streets needing love, you in the nursing home, you in the mudroom, you around the corner needing a meal and a long hug and a longer, lingering ear.
Make a whole host of us who will preach this gospel on our knees, with dirt under our fingernails and tears in our eyes and there will be no applause and there will be no sound, only this ringing of a hammer in our ears, the way a life lays itself down. This gospel preached most clearly in the going lower, always lower, this surrender to a suffering love, this biting of too-quick tongues and getting down and washing feet.
Give the world that. Be that.
And maybe — your life doesn’t preach the gospel of Christ as much as your life gets gripped by the gospel of Christ. And then Christ becomes your life and your days breathe the realest sermon and Christ exhales His own Amen.
And John Peter nodded his august head.
What does my whole pounding heart testify?
After the three Word-starved boys who were ready to tear the Bible back at the spine to share God, and after the majestic John Peter and his benediction and his Bible clung to his chest, and after Levi pierces me down with what I am going to do about all of this, I find my shaky legs and pack our bags because there are these plane tickets mocking my heart.
The boys and the Farmer haul our bags down to the dining hall.
We donate our water bottles, work gloves, empty suitcases to the mission. We wait for the bus. There is less than an hour left now. There isn’t much time left now.
I wander back up to the guest house. I drag my hand along the chain link fence that gives way to the razed foothills and fields that cry.
Two Haitians hack a way at long dead grasses with these rusting machetes.
And when I climb a few steps out of the sun, into the shade of the now empty guesthouse portico, that’s when I see him come up out of the grasses.
Up out of nowhere, out of nothing, out of badlands, a hilly mile from the road, this child on the other side of the fence.
This dark and dusted child, he’s crouching on just the other side of a chain link fence.
The men just keep swinging, whacking their clanging machetes, slicing everything down.
I step off the step. The boy crouches closer. What in the holy name of God am I doing in a world where I am on one side of a fence and a lone child is on the other? Who’s building these fences? And what if it’s me? I take another few steps, slow, not to scare him, and I kneel, fingers through a chain link before a child, and how did I get here and what am I going to do now? It’s more than one rolling mile down to the road and any gate in this whole stretch of wire.
He points to his lips.
His dry-white chapped lips. He opens his mouth, and he points a dirty finger to his mouth and those cracked lips and do I see what he’s saying without a sound? The whole rotation of everything slows. My mind races. My fingers can’t get to him. I’ve got nothing. Everything’s packed, donated, given away. There’s only —
There’s that one Creole children’s storybook bible we’d left in the guesthouse, left for the next guest to give away, and I motion wait.
I fly up those steps on where I’d whispered “radical” like a mad fool, and I grab the Bible off the shelf, and there I am climbing up a chain link fence to get a Bible to a child. The boy climbs the other side. We’re both hanging on by our fingers, trying to reach through everything that needlessly separates us, and our fingers touch. Touch.
I reach through the barb wire at the top.
I give him all I’ve got and it’s God.
And I’m just fool enough to believe He’s enough and something aches in my gut.
The Bible drops into his open hands and the boy drops to the earth and everything else falls away.
The boy’s cracked lips part and he breaks into this gleaming smile.
And I don’t know what we’re all here for, but it’s got to be this.
It’s got to be those Words that he holds in his hands, it’s got to be about being bread for the begging, it’s got to be about being willing to be broken and given and giving away. People are dying here people.
People are dying because they are wild to see Jesus and know that there’s really more to all this than any of us can see. People are dying here because they need to find the very real space of their own souls and find the very real Saviour who can fill it and all their hollow space. People are dying here because they need bread and we’ve got it in our hands and we either don’t think it’s real bread or we really don’t care.
Why be ashamed of the gospel? Why not be brave enough to use words? Why not be brave enough to break open your own broken life and be real because He really broke Himself for us? Is Christ bread and are people starving to death and if we know it, why won’t we open our hands? Love is always good news.
Never doubt that there’s a love letter to bind up all the brokenhearted and it’s signed with the scars of the Wounded God. Lay your weary head down on it, feed on it, break it and share it with all the hurting world, everywhere you go. Love is always good news.
Preach the gospel and use your words and your hands and your heart because they are all necessary.
When that one lone child walks away carrying all I had, all the bread of the Word of God, I had stood there watching him through the chain link fence, watched him walk away into all that vast emptiness with bread in his hands.
The machetes swung behind me, rolling back the earth and the sky and everything right to the bare radical roots.
Radical — that word that means “of roots.”
This Word, this Book, has to be the radical root of anything that will grow up to radically feed anybody.
I stood there watching the boy walk away, till he was smaller and smaller and gone, till I could see him no more.
No one told me that I’d see that boy again in all my dreams.
How he’d open his mouth and point to his parched lips and you could hear it, clear as day, like the heavens come down—
“Then if you really love Me? Feed My sheep.”