Friday, November 20, 2009

Heading Home ... and Beyond

Friday, Nov. 20, 1:27 p.m.

It's been a blessedly easy morning so far. Things got complicated last night when we were told the departure time from Cayes had been moved up a half hour (schedules are rather flexible here). So we dutifully asked Colbert to pick us up at 5:15 a.m. for a 6:30 flight. When we got to the airport, the gate was locked – we had beaten the employees, as well as the airline manager who held our tickets. So we stood around for (hmmm...) a half hour waiting to go inside. As it turned out, our flight left at the originally scheduled time after all, 7 a.m. At least we got to watch the sunrise.

The other small glitch this morning was the absence of running water at Hosanna House. I guess I didn't really need that shower after all.

For me, at least, a trip like this defies quick and clear conclusions. As we've each said more than once, it will take some time to process what we've done and seen and heard. But as far as themes go, it's probably worth paying attention to the Gospel reading for today from the Daily Office lectionary. Here's part of that passage:

“Take care that you do not despise any one of these little ones [children]; for I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:10-14)

Every child counts, even (especially) those most of us never see. God sees each of them, no matter how remote their village, no matter how desperate their circumstances, no matter how easily we might write them off. In God's eyes, no children are so lost that God's people should stop looking for ways to reach them. It may seem like a pipe dream to imagine the children of Maniche graduating from middle school and being prepared for a trade beyond sharecropping. But it's not. Such a transformational future is within the grasp of our two partner congregations. That which God purposes God also blesses. So if we're faithful to our calling, if we resist the temptation to deny the power of new creation God shares with us, then we can be the agents who bring such a miraculous future to life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Last Day

Thursday, Nov. 19, 10:48 p.m.

I think we're all ready for it to be the last day. And yet, as we passed out of Maniche this afternoon for the last time, I think we all were leaving with some sadness because we've become, in some small way, a part of this community. As Chris and Kathy both said, we recognize individual kids by this point – some we'll miss and some we'll be just as happy to leave behind, frankly, as would be the case if any of us spent a week at any school in Kansas City. We've enfleshed the connection we remember every Sunday as we offer prayers for “our partner school in Maniche, Haiti.” Now, that connection has been lived out through time in the classroom, time playing volleyball, time walking home with students, time meeting with parents and teachers. So we'll miss our extended family once we're gone.

Today was relatively easy, as far as work goes – which was a good thing considering how tired all of us have become. We got there in time to watch the flag ceremony in front of the newly painted school, which was very satisfying given the pieces of our souls we left there scraping and painting and running down supplies. Then we worked with the students in each class to make Christmas cards for the people of St. Andrew's. As in past years, we'll offer parishioners the chance to sponsor kids in Maniche by purchasing Christmas cards during the four Sundays of Advent. The difference this year is that the cards will have been made by the child being sponsored, will feature his or her photo, and will include a little biographical information. So look for some seriously cute drawings in the Jewell Room this year.

We also gave each child a dose of de-worming medication. Among the challenges the kids face is intestinal parasites that consume many of the scarce calories the kids consume. These parasites come from infested water, contaminated hands, and through the sole of the feet from the dirt. We left additional pills for two more administrations later in the year.

Late in the morning, we facilitated a meeting between the parents and the teachers. We had notified the parents about the meeting during church on Sunday, and we'd mentioned it on our walkabouts to the kids' homes. But we had no idea how many parents might actually show up. Last time a team attempted a similar meeting here, a grand total of one parent came. Today, we had more than 50. The teachers got to voice their frustrations about kids not doing homework and coming to school out of uniform; the parents got to voice their frustrations with being unable to track homework (because the vast majority are illiterate!) and with their scarce resources for paying for uniforms, school lunches, and tuition (about half the parents pay at least something toward the cost of their kids' education). From the meeting came a pledge to work toward having a teacher stay after school for a study hall. More important, the parents wholeheartedly agree they want the school to offer middle-school classes, too. Even if they can't support the schoolwork like many American parents, they too want their kids to have a better life than they do. We ended by sharing a cake – and hearing a number of comments from the parents about how deeply they appreciate the education that St. Andrew's makes available to their kids. They also really appreciated the fact that the team of missionaries came to work for a week. Nothing says “I love you” quite like showing up to do the work.

