The soul quickens at hearing what it didn’t know it already knew.
— Gregory Boyle, Tattoos of the Heart
I love this quote, as I can totally relate to exactly what Boyle is describing. I have come to refer to such revelatory adventures as “Yes!” moments. Most always, unearthing the treasures that trigger them sends me back to my Bible, the Spirit illuminating the Word from a slightly different angle, perhaps revealing hitherto unseen facets, nudging me toward an understanding closer to the reality of my own experience, reminding me of what I already knew. For as C.S. Lewis put it in his masterful apologetic work, Mere Christianity,
We need to be reminded more than instructed.
The quotes I cite here were such for me— reminders— and characteristically I squirreled them away in the notepad that always stands ready in my MacBook’s dock. As I winged my way back to Canada, hunting for something to agreeably while away my time in the confinement of my airplane seat, I delved into that trove. As I was idly leafing through its familiar contents, it occurred to me it would be fitting to share my bounty with you, for “wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is hoarded up, what profit is in them both” (Ecclesiasticus 20:30). Perhaps a few of these meaty morsels will spawn “Yes!” moments for you as well. Perhaps they might even provoke you to search out one or two of the books I mention.
Richard Frechette, in his book Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men, speaks very simply of progressively allowing the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to permeate our lives.
Everyone makes their own decision during the course of their life as to how deep in the heart one lets his Word enter.
If we want, [the] sacred heart beats first next to ours, then with ours, and then in ours.
Although I have come upon the following quotation many, many times on the Internet, none of the writers cited it properly, so I am unsure of its source. I do know, however, that these words of Brennan’s are a prelude to dc Talk’s song What If I Stumble.)
The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
— Brennan Manning
Amen. Some don’t even make it to the door to do so. In his epistle, James speaks to this:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:14-24 NIV)
As I recently watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure, a singular remark jumped out at me. A pensive Gandalf affirms to Galadriel:
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay… simple acts of kindness and love.”
Anyone who does not believe God speaks through popular culture has blinders on in my opinion. By the way, in case you were unaware, J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, was a contemporary and close friend of C.S. Lewis, and was instrumental in Lewis’ conversion to Christianity.
Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue, of sighs more than words, of faith more than discourse. The eloquence of prayer consists in the fervency of desire, and the simplicity of faith, and in the earnestness and perseverance of charity. The abundance of fine thoughts, studied and vehement motions, and the order and politeness of the expressions, are things which compose a mere human harangue, not an humble and Christian prayer. Our trust and confidence ought to proceed from that which God is able to do in us, and not from that which we can say to him.
This quote, in edited form, is often attributed to Adam Clark, the 18th century British Methodist theologian, but is in reality from The Gospels: With Moral Reflections on Each Verse by Pasquier Quesnel, a 17th century French Jansenist theologian. This quotation brought to mind Paul’s words from his letter to the Romans:
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. (Romans 8:26-28, The Message)
Our God is greater than our own heart and mind, and too easily we are tempted to make our heart’s desires and our mind’s speculations into the will of God.
— Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
How sad it is that so many try to stuff God into a tight little box of their making.
We’ve just forgotten that we belong to one another.
— Mother Teresa
This diminutive self-effacing Albanian woman, with the Lord for more than 15 years now, continues to be a fountain of deep, simple wisdom and inspiration for me.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” To me, this is an entirely inadequate definition. I believe true compassion goes beyond sympathy, beyond empathy.
The following lines from Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle come far closer to how I understand compassion.
Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals.
Compassion is always, at it’s most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.
Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.
As I looked back on the excerpts I selected for this post, I noted something that is at least interesting, if not significant: every one of the writers, save Lewis, is Catholic. I find their writings, far from being “dangerous” and/or “leading me astray” as those who advocate religious prophylaxis would exhort, add textures and colours to my personal beliefs that I long felt were missing, though at the time I didn’t know enough to know what I did not know. As Protestants we should never lose sight of the fact that our roots are grounded in Catholicism. Where we disagree, we can disagree. But let us not misguidedly throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When the title for this post occurred to me, it immediately headed me off on one of my bookish rabbit trails. When Eight Miles High, the 1966 classic by the American rock band The Byrds, was released, I remember it immediately setting off a firestorm of controversy, one that occasionally ignites spotfires yet today. Some vociferously contended the lyrics were about recreational drug use, while the band claimed the song was about an airline flight to London—“rain gray town, known for its sound”. The brouhaha resulted in the song being banned from many US radio stations, and ultimately not achieving the billboard ratings I thought at the time it deserved.
