And this is what happens back in the real world. It’s been two weeks since my last post. Every time I thought about sitting down and writing the next Haiti article… well, hello life! Today, I’m happy to be back at the keyboard to chronicle our next-to-last work day in Haiti this past July. The weekend (fourth and fifth days) was a bust from a work perspective, but was an amazing time of relationship building within the Marianie community.
Sunday afternoon, we had stopped at the World o’ Barrels and Buckets and picked up everything we needed to complete the water filter distribution. We were excited because instead of a time-consuming stop on Monday morning, we could hit the road early and head straight to Marianie. Over breakfast, due to the breakdown of our usual transport the day before, we wondered what vehicle CMBH would provide and how we would get all of our materials to the top of the mountain. I was quietly concerned about having to hand-carry forty-eight 5-gallon buckets up the mountain.
It was believed there was a back way up the mountain that would accommodate a truck. We hoped the 2-wheel drive Dodge Ram assigned to us Monday morning would make the grade. In addition to the buckets we had a couple more 50-gallon barrels and a suitcase full of soccer balls, Frisbees, jump ropes and other odds and ends that we were donating to the church.
After a few close calls and narrow passages that saw us spinning tires and driving close to the edge on occasion, we made it around the mountain and pulled up at the Good Shepherd church. While unloading, we noticed a few boys and a couple of girls playing soccer on one of the few flat patches of ground nearby. Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t pass up a soccer game. We finished carrying everything into the church and pumped up a new ball then Keith and I (and Berdy) were out the door and soon playing a spirited 3-a-side game with some of the local boys. I’m a little embarrassed to say I missed a free kick and hit the post with another shot under no pressure at all. In my defense, I haven’t played competitive soccer in several years (other than the odd kick around) so I am a bit rusty.
We took a quick break – even this early in the day it was hot and we were drenched with sweat from the game – and gulped down some water. Afterward, we showed the young men who were working with Pastor Pelege how to install the filters and, before long, they had all twenty-four completed. We finished pairing empty buckets with filter-equipped buckets right about the time families began to arrive.
Pastor Pelege greeted the families and then he asked me to come and speak with them before the filters were distributed. After greetings, I noted that we had spoken of the Samaritan woman at the well in the previous day’s service (John 4). Holding up my water bottle, I remarked that even though this water was filtered and good to drink, I would be thirsty again later. Although it’s important to our physical bodies to have clean water, Jesus taught that we also need the water of life – the spiritual water – that we can only receive through the Holy Spirit.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned in seven years of missioneering in Haiti is how important it is for the Blancs (literally, the Whites) to not be out front. Yes, we raise money and purchase materials. Yes, we come to Haiti and share those blessings with the people whom we serve. But I explained to the families gathered in the church that morning that if it were left up to me and Keith alone, we would only have a handful of filters and buckets. It was only because many people – friends, family, colleagues, our church family – that we were able to work with Pastor Pelege and the Good Shepherd church and provide these filters and buckets to them.
It is vital that the community not see us as the money. In Haiti, I’ve seen how people – especially young men – will quickly connect the dots and begin to work short-term missionaries. It sounds somewhat jaded but, believe me, the last thing we want is for the community to see us as their savior; to see us as the ones who are bringing all the stuff. Many in Haiti already believe that all Americans are rich; that we all have as much money as we need and so on. It's a challenge to dissuade them of that fallacy.
It is crucial that Jesus be what people see. Not us. I’ve mentioned before that a good Haitian friend of ours likes to tell a story that begins with the admonition, “Be the donkey.”
This is in reference to Matthew 21 and what we refer to as the Triumphal Entry. Jesus rode into Jerusalem (shortly before His crucifixion) on a donkey. The people were ecstatic, thinking their king – the new David – had come to rescue them from the occupation and rule of the Romans. None of them paid much attention to the donkey.
That should be our goal as missionaries – to carry Jesus with us in such a way that the people are overjoyed about Jesus, but don’t think much about us, the donkeys.
