It illustrates one of the most pervasive aspects of Haitian culture – the blurring of the sacred and the secular. Really, it goes deeper than that. For Haitians, it’s not so much that sacred and secular are blurred; it’s that they are one – life itself. Certainly the most entertaining way to notice this, day in and day out, is in the signage. First, there are the tap-taps – the brightly colored vehicles, from pick-ups to school buses, that provide public transport here. On nearly every tap-tap are painted proclamations. A few are surreal (“Just Do It,” with the Nike swoosh), but many of them are statements of faith. On one afternoon, I noted these: “Espirit de Dieu” (the Spirit of God), “Christ Revient” (Christ Will Return), “La Benediction” (Blessing), “Merci Signeur” (Thank You, Lord), “Grandeur de Dieu” (Majesty of God), and perhaps the most theologically pointed in a social context with great suffering: “Sang de Jesus” (Blood of Jesus). The other wonderfully entertaining source for documenting the sacred/secular unity here is the signage on business establishments. All of the following are actual businesses we’ve seen on this trip: Pharmacie de Dieu (Drugstore of God), Christ Revient (Christ Will Return) Butcher Shop, Pere Eternale Loto (Eternal Father Lottery), Tout a Jesus Depot (All to Jesus Convenience Store). But most striking was the man I saw today in his wheelchair on one of Cayes’ main streets. Across the back of the seat, as if the chair were his personal tap-tap, it read, “Jesus est l’amour de mon coeur” – Jesus is the love of my heart. Back in the States tomorrow, I will see signs for Target and Quick Trip, and I’ll see bumper stickers proclaiming a kid to be an honor student; and I’ll know nothing about the faith of the people behind those signs.
In Maniche this morning, we finished up the photography and interviewing for the St. Andrew’s Advent cards. There will be hundreds of faces as well as short bios sharing glimpses of each child’s life: How many siblings she has, how many hours he walks to school, her favorite subjects in school, what he wants to be when he grows up. We’ve spoken with future nurses, teachers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and even one boy who said, without a moment’s hesitation, that he wants to be a judge. With education – specifically, by graduating secondary school – these things are possible. Education is the first and essential ticket out of the mountain village for these children.
But God willing, places like Maniche will also someday know a different reality than the present options for one’s “professional life” – agriculture and reselling goods in the market. Haitians are very industrious, and the business professionals in our group kept coming up with all kinds of ideas for small entrepreneurial ventures. So a common conversation this week has been something like this: “Should we be focusing on improving the future for a comparatively small number of children in one school, or should we be exploring how to spur economic development that would benefit the whole community?”
It’s a great question, the kind of question I think God wants us to ask as a community of faith constantly discerning how to be in partnership with others to whom God sends us. I certainly wouldn’t presume to know the final answer, but maybe we can look to Jesus for an answer that’s a both/and (which, of course, we Episcopalians like best). On the one hand, we have the parable of the good Samaritan, which reminds us of the call to care for the person in need who happens to be in front of you. For us, the children of Maniche are in front of us because of a 25-year relationship, and I believe God is asking us not to walk by on the other side of the road now. On the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it clear that people in need, generally, have a preferred place in God’s ordering of things: “Blessed are the poor, for they will inherit the earth.” So if we’re called to bring the reign of God into the present moment, even as we wait for its fulfillment at the end time, then we need to work for the community’s development and well-being, too. As is so often true in the life of discipleship, our relationship with Maniche is complicated and evolving – which is a blessing, because it shows both St. Andrew’s and St. Augustin’s are taking the relationship seriously.