Thursday, March 29, 2012

8 Things I Remember

One of my favorite songs is "We Will Remember" by Tommy Walker.

We will remember, we will remember, we will remember the works of your hands
And we will stop and give you praise for great is thy faithfulness.

You’re our creator, our life sustainer, deliverer, our comfort, our joy
Throughout the ages You’ve been our shelter, our peace in the midst of the storm


1. The places we stayed in Nicaragua and Haiti.

2. the way the children loved each other

3. street scenes - the colors, the vehicles, the places where people lived and worked

4. the license plates

5. nature's beauty and majesty 

6. how openly they received us and made us feel welcome, even in their schools

7. the view from the bus as we waved good-bye

8. the wonder of being there, in another country, so far from home and yet somehow fully at home


With signs and wonders You’ve shown Your power, with precious blood You showed us Your grace
You’ve been our helper, our liberator, the giver of life with no end

When we walk through life’s darkest valleys, we will look back at all You have done -
And we will shout, our God is good, and He is the faithful One.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Apologize in Advance...

This is exactly what I wished for.
This is exactly what I prayed for.

I asked to never be able to forget Haiti. To never forget the heat, the sunlight, the bus rides, the dusty roads. The palm trees, the food stands at the side of the road, the woman following her donkey, and the school children with bows in the hair and pencils in their hands.

I asked God to remind me of the band and singers that welcomed us to Haiti at the airport, the tree branches that brushed both sides of the bus on that narrow road up to OFCB, the sights, the sounds, the piles of garbage, the cell phone towers, and the brightly painted trucks and buses. The proud, dignified, strong, resourceful, funny, beautiful people - may I never forget their grace and elegance and the means by which they made their way through, around, between, and in spite of all that surrounds them.

The beeping of the horns, the crowding of the tap-taps, the way in which both men and women carry impossibly large, heavy, wet, and uneven loads on their head. I never saw anything fall from anyone's head - that is unforgettable.

The flowers, the trees, the plantings, the fields, the mountains, the beaches, the cows, the goats, the dogs - so much life, so much color, so much beauty. I asked God to help me remember all of it. So far, it seems that my prayers have been answered. There have been very few waking hours when I have not thought about and prayed for Haiti.

In my morning prayers, I say, "We entrust all who are dear to us to Your never-failing love and care, for this life and for the life to come, knowing that you will do for them far more than we can desire or pray for." When I say the words, "all who are dear to us," I think of some of the people of Bayonnais - who are so dear to me now.

At midday, I pray, "Accept the prayers of your people, we pray, and in Your great mercy, look with compassion on all who turn to you for help." As I utter those words, I imagine in my mind all those in Haiti who turn to God for help day after day.

In the evening, my prayer includes the following lines: "We offer prayers for the welfare of the whole world: for all people in their daily life and work, for all who hold authority and all who work for freedom, justice, and peace, for all who suffer and all who remember and care for them, and for all those in whom we have seen the Christ this day, in joy and in sorrow. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy."

As the nighttime shadows deepen, I utter my final prayers for the day - "Keep watch, dear Lord, with all who work or watch or weep this night. Give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, we pray, and give rest to the weary. Soothe the suffering and bless the dying. Pity the afflicted and shield the joyous, all for your love's sake, amen."
(This is where the prayers come from.)

It is impossible to pray those words without thinking of those who suffer in Haiti - the homeless in Nicaragua, the poor in Sevilla, the hungry in Charlotte, and the parents of a needlessly murdered teenaged boy in Sanford, Florida.

I apologized in advance and now I apologize at the end for continuing to reflect, ponder, and post photos and thoughts about this trip here on the blog. I am grateful for your continued support, your questions, your comments, your emails, and the ways in which you are using these stories in order to better feed, educate, and spiritually empower the people of Haiti. If anything I write here, if any question I ask here, if anything I do here makes a difference in the life of even one Haitian child, then to God be the glory and to you be many thanks.

Once again, I'm sorry.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"There is room for the thousands..."

I've been reading through Show Me The Way, Henri Nouwen's book of readings for each day of Lent. I've read this book at least five times and every year I discover ways in which the stories I've lived leading up to Lent are directly related to the stories Nouwen wrote more than twenty years ago.

Yesterday's reading included the following excerpts:

"Is anyone among you in trouble? He should turn to prayer." Indeed prayer is the only real way to clean my heart and create new space. I am discovering how important that inner space is.  

When it is there, it seems that I can receive many concerns of others in it without becoming depressed. 

When I sense that inner quiet place, I can pray for many others and feel a very intimate relationship with them. 

There even seems to be room for the thousands of suffering people in prisons and in the deserts of North Africa.

Sometimes I feel as if my heart expands from my parents traveling in Indonesia to my friends in Los Angeles and from the Chilean prisons to the parishes in Brooklyn."

