one of the many moving moments of our haiti trip was this one. we’d spent some time with pastor christian, a 74 year-old wise and humble pastor of 11 churches totaling 10,000 people. later in our trip, he hosted a pastors meeting for us attended by 260 pastors, representing about 1000 churches. this is the cross-denominational group adventures in missions is hoping to work with for hosting groups and developing church partnerships. but this moment, when we asked him to pray for us, and he started singing… well… i just started weeping. you won’t be able to understand the translation, but it’s hardly the point.
yesterday, our team in haiti did some initial contact and assessment work in two tent villages that are side by side (late addition: when we crossed the border into haiti, one of the first stories we heard was from a mother who talked of her twin boys dying in her arms during the quake; tonite, we learned that the name of these two tent villages — marassa — means, or at least implies, “twins” in creole. and interesting bookend to trip). i blogged an aspect of that experience here.
last night, as our group was debriefing the day, we felt compelled to do something more tangible for these two villages. the village committee at one of them had asked we return this morning and lead a time of prayer for healing; so we knew we were headed back anyhow. we cooked up a little social media experiment that actually manifested as a missional prayer. adam mclane had twitpic’d a photo of the people we were filming from his iphone, and it had the gps coordinates on it. it got retweeted about 600 times within an hour or two. so, we got the “please help us” video edited and uploaded, and the twitterers among us simul-tweeted the photo and video link, along with a message to anderson cooper, asking him to show up at 9am and bring help. that tweet went viral like a prayer through social networks, being retweeted thousands of times. our hope was that anderson cooper’s people would see this (which, surely, they did), and do something.
but god had another designs on how to answer our prayers.
after starting the healing prayer service in the one community, a few of us pulled off to go find a way to get some immediate physical help. we were told that one of the only open grocery stores was near the airport — about 2 miles from where we were.
but when we got near the airport, we started praying that somehow god would give us access to the massive conglomeration of armys, ngo’s, and the u.n., operating out of the airport grounds. sure enough, we pulled up to the guard gate, explained what we were doing, and were waived in. a second barricade produced the same results. inside, we said ‘hello’ to an american dude walking past, who just may have been an angel. he walked us around to various tents, trying to champion our cause. as we met with u.s. military, canadian military, and several ngo’s, we began to get discouraged that nothing would come of this, with all the red-tape. but we’d also been told, over and over, that giovanni cavanni, at the i.o.n. tent, was the person we needed to see, as he was coordinating which idp’s (we were learning vernacular for these tent villages) would get help. by the time we approached the group of tents where the fabled giovanni was to be found, we were picturing him as some kind of godfather, and assumed we’d never even get an audience. but we were ushered past guards and workers, right into giovanni’s tent. he was a young, hip, northern italian guy who clearly had power, but deeply wanted to help. they had not yet identified the tent villages we were seeking help for, and we got them into the database, plus got email addresses and lots of other stuff to follow up on that will lead to getting long-term help for these people.
but we still knew we needed some immediate food supplies for today. so off we went to the grocery story (which was a nice one, heavily guarded, with only haitians with some money and military shopping in it). we bought almost all the rice and beans they had, some oil, and most of their baby formula. we had $2000 of donations that had come in over the last couple days; and when our final bill was tallied, it was $1983.
we drove back to the two communities, met with their “village council” (they call it the committee), and talked about the help we hoped would come from our time at the airport, as well as adventures in missions groups we hope will come in the months to come. we re-confirmed their desire to help their people, and particular commitment to the widows and orphans in their midst. then we formed long human chains, and unloaded the truck.
it was somewhere in the midst of unloading the truck that it struck me how our collective act of prayer last night, carried out by our team and thousands of others who joined with us from countries far away, were being answered in that very moment. in fact, god had been answering them all day long.
at the end of the day, i was about to get into the truck to leave, and i noticed a teenager staring at me. and i saw his feet. he might as well have been barefoot — he had rubber flip-flops that were falling apart and smaller than his feet. in that moment, a story i’d heard 20 years ago came back to me, of a kid on an urban missions trip who saw a homeless guy and jumped out of the church van to give the homeless man his shoes. i knew what god was prompting me to do. i walked over to him, smiled, put my hand on his shoulder (to steady my tired fat body!). i leaned over and slipped off my tennis shoes, picked them up and held them to his chest. there wasn’t a translator around, but i said: “these are god’s provision for you.” maybe i was just saying it to myself; and that would have been enough.
