Haiti 2017 - The Fifth Day
If you’ve been following the chronicles of our 2017 trip to Marianie, Haiti or have happened upon this article by chance today, thank you (in advance) for reading!
There is certainly an element of internal struggle as I write these blogs, wondering if anyone will find them remotely interesting. However, my primary purpose is not to entertain, but to share information about what God is doing in Haiti – a nation still in the grips of the fallout from decades of internal struggles and, more recently, the effects of natural disasters.
One question I am frequently asked is, “Is it any better?”
Inquirers want to know if, seven years on from a devastating earthquake, I’ve seen any improvement in the quality of life for the Haitian people. The answer, as we are prone to say in today’s modern world is, “It’s complicated.”
I may try to provide a more comprehensive answer to the question in the final article of this series. That is where I usually try to tie up loose ends from a particular trip and offer more commentary. We shall see!
Our fifth day in Haiti was Sunday, which was an important day for me personally. Upon arrival, I had been asked to preach at the Good Shepherd church on Sunday. I agreed and had been studying and praying throughout the week.
I’d like to take a moment to clarify something: I am not an ordained minister.
The Haitian leaders we have worked with over the years tend to assume that I am a pastor. I don’t know why. Recently, I’ve been the team leader, so I can understand a little more clearly in those circumstances. We are on a mission trip. I am the leader. 2 + 2 = Michael is a pastor.
I have always been clear when talking with people, letting them know that, even though they may refer to me as pastor, I am not one officially or otherwise. I do not have a ministry degree of any kind.
With all that said, I have taught Bible study for years. I’ve taught a variety of age groups. I undertake daily Bible study for myself and will dig in and go deep in order to understand the background and meaning(s) of a particular Bible passage. I have been a technical trainer in my day job, preparing and delivering various curricula.
In short, I believed I could preach without any functional concerns… I just needed God to reveal what he wanted me to preach about. And as I went over my notes early Sunday morning, He gave me some peace about that, as well.
Walking up a steep, dusty mountain trail in work clothes is one thing. Doing it in church clothes is something else entirely. I made sure to have a couple of serviettes (white washcloths) handy, with which to try and control the rampant perspiration that would break out once we reached the top. Good thing, too.
I was very happy to note that we made great time from Port au Prince and that we arrived prior to the scheduled start time. Church proceeded about like we expected: Worship, prayer, more worship, more prayer, Bible reading, more worship and then… the sermon.
As I studied during the week, John 14:6 kept coming to the fore: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’”
The more I thought about this verse, the more it struck me; Jesus didn’t say, “I am a way, and a truth, and a life…” Jesus didn’t use an indefinite article.
The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS), section 5.70, reads, “An indefinite article points to nonspecific objects, things, or persons that are not distinguished from the other members of a class.”
In section 5.69, CMoS begins its explanation of definite article thus, “A definite article points to a definite object that… is so well understood that it does not need description.” Perhaps an even more appropriate definition occurs a bit further along, “A definite article points to a definite object that… is important.”
Jesus used the definite article when speaking to His disciples in John 14:6. What he told them was clear: If you want to get to God, there is only one way, and I am that way. If you want to know what truth is, I’m it. If you want to know how to have life (and have it abundantly), look to me.
During the week, I had asked Berdy and Patrick about preaching in Haiti. What style did most Haitian preachers employ? Did they give examples or illustrations that resonated with the people? What I discovered (and have experienced myself) is that most Haitian preaching is built on one or more passages of Scripture (a good start) and then emphasized strongly, typically with a list of dos and don’ts. I wanted to give the people gathered at Good Shepherd this Sunday morning a clear and memorable illustration to highlight what Jesus was teaching His disciples in John 14:6.
So, after reading the verse, I asked them, “What color is the drum?”
Most answered, “Bleu (blue).”
I asked, “Can the drum be brown?”
A number of folks said, “Yes.” Clearly, there are shades of brown on the drum.
“What about gray?” I asked. I pointed out to them how some spots of gray, faded metal were on the drum.
“So,” I concluded, “blue is just a color on the drum. It is not the only color, it is not the color.”
They understood the difference.
