I’m writing this sitting on the beach at Abaka Bay resort on Ile-a-Vache in the Bay of Cayes. It’s pretty stunning – CNN rated it among the top 100 beaches in the world. We came out to this island today for some down time in the midst of this mission trip, this experience of being sent to help accomplish God’s purposes. The group came in two wooden longboats, continuing the trip’s “adventure travel” theme. We had lunch and a wonderful swim in perfect water on a perfect beach. You could almost forget you’re in Haiti … but you shouldn’t. Because Haiti is beautiful, even in the midst of its ramshackle buildings, aching poverty, and intractable social problems.
If you’ll permit a moment of theological reflection, perhaps Abaka Bay is Haiti before the fall. Our Christian story begins with God’s perfect creation, as well as God’s perfect love. God wanted to give us those blessings so we would care for both the good earth and each other. But it only takes two chapters of Genesis before we come to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the serpent, and our preference for listening to voices other than God’s voice of love.
All of Haiti used to be Abaka Bay, before sin entered in. And believe me, there is plenty of sin to go around: Spanish people who killed indigenous people; French people who enslaved African people and then demanded billions in reparations from them because the Africans won the war; Haitian leaders who preferred self-aggrandizement to fostering their people’s well-being; light-skinned Haitians who have lorded it over dark-skinned Haitians from the nation’s beginnings to the present day; Americans who occupied the country in the 20th century and re-enslaved people through forced labor; current Haitian leaders who prefer personal power and empty promises to playing the long game of structural change. That’s a lot of sin, and Haiti bears it as best it can.
And in the midst of our sinfulness, God keeps inviting us to join in Jesus’ work of redemption. Earlier today, before arriving at the resort, we visited the “city” on Ile-a-Vache, Madame Bernard. There we witnessed three in-breakings of God’s reign of love.
The first was an orphanage, school, and hospital where 23 disabled children live and learn as best they can. It’s run by a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Flora, once a physician in Canada, who came to Ile-a-Vache in the 1970s and stayed to build this place of blessing. Asked what brought her here, of all places – from Canada to a remote island off the Haitian coast – she said simply, “God,” as if the answer were patently obvious. For decades, her students and patients have been grateful.
The second act of redemption was the reaction of our young missionaries to the disabled people they met at the orphanage. I didn’t know Pere Colbert (our partner priest) was planning to take us there, so I hadn’t prepared them for what they might see. It can be jarring to encounter people with developmental, physical, and psychological disabilities in your own context. Haitian facilities function under different standards than their American counterparts. But our young missionaries reached out to the kids with open hearts, overcoming their own shock and taking kids’ open hands in theirs.
The third act of redemption we witnessed is just in its early stages. Pere Colbert is planting a church near the town of Madame Bernard. Actually the location is a 25-minute walk out of town, up a steep hill, because Colbert’s passion is to bring church to what he calls “the countryside” – rural Haiti, which has virtually no advocates other than people like Colbert (and partners like St. Andrew’s, actually). Like the people of Maniche, the people up the hill from Madame Bernard need the community that a new parish will bring, and they need the education that the church’s school will provide. It’s redemption in the making.
So as I sit here at Abaka Bay, I give thanks for having seen both sides of this lovely island: God’s glory revealed in the gorgeous beach and God’s loving redemption happening at Madame Bernard. Sin still persists, of course, as “the creation waits with eager longing … [to be] set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19,21). But today, it’s good to be able both to visit the Garden and glimpse its healing.