Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday October 15, 2011

As I sit here looking out the window, beyond the runway at the mountainside and landscape of an over-populated and crisis-ridden country, I can't help but feel a huge sense of guilt for leaving it behind as I head back to Washington, DC.
What was my second mission trip to Haiti in less than eight months, can now only be spoken about through photographs and personal testimony. I have spent the last nine days witnessing children, families and those who somehow seem as if they have been forgotten, struggle to make peace of the hand they have been dealt after the devastation that fell upon them on January 12, 2010. Who could believe that almost two years ago, on a beautiful sun filled day, a terrible earthquake would essentially rock their world?!
The one thing I would like to convey to folks reading this is how much HOPE the people of Haiti have for themselves and one another.
Almost every single young person I came across is currently in school or trying to find a way to enroll in school if their parents cannot provide the necessary resources. The biggest problem I saw was that most students that reach the age of 18 or older and "age out" of school have no way of continuing their education because it is extremely expensive. That is a very poor message for these kids to be taught. "Go to school, invest money in your education instead of learning a trade or just quitting at a young age and getting a menial job and then when you reach the age of being eligible to enter college (20+), their won't be any other options for you unless you have the money that it takes to attend".
Unlike the United States, there are no options for student loans or forgiveness programs or even scholarships. It is a very brokem system!
The people of Haiti are filled with hope and love! They are extremely gracious and generous with what they have. I will end this entry with a story of how one night after dinner, a young man named Egans c
ame to the site carrying a heavy "old skool" 19' television set and a portable dvd player.
He carried these things almost 1 mile from him home so the team, as well as many other kids from the village could watch a movie (being powered by a generator). You see, this young man had been talking about the movie The Sandlot with our team mate Brian all week and how he wanted him to watch this movie so he found a television set, a dvd player and somehow purchased the movie from a street vendor and made it happen. WoW! Talk about being resourceful, not to mention extremely thoughtful!
I hope I was able to convey how lovely everyone is and I realize this is just a snapshot of the kindness and hopeful nature that the Haitians hold for other people. I had an amazing experience and the pleasure was all mine. I cannot wait to go back again soon!

With God EVERYthing is possible

It was a running joke this week between team members and those in the community we met. It was possible for it to rain hard, and it was possible for it not to. With God, everything is possible. It was possible to go to bed and possible not to. With God, everything is possible. It was possible for a young man, Eagens, to carry a large TV and DVD player hundreds of yards through rural Haiti so that we could watch a movie together and possible for him not to. With God, everything is possible (and as it turned out in the case of Eagens probable).

This running joke about possibility defines my Haiti experience. It reflects that with God, the seemingly impossible can happen... or it could not. It’s possible for people who don’t speak the same language to come together and sing joyously together. It is possible. As I got violently ill by mid-week, it was possible for the women in the community to run to me, wash my head, and wipe my face with their bare hands as I knelt and vomited. In Haiti that kind of love was possible. It’s possible for people who have been beaten down by years of injustice and desperate circumstances to continue to have faith, to work, and show such great love. It is possible.

With our Haitian brothers and sisters, these weren’t mere possibilities. They were miracles that happened that created inextricable bonds in Mellier and why we felt so strongly about questions we would ask back at the Methodist guest house. How had the teachers we’d met last time still not gotten their fair pay? How was it that though we’d paid for workers to get 5 days of food, that they hadn’t eaten the last day? How had the work not progressed more since our February trip?

We reflected on these questions with Tom Vencus, the UMVIM Director in Haiti, for over two and a half hours. Together we wrestled with the difficult questions of how to make sure that the people we came to love and share community with could be served and engaged at the level they deserved. Our role in this was clear. It is not simply to move dirt from one place to another for a week and come home. It is to create and nurture the deep relationships we made and through these relationships become advocates for the people we met. Our presence and questions serve to continue to help hold leaders feet to the fire and more effectively serve those whom we came to know and love.

With God everything is possible. We learned that this week. Yet it’s not divine grace alone that creates these miracles. It’s a combination of divine grace and persistent human action and willingness to make the hard decisions. Through these decisions and actions justice is possible and yes, injustice is possible. Authentic community is possible and yes, deep distrust is possible. Love is possible and yes, indifference is possible. With God everything is possible and we as a church and ministry team must do our part to make justice, community, and love here in Haiti the possibility we know it can be and that our Haitian brothers and sisters deserve it to be.

(Note I'm responsible on reflecting on day 8 of our trip here. Stay tuned for other members entries for other days!)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday October 13, 2011

Started around midnight with a beautiful moon halo, which some members of our team had never seen before.

Brian and Kaiyra and Onel and Pierre Louis finished the dirt pile! The rest of us did our part to make the work go faster by watching it happen. Someone has to do that. Brian continued working up a storm with the workers, along with Angie and Kaiyra. Some of us helped clean up the classroom that had been flooded, and put up tarps to keep out the rain.

We invited the teachers to have lunch with us. We heard their anger and frustration as Ernson told us they hadn't been paid since June. They told us how they felt there was a lack of support for education. In their words, if the schools close, the jails open. Caz talked about the potential of young people, but also their hopelessness because of the lack of opportunity.

Pastor Jacob visited us. It was great to see him again. The teachers and Patrick expressed a lot of trust in him. We shared our concerns with Pastor Jacob and he encouraged us to continue to raise the questions.

We found out that the workers had not received lunch, although we had provided VIM funds for this. This was really upsetting.

Pastor Fed and other church leaders arrived for a meeting. Ace and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to speak with him and Pastor Jacob and Patrick about the issue of the worker lunches, and the teacher salaries. We didn't get clear answers, but we expressed our concerns.

The issues and relationships are so complex here. On one hand, it would be completely naïve to think we could possibly understand what's going on in a week, or even in a year or 5 years. At the same time, we were clearly being encouraged to use our voice to ask the questions, to ask for accountability. Our team was not of one mind, as we struggled to be faithful in such a challenging context. I can only imagine the choices and challenges our Haitian sisters and brothers face each day as they too struggle to be faithful people and leaders in the midst of such injustice.

Jana Meyer

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday October 12, 2011

'One Day at a Time'

On a day like today you are not awakened by noisy commuters passing by below your window, nor by car horns asserting themselves as each vehicle moves down the block, or even by a siren in the distance rushing to an emergency. Rather you are awakened by a cacophony of the animal kingdom both of land and air. When you arise it is barely day break and the people have already commenced daily activities of setting up

Such a full day today. In the morning, our team was able to teach the school children a condensed geography lesson. We showed US and World maps and our connection to each other. The children are so bright and there is so much energy and love in them despite the incessant impressions of hopelessness they face everyday they offer so much hope for Haiti. The children shared with us that they like colors, cars, soccer, jump-rope, and one very vocal young man said he loves to make his garden! It is painful to know that even if most of these kids are able to make it through primary school there is little support that would allow them to matriculate to high school or even finish and for a great majority of them college is out of the question. shop at the marketplace, gathering hand tools for the days work, or carrying water from the well. In each activity in each day there is such a sense of community, everyone does his/her part and the movements continue all working individually for a collective purpose.

