Words from Colleen

Yesterday, Saturday, was basically a day of travel, from Jacmel back to Port au Prince, which left plenty of time for my mind to wonder. But my mind was completely stuck on our day at the Mother Teresa hospital for the Destitute and Dying. After two days spent with the boys at Trinity House, my heart was still at that hospital. Here are my thoughts:

In devotion the night after we went to the Mother Teresa hospital we talked a lot about vulnerability. The space between our vulnerability and the vulnerability of those we were with at the hospital. I thought a lot about the volunerabilty conveyed by the position that I was in at the hospital. I spent most of the morning at the hospital on my knees massaging women’s legs and feet and paining toenails. This stance, which is often considered degrading, left me completely vulnerable. But instead, I felt empowered. But this sense of empowerment seriously made me question myself. Was I striving to be like Jesus when he washed the disciples’ feet? Did I want recognition for kneeling on a floor that I had seen people vomit on, spill food on, and eat off of? Was I doing something because I wanted recognition? Because it was what I was supposed to do? Or because I wanted to serve people? Did I do it to avoid eye contact or because it is easier not to speak to someone when you are at their feet instead of looking at them face to face? Did I do it to assume some of the vulnerability that I knew these women felt as they removed their shirts and exposed themselves to a complete stranger to be messaged fully? Or perhaps I was kneeling at the feet Jesus to learn and to serve?

I can tell you straight off that I was not consciously kneeling at the feet of my Lord at the Mother Teresa hospital. But I knelt there and was reminded of Christ’s presence within each one of us. And as Mother Teresa reminded us through her life, her words, and her actions: it is in times and places like this, in befriending those on the margins, that we truly come face to face with God. Whether it is the crying baby or the ailing aged who may not make it through the weekend, they are worthy and deserving of love. It is never wasted on them regardless of the time they have left.

Lord, I thank you for the love I have received throughout my life – for my parents, sisters, relationship, and the countless friends that you have made my family. I am blessed beyond measure. And all I can pray right now is that I extend that blessing to others regardless of situation, place, status, or the difficulty that it stirs within me.

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Wednesday, March 9th

Today we gathered together with a group of Haitian pastors and church leaders.  We began by introducing ourselves.  We sang hymns, read Scripture, told stories, and then broke bread together.  In the afternoon we visited a home for girls – House of Hope – and then traveled to Cite Soleil to visit a church.

While our activities can be listed, they are difficult to narrate.  The stories before us here in Haiti are not our own.  We have received many stories; histories of this country, personal accounts of its people, the collective memories of particular congregations, and the lives of the pastors who strive to serve their community’s well.  How we might locate ourselves within, or in relation to, these stories remains a challenge.

Yet, we have met these stories in a unique way.  We have encountered these stories as the narrative of a family.  St. Joseph’s home for boys, the Cite Soleil and Blanchard churches, House of Hope, Trinity house, even the Mother Teresa homes are all a part of an interconnected community – a family – within Haiti.  Each in their own way, they stand in witness to the Christian hope in both the possibility of transformation in this life, and that of resurrection in the life to come.  And while it remains a challenge for us “blancs” to locate ourselves in relation to these stories, and these families, the invitation has been offered to us to find ourselves as a part – in some way – with these communities.

Our participation in the liturgy with local pastors this morning did not, nor did it intend to, run roughshod over the very real differences between a group of Haitian pastors and this group of American pastors in training.  Yet our corporate participation in the Eucharist included a participation in a story that we do share in common.  Along with our sharing of this larger story, we each received an invitation to participate in new friendships.  What might it look like for us to live into a friendship with Haitian pastors through prayer and presence?  What problems might geography, culture, and language present to our participation in such friendships?  We are thankful for the example our leaders have provided for us.  For them, Haiti is neither a trip, nor a destination, but a people – a family – and one that has become a part of their lives.  We have met new stories in this place, new families, and an invitation.

Grace and Peace,

Cullen McKenney

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Vulnerability: Becoming Instruments of Love in God’s Hands

“If our poor have at times starved to death, it is not because God doesn’t care for them. Rather, it is because you and I have refused to give food to them. We have not been instruments of love in God’s hands, so that God can give them bread or offer them clothing. It has happened because, once again, we have not recognized Christ under the disguise of suffering in the hungry. We have not recognized him in the one who suffers from loneliness. We have not recognized him in the homeless child looking for shelter.” Mother Teresa, “Children of God: Our Brothers and Sisters”

Scripture: Matthew 8:14-17

This morning, our group had two options: some of us could serve at Mother Teresa’s hospital for babies, while others could serve at Mother Teresa’s hospital for the destitute and dying. At first, I processed this as a choice between two polarities. Either I could witness the fresh, new beginnings of a human life, or I could wrestle with the uncomfortable reality of a human life coming to an end. Because I wanted to experience something hopeful in the midst of a country that is all too often characterized by despair, I traveled to the hospital for babies.

