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A few thoughts . . . from a United Methodist group, whom God is using to make a difference in the lives of others in Haiti.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Drawing to a close...

Are work here is complete. We moved piles of dirt and sifted piles of sand and the project moved forward. The prostate crowed, the mosquitos bit and the noise of the tap taps and diesel trucks never fade. I feel drawn into a place of new understanding, only to realize that there is so much that I will never understand or know.
The last night of the revival was amazing. Asked to preach, I was able to share a message of hope from Colossians. Translated sermons are the best. Although it takes a while to get the timing down, the rhythm and intentionality in every word is like a sifting. Those cultural inclinations that we mistakenly think are part of our lives melt away and only that which is really of God remains. The hope in the people of Carrefour, Haiti can change the world. If people will but realize the immediate and real power that the Holy Spirit can provide in their life through the revelation of who Jesus Christ is and what God has done for them. When our worlds are devastated and shaken and flipped upside down, we must cleave to our hope in Jesus Christ.
Haiti had a proud origin, but has been in a long decline. The project in Haiti must include a recapturing of that Lowry sense of Haitian pride. Today, Haitians leave for New York, Miami, even the Dominican Republic looking for work. Carrefour is in the worst part, even by Haitian standards. Here in the midst of such desolate and devastating poverty, a flower must bloom. The Methodist church in Carrefour has the potential to fulfill the vision of their revival they can be a church filled with the love of God for a hurting and broken world.
I knew that I would be changed by my experience here. I knew that God would amaze me through the experience. I've learned to submit my will to God's and be open to what may happen. But, during my prayer last night, I had a clear calling to a Doctorate in Ministry in Missiology, specifically a study of how cooperative missions with indigenous Methodist churches can lead to regional transformation. The experience has moved me so profoundly that it will become a part of my life's work.
I thank God and praise his eternal name for allowing me to be transformed by the hope I've found in the people of Haiti.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Caribbean

The Caribbean is amazing. I never knew that there were so many shades of blue. The sky and water seem to meet in amazing symphony of radiant blue that plays with the rays of the sun in a way that makes them sparkle. As you look in the distance, the mountains rise in all directions through the haze of the distance.
It is hard to believe that the beauty of this place coexists unforgivingly with it's poverty. It is a world of extremes. Beautiful scenery in an amazing location, but with such crippling poverty and lack of industry.
Wading through water that was up to our neck, we could still see our feet. I have never been in a sea that is so clear. We could see the jellyfish coming close to us and get out of there way. Impossible to do on the muddy waters I grew up in. We were the only blancs at the beach. In fact, we've been the only whites that I have seen on the trip. We saw UN forces here. The tanks on the street could not be photographed and the helicopters flew often. But, they were from Bangladesh. The security scene is completely different than in the United States. There is almost no presence, but the ones you see have body armor and machine guns and look equipped for riot control. Yet, our encounters with Hatians on this trip to the beach were incredibly positive. However, we left one enclosed compound for another.
One other interesting thing happened today. The Hatians in the compound did not call me you anymore. They all referred to me as pastor Brad. Something changed after the sermon.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A broken heart

We are not allowed to give the children money, water, or food. We have a limited supply ourselves. We are giving them the gift of sanitation for the whole community, the showers and toilets here will be for the surrounding hillside, not just the school. But, how many children and grown men can you see explaining to your that they hungry and thirsty before your heart bursts? One child asked us for a drink and said, "I am dead."
It is hard to get used to the poverty. Port au Prince is the New York of Haiti. As much as one half of the population lives in Port au Prince. So, they have a cultural pushiness and survival bravado here that reminds one of New Yorkers. But, the human tragedy is real. People are dying and the tent cities offer no protection from the elements as hurricane season approaches. Housing, jobs, electricity, education, where do you start?
I believe that you have to start with the hope we find in Jesus Christ. I believe that a powerful movement of the spirit is needed to move this nation forward. I believe that only the God who created the earth can redeem Haiti and provide a path forward.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Strategy?