My eyes have definitely been opened up to new ways of performing routine tasks; washing and drying clothes, storing food, cooking food, cleaning dishes. It really is a different way of life, a simple life, a resilient life, a get-up-everyday-and-do-what-is-required-life.

In the afternoon we visit Leogane, the epicenter of the earthquake. Haiti once thrived on exports to sustain her economy yet due to constant political unrest and a shift in agricultural resources Haiti now imports more goods than it exports. Here in Leogane we visited a sugarcane factory which was once a thriving business and was nearly disposed of with the fall of the Duvalier government. The factory continues to run today but not as robust as it once had. We did see a silver lining in the cloud when we visited a Co-op. Local growers are able to come to the cooperative center to turn their peanuts, fruits, and other crops in to marketable goods such as peanut butter and confiture. The center was initially funded by foreign investment but now is fully funded without outside endorsement.

In the midst of broken buildings, disturbed roadways, and collapsed homes the spirit of the people is resolute. The effects of the damage from the event will be everlasting for most because all people lost something or someone. Often we forget these images and struggles because they no longer reside even in the depths of our memory once the cameras are turned off here and show furor of the next cataclysm. We need to remember that our Haitian brothers and sisters were already living in a world of fear, pain, disappointment, and poverty. Thank God for the resiliency of Haiti because she refuses to be kept down.

Kaiyra Greer

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday October 10, 2011

Today was the first day of work at the construction site in Mellier. We are working alongside a Haitian construction team to build a new Methodist church because the former church was badly damaged in the January 2010 earthquake. In fact, most buildings in this area were destroyed since Mellier was at the epicenter. Our primary task on the site is moving dirt, which we have all become quite skilled at in a short time.

However, the work is not the reason we are here. We're here to spend time with the children,

with the workers,

and with the community members who choose to show up each day after nearly two years of construction to keep building their church.

In spite of accomplishing so much today, it was a day characterized by nothing but rain. Rain, rain and more rain.

The rain started mid-afternoon during a game of football with the kids, and it continued in the evening and night. The storm drove us all to find cover from the rain which led, of course, to games of uno and dominos.

The flooding began just before dinner. People began to show up out of nowhere in order to help. They moved quickly, hanging tarps, fillings cracks between the walls and floor, sweeping, mopping, and ultimately digging a ditch to drain the excess water building up.

It's a strange sensation, the selflessness of people around us and the instant bonds with total strangers.
Why is it that at home, this is so hard to come by?

[Listening to music in the rain]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Foundry Mission Trip to Mellier, Haiti: October 7-15, 2011
Sunday October 9th 2011

After a breakfast of eggs, ham, pancakes, and fruit we made our way to church by 9 o’clock to worship God with our Haitian brothers and sisters. Before the service, Terry, Brian, and I met District Superintendent Fed, who oversees the Methodist church in Mellier and several others in the region. He is a strong-featured, tall, dark-skinned, man with salt and pepper hair that is more salt than pepper, with a bearing that presages his wisdom before he speaks. We asked him what he thought about the recent election of President Martelly and his answer was essentially that Martelly’s campaign reflected the prevailing ethos—the longing for competent government because it is understood that such stability would enable Haitians to improve their lives economically; Fed is hopeful that Martelly’s campaign promises, including increased access to education, come to pass…and while hoping, he continues his efforts to meet people’s spiritual (and economic) needs through the church.

Fed and Ace shared the pulpit, and without prior coordination their sermons dovetailed seamlessly: Superintendent Fed discussed the passage from Exodus when the Israelites erect the golden calf (Exodus 32) and Ace discussed the passage in Matthew concerning the treasure we store on Earth versus that which we store in heaven (Matthew 6). In his remarks, Fed stated three reasons why God did not kill the Israelites as God initially intended: (1) God is forgiving and merciful and willing to change his plans to bring us into closer relationship with him; (2) Moses has an intimate relationship with God and has the courage to challenge God on behalf of his people, demonstrating Moses’s commitment to discipleship while remaining in solidarity with his community; and (3) Moses argues compellingly that killing the Israelites would contradict God’s covenant with the Israelites and undermine his capacity to convert non-believers.

Not to be outdone, Ace admonished the audience not to seek personal achievement as a source of fulfillment, but rather community—while using our gifts for constructive purposes is useful as far as it goes, we should not conflate putting our energies toward productive ends with earning what God has given freely (even lavishly!). Our responsibility is to accept these bounties and to see in our neighbors—those we meet personally and those we don’t, but to whom we are inextricably connected nonetheless—another of God’s creations made in his image. We love others as we love ourselves, and as Christ loves us, by sharing openly and compassionately with one another; by singing, dancing, eating, working, and sharing in each other’s struggles, we a construct a space that allows us to engage dynamically the paradox of being an individual but an individual who is only fully realized in relation to other individuals, and by living into that paradox we move ever close to bringing to fruition the kingdom of heaven on earth.

To encapsulate Superintendent Fed and Ace’s messages: God’s heart is larger than we could ever imagine and as such he accommodates our frailties and missteps; nonetheless, he has given us guidelines for how to relate to ourselves, each other, and to him, guidelines that we have the free will to use or not use; however, if we do commit to making real God’s vision for us as his children, we’ll know we’re getting closer to it when it models faith, love, compassion, justice, and equity (all the while knowing that there will always be more we can do; to quote a Haitian proverb: “Beyond mountains, there are mountains” or, to paraphrase existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, we must imagine that Sisyphus found meaning in the effort he put forth regardless of the outcome).

Before either Ace or Pastor Fed spoke, we presented to the congregation a Bible inscribed by Foundry’s senior minister Dean Snyder. Then we sang “God Is So Good” in both Creole and English. This “gesture” to use Jana’s word, we hope demonstrated our desire to be fully immersed in our experience as members of the Mellier community, despite language and cultural barriers.

As the two-hour service progressed, I was captivated by the sights and sounds around me. Of particular note was a mother dressed in a fine eggplant-colored blouse, a black pencil skirt, three-inch strappy sandals, her hair smoothly pulled back in a dignified bun, soothing her fourth-month old daughter—the baby in a white lace gown—as she sang, stood up and sat at the appointed times that the choir was called to make its soul-stirring, joyful sounds. The emotional and physical dexterity she demonstrated were inspiring to witness. This woman was among the over 100 congregants who showed up for church in their Sunday best, admittedly looking far better than us that day, or most other Sundays for that matter. And it’s important to note that when in the States we by and large have the material conveniences to make our grooming and other aspects of our morning preparations far less onerous than most Haitians’ we met that morning—I can’t recall the last time I went to a well for water to wash myself or used fire-heated rocks to iron my clothes. Laurie and Lauren made fast friends with two children under two—both of these children sat with them throughout the service; Laurie was not able to take communion because the girl she was holding was sleeping so peacefully in her lap that Laurie dared not disturb her.

