In the spring of 2003, I went to Haiti for the first time with a group from our church. Like almost everyone who visits a developing country, I had my eyes opened and my heart stretched. There was plenty that was tragic, lots that was overwhelming, some that was appalling. And there were also so many things honorable, admirable, and generous. Plodding donkeys, palm trees and dusty patience made me imagine that this is how first-century Palestine must have felt.
Returning home, I faced that conundrum we have all known after some milestone or mountaintop. How do I hang on to this experience? How do I keep from being lulled back into my comfortable and neglectful old ways? At the same time I didn’t want to talkshow it into the ground, pronouncing that I was changed, when I knew in two months I’d be pretty much back to normal.
I chose dead squirrels, victims of the perilous traffic of Pella, Iowa to be my personal reminder to pause, remember Haiti, visualize some the school children I had met there, and offer a sentence prayer for them. There are more squished squirrels here than you might think. Being run over must by far be their leading cause of the death.
For nine years now this has worked pretty well. I haven’t won the Nobel prize for my work in Haiti, but neither have I completely forgotten the people there and my experience with them. The flattened squirrels have done their job. So much so that this spring, I expanded my project.