We left the Palm Inn about 9 a.m., the tops of our vans crammed with duffels; and we made two stops in Port au Prince before getting on the highway for the four-hour trek south to Les Cayes.
Our first stop was St. Vincent’s Episcopal School and Orphanage. I don’t have the official history, but the story Stan Shaffer told was this. An Episcopal religious (a nun) in the Order of St. Margaret decided to sit under a tree and teach children with disabilities. She did such a wonderful job that people wanted to build her a school. She made a commitment to serve the children of Port au Prince who wouldn’t be served otherwise – those with no place to go. Thus was born St. Vincent’s. Today, there are more than 300 kids with disabilities living there. God knows where they’d be otherwise. The school was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake and is partially rebuilt now. For them, it’s a Godsend. I spoke briefly with one young man – Samuel, who looks to be in his early 20s. He has twisted legs and gets around in a wheelchair, and he’s been at St. Vincent’s since childhood. He said simply, “This is my home.”
Stan also told a story of touring the school once, on a previous trip, and seeing different kids at work. The deaf kids were making braces for the physically disabled kids to use – a very loud task with lots of metallic banging. The physically disabled kids were leading blind kids around the school grounds. The blind kids were stamping Communion wafers for the school to sell. And there you have it: The deaf, the lame, and the blind – all sorts and conditions of people – comprising God’s family, with the many members using their various gifts to be the Body of Christ, even providing the bread for the Eucharistic feast – the Body by which the Body would be fed. Again, we were graced to see an in-breaking of God’s kingdom as we walked among the kids, sharing photos with them and glimpsing their joy.
The second stop was at a supplier of solar-powered lights, gifts for the teachers and staff at the school in Maniche. In a place where electricity is a sometime thing (and an absent thing at the school), these should help out. And they’ll provide an outward and visible reminder of how the school’s staff shines Christ’s light into the darkness of poverty every day. Thanks very much to St. Andrew’s parishioner Frank Julian for finding the supplier for these lights.
The drive south was blessedly uneventful, despite a few opportunities for driving events we’re all grateful to have avoided.
After dinner, the group gathered for reflection time – a regular part of these trips when we explore what we’ve experienced that day and our own identities as God’s people sent into relationship with others. Several of us struggle with the term “missionary.” It comes with a lot of baggage, at least for me. It’s helpful to remember what the word really means, in an apostolic sense. Like every Christian, the 13 of us are sent by God. And that’s what mission is – the assignment on which God sends us. That sending most likely has nothing to do with fixing people, or solving their problems, or even solving our own. It has to do with coming to know and love others more deeply, a participative interaction that leaves everybody changed as a result. In other words, mission is about relationship.
Tomorrow, we’ll head up the mountain to visit our partner school in Maniche, St. Augustin’s. Some of us will take photos and interview kids so we can offer their faces and stories to the people of St. Andrew’s. Some of us will go into the community and try to talk with local leaders about the school and how it might serve the community better. Some of us will read to schoolchildren or interview teachers. I feel certain that all of us will love the people we encounter – and be changed as a result.