After church, we took a van to the local beach. At the beach entrance, we were greeted by a security official with a machine gun. After we paid our entry fee (and passed the muster of his glare), we made our way to picnic tables on a patio-like structure, and ordered food—fish, goat, and chicken. It took us well over an hour to receive our food (…what my hurry was, I don’t know…let go, Angie, let go!), but it was quite satisfying once we got it—food tastes even better when you have extra time to anticipate it! Over our meal, Jana and Lauren did an excellent job of using Creole and French to engage Dina, the woman who cooks for us at the worksite and who joined us on the trip. We were grateful that she was open to taking time to enjoy herself in our company!

To pass the time on the shore, some of us read, worked out (I did a few pushups and air squats to get the blood moving!), and others chose the universally appreciated game for inserting a bit of fun and interactive vigor into the day—soccer (…er non-pig-skin football)! Terry, Laurie, our translators Jean Claude and Kaz, Patrick—the man who drove the van and who is also Mellier’s school principal—and his sons, showed great skill, though not infrequently a kick would just miss its intended target and someone would schlep into the water to retrieve it. Others of us swam (or waded, to be more precise), and while we did all of these activities, we were surrounded on two sides by undulating bluish-green hills and mountains, and were able to see our feet in turquoise waters that came up to our waists 50 yards out from the shoreline.

The luxury of the beach’s beauty and easy tranquility were a stark contrast to the want for basic necessities evidenced by the makeshift homes and meager roadside stalls we passed on the trip back to the worksite (…which, of course, were there on our way to the beach…it’s just that our guilt for having just taken in such great pleasure left us disturbed as we saw the needs of the people before us).

It started to rain as we made our way back and we spent the remainder of the evening doing quiet activities—journaling, reading, playing cards (Uno was a crowd favorite), chatting with our new friends in a pidgin of gestures, Creole, French, and English. We had a light meal of okra and oatmeal—a combination I’d never had before, but is a tantalizing blend of textures and flavors—for dinner, given that we’d had a late and filling lunch. At around 8 o’clock or so, we capped off the evening with singing, each of us lending our voices to the harmony of God’s creation—individual voices evident, but clearly part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Angela Simms

Saturday, October 8, 2011

We assemble for breakfast, the packing of the van and final briefing by Tom Vencuss as we set out for Mellier.

The van is full to the gills with of our luggage, food for a week, cost for 12 people, shovels and water. We receive our last minute briefing from Tom about safety, customs and procedures, and we circle for a prayer and leave with anticipation. Passing through Port au Prince and then on to the highway to Mellier we witness the swirls of market day, women with large bundles of goods balanced on their heads, scores of beeping mopeds, Tap Taps and autos speeding past thousands of blue tarped tents and temporary dwellings , home to thousands of displaced persons in the quake zone. We will come to know the constant dust, debris and animation of the Haitian life. Noises are everywhere, barking stray dogs, skinny and disliked; crowing rooters, chiming in at 4:30; strange sounds in the night of birds or who knows what. It is a scene which will be repeated throughout our week when we venture forth from the Mellier countryside. We will also come to know the constant warmth and welcoming love of the Haitian people and their children. We pick up our trusted interpreters, Jean Claude and Caz in Carrefour, who are well known from the prior VIM trip in February, and with good cheer we rumble on towards Mellier.

Arriving at the site, we see a small work crew shoveling dirt into the stem wall foundation of the new church and are greeted by young children who run to our prior VIM team’s members, bursting with animated greetings. Setting up our "camp” in the temporary school rooms and unlading supplies takes several hours at which point we break for a light lunch and are introduced to our loving cooking/ support team of Dina, Betty, Claudie, Michelin, and Marlene. We bring water to the workers and visit the temporary church/schoolhouse.

A light rain begins to fall mid-afternoon and an impromptu recreation session starts in one of the school rooms. We assemble crayons, color paper, paste along with a session of UNO and reading and 20 or so children of all ages along with several parents sit around the desks as we color, play and get to know each other.

It is a warm and loving introduction to these wonderful children of Mellier who glow in the attention and laugh at out bad French and silly jokes. For the first of many cycles, our tiny tape recorder is put to good use as we listen to one the two tapes of kids’ music we have brought: Cajun Boogaloo. As with many things in Haiti, we lean to improvise, make do with what we have and to slow down time to relish relationships and the simple things in life, held together by the palpable sense of common caring for each other that is thick in the air.

Later in the afternoon as after the rain has subsided, Jean Claude and Caz take us on a walking tour of Mellier. We amble down the rutted roads of the village, past vast sugar cane fields until we arrive at the local river, brown with silt erosion from the mountain, and a large gravel digging site, in which 40 workers and several large dump trucks are busy digging grave

l from the river. We pass by the homes of the villagers: clusters of three of four temporary tents, with outdoor charcoal fires for cooking in front, surrounded by the few possessions they have. We pass several of the large mapou trees known for their spiritual power in voodoo ceremonies, and we stop at the one bar in Mellier for a well-deserved cold Coke and reflection.

After a wondrous supper of goat, fried okra, beans and rice, plaintines, banana and mango, we have our evening reflection. We share our first thoughts on what God has put before us to understand: widespread poverty, endless displaced persons, damaged homes and amongst it all, the Haitian people, survivors, making the best of a desperate situation, bound by family, friends and a powerful sense of the Sprit. After dark we gather outside under the stars for the first of our evening Creole hymn sessions, led by Caz and the women of our team who know each of the hymns by heart; they are sung with a deep devotion and rhythmic repetition, showing the powerful soothing powers of these hymns for all of us. Our Creole is bad but we sing the hymns with gusto, and interlace English versions that are also known by our Haitian friends.

Our evening ends with the sounds of the Haitian night arising around us, a cool breeze and a sense of anticipation for the remainder of the week.

Terry Birkel

Friday, October 7, 2011

Haitian President Welcomes Foundry VIM Team

On Friday October 7, 2011, Foundry United Methodist's VIM team arrived in Port au Prince, Haiti where they met President Martelly at the airport.

Foundry's VIM team will spend one week working in Mellier alongside Haitian construction workers to rebuild the local church and spend time with the children in the community.

Stay tuned! best picture is still to come!
posted by Lauren VanEnk

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sept. 18 at 4pm: Foundry Showing Film "Children of Haiti"

Foundry's Haiti Ministry Team invites you to view this film about Haitian street children and their struggle for survival, education and acceptance, on Sunday, September 18 at 4:00 PM.