It is also important that the community see the church as the center of our actions. The rainwater collection system installations and water filter distribution was all done under the leadership of Pastor Pelege and with the able assistance of church members. So, yes, the Blancs were there, but we were just being the donkey. What we strove for the people to see and experience was the love of Jesus lived out through what we all accomplished during the week.
After a lunch of fresh bread and water (it was too hot to even bother with peanut butter and jelly), we got back to work on the large rainwater collection project for the church. This is a perfect example of what I’m referring to above. We showed up in Marianie with our snazzy tool bag and Ryobi power saw and drill. After laying the 4” PVC pipes in the aisle between the pews, I did my best Tim the Toolman impression, snapping the 18V battery into the saw and hitting the trigger a couple of times. Vroom vroom! Let’s cut that pipe!
I made it about a quarter of the way down the 20’ pipe before the battery went dead. The PVC was so thick and it put so much pressure on the blade, it drained the battery in a matter of minutes. How about those Blancs, eh?
The failure of our modern tools created a need for us to reach out to the community for help. This reveals a couple of more lessons we learn every time we come to Haiti. First, missioneering has a positive, economic impact on the people living in the areas in which we serve. It’s important to purchase as much material that we need locally. The second and most important lesson is that the community must gain the sense that we need them.
I’m afraid a number of missionaries approach their service with the idea that the communities' need for them is greater than their need for the community. That is just not the case and the importance of that fundamental truth is highlighted to great effect in this article.
You can read all my articles on Haiti (I can send you links to articles I wrote beginning in 2010 all the way up to today). Yet I doubt any of them reveals as clearly as this article what I believe is the most important thing about mission work – any kind of mission work. I can’t summarize this truth. However, if you read the article, hopefully, you will see a connection and get a sense of how my thoughts and actions have changed over the years to try and align myself with the goal we should all strive to achieve when we serve on mission.
Despite all of our planning and expenditures, despite all of the modern tools we had brought with us, the means to achieve our goals rested within the community – not with us. Young men with rusty hand saws and rickety ladders, not Blancs with power tools, work gloves and safety glasses, were the key to success.
While the young men went to work preparing the 4” PVC for the church, Keith and I went next door and modified the old collection system on that building. By the time that work was completed, it was getting late and we still needed to complete our site survey for the next rainwater collection system. The recipient’s home was more easily reached by heading straight down the mountain. If we thought the usual route up and down was steep and slippery, we hadn’t seen anything yet!
The family’s house was basically built into the side of the mountain. This meant the eaves were mere inches off of the rocky surface. Between the difficulties inherent in trying to get 20’ sections of heavy PVC pipe up/down the mountainside and then cut and positioned for the work, there was really no room to utilize it. Even if we could successfully mount the pipe to the roof, there wasn’t enough room to install a downspout. Our final trip to the hardware store in the morning looked like another opportunity to be creative!
Polycape, our regular driver, met us at the house as we were preparing to leave. Our truck had been repaired and he was excited to rejoin us. We walked down the steep mountain path and loaded up for the trip back to the guest house. I decided to sit in the back and get a taste of Tap-Tap transport in Haiti. Maybe not the best idea considering the hard, narrow benches in back and the length of our journey.
In the end, the level of derriere comfort was not all that much worse when compared to the truck’s interior back seat, in which several of the seat springs had apparently exploded underneath the upholstery’s cover. I had a dusty and noisy hour and a half to ponder our day’s progress. Today had probably been the most productive day so far. All of the water filters had been demonstrated and delivered, work was progressing at the church and adjacent building, we had a reasonable idea of the layout for the third rainwater collection system install, and we had played soccer!
As I watched Haiti go about normal life from the back of the Tap-Tap, I reminded myself that the ultimate success of this trip was not dependent on our efforts. I believed – and still believe – that the work we did this week was important, but more so, it was foundational. These were our first acts of service in a new community. God willing, there will be many more. Looked at in that light, the time spent getting to know Pastor Pelege, meeting families in the community, working with young locals, playing soccer, and even just walking up and down the mountain saying hello to those we met in passing, were all cornerstones that help establish relationships that (hopefully) will grow roots far beyond the short week we spent in-country.
We sewed a lot of seeds this week and pray that God will let us be in on some of the harvest as well.