I see that controversy as analogous to many of the disputes over biblical interpretation. Those who are fond of prooftexting and eisegesis—reading their own biases into a text—rather than exegesis—objectively working outward from the text to determine what it is really saying—often muddy the waters of understanding, inevitably producing a quarrel that is no sooner laid to rest than some misguided soul picks up a shovel and disinters it.
It has long been my contention that when approaching the Bible one must always keep in mind the whole story (see my March 2, 2013 post, The True Never Ending Story).
I close with what is to me a comforting statement, again from Brennan Manning, from The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up and Burnt Out. I suspect some will consider it irreverent, and perhaps adamantly disagree with it, though the Bible, in my opinion, confirms it.
Those who have the disease called Jesus will never be cured.
|The most popular motorcycle in the world is the Honda Super Cub, by far the best-selling vehicle in the history of the internal combustion engine. In 2008, the 60 millionth Cub was sold. Although it has not been available in the US or Canada since 1983, today assembly plants can be found in 15 countries and dealers in 160.
The Cub is the “motocyclette” of choice in Haiti, accounting for most of Haiti’s half-million motorized two-wheelers. In rural areas the 125cc bikes from Chinese manufacturers, particularly Haojin, are preferred for their greater power, speed and carrying capacity as well as their superior comfort on longer trips, but in urban areas, although more expensive than the bigger Chinese bikes, the venerable Cub reigns supreme. Saint-Marc, where we have our school, is notorious for the number of motos, as they are referred to here, on its streets. In an early blog post I compared the city to an anthill; I still think the analogy is fitting.
There are a number of good reasons for the choice. First, the Cub provides a lot of bang for the buck. Dealers here push out reconditioned ones for about $1200 (new Honda’s can be found in Port-au-Prince). Extremely economical to operate, the little 49cc four-stroke engine squeezes in excess of 150 miles out of a gallon of gas, (64 km/L for metric thinkers). With the price at the pump remaining steady since I arrived in Haiti at about $5.00 per US gallon, that works out to 3.3 cents per mile. Highly reliable, and with minimal maintenance demands, the Cub is inexpensive and easy to keep running. For times when work is needed, Honda made it simple to take apart and reassemble, using very few bolt sizes. Although modifications have been made to keep up with advancing technology, the basic design hasn’t changed since it was introduced in 1958, making it realistic for dealers to stock every part an owner might need. And since there are so many around, it’s always possible to save a bit by cannibalizing a wrecked machine for parts. Furthermore, the Cub is virtually indestructible. Even if poorly maintained, it will keep going though everything on it is technically broken.
The little bike takes minimal effort to start and is a snap to ride—step through frame, large tires, no clutch. A few minutes practice and one is ready to hit the road. And when one does head out on what passes for roads in many parts of Haiti, the Cub’s design makes it ideal. The air filter is high, keeping it out of the dust, and the engine can take a dunking and keep going. The 17-inch wheels and soft springing make it rider-friendly on rough terrain. And although the little bike only has three gears, the transmission is well adapted to conditions here. Second is ideal for zipping through traffic, third can wind the Cub up to 43 mph (nearly 70 km/h), and first, although very slow, enables the bike to climb all but the steepest slopes, even when carrying ridiculous loads. If one encounters a complete impasse, the bike is light enough (around 70 kg or 150 lb.) to lift and carry to negotiable terrain. In the event of loss of the kick-start lever, the Cub can be push-started.
By far the majority of riders of these machines are young men, some who appear to me to be young enough to still need training wheels. Many have no driver’s license, and few of their bikes are registered. Displaying the bravado and sense of invulnerability that comes with immaturity, they routinely ignore all the rules of the road, including speed limits, keeping to the right, signalling their intentions, and obeying stop lights or stop signs. They pass vehicles on either side, ignoring oncoming traffic. When they pull away from the curb or enter from a side street, they often do so without looking. They refuse to yield the right-of-way to anyone or anything, be they pedestrian or a semi-trailer. They jury-rig radios to their bikes and play them at high volume or listen to music through ear buds, masking traffic sounds. They follow only inches behind other vehicles and regularly bunch up, traveling in “packs”, the machines almost touching one another (and sometimes colliding). Sudden U-turns through traffic are common. They weave in and out between larger vehicles, taking ridiculous chances and risking life and limb, both their own and their passengers’. Few drivers wear helmets, and none provide them for their passengers.