Followed by discussion of the film and the current situation in Haiti, led by members of the Foundry VIM trip to Haiti in February. Snacks will be served.

Please RSVP at, or contact Ace Parsi at for more details.

In the midst of Haiti’s lush mountains and historical relics, hundreds of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children wander the streets day and night. Known as the Sanguine (“Soulless”) and forgotten by their own people, they have struggled for survival since long before the devastating 2010 earthquake. STRANGE THINGS: Children of Haiti follows three teenage street boys, who reflect on their country and their lives, sharing a common dream of education, government assistance and social acceptance.

Following the evolution and transformation of these boys into young men, this cinematic documentary provides direct insight into Haiti’s ongoing abandoned youth problem. In the voices of the street boys themselves, the film examines a complicated issue which has not only plagued the country for decades, but grows more severe every day.

Shot in the historic northern city of Cap-Haitien over a period of three years, Children of Haiti reveals the country’s strange contrasts; a land of breathtaking landscapes and remarkable heritage, but also great human tragedy, all seen through the eyes of these prolific, poetic boys. Despite the nearly insurmountable obstacles, they show that a few can still manage to find hope, and even a little joy, in this harsh reality.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Terry Birkel reflects on preparing for Haiti

From Terry Birkel

In June I applied to be part of the VIM team traveled to Haiti during October 6-13. This is my first VIM mission and although I have listened with interest to other VIM participants report their joy in mission work and have watched with wonder my children's beaming return from Appalachia Service projects. I always assumed I was too busy to fit in a similar trip for myself. I had gone on three trips with my family to New Orleans for post Katrina cleanup up work, and found them to be transformative. So that Sunday in June as I walked up to Ace Parsi and Jana Myer at the Haiti mission table, I put my “upside versus downside” analytical lawyer instincts on hold, went with my gut and jumped aboard. I sensed that it was time for this 64 year old to worry less about his golf game and to lift a hand for others -- a instinct I know now was one to feed my soul.

This non-decision of faith, of course, has proven to be correct. From the moment I filled the questionnaire asking for a description of my skills and what I thought I could add to the mission team, I began to re-experience the joys of voluntary service to others in need. We have had a number of team meetings where we discuss some of the nut and bolts of caring for oneself in a tropical, disease infected climate, etc. but more importantly with grappling with the exploration of what can one or a group of ten do when the problems are so immense.

We have shared fears of ourselves being at risk and how we draw on faith to follow a path that freely assist others, without specific training but by simple love, intentionality and openness. Personal beliefs were shared with the group. I recalled my post Katrina work trips and the sense of doing Christ's work in serving those in despair. I recall the friends I have made amongst the "victims" and the sense of accomplishment and connectedness I gained simply because I ”dared to be ordinary", showed up and said by word or deed, how can I help you; you matter to me; you are not forgotten; thank you for allowing me to be of service to you in your time of need; thank you for trusting me. This is the core of our Christian values, and it does not flourish, I learn time and again, unless I put myself on the line, share the dirt, backache and sweat of physical work; the anxiety of the unknown and of rejection and confusion, and remember that God has placed me on this path for a reason and as my kids say "it is all good."

I have also learned what it is to make new friends with Foundry members and the deep and abiding faith, an amazing vitality of my fellow congregants. Sometimes one attends church with a large congregation and although you know people, you really don’t know them until you have shared an experience such as this. A diverse group of people came together as a team to share their love and beliefs in hard work with people many miles from home. Working together our team has that quiet calm of purpose -- each easily sharing responsibility for the greater good. One evening in July, after exiting from a VIM team meeting onto the vibrant social crush of P Street and DuPont Circle, I tried to remain with that sense of purpose achieved in a room filled with my VIM team members, ordinary folk (as Dean would no doubt say) seeking to work as a group to plan to assist strangers in great need.

That sense of calmness has stayed with me -- despite our own recent earthquakes and hurricanes which left a 70-foot tree sprawled across my backyard. I frankly admit to some fear, having gotten shots for hep A and B, typhus, tetanus and secured my anti-malarial pills and mosquito bed netting.

In preparation I have read with wonder and remorse about the Haitian people and the seemingly unremitting history of despair, and rebirth. I have thought deeply about what I can bring to those who have suffered so much. I have read about Dr. Paul Farmer who has changed minds and medical practices in undeveloped world with his hospital in Haiti, and his identification with the philosophy that : "the only real nation is humanity.” I draw inspiration form his life work -- an example of a life based on hope as well as his abiding understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”: as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, so you go on and try to solve that too. I have no doubt, as always is the case when I have put aside inertia and given freely of myself, that I will return from our Haitian trip with the feeling that I have gained far beyond what I will have put in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the ground shakes for all of us, but harder for some than others

Some times as we go through our days, we are confronted with experiences that lead us to reflect more deeply about the conditions of our brothers and sisters whom we inhabit the world with. Whereas those connections may have been superficial and weak earlier, an event suddenly brings them into an intense focus. Layoffs at work may lead to reflection on the anxiety of the millions of families across the country wondering how they will make ends meet; a sick parent may lead one to think about the many in this country who still haven't benefited from the healthcare law; feeling excluded and demeaned for a quality can cause one to think about the struggles of those in the LGBT community who are still too often rejected for a quality God blessed them with. The more intense our experience and the deeper the reflection, the more likely that our feelings will take us beyond simple empathy and lead us into more proactive solidarity.

It may have been that I was coming back from getting my last shot in preparation for our VIM team's October trip to Haiti, but this was my experience today. As I was walking to my office, I saw people outside buildings in our DC community seeking safety and couldn't help but think about the continued struggles of our brothers and sisters in Haiti as they recover from last January's earthquake. Our nation's capital was hit today with a 5.9 magnitude earthquake. This led staffers working in the White House, Capitol, and other offices across the city out of buildings as a precautionary measure, soon a rumor came that one house in DC may have collapsed, and I received texts and calls from friends and family to see whether I was ok. Luckily, for the most part, our community was spared of anything worse than mere inconvenience.

As I stood outside my office building, I began to imagine what it must have been like last January as Haitians faced a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake. What would we have done had our Capitol collapsed today killing nearly half of our elected officials as happened in Port Au Prince? What had Haitian parents and citizens been going through as they faced the reality that they didn't know their loved ones' whereabouts and had no way to reach them? What if the city's infrastructure today charged with leading the recovery was also left decimated? Even as a wealthy country, how fast would we recover as families? How fast would we have recovered as a nation? Unfortunately, Haiti's problem did not start today. It's part of a cycle of injustice that originates from its history as a French slave colony and has continued through decades of both internal and external exploitation.

