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Street Church

June 19, 2011

This morning I attended street church in Saint-Marc.  I met Barb at her home, and with her protégé, Jean Hilare, we set off.  Trudging through her neighbourhood, flannel board under her arm, her Bible and Sammy the puppet in hand, she has, as always, a cheery greeting for everyone we pass, stopping briefly to chat with some.

As we arrive at the street corner where she shepherds her little flock, almost instantly about two dozen children and a few adults, including gray-haired Emmanuel and an elderly grandmother, gather.  The old man loves the role of puppeteer and gets quite upset if Sammy doesn’t arrive.  All huddle together in the narrow sliver of shade cast by a house.  I am warmly welcomed as I have been most places I have visited in Haiti and am offered one of the plastic chairs that appear for the elderly from a nearby home.  I wonder at this; I don’t see myself as elderly, even though I enjoy that some of the children address me as “grandpapa.”  When a woman who has been very ill arrives, I surrender my chair to her.  The elderly grandmother next to me immediately rises and offers her seat to me.  When I insist that she keep it, she accedes under protest.

A few minutes later some express their concern to Barb that I am standing in the sun.  It is only after I assure them I am fine, and Barb quips that since I am white I need to be in the sun to get more of a tan, that they are content.  Though I am fast becoming acclimated to Haiti, my shirt is soaked.  I think I need to adopt the Haitian custom of carrying a small towel to wipe the sweat off my face.

Barb opens with prayer and then leads the singing of choruses in both Creole and in English.  All enthusiastically join in.  The children are quick learners and have little trouble with the English versions.  There follows a “hug time.“ Haitian children are very receptive to affection; shy smiles turn warm as I offer squeezes.  A few come back for seconds.  Barb enhances the lesson about Jesus’ baptism and His temptation with the flannel board.  Haitian children are far more familiar with Satan than Canadian children, and they all fear him.  The children are attentive for the most part, and to encourage this Barb offers a candy to the six who are best behaved.  The office of judge falls to me. A little boy’s eyes sparkle and his face breaks into a huge smile as he realizes I am about to pick him.  Quickly unwrapping his prize, he beams at me as he rolls it around in his mouth.  All are gracious; my selections are accepted without protest.

Throughout the service, truck drivers slow, wave and affectionately greet Barb, as do many on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot.  Everyone seems to know her.

Barb offers to pray for individual needs and many respond.  She enfolds each one in her arms, drawing them to her as she offers up her thanks and entreaties.  At her encouragement I follow suit, praying for Emmanuel.  Even though he does not understand my prayer, his face conveys his deep appreciation.  Throughout the little service it is patently obvious that these people know Barb sincerely loves them and they love her deeply in return.

The service over, Barb pauses to chat as I take some photos.  As everywhere here, my camera is enthusiastically received.  I finally have to put it away so that we can leave.  The children call out their goodbyes to “Mr. Barry.”

We walk to the church near Barb’s home where Sunday morning service is in progress.   We are in time for the sermon and Barb provides a running translation for me.  I deeply appreciate her consideration.  She tells me the pastor is a very godly man.  The lesson is excellent.

After a few games of Crazy Eights, we head to John Hilare’s mother’s tiny home where she graciously provides a lunch of rice with bean sauce and chicken for us.  Stepping over the threshold, my eyes take time to adjust to the dimness of the interior.  We finish every bit of the hearty meal (Barb cautions that to leave anything is considered rude) and thank our hostess as we leave.

After lunch we stop to see the little school where Barb is involved.  She mentioned that they have little for supplies.  When I ask what she would need if I could get it, she tells me she is not interested.  She doesn’t want to see it become a “Canadian” school; she wants it to remain Haitian.  We next stop at the little orphanage where she has lived and still assists.  She was unaware that I have visited there several times.  The boys greet me by the name they weeks ago chose for me, Grandpapa Long Cheve.

Later Barb suggests the three of us escape the heat to the air-conditioned comfort of Epi d’Or for ice cream.  I laugh that I had been thinking exactly the same thing.  Always careful to include everyone, Barb translates our conversation for Jean Hilare and theirs for me.  She lightheartedly cajoles us that I need to learn more Creole and Jean Hilare needs to learn more English.  The coolness of the restaurant is such a welcome respite from the heat that we linger a long while.

What I participated in today was extremely uplifting.  It was church in the raw, stripped to its bare bones, yet vital and vibrant.  It was Haiti.  Like Barb, I am growing to love it deeply, and to hope against hope that we do not change it.

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