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American Thanksgiving

November 24, 2011

Can anyone help me find something?  I need a day stretcher.  There are so many opportunities here to make a difference, so many needs, so many things to do, so many things to see, so much to read.  My mind is awash with ideas.  But there is so little time, even though I don’t sleep much.

I have decided to shoehorn an ESL (English as a Second Language) Teachers’ course into my already very busy schedule.  The course is available online from a fully accredited school in Vancouver.  Dr. Felix is anxious for me to begin assisting him to improve his English and I want to do the most effective job possible in the shortest time possible.  I also have a growing list of friends who have requested my assistance in this area.  My experience with Olivier has taught me that I need to learn more about how to go about teaching ESL in order to do a first-class job.

I have recently stumbled upon some excellent online resources that will serve to strengthen my command of Creole, some of them specifically targeting those working in the medical field.  I only wish my Internet provider was not so greedy, as I would like to access a small-class Creole course that conducts lessons through Skype conference calls.  I am currently looking into a cheaper way to broaden my Internet access.  In the meantime I will continue to take advantage of the most economical and readily available means to learning the language—keeping my mouth moving and my ears open.

Working here has proved difficult in unforeseen ways.  Things I took for granted in Canada sometimes become monumental obstacles that consume valuable time and resources.  The task of day-to-day living here is arduous, time consuming and fraught with innumerable “annoyances.”  I considered myself a patient man (some would dispute that opinion), but I am having to learn far, far more patience on a daily basis.  I also frequently find it necessary to take a step back and reconsider what is really important.  From time to time I have to prayerfully reexamine whether my concepts of what is right are merely conditioned responses or personal preferences.

I am constantly evaluating how best to work within the framework of Haiti.  I have come to believe that it is not helpful to attempt to superimpose North American ideas and beliefs on Haiti in an attempt to remedy what I see as problems here.  Haitians are capable and resourceful.  They know what they need and what they don’t need.  Sometimes they just need a hand up as they move toward healing.  I believe it best to come alongside rather than to take the lead.  They don’t need “solutions” that bring with them a host of additional problems, some of those worse than the problems were meant to relieve.  Some of my recent reading examines the idea that engaging in actions that are not helpful is inevitably doing harm.  If I am not with Him, I am against Him.

I cannot claim to come to Haiti with clean hands.  The social and economic conditions here are not accidental.  They are purposeful, the direct result of governmental policies of First World countries, my own included, and by extension the policies and actions of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  The world has always been, and is still, divided between master-peoples enjoying their full rights, and subject-peoples who are colonized and exploited.  Haitians have been forced to take the short end of the stick, and to suffer under those, including some Haitians, who would keep it that way.  Methinks the time has come for Jubilee.

My thinking on these matters is coloured by three influences.  First is my personal experience of Haiti and its people.  I could go on and on about the glorious adventure that is Haiti.  But I have already done that time and time again in my posts.  I could also go on and on about the poverty, the abysmal conditions, the misery, and the lack of opportunity, but I have chosen not to go there too frequently.  My desire is to be a messenger of hope, not of despair.

Second, being a voracious reader, I am appreciative of the considerable library on Haiti available to me online.  Haitians are grateful for the assistance provided by those who dedicate part of their lives to help Haiti, and some of them have expressed that gratitude by making resources available to those who come here that enable them to work more effectively.  I am also particularly indebted to the Institute of Haitian Studies at the University of Kansas for offering a number of excellent resource books in pdf format free of charge.

Third, and most significant, is the lens through which I see all things, my belief in and my relationship with a God who is the very personification of love, the Father of whose longing and passion and affection, of whose care and unconditional no-strings-attached forgiveness, I am the object.  Out of His boundless love for me He has done for me what He promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27:

“I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you.  I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed.  I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.”

And on my new heart He placed Haiti.

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I am always amazed what God can do if I let Him.  I have been working on a funding proposal for the nursing school.  I wasn’t exactly sure what should go into it, so I just followed my heart, something I do a lot.  I took much of what I wrote in A Doctor’s Vision, headed it with the COPSA logo, dropped in a few enrollment statistics, came up with some reasons why I believe it is important to the country that the school succeed, tacked on a few testimonials that I gently coerced from the students (for reasons unbeknownst to me, at the school my every wish is everyone else’s command), and pasted in a few photos I took.  I like what I have put together.  It would appeal to me if I received it from someone.  But that was in English.

But it’s now in French!  I grudgingly took French in school and learned a bit more when I lived in a Franco-Manitoban community for five years.  But that was nearly forty years ago.  So how did I somehow translate what I prepared in English into French?  Perhaps I retained enough of the language to do a passible job of translating.  But I don’t think that’s it.  I don’t remember ever having been able to work in French as well as I have done this week.  Admittedly, I had the help of Google Translate.  But anyone who is familiar with that tool knows it cuts a pretty rough swath.  Dealing with the shortcomings of machine translation is no small task.  I had to do a lot of revising, putting my meaning back into the all-to-literal translation, correcting its frequent errors in choosing between homophones (words spelled identically but having different meanings), dealing with it’s inability to handle idioms.  There is only one thing that I know of that would enable me to recognize the errors it makes—a good command of French.  When I gave my finished work to Carol Ann, who is fairly fluent in French, to proofread, she found no errors.  Could it be that God was working through me?  Could it really be true that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me?  Or is that just some pie in the sky idea that Paul tossed out to the Philippians to make what he was doing sound spiritual?  I have been doing a lot of things since I came to Haiti.  Many of those things I had no idea I could do.

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I joined with about two dozen other missionaries here today to celebrate American Thanksgiving. It was a real pleasure to sit down to turkey, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings with good company.   I have a great deal for which to be thankful.  My life is rich and meaningful.  God provides me with everything I need.  I am for the most part at peace.  That is not to say my life is without trials, but knowing that He is with me in them makes them seem far less significant.

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