Tomorrow, we'll go back to business as usual (pun somewhat intended). Still, the decisions made in our city will determine whether Haitians will have the resources to help them on their road to recovery and ensure that this recovery will be sustainable. Moving forward, let us not forget about this common and unique experience we had. The ground beneath our feet shook. Though the implications for us were much different, let this experience plant a seed of deep empathy within with hopes that for some, this state will grow into a more concrete state of solidarity. We owe this to our broader world community, our faith, and ourselves.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Door of No Return

Today I stood inside Elmina Castle on the Ghanian Cape Coast at The Door of No Return. For thousands of Africans, this was the last piece of Africa they would ever see since Elmina stood on the primary port for slave trade during the 1600-1800's. It's likely that Haiti's ancestors crossed through The Door of No Return. In fact, Haiti was once the most prized and prosperous colony of the French, and this attracted much attention to the little island of Hispanola. Today, however, it seems like one has to beg the global community to focus attention on Haiti, literally.

The history of Haiti is so rich. From its inception, Haiti has had a cosmopolitan story, its inhabitants coming from so many lands around the world. It is a story filled with tensions of politics, economics and race but also of deep strength and spirituality. Standing today on African soil and knowing in a few short weeks I'll be in Haiti sends shivers down my spine. I'm eager to trace those steps of history from Cape Coast to Haiti, thankful to know that the story is still being told.

Foundry UMC Haiti Website:

Elminda Castle

Map of Slave Trade

Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 10: Foundry's Haiti Ministry Team Showing Film "Strange Things: Children of Haiti"

The Haiti Ministry Team invites you to view this film about Haitian street children and their struggle for survival, education and acceptance, on Sunday, July 10th, at 12:30 p.m., at Foundry.

The viewing will be followed by discussion of the film and the current situation in Haiti, led by members of the February 2011 Foundry VIM trip to Haiti. Light lunch will be served. The event will end by 2 p.m.

Please RSVP on the Foundry calendar website, or contact Ace Parsi at for more details.

Here's a description of the film from its website:

In the midst of Haiti’s lush mountains and historical relics, hundreds of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children wander the streets day and night. Known as the Sanguine (“Soulless”) and forgotten by their own people, they have struggled for survival since long before the devastating 2010 earthquake. STRANGE THINGS: Children of Haiti follows three teenage street boys, who reflect on their country and their lives, sharing a common dream of education, government assistance and social acceptance.

Following the evolution and transformation of these boys into young men, this cinematic documentary provides direct insight into Haiti’s ongoing abandoned youth problem. In the voices of the street boys themselves, the film examines a complicated issue which has not only plagued the country for decades, but grows more severe every day.

Shot in the historic northern city of Cap-Haitien over a period of three years, Children of Haiti reveals the country’s strange contrasts; a land of breathtaking landscapes and remarkable heritage, but also great human tragedy, all seen through the eyes of these prolific, poetic boys. Despite the nearly insurmountable obstacles, they show that a few can still manage to find hope, and even a little joy, in this harsh reality.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Foundry's Haiti Ministry Team Welcomes Thomas Kemper

This Sunday, June 19, promises to bring mission into focus when Foundry welcomes Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) of the United Methodist Church, and a former missionary in Brazil.

A recent blog post by Kemper reveals the reverence and humility he experienced alongside dispossessed Brazilians that deeply affected his own sense of mission. As Foundry has chosen to emphasize Haiti as a sustained global mission focus through 2014, Kemper will no doubt excite insight into our ministry.

A special offering will be collected Sunday, June 19, as part of Foundry's ministry focus on Haiti. Donations will support teachers’ salaries in Haiti—through the UM Volunteers in Mission program—and the school lunch program—through the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the mission agency of GBGM. Foundry’s Haiti Ministry Team is seeking to raise $5,000 before the next VIM trip this October.

While in the village of Mellier in February 2011, Haiti VIM team members appreciated the importance of advocating for, and ministering with, children in poverty. “Ultimately, these children will take their places in their communities as educated citizens and leaders,” said mission participant Margaret Yao. “They are the future, the next generation, who will lead and strengthen their own nation.” Mellier was near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake.

Purpose and hope must be nourished in the near term. "We witnessed firsthand the educational needs of the children of Haiti,” said Laurie Watkins, another team member. “Unfortunately, the Haitian communities, nongovernmental organizations, and religious organizations have been unable to adequately fund education due to the challenging poor conditions.”

Kemper, who will base his sermon “Jesus at the Gate” on Hebrews 13:12-16, visited Haiti in January at the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. Kemper was elected to his post a day after the earthquake that devastated much of Haiti. GBGM’s relief and partnership efforts in Haiti include supporting programs for teacher training in camps in Port-Au-Prince, housing and construction, work training, agriculture, and microfinance.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Insanity on the Border

By Bill Jordan,
(originally posted at Off the Wall Perspectives, a blog from volunteers at No More Deaths)

Made it back to DC late last night & want to post something today, while the experience is still fresh in my mind & in my heart.

How do you sum up the week in Nogales, how can you put into words an experience like we had?

On Thursday night Brenda asked us what we would take back with us, & for me it's the stories that I heard.

I had been to the border once before, with Borderlinks, in October, 2009, & sad to say I learned this week that the insanity of our immigration policies continues unabated, & perhaps even worse than before.

I heard so many stories of men & women who had lived a significant number of years in the US, who were stopped by police for something petty, or were caught up in a raid by ICE, & then deported, leaving behind husbands, wives, parents, & children, with very little chance of ever returning to the US, except for trying another border crossing, with all of the dangers of the desert.

There was a woman, 7 months pregnant, from Oaxaca, who had lived 10 years in Florida & had 2 kids who are US citizens. She went back to Mexico with her kids in June, 2010, to see her family, but her kids haven't been allowed to enroll in school in Mexico, because they don't read Spanish. She spent a day & a half in the desert, hoping to return to FL, so that she could arrange to bring her kids back to US, but then was found by the Border Patrol. She was waiting in Nogales for bus fare to return to Oaxaca.

Another young man with bad blisters on the bottom of his feet had lived for more than 10 years in California. He went to Mexico for his father's funeral, then tried to return to his family in CA, but was caught.

Another man lived for 20 years in Arizona, with 3 kids (all US citizens). He went to pick up his daughter from her job & while waiting his youngest child started skateboarding in the parking lot. A local policeman came to stop this, then somehow with no justification whatsoever, questioned the father about his citizenship status, result, father deported, family broken apart.

The stories went on like this all week. There were also many stories from first-time crossers, who simply wanted a chance at a better life, & were caught in the desert. Some were determined to try again. I think if people in the US could hear these stories & meet some of the people I met, they would be able to see that these are our neighbors, not "aliens" & not threats to our "way of life." I want to bear witness to the stories that I heard, so that maybe the anti-immigrant sentiment so rampant in our country can start to change, & hearts can be broken open, to welcome the newcomers.

