Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I believe true restoration is not the avoidance of what is dark and dead, but the unthinkable repurposing of it.

This morning was a typical fourth day awakening, as my muscles and my eyes reminded me of the miles we've trekked in these short days. My senses first found the pulse of my alarm clock, then the whirl of the air condition kicking on and off with the power, and then the tap of June Bugs hitting the walls invisibly as to not join the June Bug graveyard that our room of girls has established.

Today was the wrapping up of tasks not yet done before we head back to Port au Prince and then on to Florida tomorrow. Or three groups began this trip with a long list of things needing to be checked off before we returned to continue planning for our next four endeavors in country. Excitedly we can say that they pretty much all have been. We needed lastly to show the professors the American University, buy some Malaria medication for future trips, and hike some of the trails of the hillsides as to see more of the native culture.

We decided to do the latter first to capture as many of the cooler hours as possible. So we set off on a trail only slightly distinguishable from the rest of the ground around it right behind the guesthouse in its neighboring waving hills. The trails themselves you can barely see from far away, but as you come right upon them, you notice that the 10" path of no grass/sometimes grass is actually leading somewhere. We had no ending point except to be back at 11am. We walked in a straight line around the middle of a hill and then over another and down the side of yet another, passing huts and cows and children scattered without pattern. Ahead we could hear drums and singing in the cluster of trees at the peak. We asked our translator what was happening and he said it was a normal prayer service. Little did we know our path was taking us straight through their sanctuary of limbs and tied ribbon blowing eerily in the diving breezes. Their prayer style and location was so bizarre I wondered if it weren't something a bit more dark. But Dr. Kress stopped to hear their words and said, "They are asking God to help them, that only he can."

Down another hill, around and back up, and we heard a voice calling from a car below. It was Pastor Louis from our guesthouse driving down a backroad to see if we had enough water. As we scooted down to meet him, he told us of a church of his that was only about a half mile away on foot if we wanted to meet him there. Unfortunately, a half mile away is like a half hour away in Haiti. You should plan to walk five and you should plan to be late. It took our crew quite a while and a couple of times getting turned around to find Pastor Louis again, who led us to the correct location.

Once there, he told us the rich history of the site. When his ministry was preparing to move into this area of the south, the head witch doctor of the area was strongly opposed to it and cursed them. The Bokor headed up a Vodou temple next to the house that he lived in a few miles from the Cambri site. One day while he was speaking in 1995, he was struck by lightening. It did not kill him, but it caused his body much damage. Hearing this, El Shaddai came to the man's house and prayed for him. The man, over the next 8 years, surrendered his life and his practices over to God, tore down the temple, and gave all the land to El Shaddai for them to build another church on. This is the site of the church we went and visited today. The pastor said that the Bokor handed over to him his big jar of terrantuals, frogs, and other creatures who held his power, and in the name of Jesus they burned the whole thing, blessed the land, and began rebuilding.

I walked away and told David that I commended any ministry that does not avoid the brokenness, but instead sees to it that it is repurposed for the kingdom, and that this to me is the Gospel. He responded with, "When we seek to plant, we find out where is most dark, and go there."

We could save a lot of time, energy, sinfulness, and fear if we could trust the Spirit in us to take us into the dark places and equip us not to avoid or conform but to creatively seek to repurpose that which has been lost. Among that third way, I believe, is where heaven comes on earth.

We pulled ourselves back into the guesthouse to down the water we were scared of drinking on the trails without bathrooms, cooled off a bit, and then headed for Cayes.

We arrived at the American Univeristy on Mardi Gras day, meaning our curious group and a couple of armed guards near a locked gate were all to be seen on the property. However, with the French fluency of sweet talking Dr. Kress, we were inside the facility quickly. On the top terrace, we met an American man who invited us in to sit down. He told us he was one of three American teachers there, and that he had been there since September. We commented on how nice the buildings were, to which he offered that they were built as a US military compound during the Raegan Administration. The walls are measured just so and the roof is designed as a helicopter landing. But now it functions as the classrooms for 250 Agriculture and Civil Engineer local students.