Most motorcycle drivers display contempt for pedestrians. Demonstrating their sense of entitlement to wherever they choose to drive, they charge through the crowded market, horn blaring, forcing everyone to dive for cover. It is not uncommon for pedestrians to be clipped by a handlebar of a bike whose driver needlessly crowds them. A couple of weeks ago, as I was crossing to the school, an approaching driver actually veered across the empty street to cut between me and the curb just as I was about to step onto the sidewalk, then returned to his own side of the road. Searching for fares, moto drivers tend to congregate in areas of heavy pedestrian activity, angling their bikes every which way, effectively blocking traffic. “Excuse me,” typically precipitates blank stares, but no movement. Drivers frequently block the path of pedestrians, trying to convince them to ride. Many times I have found myself muttering under my breath as some moto driver has for no explicable reason cut across my path only to stop in front of me, giving me a look that declares the self-imposed superiority he has no doubt learned from watching rap videos, an impression reinforced by his nylon-stocking do-rag, the heavy chains around his neck and his mirrored aviator-style sunglasses.
Any motorcycle is inherently more dangerous that a larger vehicle, and the condition of many of the bikes exacerbates the problem. Many are poorly maintained. Most I see in Saint-Marc have no functional signal lights or taillight. Some have no headlight. But that doesn’t stop them from being on the streets after dark. Speedometers are almost always disconnected, so that if the owner decides to sell his bike, no one will know it has a bazillion miles on it. Tires are patched and repatched, many worn bald. Mirrors are missing or broken. Brakes are sometimes worn to the point of being only marginally effective. Haitians are experts at MacGyvering, and bikes often have makeshift repairs. So many times Haitian repairs have called to mind this old Herman cartoon.
I don’t mean to imply that every moto driver is an irresponsible jerk. I have traveled with many very courteous and careful chauffeurs who took pains to ensure that I arrived at my destination safely and comfortably. Many take very good care of their machines, respecting the large investment (in Haitian terms) and source of revenue they represent. It’s just easier to remember the irresponsible jerks.
The drivers of cars, trucks and buses make it treacherous for the bikes. In an argument between a motorbike and another vehicle, the motorbike will always come out the loser. Larger vehicles routinely use intimidation to maintain momentum, taking advantage of their size to drive down the center of the streets, forcing the drivers of smaller vehicles to the side. As soon as traffic slows, some drivers pull out to pass regardless of oncoming traffic. Moto drivers squeeze through any available opening in the resulting traffic snarls. When traffic starts to move again, the bikes risk being sandwiched between larger vehicles.
Adding to the danger is the condition of many of Saint-Marc’s streets. Almost all are extremely rough, have broken pavement, huge potholes, or even open manholes. The highway that serves as the city’s main street drops sharply into very unforgiving ditches. There being few sidewalks, crowds of people mill along the sides of the streets, often darting across through traffic. Wheelbarrows and makeshift carts compete for the space. Goats, pigs and dogs wander into the streets. Tap taps double park to offload passengers. Stalled or broken down vehicles sometimes sit for days blocking lanes. Construction crews dump stone, gravel or other materials on the streets. Canals, unable to cope with the runoff from rains, overflow onto the streets, dropping piles of mud and garbage in their wake. It is often weeks before it gets cleaned up, and with subsequent rains the street becomes a slippery morass. Very few intersections are controlled. Few streets are lit at night.
All this being said, many motorbike operators provide an essential service. Without them, many in Haiti, myself included, would have a very hard time getting around. Moto-taxis are the only means of public transportation in most parts of Haiti’s cities and many rural areas. They offer affordable service (50 cents for a trip from one end of Saint-Marc to the other, 25 cents from downtown to most areas) and are quite willing to carry more than one passenger (my personal sighting record is seven). The drivers are fiercely competitive and swarm every tap tap that stops, jockeying for position, hoping to find a fare. They carry all manner of people’s possessions and purchases—baskets and sacks of produce, 20-foot lengths of rebar, 100-pound propane bottles and the occasional queen-sized mattress. I once saw a bike hauling a large freezer. Chickens, pigs and goats are frequent riders.
A moto-taxi can provide a modest income in Haiti; I know chauffeurs who by really hustling routinely make 300 gourdes ($7.50) a day. Even if one does not own a bike, an owner can often be found who will hire a driver to keep his bike on the road and generating revenue.
I could never have imagined, seeing my first little Honda when I was in grade school, that more than fifty years later and five and a half thousand kilometers from home, someone on one of those bikes would still be saying to me, “I’ll take you anywhere you want me to.”
