Sunday, October 30, 2011

I almost didn't post this blog.

I try to be the sort of person who, in the absence of something nice to say, is silent.   In conversation, I am frequently challenged by this, but composing a blog post has given me several chances to stop, edit myself, avoid complaining or whining. 
This last week has been extremely difficult.  We discovered upon arrival that the expected construction on our rooms was not only incomplete (we were told they were still in need of doors ; but what we didn’t know is that for the door to be installed, the entire wall would first have to be constructed).   Instead of a few days in the small “guest room,”  we are looking at several weeks to (please, God help me) months.   Haiti Lesson #1: time moves differently here.  Lesson #2:  Haitians are a people of acceptance and endurance.  This American family, not so much.
The guest room is 16’x16’ concrete block construction with 2 small windows- just cinder block holes on the front and a series of small holes (“windows”) along the back wall.   We were given a double bed, bunk beds for the kids and mosquito nets.
In a place where roofs are made of lacey tin and people sleep on floors of packed dirt, we should be grateful for the accommodations.
But, we’re finding it difficult.  We are almost always hot.  Initially, the bugs were unbearable.  Flies, mosquitos, bees all came and went freely.  We have since installed screens along the front windows, which has helped tremendously.  The materials are here to place screen over the back windows as well, but we haven’t yet had simultaneous availability of carpenter and power.    We run through a perilous few hours at the end of the day when our room is just too hot to be in.   The cool of the evening can be enjoyed if we are willing to pay our blood offering to the mosquitos, otherwise we give our sweat offering sitting under nets on our beds.   Blood or sweat.  And more than once, tears.
We are sharing a bathroom with the Pastor Joseph and his wife.  It is in another building across a courtyard.  Cold showers are an accepted truth of Haiti, so I won’t complain about them here.
For the first few days we didn’t understand that food was being placed on the dining table in Pastor’s apartment for us.  We were waiting to be invited in.  We were frequently hungry, because Pastor and Madame work non-stop, often not pausing until well after the sun has set.   Now, we’ve learned the routine, and when to expect the food, and to be bold in entering their apartment- they honestly don’t mind.  We’ve also made it to the grocery store, and bought a little microwave. 
Again, I almost didn’t write this.  Why would anyone want to read our complaints?  But, today I started reading a great book, “The Art of Crossing Cultures,” recommended to me by a friend who left home to plant a church in Paris.  In the first chapter of this book, the author lists several difficulties most expatriates experience in their first few a weeks abroad.  He expresses how it is important for people on both sides of the international relationship to understand what the expat is going through- the complete upheaval of all routines, all norms, all predictability of their world.  Yep, that’s us.  I can’t wait to get to the next chapter where he tells us how to deal with some of these difficulties, but for now it is enough for me to know that I am not failing if I admit that I am temporarily miserable.  I am not being arrogant to miss the virtues of my homeland.  I am not blind if I find myself annoyed with the locals.  I am…we are…adjusting.  We are building new rhythms, new routines, new norms.   There are days when all we want is to go home.  And, there are days when home is where we are.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Holy Ground

