Top ministry moments – #2: The phone call from Haiti

I was about five minutes into my sermon when I heard the phone in my pocket ring.

Yes, it was my turn to have my phone with me in church, the volume turned up and had someone call me on a Sunday morning, right in the middle of a worship service! Naturally I paused the sermon, excused myself and took the call. It was my wife. Continue reading

Worshiping in a different language

13001071_10153648825923981_1257256415220592090_nSo about a week ago I found myself worshiping in a different language. On the Sunday after we arrived in Haiti, we attended a worship service at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The service was spoken and sung entirely in Haitian Creole. The extent of my Haitian Creole is a few numbers and colors.

As I sat and listened intently, I was determined to find something that sounded familiar. I kind of knew where we were in the liturgy, so I recognized when they said “Amen” and I heard Jesus mentioned a few times. But that was pretty much it. It was a lengthy sermon, so my mind began to wander a little. I began to wonder if the Gospel is still the power of God for salvation if you can’t understand the language it’s being preached in. Can faith come from hearing the word of Christ in a different language?

I immediately thought to myself, “Of course not.” And just as quickly I thought, “Wait a minute. Is that always true?” What about absolution? Was I forgiven even though I didn’t actually understand the words of absolution the pastor spoke?  This is a mind-bending question.

The converse is just as intriguing. Speaking the gospel in the language everyone understands doesn’t guarantee my audience will hear or grasp the message. I know people have sat through my sermons and wondered, “What in the world is he talking about?”

So, did I receive God’s gifts of grace that Sunday in Haiti? I believe I did, and I am thankful. But I need to do a little more thinking about this.

 

Haiti (final entry: returning home)

After a very early wake-up call, we assembled for a quick 4:30 am breakfast, loaded up the trucks and headed to the Port-au-Prince airport. Though it was barely dawn, the roads were already lined with people preparing for market day.

The airport is always part of the adventure. As soon as you step out of the van, you are surrounded by vendors and others eager to help you with your bags. This is when you get a lot of practice saying, “No, merci.”

Inside, long lines snake through the room where you wait to check in. Some check-in kiosks are working. Most are not. Finally we all get checked in and our bags dropped and its off to immigration, security, customs and a second security check. But this was a good day. It only took an hour to complete the process and we could sit down to wait for our plane to board. There are some nice little restaurants in the airport with some very good coffee, sandwiches and pastries.

The flight was uneventful, and immigration and customs on the US side went quickly. But that’s when you have to say goodbye to everyone heading off to different parts of the country. Facebook means we won’t lose touch. In fact, we’ll get to know each other better as we keep in touch and plan our next getaway to Haiti.

We still had a long drive home from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Coast, giving us lots of time to reflect upon our trip and short-term missions in general. More on that soon.

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Our team: Tamara, Cassie, Lisa, Doris, Nancy, Megan, Helen, me, Elizabeth, Jesse, Oz, Brenda and Quinton

 

Haiti (April 15: transition day)

How do you prepare yourself to re-enter the real world? After a week in Haiti, it’s good to have a day to reflect, recuperate and recharge for the journey home. 

We didn’t have to get up as early today, and traveled to Kaliko Beach Club just a little bit north of Port-au-Prince. It’s a nice little resort on some clear blue water lapping up against a rocky shore. You can just reach down and grab spiny lobsters and giant crabs, which various locals did who then offered to cook them up for me.

We sat on the beach, talked in the pool, napped and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

  
After supper our group reflected on the week, and how it affected us and our faith. Plus, what will we say when someone asks, “So, how was your trip? Did you have fun?”

It’s a difficult question to answer. It was a hard week of grueling days and not drinking the water and not opening your mouth in the shower. It was a series of long rides to parts unknown where curious looks welcomed us onto their home court in strange tongues. It was a constant encounter with poverty, mercy and faith. It was as a previous team described it: “The worst vacation I ever loved.”

Everyone from rookies to seasoned veterans talked about “next time.” Lophane and Helen reminded us of the value of “presence.” And we were reminded that our friends, family and colleagues will now try to reel us back into the world from which we have been absent, whether we are ready or not. 

The images of young eyes peering through holes in the walls, impossibly bumpy roads, the joyful splash of baptismal water and smile after amazing smile will play over and over again in our day and nighttime dreams. Those visions make you see every person, headline and bible passage in a different light. 

How do you re-enter the real world? Transformed, renewed, discerning and grateful.

Haiti (April 14: final clinic day)

Another long bumpy ride took us back to Thomonde for our last clinic day. I talked about Jesus and the woman at the well to start things off today.

I was honored to do another baptism today for a man nearly at the end of his life. The tap on my shoulder late in the morning took me to a gentleman failing quickly due to old age. A celebration broke out as he confessed his faith and I spilled three handfuls of water from a small bag over Jean’s head. God just keeps adding to the number of those being saved! What a privilege to be the first to pray with a new brother in Christ!

  
The local church will send people to his home to provide care in his last days. 

I had two encounters with a woman who came through my little prayer station. Pregnant, with a history of miscarriage and a tumor on her neck, she neede extra encouragement today. We surrounded her in prayer for some of God’s joy and peace in her life.

A number of people asked for prayers of “deliverance” today. They offered no other details, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had at some point connected with voodoo. Voodoo is still a part of the fabric of life here. In any event, I offered a number of prayers for the freedom Christ brings.

We saw people for about three hours today before packing up to return home before the evening rains. I don’t know that we saw many really sick in the mountains this week. Beyond a few aches and pains, most were fairly strong and healthy. 