Like many who come to serve the Lord in Haiti, I find my role constantly evolving. My work at the COPSA-Haiti Nursing School and Laboratory, providing well-trained nurses in the Artibonite at the lowest cost possible, continues to be the primary focus of my ministry. The English classes I now teach on weekends, my secondary focus of late, are an anomaly here, as I do not charge for participation. These classes provide an excellent vehicle for me to discuss spiritual matters with people here, and connect with the lives of those in my community.
But I also have a broad and ever-growing unintentional ministry in my community. The Spirit often speaks from my heart, urging me to be sensitive of the needs of the people with whom I live and respond whenever I can. As a result I often find myself in the role of ‘first responder’—providing emergency aid until a more comprehensive solution can be developed—helping to pay school fees for those for whom no other option seems available, providing a bit of cash for food or sharing my meals with those who have nothing to eat, replacing footwear that is in tatters, covering hospital fees and medications for those without means, providing help to obtain needed personal documents, lending out my tools, sharing my precious water with my neighbours when they have none, helping people access their Facebook pages or compose emails in English to friends in Canada or the US, or simply allowing others to charge their phones in my home .
I make it very clear to all here that my personal resources are very limited, that I cannot meet every need no matter how legitimate, and that I do not brook freeloaders gracefully. God has provided me with a few close friends who know the situation of most in our community, and more and more I have come to trust their judgment in assessing level of need. But sometimes doing things for those whose purpose is to take advantage of me softens their hearts. I have come to believe more and more that there are no ‘bad’ people in this world (how can anyone of God’s creation be bad?), only people whose souls have been distorted by the darkness of this world. Through the power of love that God provides me I try to do what I can to restore light to those souls. Helping the ‘undeserving’ (there are none) often also speaks to others who are aware of what has happened. I have also learned that whatever I give, God gives back, often in unexpected ways, so that I never go without anything I need.
As some of you know, asking for money is my least favourite part of my ministry. I am in total agreement with the sentiments of Richard Frechette, a missionary who has worked in the slums of Port-au-Prince for many years, when he wrote in his book Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men that having to raise money for one’s ministry is “the most sinful waste of time”. The Bible speaks at length about supporting the work of God. It should not be necessary to add to that. Indeed the Lord provides, but most often He does that through His people.
That said, as reluctant as I am to do so, I feel I must ask. The Lord has quietly put on my heart some specific needs and I feel His urging to make others aware of them.
As I wrote in Something New at Somewhere ‘Old’, (April 30, 2013), Pastor Job and the people of L’Èglise de Dieu Maranatha de Vielle (The Vielle Church of God Maranatha) have outgrown their church building and wish to relocate to a more accessible location. The church is seeking $1600 to assist them to purchase the land for the new building and to begin construction. Pastor Job has humbly requested my help, and on Sunday delivered an official document on church letterhead, signed and sealed, authorizing me to act in the capacity of fundraiser.
Pastor Frito at L’Èglise Corps du Christ (The Church on the Corridor, May 6, 2013) envisions a kitchen building where it would be easier to prepare meals for the children of his orphanage and where they could all sit down to eat together. He would like to buy a small piece of land adjoining the church to build the kitchen. He would also like to see their church building completed. When I questioned him concerning the cost, he told me the land purchase and construction of the kitchen would be about $2000, and completely finishing the church would run about $10,000. While I believe that completing the church building would certainly be desirable, both the pastor and I consider the kitchen far more important. I would also consider funds to properly furnish the children’s rooms a priority.
I have in the past mentioned the needs of our nursing school in Saint-Marc. I would now like to frame my request more concretely. Some of our students are at risk of being unable to complete their courses for financial reasons. Some of those involved in the school’s administration, especially Dr. Felix, have reached into their pockets to help a few. Presently the doctor is working in a hospital in Port-au-Prince to have more money to help more. I see his efforts as laudable, but his absence from the school is a serious detriment. But without outside assistance, the choice always comes down to losing some students or losing the school. Consequently, some of our students will inevitably fall by the wayside, their opportunity to make a better life for themselves, their families, and the people and communities whom they would serve in a nursing career, will be lost. To me, that would be a crushing tragedy.
The doctor and I agonized over selecting just two students to present to you from among the many in need. As is so often the case in Haiti, it is heart wrenching to be able to only help a few.