After a few minutes of chatting, the second teacher named Sean joined us on the porch. He is about our age and has been in Haiti teaching English and helping with teams for about 3 weeks. When our professors started explaining that they were a part of a small, Methodist affiliated, liberal arts college, Sean said, "Are you a part of the Shreveport Methodists?" To which Sarah and I said, "No but we are..."

Sean then went in to say how he was baptized in our church before he and his family moved to Charleston. He said that we were that church from Sheveport that has established a pretty consistent presence here, and that he had looked up a lot about ours and Grace UMC's work in blogs and articles online. He commended our commitment to one global place and said that the people know us. What incredible affirmation that God is spreading what God has started. We, in our broken nature, are not built to stick around. In friendships, in marriages, in countries that are tough. We are built to flee to leveled, easier ground. We are built to worship that which will both cater to us and our success. We are not built to stick around. But Jesus is. And it is ONLY by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to embrace that in our own lives as well. Because sticking around requires sacrifices when you'd rather not, commitment when the seasons are dry, and hope when the vision is not yet fully recognizable. And what is beautiful is that we are able to learn this together, not alone. Where laughter and truth and dreaming and growing pains and depth and boldness and conviction can abound among those we've made covenents with as friends.

So if there is even a little bit of a known presence of FUMC Shreveport in Les Cayes, Haiti, it is because we have stuck around, and that can only ever be because of Jesus.

As we talked more, Sean mentioned, seemingly randomly, the deep need for a place for young adults in his home town. "Sunday school just doesn't seem to be enough, what do we do throughout the rest of the week?" he said. What a crazy wonderful opportunity...

"Well we've actually got a lot to say about this see, we live in a young adult community house that we started in Shreveport..." We told him how we've been fascinated by new monasticism all through college and how on the return of our Haiti trip two years ago, we felt like God was saying it was time to create something similar. We talked about how we recognized that there weren't a ton of places for us to go in this awkward stage of life, how we needed each other, and needed more than Sunday mornings to live out the holistic faith that we wanted. We told him about family meals, and the health care fund, and our housemate meetings. And them we invited him to come and see when he returns to the states. To which he said, "And I think I'll have to bring a few people who need to see this as well."

Our daily, seemingly mundane, experiences and encounters can very well be the loose stitching that God does prior to pulling it all together piece by piece in the brilliance of a plan unfathomable to the human psyche. We are being written, and it is the most glorious thing.

Now, for one more meal, one more cold shower, one more drive through Kanaval traffic to the airport until May.

Mesi pou li ekri mwen,


Waterfalls and Presidents

Last night as I finished up blogging, I wondered what I would be able to write about today. We were just going to the beach, very routine, nothing abnormal was likely to happen....

One waterfall find, ministry connection, Carnival run-in, UN official yelling, lobster eating, and President siting later....I'd say, maybe I assumed incorrectly. This is in fact Haiti, right?

We began our day eating our oatmeal and peanut butter out on the tiled walkways overlooking the misty mountains attempting to convince you they are actually a postcard--and it works. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating...Cambri. Is. Breathtaking. We have always been downtown in our guesthouse, but here the mornings invite you into the island and at night the stars remind you of your smallness as they rise above the clouds that rise above the lights that throb over Kanaval. Today's agenda: visit the children down the hill at the Cambri orphanage, see the mobile clinic that is being set up by the other team there, and then head out to explore as much of the city of Port Salut as we can in a day.

The children at this site found our hands before we finished the incline. They know enough English to get through sentence number three, probably due to the guesthouse they live near. One finds me, and then sees my nose ring and finds Dana. I say under my breath, "I understand , my grandpa did the same thing." And then my new friend found me. His name is Toto and he is kind of like a little puppy I suppose. I couldn't get over his name or the way that he repeated sounds that I made in a singing voice. He reminded me so much of my friend Peterson from our first trip that left with his family soon after. It was neat to meet a similar personality. He played with my hair and told me things about the other kids that I couldn't quite translate. We made conversation with the older boys a bit, some in Kreyol, some in Angle, and then after a peek in the clinic, we got out of the way and headed further south.

