Thursday, October 06, 2011

Day 4 - Q&A with the Haitian People

Today was my last full day in Haiti. There are many mixed emotions.

Yesterday we spoke to our second English class made up of adult Haitians who are mostly professionals or students. They are highly motivated to learn English.  When enrollment opens up, people line up around the block to sign up like they're trying to get tickets to a rock concert. Dan and I got to share our stories and talk about our families and our occupations to two different classes this week.  I got some interesting questions about being a pastor:

Favorite questions I got from the ESL Classes
  1. What do you think of our country? (this was asked in both classes)
  2. What time do your church services start?  How long do they last? (they laughed hard when I told them how 'late' we start at 9:15 and how 'short' our services are 1 hr. 15 mins. Some churches here have services at 6 AM and they last many hours.)
  3. What are the differences between your church and the church in Haiti?
  4. How do you handle 'rival' churches and 'rival' religions?
  5. What was your best and worst moment in ministry?
  6. What size is your church?
  7. How do people watch your sermons on video - how do you record it? Can I watch your sermons on the internet?
  8. What do you think are the signs that Jesus is coming back soon?
  9. How many Haitian members are in your church? (I was asked this in both sessions)
  10. Does racism still exist in America?

More detailed info about my day
I got to talk to Kim and the Kids last night and so it made me miss them all the more.  On the other hand – this country does something to you.  The people are profoundly beautiful.  It has been a joy to encourage many of the believers here. To remind them that there is hope, that God is not distant but close by.  And to be reminded of these things by them. My heart has been encouraged and my faith has been strengthened.

Day 4 was a good day. We trekked half way up the mountain to what the Americans call the ‘Prayer Tree’ – the Haitians call it the ‘Fasting Tree.’ There is a local prayer meeting that happens at the tree every Thursday beginning at 6 AM and lasting until mid afternoon.  It was started over 20 years ago by two sisters who continue to lead it faithfully. Hundreds of people come and go throughout the day to pray for their needs and to pray for Haiti. There is a small sound system that is used for the leaders to guide people in and out of times of corporate prayer, singing, and private prayer. The tree is a mango tree with an exposed root system that makes for plenty of seating.  Fortunately I had Wadner there to interpret all of the prayer instructions that were coming over the microphone.

We were there during a time when people were encouraged to bring their requests to God.  There were prayers for those who needed healing, those whose family members were sick or dying, those who were hungry, prayers were offered specifically for those who couldn’t sleep at night, throughout this time people were consistently encouraged to wave both hands toward heaven.  Then there was a season of celebration and praise. Passionate singing, dancing, hand waving, greeting one another, swaying – all prayers were being offered at the same time so a low rumble of exultant voices was being raised to heaven.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Our praying is weak in America.

Then I was asked to come forward to pray into the microphone for Haiti.  I was honored.  Wadner came with me to interpret – during the introduction it was noted that I’m the Pastor of the church who sent Bud and Jane and Miss Kate to Haiti – there were oohs and aahs from the gathering because our missionaries are so loved and respected throughout this whole region. I prayed for the redemption of Haiti – that the Holy Spirit would claim this nation for his name and his renown – I prayed that the enemy would be held at bay in Haiti and that God would continue to raise up leaders who would bring renewal and revival to this land.  I couldn’t match their intensity, but I’m confident that God also heard my prayer... even though I’m sure my faith is small compared to these great souls.

We spent some time before lunch making the rounds with some of the missionaries to try to capture some of their day to day activity on video camera.  When they come back to Erie to report what’s going on – they sometimes bring pictures or videos but never seem to have pictures or videos of themselves in action (for obvious reasons)! So we wanted to capture some of that.

While we were out at one of the schools – we got word that the child my family sponsors (and his mother and Pastor) had arrived to meet me.  We were 45 minutes away because this meeting wasn’t supposed to happen until the afternoon (time is a bit fluid here).  So we hurried back while they waited and I got to meet Sander. It wasn’t exactly a Hallmark moment – but still deeply rewarding to meet him. We had a major language barrier so we couldn’t really communicate, he was very shy and not sure what to think about this whole thing, but I found out that he likes soccer and math and is doing very well in school. He and his mother also had met Jesus through the program that he was in.  I gave him a kids Bible in Creole – and some gifts that I had brought from the states.  My kids had made some pictures and there was a picture of our family.  He and his mom were both very appreciative.

