Saturday, September 04, 2010

home again

It has been almost exactly one week to the hour since we boarded a plane in Haiti to return home to Canada. It is an incredibly surreal experience to leave such a unique place and arrive a few short hours later in Miami airport. Haiti is hot and dangerous and smelly and distinct. It never lets you forget what it is - a country who's history is written in blood, lived with sweat, and sealed with tears.
But an international airport is slick and air-conditioned and clean and safe (sterile?). It is a maze of shiny hallways and grand atriums. The t-shirts in the gift shop inform you that you are in Miami or Toronto, but there is no reason to believe them, nothing to confirm their claims. If they sold Miami t-shirts in Toronto, I would be none the wiser. North American airports are built to impress, to make you think that they have it all together, that there is nothing there but beautiful scenery and happy people with well-paying jobs and smiling families. Haiti has no such ambition. Or maybe it does, but the cracks are harder to patch up. Earthquakes tend to do that.


Over the past week Cassandra and I have been trying to process exactly what we learned from our experience in Haiti. It was different from anything we have ever known. Sometimes it already seems like our time there was just a long dream because it is so far removed from our everyday experience. We both went back to work this week, and everything is already so normal that it requires effort to really think back and reflect on our experiences. It's a strange phenomenon which is actually one of the most difficult things about coming back. Everyone always told me that the most difficult thing about going away is coming back, but we have found it incredibly easy. Instead of being angry about the injustice of the world and how I have so much while millions have so little, I find myself simply being immensely thankful for this beautiful country. I am better able to empathize with people who live in poverty because I have seen how they live first hand, but I do not feel guilty for the abundance that I enjoy. Part of me feels as though I should. But life in Haiti is so different from life here that I find it almost impossible to compare them, as if they exist entirely separate from each other. I did not expect this feeling, so I am trying to deal with that right now.

Since our return many people have asked "so, what did you learn?" or "did it change your life?" These are very difficult questions that I probably won't have a good answer for for months and maybe years. I learned a lot about life and survival - and about death and destruction. I learned about the power of the Gospel, but also the power of Satan and of evil. I learned about wealth and poverty, about love and selflessness but also about corruption and greed.

The thing that stands out and that really surprised me is the incredible challenges that face missionaries every single day. It probably shouldn't have surprised me, but I was blown away by how difficult it is to do what they do. Language barriers, racism, persecution, discouragement, loneliness, clulture shock. Everyday living even presents a challenge. Simple things like grocery shopping and going to the hardware store present frustrating challenges that can sometimes easily suck up an entire afternoon. Everything is either agonizingly slow or much too fast. I met a Christian Reformed Pastor named Zac who summarized this well. He has been in Haiti for about 5 years. Early in his ministry he made friends with a young Haitian. This young man showed great promise, and he was growing into a strong leader in the church. Four years spent investing in this young man. The ground shook for 35 seconds, and he was gone. 4 years of investment, 35 seconds of horror - and now what?

So what did I learn? The answer is a question: "What is Love?" This is the question that was ringing in my head for most of the trip, and will continue to affect the way that I live and do ministry. It's a simple question, but it takes on a new meaning when you are in the midst of such obvious need. My first reaction when a child asks me for a dollar is to give it to them. That makes sense right? Doesn't God call me to give this child a "cup of cold water in His name"? What about when secondary students from Adoration ask for money for food or a prescription or a tap-tap (taxi). Sometimes it is the loving thing to do. Sometimes it is a genuinely good thing to give money to these people so that they can start to get off their feet or feed their families.
The problem comes when they keep coming back. Day after day, they come and ask you for money. Is it the loving thing to hand them money every day? Or are you simply creating dependency on foreign aid? And what happens when there are enough foreign aid groups working in the country that it is more profitable to go from agency to agency asking for money than it is to work for a day? Is the world really showing love for Haiti when it pours billions of dollars of aid money into the country? I'm not saying that aid is bad or that money should not be given to Haitians. I'm only saying that it takes a whole lot of wisdom to figure out how to use that money without hurting Haiti more than helping.
If these questions interest you, I strongly recommend reading a book called When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steven Corbett. They have really helped me work through some of these questions, and presented some solutions that are very challenging and very hopeful.

So, did it change my life? I don't know. I probably won't know for years. I got a glimpse of what it is like to live in a foreign country and do mission work. I don't know yet if I have caught a passion for it or if I have been forever turned off of it. Maybe both.

And that is where I stand now - caught in this weird tension. Tension is a fitting place to end this post, because tension is a word that describes Haiti well. Between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan. Between white and black. Between rich and poor. Between my own desires and the call to self-sacrifice. Between love and what appears to be love. Between life and death. Between truth and lies.

Thank you for your prayers and support before, during, and after our trip. It was an absolute privilege, and a beautiful opportunity. We are praying that God will use this experience to impact us and to keep teaching us about His will for our lives.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

shiny faces, dirty places

One of the hardest things to get used to is the guns. And the walls. The U.S. and the Canadian Armies have left for the most part, but the UN is still here - pretty much permanently, I think. But there are still security guards all over the city, carrying ugly black shotguns. Every house has big concrete walls around it, with razor wire all along the top. It's strange because it doesn't feel unsafe. The people I see on the street look harmless - even docile. But I guess empty stomachs make people do some crazy things.