All week long & today I have been overcome by waves of sadness as I remember the stories I heard & the people I met. I expect these waves of sadness will continue for a while. In many ways I hope they will, because they keep me connected to those I met. I wonder what will become of them, in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years. I doubt that I will ever know.

But I do know that they don't need my pity. There was great strength & resilience in those I met. Actually, I feel sorry for us, as Americans, that we don't get it, that we are refusing to change insane & broken policies, in the name of national security, or protecting our way of life, or whatever.

We are diminished as a nation when we treat migrants inhumanely. In the mural at the Comedor Jesus breaks bread with the migrants, men, women, & children, & breaks down the borders & barriers that separate us. May we do the same in our home communities.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Foundry volunteer returns to the Mexican border

A guide from No More Deaths talks to a Foundry VIM team in the Sonoran desert south of Tucson in 2009.From Bill Jordan:

In October 2009, I had the opportunity to go on a VIM trip with Foundry to the Arizona/Mexico border with a group called Borderlinks. It was a great trip and I learned a lot.

I work in a clinic in D.C. where many of our patients are from Central America or Mexico, and a good number of them are undocumented. I see the effect of our broken immigration system every day on people who have very little hope of ever legalizing their status in this country. I wanted to see for myself what it was like on a portion of our southern border, and ever since I came back I've been looking for a way to make a return trip.

As part of the Borderlinks trip, Foundry members met with a guide from No More Deaths who took us on a hike through the desert (see photo). No More Deaths is an organization based in Tucson that is trying to address the humanitarian crisis in the Arizona desert by leaving water in the desert and searching for those who might have become lost. I will be going to Tucson and then on to Nogales, Mexico, for an alternative spring break from March 19-26.

In Nogales, No More Deaths provides help at aid stations on the Mexican side, by providing first aid and by helping migrants who have been deported make contact with their families in various parts of Mexico. I am very much looking forward to this return trip and will let people know how it goes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Remembering Haiti on Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, a reminder for some that life is short...and precious...and unpredictable. This picture of sunrise over the small town of Mellier in the Western Department of Haiti was taken at a pensive moment during my recent church work trip. On that morning, I was thankful to not be working, thankful to not be moving fast like I always do and not talking so much and to just stand still in the beauty of the moment. I remember not wanting to leave that place, to leave that moment in time. The fields and mountains felt so peaceful, the neighbors tending crops so friendly, the air soft and forgiving. Yet, I knew that it could not last forever.

A few days later, back in Port-au-Prince, a small 4.1 scale earthquake shook the earth once again and perhaps woke everyone out of any small sense of normalcy that has slowly grown. Me personally, I didn't even feel it. Yet, everyone could feel the worry, and then the sad memories seeping back into the social fabric. Perhaps nothing was physically broken in Port-au-Prince that day, but it reminded all of us that each day is unpredictable. We have a choice to either fear the uncertainty, or to embrace the hold on to the pain and anger, or to let go of all that holds us back.

My husband, Mark, and I are hoping to join our church this Lenten season in what they are calling a "money fast"...only making purchases for the week at one time and not spending anything that isn't absolutely necessary. (So, no chai lattes, unless I make them myself.) It seems like a very small exercise towards letting go of that which we don't really need, and embracing something healthier. So, I think I will hold onto this sunrise picture of Mellier during Lent, in order to help me to keep my perspective. I can reflect back on that morning and remember that the most precious moments in life are usually free.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blessed and Annointed

Here's a post-trip reflection from team member Susan Ozawa

People have asked me for some quick reflections on my time in Haiti and I have been slow to find the words, but a couple of words keep repeating themselves in my mind.

The first is "blessed". Our group of ten was truly blessed. Through prayers we were covered by God's protection every step of the way. All our logistics were smooth and no one was injured or ill the entire trip. This is profound because we were working on a site of a former church/school which was rubble, filled with metal wires, and shards of rock and cement we were moving with shovels and our hands. We were safe from cholera and malaria. God watched over our every step in Port-Au-Prince as we visited Action Aid and an artist cooperative. There was no static or tension when we left the part of Mellier where we were staying and went to the beach after church. All eyes were on the foreigners at the local beach where there was lots of drinking. Another team member, Laurie, and I just got a soccer ball and started up a pick-up game. Our translators Jean-Claude and Caz were always nearby to make sure we were okay. Despite being women and foreigners and not speaking the language, we played together and laughed together. God found a way to keep us all in community and communion with the people we met despite our limitations (many Haitians spoke 2-3 languages).

Another word that keeps coming up is "anointed". I know that God anointed us with the right words at the right moments as we struggled with God's purpose for us in Mellier for such a short time. God anointed the children as conduits for the adults. They led us like little guardian angels through the streets of Mellier, filled with a significant amount of structural destruction, human loss and continual poverty in the middle of a gorgeous and prolific countryside. Instead of being seen as spectators and onlookers, we were seen as friends invited in as the kids held our hands the whole way and taught us new words in Creole. "Marche ver" or walk fast they would say, laughing the whole time. Our smiles were always reflected back to us by the community. God anointed the leaders of the community--Josephina who was a member of the Methodist church's women's group who prayed with our women for hardship and pains and journeys we all travel; Benoit, a local young man in his early 20s who was always around, and extremely talented at playing soccer and playing the drums as we sang in worship in Creole and English every night; and Betty, an older woman who cooked and cleaned for the Methodist teams in Mellier. Betty had a stern face until you said "bonswa". Her face would light up beautifully, with joy and welcoming love that was all the more powerful for the contrast. These people were always around us. Pastor Jacob, Principal Patrick and Boss Vech, the site foreman were always there to guide us and to pray with us. Jean-Claude and Caz, our translators, clarified our words as we stumbled. They made poetic our scattered words. God truly anointed the people we witnessed and anointed our words and actions while we were there, so that the community would see our hearts were filled with love, despite our privilege, despite our loss of words, despite the small gift of our labors. They knew we were united by God as brothers and sisters and were as glad we were there as our team was. We laughed together, cried together, sang together and worked together but we mostly laughed together. Our group and the community was also anointed with the gift of humor.

I know these blessings and this anointing was the holy spirit hard at work. I knew people were praying for us; our friends and families, our home church Foundry United Methodist Church, and I knew my father intercessors would be praying over our time there. Whenever, the heat seemed oppressive and the emotionality of despair seemed not far, I would pray and take comfort knowing good people around the world would be holding us up in prayer. And everytime we prayed, God answered our prayers. When we asked for guidance on how we should give, when we asked for greater personal connection with the community, when we prayed for God's love to compensate for loss of words across languages, these prayers were answered in less than 24 hours! It was amazing and powerful to witness.