Late this afternoon, the MN team and our group headed off to the beach for a final evening of relaxation. The water (and the lobster) was nearly as glorious as the sunset, and we prayed the Phos Hilaron again as the sun passed over the horizon. The only damper on the evening was the flat tire on the way home, but several of us pitched in and, praise God, the spare actually had air.

Tomorrow we head out at 5:15 a.m. for the long trip home. Please keep us in your prayers for safe travels and for something approximating timely departures.....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Painting the Future

Wednesday, Nov. 18, 4:25 p.m.

We're back after a day of painting at the school in Maniche. Today is a national holiday in Haiti, celebrating (I think) the first raising of the Haitian national flag. The flag's design has a good story, by the way. It's half blue and half red, with the national seal in the center. The color choice came from independence itself. The story goes that, to create the first Haitian flag, the victorious blacks and mulattoes took a French tri-color and ripped the white out of it. Such was the history, as well.

Anyway, because it's a national holiday, school was not in session. However, given the number of kids at the school today, you'd never have known it was a vacation day. Many of the students (and a number of parents and teachers, too) took us up on the offer to come and help paint on their holiday. As a result, we “finished” just before lunch – which means we ran out of paint. But the job is done well enough, and the school certainly looks a thousand times better than it did before the paint. Again, the issue of quality standards arose, this time on the drive home. We asked Colbert if he had gone into the school building to see the paint job. He said, “Yes … but the job is not yet done, of course.” This cast a bit of a pall over our sense of accomplishment. Frankly, we'd felt we had a loaves-and-fishes moment with the paint, stretching the blue as far as we possibly could to reach at least a point of conclusion, if not professional standard. In any event, painting was a much more satisfying thing this time (at least we can learn from our mistakes). We organized the throngs of painters better, with one of us stationed in each of the remaining four classrooms and one of us (Sean) acting as quartermaster. This kept our helpers more on task and prevented paint and supplies from wandering all over the schoolyard.

After lunch, we set up the volleyball net we'd brought. I'm sure the students, teachers, and parents got several chuckles watching us try to assemble the net, following instructions that clearly had been translated into English from another language. Between this and our natural inabilities at engineering, we put on a pretty good show. But the net went up, and the kids loved learning how the game was supposed to work. In Haiti, boys play soccer and girls play volleyball – but the girls in Maniche had never seen a volleyball or a net. So Ann and Kathy showed the girls how to play and set the boundary for the boys. By the time we left, the girls were getting good at keeping the boys out of their game. The soccer balls and volleyballs are a huge hit, and we probably should bring a duffel bag full of them each time a group comes here.

This morning, before painting, we had a great conference with Colbert, Msr. Samuel the headmaster, and Msr. Jude the disciplinarian/assistant. We wanted to find out what options the students have for education beyond 6th grade, which is where our school stops. They said Maniche used to have a government-run middle school and high school, but after it failed to pay its teachers for three consecutive years(!), it was forced to close. There's also a Roman Catholic school for 7th through 9th grades, but it's available only to parishioners. So, the answer is, our students currently have nowhere to go for education beyond 6th grade. This gave us a clear sense of where St. Andrew's mission in Maniche needs to head for the future – offering middle-school classes in the afternoon, once the elementary classes have finished with the rooms. It's exciting to think we can be part of opening up the future for these kids. In Haiti, graduating from 6th grade is an important thing, but it won't open any doors to get you out of a sharecropping life (how most of our families support themselves). But if you graduate from 9th grade, you have the opportunity to get into vocational training, learning to be a carpenter, mechanic, mason, etc. That life is still hard but tremendously better than living off the land (or what seems more like living off the rocks). We have the chance to make this possible for our kids in Maniche. I think I hear a calling....

Tonight, Colbert has invited us to come to his home, the rectory in Cayes, for dinner with his wife and brand-new daughter. We'll also be joined by the group that's been working with MN's educational program here this week, which means Colbert and his wife will have about 20 blans descending on their house for dinner. We'll be cozy but certainly well-fed. Hospitality is huge here, so we will continue to feast on this mission to help Haitians overcome poverty and hunger. Whether it's dinner at Colbert's or lobster on the beach, our experience here has certainly been one of privilege and plenty. I'm not sure what to do with that other than to be grateful in all times and in all places, taking nothing for granted especially in our context of ubiquitous availability. Every stale cheeseburger at the drive-through is a rich gift from God.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blessings Given and Received

Tuesday, Nov. 17, 10:36 p.m.