Port Salut was said to be the home of a couple of cultural sites that we wanted to check off for our upcoming Centenary Module. We also had plans to visit another Children's Village to see how their ministry is being run as well as eat lunch on the beach. We parked at the village to see a class happening, which was curious since all schools are out for Mardi Gras this week. We asked the head Mama what was happening, and she said, "Since school is out, I set up a Christian day camp for youth." It's so encouraging to see initiative, and successful initiative at that. And they danced and they sang as we toured the facilities. After about ten minutes there, Kaiti mentioned that this may really be somewhere that the Wesley could make a relationship with and live among this summer. I thought, "This is why we must sometimes trust the change of plans with our flexibility, because we never know what meetings God is setting up." Our last minute added visit could make all the difference for a college team and the people that could become their next Haitian family.

We mentioned to the head Mama at the end of our visit that we had seen a sign on the way in near her entrance that read, "Kaskade"...

"Wi, li se kat minut am mâché." So we headed on foot toward the hidden Port Salut waterfall. It took a bit more than 4 minutes, and we were followed by teen boys who were 100% making fun of us, but surely it was worth it. As you weave in and out of deep greens on a well trodden dusty path, you begin to hear water hitting from a height that the ocean doesn't make. We could make out the sound of a large number of voices as we came upon the gate where we were charged a quarter each to enter. Whether or not that person who is $2 richer was someone in charge, we'll never be sure. The path down is just as dusty but winds more with man made steps sloping ever so slightly enough to make you wonder if you'll domino this whole caravan before its over. And then you see it. Three separate streams slipping down slick tan rock into a pool of beige water pushing into a juggled stream. On top, a preteen Haitian boy sitting, torso dancing to the chatter below, which happened to be the older orphanage kids who had taken a small outing. We moved to the side of our sandy slope when we saw the herd heading back our way, greeted with thirty different "bonjous," and finished our climb down to the water. Haiti is full of surprises. We tookour pictures and enjoyed the hideaway that we had been blessed with, and started our thigh-exercise back to the top. I've always wanted to see a water fall in Haiti. Check!

We left with talk about Kaiti's May team and how our teams can maybe run into each other while we're working this summer. Then we headed to the artisan center in the middle of town, which turned out to be a pretty typical souvenir shop, but it helped us practice our haggling...which I hate to do. Where is Carrie Mercer when you need a painting not to be $30?

After getting information for Centenary about a couple of famous artists' houses in the community, we headed to the beach. We've been here many times with our teams, and it is quite nostalgic at this point. Many shells and debriefing conversations have been surfaced here. A proposal has left its trails in that sand and we have toasted to our love for Haiti and our gratitude of God with many a sugar cane coke under those palm leaves. This trip offered no less of an experience as we talked about our questions, our hopes, what we've learned, what we've yet to learn, and good humor to keep it all running. After our meal was paid for, we loaded back up in our off-roading minivan, and headed back to town.

Little did we know, so was the entire town. And round two of Kanaval had begun. Which would have made for a very uneventful wait in traffic as we discussed how we help our teams cope with the emotions that inevitably follow trips like these, except for the unmistakable train of black escalades that began pushing our long line of cars to the side. And there was President Martelly, surrounded by too many cars and guns to count, windows down and thumbs up to the crowd. Reminder: never dull, always something to write about.

We laughed and told Dr. Ciocchetti that we arranged all of this for his first trip to the Island, then trudged along with the hundreds of other celebrating locals.

The night became even more interesting as we found ourselves lost in traffic and on the edge of a side road staring at the floats passing by. Tonight they actually looked more like the decorations we're used to in Louisiana, with their large colors and loud music and soda carts. We laughed about how we had waited 5 hours and walked 6 miles to NOT actually see the parade yesterday, and then viola! This moment was only squelched by the UN vehicle that rolled his window down at us.

(UN guy in a French accent) "You are cutting off traffic, you are being disrespectful!" (As he continued to not let us in.)
(My thoughts) *Doesn't he know where he is? Would he say that to a Haitian?*
(Dr. Kress in French) "Sir, are you French?"
(UN rudely) "You are English! You speak English to me. You are being disrespectful!" (Rolls up window and moves forward.)

