As hard as it is to believe, we are celebrating four years in Haiti today. FOUR YEARS. How the heck did that happen? I remember telling people that our move was a step of faith – our Abraham and Isaac moment – to see if we would go. During our interview with Water Project for Haiti, we told the Board of Directors that we would commit to a year, largely because I didn’t think that God would have us here for much longer than that. Silly me.
So much has changed since we said “so long” to our family and friends who gathered at the airport in Harrisburg, PA that fateful Saturday morning. Weddings, funerals, babies, new houses, new cars, new jobs… you get the idea.
Things have changed in Haiti too. With the exception of the director and assistant director of the larger mission where we live and work, everyone on the original team left and new people have come. We said “orevwa” to Latoshia, the Snyders, Randy, Caroline, Donna, and the McIntyres. We said “byenvini” to the Ayers, Hoslers, Carltons, and Sara. The Water Project staff went from three to five to six and then back down to five when one of our techs moved to the U.S. The focus of our work continues to evolve and the worksite itself looks completely different.
Most of this has been blatant, obvious, in-your-face kind of change; the kind that is inevitable in life. But there’s also the kind of change that occurs under the surface. You know in your head that it’s probably there – you hope in your heart that it is – but its subtlety makes it easy to overlook.
A few weeks ago, Tim and I (and thousands of other people) were stuck in a manifestation along the main road in Haiti. It wasn’t our first, and it won’t be our last, but it was, by far, the longest. We spent four hours sitting in the car because the road ahead of us was blocked. Smoke in the rear view mirror told us that tires were burning behind us so turning around wasn’t an option. We heard reports of rocks and gunfire. Things changed in the town we had driven through just minutes before, a town that showed no signs of trouble.
As the day wore on, we noticed a change in the crowd walking along the road. People returning from market and/or Port-au-Prince managed to make it only so far before their tap-taps were blocked, so they continued the journey by foot. Those with backpacks, books, and large baskets of goods on their heads gradually gave way to groups of young men wandering the streets, looking for some excitement in their otherwise dull day.
The sun, which had been high in the sky when we first stopped, started to “go to sleep.” Darkness brings a new kind of danger to any already volatile situation.
Sitting there, unable to go forward, backwards, or even sideways, we did the only thing we could do. We put on some praise and worship music to suppress the growing uneasiness and put out a plea for prayer. Shortly thereafter, the police managed to gain control of the situation. As the sun closed its eyes, we started to move. It was slow, but we were moving. We were, and continue to be, thankful for that change.
A few days ago, school started in Haiti. The opening of school is an interesting process since it takes several weeks for all of the students to show up. You can’t go to school without a uniform, and it costs money to have a uniform made. Parents wait until the last minute to get this done because (1) any money they’ve set aside for this has likely been spent on something else, and (2) if they try to plan ahead and their child grows taller, which children are prone to do, the uniform becomes unusable and the money spent is wasted.
(As an aside, the school uniform also consists of a backpack, socks, close toed shoes, and tame hair. Seriously, if it’s too long or wild, they will send you home. Girls wear barrettes and ribbons in their hair. Boys are required to have a t-shirt and belt.)
As you can imagine, with so many people needing uniforms, everyone waiting until the last minute, and a limited number of tailors available to make them, many uniforms are not ready on the first day of school.
Additionally, parents are required to supply the books for the year based on a list given to them by the school director, which is handed down from the Minister of Education. Again, this is often a last minute project since (1) any money they’ve set aside for this has likely been spent on something else, and (2) if the Minister of Education changes any of the books on the list, what they’ve purchased becomes unusable and the money spent is wasted. Are you seeing a pattern?
Finally, the tuition must be paid, or at least arrangements made to pay for school. If any part of the process is skipped, the kids are sent home.
Over the course of several days, some of the kiddos showed up at our house for first day of school pictures. It was pretty adorable.
Recently, I went with a local teacher/friend to pay the tuition owed to some schools in the area. Having a “blan” there takes the heat off of him. The school directors frequently want more money, more sponsorships, more support, more <insert word here>. Our friend punts to me, I punt to the program director, the program director punts to the board of directors, and then the information path reverses. If the response isn’t favorable, it makes the people who are far away the bad guys rather than the one(s) who live in the community. Plus, I drove and having an air conditioned truck is safer and more comfortable than going by moto.
Over the course of two days, we made 11 stops. Sometimes, I went in; sometimes, I stayed in the car.
As ashamed as I am to admit this, and what prompted me to write this post, is the fact that not once in all of those stops did it occur to me to pray for the school, its teachers, the director, or the students. Not once.
At some of the schools, the kids were so loud that we could barely hear ourselves talk. At others? There was opportunity. It just didn’t occur to me.
That, my friends, is a change I do not like.
At our last stop, the director, who I have prayed for and with in the past said, “let’s pray before you go.” And that he did. He thanked God for the gift of another day. He thanked God for the missionaries and the visitors. He thanked God for the people who signed up to sponsor children in his school which meant money to pay his teachers and make building improvements. He thanked God for protection on the road, and he prayed for strength, because he knew that we had been out and about for nearly four hours.
It was a bittersweet moment. I was so grateful for his prayer, yet ashamed that I had missed the opportunity to do that with others so many times that morning.
Remember that manifestation I mentioned earlier? I bring it up because I want you to check out this short video of little Bethsabe and her family praying for our safety on the way back to Borel from Port-au-Prince. Praying that God would protect us, and that the malefactors and bandits would be brought to justice.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like this is the kind of thing that only happens when you move beyond the superficial layer with people.
When Tim and I signed on for this job, it was a step of faith. We expected to minister to people and pray with and for them. Over the past four years, though, there has been a subtle change that manifests itself in many ways. In the past few months, we’ve seen the change when:
- We have a difficult situation with our WPH staff, and Jonathan prays for God to keep us strong, because we have a choice in where we live, and we choose to live in Haiti.
- We see our friend, Fritz, for the first time after his brother is killed in a car accident, and we sit and cry together.
- Pastor Smyth stops by the house with his son, and he prays for God to bless us so that we can continue to use our resources to help people.
- We meet a young man while on a walk through the farm fields, and in the course of conversation discover that he is the older brother of a friend.
- Pastor Lemaitre comes to visit, and he prays specifically for our family because we are far apart.
- A friend is willing to come by our house and give a cooking lesson because she knows how much Mr. Tim loves food.
- A friend from Rotary calls to check on us, and a family prays for our protection because they know we’re stuck in the middle of a manifestation.
- There’s a gentle knock at the door and we open it to see friends who have come to watch the soccer match on TV.
We hear a lot of short term visitors say things like, “I went to bless, but I’m the one who was blessed.” That is so true, friends, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In four years, we have moved from being one of them, to being one of us. It’s not a complete move – I’m not sure it ever can be – but it’s definitely different.
In four years, we have seen a lot of things that make it easy not to like Haiti – the extreme poverty, violence, corruption, injustice, broken infrastructure, you name it.
In four years, we have seen a lot of things that make Haiti very easy to love.