The manner in which my friends life was taken today is very personal for me.
10 years ago I was on one of my yearly trips to Haiti. This particular year I was seven months pregnant with my son and I had spent the day working with my team and laughing and joking about a name for this baby boy that would be joining the world soon. I was sitting in the front seat of Leonard's bright green bus with him and my friend Andrew allowing the breeze to cool the sweat off from the day while the other 15 teammates sat piled high in the back with our work supplies. Stuck in traffic, we were chatting, the heat melting the leather beneath us making that awful slurping sound when you moved. Covered in dirt and grime, we made small talk in broken English and what we would like to think is a botched attempt at Creole. With the bus parked in a locked grid intersection we saw off in the distance a man weaving between vehicles, wielding a machete and screaming in Creole. Anger on his face, he came closer, inching slowly in our direction with his eyes locked on our bus. I unknowingly squeezed Andrew's hand and held my pregnant belly with the other. Anger and hate was staring at us with the means to hurt and harm. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't breathe. Nothing had ever happened to us before in this country, so history was telling me to calm down, but the very real threat was still starring right at me and getting closer every second.
Anger and hate make people do violent things. It makes them unstable, never allowing to see past the red in their vision. And this very angry man had reached us, eyes locked, hand stroking the bus as he screamed intangible words.
I couldn't breathe. I was frozen in place by fear and anxiety.
I was completely terrified of this man who was looking to make someone else suffer for his pain and his eyes were locked on me.
In that moment I thought of nothing else except all the painful ways I could die. All the people I would leave behind. My unborn child and what he would suffer. I couldn't see past that moment. Even now, I can close my eyes and be in that bus, in that heat, with that fear and actually feel it.
And I remember the man pausing... then leering at us...
then slowly moving away.
I took my first breath after those daunting moments of uncertainty.
Andrew looked over at Leonard and said, "We almost had a problem huh?"
Without missing a beat with the very breath he had, Leonard responded,
"Oh no! No problem! We die we go see Jesus. It is the most beautiful thing!"
Nothing unflinching or unwavering. Steady as a mountain and as sure of his place and just as confident in the owner of his heart and soul, Leonard LIVED in his truth that he belong to Jesus. I never saw anything like it before in my life.
Yeah, people talked about it. People preached about it, wrote books about, taught classes about and held retreats to understand it. I have heard my whole entire life that the Creator loved me and I was his. He died so that I could be free.
My. Whole. Life.
And not until I was 27 did I actually see what all those words meant. I didn't know. Not really. Not until that moment that it was real. It changed my life.
Leonard was revolutionary to me that day. He knew, and I mean he KNEW in a way that only people who have experienced deep soul life altering love can know. He knew who he was. That he belong to the Creator of the world, that his life was but a vessel to carry God's light and love to the world, and he lived that every day. He embodied that space of full awareness of his beloved Jesus, himself, and his purpose on earth. He was free to be a servant to love because he put all of his trust in God the Creator who he had unmatched trust in.
See one of Leonard's catch phrases was "No problem!" It was his response to every change, every challenge, every mis step. He had a way of letting all the little things not matter, because he put such great value on the real and true deep things in life.
Yesterday my newsfeed was filled with people who have been affected by this man and his big generous and open spirit. His death is difficult to digest in its senselessness and hatred.
After dropping off group of missionaries at the airport, Leonard was two blocks from home. A motorcyclist robbed him at gun point, and even after giving him all of his money, still shot him and left him to bleed to death.
Faced with a gunman in the front seat of his bus, his words ring in my spirit.
Murdered. Even after getting everything he wanted, this man took the life of another in cold blood.
I was struck by the haunting irony that the very work Leonard did is what put in sight of a killer and ultimately ended his life. It was his work and service in providing transportation for host of global missionaries that come to Haiti, this job that has provided an income for Leonard and his family over the last two decades. This job, where he self proclaimed was his way of serving his Lord. It was that made him target because when you work with the "white" folk, people know you have money.
Leonard knew this intimately as his sister and brother-in-law had been attacked because of working with the "white folk". His brother-in-law eventually was shot in his own home due to being a pastor that worked with missionaries. Leonard knew the risk. He knew the cost.
He gave his life for his work in the name of the Creator God, and his savior Jesus Christ.
He lived with abandon that all he had was a gift and he would give it freely. And he did. Even in the end.
You must understand, this is ONE story of SO MANY I have of this man and his big deep heart. I can't even begin to recount the hundreds of others who knew him, knew his kindness, his smile. They all have stories that are similar, because when I say he was unwavering, I mean it.
I think about why he was able to affect so many. It's because his giving spirit never wavered. His smile never surrendered. His generosity knew no bounds. His unshakable faith never ceased.
Then even more than this, Leonard was hired to be our driver. That's it. Drive us around to the places we need to go. Yet he never let it stay there. He worked along side us. EVERYDAY. For years, no matter the team, he worked with us. He didn't have to. He wasn't paid to. But he wanted to. He worked with us, hosted us in his home for dinner and worship. He always did more. Served more. Loved more.
When we talk about revolutionaries, we reference the loud and vocal who are progressive and challenging. These are important and critical voices to the dialog of equity and change. Leonard however felt like a revolution of the heart, one encounter at a time.
He LIVED in love.
He LIVED in kindness.
He LIVED in generosity.
He LIVED in integrity.
He LIVED in faith.
And anyone who had the great privilege of spending a moment with him, caught that fire he lived in. We were impacted by his kindness. Taken with his love. You simply had to smile because his was so infectious. You simply got caught up in his fun, loving, gentleness that when you parted ways you tried to do everything you could to hold onto those feelings.
Which for me meant, "I want to live with more compassion and kindness. I want my smile to affect someone as deeply as his did me. I wonder what it would look like to truly give without ceasing or judgement. I want to live more like my friend."
I will miss you my friend. Coming to Haiti will never be the same for me, but I promise to continue to learn from you, and share your legacy wherever I go.