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Twitter lit up on Friday with inspiring stories about immigrants from the nations President Trump apparently derided during a meeting about immigration in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon.
Bandal Luk, a project manager at Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, tweeted about coming from one of the African nations Trump reportedly slammed.
Luk described his background: “a former refugee, holds a master’s degree, holds 2 bachelor degrees, a human rights activist, a refugee advocate, fights sex and labor trafficking in the United States.”
The tweet and others like it came after The Washington Post and other news outlets reported that sources said President Trump referred to certain African nations as “sh—hole countries,” and that he also asked why we’d want more Haitians in the United States.
The White House didn’t deny the language hours after the Oval Office meeting. On Friday morning, President Trump seemed to refute the comment on Twitter. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., went on-the-record to say he heard the president make the remarks during the gathering.
The reported comments provoked justified outrage. Beyond debates of the specifics of immigration policy, the crass dismissal of entire nations is deeply offensive. It’s also inaccurate.
It’s true that many Haitians and Africans suffer in miserable conditions under corrupt leaders who amass power and wealth. (It’s worth noting that not all languish under these conditions, but it’s undeniable many do endure deep suffering.)
But suffering doesn’t equal personal failure. Indeed, suffering is often a crucible where personal greatness flourishes as much—and sometimes perhaps more—than it might in prosperity.
I’ve seen it on reporting trips all over the world.
Eight years ago today, I was scrambling to make arrangements to fly into Port-au-Prince after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shattered the Haitian capital and surrounding area. As many as 200,000 people died in the disaster.
When I arrived a couple of days later, conditions were heartbreaking and miserable, and they tragically compounded the poverty already entrenched in Haiti. But in the midst of epic suffering, I also witnessed epic strength.
In a small church just outside Port-au-Prince, Haitians had removed pews from a concrete sanctuary to create space for a makeshift clinic. Volunteer doctors worked in grueling conditions to suture massive wounds, even as bones protruded from legs and arms hastily amputated in overrun hospitals. Not long after I arrived, a group of Haitians carefully lifted a dead patient from the floor and carried him outside. This would happen throughout the night.
By Sunday morning, workers had managed to evacuate some of the worst cases, but severely injured men, women, and children were still lying on blood-stained floors, while nurses cleaned infections and doctors set broken bones. Some had lost husbands, wives, children, and homes.
But it was Sunday, so a local pastor conducted a morning worship service. Local churchgoers gathered outside the makeshift clinic and peered in while the service got underway. Earlier in the morning, church members had knelt next to mats and fed a hot breakfast to the patients.
As the service began, there was weeping and singing, and I watched in humbled awe as the wounded patients worshipped. As the singing swelled, some hoisted broken limbs in the air—some had lost their hands, but they still raised the arms they had left in praise to the Lord.
This was a hard place, but it was also a sacred one.
A few years later, I walked through the ashes of churches scorched by Boko Haram terrorists in northern Nigeria. Churchgoers had fled villages across the northeast, but some had begun to return. Conditions were difficult, but impulses were noble: In one rural village, local residents re-built their pastors’ torched home before beginning on their own.
In another town, schoolteachers at a Christian school held classes in the hull of a burned building, and taught for no pay so children could return to some sense of normalcy. Nearby, another group of churchgoers were sheltering widows and orphans of husbands and fathers killed during Boko Haram raids. The churchgoers had little, but they were sharing whatever food they could find.
Great suffering had produced great character in many of the people I met.
This, of course, is what Scripture teaches. Blessed are the poor, the meek, and the hungry, for they often understand that their deepest needs are met in the Lord Jesus Christ, and they know how to show mercy to others.
Mercy doesn’t mean we can always take care of everyone who needs help, but it does mean a humble disposition of knowing the blessings we receive are an opportunity to share with others.
At its core, it means recognizing what Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., noted on Friday morning: “We are all made in the image and likeness of God.”