Next, I held up the edge of the white lace covering draped over the lectern. I asked the crowd, “What color is this?”
They all answered, “Blanc (white).”
I asked, “Can it be any other color?”
“So white is the color of this material, right?”
“Now you know the reason,” I pointed out, “why Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life….”
Jesus didn’t want his disciples getting confused or distracted by false teaching in their world. Just as we have today, opinions and beliefs existed in the first century that proposed there were many ways that lead to God. But Jesus knew different. John 1:1-3 confirms Jesus’ unparalleled relationship with God the Father: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”
We may struggle to get our heads around the relationship that exists between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, but if anyone in the history of mankind knows God, it’s Jesus.
After I finished the message, ably assisted by Patrick’s translation skill, Pastor Pelege closed out the morning’s service and we made our way out. The pastor and his wife had appointments that afternoon and, mainly because it was Sunday, we knew that we wouldn’t be working in the community that day.
We made our way down the mountain, greeting many of the same families who had been in church. It was lunch time and we found ourselves with the rest of the day on our hands. I suggested to Berdy that we could drive over to Minoterie and eat lunch at his house. We always bring peanut butter, jelly and chips in our suitcases for lunches during the week. All we needed was bread. Everyone agreed the idea was reasonable and we set off.
One thing that I am appreciating more and more on each Haiti trip is a sense of the familiar. I’ve traveled to a number of new and different destinations around the world. The excitement of a first visit is always coupled with a measure of apprehension. Will your ride be waiting at the airport (see Day 1)? What if your lodging isn’t booked like you expect it to be? Lost luggage, illness, success of the trip, and so on are all things that flit through our minds when traveling to foreign lands, regardless of purpose.
However, after one has traveled somewhere enough times relationships are forged, a sense of direction is established; sights, sounds and smells are expected – even anticipated – and welcomed.
On our last three trips, we have had the pleasure of walking out of the airport in Port au Prince and experiencing the priceless comfort of recognizing familiar faces in the crowd. As we drove past the Olympic training center and turned left onto Route National #1, we were on familiar ground. Although I haven’t driven in Haiti, I could’ve taken the wheel at this point and confidently driven our team to Berdy’s house. I know the road. I know the turn-off to Minoterie. And once in town, I know the streets well enough to know exactly where he lives. How comforting it is to have a sense of the familiar.
We arrived and set up shop in the front room. Within minutes we were greeting Jeff, John Peter, Stevenson and Jude, all whom we had known for two or three years. We sprung for Haitian lunches for those who did not care much for peanut butter and jelly, and set to making sandwiches for the rest. We were able to provide food and water for a number of kids and young men. As lunch goes it wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t a feeding program for 200-300 as we had served in Minoterie during years past. Still, to feed people who may not have eaten that day and who were thirsty is a blessing for all concerned. Our goal had been to hang out at Berdy’s house for a bit and eat lunch. As it always tends to do in Haiti, the guest list grew organically and, thankfully, we had plenty to go around.
Not one to waste time, Berdy suggested we stop on the way back to the guest house and pick up the buckets we needed to finish outfitting the remaining water filters. Even though it was Sunday, we found an open money-changer in Minoterie so we would have enough gourdes to buy the buckets in Port au Prince.
It took some time, but we rounded up the forty-eight 5-gallon buckets we needed (and their lids) and headed back to the guest house. About ten minutes out we heard an explosion that could only mean one thing: flat tire. Fortunately, we were coming up on a gas station and managed to pull off onto the side of the road. Even on Sunday, it’s not a great idea to be stranded in the middle of the road in Port au Prince.
We disembarked and noted a road-side tire repair shop adjacent to the gas station. Thinking this would be another normal event – flat tires are pretty common in Haiti – we walked over to a shady spot in the gas station parking lot and waited while Polycape and Patrick changed the tire. As I watched, something struck me as off. The right-front wheel was canted out from the bottom at an acute angle. A simple flat tire shouldn’t make the wheel cock-eyed, should it? Sure enough, we discovered that something significant in the wheel/axle assembly had broken and simply changing the tire was not going to see us on our way. Guerrier called the guest house and sent for reinforcements. A few minutes later a vehicle showed up to take us the rest of the way. We were assured that another truck was on the way to secure the buckets we had purchased.