Haiti (April 12: second clinic day in Bien Amie)

Learning an important lesson from yesterday, we left much earlier and got to the church in Bien Amie by 9 am. As we set up I taught the story of Zacchaeus to the waiting crowd of moms and babies. Then we settled into seeing patients. 

Some of the team taught a birthing class, a newborn class, along with the tooth brushing class. Nothing extraordinary today — except for a baptism! 

   
 Sometime in the morning we stopped everything and I got to baptize a beautiful 18 month old little girl, Essmina. With a tent full of witnesses and more watching from the outside we celebrated her new birth into the family of God. What a privilege and what a great moment. God’s mercy, life and salvation poured out onto that mountainside piece of holy ground! I guess I probably taken my shoes off. Oh well; next time…

As I prayed with all who came through the main registration, I did the wordless book with two more who trusted Jesus as Savior. I ask every one either, “Are you a Christian?” Or “Do you trust that Jesus is your Savior?” Most say yes, and I believe most are sincere. And then suddenly, some one says, “No,” and I get to tell them more about Christ. My translator, Jemmy, is great and keeps right up with me. 

Tomorrow a new site, another remote location at the edge of somewhere.

Haiti (April 11: first clinic day in Bien Amie)

We were up and out by 7:45 am on our way to the small mountain community of Bien Amie. We ran right into horrendous Port-Au-Prince rush hour traffic. It took our four 4x4s two hours just to get out of the city. Mostly stand still. With no traffic direction and no traffic lights, it’s a free -for-all. You don’t flinch, you just keep driving. It’s truly a game of inches.

 We finally got to the church about 11:30 and started to set up. Now by church, I mean a flat 25×25 foot area on a hillside shaded by torn tarps suspended by rough hewn poles. Our ears popped, so I’m guessing we were up about 3,000 feet. There were about 300 people waiting, many moms and kids.

We set up places for 3 providers, a pharmacy, treatment, and to see most of the children. After I presented the gospel to all the moms gathered there, I had a translator and got to talk to everyone who needed to see a doctor after they registered. I asked if the were Christian, and how I could pray for them. These were great conversations. Prayer requests ranged from deliverance to children to a stronger faith. I had two conversations that actually led to first time faith. One was a man who had heard a lot about Jesus and wanted to take the next step. The other was a woman who had miscarried, she believed, because of her involvement with voodoo. I led her through the whole wordless book and prayed as she told God of her faith and asked for forgiveness. I then connected her with a local pastor for more conversation.

We wrapped up about 4 and got home by 6. Yes, we took a different way home!

Haiti (Worship and prep day: April 10)

  

Worship at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

 
After an interesting breakfast, we loaded up and went to worship at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Oh, you were wondering what I meant by interesting? A spicy bean soup, fresh mango and pineapple and croissants. I usually don’t have soup for breakfast, but I’m glad I tried it. Very tasty. Worship was spirited, a familiar liturgy (though in Haitian Creole) and very well attended. One of our translators sat next to me to tell me the scripture readings so I could follow along in my bible. It was fun to try.

After worship we headed out to an orphanage that housed 14 teen boys. It was in great disrepair, but our doc said the boys were fairly healthy. A sad place to be but one that could come alive with a few seeds to plant and some chickens in the yard. Mission:Haiti is exploring the best way to help. 

The orphanage

 From there we got to stop by Lophane’s new guest house, still under construction. It just needs some floors, electrical and plumbing. The roof and stairways were poured concrete. I’m not sure how they do that, but it looked great.

 

Lophane’s guest house

 
Back at Walls guest house, we are a quick lunch and started to prepare our supplies for the week. We counted out hundreds of bags of vitamins and medications, birthing kits, baby kits and hygiene kits. The kits would be used in the education we will present this week. I know you’re wondering: a birthing kit consists of a pad to sit on, gloves, gauze pads, a washcloth, some strings, a razor to cut the umbilical and some instructions. A little teaching goes a long way in helping the people care for themselves. 

 

Some of our supplies

 
Our team brought so much along, including diapers, washcloths, baby clothes, and medication. We’ll be in some remote areas where there ‘s no where to go to buy anything. I wonder how they live off the land there. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. The pastor of the church there is so excited that we’re coming. We will help him connect with many families for future ministry.

Haiti (day 1: arrival)

  After an uneventful (but very early) flight to Port-au-Prince, we got a ride to Walls Guest House, our home base for the week. After a quick unload of twenty -something fifty pound duffles full of supplies, we rode over to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to attend the Saturday program, which members from our church support.

It was so good to see our friend Lophane, Pastor Josie and his wife Elise, and listen to the voices of over 160 children in attendance. We also helped serve lunch, then we headed out to a small pizza/burger place for lunch. 

Back at Walls, we were able to catch a nap and relax a little. After a supper of noodles and sauce, we met to go over our plan for the week.

Our team comes from all over the U. S. from teens to retired, some medical providers, some not. Some wide-eyed first timers in Haiti; others have been here eight times or more. 

When we stepped out of the airport today, Lisa and I both thought, “This feels like Haiti.” What’s that mean? It’s hard to say. The air is filled with a smoky, musty, diesel-exhaust smell, Bougenvillas in full bloom are tumbling over every wall and fence, and the ever present sound of car horns fills the air. It’s been five years since my last trip, but it feels familiar. 

The streets are lined with a strange mix of new construction, buildings in disrepair and make shift home in every nook and cranny. We were told that  ecause of inflation, things are actually worse here. Last year’s twenty-dollar bag of rice for the Saturday program now costs $35. 

Church tomorrow, then we sort and organize all our supplies for Monday’s clinic.