We've had another successful and satisfying day at the school. For the most part, today was a continuation of yesterday's work. Sean and I finished interviewing the kids and taking photos for the Advent cards at church; Chris taught more geography, including an adapted version of the material for the third graders; Ann did her art appreciation and collage-making class for the students who didn't get it yesterday; and Kathy completed the hand-washing instruction with the remainder of the classes. We also had guests with us today –- the videographer who's creating a presentation about the school, and the representative from Engineers Without Borders.

The interviews and photos with the kids became more interesting as time went on (and as we realized the project wasn't taking as long as we'd thought and didn't have to be rushed). We started asking about what the kids do when they get home, how long they work on their homework each day, how many kids in the family go to school and why, etc. The answers are anecdotal, of course, but they're revealing. Many kids reported spending an hour or so on homework after school each day (perhaps some exaggeration there, but maybe not). This makes going to school an even more costly proposition for the parents than one might think. Not only do about half the parents pay at least something toward tuition, but they also lose their children's work at home while they're at school or doing homework. We also learned that the decision to send a child to school becomes a matter of maximizing the parents' return on investment. Some students with many siblings reported, for example, that three of six children might attend school. We asked how the parents decided whom to school and whom to keep home, and the reply was that often all the kids began school, but only the more talented ones were kept there once things got tight. It's a perfectly reasonable calculus, but very sad nonetheless.

There were a number of blessings given and received today. By way of example, let me tell you about a young boy and an older woman.

The boy is a student at the school whose home we visited today. We noticed him during school because he was limping badly and really only had use of one arm. Kathy, the physician, wasn't sure what his problem might be because he reported swelling in his foot (ankle, really) and elbow that happened every month or so –- very mysterious, even in terms of tropical medicine. At the boy's home, as with all the homes we visited, we spoke with his parents and invited them to join us to paint the school tomorrow, as well as to come to a meeting with the teachers on Thursday. We then prayed for the family and blessed their home. As we were leaving, Chris noticed the boy standing to the side. I went over to him and asked if he'd like prayer for his foot and elbow. I laid hands on his foot and elbow and prayed silently that I might have some standing in God's eyes to be doing what I was doing. Then I asked God to heal his joints and bring him wholeness, in his foot and elbow, as well as in his life.

Then, as we made our way toward the next house, I approached an older woman with a leaf on her head, held on by a bandana. I greeted her as I passed, but she held onto me saying, “Mal a tete” and holding her head. I stopped, laid hands on her head, and again prayed for relief of her pain and healing of whatever was ailing her. I was deeply humbled by her incredible display of faith. Following in the footsteps of the woman with the hemorrhage in the Gospels, this woman reached out to the nearest manifestation of God's presence she could find. With courage and determination I can only hope to emulate, she looked me –- and God –- in the eye and silently cried out, “I know you can bring me healing.”

I have no idea what the medical outcome will be for this woman, but I do know she is living in God's healing power. We never know how our feeble attempts to serve as divine conduits will play out, but this woman's faith reminded me that what I did or said mattered almost nothing. What mattered was that I showed up. Walking through mud and goat droppings, I happened to be led within a foot, literally, of this woman in pain, and she reached out to receive whatever share of God's healing power might come. I am tempted to belittle myself and assume that I merely spoke comfortable words. But I know God better than that. So tonight, I rest assured that I was blessed to serve as nothing less than a conduit of the Holy Spirit this afternoon. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Cross in Maniche

Nov. 16, 8:35 p.m.

It's been a very good day. We began our work with the students and teachers today, and all the efforts felt very productive.

The day began with breakfast shared with the group from Maison de Naissance that's staying at Hosanna House. MN is putting on a continuing education event related to maternal-child health for local health care professionals. So about 15 of them are staying at Hosanna House, including Stan Shaffer, Cindy Obenhaus, and Tina Seeley (whom St. Andrew's people might know). Then, about 7 a.m., Pere Colbert picked us up for the trip up the mountain to Maniche. Thankfully, the river had receded enough (and Colbert knows the river bed well enough) that our journey through the water wasn't worrisome at all. By the way, we got great news tonight – that a representative of Engineers Without Borders (yes, that's a real organization) will be traveling to Maniche with us tomorrow to evaluate the possibility of putting in a pedestrian bridge from the city side to the school side of the river. It would be an incredible blessing.

