I could hear the rain drumming on the roof as I lay awake in the dark early hours of the morning. I was supposed to go into the mountains with Ruben to begin meeting his friends and family and see what God was leading us to do up there. He had told me there was a great need for evangelism and discipleship there and we had been praying for a long time before going. We were supposed to take a motorcycle, but after listening to the rain fall heavy all night I knew that the road would not be in any shape to take a motorcycle.
Ruben called just before 6 am and confirmed that foot travel would be the only way we could make it. I told him I was up for it, ate breakfast, and headed out. I learned 2 things that day. The first is that I am a wuss compared to Ruben. The second is that I am getting old. Everything hurts more at 40 than it did at 30. Also, the next time a Haitian tells me it is a long ways to walk, I need to multiply whatever I am thinking times 10.
I did 3 things that day that I try to avoid at all costs in Haiti. The first thing I did was take a Tap Tap. This is a taxi usually in the form of a small pickup that everyone crams in the back of with various belongings. They drive fast, reckless, are usually on the verge of breakdown billowing dark clouds of black smoke from the tailpipe, and frequently crash killing and maiming the passengers. I took a motorcycle taxi. These are just what you think, but usually carry 2 passengers plus the driver, sometimes up to 5 people, sometimes livestock and belongings included. The drivers are reckless, the motorcycles are usually in disrepair, and they frequently crash killing and maiming people. I have personally witnessed several accidents with these before my eyes and have seen the aftermath of many more in the short time I have lived here. The third thing I did was probably the most dangerous. I drank water flowing from beneath a rock.
I drove a car to Ruben's house, and then we walked to a place where we could find a Tap Tap. We took the Tap Tap from Petit Goave to a small village of Vialet for the equivalent of 50 American cents. Once we got to Vialet we started walking up the mountain. I brought a backpack with a bowl of rice, a first aid kit, two flashlights, and two water bottles. Ruben brought nothing. He bought some bread muffins from a vendor and put them in my backpack.
It was a beautiful morning as we started up the winding path that led deep into the mountains behind Vialet. On a dry day a 4WD or dirt bike would have had no problem with the road. Today however, it may as well have been covered in ice. Lots of slick, clay mud covered the entire road and sharp rocks protruded everywhere. Every step collected the clay mud that would then provide extra weight and a slick surface to slip around on the protruding rocks. The few motorcycles that we witnessed attempting to pass by would inevitably fall and crash slinging mud and passengers on their way down.
After we had been walking for about two hours I had drank all the water in one of my bottles, and Ruben drank the other. He complained that I didn't bring enough water. I proceeded to correct him by reminding him that HE didn't bring enough water. He thought about it for a minute and then laughed when he realized what I was saying. I started getting tired and slowed down as we climbed the steep hills, but Ruben seemed to only get faster.
After about 2 hours of this I was thinking that we should be getting close. I couldn't get a straight answer out of him. He would just say that we needed to go up and then down and up and down again and we would eventually make it. After about 3 hours we came to a village area that his family lived. We met some of his relatives and saw a small church building. He told me that the church had once been thriving, but now had many problems, was not functioning well, and was starting to go downhill. Shortly after this he said we had maybe 15 minutes more of walking. It turned out to be 2 ½ hours more.
I was so thirsty at this point that I wasn't sure I was going to make it any further without water. My tongue and lips were starting to get fat and all I could taste was the saltiness of my sweat when it would roll down my face and into my mouth. At some point a friend of Ruben's came to meet us. We were to walk with him to his house where we would have lunch.
I at least had some iodine pills in my first aid kit so I knew that I would be able to treat water if we found it. As we crossed a small creek I asked if the water was safe to drink. They pointed me to an area where a spring was flowing from beneath a rock on the side of the mountain. I filled our water bottles and dropped in two of the iodine tablets. Of course you have to wait 30 minutes after treating the water before drinking.
30 minutes later while climbing a steep hill and nearly succumbing completely to leg cramps I decided it was time to drink the water. I pulled out my bottle and noticed that the ancient tablet had not completely dissolved. At this point I was so thirsty that I didn't care. I manually crushed one of the neutralizer tablets, dropped it in, waited 3 minutes as per the instructions, and drank the entire bottle. The two Haitians looked amazed and wondered why in the world I had drank the whole thing. Ruben drank a little bit of his just to do the same thing I was doing, but he was clearly not thirsty.
The water allowed me to make my way up the remaining steep hill and down a path to Ruben's friend's house. We arrived at a small mud walled dwelling that was well built and clean with hand laid stone surrounding it. I didn't even want to walk into the clean yard with my mud caked boots and tried to take them off before walking any further. I really wanted to give my feet a rest and get them out of my boots for a while.