Thank you for your prayers and for your continual prayers for the people of Haiti, as they heal, rebuild and use the love of God to guide them in working with their brothers and sisters from all over the world to move out of trauma and poverty to prosperity, stability and peace.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lessons from Mellier

Elise (far left), one of our interpretors, Caz, Deanna (our amazing chef!), Molly, Claudie (another amazing chef) and Ace singing some Creole hymns together.

This morning constituted a tearful goodbye for us in Mellier. We had just enjoyed a lively last community dinner and night of singing and dancing with our new Mellier Methodist Church friends the night before. It was such a joyful event. Everyone noted that we rarely see this side of Haitian life in the US media. Even though 43 students are no longer able to attend the Mellier Methodist school after last year's earthquake, the teachers get paid only $60 per month and go for months sometimes without any pay at all and a number of skinny children and adults in the community are consistently malnourished, we still saw a clear picture of Haiti. It has great beauty, strength and wisdom to share with us. The Mellier Methodist Church community taught us what it means to share, to rejoice in music, to appreciate even the small things that one has. We bring these many lessons back to DC tonight and will continue to process and work together towards greater understanding and action in the days and months to come. Here are a few team insights for the road, though, in the words of our team members.

Doug: "It’s been bittersweet. I’ve made a lot of friends that I now have to leave. I’ve learned about capacity to give, including figuring out how much capacity I personally have…and what I don’t have."

Doug (far right) offering a gift of workers gloves to Mellier Foreman, Boss Wech

 Susan: "I learned to love with a broken heart." 

Susan, taking a picture in the back of our "Tap Tap" as we cross over bumpy Leogane roads on our way to buy papayas (which Nicole is holding.)

Laurie: "I learned to manage expectations…both my expectations and other people’s expectations. For being such a broken country in many ways, Haiti is still such an incredibly beautiful one. I wish that more people would take time to learn the history of the Haitian people."

Laurie helping Joseph, a 17 year old previous student who can no longer afford to attend school, review English lessons.

Molly: "I learned more about what it truly means to accompany people and really be present to them…that it is a long, but satisfying journey."

Molly (on far right) with Nicole, Elise, Jana, our interpretor Jean Claude and Mark...moving some dirt for the church!

Ace: "I learned that there are limitations in power to physically change things, but there is enormous power in love and community."

Ace with some of his new Mellier friends, Harold on the left and Jean Claude on the right.

Margaret:  "I learned how to be prayerful and trust in God."

Margaret, 4th from the left, was an amazing addition to this small group meeting with women from Mellier Methodist Church. She had a special rapport with the women, especially being the only person with children on our team!
Mark: I learned that life is most fully lived on the challenging edges.
Mark helping Mellier 5th and 6th graders write letters to some of his students in Baltimore.

As we have a 3 year long commitment to Haiti mission, volunteer and advocacy work, we will continue to partner with the Methodist Church of Haiti in identifying the areas where we might be of greatest service. We're hoping to maintain and continue to grow this special relationship with the Mellier Methodist community in the middle of this work. And hopefully, God willing, we'll be able to come back in October so that we can learn and share at an even deeper level.

The Long and Short of It

See these faces?  This morning, we were preparing to leave Mellier and those with whom we shared, prayed, ate, danced, laughed, and cried.  The blue bags were filled with notes of appreciation for the gifts each of us brought to group -- our team from Foundry and seven of our Haitian friends.  The mix of emotions one may be able to make out in this picture capture a few of my own.  

Tonight, as I write this blog back in Port-au-Prince so tired and still with so much to process, I am first filled with gratitude.  Our theme was the body of Christ and, while construction of any sort was the least of our gifts, our diversity brought forth a full and amazing web of true human connection with the diverse community we were hoping to discover.  I felt we saw God everywhere -- in serious conversation with the teachers and their families, in the light of children's faces, in the sincerity of the community leaders, in personal connections such as mine with a bright and charming 17-year-old girl named Dona, and in a conga line, too.  Our prayers for discernment were answered, opening inside each of us a place to take in new, unexpected experience every day.

"Grangou" in Creole means "hungry."  We were surrounded by beautiful and hungry children.  Secondly, I am struggling with hunger myself.  It is a gnawing within.  We are part of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), a remarkable that works.  As Team #13 at Mellier, we accomplished the short-term mission of heart-felt connection in our brief experience (and we moved some dirt too).  The hunger is about how to strengthen and grow our connection over the long-term.  What is the most sustainable way for us to support Haiti?  To support Mellier?  The regional "circuit" ?  Education?  Agriculture? Health?  Capacity building?  We are determined to creatively and effectively do our part.  If our team struggles to work through this through prayerful discernment, bringing our diversity of perspectives and seeking to expand engagement, we can do our part.

But, if we don't remain hungry, the children will.

Signing off from Port-au-Prince,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A day of worship. A day of praise. A day of rest.

A day of worship. A day of praise. A day of rest. We woke up from our first night of sleeping on cots in open-air wooden structures in Mellier, Haiti. After a filling breakfast, including especially good oatmeal, we got ready for the morning church service. Worship took place in the unfinished structure right next to the church construction site on which we're working. The sanctuary filled with people, row upon row, around 180 who came to join together in praising God. We were led by a female lay leader, Josette. The pastor, Jacob, was at a different church on his circuit of three different congregations.

Methodism in Mellier is alive, in a predominantly Roman Catholic society. The faith is most apparent in the children and youth in church! The children's choir sang a beautiful anthem. A young teenager stood and gave the Sunday school report. Two young men were welcomed into the church and testified about their faith in God. Additionally, the adult choir led the congregation in many hymns, both in French and Haitian Creole. My favorite was a French version of "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" sung by the choir.

We as a team were invited to participate in worship. Jana and Margaret made an offering from Foundry to God and the congregation in the form of altar table vestments. Our team stood together in our pew and introduced ourselves. Then with the aid of our translator, Jean-Claude, both Ace and Elise delivered a message, reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Ace said that he felt that his encounter with the destruction in Haiti had left him feeling like his spirit was broken. He felt like a spiritual traveler beaten on the road to Jericho but that the Haitian people he had met had been for him spiritual Good Samaritans in lifting him up. Elise brought a message of greeting, thanks, and solidarity. Said Elise to those gathered, "Americans have a lot to learn about being good neighbors from Haitians, who have shown us what community life can be like." She recounted the story of survival from Leigh Carter, our fellow Foundry member who almost perished in the January 2010 quake while working in Port-Au-Prince. She was saved by a Haitian employee of the development bank where she works, a true neighbor in her time of need.

Many contrasts were evident to me throughout worship. I wear casual clothing to a Sunday evening service. Our Haitian neighbors dressed formally early in the morning. I listen to a twenty-minute sermon that is podcasted. Our Haitian friends worshipped for two-and-a-half hours with no childcare provided. I drive my car. Our fellow Methodists sometimes walk for miles. All but one person on our team has children. We were surrounded by families with kids.