That blessing would be immediately important for probably about a third or so of the students at the school, we discovered today. One of our activities was taking photos and briefly interviewing students for the Advent sponsorship program at St. Andrew's. People will be invited to sponsor a particular child, as we've done in years past, but with a twist: The Christmas cards will be decorated by the sponsored student, whose photo also will be in the card; and there will be some brief biographical information about the student. In doing the interviews, Sean Kim and I asked the children where they lived – close to the school or far away, on the school side of the river or across. About a third of the students interviewed so far live over the river – which means they wade through the water on good days and stay home when the water is high. A bridge would be a Godsend, literally.

The other activities today also came off very well. Ann Renne taught art appreciation using Gaugin and Matisse paintings, and she led students in creating collages –- activities they never experience. Chris Nazar taught older students about maps and local geography, showing them a map of their area and asking them to draw maps of the locations of their homes. Then, after school, Chris and Sean walked home with several students to see how their maps revealed the actual geography that the school serves. Kathy Shaffer taught several classes about germs and the importance of hand-washing by spraying a photosensitive substance on a toy and passing it among the students. The material was revealed by black light, showing how the “germs” had been spread from one student to another simply by handling the same thing. And, at the end of the day, Kathy, Ann, and I had a meeting with the teachers to get their input into what needed to be improved in the educational process, particularly in terms of the involvement of parents. Understandably, parents have little opportunity to be involved in homework or school projects. About 70 percent of parents are illiterate, which presents a huge hurdle -- to say nothing of the need to spend one's time coming up with enough to eat that day. It was a good meeting in preparation for a meeting between the parents and teachers to come on Thursday.

After dinner, we shared Compline and conversation (and drinks) with the people here for the MN conference – a great opportunity to hear stories about the history of MN and the school sponsorship network among Kansas City-area Episcopal congregations (HELP). In the midst of this came the observation that the church in Maniche has no cross. Some in our group were scandalized that, at the altar, the focus was an arrangement of artificial flowers. It does seem odd not to find a cross over the altar in an Episcopal church. But really, I haven't seen very many crosses at all in Haiti -– which is very odd, given the ubiquitous religious language on business signs, tap-taps, cars, and anything else that will hold still long enough. (Virtually every vehicle has a name like “Thank You, Jesus” or “Fruit of Perseverance” or “Glory of God,” and many business signs bear names like “Grace of God Hair Styling” or “Maranatha Auto Parts.”) Especially given the purported numbers in the Roman Catholic Church, you'd think there would be crucifixes everywhere -– and there aren't.

Perhaps the people of Maniche are onto something, whether they realize it on a conscious level or not. I'm not at all sure their church really needs a cross over the altar. Why? Because the people are the cross. The point of the cross is God's deep investment, to the point of death, in the lives of God's people, as well as the passionate extent to which God is willing to go in order to reveal ultimate love. The people of Maniche are the body of Christ in their world, the presence of the crucified and risen Lord we serve. They don't need to be reminded, at least not nearly so much as we do, that suffering and love go hand in hand. Given how clearly they understand that God's loving presence is always with them in the midst of their suffering, with them even to the end of the age, they are the cross in the world, reminding us that Christ still hangs in misery even as he promises new life for all who make the hard choice to follow him.

Several Days in Haiti

Sorry for the delay in getting these trip reports started. We're all fine; Internet access has just been more of an issue than I'd hoped -- surprise, surprise. Here are logs from the first few days here. More later tonight, if I'm lucky.

Nov. 14, 6 a.m.

I didn't get to update the blog last night because I can't pick up the wireless signal at Hosanna House. And their internet service is fairly hit and miss, it seems, so I'm not sure when I'll get to post.

We arrived safely in Port au Prince about noon, and met Colbert at the airport without any trouble. Then we snaked through the streets of Port au Prince to see the Episcopal Cathedral before heading south on the highway to Les Cayes. Driving through the capital was fascinating – primarily the incredible numbers of people out and about, doing little bits of business – selling everything from tires to soap to ancient photocopiers to cooking oil to charcoal to computer components. It is amazing the effort and time it must take to eek out such a small living.

The drive was a bit cramped – six of us in a truck designed for five – but that's nothing by Haitian standards. On the highway, we passed one tap-tap that seemed like it wouldn't be able to climb the hill, or clear the rocks on the road, because its back end rode so low from the crush of bodies inside. But Colbert's truck is air conditioned, a tremendous blessing in the 95 degree heat, and one not enjoyed by the three of Colbert's assistants riding on our luggage in the bed of the truck.