Schneider Hyacinthe is a 20 year-old second-year nursing student at COPSA-Haiti Nursing School and Laboratory. He lives with his widowed mother and four younger siblings, two brothers and two sisters, in the community of Pont Tambour on the west side of Saint-Marc. His mother works a small garden to try to support her family, but her meagre income makes it a huge financial burden to the family to have Schneider attend our school. With the steadily rising cost of living in Haiti, it is unlikely that he will be able to complete his studies without financial assistance. Schneider hopes to find employment in a hospital or with a medical organization when he graduates. He is anxious to be able help his mother support the family.
Fabienne Charles, 23, is also a second-year nursing student at our school. She lives with her older sister, both her parents being deceased. Her uncle has assisted her to pursue her education, but is finding it difficult to continue as he has three growing children of his own to support. Fabienne is presently leaning toward the social work aspects of nursing as her chosen career.
At today’s exchange rate, the yearly tuition for a nurse at our school is slightly more than $400 Canadian.
I pray that I will find others whom the Lord will lead to join me in these efforts. If He speaks to your heart, you may contact me by clicking on the “Leave a Comment” that appears at the bottom of this blog post.
All is in His hands. He is the reason.
This Sunday I was again a guest at a Haitian church. Pastor Frito Ferdinand from L’Église Corps du Christ (Body of Christ Church) where I teach my English class Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, invited me to attend. The church is a busy place, serving as a community center on the corridor. People from the community are welcome to use the building as they need. I personally have seen a music class that takes place there weekly, and several ladies’ groups involved in various activities. Food for the Poor, a charitable organization, used to bring food and clothing to the church for the pastor to distribute in the community, but their support has fallen off and they have been unable to continue this work.
I have come to know Pastor Frito as a dedicated and generous man. He operates an orphanage out of the church, caring for 20 children. Most have no parents, but as is typical in Haiti, a few of the “orphans” are from families who cannot support them. He finances this on his own, without outside help. The children are well cared for and happy, but the pastor has not been unable to provide beds for all, some sleeping on mattresses on the floor. The children have just two small bedrooms, one for the boys and one for the girls. The younger children attend school at the church, being taught by the pastor’s wife and another teacher. The pastor pays for the fifteen older children to attend schools in the surrounding communities. A few of the older children attend my English classes, and I have found them to be excellent students.
The church building is not completed. It is basically a rough concrete-block shell without windows or doors, started several years ago. This past March a missionary I know who has been in Haiti many years donated the metal roof. The floor is rough dirt. Presently it is piled with gravel awaiting screening by hand to sizes needed for various concrete mixes, bags of cement, lumber, plywood and scaffolding that are being used for current construction, parging the front interior wall behind the platform and the rear exterior of the church. The benches are of rough wood, and are augmented by some old plastic and chrome school desks, most missing their seats. There is no electricity for lights or fans, but there is a “kit”, a rented battery that can be taken to be recharged as needed, to power the sound system.
Before the service started Pastor Frito invited me to the “upper room” to share breakfast with him. Since I had already eaten, I passed on the popular Haitian breakfast of oily spaghetti slathered with ketchup and mayonnaise, and instead enjoyed slices of fresh pineapple and bananas. We then went down to the sanctuary where I was seated with the elders on the platform.
About 60 people attended the morning’s service. The church’s style leans toward the Pentecostal, heavy on ecstatic experience. Accompanied by a small band, a tiny choir led the singing, each song starting off in a subdued manner and working toward a crescendo that was jubilant, combined with spirited clapping and lively dancing. The Lord was truly celebrated. It was fun to join in, and it was obvious that the congregation was delighted that I did.
The pastor had me speak briefly to the people; I thanked them for allowing me to share in their worship, and spoke about how as Christians we are blessed to be able to find brothers and sisters most anywhere in the world. The pastor then went into a rather lengthy discourse on just about everything he knew about me. He then added his rather scathing opinion of those Haitians who treat foreigners in a less than respectful manner.
Pastor Frito’s preaching was stentorian and very animated. By the time he closed his sermon, his shirt was soaked with perspiration. As he selected scriptural passages, one of the men on the platform would read the text and the pastor would expound upon it. His theme for the day was baptism of the Holy Spirit. Following the message members of the congregation asked questions to clarify points for themselves. Pastor Frito’s brother, whom I have known since coming to Haiti and who speaks English fairly well, sat beside me to provide translation when needed. But the pastor tends to speak very clearly, and by following the texts in my bible I was able to understand almost all he said.
When the service ended, many in the congregation came to say a few words to me and to shake my hand, or more often than not, give me warm hugs. The children gathered for me to take pictures, both all together and in little groups of friends.