Maybe I understand better why the Haitians dislike the UN. Dana said, "Move forward, I'll speak some English to him..." And we laughed and shook our heads at the rudeness and laughed some more.

A few more wrong turns and floats after that, our wonderful driver finally found his way back to Cambri, and we clapped and proclaimed the bizarreness of the day and crawled out in wonderment of how we would even begin to share the stories of the day.

Today I have remembered that it is important to trust our flexibility to the interruptions. We never know how God might be trying to love on us. I remembered that one way or another the Holy Spirit will get us to the point where we are fully open for whatever is out in front of us, where we embrace it because the most terrifying place to be is not out of control, but outside of God's will. Today through conversations about teams and trips, I remembered that our emotions should be coupled as equally with our education. We should learn, and gain wisdom and knowledge, then ask God to infuse our emotions into that education. So much harm has been done on the back of distraught and overwhelmed feelings.

Today I remembered, sitting on this tile with the blue of the single lights glowing into the thickening dark, smelling the burning of a hundred trash piles, hearing the conversations of the leaders and the other teams on all sides as well as the drums of the festivities below in the city...that no man could write the stories that the Creative Almighty chooses to lead us into. We are blessed to play a role. We are blessed to play a role.

Expecting to write again tomorrow,


Kanaval Nationale

We take our Bibles, journals, other books, whatever we can fit in our bags when we go to church in Haiti, because often it is very early, and often it goes for 3 hours, and often it is all in Creole. This morning's difference was that we were joined by a team that flew in last night from Los Vegas, Chicago, and Florida. With 30 of us "blancs" in church, much of the service was translated, including the message which was done by one of the other team members. I have never been to a church service in Haiti that was not as enthusiastic as it was packed with people. My naivety may be showing through, but it seems that many of the worship styles are fairly similar across denominations. I suppose that goes for the U.S. as well. We're just not as different from that church down the street than we like to think we are:)

They wave their hands in the air and turn around in prayer by using their folding chairs as altars, and the small children stare and smile at the foreigners. Today's sermon was on the woman at the well, one of my favorite stories. And Dr. Kress and I were asked to come say a word. This being probably the 5th time this has happened, I tried to be prepared. At least this time I wasn't wearing a skull and cross bones tshirt and size 3x skirt because I had forgotten my Sunday best and "could borrow from one of the neighbors." There I was, with death itself on my shirt thanking the people of God in Haiti for the love they have shown us. Amen, amen.

But this morning was lovely, and the music was beautiful. I wanted to bottle up the soloist's voice and bring it back for all to hear. He is from Canada, and you will be hearing from him someday.

We didn't have anything scheduled necessarily for the afternoon, and the other team was going back to take naps and sort their medical supplies, so, we thought, "Why not?!"

And that's when we headed towards downtown to catch Kanaval Natinonale ( Mardi Gras)! Unfortunately, we had gotten our time frame for the day's festivities from the gate guard, who said, "after noon." Which we took to mean after twelve, after church. We knew that after we got a ride down their, there would be no ride back to Cambri. But we had an El Shaddai employee, David, our walking shoes and our water, so we'd be set for the 5 mile trek home. Little did we know, as we meandered around the faux walls and halls of temporary displays, that after noon meant "afternoon." Time: unspecified. So we asked and we looked and we asked someone who looked like they would know. "The parade starts at 4," he said. Good, it was 1:30. This mishap gave us a wonderful afternoon though, filled with seeing and experience something none of us may ever get to do again: Carnival in Haiti.

The risers look much like the ones in South LA, except they are coved in Digicel phone service signs and were still being painted right up to the moment of the parade. The streets were filled with many people of many different statuses, and the masks were huge and goofy and intricate. Except for that one kid wearing the scream mask. That's not homemade , sir. Nor is it quite in the correct Holliday. But who am I to say. One man motioned for me to walk up to his booth of wooden necklaces. "Bonjou," I say. "You are welcome," he says. Now that's a confident salesman.