Hospitality and kindness are an interesting thing. The family would not allow me to take my boots off because they were trying to be kind and hospitable to me. I wanted those boots off so bad because my feet were burning and aching from the last 5 ½ hours of hard hiking. So in order to not offend their kindness I ended up just leaving on the boots and walking into their clean house tracking mud, all the while wanting nothing more than to get those boots off, just so we could both be kind to each other.
Ruben and I both prayed upon entering the house. We thanked God for a safe journey. We then prayed a blessing over the house and asked God to lead us into the work he wanted us to do there.
As soon as we sat down they offered me a glass of water. At this point I didn't care if the water came from the ditch outside I was ready to drink it. It was nice to smell the scent of bleach as I was brought a clean glass of water. The lady said they always put a little bleach in the water to make sure it is safe to drink. She then asked if I wanted some coffee.
I felt life return to me as I took the first sips of hot, black, Haitian coffee sweetened with unrefined sugar. We discussed the church situation and it was sketchy. Apparently there was a church within walking distance but they did not have a pastor. There was a man that acted in that position, but was not actually a Pastor. It seems that everything has so many layers to uncover before full understanding can be attained. There is the simple language and cultural barriers that present a full level of difficulty, but then there is the culture of deception and it runs deep. It seems to always be a difficult barrier to penetrate. A culture of pretense.
We ate yams and greens along with plantains and an onion sauce. Also there was a bowl of delicious chicken. I'm sure it was fresh because there is no refrigeration and several chickens roamed in and out of the house while we ate.
They assumed we would spend the night because of our long walk, but Ruben and I decided we would walk back instead of staying. I learned a new term that day that I kept hearing when people would talk to us and find out what we were up to “Tet Charge”. It means something like you've got a problem with your head.
The man that owned the house asked me which doctrine I preached. Ruben told him that I preached the Bible and that was enough, but I have found it necessary for people to know where I am coming from so there is no mystery. I told him that I was a Baptist minister. He said he was familiar with Baptist doctrine and it seemed to satisfy his curiosity.
The man said that he and his family were Christians but did not go to church in the area. When pressing for information as to why it was difficult to get a straight answer. They said they were a part of a church that was some distance away and only visited on occasion.
After our meal and conversation we walked to visit the church closest by before leaving. A small mud building with a tin roof and wooden door. The wife of the man that lead the church came out to greet us. They told us that there was also a school in the building but it seemed no one could agree on when the school convened.
Finally the man that led the church came out to greet us. He said it would be great if we could come back and hold a Bible study where the people could learn more and ask questions. I told him that we would love to do this and could return at a later date to make a plan.
The sun was starting to dip and cast long shadows as we started to head back. Much of the mud was starting to dry and trails where donkeys, horses, and people tread were starting to form. Before we started walking I looked over and noticed some spray paint on one of the palm trees. I inquired of the meaning and Ruben told me that it was a mile marker telling how far it was to the town of Vialet that we started walking from. 19 kilometers. That's how far we came, and how far we had to walk back.
It was now 5:30 and I knew that it had taken us 5 ½ hours to get here. Good thing I brought flashlights.
We stopped at the natural spring on the way back to refill water bottles. The lady at the house had made some fresh squeezed citrus juice for us and I finished off the last remaining drops out of my water bottle before dipping it in the natural spring. This time I crushed the iodine tablet with my leatherman before dropping it in the bottle.
There were several women at the spring filling containers with water. There were no houses nearby and the spring was at the bottom of a steep ravine. This must have been the closest place to get water. Ruben began talking with the oldest lady. She was probably 50 or 60. We started inquiring about her spiritual state.
She said she had too many sins to accept Jesus. I told her that I had many sins too, along with everyone else in the world. I was able to share with her that God required justice for her sins, but that he found that justice when Jesus was crucified on the cross. If she would trust in what Christ had done in her place and not in her own goodness she could find salvation, and she could be made clean. She wasn't ready for this but seemed touched.
We asked about the churches in the area. The ladies all laughed and said the few small churches there had too many problems. They wouldn't even consider attending. We said goodbye as the sun sunk below the tallest peak.
Going back seemed harder that it had coming there. I really thought we had come mostly uphill, but it turns out I was mistaken. It was in fact uphill both ways. Just like a good story of a hard day of walking should have been.
Ruben knew a few shortcuts and we started to take them because some of the trails had dried. They were goat paths. Steep uphill on one side, precipice drop on the other, and many spots that had washed out. I'm not sure how much time it saved, but it got the adrenaline pumping again.
