I had many concerns during our pre-trip meetings and was actually anxious and apprehensive about the trip. But I had already signed up and felt God leading me to go. My expectations were set very low as we were told to be ready for a much more extreme condition. So I was very glad to find out we weren’t staying in tents. We stayed inside a building with running water and flushable toilets. It was actually not bad, the mosquitoes preferred Marcia and Bonnie over me and the cold showers could be refreshing on a hot humid afternoon. However, even more refreshing was God’s immediate work in my heart. Through the daily devotions (up at 5:30 am or earlier) and debriefs, I realized how out of touch I had been with God and His body/community, that I had been “going through the motions” way too long and it’s time to come back to Him. As I reflect on what has been God’s purpose for me on this trip, it is to draw me closer to Him and to join Him in His work wherever it may be, here or abroad. I’ve had a fresh encounter with God while I was in Haiti and it was an amazing experience.
What did I think of my experience on the January 2012 trip to Haiti? It really was a mixed bag. We had very gracious hosts, who were concerned about our safety and that we had nice healthy meals. We had twice daily group focus on what God was doing in our lives, as well as those we were working with. In my family, Betsy and I had this when our children were young, living at home, at least once a day; not so now that they are on their own. One might even think of morning and evening prayers of generations gone by. This is a good thing. I should strive to put this back into our lives.
We did spend our days working on mostly physical tasks, which we don’t do much of in our society. However, I’ve been of a mind that I shouldn’t avoid physical work. I feel it better to work physically hard in the course of the day, rather than have to spend money (that someone had to work for) to work in fruitless exertion at a gym, to stay physically fit. For me, I think I was the slowest guy on our team. We had some good workers. I was amazed (a second time) by the hard work that the Haitian men and women put in, in living their lives. With the houses we helped build, Delva, the man who was one of the recipients, probably was the hardest worker of all. Slugging concrete in the hot sun is just plain hard, but he seemed to have more energy than most of us. He might well have been older than me too.
There was the difference in the landscape, that garbage was everywhere. Is this worse than the garbage mountains we make here in the US? They see the consequences of garbage daily, while we hide them. I’m not talking about the demolition debris from the buildings the earthquake destroyed, but normal garbage; paper, soda bottles, plastic bags, and the usual household trash. I’m not sure that we do this better.
In Haiti, people had to go get water at the well. Where we stayed, there was a large tank on the roof, which was filled by electric pump, when there was electricity. This provided water for our showers and toilets. The local families mostly didn’t have such luxuries. They had to take their 5 gallon plastic can down to the well, wait their turn, fill the bucket, and cart the water home; most carrying it on their heads. Even little children had to carry water (1 gallon jugs). Though this task was mostly a woman’s job, men were seen at the well also. This experience was sort of like being back in the culture of Jesus’ day, with the story of the woman at the well. The little streams of runoff we saw, were really sewers, quite polluted with garbage which was either deliberately dumped in them, or which blew into them. People didn’t want to stick their feet into this water, even if the occasional cow or pig would.
Buildings were concrete, ornamented with much steel. There were the customary bars across windows, so that they would not be used as entries (or exits). The steel doors and gates were somewhat oppressive, even when we derived security from them. At the boys’ home we visited, there were three floors to the building. This included several doors as one went upwards. It was not a long stretch of my imagination to envision these same doors being used as a jail. Thankfully that was not the case here. In fact, one of our interpreters was a fine young man who was raised in this home, and who now teaches younger boys there. His English was quite good. I learned the last day we were there that he also was a drummer in the church’s worship band.
I went to Haiti without as much desire as I did last year. We needed to fill up the team, and this I took as my call, as I was available, and desirous to help. God coordinated a Facebook contact with a young man I met in Jacmel during last year’s trip, just as it was time to make my decision. That contact bumped me into saying yes. I don’t think I was as spiritually called as one might like. Nevertheless, part of the modern short-term mission thinking has to do with us seeking a closer walk with the Lord, which I certainly benefited from. In this regard, I would commend participation in future trips to all in the church. The trip does cause you to have a different daily focus, to see life differently, to readjust your priorities.