We mingled and took pictures and made friends for a bit. Dr. Kress and Kaiti got interviewed on Haitian News. We watched a caravan of ambulances and what looked like a younger, bluer Shriners pass on scooters. And then about3 hours of walking and waiting later, we decided to walk back and hopefully catch the floats in the float yard on our way out of town. Which we did. Haitian Mardi Gras floats are a bit different than Louisiana as they look like big trucks with cages, many huge speakers, and a few advertisement signs on them. I suppose more than anything, the actual parade is more about the music and the necklaces they throw than the decorations. Some of the trucks were so loaded down with speakers that they are having to pull generators on smaller trailers behind them.

We are now 6 miles away on top of a mountain and I can still hear them.

It's really an amazing thing to see our culture traced so richly back. It makes me more and more aware of the shoulders we are always standing on. It makes me more and more humbled to remember that we can credit nothing to ourselves. We are made of the spirit of God that is within us, the fibers of choices and risks that have gone before us, and the love and friendship that surrounds us.

My feet look tanned, but are actually covered in I do believe that a shower (also known as our June-Bug graveyard) is calling my name. Along with another long sleep.

Oh! But first! I bought a mask today from Kanaval to commemorate the day. It's pink and kind of looks like a possessed house cat. Yay!


Frog Juice

It sounded, quite frankly, like a small animal was being stabbed every 3 seconds and it started at 2:30 this morning--which was unfortunate, since we had only gotten about 3 hours of sleep the night before heading back to Haiti. Our travels on Friday took a good two hours more than normal since the nation had decided that Carnival Nationale would be held in Les Cayes this year instead of Port au Prince, so every pickup with mattresses, Taptap with tents, and northerner looking for a Carribean float was headed to the southern coast alongside of us. And we thought we were going to miss Mardi Gras in Shreveport...

Our driver, Dou Dou, explained to us at each traffic jam that he had to exit the vehicle to direct, "You hof to let theem know yuhr chief. You kahnnot quietly say, 'Ehm, plees move.' Weeth Heshens, you must seh, 'Bock up! Bock up! Yurh een tha weh!' Ahnd eet wuhks. They know you ah chief."

And they did, and he was, and that's how we made it to Les Cayes by 11:30 instead of 9:30 but not 1:30.

We peeled ourselves from the mini van and stumbled into our rooms at the beautiful Cambri Guesthouse, nestled atop a mountain encircled by more and more rings of mountains. You can see the throbbing glow from the Carnival float yard and the stars are like glitter.

This guesthouse is a new one for our teams, and it's inauguration into our travels is part of the reason we are here this week on a scouting trip. The other parts include introducing Kaiti from the Tech Wesley foundation to some different partnerships in the south, meeting with the Bighouse and Darivage pastors to hammer our the details for our summer teams, and solidify plans with the two Professors with us for the Centenary Module Team that will be joining our FUMC Young Adult Team in May to teach classes to the children's homes.

We were all pretty excited to see that dinner had been covered and left out for us. So we sat down and enjoyed some rice, red sauce, and ketchup-chicken together. While we enjoyed, Pastor Louis told us much about their efforts as our partners and the church planters for many villages in Haiti. He spoke to us about the orphanages and how his father was the church planter of 365 evangelical churches before he retired. He and his brother followed in his footsteps seeking to care for the holistic church, with all her branches and depth. In that spirit, he began talking about their medical clinic on site and how they seek to heal the body and the mind.

"Our people," he said, "sometimes have a different mind. And we work to get their minds and their diseases well." We asked him to explain further and quickly figured out that he was talking about vodou. Chris ask him, "And how do you do that?" To which, the pastor responded, "We teach the Word." He led us conversationally into a side of Haiti that we have often missed before, for a couple of reasons. One is, we simply didn't know what to look for. The other is, frequently on foreign mission trips, we get so isolated going in between our work site and our guesthouse, or we dont have enough time, that we miss some of the culture. It is important to know the intricate corners of those you have chosen to live among, even if for just a small amount of time. It shows respect. It affirms their wonderful humanity. And ours. And we often learn that it is us who are learning and changing and healing.

