‘For I Was Hungry…’ – Haiti – 2010
June 3, 2010 § 2 Comments
And So It Begins…
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Early this morning twelve of us embarked for Port Au Prince, Haiti for a seven-day Missions Trip. We will serve in Orphanages and build a Pastor’s home. Our shirts bear Revelation 21:5 (the passage I will preach twice from in Haiti on Sunday). We are driven by our church’s Vision Statement – ‘Healing – Renewal – Peace’ – We are compelled by Christ’s challenge, that anything we do for those in need, we do for Him – We are bound with and connected to the larger Church, a body of people of faith, broken in sin yet healed and forgiven in Jesus.
On one level we are a group of Christ-followers filled with anticipation of living out the Gospel – on another we are like a group of Teenagers traveling with our Youth Group to Disneyworld, there is something inherently joyous, fun and exciting about a shared experience, serious as it is. In fact, this trip reminded me of when a group of selfless teens helped us to conduct an intensive week long VBS in the Migrant Camp south of Miami – it seems that wherever there is need, God provides a people to help meet it.
This is one small team’s attempt to participate in the Mission of God – to share in His work of Renewal until He comes in fulfillment of His promise to make all things new in the New Heavens and the New Earth. My guess is that as we touch the wounds of that broken country we will get a sense of the extent of our own, and thus our shared desperate need for the Grace of Jesus.
Our purpose is to work in collaboration with El Shaddai Ministries, led by Rev. Dony St. Germaine. ESMI, as it is known, is a Haitian-based ministry that is committed to renewing Haiti through the work of the Church. When they can raise the funds they purchase land and build a church, an orphanage and a school with an eye toward the future leadership of Haiti. In a word, their work is astounding and we were privileged to share this week with them.
Whether in real time or in one dose (it all depends on the status of internet access in Haiti), you will receive a running journal of our trip. My hope is that in some mysterious, yet sweet way, you will find yourself on the journey with us – because in this community we share, you already are – and for this I am thankful and glad.
Day One – Speechless
There is no newsreel image that can adequately communicate the shocking scene that awaits the observer when face to face with the destruction and poverty of Haiti. As our transport wove its way through the broken and crowded streets of Port-Au-Prince silence dominated the ride. The destruction is everywhere, indiscriminate of persons, deadly in force and leaving a wake of filthy, mounds of garbage, hills of rubble, standing, contaminated water and devastated lives.
Before the earthquake Port-Au-Prince was a city of 3.5 million people. In 35 seconds 300,000 were dead, with another 200,000 missing and presumed dead. One million more left the city to the countryside, leaving behind destruction that will take decades to repair and clean up. ‘Unsanitary’ would be euphemistic – the conditions are appalling – yet two million people are left trying to figure out how to survive and live with a semblance of normalcy in the only world they know.
Our drive to Les Cayes would take roughly four hours into the night. Two days later we would discover in daylight what we only felt in the dark.
In Les Cayes we would work with five orphanages – El Shaddai Ministries International has provided shelter, food, clothing, education and a church home to 2,000 orphans in a country that has 200,000.
On Sunday I preached at two churches, each filled with people. My message was from Revelation 21:1-5 – John’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth. It is hard to describe the worship because words like ‘electric’ and ‘on fire’ don’t really do it justice. With these folks the worship is worship – but it is alive and powerful and loud and beautiful. This ragtag group of Christ-followers was drawn in and we were glad.
The church is more than a house of worship – it is a community center with computer lab, medical center with dentistry and ophthalmology offices that serve physicians who are brought in from the city and from the US to care for the patients. And, of course, there is always a school.
To approach an orphanage is an experience in itself – Immediately upon entering the grounds the volunteers are besieged by tiny hands and tight embraces. It is not uncommon to sit with three children on one’s lap, and five others clinging closely by. The children have love written all over their faces and they instinctively want the touch and warmth and acceptance that love brings. Their songs and recitations were beautiful. I thought of the closing scenes of Hotel Rwanda and the hopeful choruses of the children, and was heartened by El Shaddai Ministry’s commitment to these precious ones.
Today we traveled from Les Cayes back to Port-Au-Prince, stopping at two orphanages along the way.
At each orphanage the children sing and play – and we marvel and participate. Each orphanage is unique and situated in a unique setting. Most have ample land and the children are housed in rooms that bed as many as twelve. The kitchen is a small open room with an open fire and a pot. Each orphanage has a separate school building.
The dedication of the teachers and orphanage leaders is stunning. They serve as parents as much as they do in their professional calling. Actually they represent a collaborative spirit that seems to be characteristic of the Haitian people. It isn’t uncommon to see a couple big boys take over the burden of carrying heavy containers of water from smaller boys who are struggling with the load. I have to believe that they reflect the people that lead them.
The drive to Port-Au-Prince would take us through Leogane, a suburb of Port-Au-Prince and the site of the epicenter of the earthquake where 97 percent of the city was demolished, and through roads that bear the marks of its aftershocks.
Driving is an experience in and of itself – Our main driver, Dou Dou, as he is called, is somewhat of a cross between surgical navigator and NASCAR driver. To drive through the city streets is to experience an incredible mix of people, merchants, cars, bikes, motorbikes and animals – all within the same space.
