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