Following God as he leads is a daily event. I am a planner. I like to plan into the future and have objectives and steps along the way that all fall into place. I am learning that following God's lead doesn't always work like this. We make plans in our heart, but God directs our steps. As we prepared for the first bible study in the mountains, everyone that had been a part of the training backed out at the last minute. This left only Luke and I to go up and lead the bible study.
The guy's house that we went to had actually started building benches and a handful of people showed up. I just presented the gospel and then we had a really good time of discussion. The guy that owned the house – SonSon – thanked me for coming and said that he was thirsty for the word that I brought. I asked him to consider where he was in his spiritual walk according to what I had shared. He said that he believed, but didn't want to be baptized yet because he was still enjoying his sin and he would have to get clean before he could be baptized.
Another guy that was there corrected him. He had been intently listening when I shared the gospel and scriptures and explained to SonSon that he couldn't clean himself up, and he couldn't pick baptism over believing. He explained that if you wanted to follow Christ that repentance and baptism went hand in hand according to the scriptures I shared. They discussed this among themselves for a little while and then the man explaining looked at me and said, “I understand what you are saying and know it is true. I appreciate you sharing this with us this morning. However, we don't go to church because we don't want to go. I know it is a long walk to get to a church from here, but that is not why we don't go. If we wanted to go to church somewhere we could, but we just don't want to go.” At least they were being honest, and they never asked me for anything. I prayed to close us out and then walked back home with Luke.
Many people are under the impression that the Haitian culture is mostly illiterate and mostly oral. I have not found this to be the case. It is a more oral culture than ours, but it is not an illiterate one. Sometimes I meet someone that can't read, and sometimes even if they can read they are what we would call functionally illiterate. These cases are the exceptions and no more common than I found in the United States. The vast majority of people that I am able to talk to and share Christ with here can read very well and have more biblical knowledge than the average American churchgoer. In the end it comes down to a willful choice to continue in sin, legalism, false doctrine, or whatever else they don't want to give up.
I know that I have become desensitized to so many things here. I sat down to eat in a restaurant a few weeks ago and found a hair in my food. Most of my life before now this would have caused enough disgust to discontinue my meal. Not anymore. I just pulled it out and kept eating without missing a beat. Then I found another one. This time it would have been impossible to remove without spitting out all of the food that was in my mouth, so I just ate it. I really hope that one day this will gross me out again.
We began getting reports from our ex-pat community here that a storm was approaching and we should keep an eye on it. As the days passed this unnamed storm grew into Hurricane Matthew. We all watched with anticipation as the predictions began to prove true, it continued to grow in size and strength, and then began heading straight for us.
Luke and I went up the mountain to warn the people that had been a part of the bible study. The people that we were able to find just laughed at us when we told them about it. SonSon said that he had been invited to a different church and would visit there. We made a plan to discontinue to bible study at his house for now. Luke and I continued further in the mountains to a valley area all of the locals had told us about where supposedly no church existed. We were greeted warmly by the people that lived there and we told them about the approaching hurricane. They didn't laugh at us, but treated it with indifference. I asked if there was a church in the area and one boy said he would lead us to it because it was next to the river where he was going to draw water.
We followed him to a beautiful valley flowing with clear springs into a larger river. He pointed across the river to a large church building and explained that it was a Methodist church. He said that most of the people in the area were members, the pastor was from Port-au-Prince and came to all the services. He showed me where there was an access road to get to it by vehicle.
We came back home and tried to warn other people about the coming hurricane. We explained that they needed to get to higher ground because it was going to be really bad and our area is prone to flooding. Laughter was the most common response. There are so many similarities here that could be drawn between the response to the gospel and sharing about the storm. Only TiMouche seemed to take me seriously. He said that he would move all of his animals to safer locations.
The next day we worked to make our house as hurricane prepared as possible. We took the water tanks off the roof, took clotheslines down, and tried to get anything inside that might blow away or become a projectile. I was happy that we already had bars and steel grating over all of our windows. I knew that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to stay in our house so I called a friend that has a mission on the mountain and he agreed to let us weather out the storm with him and his family.
The storm was so slow and unpredictable on the time of arrival. As soon as the rain started we headed up the mountain, but the storm didn't actually hit until almost two days later. The waiting was excruciating. We enjoyed our time together with our friends. We cooked together, shared stories, watched movies, and sang praise songs. When the full force of the storm hit my family slept in a center bathroom together all night. It had two metal doors and no windows.
The wind howled for days and the rain poured in from every crevice that wasn't water tight. We were constantly hauling water out in buckets, mopping, putting towels under doors, and getting things off the floor. There was barely a break in the fight against the water for two full days. Finally the wind died down and we began to gain ground against the water. Miraculously we kept internet the entire time. Most of us here live off the grid anyway so electricity wasn't an issue either.
We received some news from a man that walked up to the house that the entire roof to a local church was gone and our entire area of Fauche had been washed away like it never even existed. This news was difficult to take, but we prayed knowing that it might actually not be true. We prayed and trusted God with the results as we continued to wait.