After four hours or so of Haitian landscape and villages, mountains and ocean, we came to Cayes and Hosanna House. Franchette's dinner (stew of beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and possibly goat) was hearty and wonderful. Afterward, our group had our first of what I hope will be a nightly time of theological reflection on the day just spent.

From that, what sticks with me is the dilemma about how to imagine what it is that we, and any missionary in this kind of a setting, are here to do. It's tempting, for us and for the people who support this mission back home, to ask the question, “Is it better now?” That's especially poignant for Kathy Shaffer, who's been at this more than 20 years. Even after that kind of time, the answer seems to be, “Well, no, not really.” Work here and money from back home don't make much of a dent in a setting largely driven by forces beyond our control – government ineffectiveness, hurricanes, endemic poverty, etc. Of course, on the micro level, the work has a huge impact. The children of Maniche would not have a school without it; and because they do, they have at least the possibility of high school, further training, and some kind of life other than subsistence agriculture and reselling household goods.

But I also think, in a sense, the outcome isn't the point. We aren't doing or funding this work because it will change deep structural problems on a large scale. We're doing this work to enflesh the reign of God where we're given to do it, as well as to serve as a witness of that kingdom to whatever part of the world might care to look and be transformed. That's no small accomplishment on its own.

Nov. 14, 5:10 p.m.

We arrived back at Hosanna House after a long day at Maniche, doing some painting at the school. It's been instructive, to say the least.

The good news is that we, and probably 40 children, youth, and adults from Maniche, got the majority of the painting done today. Six classrooms look much cleaner than they did. With the addition of the concrete roof to the school last year, walls had to be reinforced, and plaster was ripped out and sort of replaced, etc. The result were walls in need of a lot more than simply painting. Had I realized this, I would have prepared differently, bringing many more metal scrapers. Colbert intended for us to smooth these walls with sandpaper, which resulted in a great deal of sound and fury in the small concrete rooms, but not a tremendous amount of smoothing. Also problematic was what seemed to us a highly variable standard of acceptable preparation, which at one point resulted in several painted walls being scraped to get down deeper through peeling plaster to concrete. This wasted a fair amount of applied paint (a scarce resource for this job) and resulted in a fair amount of frustration for those of us who didn't have a clear sense of just how professional a job was expected. In addition, I made a poor choice in buying lots of inexpensive foam paint “brushes,” not realizing just how rough the surface was likely to be. The brushes are now a thing of the past, so we'll have to buy more (real brushes) in Cayes before we finish painting on Wednesday. Finally, I was frustrated by the completely predictable failures of communication and leadership in getting the painting done. Being neither a painter nor an manager of work crews, I didn't plan the progress of the job well or direct firmly enough to keep the right work (i.e., painting the proper color in the proper place) flowing consistently. Probably par for the course, but frustrating, nonetheless.

On top of all that, it rained. This made the situation messier (and everyone much damper) than would have been convenient. It also swelled the river, which the 4WD pickup must cross to reach the school. This afternoon, it would be fair to say the truck swam the river, which was much higher after the rain than it had been earlier this morning. In retrospect, I should have taken pictures of the crossing, but honestly I was too busy praying to think about a photo. It's a great example of the need for a bridge across the river … a long-term desire among the Haiti Committee at St. Andrew's. It's a fitting symbol, too, as we seek to be a bridge from illiteracy to literacy, from poverty to sufficiency. The crossing is always difficult and often impossible – whether you're talking about getting across the river or crossing the divide between our their present and their future.

And finally, from the sublime to the incredibly mundane: Here's an example of a difference in Haitian and American definitions. There is one toilet at the school in Maniche, as well as three privies. As we looked around the school, someone asked Colbert, “Does the toilet work?” He said, “Oh yes.” Later, when the moment arrived, I discovered that everything in the empty tank was completely out of commission. In this case, “works” means that the toilet flushes if you get a bucket, fill it with water, and pour it into the toilet. Both perspectives are accurate – but each only in its own context....

Nov. 15, 8 p.m.