After dinner, Berdy - ever our task master - noted we needed to clean the buckets. He had a point. Most of them were pretty dirty and if we were going to use them for water filters, they needed to be much cleaner. We asked around and found the wash pit, or whatever it was called. Basically, it was a walled-off section of the courtyard where clothes could be washed, etc. There was plenty of room and access to a water tap, so we rounded up some dish soap and got to work.
Unless you’ve ever done it yourself, you probably don’t realize how long it takes to wash dirt and grime off of a 5-gallon bucket, then rinse it and drill a hole in it so a water filter can be installed. I know I didn’t. We also discovered that some of the buckets would not separate without some serious elbow grease (The buckets were stacked in groups of 10-12 and small pockets of water inside sealed some of them tight). This was going to take a really long time!
Berdy and I manned the wash pit and Keith took charge of the hand drill. God smiled on us in the person of Miss Fanita. She was the young lady who brought us the dish soap. Fanita and Berdy chatted a bit and before we knew it, she was helping.
Amazingly, we managed to finish just as it was getting dark, but we couldn’t have done it without Fanita. I asked Berdy if we should give her some money for helping. We seriously appreciated how she pitched in – something she definitely didn’t have to do. We discovered that, just like in some other countries I’ve visited, Fanita did not help us with any expectation of compensation and would take nothing from us. We didn’t push the issue and thanked her again from the bottom of our hearts!
After getting cleaned up – or maybe just dried off – we drank some water and chatted with Berdy about mission and service issues. Although Berdy is currently going to community college in the States, his heart is clearly anchored in Haiti. He has been working and serving for many years already and is seeking where God wants to use him. We certainly don’t have that answer, but tried our best to offer whatever insights we could.
Afterward, I went to catch up on my own Bible study. Even though I had been heavy into the Bible preparing for the morning’s sermon (which by now seemed like ages ago!), I had not kept up with my personal reading plan. I’m in the midst of a plan from the YouVersion Bible app named, “Epic – The Storyline of the Bible.” If you haven’t read this particular plan (currently presented in four parts), I highly recommend it.
The commentary for Numbers 27 read (in part), “Moses has been working closely with Joshua for a very long time. When Moses is about to die, it is obvious who should succeed him. Unfortunately, many leaders fail to develop leaders to follow them. It is short-sighted for a leader to not take responsibility for the next generation. Who will lead in your family, community, company, or church after you are gone? Who will carry forward your desire to lead people in a godly way?”
The opening phrase from that old Bon Jovi song came to mind, “Shot to the heart and you’re to blame…”
Being a leader for our church’s Haiti ministry was something I did not sign up for. I joke with the pastor that they must’ve held the vote on a day when I was not present! Be that as it may, I have accepted the responsibility, primarily because I believe God has prepared me through seven Haiti missions to be an effective leader on these trips.
After reading the devotional content above, I was gutted.
Sure, I spent a lot of time planning our fundraisers, organizing the details and logistics of the trips, talking to the church, keeping the ministry updates flowing for the bulletin, newsletter and Sanctuary bulletin board. But what was I doing to prepare for the next generation?
The answer was, “Not much.”
Mission work – especially short term missions – does not happen in a vacuum. By its very nature missioneering (short term missions) has a high turn-over. People come and go based on where they are in their walk with God, where they are in life, school, work, etc., and a variety of other factors. Perhaps even more so than with long term missions, planning for what comes next is vital.
Today started out with a laser-like focus on me and the message I believe God gave me to preach to the Good Shepherd church. It ended with the focus on me as well, but not me as an individual – me as a leader. What was I doing to further the Kingdom in our own church? How was I preparing for the future?
While I studied, God had shined a light on an area where I had failed to engage. It was part of my job as a ministry leader to make sure whoever followed had the tools and information to be successful.
Imagine how things may have gone when Israel crossed the Jordan River the first time after Moses’ death if Joshua had no idea of what to do and no idea of God’s plan.
Before turning in for the night, I thought to myself, ‘I have some serious work to do when we get back!’