That might not be the best way to begin a blog post that is supposed to make my mom feel like everything is wonderful and we are always perfectly safe. It's really hard to describe the situation here in Haiti. Things are safe and calm, and Randy and Karen's house is a haven - what with the guard dogs and the razor wire. But behind their new house, less that 100ft from where I type is a huge tent city. I have no idea of the danger that those people are in each night. Theft and rape are huge problems in the tent cities - and there are lots of them - they are everywhere. Not to mention the lack of food.
One night Randy and I climbed on the roof to take a look at the mountains and the city. One man stood in the tent city looking at us. He shouted "hey man, we need food!" That's the way things are in Haiti. Everywhere you go, you are reminded that people need food. Food for their bellies, and food for their souls. This is a tough place to live.

This is the view from Randy and Karen's roof. The top one is the back left corner, and the top one is the front. Quite a contrast! It's a beautiful country.

So, a little update on what we have been doing. We've been very busy. There are so many things to do, people to meet, places to go. Randy and Karen and Maia have been awesome, giving us whirlwind tours of Port-Au-Prince, and making us feel really at home. Even Maia is starting to really like having us around, because we are more tolerant of her misbehavior. She is one busy little girl.

For the first week we were here, my big job was teaching Bible at Adoration Christian School, which is the school that Randy and Karen are in charge of. I taught grade 3 and grade 5 for 4 days. It was a pretty interesting and very challenging, because for the first time I had to work through a translator. It was also a big challenge to teach the story of the battle of Jericho to children who live surrounded by walls - walls that fell down around them not so long ago. I had lots of support from Randy and the teachers at the school, so I think it went well. I also had an opportunity to teach at Friday afternoon youth group at the church. I thought that Randy made it sound like 6 or 7 teens would show up and we would study around some tables. Much to my suprise, there were about 30 teens there! And they sat in pews! We were preachin' it, brother. It turned out great though. Randy and I preached about the three enemies that are against us that hinder us from following God. They are Satan, Ourselves, and the world. We emphasized that the only way to fight these enemies is with the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus, that we are unable to do it on our own. It was a huge privilege to be able to encourage those teens in their walk with Christ and point them toward Him. Here is a picture of me teaching Grade five, and a picture of the classrooms.

Cassandra has been busy as well. She has been helping Karen with a whole lot of office work. Last week was the last week of classes, so there is a whole lot of end of year stuff to finish up. She has also been getting a crash course in the Creole words for basic school supplies, because she is in charge of the little shop that the school runs where kids can buy pencils, pens, and paper.
Karen also really likes having her around because she is amazing with Maia, just like she is amazing with every kid in the universe.
The day that we arrived in Haiti, Randy and Karen finalized a deal with a new landlord, so the day after we arrived Cassandra and Karen were busy packing up the old house. We moved into the new place last Saturday. Cassy did a TON of work to make that happen. The move has actually taken a lot of time. I should also mention for my mother's benefit that the move is the reason she has not heard from us...we had no internet until this afternoon!

Other than that, we have been doing a lot of driving around, fixing things at the school, problem solving, visiting people, babysitting, etc.

On a side note, getting anything done in Haiti takes about 4 times longer than it does in Canada - this is not an exaggeration. You can image how much work moving is. The roads are terrible - a moving van is out of the question. The average speed on Randy's truck is 4.4 km/h. Seriously, it has a thing on the dash that tells you. The roads are always washed out, so you simply can't go any faster. I can't even describe how bad the roads are - you wouldn't believe it.

In any case, that should bring whoever is reading this roughly up to speed. Please keep praying for us. It is really really hot here. Seriously. We don't have hot in Canada. Canada is the land of permanent winter. But all joking aside, please pray about that. Cassandra in particular is having a hard time with the heat - it often makes her nauseous and exhausted. She is a real trooper though.
Also pray that we will be able to communicate and connect with some of the kids at the school - it has been really tough with the language barrier. It's really tough to step out and get to know kids when you can't talk to them.
And pray that we will be bold to live out and teach the Gospel. Pray that we will have wisdom to know how to love the people here without making their problems worse, which has so often been the case with Christian mission. We see the affects of that a lot here. Pray for Haiti.

Friday, August 06, 2010

we're not in Canada anymore.

Our flights were great. The view from 38,000 feet is pretty incredible.

I am very tired, so I am going to keep it short. We are doing well, we feel a bit overwhelmed - there is a lot of new things to look at and take in. But we are alive, and we know that we are in God's hands.

Haiti is different than anything I have ever felt or experienced. I'll try to explain more in the future.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

farewell, North America

well, we're off.

This blog might (finally) see some action in the next few weeks, because we will be in Haiti, and it is traditional for North Americans to blog about their experiences in distant lands.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

this morning I woke up

and that is incredible.

Friday, October 23, 2009

i need to take it

So if you ever decide to watch the Coen brother's film Fargo by yourself while your wife is away for the weekend, I have some advice for you.

Don't do it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

God counts by ones

Some thoughts from Stephen C. Barton, whom I discovered today, on the parable of the lost sheep found in Luke 15:3-7.

"Taking now the parable from Luke, there are several other observations to be made that deepen our appreciation of it. First, there is the apparent recklessness of the shepherd in leaving the ninety-nine other sheep "in the wilderness" (of all places!) to go in search of just one lost sheep. There is a lack of a sense of proportion here that is surprising and almost shocking. But God's grace is like that. It does not fit into our ordinary patterns of accounting. Each sheep is so valuable that the shepherd risks the well-being of the entire flock in order to find it. The concern for the lost is emphatic. And that is a feature that highlights a profound point about divine accounting - that is that God counts by ones."