Romans 5:3-5 – not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Today, my 2nd day in Haiti (and first full day), I was relentlessly pursued by hope.
On a human level, this seems completely illogical. I witnessed so much pain, so much loss, so much destruction. I saw miles and miles of downtown Port-au-Prince streets with every other building smashed to pieces, the streets piled high with rubble (many of the rubble piles doubling as temporary graves). I saw trash overflowing in every stream.
And the squatter villages. I’ve seen squatter villages in other countries; but they’ve always had a sense of semi-permanence to them, having developed over years, with shacks poorly cobbled together with solid materials. But the squatter villages here are different. They’ve sprung up all over the city – hundreds of them – each with hundreds, if not thousands of temporary homes. All built in the last few weeks, they’re built on wobbly scrap-wood frames and wires, with sheets and blankets for walls, and tarps (at best) for roofs.
I listened to story after story, and they started to blend together. Everyone knows someone who died in the quake – most know many. And even if their home didn’t collapse, it’s broken enough that it’s not safe to re-enter. Little kids accepted power bars and bottles of water from me as if I’d just handed them the keys to the kingdom.
But this suffering is producing perseverance, which is producing character, and hope is overflowing in a way I’ve rarely seen.
Today was Haiti’s first-ever National Day of Prayer. We originally had other plans for the day; but when we learned of this beautiful expression of hope. As we drove into the city center, we passed dozens of churches overflowing (literally, out onto the streets) with people singing and praying (and fasting, I understand). The main gathering at the city center is reported to have about 60,000 people at it.
We stopped at one of the large gatherings (not the one at the city center), and I sat in the scorching sun near a few young adults. One of them – Johnny – noticed the tattoo on my leg (the cross of St. Patrick), and asked me about it in broken English. He and his friends were fascinated by it, and by each of my three other tattoos. Since each of my tattoos represent Christian themes of life and re-birth, we struggled gloriously through a conversation about spiritual things. Johnny, and another guy named Junior (pictured with me here), both spoke some English, and translated everything I said to their friends, as well as translating questions from their friends for me.
Later, after driving through the heart-wrenching city center, we visited a large prayer gathering at the church of Pastor Christian, one of the pastors we’re hoping Adventures in Missions groups will be working with. I’d guess there were about 3500 people at this site. As we made our way into the crowd, I realized I was in observation mode. I realized my post yesterday had been more of a travelogue than a reflection of what was going on inside of me. And I knew I had to move into co-participant mode. So I broke from our group and wiggled my way deep into the crowd. When I got to a place where I couldn’t proceed further without being rude, I stood and prayed in the midst of the crowd. When they suddenly all sat down, I realized I was the only person standing. I looked down, and the woman next to my feet was making a place for me to squeeze onto the blanket she and several other women and children were occupying. I sat, looked around, and realized I had somehow ended up in a section that was all women and children – but the welcome was palpable. Throughout the next hour of singing, dancing, prayer, preaching, leg cramps and back spasms, I participated with these Haitian women and children, calling out to God on behalf of Haiti. It was a profound, tangible experience of hope being birthed out of suffering.
Later in the day, after many stories I don’t have space to share here (including a beautiful conversation with a group of young men constructing a tent-home for someone, all of whom had decided to follow Christ on the day of the earthquake, as they heard others crying out to Jesus), we met with Pastor Christian. A 70-something man of deep wisdom and grace, he pastors a group of 11 churches totally about 10,000 people. We talked with him about bringing groups to help, about his vision for Haiti, and about how he saw his country responding. At one point, Pastor Christian was sharing something about all the work to be done, and he let out a very deep sign. We could all see, in that moment, the immense burden he was carrying, and how tired he was (he hadn’t been showing this). We gathered around him and prayed for him, while he sunk into the grace of Jesus. About 10 minutes later, he asked if he could pray for us. As we bowed our heads, he began singing. He was singing a prayer over us, and it was truly one of the most beautiful things ever to enter my ears and soul, even though I couldn’t understand the words. I instantly started crying – but they were tears of hope: hope born out of seeing a man, and a hundred thousand others, place their hope-born-of-suffering in a Savior who brings redemption. I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite Bible verses: Zephaniah 3:17, which describes God “rejoicing over us with singing.”