I was again ushered upstairs where a few of the ladies served a bountiful lunch for the church leadership. Included were many of the Haitian staples—rice with bean sauce, chicken drumsticks, Haitian potato salad, fried bananas (I had never had these before; they were delicious!), and of course pikliz. The food was accompanied by iced limeade. I learned that this shared meal takes place as funds allow, at times involving the entire congregation. I was served first and told to begin, but I replied I would prefer to wait until everyone was served so we could eat together. This met with enthusiastic approval. After the meal one of the men drove me home on his motorcycle.
As I did in Vielle the previous week, I felt very accepted by this church. The people were very friendly, and many wanted to know when I would join them again. They will be very high on my list of priorities when I return to Haiti in the fall.
On Sunday I was invited to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations of the church in Vielle (old in French), in the mountains east of Pierre Payen. Their pastor, Job Mervil, is one of the students in my English class. Several others from Vielle also attend.
Pastor Job is an affable young man, always cheerful and enthusiastic. He always makes me feel he is truly delighted to see me. He is one of my favourite students, although almost all are a pleasure. He is always early and always sits at the front. He, however, is the one for whom English pronunciation comes hardest, and even his best attempts are thickly accented. The ‘R’ sound, rare in Creole—most often being replaced with a ‘W’ in words borrowed from the French, or if present, hardly pronounced at all—is almost beyond him. Occasionally he can get it after several tries, but no sooner does he achieve it than it again eludes him. ‘TH’ also gives him difficulty, although I can far more easily demonstrate the tongue-between-the-teeth necessary to produce that sound, and although it does not come naturally, through much hard work he is mastering it.
I knew virtually nothing about the village of Vielle except that it was some distance away. Mention of going there got me responses from many as if I were suggesting venturing to the dark side of the moon. My moto headed out through the market, just beginning to come to life, and a couple of kilometers further through the dappled morning light of the corridor, across the river and past Corps du Christ church where I hold my classes. A few kilometers further we turned off the road and onto a trail that drops down to the Pierre Payen River. Bumping along the stony riverbed for some distance, we crossed through the river several times. Reaching the foot of the mountains, we began to climb.
From that point there is nothing one would call a road, only a narrow track that accommodates foot traffic, donkeys and the occasional motorcycle. The trail was so steep at times I had to dismount and scramble up on foot, as the bike couldn’t handle the ascent with a passenger. After several of these climbs in the already intense morning sun, I was breathing heavily and damp with perspiration. Further up, the trail narrowed at times to a ledge less than two feet wide, in places its edge precipitously dropping off several hundred feet. But despite this, my driver being very cautious, it was a comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable trip with the incredible views the mountains afford.
After about an hour, the church came into view against a backdrop of denuded mountains, the vivid blue of the tarp extending from its near side standing out in the distance. A short time later my driver let me know he had come as far as he could. Between the church and me was the river gorge, at that point hundreds of feet deep. Gingerly edging my way down the bank, I reached the fast-flowing crystal clear water and located a place where I could jump from stone to stone to reach the other side. A fall would not have been disastrous as the river is only a couple of feet deep, and the water here is bathtub warm. But I had no desire to show up at the church wringing wet.
Pastor Job had seen my approach and had come down to the river to meet me. He led me up the steep path, and I finally arrived at the church. Had I made my own way, I might have chosen the wrong path, as the church was invisible until we reached the top. It is a small concrete block and stone building with a tin roof, with the tarp that stood out in the distance as protection from the sun on one side. Several people were already sitting in its shade and greeted me as I arrived. A number of benches were set out under it. At the back of the church was a porch of woven palm fronds over a frame of poles, where several closely spaced low benches were arrayed.
After a few introductions the pastor invited me to his home. The house is tiny and crudely built of soil cement, the walls crumbling in places to open large gaps. The roof of rusted corrugated metal is riddled with holes. The doors and door frames are constructed of pit-sawn lumber. The earth floor is rough and rocky. I was invited into the crowded back room where I was offered a bit of food and a drink. We talked a while and Pastor Job showed me the documentation for the nutritional health program he operates, caring for 20 orphans in the village. The children are housed by village families or sleep in the church.
As the service was about to begin, we headed for the church. An attendant removed the crossed poles that barred the door to allow us to enter. (I have wondered at the practice of many Haitian churches to guard the doors.) Accorded the status of honoured guest, I was seated on the platform at the front along with the elders. Immediately one of the women in the choir, evident in their monochromic attire of blue skirts, blouses and headdresses, brought her baby for me to hold. The little girl, dressed in a frothy white dress with pink and yellow eyelet embroidery and a vivid pink headband with a flower on her forehead, was a sweetheart. She was very bright and content, sitting happily on my lap until she fell asleep. I tried to keep her cool in the heat by fanning her with a notebook, the only thing handy.