We then met for about 3 hours with Pastors Miguelson and James to discuss the church to church partnership some more. It was greatly encouraging – I heard some things that I was waiting to hear.  They weren’t afraid to tell us that some of our ideas were not good ideas. They said that they would not hesitate to back out of the partnership if it was not serving their goals or our goals. They, like us, are interested in an equal mutually beneficial relationship that will expand God’s Kingdom. We nailed down some specific next steps and timelines. We walked through a SWOT analysis with them which helped to give us a good understanding of where they are at as a church and we both agreed to move forward with the partnership pending some conversations with both of our leadership teams (elders, ministry leaders, etc.)

We then shared a Q&A time with our second adult English class which was taught by Kate (questions included above). At dinner time we went out with 3 Haitian young men for a night on the town. It was a great time.  We went to a local restaurant for dinner - drove by a stadium with a huge local soccer match going on - saw a revival at a downtown church and got to witness first-hand how Cap-Haitien comes alive at night.  More than that we had an absolute blast with Miguelson, James, and Wadner (ti Lo-Lo)!  We laughed hard and long and continued to establish what I believe will be a deep and lasting bond. The guys shared some good-bye speeches with us that were very touching and gave insight into their hearts. These are godly young men who are going to be instrumental in bringing the light of Christ to Haiti. 

I look forward to the future together.  Tomorrow - we travel home...

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Day 3 - Modern Day Heroes

I woke up to roosters crowing this morning and knew that a good day was ahead!

Over these past couple of days something has happened again and again that has simply blown me away.  Everywhere I go people know of Grace church and the people of Grace.  When they hear I'm the pastor there - stories come pouring out of this person or that person who has impacted their lives from Grace.  I am swelling with a godly pride about the over 100 people from Grace who have visited this island over the past 10 years. Obviously these accolades have nothing to do with me but everything to do with the faithful people of Grace who have made the decision to invest in others. I'll give you a few examples.

1. Kate - a longtime member of Grace -retired teacher - in her 70's.  She has been in haiti for 9 years with no intentions of leaving anytime soon.  She has brought the gift of education to hundreds (maybe thousands) of people. She's like a folk hero everywhere I go. And Erica is Kate's friend and counterpart at the school.  She's not from Grace originally but we tease her that she has been 'grafted in.' We support her work here!

2. Bud and Jane - Jane has given the gift of schools, and organization, and child sponsorships.  Bud fixes everything in his sight.  If you work with your hands and like to get greasy and never imagined yourself as a missionary - trust me there is a place for you... don't shut God down because of dreaming too small.

3.  Don and Debbie - they have brought the gift of love and a variety of kinds of support and care for the people of Haiti and our missionaries. Everytime their name comes up it is with deep honor and respect.

4. Meg - the mention of those 3 letters M-E-G - brought cheers at the clinic here - her legacy of praying personally for each patient and the deep personal interest she took in every life - even when things were busy - lives on as legend.

5. Pam - again at the clinic Pam's name is honored because of her diligent work and fundraising and coordination in getting an X-Ray machine here and working.

6. Pastor Mike - he has spearheaded many of our teams and efforts here and he is deeply loved. His intentional prayers and many acts of love for the people of this country are held in high esteem.  I visited your special prayer circle today, Mike.

I could go on and on and on, but just wanted to say thank you to the modern heroes who have encouraged and inspired so many people and who have made a lasting mark on this island. Thank you for extending Grace's reach to the ends of the earth and for representing The Church and Jesus the head of The Church so faithfully.

This was the main thing I wanted to say- but if you'd care to read some more details about my day today - feel free to continue.  I just understand that my reflections are wordy and most people who read blogs have short attention spans!  Check back tomorrow for some reflections about our last day here.


Day 3 - Fresh bananas for breakfast was a great treat (there are banana fields right next to where we are staying) - they have so much flavor when they are fresh.

We then waited for a vehicle for transport to the seminary.  I was scheduled to speak at their chapel service this morning at 10 AM. Several cars were out of commission today with Bud scrambling around from vehicle to vehicle trying to get them running. We finally got a ride with another missionary couple (Bud and Cindy) who were also traveling to the seminary for their Creole classes.  With diesel fuel nearly $7.00 per gallon - they carpool as much as possible.

