Haiti 2017 - The Fourth Day
If this is your first visit to this blog, welcome! The last few posts, this one, and the next four or five chronicle my recent trip to Marianie, Haiti.
Haiti is a country that insinuates itself into your soul. I suppose one could say that of any country. In fact, I can say that of Saudi Arabia, Ireland and one or two other places in which I’ve lived, or that I’ve visited.
Our fourth day in Haiti was Saturday. We despaired (perhaps too strong a word) of getting any work done today. You see, we had been invited to a wedding. Pastor Pelege was performing the marriage ceremony for eight Haitian couples simultaneously at the Good Shepherd church. In any country, one wedding is usually a lengthy affair… but eight at the same time?
The ceremonies were scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. so we decided to leave a bit early in order to have the best chance of being on time. We hoped that Saturday traffic would be kind to us, but we really couldn’t predict conditions.
I think mornings in Haiti may be the time of day I most enjoy. The period between dawn and shortly after sunrise is usually cool and, sitting alone in the growing gray light of the new day, drinking delicious Haitian coffee, reading the Bible, and praying brings a peace that I cherish.
Alas, it doesn’t take long to get hot once the big flaming ball we call the Sun climbs into the sky.
We actually made pretty good time; I suppose that our early departure may have skirted the traffic from commuters (many businesses and government offices are open a half-day on Saturday) and we were mainly fortunate to avoid any traffic snarls around the markets.
As we walked up onto the plateau, we realized just how crowded this wedding was going to be. There were a lot of Haitians milling around, all in fancy dress – suits, ties, dresses – these folks were serious about celebrating the impending nuptials. We tried to find a sliver of shade against a nearby wall. At 9:30 in the morning – especially after a brisk walk up the mountain – it was already hot and we were all sweating freely.
Besides feeling under-dressed in our casual (long) pants and short-sleeved shirts, I began to think that it really wasn’t appropriate for us to wade into the church and attempt to find a seat. After all, with eight couples tying the knot, seating was going to be at a premium and judging by the crowd – both inside and outside the building – plenty of relatives and friends were on site to witness the weddings. After discussing it among ourselves, we agreed it wouldn’t be right to deprive those close to the participants of their enjoyment.
Pastor Pelege, of course, had other ideas.
We dodged the first couple of attempts to draw us inside. The first was easy. We followed the usher who had been dispatched to collect us, but when we reached the door a solid wall of guests blocked the way. We retreated to our spot near a window along the south wall. A little while later, a junior pastor came and asked us to come inside. Through our interpreters we explained how it would be better for us to listen/watch from outside since there were so many guests who knew one or more of the couples. We didn’t want to deprive anyone of their rightful spot.
This worked for about ten minutes before Pastor Pelege himself appeared. Apparently, no was not an option.
We followed Pastor Pelege inside. I was not really surprised to discover there were chairs up on the podium for us. ‘Honored guests, we will be,’ I thought in Yoda’s voice.
The ceremony finally kicked off about 10 a.m. and lasted until nearly 2 p.m. It went about like you would expect a wedding to go. Prayers, opening remarks, each couple exchanging vows, more prayers, messages of encouragement from the pastor, exchange of rings, officially finalizing the marriages and, what seemed to be the event that 90% of the guests were waiting for: the kissing.
With eight couples, each one taking their turn in sequence, the kissing action evolved into some sort of – dare I say – contest? The first couple’s kiss was what we in America might consider normal. The second couple exchanged a chaste peck on the lips, much to the disappointment of the assembled crowd. From then on, couples three through eight applied some gusto. It’s safe to say the guests had fun with it.
Afterward, the wedding meal was served. The Pastor’s wife, we learned, had been up cooking since the night before. It was great! Rice with beans, chicken, fried plantains, and salad… for about four hundred. Most people ate quickly and the crowd dispersed. This left room for one or two of the neighborhood canines to slip in and feast on the leftovers.
The wedding was fun. It was cool – despite the fact that we had to sit up front and face the crowd (we’re Baptist after all) – to witness everything and to share in their special day. It brought to mind a high school graduation we had attended in Haiti a few years earlier; another significant event that Haitians celebrate enthusiastically.
Haitians aren’t much different than us. They do the best they can each day, living life, pushing ahead despite daily struggles, and when an opportunity comes along to celebrate something meaningful, they participate wholeheartedly.
We had started out thinking this was going to be a wasted day, with no work accomplished. But I think God showed us something on this day that we might have missed otherwise. John 17:20-23 reads, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, [are] in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
These verses recount part of a prayer Jesus prayed directly before He and His disciple made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane – where Jesus would be arrested. Jesus prayed for us, His people, even up to the moment that He dreaded. He put us first and asked God the Father that we – each of us – would have the same bond, the same unity, that He enjoyed (and enjoys today) with God.
In Haiti on this particular Saturday, we had a chance to share the joining of eight couples into the state of holy matrimony. What was more important? Working? Or hearing through our witness of the wedding ceremony that God answered Jesus’ prayer, if only a little bit today?
On the way back to the guest house, we all reflected on the day’s events. However, my mind soon turned to the next day – Sunday – when I would stand before many of the same people we had seen and met at the wedding, and preach the message God had been speaking into my heart.
I needed to study and finish up my prep, but I was looking forward to this opportunity to deliver my first formal sermon – ever!