When passing back through the area of Ruben's relatives I heard a man calling after me. “Hey Blanc! I want to talk to you!” Ruben started walking faster an put his head down. I can never pass up a good opportunity for conversation so of course I stopped and talked to the man. He was obviously drunk and asked me what I was doing up there in the mountains. I told him I was a pastor.
He looked me up and down. My high and tight haircut, North Face pack, and desert military boots must have told him a different story. He started talking to me and asking me questions. He was pretty blown away by the amount of creole I was able to speak. After a few minutes he concluded there was no way I was a pastor and I must be CIA. A lone white guy that walked all the way up there dressed like I was speaking good creole could not be a pastor. So I challenged him. “Let me preach and you can decide for yourself.”
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share the gospel with him and all the people sitting around listening to him. This caught him off guard and he stood speechless for a second. He didn't know what to say. Finally he decided that he knew the whole bible and didn't need me to teach him. I told him that he might know the truth, but by the smell of his breath he wasn't following it. This brought howling laughter from the crowd gathered around him and made him furious. He started cussing in English and trying to defend the fact that he really did know a lot about God.
After a few minutes of discussion I deduced that he did not live there and the people that did live there did not like him, but were afraid of him. He finally decided I must be a pastor and decided I could go. He gave me a hug, said I was his friend, and said goodbye.
After we got down the trail a ways Ruben's cousin said that he was a wanted gangster named Pablo that was hiding out in the mountains. The people did not want him there but were afraid of him. Ruben said that he was afraid of me because he thought I was there to arrest him. I said he seemed more afraid that I might actually be a pastor and would preach the truth of the gospel to him.
As dark started to fall so did the rain. Back came the mud and slick rocks. The small shortcut trails became small rivers and we had to stick to the main road. We were greeted by people walking uphill with things balanced on their heads, leading donkeys, and riding horses. Before long we were accompanied by a man that needed to get to Vialet. He decided that walking with us and our flashlights was better than walking alone. We were able to share the Gospel with him as we walked. He seemed only slightly interested, but you never know what the Holy Spirit is doing in someone's heart.
The three of us walked together for the next few hours trying not to fall down as we more slipped down the hill than actually walked. Every stone underfoot stabbed pain with each step and after a while I was so tired that I had to take short breaks even though I was walking downhill. After a while our visitor got tired of our message and decided he would rather walk alone.
About ½ mile from the town of Vialet I felt like I couldn't take another step. I prayed to God for help and told him that I was at the end of my strength. I needed His help. A few moments later a motorcycle pulled up next to us and asked if we needed a ride. Even after praying and knowing that I was about to give out I couldn't resist the reflex reaction of haggling over the equivalent of 1 American dollar for the ride.
Ruben got on and I got behind him. Immediately my right leg cramped painfully and I had to stretch it out. The downhill dangerous section was behind us, but we still slowly slipped along in the mud making our way to the main road in Vialet. Ruben was holding my cramping leg out straight because I couldn't bend it and I knew that soon we would probably fall in the mud and my extended leg would break backward as we crashed.
After two slow motion falls in the mud we decided to walk beside the motorcycle until we got through the worst section. This gave me a chance to work out my leg cramps and they finally disappeared completely when I got back on the bike. Soon we came to the Vialet market area and merged into the main road.
The wind felt so good as we picked up speed on the blacktop and a few stars started to appear through the breaking clouds. We weren't going fast enough for the raindrops to sting and they actually felt good washing the sweat away from the day. I felt a smile break across my face as we passed banana trees and fields on our way back to Petit Goave. We finally arrived at Rubens house and I paid the motorcycle driver. I thanked him and told him that I prayed for God to send him to us. He gave me a smile that seemed to say “Crazy White Guy”.
I prayed for Ruben, his family, and all the events of the day as we entered the steel gate to the house. I looked for a place to wash my boots before getting in the car to drive home, but decided that the mud on my boots was better than the full concrete gutters on the sides of the street. Trash, filth, and human waste ran down as the rain continued to fall. Ruben's wife brought me a pail of water. I thanked her, washed off my boots, then got in the car for the drive back to Grand Goave.
I cranked up my radio for some Shai Linne on my flash drive. I started and finished the day with songs from The Atonement. Shai Linne always encourages me to preach the truth of the Gospel. I limped up the stairs to the house and peeled off my mud caked clothes outside. Thank God for running water and showers. My family and I prayed together and discussed what might be next. God knows the plans He has for us. I think next time I'll wait for it to be dry – and drive.