As we arrived, and I awkwardly smiled at and tried to play with these babies, several thoughts and questions surfaced. Who will this young child eventually grow up to become? Will this fleeting moment shared between us have any future significance for either of us? Maybe, if I act silly enough, I can bring a temporary smile to this child’s face…but, at the end of the day, won’t she still go to sleep tonight hungry, malnourished, and abandoned by her biological parents? Maybe I can adopt her one day and give her the family she deserves. But, how can I support this child? The adoption process takes two years…I don’t have the finances to support a child…I am in graduate school…and there is a long laundry list of excuses as to why I am not humble enough to love somebody in such a way.

With these questions in mind, I soon realized that my choice this morning was not one of polarities. In both hospitals, we saw human life in its most vulnerable states. At birth, we humans depend on the nourishment, love, and care from others in order to survive. Toward our final days, this dependence presents itself once again. In fact, to make matters more scary, uncomfortable, or mysterious (whatever you want to call it), this vulnerability does not only exist in birth and death. At any point in our lifespan, we know that the moment of our physical end is right around the corner. For most of us, however, we clothe this vulnerability with more tangible, physical, and sometimes false hopes and securities.

But, there is a bright side. In our reflection time last night, Chaplain Bates left us with the question, “Where do you find your brother or sister?” Over the course of the trip, many of us have noted that our individual lives and circumstances are a matter of mere fate. For example, although most of us live in a country where trash is kept off the streets (at least most of the time), or where hunger doesn’t twist our stomach in knots before we settle down to sleep at night, we could’ve easily been born as another child—a child, who, for some reason, doesn’t meet up to her parents’ expectations and is, therefore, left at the gate of a hospital for anyone to find. Yet, we all share in this fate. And, because we all remain vulnerable before that which brought us into the world, we find our brothers and sisters in the eyes of every human being.

So, perhaps Mother Teresa is right. Our vulnerability becomes more noticeable when we fail to acknowledge our common humanity in each other, and, therefore, fail to love our fellow brothers and sisters in the way that we so easily love ourselves. More importantly, it becomes more noticeable when we fail to see the Christ in the eyes of our fellow brothers and sisters—the Christ, the one who has taken on our infirmities and redeemed our painful vulnerability.

By: Robert Flowers

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Of One Accord: A Rollercoaster of Emotions

Our second full day in Haiti was marked by highs and lows.  It was a beautiful day filled with doing crafts with the children at the Blanchard School, a trip up the mountains to Wings of Hope, and a quick stop at the St. Joseph’s Home; yet throughout the day we all struggled at times, questioning our roles and the best way in which to interact with the Haitian people.

After squeezing into our van this morning, we arrived at the Blanchard School to find many more children than we had expected ready and waiting for us.  We proceeded to spend a few hours of organized chaos, helping to assemble kites for the older children and making scratch ornaments with the younger children.  There was singing, laughter, and community, which was a great start to the day.

We then packed ourselves back into the van and headed out of Blanchard up Delmas to spend a few hours at Wings of Hope.  Our ascent to Fermathe provided a brief respite from the heat and noise of the bustling city of Port-au-Prince.  Much to our surprise, we arrived at Wings in the midst of a Carnival celebration.  Stevie greeted us from the balcony with shouts of “Alleluia” and we entered into a bit of sensory overload and joined the dance party.  We then had a quick lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and listened to Rene as she narrated the story of Wings and how she came to join the St. Joseph’s Family.

We left Wings and headed down the mountain to St. Joseph’s.  We entered through their new gate into their temporary home.  The home was similar to the one destroyed in the earthquake in that it was decorated with beautiful Haitian art and foliage, yet a step out the back door revealed the ruins of the home that used to be.  The family is moving forward, full of excitement for the new buildings that will be erected from the rubble, yet it was difficult for those who had previously visited the home to see a hole in the ground where there was once a magnificent home.

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The team woke up with the sun this morning.  We rolled out of bed around 6am to get ready for Church at Blanchard at 7am.  The Church was packed; every row was filled except for the last two which the ushers had left open for us.  While few of us could understand the words of the songs and sermon, the passion and joy could be openly felt by all of us.  When we were invited to take communion, Pastor Luke, to ease our anxieties, made sure to say that the bread and grape juice “were safe”.  The use of the word “safe” in this context stuck with many people on the team throughout the day, and we thought about what it means to be “safe” when following such a dangerous and good God. Does our God promise safety? What does safe mean to our Lord? Are we searching for physical or spiritual safety?

After Church and a brief rest period at our guest house, we met up with Jacqui Labrom and went to the Hotel Oloffson to relax and enjoy each others’ company.  After, Jacqui drove us through Port-au-Prince and the neighboring areas on a Gingerbread House Tour of some of the historic homes from the 1800s.  The tour ended when we reached Croix de Bouquet, a small village that specializes in metal artwork.  We were able to see the oil drums that the artwork is created out of, and part of the sixteen step process that the artisans go through to make these beautiful pieces of art.

During the devotion tonight, we reflected on all the sights we had seen today.  People talked about the hospitality we saw from the people during Church, and the struggle experienced when children put their hands in our van windows asking for money.  Our adventures in Haiti are only beginning, and we are excited for all of the new experiences that will come with tomorrow.