As I have continued to reflect on my time in Haiti, as I retell the stories and review the photos, I realize that my heart has expanded so that there is now room for the people at Charlotte and Miami's airports, the people on the planes we flew on, the people crammed into the back of the tap-taps, room for the children walking to school in their uniforms and shiny shoes, room for the farmers and room for the shopkeepers.

While in Haiti, bombarded with noises of all kinds at all hours of the day and night, I was aware of a place of inner stillness where I could withdraw and pray for all the little faces I saw, for all the people working in the fields, and all the teachers moving from classroom to classroom at OFCB.

As I recall how the children moved from place to place, across that dusty courtyard - which later became a soccer field, and all throughout the village,

how the little boys and girls called out to us, repeatedly saying, "Photo, photo," and then took on exaggerated poses,

how they turned their gazes and their smiles in our direction, peppered us with questions, and later bid us farewell before making their way home each night,

and now, as the memories begin to fade, the details blur, and the malaria medication works its way out of my system, I am grateful that my heart remains as wide tonight as it was when I was still in Bayonnais.

The space that those beautiful Nicaraguan children cleared out in my heart back in 2008 has grown larger and more densely populated with the Haitian children I met just three weeks ago tomorrow.  Somehow I still remember faces and names from the camp I worked at when I was back in college. I remember several students that I taught in Brooklyn, New York, and Watertown, Connecticut. The children and grown women I taught and spent hours with in Connecticut, they live in this oversized heart of mine as well. I had no idea so much space existed in my weary, wounded, hopeful, joy-soaked soul.

However, when it all feels like too much, like there are simply no more tears to cry, no more stories to tell, no more memories to rehash and I feel helpless and hopeless, I coax my despairing self into the back pew of my inner sanctuary and pray for rain for Bayonnais, Haiti. I pray for food for the people in Paradise (the most misleading name I've ever heard), outside Managua, Nicaragua. I pray for peace in Afghanistan and Mexico and Sudan and Liberia. I pray for a stop to the violence in South Africa, the sex trade in Thailand, the trafficking of slaves all over the world, and the racially motivated murders still taking place right here in the United States. I pray for broken homes and broken hearts. I pray for direction, healing, employment, housing, reconciliation, and peace.

Later, when I'm finished going down my long list of friends, places, and situations that need a miraculous healing of some kind, I realize the truth in Henri Nouwen's opening statements from yesterday's reading.

Prayer heals. Not just the answer to prayer. 

Nearly every time I open my eyes after prayer, new space has been created, room for the thousands...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Toughest Story of All

In the first post of this Haiti trip series, I wrote about seeing the people who cooked our meals eating the food we had left on our plates. That was a difficult story to tell. But this one, today's story, is the toughest. Because it happened in front of us but I'm not sure many of us noticed. 

It was right there. I saw it.  
I should have done something. 
But I did nothing. 
I walked past, took photos, and wept. 
But that's not the same thing as doing something. 
In truth, there isn't much I could have done, 
but still I am convinced and convicted that I should have done something. 

Do you see them, the main protagonists in this story? 
They are in front of Thold and Wes, squatting down on the road.

There they are behind us now, still squatting. 
Eddie and Morris are about to walk past them.

What are they doing? They are picking up corn kernels. Down in the dust on the road were dry corn kernels that had fallen out of a bag. A black quart-sized bag at the young man's feet had apparently developed a hole and the corn had spilled out into the dirt.

As I walked past, I saw the corn. I saw their diligent and deliberate work in retrieving it. I kept walking.

I wanted to stop, but I didn't want to make them feel bad. I didn't want them to feel ashamed. Feel bad about what exactly? Ashamed about what? About the fact that they couldn't afford to leave any of their food on the road, in the dust? About the fact that they have so little that every kernel counts, every single kernel?

Perhaps I walked past and did nothing because I felt bad, because I felt ashamed. How is it that I didn't know there was such desperate hunger and need so close to home? How is it that I am so proud, so hurried, and so insensitive that it was more important for me to keep walking with my friends than it was to share that moment with those two people?

Yesterday someone asked me if the people of Haiti, of Bayonnais seemed happy. Oh, yes, they seemed to be very happy. They seemed to love one another and befriend one another in powerful and meaningful ways. As I wrote yesterday, they held one another's hands; they braided one another's hair; they played together; they smiled at, laughed with, and cared for one another almost without ceasing. And they did all of the above for us as well - one pre-adolescent boy, who happens to be blind in one eye, braids better than most women I know.

They spoke with dignity and strength, courage and determination - even as they told us of graduating from high school at 26 years of age, of failed crops, and last year's cholera epidemic. They didn't deny or downplay the deaths of their siblings, the floods that have destroyed their property, or the polygamous lifestyles that their fathers live. The people of Bayonnais are a remarkable people.

Squatting down in the road to pick up spilled food was nothing to be ashamed of. There were no tears in their eyes. There was no shame, no denial, and no plea for a handout from the Americans strutting past, mostly unaware of what was happening. I'm the only one who cried when I saw it.

