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

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