God’s Crazy Ideas

 In General

by Kent Annan

What would lead a young, well-educated North American couple to exchange the comforts and opportunities of middle-class life in the United States for a single room with no plumbing or electricity in a Haitian village? Are they crazy? Find out.

It’s not hard to figure out why, according to some historians, Jubilee may have never been observed. If you’ve worked to accumulate money, power, and privilege, then you probably wouldn’t warm to this idea of returning property, forgiving loans, and saying goodbye to free labor and the comforts of wealth.

It’s hypocritical, though, for me to question ancient Israel’s failure to practice Jubilee unless I let its light shine on my own decisions. In other words, Jubilee is one of God’s great ideas for all of us; so, what am I willing to do about it?

My wife, Shelly, and I are taking what we hope is a small step toward answering this question for ourselves. We met while students at Princeton Theological Seminary, and since marrying two years ago, we’ve been living and working in the Princeton area— Shelly at a church and I on staff at the seminary. Now we’re giving up our jobs, our apartment, about 80 percent of our income, and our proximity to friends and family. We’ve sold much of what we own and put the rest in a friend’s attic. In January, we’re moving to Nandimba, a village in Haiti, to live in a room in a Haitian family’s home as we work on learning Creole and Haitian culture. Initally we’ll participate in the Apprenticeship in Shared Living (ASL) program; down the road we’ll join the Beyond Borders and Limyè Lavi staff in Haiti.

Late some nights, however, as our flight to Port-au-Prince on January 7 approaches, as consciousness fades and sleep creeps in, this idea of moving to Haiti seems lunacy on the scale of Jubilee. Which is to say, the implications are dizzying.

But I trust it makes sense in God’s order of things, even if it doesn’t make sense in light of “the American dream.” Jubilee isn’t the reason most people do this kind of thing. They (and we) do it for adventure, for faith, for escape, for love, for knowledge, for vocation. And Jubilee is not the main reason Shelly and I are going. But Jubilee definitely gives a word to some of the inexplicable joy we feel as we head to Haiti.

This joy has something to do with our calling and with living what we believe. It also has to do with the Jubilee idea that our wellbeing is wrapped up in the wellbeing of others.

Part of what frees us to do this is the good news that God loves and cares about us, that nothing can separate us from God’s love—neither height nor depth, neither malaria nor dengue fever. Without that good news, the fear and cost of this journey might outweigh the hope and benefits. But with that good news in mind, it would be foolish not to respond to the idea of Jubilee. What do we have to lose? “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” is Saint Paul’s helpful and challenging formula for making decisions like these. (Phil. 1:21)

The logic of Jubilee won’t compel everyone to join Beyond Borders and move to Haiti. But it should compel seemingly nonsensical behavior, such as giving sacrificially to the poor, rejecting the cultural pressure to hoard, venturing beyond what is comfortable, and valuing the happiness of others as much as our own.

God has some crazy ideas. May we have the abandon to live them.

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