I find myself stuck mentally and emotionally as our work continues here in Haiti. We are engaged in something important here. We are providing sanitation to a school and finding ways that we can meaningfully minister to one hundred children who are living in the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere. As if their situation was not bad enough, Haiti is recovering from one of the most horrific natural disasters in history. 800,000 people still live in tents a year after the earthquake. So, helping this school is very important work and providing sanitation essential.
But, while progress is made on this small project, it feels insignificant. My mind wrestles with how I can make a more strategic impact. How can I not ask why such horrible poverty exists? A famous quote is that if you feed someone you are a saint, but if you ask why they are hungry you are a radical or even worse a communist. I'm neither. But, how can I live amongst such startling poverty and not question the systems that create such human disparity? How can I not ask questions about America's complicity with the oppressive regimes of Haiti?
The church is acting, but our action is like spitting in the sea. The depth of the problem is so massive and our contribution so small. If we used but one tenth of the money spent on buildings in the Texas Annual Conference, we could transform a nation like Haiti. Again, don't get me wrong, I'm not against buildings that are used to teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, I'm just for real transformative discipleship. If I can sit in one of those buildings and never feel compelled to help change the world around us, never ask why so much of the world does not have clean water and electricity, something is wrong. If in the opulence we lose sight of Christ's love for the poor, the suffering, and the captive, we have become blind. The log in our own eye has become too big. May God restore our sight and give us hope!
The people here are so hard working. Why are 60% unemployed? How can jobs and industry be created to help build an economy in Haiti? Former President Clinton was here this week as part of the relief efforts. We heard the helicopters. I hope that he is asking the same questions. I guess my troubles is that I don't see a strategy. Wineva explained that UMViM has one for Haiti for the next thirty years. I need to find out what it is and how I become a part of it. Although I which I was a great worker, I can be more help to Haiti strategically. I need to find out how.
Restoring the churches and schools to facilitate education and economic development seems essential. I'll continue learning more.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rocks, pebbles, and sand....

We spent the day sifting rocks, pebbles, and sand for concrete. Melting in the sauna like conditions, each of us took turns sifting through the dirt. Rocks are everywhere in Haiti, but we had special loads trucked in for us to sift. One group was sifting through the coarser sand, getting the rocks out of the sand and pebbles. The next group then sorted the sand from the pebbles. Finishing concrete can only have the finest sand in it to allow it to spread the smoothest. The finish work of the Latrine requires the finest sand. But, all of the rocks, pebbles, and sand will be used in this project. Each plays their role.
The temptation to make a parable out of the sorting is great. Even Laura mentioned, that there must be a sermon in there somewhere. But, the are just sand, pebbles, and rocks. The sermon is in the love of people from thousands of miles away who would give of their time and money to make Haitian jobs and strive to re-present the love of Christ to the church and school in Haiti.
Lord, we each play our role. Lord, you are the master sifter. Sort us and arrange us and then use us to your service. Put us to work for your good purpose and empower us to be your people. Break down the walls of our ignorance and indifference to the suffering of our neighbors and help us to love and live out of your abundant grace!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Worship in Haiti

There is a revival underway at the Methodist church in Carrefour. After a half day of travel and setting up camp, the music started. The music moved with such a power that I was drawn to it like a fly to sugar. I had to see the experience that I could hear so clearly. I found myself weeping at the beauty of it. The power of the Spirit to transform even the despair of the Hatian disaster into the hopeful song of God's transforming power. The children, so many children, sang the songs of hope for a future better than the squalor of today.
I simply had no idea how bad things here are. Even as I write this, I realize that the small court yard I'm sitting in has literally half a dozen or more people sleeping in every shadow. They simply have no home. Everything they had, which likely wasn't much, is gone. They are reduced to seeking refuge in the courtyard of a church. May God provide a safe refuge for them! My mind could have never imagined a humanitarian crisis on a scale this great. There are no FEMA trailers here, only cities of tents as far as the eye can see. The cries of infants in the early morning hours and the sounds of diesel motors for those privileged enough to have work.
The power of their worship comes out of a desperate need for God's intervention into the hell of their lives. May I never complain about anything again. Ever!
And yet, in worship, they seem more blessed than I. The love and grace of God at work in people's lives was amazing. the songs and the sermon placed let me see the Spirit at work. In the desert of despair blooms a flower of hope. Will I be able to join God's effort to restore Haiti? Can I find away to give more of my money and time to help alleviate the suffering of Haitians? How can I become informed enough to help these people and join God's response to their faithfulness? What will my worship be?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Melting away

It is hot. And, hot all of the time. There is no central air-conditioning here to allow a break. But, that's okay. So, you sweat all night and sleep above your covers, but that's ok. It is hot.
You can literally feel your body melting away as you sweat at night, but it felt to me that my sin was melting away as well. Less than twenty-four hours in Haiti and I can already feel my self-absorption disappearing. Freed from anything close to my normal comfort zone, I have become totally dependent on God. My prayers are continuous and I feel the presence of the Spirit.
The people seem somehow larger here. Without the media onslaught and consumerist cultural barrage, the people on the journey with me and those who speak with the muted sounds of Creole French seem larger. As I melt away and give myself for others. God seems larger. The smiles and joy seem happier. We are all sweating, we are all tired, and we are all way beyond our comfort zones. But, that is why we came.
I can't wait to meet the children in Carrefour and the workers there.
It is hot, but that's okay.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How to describe the indescribable...

