TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY
to the PEOPLE of HAITI
January 10, 2005
A new year dawns on the little island of Haiti, a little island with big problems. Please join me in praying for a new year filled with hope and peace, as the people here have not only been ravished with tragedy during this past year of 2004, but with several years of difficulties.
In spite of those difficulties, each year, January 1st is a day of celebration for two reasons. It is the beginning of a new year AND it is “Soup Day!” The Haitian Independence Day is celebrated on January 1. Every household serves Pumpkin Soup to commemorate the event. When the black slaves worked for the French, they served soup to their French masters but were not allowed to eat any of the soup. When independence was gained, it was celebrated by the eating of soup. Pumpkin Soup is a delicious concoction of okra, celery, onion, potato, carrots, and pasta, with a thick base of squash, topped off with meat (usually goat or beef). If you ever have the privilege of visiting Haiti, be sure to make it a point to have some Pumpkin Soup. It is very delicious!
I was blessed to celebrate my first Christmas in Haiti with a visit from my daughter and her husband. Together we shared this experience and they were able to see firsthand what it is that I am so passionate about. A special family meal was planned for us with the Izidor family on Christmas Eve. The best dishes and tablecloth were brought out. We ate in anticipation of the evening worship service. The service typically takes place near midnight, but on this particular year it was scheduled for an earlier hour, as some were still unsure about the safety of the streets at a late hour. The children of the orphanage entered the sanctuary dressed as shepherds, carrying lighted candles. (See photo!) To me, they were little angels in disguise. The service continued with the singing of Christmas carols, a Christmas message, and a Christmas pageant of the story of Mary and Joseph and the precious babe. The children of Haiti are indeed precious babes. They are the innocent ones in a harsh land. But at Christmas time, at least for a little while, it seems that the true joy of the Savior’s birth shines through. Christmas in Haiti is simple and basic. Gift exchanges are not a part of the equation. The focus is simply on worship and family and friends. After services many spend time in the streets – laughing, singing, dancing, and the setting off firecrackers and simply enjoying being with other.
On Christmas Day, it is, basically, back to business. On this particular Christmas Day, a special event was scheduled in the church. One of the caregivers in the orphanage was to be married at 4PM. Without knowing much about what it meant, I had accepted the offer to be godmother to the bride. I know now that I must ask more questions, before I so eagerly agree to be a part of such a celebration. About two days before the ceremony it dawned on me that I did not have a clue as to what the responsibilities of being a godmother entailed. Much to my surprise, I was to play a large role both financially and ceremoniously. I learned that it was my responsibility to pay for the rental of the bride’s gown and veil, to pay for the wedding cake, to pay for the flowers, and to pay for the morning at the hair salon for the bride, the miniature bride and myself.
We arrived late to our Noon appointment at the salon, but alas, I should have known, nothing in Haiti happens on schedule. Another bride and several other customers took their time in having their hair done. Work on our hair did not begin until about 2:30PM and we were still in the chairs at 3:30PM and had yet to return to my room, where it was my responsibility to see that the bride looked beautiful, the miniature bride was all dressed and staying out of the dirt, and I too was looking my best in a borrowed dress, as I had nothing suitable for the role of a godmother. While dressing, there came a knock at the door. It was the godfather to the groom who was coming to present the traditional gifts that are given to the bride and to the godmother. I received a large piece of framed artwork. The bride received a set of dishes. Few other gifts were received by the bride. The celebration itself was a gift to the bride and groom and to their guests.
At the ceremony, dancers began the processional, followed by the children of the orphanage, the miniature bride and groom and then the bride and groom. The godfather and the godmother followed the bride and groom into the sanctuary and were seated up front with them. Following the ceremony the witnesses signed the marriage certificate. The godfather and godmother accompanied the bride and groom in the “getaway” car that is driven through the streets in much the same way as is done in the states, complete with the horn honking.
Rice was tossed at the returning wedding party and a reception was held in one of the classrooms of the school. The godfather toasted the couple, as a bottle of champagne was shaken and spewed over the bride and groom and many of the guests. A large cake and several small cakes were on the buffet table. The guests would eat the small cakes and, later, portions of the large cake were given to wedding participants. The following morning, I would receive one of the tiers of the cake. Sandwiches and a special Haitian alcoholic beverage and sodas were served to the guests. All the celebrating occurred in very overcrowded and hot environment.
Following the reception, the bride and groom would stay in a hotel. These costs were covered by the godfather.
Probably for me, the most interesting event of the wedding occurred before the wedding took place. As godmother, I was invited to meet the groom’s family. I traveled to the house of the groom’s parents, and there I met father, mother, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and anyone else that happened to be there. Chairs were brought out and ice cold Coca-Cola was served in my honor. The hospitality was overwhelming, not unlike the reception that I receive at EVERY Haitian home that I visit. The people are genuinely glad to see you, they share with you what they have, and once they have done so, you are their friend for life. As we headed back to our vehicle, down a long narrow path that bordered a crop field, I turned around to find the mother of the groom trying to catch up with us. Neatly tucked under her arm was a beautiful, multi-colored chicken. It was a gift for me! In fact, it was the second chicken that I had received in less than one week. And, yes! the chicken was alive. And, no! I was not the one to kill the chicken, pluck the feathers and prepare it for one of my meals. My daughter begged me not to let them kill the chickens while she was in Haiti. She could not stomach the thought of eating the chickens that she had come to know “personally”. So at her request, the chickens waited until my daughter and husband had gone home before becoming a part of our fine dining!