We've had a wonderful and exhausting day. It began at 7 a.m. with Eucharist at St. Saveur in Les Cayes, which is Pere Colbert's “big” church. It was a moving experience despite the heat (at least for the one in vestments), particularly the singing. Listening to it, and to the singing later at the service in Maniche, brought to mind the descriptions of the throngs standing before the throne of God in Revelation, so full of the presence of God that they can't help but burst into songs of praise at every turn. Worship in Haiti is like that. Perhaps it's an example of the fullness of less, the ultimate expression of the truth we fleetingly see as “less is more.” When you have as little as the people of Haiti have – especially in a fairly remote mountain location like Maniche – then what you have means everything. These folks have the presence of God, intertwined in their “secular” lives like the woven branches that create walls of houses here. In Haiti, there appears to be little separation of “sacred” and “secular”; instead, it's all of a piece. And even though that piece may seem ragged and tattered to us, it's theirs, permeated with the presence of God. And when they stand as part of that great congregation, singing praises to the One at the center of the throne and to the Lamb, they reveal a glimpse of the fullness of God's kingdom that John of Patmos would have envied.

Anyway, we worshiped at Cayes and then traveled up the mountain to Maniche for the second service. In both places, I served as deacon, proclaiming the Gospel and setting the altar; and at Maniche, I preached. It was good to be able to laugh with them at the fact that we at St. Andrew's, who had paid for them to replace the roof of their school, now find ourselves needing to replace our own roof. And it was even better to be able to remind them that our showing up was yet one more way God was saying to them, “I love you.”

We returned to our guesthouse about 1 p.m. for lunch and then to visit Maison de Naissance, the birthing center. Three women had given birth there yesterday, so we were blessed to see the place well in use.

After MN, we spent the late afternoon and evening at the beach at Port Salut, something of a resort town about an hour away from Cayes. The weather was perfect – none of yesterday's rain – and the water was warm. The location is simply beautiful, and the meal was heavenly: fresh lobster grilled on an open fire, fried plantains, and “pikli,” which is cole slaw so hot you have to wash it down with Haitian beer. Darn.

Just as dinner was about to arrive, we stood on the beach, looking at a glorious sunset, and we prayed the daily devotion for the evening from the Prayer Book, which includes this perfect narration of our moment: “O gracious light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in Heaven; O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed: Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O giver of life, and to be glorified in all the worlds.”

And so it was as we dined at the banquet table of the Kingdom of Heaven, both this morning and at the setting of the sun. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nearly There

Our group of missionaries has made it to Miami in fine shape. We'll stay here tonight and fly to Port-au-Prince in the morning. Because of differences in flight schedules, we've been only four rather than five today. Ann Renne has a schedule different from Kathy Shaffer, Chris Nazar, Sean Kim, and me. But we'll meet (God willing) at baggage claim in Port-au-Prince tomorrow. Then Pere Colbert, the priest in Les Cayes, will drive us down the highway from P-a-P to the south, which (again, God willing) should take us about four hours. In addition to saving us a little money by driving rather than flying, the trip with Colbert will give us a great first-hand experience of the Haitian landscape and the villages along the way.

Please keep the prayers coming for safe travels and comparatively few problems along the way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Prayer to Remember

Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving for Haiti with four other missionaries from St. Andrew's. We're going to work with our partner school in Maniche, where we'll paint, teach, take photos, visit students' homes, and worship with the people there.

I've been spending a fair amount of time and effort recently working out the details of the trip and making sure I have everything in order. On top of what it takes to get out of the office for a week and a half, all this mission-trip work has been occupying a lot of mental space. Too much, as it turns out.

I didn't realize quite how distracted I'd become with the trip's details until a committee meeting today – a committee that, ostensibly, had nothing to do with the mission trip. We sat down to begin our meeting, and the convener – a parishioner who is much too humble to want to be recognized – said, “I'd like to begin today with a prayer for our missionaries about to leave for Haiti.” Then she offered a prayer that made me stop short. She commended us, and our mission, to God's care. She reminded the group that we would be bearing God's love to children living a world away from Kansas City. She asked God to bless us and protect us in our travels. And she gave thanks for our offering of ourselves to bear God's presence to the people of Maniche.

In the midst of my overscheduled last day in the office, in the midst of all the details of getting five of us to Haiti, I had forgotten why we were going. But as this parishioner prayed, I sat there in a committee meeting, crying.

Something tells me this will be a good trip. God willing, we'll have a wireless connection at our guesthouse in Les Cayes, and I should be able to post daily updates to this blog during the trip.

Tune in tomorrow.