This essay of mine originally appeared on Donald Miller’s Storyline Blog.
David and I walk through the hilly, rocky area that used to be his bean field. He reaches down and pulls up a hollow bean plant. It’s as dry as straw.
“It stopped raining here almost a year ago, so nothing will grow,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine any life in this field right now. It’s really, really hot. The ground is useless.
Or maybe not.
The area around us is full of activity. Children playing, laughing, crying. The hacking sound of a machete on wood. Adults calling across the way to each other in Creole.
I’m in Haiti, on the border between this country and the Dominican Republic.
The government in the Dominican Republic recently passed strict immigration laws, forcing thousands of Haitians living in its country—even many of those born there—to leave.
By mid-summer of this year, more than 40,000 Haitians have been forced out of the DR and into Haiti.
We’re seeing all sorts of migrations of people this year–from northern Africa, from Asia, from the Middle East, from Central America–and few are happy to see the newcomers. No one is really prepared to take on thousands more people in their countries or communities. Many of the immigrants have died along the way.
Many are being turned back by armies, coast guards and vigilante groups.
In this bean field where I’m walking, and sweating, with David, there is no shade.
Some of the migrants have fashioned large banana leaves to break the chokehold of the sun. Others, who left what had been their home country for years, carried what they could, including a few machetes.
Those machetes are being used to build small shelters made of tree limbs and scrap lumber.
If it ever does rain again, and it surely will in the form of a tropical storm or hurricane, those shelters will disappear quickly.
The Haitian government is trying to provide assistance to these displaced people.
Non-government groups are trying to get clean water, latrines, food and shelter to address their situation, and hopefully prevent an outbreak of disease.
I am drawn to these refugees, whose lives have been upended by forces beyond their influence, and ask several what they think their future might be. They don’t know. They are frustrated, tired from their journey, wishing they had their old lives back where many of them had homes and jobs.
But I am also drawn to David, the one providing space for this refugee camp to develop.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask him.
“These people are taking up your land, and you have no idea how long they will be here. How long are you going to let them stay?”
He thinks about my question for a while, looks down, draws with his toe in the dust. The Dominican Republic is visible in the background.
“They can stay as long as they want,” he says.
I let that sink in a little, and then he continues.
“I have this land. It’s not being used for anything else. I see people coming to Haiti from countries all over the world to help us, coming here and giving what they can. That makes me consider what I can do. I have the space. They can come.”
He’s not solving the refugee crisis. But he has something that can help in the meantime.
There may be someone headed your way today who just needs a little space. A little room. A little rest.