Yet we share in the same humanity and faith. We share in a common hunger for economic justice. But I guess from two sides of the economic divide between rich and poor. We believe in a faith based on the redemptive power of the love of God. And of one another. The sharing of love with and from the Haitians we have met contains so much power. For a church community where so much was destroyed, perhaps the best we have to offer is just to share our love freely, given our lack of capacity to do construction at a scale required to make an impact.

A glorious day. A beautiful day. A day of blessing. Today being the Sabbath, we worshipped and then rested by taking a trip to the beach. Gilou beach, in the village of Laferone, is a short half-hour, slightly harrowing, tap-tap ride from the worksite here in Mellier. Behind the metal gate, the rocky beach was filled with young people listening to music and soaking up the sun. We laid our towels out on a couple of concrete benches. Jana and Caz, one our interpreters, enjoyed some cool drinks. Elise and Mark shared coconut water from a split-open fruit.

Several of us boarded a couple rowboats. Away from shore, Caz, pointed out the Isle of the Gonave and in the distance, the northern peninsula of Haiti was visible. Even though it was plain to see that the mountains there are significantly deforested, the glory of the Caribbean and its clear blue waters were all around us. Thanks be to God for creating such a beautiful place in Haiti. Nicole had a turn at rowing one of the boats. Ace, Laurie, and Susan dove in for a swim.

Sometimes the simplest things in life can be what bring people closer together. We are always so concerned about the polarized way in which we interact. We are relatively well-to-do Americans encountering poor Haitians. But at the beach, instead of us providing soccer balls to children as we did yesterday, Laurie and Susan just joined in a pick-up soccer game with men on the beach. It was the unifying power of sports in action. Or, in the rowboat, as we started to turn back to shore, I asked our boat captain, a man from Jacmel, to row us around the bay for another tour so that he, Caz, and I could spend a bit more time with the pretty young women in our boat. He turned us back out to sea. I guess it was the unifying power of women.

As we prepared to leave the beach, Ace and Elise remarked that it was good for us to see how Haitians spend time relaxing and having fun even in the face of hardship. I couldn't help but think of how tourism could add significantly to the Haitian economy someday again.

A day of witness. A day of sadness. A day of helplessness. We drove to Leogane to buy some fresh fruit and gas. Leogane was severely damaged in the earthquake, and we were surrounded by destroyed buildings. The sadness and destruction were punctuated by empty markets, closed on Sunday. Mark reflected that this was the most physically devastated town we had seen. We stopped on a street corner where a vendor was selling fruit, including papaya, cashew fruit, and abricot. On the other side of the partially flooded street was a crumbling building that had lost its roof. Across the corner, there was a camp of internally displaced persons.

Elise, Molly, Jana, and Jean-Claude went to buy the fruit. Ace, Caz, Margaret, and I were accosted outside our vehicle by a drunk man asking for money. I asked him when was the last time he had eaten, and he responded not since yesterday. We refused to give him any money. He persisted, and our interpreter asked him how he had gotten money for the cigarette he was smoking and the alcohol he had drank. The man retorted to Caz that he should understand his hunger as a fellow Haitian. As I struggled to think of something to say, I felt bad that we had perhaps put Caz in an uncomfortable situation. I wanted to tell the man that we were here to serve and build a church in Mellier. But It seemed such an inadequate response. We drove off, the several of us upset, passing signs instructing citizens how to wash hands to prevent cholera infection. We filled up our truck's gas tank, paying more than $60.

The way I acted during the encounter contrasted with the story of survival and heroism that our translator, Jean-Claude, had told earlier at lunch today. When the earthquake struck, he was interpreting for a surgical team from Alabama in a Port-Au-Prince hospital. He was buried in concrete by the quake. Jean-Claude owed his survival to his ever-present cell phone. One of his colleagues who had been outside the building rushed inside and was able to recognize Jean-Claude in the rubble by his hand holding his cell phone. Jean-Claude was severely injured and could not move having sustained head trauma and fractures to several cervical vertebrae. He told his friend to go away and leave him to die. He feared that his friend would be injured if he attempted a rescue. A beam was about to fall from right above. But his friend stayed and got him out.

Incredibly, once freed, Jean-Claude's thoughts turned immediately to the Americans who were also buried. He knew he had to help them because they had no other contacts on the scene. Ignoring his horrific injuries, he managed to get the attention of United Nations personnel passing outside, and he told them in English to rescue the doctors and nurses who were buried. Many of them survived because of his actions. Jean-Claude said, "I feel there was a reason I was there with that team, and I feel that God had a reason that I survived. And God has a reason for why I am with you all now."

A night of struggle. A night of challenge. A night of conviction. We returned to our camp at Mellier to shower and eat dinner. After dinner, we gathered for what became a difficult conversation. We considered these questions: who to give charitably to, how much should we give, how does our giving fit into a group of people's needs. Our team is governed by a Volunteers In Mission policy that limits us from giving to individuals and instead encourages us to give to community leaders (like the minister, school principal, construction foreman in Mellier) for them to distribute. I brought up the encounter with the man asking us for money in Leogane and the inadequacy I felt of my response. Others talked about how they had given food to several clearly hungry children individually.

At issue are whether we have the capacity to give sustainably and the judgment required to give appropriately. What if we give money to one desperate man in Leogane and then don't have enough money to give equally to the next person who asks? What if some hungry children ask for and receive snacks from us and then a hundred children appear and ask for the same snacks? What if we give a soccer ball to one boy and then he gets attacked by other kids who steal the ball? What if we gather enough money to pay tuition for a student but teachers quit and the school closes because they are not getting paid? What if we bring school uniforms for students and displace business for seamstresses in the local community?

We argued intensely for a time and lined up on two sides. Those who are in favor of giving in every instance to anyone in need whenever we have resources. And those who are in favor of giving to community leaders and relying on them to distribute and judge appropriateness of donations.

A convicting word came from Margaret. She felt we should not waste any more time in getting engaged in the community and investigating how to build relationships at least at that level. With many feelings and issues still unresolved, we decided at least to plan to invite everyone in the Mellier community to some sort of party where we can share collectively. We decided to talk with Patrick, the school principal, and Jacob, the church pastor, tomorrow to explore with them what we can give to them as community leaders.

I think Jesus's call to love our neighbor by sharing is quite clear. He said, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me." But I feel that Jesus also showed a love that was challenging even to the poor and destitute. He covered a blind man's eyes with mud and then commanded him to walk, while still blind, to Siloam to bathe in the pool to heal himself. We have got to find a way to love freely, sustainably, respectfully, productively.

This evening ended without singing. Just a simple chant: "How we will live? Together. How will we die? Together. How will we rise? Together." We repeated it over and over convincing ourselves that we are worthy of our mission.

Posted by Doug