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.

night worship2

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.

night worship

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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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Why We Choose to Live in a Twou Kaka Country

Writing this blog was not on my to-do list today, but as we see newsfeeds filled with posts and comments, we feel compelled to tell you why we choose to live in a (bleep) country.

It’s our job.

We live here because this is where our work is. It was a calling from God and a step of faith because let’s be honest… up until that point, neither one of us had ever pined to live in Haiti. The country was seldom on our radar screen and when it was, it’s because of something that was devastating or negative. But then we came here and learned more about this place and it will forever be a part of us.

Natural beauty.

This country has so much natural beauty, it could blow you away. The entire land mass is about the size of Maryland, but we have beautiful beaches, desert cacti, pine forests, and banana trees at the base of mountains that look like a scene from the movie Jurassic Park. The way the Artibonite River winds its way through the countryside shows its perseverance. Gorgeous waterfalls and basins, historical landmarks, breathtaking sunsets, terraced hills, and vast mountain views, all wrapped up in a tiny geographic package.

The people.

Haitians are beautiful, strong, resilient, and resourceful. They put up with so much and just keep keeping on. Are some corrupt? Yes. Do some steal? Absolutely. It’s because they are people too, just like you and me. They have families that they love, and they have hopes and dreams. They deal with serious issues as best they can, just like everyone else in the world.

Their level of patience and ability to accept whatever situation comes their way is enviable. Those in the developed world complain when they see a bank line with 4-5 people in it. Imagine walking into a bank and seeing 70-80 people in line. If you have a car that seats four comfortably, could you ride two hours with 7-8 people packed in?

As you read this, some of you may say, “I could never do that; thankfully I don’t have to.” There are many Haitian that don’t have to do that either. But if they did, there wouldn’t be complaining. That, my friends, is where the difference is.

Tim and I have some additional thoughts about the negative comments recently talked about in the media.

To our friends who express such righteous outrage, we can’t help but wonder what it is that bothers you most. You can criticize the president for being insensitive and crass, but what is your motivation for defending a country you’ve never been to and/or a culture you don’t understand? If it is rooted in compassion, is there a related action? Some of you are on this journey with us in various ways and for that we thank you. For those who are outraged at the comment, we hope that you will consider visiting/vacationing here.

For the man who made the insensitive remark in the first place, do you realize that parts of America are hurting? I’m not talking about slums in big cities and those with insecurities (please don’t get me started on the whole “food insecurity” thing), but do you really think that those living in Appalachia or on Indian reservations feel that they’ve got it good? The lack of basic resources such as running water and flushing toilets still exists in America.

Have you given any thought to why so many people came to America in the first place? What made it such a melting pot? My heritage is Irish and Tim’s is Norwegian. From what we know about history, those countries were also (bleep) at some point in time.

To our knowledge, President Trump has never visited Haiti. His limited viewpoint is what has been portrayed for decades by the American media and how they present Haiti to Americans. If that was all the information you had then yes, it is a (bleep). It is a country that has seen centuries of oppression followed by corruption and neglect. However, when you live here, when you experience Haiti, it doesn’t take long to recognize the beauty and resilience of her people.

We consider ourselves lucky that we get to live in a twou kaka.

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