*Note: yes, I realize that Haiti is considered apart of North America, but when I refer to North America in my thoughts, I'm referring to continental North America (that is, Canada/USA) and the church we are all a bit more familiar with here at home.
This is a term we hear often when North Americans visit third-world countries, disaster zones, or poverty-stricken communities. When we jump into an area of our world that is seemingly opposite to our own we feel the shock of being taken from our comfort zones. However, I didn’t feel culture-shock when we arrived in Haiti. Yes, I certainly saw some things that differed from my own culture like topless women bathing in rivers, mountains of trash that litter the streets like snow, pickup trucks used as taxi-cabs, stone/straw/mud homes, and goats tied to a lamppost outside a convenience store. Emotions run a mile a minute when you see the destruction of a home right next door to the immaculate American embassy or see throngs of people scurry around a busy market while UN officers sit idly by across the street.
Despite witnessing all of that, I did not face this “culture-shock” when we arrived in Haiti. Rather, I experienced culture shock when I arrived home to my family, my home, my car, and my computers. Upon my return to Moncton, it was what the Haitians have that we in Canada and the US do not have that was the biggest shock to me. We complain about things like road conditions, cold coffee, the length of our church services, and lineups. But it’s the things like richness in faith, the love of a community, giving the best of what you have to others, waiting on the Spirit, taking your time, singing louder than the instruments, and work-before-play that are what makes the Haitian people such a consistent, durable, and resilient people. There was a word that we were taught before our trip begun: “degaje” which is Creole for “to do the best with what you have”. In a culture where we can get what we want, when we want it, how we want it, Haiti is a culture that plays to its strengths and makes do with what little they have and I believe they are the better for it. These are some of the things there is a lack of in our own culture. A lot of things that are wrong with continental North American culture can be cured by what can be learnt from the Haitian people.
My sister-in-law went on a trip to Sri Lanka a few years ago and when she returned she experienced what she calls a “painful readjustment”. When I asked Rebecca to explain that, she replied: “I didn’t understand how the trip fit into the rest of my life and I struggled to accept my own world. I wondered how I could experience the feelings of hope and meaning that I had in Sri Lanka and apply them when I got back home.” My mother-in-law, Sandy, when helping Rebecca sort out her trip, called it her “grieving process’. I tend to stick with this same definition, though I feel similar feelings to that of Rebecca. I grieved over the state of Haiti’s culture while I wallowed in my own self-centered life back home.
It really is hard to describe to your loved ones, your co-workers, and your church what you experienced, felt, and saw from a trip of this kind. Other than telling stories and flipping through pictures, I felt I wasn’t doing justice to the people of Haiti simply by recounting my memories. Before we left, Frantz (our Nazarene Work and Witness coordinator from Haiti) told us to “…not forget about Haiti. Tell others about what you have seen, what you have done, and what you have experienced, but tell them to continue praying for Haiti”.
I was compiling some pictures and video footage from our trip to put in a 4-5 minute video for our church. I spent about 2 hours on the video on the Saturday night but it wasn’t until I sat down and watched the video with my church, among my fellow congregants, that I started to “grieve” over what I saw. It wasn’t until I sat with others just like me and watched those clips unfold that I realized the impact of my experience. I sat in the pew and wept over a country I did not understand in a country I thought I understood.
Through the stories of the other 4 men from my church that were with me on the trip, I was able to see the great things God had done in their lives and the greater things God is doing in Haiti from a whole other point-of-view (without actually having to be in Haiti).
Things I Regret:
Some of the things I regret about this trip are small, but significant.
I regret not bringing a journal. I’ve never been one to journal anything but I believe it would have helped me in my grieving process much easier had I done so. I have no way of re-living and re-capturing those momentary thoughts and experiences because I didn’t write them down. Instead I only have a few specific pictures and memories that I fear may fade with time.
I regret not having my wife with me. This was a little out of my control, but I really wish Catherine was with me to share this experience. Her heart is bigger than mine to begin with and her compassion for the poor would have built its own church. I promised her that the next time an opportunity like this comes up, we will do our best to make sure we can both go together.
