You could say the genesis of our work in Marianie this year began in October, 2010, the year I first set foot in Haiti. I believe its beginnings are decades older – growing out of my experiences in the Middle East, Africa, India and elsewhere. On a less metaphysical, more direct timeline, the seeds were planted last year during our August 2016 mission. We had traveled to Haiti in search of where God wanted us to serve. That trip in and of itself was in response to one of the most important things I’ve learned along my journey of faith: it (whatever your particular it is) is not about us.
When I first began missioneering in 2010, I was focused on the excitement of my response to Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 28:19-20. Over the years, my outlook has changed. And while there is absolutely a personal, spiritual growth component to mission work, that is not the purpose of missions.
It’s unlikely you’ve ever heard someone draw a parallel between mission work and Shakespearean theater, but please stay with me and I’ll try and make it work…
Prince Hamlet, distraught over the death of his father (King Hamlet) and the subsequent marriage of his mother to the suspected killer (Claudius, King Hamlet’s brother), decides to present a play wherein the details of his father’s murder are inserted into the script. Hamlet reckons that the dramatic power of the play, which will be performed in front of the new King, will cause Claudius’ guilty conscience to reveal the truth of his involvement in the old king’s murder.
Even if you haven’t read Hamlet, you may have heard someone exclaim, “The play’s the thing!” This is a partial quote from Prince Hamlet’s line at the end of Act II, which reads, “… the play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.”
The mission is not the thing. Unlike Hamlet, when we engage in missions, the purpose – the end result we are working to achieve – is not merely the act of embarking on a mission.
Americans, in particular, have a reputation for doing. When we take on a task, it is on! By that I mean, we are going to work as hard as possible to achieve the planned result(s) within the allotted time – anything less than that is considered a failure. We are raised from birth to succeed. However, I’ve learned that in mission work, our perception of what qualifies as success is not always the same as God’s.
The second day of our mission to Marianie definitely fell into this category. Our plan for the eight days we would be in Haiti – let me repeat that: our plan – was to install a minimum of four rainwater collection systems in the Marianie community and distribute the thirty (30) water filters we had brought with us. We also hoped to engage as many folks as possible in evangelism and discipleship. While it may seem obvious that a key goal of mission work should be evangelism and discipleship, it has been my experience that this is not always the case.
What is it that led me down this philosophical rabbit hole? On our second day in Haiti, we pretty much accomplished nothing. Nothing tangible. Nothing that we could hold up and say, “We accomplished x percent of our goals today.”
We spent half a day finding and purchasing materials, and negotiating Port au Prince traffic.
Pastor Pelege rode with us all morning. I was worried that he would be concerned or even a little upset that we were not (seemingly) making much progress. Far from it – at least as far as I could tell. We spent our travel time discussing life in Haiti and God’s role in our day-to-day lives.
I asked about the new Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, sworn in on February 7, 2017. Moïse is a banana exporter with no prior political experience. The term I heard in our discussion was entrepreneur. Which sounds, I suspect, much more impressive than banana exporter.
Historically, many political office holders in Haiti tend to make decisions based on what’s good for them (and their supporters) and not necessarily based on what is needed to move the country forward. Haiti still has many significant problems to overcome, which include continued recovery from the 2010 earthquake and 2016 hurricane (Matthew), ongoing cholera outbreaks, hunger, education, employment, security, healthcare, immigration and more.
On every visit to Haiti, the proverb Dye mon, gen mon comes up: Beyond this mountain is another mountain.
We who live elsewhere can read articles and watch news broadcasts regarding Haiti, but these don’t really paint an accurate picture of life in the country. This was illustrated when I learned that the public hospitals were on strike during our stay. The public hospitals are run by the government and medical staff are demanding higher wages. I had not heard of this prior to leaving the States.
According to the World Bank, 59% of Haitians live under the national poverty line of (US) $2.42 per day and over 2.5 million (24%) live under the national extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. As I spoke to Patrick (a friend and one of our translators), Pastor Pelege, and even our driver, Polycape, it became clear that at street level not much in Haiti has changed. The perception is that there are small pockets of recovery here and there. Life goes on.
Haitians have been described as overcomers. Even in the ongoing, dire conditions we saw in Port au Prince, families manage to survive. A couple of years ago, I was told that most Haitians grow up wanting to get married, have a family, and live a happy life. Sounds simple, right? That’s tough to do when your everyday struggle is to eat and find clean water to drink.
