Today I Saw God
Today was a day of great celebration as our work in "digging the hole" came to an end. The combined energy and enthusiasm from the La Tremblay Brigade and our team allowed for the work to get completed earlier than expected. This allowed for some of the team members to split off mid-morning and return to the school to enjoy some time with the children. The novelty of introducing parachute play with no language to explain what to do might be better described as mob chaos! Rather than the traditional games of calling out names or descriptors and having children run under, the volunteers concluded the quickest way to bring some order to the laughing, shouting, grabbing children was to toss shoes on the parachutes and enjoy tossing them in the air or from one chute to another. Consensus among the team when the other members returned was that equal sweat was shed in both the trenches and the schoolyard!
Time seems to be a resource for which appreciation continues to grow. While there was great satisfaction in a job well done, the fruit of hard honest work, the completion also signaled our time with our comrades would soon be drawing to an end. What a gift to have to have the afternoon to spend, playing, visiting and just enjoying one another's company. We have observed how communal and comfortable Haitians are with one another. Often hand holding, leaning on one another, almost always in groups and rarely alone, there is a beautiful sense of connectivity and relational health displayed in the day-to-day routines which make up life here. There is a sense of peace and joy found in simply standing on the balcony, watching the comings and goings of the villagers as they come to draw water at the well, work and play in the schoolyard, or simply sit under the shade of a tree and enjoy the pleasure of one another's company. Along with the tap-tap horns, and rooster crows, which have become almost white noise to our ears, is the constant ring of laughter, sight of back slapping and happy smiling faces. Perhaps we poured a little sweat into Haiti, but the Haitian have poured great joy and love into our hearts.
The afternoon passed with multiple soccer matches, short-phrased Creole/English conversations, and further discoveries about one another. It was during this afternoon time that it was discovered how well our Haitian friends read English, and it was a gift to both hear and see them read Psalm 23 or the Lord's Prayer from our Bibles. There were exchanges of names, signing of shirts, and the moving, and unforgettable requests of "I am _____________. Please remember me."
Chip led us in our devotion after yet another dinner feast, with a perfect focus on the Biblical teaching of "joy." Members shared how they had experienced joy on this trip and it was wonderful to reflect upon how much fun we have all had, both as a team, and as a larger community of Christ's followers. One of the boys laughed this afternoon as Karen tried hard to speak in Creole, without success. Stopping her he said, "We all speak one, Karen. We speak Jesus." So few words, but so much truth. Through and in Christ, it has been all joy to share this time, to work alongside the Boys Brigade in their project to rebuild a church. We hope and pray that our church family can can continue to be a part of what God is doing through and in His people in La Tremblay. May we always claim, live and share the joy we have in Christ. Amen.
Tuesday night during devotions the group did an exercise in which we each wrote down three words that we would use to describe our experience on this mission trip. We then shared our words and there were some common themes among the words we chose. The word "humbling" was one of the words shared frequently, and it was also one that I personally chose. I have been on several UMVIM mission trips and I think some element of humility is required on any mission trip you go on. But for this trip to Haiti, I am especially humbled and I know many of my fellow teammates feel the same way. Working side by side with the local people is something new to me and very unique about this particular mission trip and I think it requires a whole new level of humility to sit back and let someone else take charge whereas many times we are used to coming into an area and being able to run things basically how we want to run them.
Even with a simple task like digging dirt and dumping it into piles, there were times when I thought, "Surely there must be a more efficient way to do this." But God kept reminding me that this trip is not about me. It is about Him and the people we are serving. So in order to be the hands and feet of God on this trip, we had to look to the Haitian men we were working with and conform to their way of doing things. We had to fit ourselves into their lives rather than making them alter their lives for us. Although the first day of work was initially frustrating because of what seemed like a lack of direction and organization, God was and is in control and He has a plan for Haiti. I think just by showing up to a small town called La Tremblay and offering this community 10 extra sets of hands we are offering them the hope that is found in Christ Jesus and a hope that they have not been forgotten.
Even after a few short days, our team has come to anticipate a fairly predictable routine. Starting the day early alongside the crows of the roosters and the bustling of the village, we enjoy the blessing of breakfast, often hot, prepared by Madame Lulu, trips to the well to draw water, good morning conversation and then off to "Peller terra!"translated, "Dig the hole!"
Our digging expedition has been transformational in many ways. Not only is the hole getting deeper, and the foundation of a building truly taking shape, but team members have grown in their appreciation of honest work. Many have spoken to the lessons of humility they have learned as each day we immerse ourselves in the sweat, challenge and satisfaction of manual labor, something many of us do much less of in our professional jobs. There is a sense of shared fulfillment as we measure the progress made, embrace the relief and renewal found in a water break when we move out of the sun and into the shade, and witness the gratitude and enjoyment of our comrades in receiving a few small snacks.
One of the things that has impacted our team is the young village children that visit our work site each day. Initially observing from their seats on the wall, they quickly warmed up and looked forward to bubble play and interactions when the team was on break. More recently, they have engaged themselves in the project, and have loved passing buckets and dumping dirt alongside the rest of us. While this has been great fun, especially to see their proud faces in their accomplishment and being included, it has also produced some sadness in our hearts. These children are on our worksite each day because they are among the many children in this country that cannot afford the small fee to attend school. Eager, energized and smart, they are delightful to have in our midst, yet we are somewhat haunted knowing that these young minds will not get the benefit of learning in school. School is where French is taught. If they do not go to school, they will grow up only speaking Creole, and will be illiterate in their country's main language. Tom recently talked about lament in the Lent Profiles in Courage series. It is fair to say that this situation has given rise to lament in the hearts of team members. It is our hope that our lament will lead to conviction and courage to do what God would have us do. Please join us in prayer as we as a team and as a church continue to discern what that might be.
