Book it, Danno.

One of the really cool things about living in a developing country is watching it, well, develop.

Since we moved here in 2012, we have seen signs of progress like road signs, new businesses, an explosion of smart phones, and more vehicles on the road. Progress doesn’t come without its problems, that’s for sure. Sometimes, the demand can’t keep up with the infrastructure. This is evident when we see 6-hour traffic jams and no internet for days on end. (I have no doubt that if the blog mood struck me on a day when we were dealing with either one of those issues, this post would have a completely different feel to it.)

We live out in the “sticks” so things take a little longer to reach us; evidence of progress is harder to see in our area. One local gem, however, is a community library.

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The Community Library of Deschappelles Photo credit: Gilbert Thurston

The library opened in April 2016, and we’ve been visiting it off and on ever since. I remember the early days when there was talk about issuing library cards and loaning books… at some point in the future. Time was needed for the community to fully understand what a library is and how it could benefit those using it. The leadership team – Haitian and American – was intentional about their progress.

Fast forward to 2018… the library is now issuing cards, loaning books, and has over 300 members! (Yes, I applied for my card too.) It hosts regular educational symposiums, the most recent one focusing on the importance of a clean environment. They have a kids club that meets every Saturday morning. They have computer classes and science clubs. For those who know anything about the First Lego League, the youth from the library competed in Cap Haitian and placed second in their first ever competition. How cool is that?!?!

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First Lego League Team Photo credit: Community Library of Deschappelles

We are even seeing a middle class community pop up in the land around the library. The homes under construction are somewhat larger with poured concrete floors and added detailing, like bow windows and porches. I’m finding it amazing, intriguing, and humbling to witness this kind of positive development.

Lately, I’ve been on a mini crusade to make sure that the staff here knows about this precious resource. Some of it probably stems from the fact that our daughter works at a library (go, Alex!). I also remember how helpful it was to Jucado when he emmigrated from Haiti to Brooklyn. I could probably pen an entire post on that experience alone.

Earlier in the week, I was chatting with one of our security guards about his family. Schools in Haiti recently finished their third round of exams for the year, and his son, Widson, was eagerly awaiting his results. If he improved his grades from a six to a seven (out of 10), Dad promised him a bike. Trust me, that’s a pretty big deal here. In the course of conversation, the guard told me how much Widson loves to read; everywhere he goes, he tries to read whatever he sees. You can probably guess where my thoughts went when I heard this.

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Plerette giving us a library tour. She represents the library well!

The very next day, I picked up father and son on the side of the road, and we went on a little field trip to the library.  I’m happy to report that both are now card carrying members of the Community Library of Deschappelles (or will be when their cards come in)! Father and son spent a solid half-hour reading books together while I chatted with the library staff, and then we were given a formal tour so that the library’s newest members fully understood all that was available to them. It. Was. Awesome.

I was chatting with the same guard again last night, and he told me that Widson hadn’t stopped talking about our field trip. They are hoping to return with Widson’s mom so that she can become familiar with the library and also accompany Wid when Dad isn’t available.

Perhaps I’m over-reacting, but I am excited about the opportunities available to our friends. Not only is it a quiet place in an otherwise noisy world, but it’s opportunity for quality time with Mom and Dad. The learning potential is out of this world since books are available in French, Creole, and English. In a country where people are denied travel opportunities, their minds have the freedom to go anywhere when they immerse themselves in a book. The development we are witnessing here goes way beyond just infrastructure.

For those wondering, Widson got his report card, and though it wasn’t bad, he didn’t make it to level seven. The bike will have to wait. It will be interesting to see if there’s a change in the fourth quarter since he now has the capability to do something with his love of reading.

Development takes on many shapes and forms, doesn’t it?

Oh, and in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I’m so thankful that we get to live here, and we get to do this job.

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Mamane and Widson on their tour of the library

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Reflections on Worship

Once again, I am delighted to share this space with Diana Thomas, zanmi extraordinaire and a regular visitor to Haiti. I am grateful for how she captured this powerful experience – perhaps a glimpse of what Heaven will be like when we worship together.

Kò Kris la t’ap fè lwanj Bondye (The Body of Christ praising God)

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  For the LORD is a God of Justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!   Isaiah 30:18

Called to the courtyard by the sound of drums and singing, I step carefully as my eyes adjust to the pitch darkness. Up ahead a young man stands reading scripture by the light of a single street lamp.  I am told he has been here for several hours praying and reading the Word.  Twenty-five or thirty people, mostly women joining him, are praying and walking around nearby.  Sometimes another person steps into the stream of light, picks up the worn Bible and reads.  Someone starts to sing a hymn and soon the rhythm is beaten out on drums.  Everyone is in motion be it dancing or walking or swaying, everyone is singing.  Clear harmonies are woven together, Kreyol mixes with some English and all drifts up into the night.

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When the singing fades, a friend, Nerlande, begins to praise God, hands lifted high, while one or two others cry out as if their hearts are breaking.  They are pleading for help, for God’s deliverance, for others they care about deeply.  This is the reason they have gathered here for the third night in a row.

