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

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