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Our Arrival in Haiti!

Fifteen people (sixteen in spirit), thirty plastic-wear crates, sixteen hundred dollars per person, thousands of dollars in contributions from faithful friends, and one common goal: arrive in Haiti and love people.  You might say that this trip is more preparation than actual trip.  We have been eagerly looking forward to being here for months; now we are here.

Before leaving the airport in Raleigh, we realized a few of the many things that can go wrong on an international trip.  That word “international” can throw a wrench in what would otherwise be a well-oiled machine.  Passports can turn into ports for problems, and one of our group was not able to come on the trip for not being able to find hers, at the last minute.  Another of our group almost was not able to get hers re-issued, a couple days before we left.  But either way, fifteen of us – passports in hand and joy in our hearts – left at seven o’clock a.m. and traveled exuberantly through three airports, and into Port-au-Prince Haiti.

As the American Airlines plane that we rode, from Miami, sailed over the Caribbean waters, each of us pondered what the coming days would bring.  We have gone over a schedule of what we are going to do here, but as with all trips of faith, service, and love, this one must remember the five “f”s of service and traveling:  Be flexible, be flexible, be flexible, be flexible, and of course, be flexible.  We think we know what is going to happen, but we also know that it could change at any time.  How many people are we going to meet?  Will we be able to communicate non-verbally expressing our passion and our hearts to those we will meet?  How delicious is the food going to be?  We asked these and many more questions, excitedly awaiting our landing.

With these thoughts in our minds, we began our descent into Haiti.  Each of us have concerned ourselves in different ways with the news about Haiti.  We have paid attention to what the media says, knowing that the words on television have a certain slant.  As we saw the land in the distance, growing larger in the plane’s windows,  we thought about the truths that we would learn.

Descending on the city of Port-au-Prince, population seven million, we immediately noticed, from a mile high, that if there used to be any high rises, they no longer stood proud.  Instead, small similar-colored dots covered the land.  These dots used to be brick buildings, and they are also cities of tents.

What strikes you the most, right away, is the buildings that have no roofs.  They are shells of buildings.  where roofs used to be, we see the scribbled grayness, which we know to be rubble.  Alongside these former homes and businesses, we see the tents.  So many tents.  Cities of tents.  Are they sheets, are they tarps, or are they the wire-framed shelters we use once a year when we go camping?  All of the above.

What is left of many of the buildings is reminiscent of a Lego structure, after a young child is done playing with it.  A single swing of the hand devastates the fragile building.  In the same way a short system of tremors devastated this beautiful landscape full of beautiful people.  Though most of the physical structures are damaged or destroyed, does that demean God’s green growth here?  It is easy to the media, drama queen that it is, tell you that this place is destroyed, but the aching infrastructure cannot hide the beauty.

From the moment we walked off of the plane, we met Haitians.  If you have never traveled to a foreign country, where the language was also foreign, you may have not had to challenge your definition of “to meet”.  This coming week, we will have to meet people with little words.  We will have to talk using our smiles and bodies.  This is why we are here.

Tonight, at devotion time, we shared thoughts about our first few hours on Haitian soil.  Each person shared sentiments about what it means to live in a tension: tension between giving money to one child–therefore being mobbed by a hundred, or not giving; tension between not speaking–for ignorance of the language, and speaking the best we can; tension between staying to ourselves, and stepping even further outside of our comfort zone.

One thing we do know is that we are here to love.  As we  saw multiple tent cities, we realized that we cannot “save Haiti”.  We cannot “bring Jesus” here, because Jesus is already here.  It might be possible that we, who have come here to bring things, will be the ones being ministered too.  Does the kingdom of God belong to the poor?  Is God here?  Of course God is.  We reject the notion of being missionaries who see a mission and not people. But we have the world to gain, through the exchanging of the Jesus in us with the Jesus in the people here we will, as Mother Teresa says, “do no great things, only small things with great love.”

-Jason Villegas, 06 March 2011, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

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Thank You

Special thanks to…

…everyone who has been praying for our mission team.  We are counting down until Saturday!  Please continue to keep us and the people of Haiti in your thoughts and prayers.

…everyone who has donated items for the people of Haiti (and those who will be donating items later this week).  We spent the afternoon at Edenton Street UMC loading up all of the donations we’ve received thus far!

…Edenton UMC.  Thank you for letting us use your space to get ready for our upcoming trip.  And a big, huge THANK YOU to the prayer team for providing us dinner and praying over us.  It was a wonderful, peaceful, centering, and humbling experience, and we are so grateful for it.  (An extra thanks to the singer, pianist, and, of course, the adorable dancers–you all did a wonderful job!)

…all of you for following us on this blog!  I’ve added an email subscription in the right hand column, so if you’d like, you can be notified via email every time we update the blog.  It’s a great feature for those of you with smart phones.

Hope you all have had a wonderful weekend!  We look forward to connecting with you soon.

–Megan

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