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

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Haiti First Impressions

Our Foundry United Methodist Church volunteer group just arrived yesterday in Port-au-Prince. As we jostled along the bumpy streets , sweating out the DC rat race and in the Haiti heat, it was wonderful to hear the team's reaction to experiencing Haiti for the first time. Here are a few of the observations:

Mark: Haiti is full of life: barking dogs, crowing roosters, car alarms at 3 in the morning, sellers peddling goods in the market, artists showcasing their colorful paintings. I hope to listen this next week and be a part of the wonderful community of this church and of Mellier.

Margaret: For me, the main thing is community. My first impression is that there is an importance of community here. I know that at least a dozen of the children in Mellier have lost their parents after the earthquake. From what we have heard, the community their has really embraced those children and is helping to raise them. I'm looking forward to witnessing this first hand. Second, for our own Foundry group...I feel like we are part of a larger system.

Doug: The American and Haitian methodists we've met so far have been incredibly friendly. I'm really looking forward to seeing the other parts of Port-au-Prince, especially where the center of the earthquake destruction has happened. And, I'm eager to arrive in Mellier, and see what rural life in Haiti is like compared to the city. From what I've heard, it seems like there's big divide. Fresh air sounds good as well.

Laurie: I was impressed with Petionville. Restaurants are running, some people are working. People are kind and friendly and seem to really be helping one another. At least some good things are happening. To each person whom I said "Bonswa," everyone responded with a smile on their face. I came across a few people selling art on the street. My impression of them was that they were extremely kind, very educated (tri-lingual!), very friendly. After talking for a while, I was able to ask them where they were the day of the earthquake. They were thankfully outside, getting some sun and laying up against a building. The ground started shaking right before their eyes and they ran for safety. Thankfully, they were alright. I look forward to getting to know people better throughout the week and just listening to their stories.

More to come!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Love Song for Haiti

This is a post from Foundry Haiti VIM team member Susan Ozawa:

Listening to music in the car on Valentine’s day, I sang along to the Fugee’s remake of Marley’s No Woman No Cry. I thought about that song and how it reminded me of my time in the Philippines working with women who were trapped in lives of prostitution, during the Asian Economic Crisis. Some of these women had been lied to, drugged, assaulted, trafficked and were able to tell their story, find help, begin to hope. Some found a way out, advocated for themselves and others in courts internationally against the world’s most powerful and monied black market syndicates. Some joined the NGO I worked for, some joined the Board of Directors and were the heart and soul and backbone of the organization. The cover of No Women No Cry had just come out and it played on heavy rotation in activist circles in the Philippines and on my discman. The Fugees adapted it to capture encouragement for their brothers and sisters from Haiti and refugees from all over the world, for those marginalized by poverty and racism, for those who have lost family and loved ones. The song of encouragement was for the woman who carries all these things in her heart and cries tears for all the pain and injustice in the world and for those who have no more tears to cry. It was a song we all needed to hear.
Everything’s gonna be alright, the song sings. Everything’s gonna be alright, the song means, because there are people who love you, because there are people who have also despaired but who are here for you now. The song under the song sings, everything’s gonna be alright because God’s with us all and because we are even closer to God when we need him. Everything’s gonna be alright, because the sun always rises and love and God are stronger than pain and loss. This was the message, and in the secular words we all felt the healing of the sacred blessing of love, compassion and solidarity; the message Rev. Dean would say, was the wheat in the weeds.

As our Foundry VIM team prepares to leave for Haiti, we will carry a song in our heart. We will carry the collective songs of the congregation. We will carry the soprano’s triumphant, It is Well With my Soul. We will carry, Amazing Grace. We are carrying Great is The Faithfulness and we know these songs, that have brought us comfort, that brought generations and generations before them comfort, will resonate with the songs in the hearts of those we meet in Haiti.

May God bring us together to sing a song of praise and thanksgiving to him! May God make beautiful music of our broken hearts. In this modest contribution of our time and energy, and the resources of the congregation, may miracles of God’s blessings rain down on us all.

This is my payer for us, that no matter the melody, the song we sing will always be a song of love.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting ready to go

I cannot believe we’re about to finally leave in three days. After so many months of planning, the thought of going to Haiti isn’t any longer some distant after thought. It’s very real and I’m incredibly excited and nervous. My clothes are on the ground ready to be packed and I’ve gotten all my shots. I’m sure our hosts will be happy to know that I’m immune to both rabies and tetnis and am ready to enter any work site regardless of how many rabid squirrels or rusty nails present themselves :).

I find that I’m bracing myself right now to have my faith both challenged and affirmed. One of the challenging aspects of our faith is grappling with the fact that a loving and merciful God could stand by and watch such suffering happen. Even more than this earthquake, it comes down to centuries of injustice that the Haitian people have been exposed to at the hands of the French and US governments. I don’t have an easy faith answer to these dilemmas. I doubt I will in a week a half. At this point, I’m open to just getting some perspective.

That said, being part of the VIM team has already strengthened my faith. To this point, this strength has come through our community. We have a very amazing group of people going down there. While a bunch of policy wonks going down to build a school sounds more like a Chevy Chase comedy than anything else, I think we have a lot of gifts to offer. The team seems ready to support each other in both our strengths and weaknesses. Beyond our VIM team, it was very humbling this week to get the send off from the Foundry community. I go to the 5 o’clock service and as members’ hands lay on my shoulders, I felt so fortunate to be part of such a radical, authentic, loving, and real community. God has really blessed me in more ways than I can imagine.

In that vein, as we get ready to go to Haiti, community is obviously not the only blessing to be thankful for. I’m so humbled by my stress at work, getting logistics together, and getting vaccines and feel guilty at how relatively trivial these concerns are when compared to what the people we will meet are facing. I’m a progressive because I believe that God could have just easily created me in those circumstances. To that effect, I wonder what my role is in this global suffering. As Christ said, “to those whom much has been given, much will be required” and as Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” I wonder how I’m doing at following Christ and the prophet, Spiderman’s teachings :).

On a final note, if you’re reading this I ask your prayers and your voices. I ask these not only for our team going, but also for your continued prayers for the Haitians who recently hit the one year anniversary of the earthquake. The tv cameras are no longer covering the earthquake after effects and it is a calling of people of faith to not forget our brothers and sisters in their time of need. Their need unfortunately does not turn off with the cameras. If you’re still reading this, may God’s peace be with you.