It seems chickens have had a big role in my life the last few weeks. While visiting the home of my fiancé’s uncle, I noticed a couple of the teenage girls in the village trying to corner one of the roosters. My first thought was, “Another chicken for me?”. I watched with delight as one, then two, then three, then four more young people joined in on the chase. The rooster knew what was coming as he scurried up the hill, down the hill, around the house, under the shed, through the trees, trying every possible avenue of escape, until one little boy outsmarted the rooster. By that time, everyone in the village was busting with laughter, as the rooster squawked and protested. I would soon learn that the rooster was not for me after all, but for the family dinner. As one of the older boys slit the neck of the rooster, memories of when I was young and had watched my uncle doing the same procedure at my grandma’s farm came rushing back. I vividly remember watching as the “chickens ran around with their heads cut off” just like I was witnessing now. It was like I had just stepped back in time!
On a more serious note, I will share with you one of my concerns, prior to coming to Haiti. I knew that I would be working with children, children that I would fall in love with, children who would be faced with big challenges, children who would break my heart. I knew that one day I would face seeing one of those children become gravely ill or would face the death of one of those special gifts from God. I knew that this would be one of the hardest parts of my job. Upon returning to Haiti in December, I learned that a new little girl had been admitted to the orphanage. Her mother was very, very sick and could no longer care for her. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a little girl who had snuggled up to me on many occasions during church services. We already had a bond. She was a quiet, gentle child, a child that was scared about her new surroundings, a child that just needed to be assured that someone loved her. As is customary, each child that enters the orphanage is given several blood tests. My heart immediately leapt into my throat when I learned of this little one’s test results. The test for HIV returned to us with positive results. I knew this meant that this precious child could not be cared for at our orphanage, as we do not have the means to give her the medical care that she needs. Why does such an innocent child have to be thrust into such a life? I have not been able to stop thinking about her, praying for her, mourning for her! She has now been moved to a home that is run by Catholic nuns who specifically care for HIV/Aids children. But she is not off my mind or out of my heart. I pray that they are loving her and that she is adjusting to yet another new home. I know God is laying on my heart another ministry where He wants me to serve, that of visiting, and hugging and praying for the children of that place. It hurts so bad to love and lose! I pray that God will use this hurt to expand His love for the children of Haiti. Please pray for all of the children of Haiti who are enduring similar fates. I cannot bear this burden alone. It hurts too bad!
Sorrows here are often balanced with joys. Once again, I was asked to be a godmother, but this time for a new little babe’s baptism! The parents have four daughters and now a son! The name of my first godchild is Samuel. He came into this world early, being both tiny and sickly. Only with help of donations of baby formula from the States was he able to survive and to begin gaining weight. Please pray that he will grow into a fine Christian man in the challenging world of Haiti!
Our ministry has been blessed this past week by a mission team of 14 people from Tonawanda, New York. It is so nice to have a conversation in English, to catch on news from back home, and to see the encouragement that a team brings to people of the ministry here in Haiti. The Lord has worked mightily through this team in a variety of ways. The members of the team came with hearts ready for service and a willingness to be flexible and to do whatever needed to be done. We have been very blessed by them!
Today was the day we had to say goodbye to the team. But God was not quite finished with showing them the hard facts about Haiti. We traveled very early by bus to Port-au-Prince to be sure that we arrived in plenty of time for the team to catch their flight. Because of our early departure, we missed the major traffic snarls and had some time to make one stop. Pastor Israel had made arrangements to pick up some boys that he would be bringing back with him and placing in the boys’ orphanage. When we arrived at the home of his sister, we found that only one little boy was there. We waited as his aunt got him dressed before we headed out to get the team to the airport. We were soon overtaken by Pastor Israel’s nephew in his car. Our thought was that possibly he had left something in the bus and was trying to retrieve it. But as we watched, the back door of the car opened and out popped a little boy. Ahhh! … another child for the orphanage! Then, the other rear door opened and out popped a second boy, then a third, and then a fourth. It was like watching the birthing of quadruplets. Soon all five boys had joined the team in the bus, some were crying, some were frightened, one was sick and vomiting. These children had become orphaned in the flood that had occurred early in 2004 in the Jacmel district. The signs of malnutrition and the havoc it can play on a little one’s life were very evident in these little boys. It was only a short distance to the airport where the team would get off the bus. What a powerful, brief meeting the team had with these newest additions to the orphanage. Tears flowed. Not tears just from having to say goodbye to a country and a people that the team had come to love, but tears for these little ones that had quickly stolen the hearts of the team members and to whom the members would be bonded to for a lifetime. God certainly had planned a powerful goodbye lesson for this team. I know these little ones will be in the teams’ thoughts and prayers for a LONG time!
As you too head into this new year, be prepared for the lessons God has in store for you. Be ready to serve our Lord wherever He needs you, doing whatever He needs you to do. There is no greater joy!
God bless you and keep you in His care!
Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic
Until next time ………….