 

Tom, the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Coordinator for Haiti, just explained to Laura and I that Carrefour, where we will be for the remainder of the week is poor and dirty, even by Hatian standards. Yet, in the midst of this, I can sense God's movement through the United Methodist School there. I am excited about what we will find in the vibrance of life there. Each of us on this trip will create four jobs for Hatians. So, our presence here does make a difference, no matter how little we accomplish.
One of the real differences between Haiti and Texas is population density. Houston or Dallas never rise above 10,000 people per square mile. All of Haiti's cities surpass this level. Making matters worse, no fewer than eight hundred thousand people remain living in tent cities. Many estimates place that number still over one million. The need is staggering.
We witnessed these tent cities everywhere. Again, it is simply impossible to overstate the challenges facing Haiti. I feel so blessed to be here. God uses the supposedly simple to shame the supposedly wise!
Because, in the midst of this mess, God's creative power is working to bring hope to the lost and salvation to those who despair. Lord, transform me into and instrument of your grace and an ambassador of you love. Move my mind to new ways of thinking, bend my will to thine. Show me your movement in this place Lord. Let me see your face in those I have come to serve in your holy and precious name.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The tap tap...

The tap tap is an amazing innovation of third world transportation. I first heard about tap taps during the World Cup coverage from South Africa. A tap tap allows persons to cheaply move around the city. It's kind of like a taxi without the personalized treatment. The ten of us on the mission team survived the chaos of the Port Au Prince airport, which deserves an article of it's own. Don't let the band in the terminal fool you. It is a competitive market for carrying our bags. Literally dozens of working age men begging to help you get your bags out of the airport. Luckily, we had Jackson. Jackson met us outside of customs and arranged our tap tap. Unlike the other tap taps, ours was larger and ready just for us.
Most of the tap taps we saw along the way were small and very colorful. Overloaded with riders, they would have been very dangerous if the roads were any better. But, the roads were so difficult and congested that I'm not sure we ever travelled faster than the speedway race cars at the Magic Kingdom. Winding, climbing, and descending, the back of even a nice tap tap twists and turns more than Space Mountain.
But, there is no magic in this kingdom. The poverty is shocking. I've been to Mexico, but nothing like this. The idleness, the despair. So many buildings are still in states of collapse from the earthquake of almost a year ago. Simply mind boggling. The guest house is like an oasis. Not by American standards, but by what we witnessed on our ascent it is luxurious. I am excited about the awareness God is growing in me and the presence of the Spirit with our team. I look forward to tomorrow and what our journey holds.
Oh, why are they called tap taps? That's because you hit the side loudly when you're ready to get off. Tap tap... Time for me to get out and walk....

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Without power...

Today, Laura and I are preparing to embark on a mission trip to Haiti. As we prepare, my thoughts race to recent mission activities that I have participated in and my role as the pastor of St. Paul UMC in Bridge City, Texas. This past spring, as part of a group of those ordained this year, I went on a mission team to the border with the bishop and cabinet. I was asked to give the first devotional. It was a little intimidating. I prayed for the right words to help the team, but I could not get the vanity of our efforts out of my mind. How would our team make a difference? I was struggling with my thoughts. I had a text and a good quote from Dietrich Bonhoefer. But, something was missing from what I had prepared. As I got dressed, an unnoticed note from my daughter fell out of my folded shirt. It read, "dear Daddy I hope that you have fun working on houses, then houses was crossed out and stuff written above, with the bishop. I hope they know how very important you are. You are a nice Daddy and a good pastor. I love you!". It was a great letter and the first multi sentence letter that Kate had written me. But, she had misspelled important. It instead read as I hope they know how impotent you are. Wow! What a word of truth. Impotent - without power! Me and the entire team were without power. We would not make the difference, God would make the difference. The power of the Holy Spirit would transform our impotence to display God's power. This morning, as I'm away from St. Paul at a wedding in San Antonio, I have no power to change the pre-work I did to prepare the congregation for my ten day absence. I can only have faith that God's power will be displayed through the lay leadership of the church. Likewise, as I prepare to depart for Carrefour, Haiti tomorrow, I know that my gifts are not in cinder block construction. I place my whole trust in the risen Lord! In the power of the Holy Spirit, I will proceed boldly. May God bless our efforts beyond our understanding.