We finally emerged from a back street and into the open main one. We first noticed burning barricades, and then the riot police in full gear. Then they started shooting tear gas canisters just a short distance in front of us. Lance told me later that he thought they were grenade launchers and was bracing for a blast. He was initially relieved when they only emitted smoke....until he caught the smell of it and his eyes began to water, and then he began to choke. So what were we doing there? Preaching the gospel of course.
We were invited back to a church in Petit Goave that we had visited earlier. The first time was to visit, this time it was to preach and sing. God has started to open some doors to us in this location and we are building relationships. We had a couple of the kids from the Children's Village with us because they are from that area. God used this day to also open some doors for family connections. He leads and we follow.
The night I was writing my sermon that I would preach, the voodoo ceremonies were going on all around us. They were so loud that we had to yell to hear each other talk. They were using amplification – the first and only time I have heard them use this so far. You can feel a heavy weight of evil when they crank off, but greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world. It gave me a healthy audience perspective as I was writing.
After the service we had three ladies come forward asking for prayer. One lady had strayed from Christ and even visited a voodoo priest recently trying to find healing. After hearing the message she was convicted of her sins and wanted to be restored like Peter. Another lady had previously given her life to Christ, but knew she needed to follow through with baptism. Of course there is always Satan waiting to snatch the seed right after it hits the ground. We had no idea that a battle was about to take place.
After returning my friend Rubens, to his house and following up on some of our kids family connections we started to head back to Grand Goave. There was no indications that “manifestasyons” (demonstrations, riots, throwing rocks, burning stuff, shooting, etc...) were about to take place. It is unusual for a Sunday afternoon.
The people were angry. The local power company had not provided consistent power in almost a month. Only a couple of hours worth of power in almost a month makes for some pretty angry people. No phones can be charged, no lights at night, no soccer games on TV, etc... After many vain attempts to reconcile through diplomatic means it was time to take things to the next level. We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although the proximity in time to the fruitful events of the morning can not be discounted as pure coincidence. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.
On our way back through town we got stuck in heavy traffic. We couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back. More traffic was piling up behind us and we were trapped. We asked around trying to get to the bottom of the problems but could not seem to get a straight answer. While trying to figure out what to do next we noticed the general sense of our surroundings seem to get more agitated. People were moving faster and getting louder. Then Rubens and his wife showed up out of nowhere.
They were coming to get some food items and were concerned about us so the came to find us. They got in the truck with us and explained what was going on. After assessing the situation they thought it would be better to try going forward around the trouble than trying to go back through the gridlock. It was like the lesser of two evils, or being stuck between a rock and a hard place, catch 22 – you get the picture.
Our journey began by taking a tiny side street. Rubens was telling me where to go and I just had to trust he knew what he was talking about. He speaks really bad English and I speak really bad Creole, but we are brothers in Christ and he gives us grace. There were 10 people total. My family (6), two boys from the children's village, Rubens and his wife. My two boys and the other two village boys were in the back of the truck. The rest of us were crammed in the front. We began a vigil with continuous prayer and singing praises to God. The main song seemed to be Angel Armies. How appropriate.
Everywhere we turned seemed to only be a turn into a barricade complete with burning stuff and angry guys with guns blocking the way. This only left narrow passages with no room to turn around if things got bad. Rubens found a friend of his to help us navigate. Rubens and his friend walked ahead to scout and we would follow. Finally we emerged on the main road around the initial block and Rubens got back into the truck. The only problem was that we were now trapped between barricades. The good news was the riot police just showed up on the scene. The bad and good news was that as soon as we got there they started shooting tear gas canisters, clearing the way and waving us through. The good part was that it cleared the way, the bad news was that tear gas is indiscriminate.
For some reason God has blessed me not to be allergic to tear gas. I can feel it, it is slightly unpleasant, but I can still completely function. I was glad that I was the one driving. When the cloud hit us Luke found out that he has inherited this from me. Everyone else fell apart with tears, snot, and choking. Amy later recounted how it effected her emotionally as well.
We dropped Rubens and his wife off at the edge of town in front of the police station thinking that we were out of the hot zone. Everyone took a moment to “catch their breath” and we washed our faces with water from our water bottles. We prayed together and thanked Rubens and his wife for their selfless act. We gave each other a long hug and we parted ways. He was going to the Pastor's house and we tried to head back to Grand Goave. Nothing like someone risking their life to help you navigate a riot to forge a lasting bond.
We felt relief for about 30 seconds until we rounded the first corner and found the bridge was blocked. What we didn't know at the time was there were about 20 blocks on each side of town. We were right in the middle.
We stopped near the bridge trying to get a handle on what to do when some dude shows up out of nowhere offering to help. Well I appreciate the offer but I don't know you. Who are you? It turns out that he knew Pastor Lex – our local pastor. I called Lex to confirm and let them talk for a minute. Lex said to let him help us and then give him some money for a moto to get back to Petit Goave after things cooled off.
He was a source of encouragement because he sang and prayed with us, but his advice was bad. God uses the base things of the world to confuse the wise. Right around the time we hooked up with him we started hearing lots of gunshots. At this point we all piled into the truck cab – 9 people total. His advice was to turn around and go back to town. I followed this initial piece of advice. We went back to the police station and things were gettin' cray cray.