The service was quite different from others I have attended in Haitian churches. Rather than continuous congregational singing, various groups took turns singing, at times joined by the entire church, and at others alone, all accompanied by a keyboard, a small bass drum, and an instrument that I can only describe as a very oversized cheese grater played by rubbing it with a small stick. The music was spirited and upbeat. As with almost every Haitian church, despite the small size of the building, this church had a sound system with the volume turned up to near ear-bleeding levels. The choir consisted entirely of women, but other groups were exclusively male, others mixed, and others made up of children of varying ages. Some of the children sang a special number they had learned in honour of my visit, a version of Happy Birthday in English, with the words changed to “Happy Welcome”. Their pronunciation was very clear.
A couple of perhaps thirty, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary, were called up to the front where they were offered gifts of food. Then the ladies choir gathered round them and sang songs in praise of love and the commitment of the couple in staying together through hard times. A men’s group then sang in their honour, encouraging the couple to kiss, which was very enthusiastically received by the entire congregation. The couple then danced down the aisle and out the back door, followed by the singers.
I managed to find someone to take the baby, now awake, and with Pastor Job’s encouragement, proceeded to take some pictures. Under the tarp outside the benches were now full. Going around to the back of the church I found more than thirty children seated there, watching the service through the back door. All were dressed in their Sunday best, most of the girls in white embroidered dresses, the boys in white shirts, slacks and highly polished shoes. Although the church could seat only about sixty, over one hundred people were in attendance.
Unfortunately I had ignored the lesson of a previous time, thinking my camera batteries had sufficient charge to last the day. They did not, so I did not get all the pictures I would have liked. From now on extra batteries will go with me everywhere.
Pastor Job invited me to the podium to introduce me to the congregation and to have me say a few words to the people. The pastor then went on to explain how he knew me and tell his flock what I was doing in Haiti.
As an older pastor launched into his sermon in the loud and aggressive style that is common here, I was informed that my driver was not prepared to wait any longer, although he had agreed to stay throughout the service. I was very disappointed at having to cut my visit short, but the prospect of several hours of walking in the midday sun on difficult terrain was not a prospect I welcomed. However, Pastor Job would not let me leave until I first came to his house for a light lunch. My heart is always touched at the offer of food, as I know how little these people have, and yet they are always anxious to share.
A young woman who is one of my students served my lunch. She is usually quite quiet in class, and I have never heard much from her. But as she brought me my food she spoke to me at length in very good English, and we had a fairly protracted conversation. Both her pronunciation and grammar were excellent. When I asked her where she had learned to speak English so well, she told me, “In your class.” This is the second time that this has happened, and I was again taken aback, amazed that some of my students have learned so much in such a short time.
Saying my goodbyes, I made my way down into the gorge and across the river. Pastor Job accompanied me to show me where he wants to relocate the church on a spreading plateau a couple of kilometers closer to Pierre Payen. His reasoning is twofold: first, the church has outgrown their building, and some who would choose to join them are a bit reluctant to come where there is nowhere for them to sit inside; secondly, crossing the gorge is intimidating to some and impossible for those who are older or who have mobility issues. He told me how much would be needed to purchase the land and construct a new building. To me it is a very modest amount, but in Haitian terms it would be impossible for these poor people to raise the money in any reasonable timeframe. Pastor Job asked me to pray to determine if there was any way the Lord could use me to assist.
The trip down the mountain was a bit easier, although I still had to walk the steeper sections as the bike skidded uncontrollably with me aboard.
It had been a long morning, and I had only a couple of hours before my Sunday afternoon class at Corps du Christ. My students from Vielle would not be coming I knew, as the service was far from over when I left. But I am of the conviction that numbers are unimportant, and even if only one student were to show up, I would teach the class. Four arrived, and Pastor Frito sat in. It was an excellent opportunity for informal interaction and a chance to get to know them a bit better.
On Monday Pastor Job phoned me to thank me for coming and to tell me the church wanted me to come again. I know I will.
