Feature

The Price of Sugar

How much is it worth?

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Today, somewhere in Haiti, a young man has a dream. He longs to travel eastward and cross over into the “promised land.” There life is better. There he will have a more secure future. There he will have a future.

He works hard to scrape together enough money for his entrance into the Dominican Republic. He knows that it will be a journey into the contempt and discrimination of his Dominican neighbors, with this reward: they will gladly give him the lowly, backbreaking job of cutting the sugar cane. Work will mean food. He will eat every day.

The Long Way Home

One day he will set out for his promised land. He’ll cross the border into the Dominican Republic and continue eastward. Near the town of Hato Mayor, he’ll leave the paved road and follow a dirt lane for miles through tall fields of sugar cane. Every step will bring him closer to his dream.

His journey will end at a small village, a tiny metal oasis in the green desert of sugar cane. Near shacks of tin, lean chicken pieces bubble in pots over open fires, and women return from their two-mile trek for water. He is home.

He has no shoes to wear to the field tomorrow, but at least he has the machete he brought from Haiti. If he can avoid stepping on the razor-like stumps of cut cane, he’ll avoid the scars and deformities he sees on the feet of other men in the village. And if a tropical storm doesn’t collapse the shanty he’s fabricated from leftover scraps of tin, he will have a dry place to sleep.

This young man will stay and make a life for himself. He’ll likely acquire a family. Instead of a paycheck, he’ll receive credit at the village store. His children may live and die without venturing beyond the fields surrounding their village, without ever seeing the paved road that brought their father there. They may hear of Jesus from missionaries or Christian Haitians, or they may adopt the voodoo practices of others in their village. This is life in the promised land.

At What Price?

Today, somewhere in America, a woman steers her shopping cart down the aisle of a supermarket. She pauses to lift a bag of sugar from the bottom shelf, begrudging the $1.99 price tag. This stuff that dreams are made of will be mindlessly poured into pitchers of Kool-Aid®, sprinkled over cereal and stirred into cookie batter. The woman and her family will never know that there’s a person—a story, a life—behind every granule.

They’ll never know—unless they go. Unless, aboard a truck rattling down a dusty road walled by sugar cane, they round a bend and there it is—the promised land, worse than the poorest slum of their country’s poorest city. That’s when they’ll know how much the sugar really costs and marvel at the expense.

My short-term missions trip to the Dominican Republic provided such a lesson. Our group of Americans teamed up with a choir from Haiti and a Dominican soloist to give concerts throughout the country. We also held Bible schools for children and visited the Haitian villages scattered among the sugar cane fields, where we distributed shoes and clothing.

We reached out to Haitian and Dominican alike. We lifted up Jesus Christ and stretched out a helping hand. We saw their hardship and proclaimed the real Promised Land. Then our brief áá encounter was over. Was I the only one to wonder, In the midst of so much need, have we made a difference?

Hundreds had not been saved, but among those who were was our Dominican bus driver, whose softened face wore a newfound peace. Villages had not been lifted out of poverty, but some Haitian men had sturdy new work shoes to wear to the sugar cane fields. Prejudice hadn’t been erased, but we’d seen a large Dominican church give a standing ovation to our Haitian choir.

It Matters

The story is told of a man who was standing on the beach amid hundreds of starfish that had washed ashore. He was throwing them back in the water one by one. Someone approached and asked, “Why bother? What does it matter? There are so many.” The man looked at the starfish in his hand. Just before he tossed it back, he replied, “It matters a lot to this one!”

Today that missions trip still matters a lot to the bus driver, the sugar cane worker and the Haitian uncertain of the reception he’d receive from Dominican Christians. It matters a lot to God, too—for time and eternity: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10); “‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matt. 25:40).

Short-term missions trips are God’s invitation to discover what you’ll never know unless you go. When you do, you’ll be sure to gain a new perspective on things like the price of sugar, the value of a soul and the heart of God.

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