Lots of people with guns, smoke, lot's of rock throwing, and general bedlam. The dude we picked up got out of the truck and started checking things out. He finally got back in and started telling me to go deeper into town. He pointed to an area with a woman laying in the street, people throwing rocks, and people actively shooting guns. Uhhhh – no. At this point I just stopped listening to him, turned around, put it in 4wd and started driving through the rock barricades.
I made it through about 4 when I reached another section of gridlock traffic. The rioters had taken control of a large bus and parked it sideways across the road. Pretty effective tactic. The general sense in this location was passive resistance. I was happy to take any relief from the hotbed town had become.
Finally after what seemed like forever the riot police showed up and moved the bus. They just walked up with guns drawn, acted like they owned the place, and everyone complied. They walked in front and waved to us to follow them. We complied and eventually found a breakthrough. When we finally got back to the children's village my “brother” showed up and said that he was about to come for us on his moto. This is the guy that was a former Haitian military man that calls me his brother because we share a history of being in the military. Pastor Lex had called him and told him what was going on and he decided to come for us. Again – someone risking their life for us. My brother goes by many names including, but not limited to: Commandant, Motivator, I Love You (just like it sounds in English) – but I think his real name is Fallier.
It is interesting to watch the culture here. We have started putting together a leader team from the kids. One leader per house. During one of our meetings a mouse emerged and started running around. In perfect concerted effort the four house leaders immediately worked together in an attempt to corner the mouse and stomp it to death. Even though their attempts were in vain it was awesome to watch. Just a normal part of life.
Life is hard and so are the people, but it can be refreshing. We have been trying to set mouse traps in order to catch the mice. We have only caught one so far, the rest we have just fed. The kids here are pretty fearless and like to play games with things that would send most American school teachers right over the edge. I am pretty hardened so I can find a sense of humor in some of their games. While trying to set the traps for mice, they found it way more entertaining to set the traps and then throw them at each other. No one was getting hurt and everyone was howling laughing so I just let it continue. It is cool to see that they do have a line and don't take it too far. They played for a while, no one was hurt, and then they stopped and went on with life. Everyone had a good belly laugh in the mean time. Good times.
The easiest way to have fresh meat without refrigeration is just to kill the animal right before you eat it. This means you have to store live animals somehow. We got a whole bunch of chickens recently and killed them over the period of a couple of weeks. During the first kill the kids let out all the chickens and then chased them all around. Absolute chaos. I convinced them next time to just take out the ones they wanted to kill and keep the other ones in the cage. Brilliant idea.
I decided to give swimming lessons to our kids. It was really amazing to see them all want to excel. We broke into groups by skill level and by the time we were done everyone had improved. Even though the participation was totally voluntary, everyone participated. Throw out the challenge and they seem to rise to the occasion. Make it forced and everyone pushes back.
It is cool to just let boys be boys sometimes. The boys here are great at making homemade slingshots out of all manner of things that are laying around. They are not hindered by wont for material. They are really good at killing birds with them. When they finally kill one, which they do on regular occasion, they set to work right away cleaning and then cooking it. Nothing is wasted.
Some other missionary friends of ours were able to pick up some Christmas packages for us and had them at their house about 45 minutes from here. We were able to drive to pick them up on Christmas day. I can't tell you how often it seems the devil wants to thwart plans here with broken vehicles. We got in the van to drive and the battery was dead. We all switched over to the truck and it was out of gas. At least gas stations in Haiti are still open on Christmas day.
We had a wedding to attend after Christmas and it seemed like every vehicle on the property had one issue after another as we continued to try each one. We put a new battery in the van that morning, got it started, and then noticed it was leaking gas from underneath. Dang. We had about 20 people to bring and ended up just cramming everyone in the truck both front and back. As we pulled out on the main highway we noticed another truck going to the wedding doing the exact same thing. At least we fit in. By this time we were very late so I decided to take a shortcut across the river. Amy was pleading with me “Please don't take the river!”. I did just like a good husband, ignored her pleas and took the river. The other loaded truck was right in front of us. It turned out we were late, but the wedding still didn't start for 2 hours. Haitian Time.
We had to drive to Port-au-Prince on New Years day to pick up someone from the airport. The gas leak problem on the van had been fixed, but the spare tire was flat. We stopped at the roadside gas station to get it fixed on the way. New Years day and no rest for working men. A young boy of about 10 years ran over and began lowering the spare from beneath the van. He worked with a smooth professional air that belied his youth. Another apprentice of maybe 12 or 13 was working to get a tire off a rim with homemade hand tools. The owner worked patiently with both of them and had the presence of a master trainer as he spoke. The station was the same one I have described before. Just a small place on the side of the main highway blocked off with some rocks and tires and an old tarp full of holes for the cover.
His family was in the corner and he would take frequent breaks to kiss his small son that his wife was holding. It was New Years day so he had to celebrate. Every now and then taking a pull from a small flat whiskey bottle. His young laborers did most of the work and he checked up on them from time to time. In about 15 minutes we were hooked up and ready to go. Try to get that kind of service in the US.
The hard reality of life here is never out of reach. This past week one of our workers had his first child die. He was recently married and this is their first child. He was unwilling to accept the reality and brought his daughter home. Sean Moore – one of our fellow missionaries recounts the story in his blog here. With no other resources they had to handle the death and burial all on their own. With no other real family they leaned on Sean to help them make the hard decisions and help dig the grave. Please pray that God will lead them to the cross through this. The light shines brightest in the dark.