Sunday, November 14, 2010

Haiti Trip, Day 4

Nov. 14, 2010, 9:01 p.m.

It’s the end of a long and wonderful Sunday, and it feels like it’s about midnight. That’s what we get from waking up at 4 a.m. thanks to the alarm-clock fan in the room Chris and I are sharing. Night before last, it decided to buzz loudly at 3 a.m.; last night, it waited an extra hour. Tonight, we have a new fan. We’ll see what it decides to do.

The morning began with church at St. Saveur parish in Cayes. Initially, there was a chance that Pere Colbert would ask me to do the liturgy in French (a frightening but nearly plausible thought), but instead he asked another priest to preside while I preached, with the other priest translating. What’s striking about church in Haiti (apart from a congregation actually filling the church at 7 a.m.) is the great joy in the midst of what seem to us such Spartan surroundings. To our eyes, the churches in both Cayes and Maniche would seem to be dingy, concrete caves with a few streamers here and there and literally no lighting other than what comes in through the open doors and windows. Yet the people manage to transform their worship spaces into the heavenly throne room, with full-voiced worshippers lustily praising God for salvation we can only begin to imagine. The liturgy follows the Book of Common Prayer just as ours does, complete with the same lectionary as we use; so our experience wasn’t so different from that of the congregation at St. Andrew’s this morning ... except that it was a world away.

The sermon seemed to be well-received, especially at Maniche, where the congregation offered its share of “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” –- again, something a bit outside my experience in the Episcopal Church. The gospel reading was from Luke, where Jesus warns the disciples of immediate threats along the way toward the coming of the kingdom – wars and insurrections, famine, diseases, dreadful signs from heaven, and earthquakes. It sounds like an update on Haiti from CNN. I told them that we stand with them in their suffering and that we have great respect for their remarkable ability to look with faith toward the coming of the Kingdom even in such dire circumstances. I also used the Isaiah reading (65:17-25) to frame the work of our school in terms of taking part with God in bringing forth new creation, “new heavens and a new earth” even in the here and now. This is at least one reason why it matters for missionaries like us to show up here: It’s a wonderful thing to send money, but it’s so much more to accompany that support with the solidarity of presence.

After church, we came back to Hosanna House for lunch -– a Sunday feast including roast chicken in a wonderful spicy sauce, beans and rice, a hot potato and beet salad, avocados, bread, and a cold pasta salad with onions. From there, despite the temptation to take a nap, we took off for a trip to the beach at Port-Salut. Getting to the beach was a bit of a challenge because of the political rally in the streets of Port-Salut. It’s presidential-election time in Haiti, and there are 19 candidates, which results in an amazing collection of election posters plastered everywhere, including on road signs. In Port-Salut today, supporters of one candidate clogged the streets (and made us a bit nervous, especially with the presence of armed UN troops), but at least they didn’t overtake the beach. So we relaxed, enjoyed the water, and noted how the hurricane last week had changed the shape and texture of the beach from what we remembered from previous visits. Then we prayed Compline as the sun was setting and feasted on lobster cooked over a fire. It wasn’t Eucharist, but it certainly was eucharistic -– friends in Christ gathered around God’s table, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the bounty we received.

We drive the 45 minutes or so back into Cayes in the dark –- just in case daytime driving on a highway with no regulations and many pedestrians and cyclists isn’t thrilling enough. Once we reached Cayes, we were traveling slowly in city traffic, with cyclists all around, only feet away from the truck; and Chris, Bruce, and I were in the back. As we moved along, I heard someone shouting out from a motorcycle just behind us. I began to get concerned. Here we were, three blans in the back of a pickup, almost certain to be carrying cash and unarmed. We all ignored the shouting, hoping the driver would put some distance between us and the cyclist, but it continued. Then I thought I heard the man saying, “Father, Father!” I figured there was no way he could be calling to me. Not only was I a stranger here, but I hardly looked clerical, dressed in a swimming suit and a t-shirt from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But the shouting continued –- “Father, Father!” Then the man pulled up alongside us, looked over at me, and called out, “Good message today at the Episcopal Church!” I’ve never had a compliment on a sermon quite like that.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear the potential blessings swirling around us in the chaos of our lives, and the strength to look past our fears to find them.

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