Today we began to roof a pastor’s home in a town near the coast in the hills outside of Port-Au-Prince. When completed, his home will measure roughly 12 X 20 – a single-room dwelling. We are helping to complete the prototype for El Shaddai’s developments. The homes are constructed of cinder block walls, wood and galvanized metal roofs and no plumbing. Compared to most of the living spaces we have observed, it is a palace.
Watching the locals plaster the interior walls of the pastor’s home was like sitting in on the creation of a masterpiece. Without newly acquired techniques for the craft these artisans slap heavy plaster on the walls one trowel-full at a time. We tried our hand at the craft, only to discover that our skills are far from what is needed for the task!
On site we met one young man who lost his arm from the mid-forearm down, in the earthquake. He spoke of being taken to the hospital, and the pain, as well as the phantom ‘feelings’ of a hand and fingers that were no longer there. But he loved to work and demonstrated that in abundance. One from among our group gave him a glove for his remaining hand – the young man treasured it, and was thrilled to learn that it was his to keep. I was honored that at some point he removed the ‘sock’ covering his wound and asked me to look at it and to feel where the bone nearly protruded through his skin. I can only think of how Jesus calls the Church to be incarnational and to enter into the woundedness of our broken world – what a privilege.
At one point the pastor, whose home we were building, began to sing, ‘To God Be The Glory’ in Creole, the national language in Haiti. Two of us joined in and sang with him – it was as though one new language emerged – a beautiful moment – we were united in the Gospel.
Later we went to the pastor’s church – It was more than a church, but a tented community that existed within a privately owned walled-in property. The owners offered their land, along with space to worship on Sunday. Walking the aisle between the tents was a lesson in community: people helping one another, a young man doing a valve job on a V-6 engine, a choir rehearsing for Sunday worship and the tents, or homes – tents given by the US and other nations and organizations. But there, they were homes, each with uniquely adorned entryways, pristinely swept aisles and the feel of a small town.
The pastor took me to the home he lost – a beautiful, multi-roomed, gardened, dwelling, but one that bore the scars of those violent 35 seconds. I could tell that he grieved heavily his loss – that he had loved that home, his home. So together, we went from room to room – I imagined children playfully throwing pillows at one another in one room, he and his wife in another, and gatherings of friends and love in the main space.
On Sunday, 500 worshipers would gather, many walking up the steep hills and over rocky, broken roads, and many from within the tent community, to lift their hearts, voices and prayers to their God.
As we came upon Port-Au-Prince the rains began, and before long it was pouring. For us it was a welcome cooling-down moment, but for the locals it could not be more unwelcome. Merchants desperately gathered their belongings and ran through rain-soaked filthy streets and gutters. Half of our team had been in the City, shopping for goods for the El Shaddai Oasis Recovery Center (our home base), and their 45-minute trip took 3 hours because of flooding. The flooding forced people to drive their cars uphill, and to desperately fold up their tents and resettle elsewhere – in short order.
Living conditions are unbearable to the observing eye. I remember ‘tent city’ in Homestead, Florida after Hurricane Andrew, and how sad we were to see that people had to live in tents for the months that followed that storm. But it was the Ritz compared to what we witnessed in the ‘housing’ in Haiti. Each time I thought an excruciating dwelling was the exception, another emerged. But later I was comforted by Isaiah’s prophecy of the future Kingdom (65:21-22) – “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.”
Last night I was stricken with grief over the burden our new friends bear every day…
The day began with half our team working at the home base and half the team going out to two sites, the first being the one where we helped roof and plaster in a local pastor’s home, and the second being one of El Shaddai’s church plants in an area in the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince, one of the most dangerous areas in Haiti.
It is difficult to think that something more shocking could greet us than our initial arrival, but today it did. We traveled through the city and away from the airport, only to find a vast market that was largely unaffected by the earthquake, yet still in a shambles, and filled with a confluence of people, crowded streets, tent communities (some in the middle of the streets), mounds of filth and garbage and ravines of raw sewage, and puddles of rancid water. The air was foul and it all seemed beyond hope.
But then, in the middle of a field, just off an unpaved road, was a small church filled with worshiping people. The worship was alive and incredibly joyful. It was as though God reminded us that as long as He has a people, there will always be hope.
At 5 AM we will depart tomorrow morning, and we will fly away from all we have seen, except for what God has inextricably implanted within our hearts. This evening we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper with our new friends. Together we will practice heaven in anticipation of the day Jesus comes again and feasts with us.
Spoke from Joel 2:25 with hope that the prophet’s words will be realized in our friends’ lifetimes – “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” Taking the Lord’s Supper was sweet – people of different cultures, colors, languages and lands – together, in the midst of a suffering nation, at the Table of Christ, the reminder that one day He will feast with us in the new heavens and the new earth.
After taking a group pic the Team was on the way to the airport by 5:15 AM. What awaited us was a day of cancelled flights, thwarted plans and nine people finding three routes on three airlines back to Baltimore. Three of us remain in San Juan where I write this final entry. Somehow it seems a fitting end to the trip where we were reminded that the world, like our plans, are far from perfect – in fact, the opposite – that in the end, nothing is what it should be until heaven and earth are one and the horrid reminders of the Curse are once-and-for-all completely obliterated and forgotten in God’s good Kingdom…