So why is this the toughest story of all?
I'm still working on an answer to that one.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

No stories to tell, but so many stories to wonder about...

Everywhere we went, we saw children in school uniforms. Bookbags. Lacy socks. Shiny shoes. Hair in ribbons. Where did all these beautiful children come from? What were their dreams for their lives? What were their families' dreams for their lives?

They stood together in bunches. They sat close together in their classrooms. They gathered together before and after school.

They walked together, holding hands, arms draped around each other's shoulders, smiling bright, speaking softly.

I wanted to talk to every single one of them. Ask ten thousand questions. Follow them home. Meet their family members.

I wanted to hear all their stories. But all I could do was watch, listen, wish them well, and pray for them. I pray for their peace, health, safety. I pray for their future, their families, their faith. I pray that they will have enough to eat, that they will know they are loved, and that will they never lose hope.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thoughtful, thankful Thursday

The reflection continues. Remembering. Wishing. Praying. Hoping. 
Rereading journal entries. 
Looking at photos. 

This one was taken somewhere between Charlotte and Miami. The colors were astounding. As was the fact that we were in an airplane, at 35,000 feet or so, traveling between states and eventually between countries. As much as I love to fly, I remain baffled by how airplanes work. I took physics in college and tried desperately to figure out the forces of mass, velocity, and whatever else is involved in getting an airplane aloft - but I was repeatedly unsuccessful in my attempts. In the end, I decided that I didn't have to know how it worked; it was enough for me to enjoy the fact that other people knew how it worked, and their hard work made it possible for me "to travel the world and the seven seas."

At the airport in Miami, I spied a small gaggle of palm trees as we walked from our arrival gate to the departure gate. Such simple and quiet beauty in such a noisy and austere place - I couldn't walk past and not attempt to capture it.

Somewhere between Florida and Haiti, we flew over green inlets, white clouds, and the deep blue sea. Who lives there? Who works there? Do they have any idea how beautiful their land is from above? Does anybody?

Surrounded by mud and dirt, assaulted with noise and smoke, unmoving, a father held his son close. More stillness, quietness, and beauty.

 Mattresses for sale in the sun, piled up on a dusty road, leaning against a rusty fence. A dog wanders past, perhaps wishing he could lie down and rest, knowing he'd be shooed away. We rode past on our bus, a bus sent to Haiti from North Carolina. A bus manufactured for American school children, now carries Haitian students and teachers, food and supplies, and earnest church folks like us back and forth to school. Past sun-baked mattresses.

Eight of the ten of us met at a team meeting two and a half weeks before we left for Haiti. We introduced ourselves briefly, laughed, groaned, compared malaria medications, offered to bring various supplies, and promised to pack light for the journey. We met at the airport at 4:30 in the morning two weeks ago today and set out on an unimaginable adventure. Even the people who had been to Bayonnais before were on a new and different trip this time.

I remember sitting at that first meeting, wondering - Who are these people? Why are we going to Haiti? What do we hope to accomplish? I'm fairly certain that none of us is better able to answer those questions now than we were a month ago when we met that first time. But I'm grateful for each of those teammates of mine.

Rice paddies, field workers, irrigation trenches, palm trees, light poles, villages in the distance. Entire cultures, languages, people groups, landscapes, histories, and futures that were completely unknown to me. But there I was, eager to see it all, capture it all with my camera, in my journal, and most of all, in my soul.

Bathing, washing clothes, drinking, cooking, watering their fields, the people of Bayonnais, 
like all people everywhere depend on the simple, universal, and undeniable miracle of water. 

I'd heard of Doctors without Borders; we saw signs in Creole indicating where they had been headquartered during the recent cholera outbreak. But I'd never heard of Engineers without Borders. We saw signs of where they had been every time we walked or rode over this bridge and small dam and everytime we walked along the canals that bisected the fields and farms of the region. 

Upon our arrival at OFCB, I was silenced and awed yet again by the wonder of connection, the fine web of interaction that makes our lives possible. I was silenced and awed by the miracle of our presence there. Because we arrived on a Thursday and because today is also Thursday, I know that I must take time to give thanks. That day - and today - gratitude abounds.

I am thankful for...

1. electrical circuits that hum all night long

2. alarm clocks that sound at 3 am

3. cars that start and don't break down on early morning airport drives

4. functioning airplanes, diligent mechanics and baggage handlers, and sober, attentive pilots

5. unexpired, unflagged passports

6. security checkpoints

7. jetways, runways, and air traffic control towers

8. other people brave enough to go to places like Bayonnais

9. cargo ships large enough to transport North Carolina school buses

10. the fact that the bus waited until arriving in front of the guesthouse before it broke down

11. the Haitian mechanics resourceful enough to get it running again and keep the school's two buses functioning on a daily basis

12.  clean sheets, towels, toilets, and sinks prepared for our arrival

13. bountiful meals, prepared by cooks who don't have enough to feed their own families

14. all the new faces, the names, and the stories that Haiti has blessed me with

Thanks be to God!