I regret thinking Haiti would be a desolate place. If you base your opinion on Haiti from what you see on CNN, you (like me) are sadly mistaken. Yes, there is destruction, leftover rubble from 2010’s earthquake, and a city littered with waste and trash but the country as a whole is absolutely breath-taking. The countryside is beautiful, the mountains never end, and the sites are inspiring. Everything from the bustle of a local city market to the calm lakes and lofty mountains is awesome.
I regret feeling the least bit superior to the people. Even more beautiful than the scenery of Haiti are the people of Haiti. Their smiles are infectious, their demeanor peaceful, and the atmosphere of life is serene. Despite the physical surroundings of destruction and poverty, the attitude of these people is positive and joyful. He made my heart explode with envy.
Bringing Haiti Home:
Even though my teams' main purpose was to serve and help rebuild a Nazarene church in Saint-Raphael, I was hoping to somehow bring the prosperity of my N.A. culture to Haiti to somehow affect the lifestyle of a small community in Haiti. But, as the week flew by, I couldn't help but feel that Haiti was changing me and that it was affecting me more than I (or wee) was affecting it. There were things about the people and the way they lived that I wanted to bring to my country, my home, and my church.
The dedication service and Sunday morning services we had the pleasure to be apart of after completion of the church blew us away. The Spirit of God was evident in that church like none other I've ever experienced. Even through the language barrier, the Spirit of God was tangible and present among us and touched our hearts. The way they sang, prayed, and simply worshipped together as a house of God was so inspiring and I couldn't help but mourn for the North American (capitol "c") Church. What are we missing? Haiti's Holy Spirit seems to be much closer to the Acts 2 Holy Spirit we often talk about in our N.A. churches and that was something I'll never forget.
When we held our recap service last Sunday at my home church I couldn't help but close my eyes and envision myself in Saint-Raphael Church of the Nazarene while I sang and worshipped at Lutes Mountain Church of the Nazarene. I'm not implying the Holy Spirit isn't at work at my home church, but I couldn't help but feel God's presence both at my own church and in Saint-Raphael at the same moment in time. That's how awesome our God is.Our Work & Witness coordinator, Frantz, suggested that Haiti gets a bad wrap; that she is misrepresented. "Haiti is a resilient and strong people". Even though our view from atop is skewed only by things we see on TV, we were assured that Haiti is so much more than that. And it is. Even though we spent a few days rebuilding a church in a small community of 5000, that church of 300 or 400 people can be so much to them. With Haiti's power to stretch a circumstance ("degaje") this small Nazarene church can be more than a place local congregants can worship in. This building provides a shelter for the community, provides a place to receive a clean water source (community well), provides a school building for child education, provides a center for adult literacy, and an epicenter for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to its surrounding area. The Hope of Haiti lies in its people. Sure, we North Americans can give our money, donations, and physically help in rebuilding efforts, but ultimately the hope of Haiti is in its people. So, most importantly, pray for the people of Haiti. Pray the love and hope of Jesus Christ keeps growing among the people and that He will empower them to overcome all obstacles and circumstances. As my friend Ryan (and fellow Team member) said in his blog recounting his own Haiti experience "...simply giving of your money is not enough to absolve you of your Christian responsibility".
Hope of Haiti:
Hope of Haiti:
I’ve given myself a week to digest my experience as well as given myself some time to recover from the Haiti-hangover. I was so affected by this country that I felt I needed to be released from its grasp on my heart. Part of writing this blog is part of that. I am no literary talent, no wordsmith, nor a special human being for even going on this trip. Frantz asked us to "tell our story" to family and friends when we return and I guess this is part of my way of doing that. So, on behalf of Frantz and his Haitian brothers and sisters, I implore all of us to examine our own hearts to see what God would have you do in helping Haiti. Maybe you can even join me on my next trip to Saint Raphael to see what God will do with His new church there.
Here's a brief video I slapped together from our trip. I can't imagine these images will stir your heart as much as they did mine, but I hope they at least stir a passion in you to pray for the redemption of Haiti.