Once the weather cleared and water began to recede Luke and I decided we would try to walk to our house to assess. I was not prepared for what happened on that walk. The truth finally began to be revealed that our area had not actually received much damage at all. In fact, the entire eastern portion of Haiti was not in a relief situation. There were no deaths in our immediate area. The church roof that was supposedly gone was only missing about 2 panels of tin.
As soon as we started walking people started demanding that we give them things because we were white. We weren't even five minutes into our four mile walk when a man came out to the road and yelled at us, “BLAN!!!! I've lost everything. You have to give me money!!!!”. I could clearly see his house behind him had received no damage whatsoever. I told him that I could see his house and I was walking to my house that I didn't even know the condition of. This type of demanding only grew as we walked. It became unbearable.
I had initially received some reports that the Grand Goave bridge had been washed away, but could see that it was fully intact and the water had receded already. The Petit Goave bridge in the next town over was the one that was actually destroyed. As we crossed the bridge some kids began demanding that we give them money. “BLAN!!! Give me money!!” I got angry with them and told them that it was a shame for them to do this. I told them that I didn't even know the condition of my house.
We decided that we might get less harassment if we ran so we began to run. It was raining off and on. It was the same route that I ran that night that Wesley's brother shafted me with the motorcycle ride. That memory didn't help the already deteriorating mood I was in. Our nerves were already shot from the storm and we didn't know what condition our house was in. Now everyone was coming out to demand that we give them money.
When we got closer to our house we could see more people. Most people were just going on with business as usual, except now they were in attack mode for anyone they thought might be aid workers to get what they could out of them while the getting was good. I have never been treated so bad so many times in a row by so many people in all my life.
Nearly everyone that we passed was calling us BLAN and demanding that we give them money. It was almost more than I could handle. People would block our path and tell us to give them whatever we had in our pocket. I got in several heated discussions with people and even called one guy a racist because he was judging me only by the color of my skin and didn't know anything about me. There was absolutely no regard for me or for the people that were actually hit hard in the southwest. I challenged people on why they weren't thankful that they didn't die in the storm. Why weren't they giving thanks to God for sparing them? So many people were just trying to grab what money they could while they could get it. One man came running over when he saw us and even threw out a figure. He demanded that Luke and I give him and all of the people standing there 500 HTG each! It was unreal.
The only two people that were thankful that I saw during that time were Baby and the man that owns the local hardware store. The hardware store owner met me at the road and greeted me warmly. He showed me his house and his wife and said thanks to God that everything was OK. I prayed with him and asked God to continue blessing him and his family. His wife said she received the blessing and thanked me for praying with them. Baby's house was missed by a few inches from an enormous breadfruit tree that fell. He was happily eating a meal on his front porch when I walked up.
We finally got to our house and found everything just as we had left it. The only damage were some trees down. We thanked God and then made a plan to get everyone home for the night. I called a friend that drives a motorcycle taxi named Claudie. He is a great guy and loves the Lord. I couldn't take walking back through the gauntlet of demands. It was refreshing to ride back with him because he is a friend and always charges me a fair price.
We were able to drive to our house and begin getting things back in order. There was very minor damage to our area, supply routes were open, and people were buying and selling as usual. The locals demanding that we give them stuff was bad, but what I witnessed over the next few days by some local missions was worse.
It seemed like everyone was trying to cash in while they could. People posting pictures that weren't our area, weren't even Haiti, and some weren't even from this storm. So many stories were floating around with pictures attached next to donate now buttons. It was all too much to even process. I knew that there were some people in the hardest hit areas that actually needed help and I was willing to help them, but I was at a loss for how. With all of the fraud going on and all of the demanding from an already out of control sense of entitlement fostered by the missions here I just had to step back and pray before making a decision of how to get involved.
I took a full day and just cleaned up our yard with my family. I thought a full day of chopping with a machete and praying might help me figure out a right action to take. Amy and I discussed it together and I reached out to some friends for prayer. Hordes of people were stopping supply trucks in route to the damaged areas and demanding their portion, violent robberies of relief workers in the damaged areas were being reported, and a general feeling of unrest prevailed.
Before the storm was even over people were offering to come, give money to us, give stuff to us, or help in any other way they could. It warmed my heart so much to see this, but then to see this generosity abused in the worst way all around me made me not want to have anything to do with any of it. Many people were forming grassroots efforts here, and I considered trying to join up with them. In the end I decided that I would offer my services to Samaritan's Purse. They are a true relief organization and I knew that they would be able to navigate this from a biblical perspective and years of practical experience. So far they have not needed my help. A friend of mine that was leading a team of doctors also invited me to go with him, but these plans fell through at the last minute and I was not able to accompany them.
It is difficult for me to really get a grasp on all of the issues here. The solution always has been and always will be the gospel. Practically there are so many problems to be overcome, I know the gospel is enough in my heart, but some days I just have a bad day and have a hard time seeing the victory beyond the bad day I just had. Collectivism is difficult for me to grasp. This is certainly an area that keeps people in poverty. I grew up in such a dangerously individualist culture that the flip side is hard for me to understand.