I am convinced that this visit, as was my coming to teach English at Corps du Christ, has been the Spirit’s leading. I had absolutely nothing to do with initiating either; I only followed His lead. The results have been beyond anything I would have imagined. I am not a trained teacher. My Creole, although adequate for day-to-day living, falls far short of fluency; I know my grammar at times is atrocious. Yet somehow I am seeing results beyond all reason. I know it is because the Spirit is with me. With the encouragement of my students, we pray before and after each class. They are enthusiastic about discussing spiritual matters and learning the English to frame their discussions. They assist me at every turn, working collectively to fill in when I do not have the words, and to correct my errors. Above all, one thing is clear: they know I love them, and know that is why I come twice each weekend to help them learn. And they return that love abundantly.
Often while navigating “the labyrinthine information maze that is the Internet” as I saw it put recently, I stumble upon a gem. Such are these. I shared them with a couple of friends, but I think they deserve wider dissemination.
I never was much of a fan of the late George Carlin’s humour, but I really like this piece he wrote.
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.
We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less.
We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.
Remember to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.
Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.
Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.
Remember, to say, ‘I love you’ to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.
Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.
Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
And always remember, life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by those moments that take our breath away.
I stumbled upon this poem entirely by accident, and am glad I took the time to read it. Perhaps the writer’s words will touch you as well.
THE SILENCE OF MY HEART
There is nothing more sacred
It is here that time is lost
And I’m connected to my heart
Feeling the energy of life
Pulsating through my body
Without the struggle
To be who I am.
I am everything I need to be
In this place.
There is no judgment against me
No doubts or worry or fear
Only the love for who I am
In God’s world.
I tiptoe in quietly
As if He wouldn’t notice
He is always there
Waiting for me
“You need do nothing”
He reminds me
And I wonder why
I don’t come here more often.
The silence of pure love
Is waiting there for me.
I travel to its depths
And drink from its pure water
For I thirst so much
From traveling so long
Through this parched desert of life.
I’m lonely for His touch
Until I’m reminded once again
That He is here
In the silence of my heart.
The dear friend who first introduced me to his work several years ago, alerted me to the death on April 12th of Brennan Manning. I don’t hear much news here in Haiti, and was unaware of his passing. Thinking of my experience of the man through his writings, particularly The Ragamuffin Gospel, I decided my personal tribute would be to re-read that work. I found it as fresh and inspiring as I did on my first reading of it many years ago, perhaps more so. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do so. It is one of the most positive and comforting books I have ever read.
The former Franciscan priest is a somewhat controversial figure, much criticized from some quarters. I have even seen him called dangerous. But for us ragamuffins, Brennan’s writing is a balm to our souls, as he calls us in Abba’s Child to “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God”. Brennan does not imprison Jesus within the walls of the church as some would do, but allows Him to hang out with the ragamuffins of the world–”the bedraggled, beat-up and burned out”. After all, wasn’t such “scandalous” behaviour what Jesus was criticized for during His earthly ministry?
I give you one of my (and many other people’s) favourite quotes from The Ragamuffin Gospel:
The Word we study has to be the Word we pray. My personal experience of the relentless tenderness of God came not from exegetes, theologians and spiritual writers, but from sitting still in the presence of the living Word and beseeching Him to help me understand with my head and my heart His written Word. Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace. We must never allow the authority of books, institutions or leaders to replace the authority of “knowing” Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited.
As I have written before, I believe there is no substitute for reading the Word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “know” Jesus. Other resources certainly have a legitimate place, but they are all secondary.
In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning includes a poem he attributes to General Douglas MacArthur. The General indeed did have a copy of it on the wall of his Tokyo office, and was known for quoting it frequently. However hia version as it appears in Manning’s book is a paraphrase, much shorter and with considerable deviation from the original work by Samuel Ullman. Perhaps some of Ullman’s phrases were too sentimental for a military man of MacArthur’s era.
The original itself was published in two versions, one longer than the other. There are also some differences in the wording and punctuation. I decided to post the longer version, although there were unique aspects of each, including MacArthur’s, that appealed to me. But whichever version, the central message remains the same.
Perhaps it is the time I am at in my life that draws me to this poem. Perhaps it is who I am and how I think. Perhaps it is my sense of wonder, acute since childhood, and remaining unblunted to this day. But perhaps it is something else.
Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a temperamental dominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-distrust, fear and despair, these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust. Whether seventy or sixteen, there is in every being’s heart a love of wonder; the sweet amazement at the stars and star-like things and thoughts; the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for what comes next, and joy in the game of life. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair. In the central place of your heart there is a wireless station. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, grandeur, courage and power from the earth, from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young. When the wires are all down and the central places of your heart are covered with the snows of pessimism and the ice of cynicism, then are you grown old, indeed!
Until we meet, my friend.