Our trip there (my longest van trip since being in Haiti) included views of the usual street vendors, lottery booths, and peopel milling about - but because the trip was longer we also got to see some rice fields, and pasture land, and the mountainous scenery is still breathtaking.  If you didn't know differently, you'd think you were in Hawaii. We came across the location of a leading witch doctor - his house was marked with many high-flying flags to let the waiting world know he was there. Also the roads are filled with so many potholes that even the shortest trip involves jarring jolts that leave you wondering if you've dislocated something.

The seminary is beautiful. It contains the fingerprints of many people from Grace who have worked there over the years.  It is a state of the art facility, with a beautiful modern kitchen, multiple buildings with classrooms, offices, dormitories, etc. We arrived 2 minutes before chapel was scheduled to start, but we were the first ones there.  I was relieved since I was the guest speaker!  Pretty soon some 60 well-dressed seminarians began filing in - a variety of 1st through 4th year students. The next generation of pastors and ministry leaders... the hope of Haiti.

The worship was powerful and passionate - I didn't understand a single word but understood the Spirit in the room in the most familiar of languages.  I shared from 1 Timothy 4:12 - and the importance of setting an example for the believers with their lives - of being men worthy of following and imitating.  I encouraged them that if Jesus could change the world through 12 faithful men, that he can certainly change Haiti with 60!  Dan and I spent some great time with Matt Ayers - the Director of the Seminary and I was blown away by his love for the scriptures and passion to teach theology.  We got to sit in on one of his classes - a Q&A study session for an upcoming test on Romans 1-4.  Just to give you a glimpse of the level of engagement and learning - here were my two favorite questions: 1) which is justification more dependent upon; grace, or faith, or both?  and 2) What is the connection (if any) between God's creation ex nihilo and the virgin birth? 

We then ate a great Haitian lunch of corn gritz and pureed black bean sauce. I'm a picky eater, but once I got over my texture-phobia the food was delicious. We had some more discussion with Matt about the seminary facility's potential role in our church-to-church partnership since they have turned out many of the pastors in the region and have a heart for ongoing training and development.  There is much potential here to be explored.

We came back to our headquarters and as Dan and I were discussing more detail about the church-to-church partnership, in walked Pastor Migueloson.  We had an hour-long improptu conversation that was very instrumental.  At every turn I am convinced of the strong fit between our churches.

We visited Dr. Rodney, the doctor at the clinic, who just returned from a hospital stay of his own after nearly dying. He was literally nursed back to life by one of the visiting Doctors with OMS.  It was an honor to pray for him. God will heal him soon.

We then went to the Wednesday bible study for the missionaries at Kate's house, and it was a sweet time of deep study of the scriptures (Matt Ayers led us through John 7) and a time of worship and sharing prayer requests.  I wrote down every request and plan to share some with you (without personal details).  I think it will be a great teaching tool to compare and contrast with our context the kinds of things that people who are on the front lines of ministry are praying about.

We had a great dinner tonight and on my way back to the house we're staying I received word that a young Haitian man was waiting to speak with me.  He is a young man who is engaged to a young woman who is a friend of mine and member of Grace. He was nervous to say the least - we had a wonderful conversation and made plans for dinner together tomorrow night.  He'll be taking Dan and I out on the town for an evening in Cap-Haitien.  I can't wait.

We talked for hours with Bud and Jane tonight, and I'm finally getting around to putting together some of my thoughts. Oh and I got to talk to Kim and all three of my kids tonight on the phone.  I miss them terribly so it was a great encouragement to hear their voices.

Please pray for tomorrow.  I'll be visiting the Prayer Tree in the early morning (a sacred spot where Christians come to pray every Thursday for their nation), we'll be meeting again with Pastor Miguelson and Pastor James to continue to frame out next steps for our partnership, and then in the afternoon I'll be meeting the family of the child that my family sponsors through Starfish Kids.

I have very mixed emotions.  Tomorrow is our last day here. We leave Haiti early Friday morning.  Dan and I covet your prayers.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Day 2 - Issues/Opportunities- the Haitian church

It is difficult not to fall head over heels in love with this place and these people.

This computer/internet connection is not allowing me to post pictures or videos here. I really wish I could so you could see for yourself.  All in good time.