The young man returns to the circle of light and I see it is Evenson, who plays the drum at church.  He reads another passage, then shares his thoughts on the meaning.  It is the story of Jesus telling Peter to cast his net again, though Peter had been fishing all day to no avail.  And Peter, a fisherman of experience, followed the directive because it was Jesus who asked.  Evenson asks, “Èske Jezi mande ou pou wete nèt ou ankò?” (“Is Jesus asking you to cast your net again?”)  It is a challenge from this night that my American friend and I will take to heart.

After he is finished, other voices call out in Kreyol, “O God, You are great!”  “You are mighty”  “We give you thanks, Lord.”  “We come to give you praise because you are worthy of all praise.”  “We ask you to bless them, Lord.”  “We ask you to protect them, Lord.”  “Give us strength and courage, Father!”

Someone had an unsettling dream of violence and disruption happening at this place, an aide organization where friends have long lived and worked.  Taken as a warning and a call to prayer, these believers came to thank God for the chance to gather and ask for His help.  They have prayed and sang and read the word for more than three hours each night, the last night until almost midnight.

Eventually they will head for home and a little rest.  Morning comes quickly as most will be up just before daylight, starting cook fires, singing and praying again with husbands and children.  It is so evident that God is truly the center of their lives.  He is their hope and their strength.  He answers prayer.  He is why they sing and dance no matter what the circumstances.

Outside that circle of light the night is inky dark.  I stop to look up into the deep blackness that accentuates millions of stars in the dazzling canopy.  I imagine them to be the bright eyes of the Heavenly Host peering down on this handful of believers.  We are indeed in the Holy presence of God’s covering – a cathedral of His own making for His children who, here and now, are His body on earth.

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Morning Devotion

Since our blog post on Friday, I’ve been wondering if there needs to be some kind of follow-up. As I prayed about it, I settled on, “Let go and let God.” If He opens a door, fine. If He doesn’t, that’s fine too.

Well, He did, so here we are again.

The compound where we live and work begins each work day with a staff devotion. Typically, the Haitian leaders pick a verse to focus on over the course of a week. This week’s verse comes from Revelations 3:20:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

As I read and listened to the verse in Creole, the door reference slapped me in the face. Had I not already said, “OK, God, if you open a door…”?

And then we looked at the verse in context. The message was for the church in Laodicea, an area known for its wealth but lacking spiritual vitality. The people in the church had riches and claimed that they needed nothing, but they were poor on the inside. When a knock came at their door (literally or a figurative knock at the heart), the choice of whether or not to open it belonged to the individual. It’s a truth that continues today. And it’s a choice that has some pretty serious repercussions.

Perhaps it’s just me, but there seem to be some similarities between Laodicea and, well, other places. It also seems to be directly related to Friday’s post.

A few of you read anger in the post, but Tim and I were not angry when we initially wrote it. Annoyed, yes, because it’s incredulous to think that this is where we are as a nation. If you could hear us read it, you would hear passion as we try to adequately describe the beauty that is here and our plea for you to check your own motivation.

We all know people who feign righteous outrage. We all know those whose involvement begins and ends with a facebook post. If you are outraged because of the lack of compassion or empathy, how do you answer the question, “what is compassion without action?”

Admittedly, we used the word (bleep) more than necessary to emphasize the ridiculousness of the statement; we own this. The flip side of this is that we are baffled at those who express greater outrage over the use of this word than the degradation of a nation and her people.

Many of you read the post as it was intended. Thank you for knowing us well enough to receive it that way. If you read anger and reached out to us, thank you for respecting us enough to do so. If you read anger and moved on, is it possible that you are feeling convicted about something? Only you know the answer to that question.

To those who think that we are jumping on or off a particular political bandwagon, we are not. This isn’t about politics. It’s about human kindness and decency. We do not seek validation in the number of likes or comments we receive from one side or the other. When I bothered to finally look at the responses, I was intrigued to see similar responses from both sides. That gives me hope.

I did ask myself why I chose to speak up now when I typically turn the other cheek. And I heard this still small voice say, “because I put you there for such a time as this.” I’ve held my tongue in the past, but this was our turn. We don’t know what it’s like to be Haitian, we do know what it is like to live in this country.

Despite our speaking up in defense of Haiti, living here will be different, at least for a little while. There will be people here who condemn us because of what was reported in the media. Trust me, it was all over the news here. My heart breaks for the thousands of people who are in the adoption process who will see their paperwork delayed because of subtle retaliation. I fear for those who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when there is blatant retaliation. I’m sad that so many Haitians will always wonder if the “blans” they encounter secretly feel the same way as what was reported. How can anyone be effective in ministry when that barrier exists? This is real life stuff. This is kingdom stuff.

We were directed to soften the language of the original post, which we did out of respect for the people who asked, but you need to know that anger is not what drove our remarks. I am sad that many of you don’t know this beautiful place and aren’t willing to know her, but I can’t force you to open the door when there is a knock.

Back to this morning’s devotion. We had more people than usual, so when we stood and made our circle for the closing prayer, we filled the dining room. It seemed to me that there was the proverbial elephant in the room so I did what I do best. I spoke up. I wanted our colleagues to know exactly where I stand on this issue. After all, there are enough things that divide us; we don’t need more.

It is in these moments, when we can share gratitude and appreciation and respect for one another, that we find relationship, where we find healing, and we find love.

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