(Sunday October 16, 2011- Chris)
I met up with Pastor Joseph at the crossroads in Croix Des Boquetes. We drove up Goat Mountain to a town called Mirabalis. This is the location of Pastor Joseph’s third church plant. The congregation had been renting a plot of land on which to have Sunday services. The land lord grew tired of their inability to pay the rent and drove them off. They tried to meet in a cheaper place further up the mountain, but even the smallest rainfall made the road almost impassable for the elderly members (which was most of them). Pastor Joseph came in and purchased the original plot of land they had been renting, and gave them the UNICEF tent he had used after the earthquake.
There looked to be about 30 members gathered when we walked in, more than half of them were under 12 and over 55. Pastor Michelette was speaking. He had recently been in a motorcycle accident that had left his upper lip scarred and swollen. Pastor Kesnal said that Michelette had cut down some of the trees on the property, without consulting him and felt that the accident was a divine consequence. Joseph also told me about a place down the road that is a “Mystic place.” Every year voodoo practitioners gather there and bath in a waterfall and hold ceremonies etc. This past year some of the congregation went to that gathering to evangelize. They warned those people that there would be consequences to their actions. Later that day there was a large car accident that killed many people. “Divine consequences”.
Kesnal and I sat in the front of the room. The floor was dirt. My right foot was next to one of many ant hills. This was church stripped down. No microphones, no multimedia, no producers, no hospitality table, no handouts, no kid’s ministry. The worship instruments were a large two sided drum (a thick stick hit one side while the left hand hit the other), a weida (kind of like a cheese grater scraped with a fork), and the voice of the worship leader. The song was from a hymnal that no one had, they sang from memory. I lamented my pitiful Creole. Then the pastor went into a message, which included a memory verse, John 10:26. He must have lead them through that verse 35 times. Kesnal leaned over and asked, “Are you ready to give a short message?” I was not, but I said yes and prayed for words. I read John 10 and I expanded on the bit where Jesus rebukes the Jews for their disbelief in spite of seeing His miracles. “You don’t believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice and they listen.” Jesus is speaking, He is leading us like a flock of sheep. Listen. When He gives direction, follow. When He gives a command, obey.
Then I spoke about His miracles. We all have miracles that He is working in our lives. Should we keep those a secret? No. Tell others. Tell everyone about what He is doing with us, to us, and through us so that they too may believe. For those who won’t listen or believe, keep talking and leave the heavy lifting to God. Kesnal translated and then spoke for about 45 minutes…I have no idea what he said, pitiful Creole.
From Mirabalis, we went further up and farther into the mountains. The pavement turned to dirt, and the dirt turned to rocks, mud, and holes. It was the bumpiest ride…ever. There were times when the vehicle was almost completely sideways. There should have been a camera posted on the front of the car, it could have been a commercial for Land Cruiser.
Finally, we came to a riverbank that defeated the Land Cruiser. It was a 3 foot drop to the rocky bed. I figured that we would be walking or turning back. Two men walked up and said they would dig out the drop and make a ramp. So they started with their hands, then a man (probably about 65 years old) showed up with a pick axe and went to work. A few moments later there were 5 men with pick-axes. For 100 goudes (about $2.50) they made an incline for the land cruiser. The goudes was an afterthought. I think they did it because we were in need.
We made it up to Holy Ground church and met Kesnal’s brother-in-law, Paul. Paul has the same Jesus tattoo over his left eyebrow that Kesnal and his wife Yanickhave. Paul also spent most of his life in the U.S. but came back to Haiti to serve. He has been in the mountains for 2 months and dreams of going higher into them.
“Everything you need is up here.” He said to me while showing me around his house, “We have goats, we have chickens, we grow rice, we grow corn, we grow, coconuts, mangos, melons, avocado, and coffee. Our water comes from a spring high up and flows down to us. We have a view that is only rivaled by Heaven. And the people here are beautiful. What else do we need?” Paul waved his hands and I took in the view. I have been telling people about the deforestation and erosion of the island, and it’s absolutely true, but at the same time here was this place. The people are financially poor yes, but they have immense resources.
 “The world has these people brainwashed.” He said, “They think they have to take their resources down to Port au Prince and bring back plastic junk and bags of garbage. They are told that they need technology and commercially produced stuff. They are told that they need Port au Prince, but they don’t. They walk their produce down the mountain through those crazy roads and get cheated. If they just kept what they grow here, Port au Prince would come to them. People in Port au Prince are brainwashed too. They think the people up here are savages and that nothing good can be up here. You’ve been to both places now. What do you think? History tells us that the white settlers thought the Indians were savages, but who wiped out whom? Who was the savage?”
I sat with the pastors and relaxed. I drank water from a coconut that had just come from the tree and then ate the flesh from inside (tasted like coconut pudding but not as sweet). I ate beans and rice and chicken (from a chicken that had been alive earlier that day). I ate an avocado that came right from the tree (tasted like buttery bread). And I drank the juice from a grapefruit that was still warm from sunning on the branch (sweeter than orange juice). All of this warred with my fear of illness, but as I write this 24 hours later I feel fine. I pushed past that fear and found happiness.
We went back down the mountain and into Croix de Boquetes. It was dark and charcoal fires burned everywhere. The smoke and exhaust were thick and made my throat raw. If they ever get a chair lift or something for those mountains, I’ll move in tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rejoicing!