Today was a great day for many reasons. Putting in our first real full day of work, there was a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in the progress made. The depth and width of our digging was where it needed to be along the front and middle of the building structure, and two new footer areas were dug down and squared off. There is great wisdom in the design of the UMVIM work teams in that we have the privilege to work alongside the Haitians. Rather than there being only a brigade of the ten of us to dig and pass buckets from one corner to the other, there are 22, which makes the work lighter in more ways than just the physical labor. We are having fun helping these young men advance in their church building project, and we are enjoying the laughter, joking and short language lessons exchanged along the way. Perhaps the English phrase the men have learned which brings the most laughter from all is their expressive shout of "Dig the hole!" Dan led us in a devotion tonight from 1 Thessalonians 4: 11 in which Paul offers instruction about doing our work in such a way that we gain respect from others. We talked about whether we thought we were doing that, but also discussed how much respect we have for those with whom we work. Working alongside others is a powerful means by which to build both relationship and respect, and we realized that God is building more than just a church structure in Haiti. The days are hot in Haiti and the work is not easy, so water breaks are of high value to everyone involved. This afternoon's break was particularly enjoyable as we shared some of the snack packs put together by Floris. The boys were very enthusiastic and grateful for the afternoon energy boost, and the work that followed, though the end of the day, was perhaps the most boisterous and interactive. It is good to work together, but it is also good "to break bread" together. We think this will be a tradition we will continue!
Upon our return to the school, some took showers, some relaxed, and Colby, better known as "Colbeast" initiated a soccer game with the "Brigade" members. The boys played as hard as they had worked, and it was a joy to see both the talent, and the enjoyment displayed in the game. (Though Colby's nickname is one he brought with him, it was quickly adopted here, as he impressed all of us with his quiet, but tremendous perseverance swinging a pick ax the entire morning without a break! It was good for us to witness this and it effect on his Haitian same-age co-workers, as it exemplified Dan's devotion verse about doing our work quietly and not drawing attention to ourselves, but in such a way as to gain the respect of others). The day ended with another great feast prepared by Madame Lulu, the rest of the team taking turns at bucket shower, and enjoying the evening breeze on the balcony as we visited with one another. There is a great sense of God's presence and goodness among us. We are blessed to be here, and are enjoying the discoveries God is revealing to us while here. We appreciate your prayers, as God is good all the time, and all the time God is good!
The Lenten study at Floris UMC this year has a focus on practicing spiritual disciplines. Today, the Haiti team members got to practice faith in action in relinquishing control, and letting the day belong to God, rather than a preconceived agenda.
The team was up and ready for their early morning departure, arriving at the church at 3:30 AM and then traveling to the aiport together, (thanks to our driver Joan Lynch!). Bags were checked and enthusiasm was high as team members boarded the plane to Miami. The plane landed 20 minutes earlier than expected; it was going to be a good day. Team members were beginning to think ahead through the day, (what arrival time would be in Haiti, what could be accomplished in the day), until they tuned into talk in the Miami airport. A fire had raged the day before. The fire was now extinguished, butsix fuel tanks had been damaged, limiting fuel available for scheduled flightThe team's connecting flight to Haiti was one of the many flights that were canceled. Suddenly the predictable plan for the day was not in effect. Team leader Dave Redding took quick action and got standby boarding passes with the hope of making an afternoon flight. The morning hours passed with general conversation and team members getting to know one another better. The day had a glitch, but one we could overcome and get "back on schedule."
With hope, but realistic expectations, the team waited out the afternoon flight standby scheduling, but realized by 2 PM that they were a few among many in the same cirucmstance, and that they would not be going to Haiti today. Thanks to Charlie's power phone and connections, overnight accommodations and transportation arrangements were made during the wait time, so the team gathered their belongings and traveled to a hotel 13 miles from the airport, where this blog is now being posted.
So what was today? A day of disappointment and frustration, or one of blessing upon blessing? Reflections shared around the dinner table and evening devotional time seem to suggest the latter. While we each left this morning with an itinerary and expectations of what they day would hold, circumstances beyond our control resulted in a very different scenario. We thought today was going to be about arrival and starting our work; God's design was different. God's day was one of preparation, of both our hearts and our team. Today was good "practice" for those of us who typcially function in a highly efficient, predictable and planned world to experience circumstances beyond our control, not close to the devastation and life changing circumstances of Haitians experienced a year ago, but an effective means to increase our empathy nonetheless. We were reminded that while we cannot choose our circumstances, we can choose how we respond. So what were the blessings of the day? To name a few:
watching inidividuals who had not neccessarily been connected prior to travel became a group, whose commonality in Christ spurred kindness, humor, and unity
witnessing people use their gifts, whether leadership, administration, or gentleness, to turn what seeminlgy was a disappointing and trying day, into a memorable and enjoyable event
creating a story together with quotable lines, "I wish I had some peanut butter," "Can I carry that for you?," "Charlie, can you call?" "Maybe it will work," "Do you have a toothbrush?" "They overbooked coach, so three people have to go first class" "Is this a day of my work for God, or God's work to be revealed in me?"
What a blessing we have in Christ, when God's spirit so dwells within us that like Paul, we can choose "to be content in all circumstances, whether in want or in need or full of plenty to learn the secret of being content in any and every situation; I can do all things through Christ who strenghtens me." Philippians 4:11-12.
Please join us in giving thanks for a glorious day where we have had blessing upon blessing, and look forward to God's day tomorrowhopefully in Haiti!
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