Today was day 2.
Breakfast at 7:00 this morning – I tasted the freshest pineapple I’ve ever had. It was like candy. Then I had the privilege of meeting Ti Louie (small Louie) and touring the radio station that he runs. There are over 150,000 portable radios in distribution in Haiti that carry this one station that brings the gospel, and training, and worship music, all across this fine Island. It’s a brilliant ministry. I had the honor to share some thoughts at their staff morning Bible study and prayer meeting. There is discouragement among their ranks. Equipment is breaking, funds are short, and many are nervous about their jobs. I spoke to them from Romans 8:18-25 about ‘hope.’ In its biblical form it is far more than just wishful thinking and crossing our fingers, hope is deeply rooted in the identity of God. The foundation of hope is the promise of God to be with us. I pray that God used it to bring encouragement and,… well… hope.

We then got to tour the school where several of our missionaries teach – it is an English speaking school so it was fun to be able to communicate with the Haitian children who were fairly fluent in English. During their lunch break, I got to play soccer with the kids and kick the ball really high in the air to their oohs and aahs (I’m not a very skilled soccer player – so kicking it as hard and as high as I could was the only thing I could think of that might impress them ) They also loved looking at pictures of my kids on my Iphone. The girls thought Ayden was adorable and the boys wanted to play Angry Birds.

We then visited the clinic that we’re associated with. Last year Grace and Hamot Hospital teamed up to ship a used X-Ray machine for use in this clinic. Last month we were able to send a technician down who was finally able to get the machine properly working. It was awesome to see it in action and to see the joy on the faces of the workers who are finally able to diagnose internal injuries when before it was a bit of a guessing game.

I took a long walk for some prayer and reflection and was able to jot down some thoughts that I’ll share another time. Dan and I also got to talk a lot more about some ideas that have been brewing in regards to the church-to-church partnership. We will be meeting with the Pastors again at lunch time on Thursday to discuss next steps. Please keep us in your prayers.

I then visited an adult English class that one of our missionaries, Kate, teaches. It was an advanced class for college students and professionals. I introduced myself and had a chance to field questions. There was a lively discussion about a number of church-related questions. It gave me a chance to share and it gave them a chance to practice their English – so it was a win-win.

Finally we were honored to be guests in Kate’s home for dinner. We dined with Kate, Erica, Bud and Jane (missionaries from Grace and supported by Grace). I was amazed by their accounts of God at work in this country, I clumsily tried to encourage them and let them know how valuable their work is. I learned a lot about Haitian culture from them that will affect how we approach the partnership. It was a great day. I’m getting some thoughts together for tomorrow as I’ll be preaching at the chapel service in the morning to 55 seminarians. I’m less intimidated since I preached today using an interpreter. It’s not as bad as I had anticipated.

Yesterday I promised to post a few of the issues that our potential partner church believed were the leading issues in their church and community. So here they are:

Leading issues/opportunities of the Eglise Evangelique Baptiste Sion:
1. Training – they are longing for training of all kinds – ongoing ministry training for the people in their congregation (leadership, worship, children, youth, couples, finances, etc) as well as basic life training of all varieties.

2. Education – They provide a Christian school at their church, but it hasn’t had great traction because people have their children working instead of going to school.

3. They believe they have a resource in the women of their church who have time and skills to start small businesses. Generally in Haiti women don’t work but Miguelson and James believe they can break new ground in this area because some of their women are willing and able to try new things. They have toyed with a very basic micro-finance model within their church (the pastor gives a woman a goat – and she sells products related to the goat – and when the goat has babies she gifts the baby goats to some other women in the church.) This concept obviously needs to be developed.

4. Once per month meal ministry. They had been in a habit of celebrating a meal together as a church one Sunday per month. The pastors were buying the food for everyone. For most it was their only meal on Sunday. They did it in conjunction with communion and it resembles the early church practice of the celebration meal. They have run out of funds to continue this ministry. We are hoping to help them figure this one out since food is such a basic need in their community.

I just wanted to give you some brief insight into some of the issues that we’re exploring and lean on your prayer support.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Day 1 - First Impressions of Haiti

 We arrived in Haiti at 9:00 this morning. It was a great trip –everything was smooth. Dan is fantastic to travel with. We woke up at 3:30 AM to catch our flight – so right now at 10:00 PM I’m a little tired! But I wanted to capture some thoughts. We drove around right away to check out some new schools that had just been built in some of the remote regions around Cap-Haitien.

