The group divided into several teams to work on different projects. Carolyn Kroh and Rebekah Hyer observed classroom teaching to get a snapshot of the quality of instruction; another team took photos of kids and interviewed them for the Advent cards we’ll sell at St. Andrew’s; another team met with community leaders (a judicial officer and the mayor of Maniche) to explore how the school and church might develop better relationships with the community and become a more integral part of it. Among other things, we learned from the two city leaders that St. Augustin School is regarded as one of the four best in the district – that parents are choosing our school not just based on proximity but based on quality. We received a clear affirmation of that fact on a home visit later in the afternoon. We walked home with several students in order to meet their parents and get their feedback about the school. After a 45-minute walk through mud and along rough rock roads, we came to the home of one young girl, Samantha. As we approached her home, we saw the sign a few yards away for Notre Dame Elementary School – literally a stone’s throw from Samantha’s house. After our walk, in the rain, we asked why the family didn’t send Samantha to the school next door. The answer: Because St. Augustin offers much better education. It was heartening to hear.
The discussions with local officials also revealed a fascinating parallel between conversations at St. Andrew’s and at St. Augustin. In both cases, we’re asking the community around us how we can connect with it more deeply. That happens most effectively in one-on-one encounters, but it also happens through programming and capital-planning decisions. When we asked the mayor how St. Augustin Church and School could build connections with the people of Maniche, he suggested building a basketball court and a football (soccer) field. Back home, as we discuss the future of St. Andrew’s youth center, we’ve heard from some of our neighbors about the need for recreational space, including basketball courts. Perhaps the partnership between St. Andrew’s and St. Augustin is even more timely than we imagined, given that both parishes are discerning how to live into God’s call for the Church to reach beyond itself and take its community seriously, seeking to exist for the benefit of those who are not its members (paraphrasing Archbishop William Temple, whose feast day is today). Both parishes are seeking to become the mission outposts that God has in mind for them to be. Maybe building basketball courts is an unexpectedly common step.
In our time today, I had the joy of talking with a seminarian from the Diocese of Haiti, whose first name is Guillian. (I didn’t get her last name, and I’ve probably misspelled her first name.) Guillian served as one of our translators today. She has attended Virginia Theological Seminary and is currently doing field education in Haiti with our partner priest, Fr. Colbert Estil. Guillian is on a track to be the fourth woman ordained a priest in Haiti, and she has walked a brave path to get there. Of course, she has endured the roadblocks of prejudice related to gender; and she has had to persevere, in ways I can only begin to imagine, simply to say “yes” to God’s incredibly difficult call on her life. On top of all that – not to put too fine a point on it – she grew up in rural Haiti, raised in a mountain village in the southeast. As we walked with our students this afternoon to visit their homes, Guillian offhandedly said she used to walk 3 hours, one way, to get to school. I stopped and checked to ensure I hadn’t misunderstood. Yes: Every day, from kindergarten through 12th grade, she walked three hours to school, attended class for 6 hours or so, and walked home another 3 hours before doing homework and chores to support the life of a family practicing subsistence agriculture. “My brothers and sister stopped going to school,” Guillian said. “But I was determined to make a better life.” Absolutely. And, with her life now being directed toward building the lives of Haitian people through priestly ministry, Guillian will be “making a better life” in more ways than she can yet imagine.
The next time I have a 7 p.m. meeting and an early-morning meeting the next day, or get behind in sermon prep, or miss yet another day off, I will bring Guillian’s smiling face to mind.