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.