Louis told us that many, many people come to their clinic after they have tried every Witch Doctor possible and they haven't worked. Vodou is 20% spiritual and 80% mental manipulation, the Christian Haitians believe, and the Witch Doctors are masters at their craft of illusion. He said that when their ministry seeks to build a knew church in a village, they find out where the Witch Doctor lives and build close to him, as to show him the tangible love of Jesus and bring the Good News to that area. Christians are not affected by the 20%, he explained, because our souls are claimed by Christ. So they can move in and share water sources with these "Bokors" (as they are called) and pray against the false teachings.

"Have you seen the Witch Doctor's house out beside Bighouse Orphanage?"
"No, is it close?"
"Yes! It is two houses before! You have passed it every time you have been out there, which has probably been...?
"17 times, at least."
"Yes, you will know it by the two flags that hang by his house. This represents the number of family members he has killed as human sacrifices as to gain their power and become a prominent Witch Doctor. He keeps a rope hanging in the tree at his gate, that is where his spirit lives. His spirit harms those who come uninvited. And beside it is a fire, where he worships. Bighouse was well known for evil of this kind. It was where Papa Doc was raised and he would come back here to do his ceremonies. We tell our people that the curse has been broken. That Jesus came to free them."

Sure enough, the next day we passed the Bokor's house and saw his red and blue flags, his fire, and his rope. And I thought, how wonderful it is that the gospel speaks to the teachings and remedies that fall on paranoia and revenge and death. How wonderful that the gospel brings life and freedom and selfless love. If I weren't a believer, in this moment I would say, "The teachings just work well, it is simply a brilliant way to do life, in the truth of how Jesus lived his." Breaking social barriers, healing the poor in spirit and body, alleviating people from their cultural oppression, encouraging people to care for people, claiming that no curse nor system nor another person owns them because they have already been bought. We have been shown the greatest of Ways.

The afternoon at Bighouse and Darivage were incredibly productive. We met with each pastor to determine what they would like for us to teach in our 8 days of classes that we will be offering at both villages with Centenary College and FUMC's Young Adult teams this summer. Many of what we expected: art, math, English, French, tool usage, music, etc. What surprised them both was that we want to teach the normal school hours that they will already have (8-1), but then learn from them in the afternoons. So, this summer after our teams work through translators to conduct a rotation of lessons, all 35 of us will be learning Haitian dance, bracelet making, simple Creole, etc. When we expressed that we wanted to learn as much as teach, the pastors said, "We think this is wonderful because a lot of teams come to do something for us, and we have things to show too." It's all pretty exciting. Especially the part where I'll be joining my backwoods lack of rhythm with Caribbean groove. Sure to be the most awful display of movement they've ever seen. I picture one of those wind- men advertisement tall things that blow to and from in front of stores when I think about it.

After our visits, the professors really wanted to see any historical old buildings or plantations that our leaders could show us. They had one better. We were able to climb, find, and explore the insides of two French fortresses from the Haitian Revolution. From the last years of the 1700s, their plaques read, but they are not necessarily being preserved. One of them had a network of old tunnels webbing beneath our feet. Which we voted not to peruse due to potential spiders and/or bigger and worse alive or dead things. The towers looked like that one scene in Ever After, with their vine covered bases and crumbling picture-perfect windows. I felt blessed by the adventure.

I let my team know that I had big plans to be asleep early, since I had had 2.5 hours the night before, thanks to devil demon frog cricket in the drains. To which, Dr. Kress and Sarah showed me the picture of one of the water-catchers on the roof whose lid had fallen off and was now the new home to multiple tadpoles. "I think we know why."

Nice. It wouldn't be a trip to Haiti if I weren't questioning if I was bathing in frog juice water...or killing a hand-sized spider...or wondering if the grilled goat from the street stands still had hair in it.

All in all, a beautiful couple of days to begin a scouting trip. The kids are healthy and happy, and learning guitar and a few other English words. The boys that used to be the younger boys three years ago are getting more mature face shapes, which is bitter sweet. And the security wall and clean water building are both finished.

A 7:15 bedtime for a 6:15 wake up call is beckoning.

Bon Nuit,