Achieving the higher levels on Maslow’s hierarchy is, of course, based on the needs at the bottom of the pyramid being fulfilled. Haiti – at least the majority of what I have experienced – is mired at the bottom of the pyramid. As we talked, the sights, sounds, smells and activity of Haiti scrolled by like a series of dusty cinemagraphs.
Haiti has a way of testing one’s motives. We were there to help families in the Marianie community have a way to capture rain water, something that might reduce the need for them to carry a 5-gallon bucket up the mountain every day. We were also there to provide water filters for families so that they could purify whatever source(s) of water they do have. Theoretically, we were operating right at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy… exactly where we needed to be, at least in our estimation.
The conversation in the vehicle slowly turned (as one might expect when riding with a pastor) to God’s role in our lives. While on mission in Haiti, I’ve had several people ask me, “If God is so great and so powerful, why does he let such misery exist?” The first time I was asked this question, in 2011, some of the Haitians we were with tried to shush the young man. I told them, no, that is a great question! It’s vital for us as believers to know God – not just know about Him. The Bible is replete with illustrations that highlight aspects of God’s character.
But our conversation would have to continue later. We had reached Marianie and driven our truck as far as it could go. The rest of the journey would be afoot as we climbed the mountain with our materials.
I have to say at the outset, the mountain we climbed in Marianie seemed a lot steeper than when we visited last year. I don’t know if I’m that much more out of shape, the temperature was that much hotter, our loads were that much heavier, or what. On this, our first day in the field, I’m guessing all of the above were true.
We found out later in the week that there was a way we could drive up the mountain and arrive at the Good Shepherd church without having to walk. The walking up the mountain thing was something I pondered off and on all week. I pondered it because we were here in Haiti and in Marianie – as the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:20 – as ambassadors of Christ. The full verse reads, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
I believed on this day – and still believe – that the right decision was walking up the mountain. That last part – God making an appeal through us – really doesn’t sound like He wants us to ride up the mountain in a big, comfy truck.
First and foremost, walking up and down the mountain is exactly what everyone in the Marianie community has to do... Every. Single. Day. If they need food, they walk down the mountain and carry it back up. If they need water, they take a 5-gallon bucket down and carry a bucket full of water back up. If they need anything, they have to walk down the mountain and carry it back up.
Did we experience their lives? No. I’m not saying that. But in the context of serving the community, of being an ambassador for Christ, how would we appear to those whom we came to serve if we took the easy way, if we weren’t willing to experience at least a little of what they experience on a daily basis?
It wasn’t too long after we arrived at the top of the mountain that we took a hit to our American-style planning: we had to leave early to make it back to the guest house in Port au Prince. There were a number of reasons for this, all predicated on the horrendous traffic moving in and out of the capital. One of the most pressing was that Patrick had to be at school by 6 p.m. He is taking English classes to get a certificate. Understand though, that Patrick has been one of the lead translators at Mission of Hope for years. He speaks very good English and is a very good translator. But, without the little piece of paper signed by a duly-authorized school official, none of that counts.
Not only were we late arriving on site because of material acquisitions and traffic, but now we had to leave early as well. Our time – not just on this day, but for the entire week – would be compressed. We needed to rethink the plan.
Another little monkey wrench in the plan? L’eglise Evangelique du Bon Berger, at least the one we encountered last year, was no more. In its place stood a new church, all of forty feet long with a high frame roof, solid foundation, and concrete floor… what a blessing for the community! And the monkey wrench? The church was the first rain water collection system we would install. This might not seem like a big deal in the land of bucket trucks, Home Depot and power tools, but in Marianie, Haiti, it sure presented its share of unique challenges.
After scoping out a couple of other project sites, we stored the tools and materials we had carried up the mountain and headed back down. It took about forty-five minutes for us to walk up the mountain. I suspect it was a little less on the way down. No less dangerous – just easier on the muscles going down as opposed to climbing up. We stopped about halfway to appreciate the aquamarine view of Port au Prince Bay and enjoy the late afternoon breeze.
We knew it would be a hot, dry, dusty, noisy ride home to the guest house and we wanted to appreciate the beauty that is Haiti, if only for a few moments.