While being physically taxing, I came away refreshed, and with new thoughts about what the main point of missions is; Jesus. If that’s the case, I need to rethink how I’m living to advance His name here. In these short-term mission trips, it’s easy to think of the service aspect, because we don’t speak the language. We can’t get people annoyed by our conversations about Jesus, if we can’t talk to them. Still, that is the main point. These people don’t need the American way of life to save them. It doesn’t save us! It is easy to confuse fixing things up to be more like us when we are doing construction though. We think of the things we might buy to make our homes nicer here, and think that if they had these things life would be so much better. After a number of discussions over the week, I can see a little better now that we still are a far ways off, in our identifying with the people we went to serve. We really don’t enter into their culture, even though we were physically present with them. Our living conditions were far superior to many of theirs. Our hosts provided us with security which is very much greater than the people there. Our food was specifically catered to not offend our American palettes, and generally of a higher quality and quantity than would be common. Even on the work site, our availability of water and hydration salts was much greater than what I observed among our coworkers, who didn’t seem to have large supplies of water available. Neither did the young children who often looked on longingly as we slugged back our thirst quenchers. This increased perception of becoming one with another culture (or our lack thereof) makes me realize even more just how great a jump it was for Jesus to come “to become one of us” so that he might communicate God’s love to us.
So, how might I change my actions here? I need to change my emphasis on the gospel. It must have a higher priority. Boss Oxson (spelling?) was in charge of the masonry during the week. He was a leader of the local men for sure. At Friday’s dedication of Delva’s home, he was one who prayed, as pastor Oxson. Then, on Sunday, the church we visited was celebrating its 12th anniversary, and had had several building projects to expand due to the increase in the number of people being saved. That afternoon, they were to have a large open-air meeting as well. The outdoor church meeting again was due to the large numbers that were being reached. We learned this was pastor Oxson’s church home, and flock. While having to work hard labor, he kept at the work of the Lord also, and God is blessing that effort. Am I helping the ministries (labors of service) here at Trinity Community Church, so that the Lord’s name is lifted higher in our community, so that more people take refuge in the Lord Jesus?
There was an interesting treat too. Most of the guys ended up sleeping under the stars on the roof of our building. It was cooler because of a nice breeze. It was also higher up, and thus had fewer mosquitoes or other bugs. We had a nice full moon while we were there also. On Wednesday night, the day before the second anniversary of the earthquake, we learned that there was much concern about potential for riots or other disturbances. Security around Port Au Prince was heightened. Tomorrow would be a holiday they declared; no work. Through the night however, it was an uneasy feeling. I could hear loud crowds out in the distance in several directions. There was loud drumming. One of the modern things that certainly have made its way into Haiti is sound technology. Earlier in the evening we could hear a variety of preachers blaring from PA systems. Now, nearing midnight it was just these loud drumming and crowd noises punctuated by occasional loud cheers (yells). Perhaps this was what a missionary or other traveler might have heard in centuries gone by when they used the comment, “The natives are restless.” It put an edge on the otherwise beautiful night.
Going to sleep somewhat nervous, I was amazed to wake up when the choir of the church nearest us started choir practice (on the PA system) at 5 am, for a church service that would start at 6 am. I think we arrived there somewhat after 8 o’clock, and stayed only till 10, even though it went on till the afternoon. This choir sounded like we were in heaven! The voices sang songs that I mostly didn’t know, but there were some where I knew the melody, and could sing along. I could give praise to God as well, joining with these believers who were rejoicing in Him. While I’ve been in stadiums with large numbers of people singing God’s praises, nothing compares to this. It really made me think of the choirs of heaven. One day we will all be around His throne. We will be from every tribe and tongue, and every nation. What a Day That Will Be!