As Christians we must follow the culture of Commonism. I learned this from Kevin Steele. He preached a really good sermon on this a few years ago. As Christians we must have all things in common and not consider things our own. This is distinct from communism and not the same thing at all. It certainly isn't individualistic, and it is a far cry from collectivism. It is borne out in the context of relationships and cannot be coerced or forced. Collectivism ultimately says that I have a right to demand whatever you have and take it for my own personal use. This is criminal, not biblical.
I have seen the devastating effects of this during discipleship and have come to believe that in order to break free from it for some people it should be handled similarly to a drug addiction where the person has to break free from their environment for a time in order to learn how to live without it. When participating in collectivism on this level from birth everyone feels a sense of guilt that they owe it to someone to give the thing they are asking for, because they have done the same thing at other times in their lives. Even if someone begins to break free, earn their own living, and start making progress the demands of the collectivist culture will eventually break them down until they give in and go back to where they started. This is even more true if they have someone supporting them. Their family and friends will pressure them to get as much out of the supporter as they can until they have tapped out the resource completely, at which point they begin looking for the next supporter. Pastors, community leaders, and government are judged based on their ability to provide for the community.
With many doors closing around us and in order to gain perspective we have been attending church services more frequently at Respire. It has been a privilege to be able to preach there some more and support what is being started there. All of us around here as English speaking believers have come to recognize our need for each other and come together to be the church to each other first. The fruit from this becomes our ministry to others.
I was carrying a mix of Haitian and American friends loaded in the back of my truck to a service on Sunday morning when I heard a loud noise and then felt the truck lean cripplingly sideways. My family and friends walked the rest of the way up to the church service while Luke and I stayed back to check out the truck. I tried calling PaVle a few times but couldn't reach him. I pulled the front tire off and didn't see anything that would prevent us from driving it home. We locked the doors and walked up for the service.
We limped the truck home and basically fit in with most of the Haitian cars on the road. Most people didn't even pay attention to our distorted silhouette as we passed. We made it home with no issues other than we had to drive real slow. PaVle came and found the problem. He was able to buy the part the next day, and replace it the day after.
God opened the door for us to be able to continue ministering to one of the boys removed from the orphanage next door after being placed in a loving orphanage. This orphanage is committed to reunification if at all possible. While traveling back and forth to there every day we had to keep a close watch on the local riots in order not to get stuck in them.
Almost every day people were blocking one of the main bridges on the route and rioting. The police were having a difficult time getting it under control. The people were trying to get their share from the aid traveling south. They had some problems in their area and decided to riot in order to get their portion. Several days got pretty violent. Finally things quieted down.
One morning right before we arrived we started smelling smoke. Smoke started coming out of the A/C vents and from under the gear shift. I stopped the truck and checked out everything, but couldn't find the source. It didn't do it again until the next evening. I had PaVle check it out, but he couldn't find anything either. I have finally narrowed down the problem to something with the headlights. PaVle has a good electrician that is planning to take a look at it later this week.
Some of the things I see here are so shocking, disturbing, and unbelievable that I tend to look for way longer than I should because my mind can't even process what is going on. Then the image becomes forever stamped in my mind and I have to really pray about it so that God can give me back some of my innocence. Driving home one evening I noticed something on the side of the road while crossing over the big bridge in Leogonne. A tall dark figure was walking among the large piles of trash as mist fell and the smoke from the burning piles drifted up behind him. I was in such disbelief that I stared trying to figure out if I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing. A tall man with wild hair was wearing a very large ladies bra longways on his body. That was all he was wearing and it wasn't covering up anything. My family had already noticed before I could even yell out not to look. Lord Jesus come quickly.
Even before the hurricane the political situation was heating up and it became dangerous to travel to Port-au-Prince. Reports of foreigners being targeted and kidnappings were beginning to surface. Then there is always the regular rioting. We have relied on at least a once a month trip to stock up on ground meat and haven't been able to do that in a couple of months.
One day after church I picked up some garlic flavored Spam from a store in Leogonne. I fried some eggs and the Spam to make some Spam and eggs sandwiches. The only takers were Luke, Anna, and myself. Anna stuck with one sandwich, but Luke and I went for two each. The first few bites of the first sandwich were delicious. What happened next must have been just having too much of a good thing. Luke was down to his last few bites of his second sandwich and then just couldn't take any more. I told him just to stop eating, but he has too much of his father in him so he didn't. He started gagging and then finally swallowed down last bite. The earlier mentioned hair wasn't enough to bother me, but watching Luke struggle through the garlic, Spam, and egg did me in. I couldn't finish my second sandwich and had to call it quits. Maybe there is hope for me after all.
So how do we measure success? The capitalist in me says to make some charts and document observable and measurable results. The Jesus in me knows better. This is more about Him than me.
I am learning to take things day by day and give the glory to Christ. I am learning that the success of a missionary cannot be measured in results, but obedience to our daily calling. I am learning to be OK with planting one day, watering another day, reaping another day, and not all from the same field and not all at the same time. I am learning that I just have to get out there and inevitably make some mistakes. Then ask forgiveness. Then I become a better listener. The fruit of my relationship with Him is what becomes ministry to others.
1 Corinthians 3:5-8 5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe-- as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. 8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.