We are rejoicing today!  Our trip was as easy as travel could be.   Even a delay proved a blessing:  our first flight had a mechanical issue (we later learned that it was a part necessary for landing!) which delayed us so long that we missed our flight to Haiti.  We spent the night in a nice Miami hotel, with plenty of food vouchers from the airline to order room service for dinner and breakfast- much to the kids delight!  We all enjoyed long, hot baths and showers, and a full 10 hours of sleep.  We returned to Miami airport on Thursday morning, and breezed through security.  On the flight to Haiti we were all filled with nervous excitement.  Xander sat by the window, eager to catch his first glimpse of Haiti.  Every island (even the little uninhabited ones) we passed, he asked “Is that it?”  And, then he saw the mountains.  He became quiet, taking everything in.  As the plane landed, he said “Mom, it’s pretty; I didn’t think it would be pretty.”  My heart sang!

Coming through the airport in Port au Prince is always a bit of adventure, and hearing the porters yelling their demands to each other seemed a little frightening to the kids, who are only used to hearing raised voices in anger.  But, that was all forgotten in face of tremendous adventure: riding in Pastor Joseph’s tap-tap (a Haitian taxi).   They gave each other a special high-five and said “Super-risk-taking-duo…AWAY!”   Again, joy.

From the airport, we visited our new home.  We’ll be staying in Pastor Joseph’s guest room while construction is completed on our rooms.   (In Haiti, much of life happens outside; rooms are mainly for sleeping.  We will be sharing a kitchen and dining area with Pastor and Madame Joseph, but will have two rooms and two bathrooms to ourselves.  Each room is about the size of an average hotel room.   It’ll be a month of transition for us! )

Pastor Joseph’s church, One Family Mission, is home to about 40 orphans.  Madame Joseph has been teaching the children English, and Xander and Ella were very happy to be able to communicate with the older kids.  In fact, Xander and a boy of about 12 have already declared themselves brothers!  It was truly a beautiful evening.  We were introduced to the staff of the One Family, and are excited to begin working together. 

All in all, our first day in Haiti as a family has been wonderful.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Celebration & Sadness

The last few days have been amazing.  We have had wonderful opportunities to celebrate our friendships, family, our church, our mission & our God.   We've been able to reflect upon the last year with joy and gratitude.  We've had the chance to share with many (I wish it could have been everyone) of our friends & family our love & appreciation.  We have been inspired by leaders & visionaries in our church community, and the prayers and encouragement we have received has been overwhelming.

But, this has been a time of great sadness as well.  Each celebration ends in a tearful goodbye (seriously, I'm dehydrated).  Our joy is compounded by the pain of knowing how much we will miss and be missed by those we love.  

That is what truly has amazed me: the willingness of our friends & family to celebrate through the sadness with us; to say this hurts, I love you and want to be near you, but I believe that this is where you are supposed to go, and I send you with joy and blessings.  I'm (almost- it is still me afterall) speechless every time.   

And to see it in our children is breathtaking.  To witness the sincerity and depth of emotion they have formed in their friendships reminds me that these children are not just our mini-me's and we are not just charged with getting them safely through childhood.  They are people- designed with great love and intention by the Creator.  God is using their life events to draw them ever closer to Him; just as he has used mine- even when I didn't know it.  I don't know where their path will take them, but I am grateful for every friend God is giving them along the way.

So, we are sad, but we are celebrating.  As we have cried together through our goodbyes, I've told our children that if it was easy to leave this life, it wouldn't have been much of a life.  Thankfully, it is very difficult to leave. It is painful to tear ourselves away from so much  love and laughter.  It stings to think of  the celebrations we will miss.   It is not easy, but good things rarely are.

Thank you for loving us, laughing with us, praying with us,sharing life with us, and sending us with faith, joy and courage.  We love you.