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.