We then met with Pastor Migueloson (38 years old) and Pastor James (32 years old) to discuss a potential partnership. Our advance teams did a great job in selecting these Pastors and this church, The Eglise Evangelique Baptiste Sion. Their hearts were so aligned with our hearts it nearly brought tears. We talked for about 2 hours about our respective churches and our dreams for the future. It was interesting that they have been framing their vision thoughts around the year 2016 which I also recently did at Grace. We then went and visited their church. It is a second story open-air facility with basically one room and a small office. They have about 100 people worshiping with them. Their dream is to have 2000 in the next 5 years. I love big dreams! But they’re not just empty dreams, they have plans and strategies to accompany them. I’ll try to post tomorrow about what they perceive their biggest community needs and challenges are. Very fascinating. Even though there are dramatic cultural differences between our churches - many of the challenges and issues are exactly the same.  Our conversation flowed easily and passionately!

Then we walked the neighborhood with them. If there had been any hesitation about the partnership before that – it would have completely evaporated as I watched how people responded to them in the streets. They were the heroes of their community. It was a really beautiful scene. We got to enter several homes and pray with some of the members of their church – several who were sick or dying. One particular woman stood out. She was a former prostitute who recently found Christ at their church. She has been healed and restored from her former life- she is the woman Jesus would have hung out with.  When we started praying for her, she immediately fell to her knees and then her face on the ground in honor and humility before God. Jesus is alive and well in Haiti.

Some initial observations:

1. It is incredibly hot here. Even though it was only around 90 degrees today – the humidity was stifling.  And it's buggy - there are bugs almost covering my laptop screen as I'm typing right now and I'm in a full sweat just sitting here typing!

2. The constant poverty is overwhelming. I know this is cliché but it’s something you can’t understand until you see it. It’s not just the level of poverty but the constancy of it. I have read that Haiti is a “4th World” country because the poverty is so pervasive that they will never be able to get themselves out of it on their own. It was shocking to fly in on the island and overlook breathtaking mountains and beaches that looked like they should be covered with multi-million dollar condominiums and resorts with nothing but poverty as far as the eye could see.

3. The people are beautiful. They are well-dressed, hard working, quick to smile and even quicker to extend a hand or a hug in greeting. As we walked the streets, it could have been very awkward and gawky and instead it was very natural because of peoples' friendliness and acceptance. Even though Americans are rarely allowed in the homes of Haitian people because they are proud and don’t want their poverty ‘on display’ – we were welcome because we were guests of their pastors. Deeply honored. 

4. There is spiritual oppression here that’s unexplainable other than appealing to the existence and activity of God and Satan. We heard story after story of the spiritual activity in this area. It’s real.

5. These missionaries are modern-day heroes. The people who have given the rest of their lives to this island have blown me away. I want to have their love and devotion to the Savior when I grow up.

Please pray for me tomorrow as I’m speaking at the Radio Station. I'll be speaking from Romans 8:18-25 on 4 Habits of People with Hope.  I’ll also be visiting the school where our missionaries Kate and Erica teach. Looking forward to a great day.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Some goals for my Haiti trip this week

File:View of Cap-Haitien.jpg

Tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM - Dan Palmer and I will arrive at the Ft Lauderdale aiport to prepare for departure on a small charter plan into Cap-Haitien, Haiti. It is a city of about 190,000 people on the north coast of Haiti. Grace church has been involved with this city for the last 10 years sending over 100 short-term missionaries and also sending several full-time missionaries who still reside there.  We will be visiting Haiti this week with some very specific objectives.

1. Interview Pastor Miguelson and Pastor James and allow them to interview us in order to explore a church to church partnership with their church in Cap-Haitien. They pastor a church that is respected in the region and has influence on many other churches and pastors.  We would love to pool influence, resources, and expertise in order to continue to  bring the gospel to Haiti. 

2. If it appears to be a good fit for partnership, our next step will be to explore exactly what that partnership would look like and how it would impact the lives of individuals in each of our congregations.  This can't just be a leadership partnership, but one that is felt and experienced deep into the seats in our churches.  If it doesn't seem like a good fit - we will begin to investigate other partnership options.

3. Encourage the missionaries. There are full time missionaries from Grace Church stationed there including Bud and Jane Dennington and Kate Zlotnicki. We also have a relationship with many of the missionaries stationed on the OMS compound as well as the Ayers who serve as leaders of the local seminary.  I'll be sharing with the seminary students as well as on the local radio station. We hope to be an encouragement to the local missionaries who have given their lives to serve in a very difficult situation.

I'm also planning to visit the child that my family sponsors here through Starfish Kids. It's going to be a blast to meet him and his family in person.  My kids have drawn pictures and sent along gifts for he and his brothers and sisters. I can't wait.