I’m emotionally and physically spent, and a little bit sunburned. So I’ll leave you with this:
Zephaniah 3:17 – The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
this morning, we left santo domingo at 5:30am, and began our trek to haiti, with a handful of stops along the way. our team is getting along great — such a cool mix of people.
our first ministry stop was on the dominican side of the haiti border, where a complete hospital had been set up in tents on the compound of a ministry organization. the hospital was being run by “u.s.aid”, a u.s. government funded agency. the nurses and docs were wonderful — all there as volunteers. a highlight was sitting with a haitian man who was healing from a broken femur, and listening to him sing bob marley’s “redemption song” (watch a video of this moment here). the man had taught himself english by listening to english-language music, and he had a beautiful voice. all of us, including the nurses, were in tears by the time he finished.
our first stop in haiti, just barely across the border, was at a church that is housing 30 refugee families, and also runs a hospital. with so little medical care in port-au-prince, thousands of haitians have made their way to these care facilities outside the city. yesterday, the place had 6000 people on their grounds fasting and praying! the place was just not that big — so that must have been an amazing thing. we toured the hospital, and prayed with a couple of the patients. one woman told us her story through an interpreter. she’d been trapped in rubble for 24 hours. when the ground started shaking, she grabbed her twin 17 month-old boys, holding them to her chest. but when she was pinned under the rubble, she could tell that one had instantly died, and the other only lived for the length of a few cries. the story got worse than that, but i don’t think i’ll share all the details here. but she talked about calling out to jesus, and how she was rescued. when we asked if we could pray for her, we discovered that the man sitting in a chair nearby her was her husband, and he came up and sat next to her on the hospital bed. as we laid hands on them and prayed, her husband began crying and shaking, speaking out, “why, jesus? why, jesus?” of course, it was a heartbreaking story, and i felt a small bit of the pain this couple must have been going through. i was thinking of my own two children.
after a flat tire on one of the cars, and then the donut spare going flat also, we had to rearrange things; but we made it (a little late) to a meeting with about 40 pastors. we were meeting with them to explore the possibility of setting up church partnerships between their churches and u.s. churches. there was lots of story sharing (including some painful ones of pastors who’d lost family members). we handed out lots of packages of supplies (everything from toiletries to medical stuff to diapers), as all of these pastors are housing or taking care of families who are now homeless and without resources. we filmed short videos of each of them, for the potential church partners, and took photos of them, and prayed with them. the whole time we were meeting in the church, there was a youth group meeting in a little shed-like space on the other side of their yard. it was awesome to hear the youth group singing “you’re all i need” to jesus, especially when they all clearly have so many needs.
we’re staying at a mennonite guest house in port-au-prince, where we just made our team dinner and had a good time of sharing. i only got about 2 hours of sleep last night, so am looking forward to a bit more tonite.
to see posts from the rest of the team, check out our facebook group (where posts will be linked in the next 24 hours or so).
tonite i fly to miami, where i’ll overnight, then join the rest of the team for our trip to haiti tomorrow. i’m full of expectation, trepidation, anticipation, and disbelief. all of this came together so quickly (though not without a great deal of work and forethought) that it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s here and now. friday morning, i’ll be in port-au-prince.
to review: our team (the youth ministry advance team: haiti) is traveling to haiti for two reasons:
1. we want to serve
2. we want to report back to the tribe of youth workers on the feasibility and wisdom of bringing groups of teenagers on short-term trips to haiti in the coming year.
i put “plans” in quotations in the title of this post, because there is so much in flux in haiti right now that we fully expect re-directs, disappointments, and divine interventions. i’m super comforted by the reality that our adventures in missions leadership have a prayer-filled, discerning approach to trips like this. they want to serve where god wants us, and will be actively listening (and engaging our team in that process) to the spirit throughout the trip.
that said: our “plans” at this point are anchored off on working alongside and under the cover of a handful of haitian pastors. each day we’ll be working “for” a different pastor, doing a variety of relief tasks (and anything else we’re asked to do) as an extension of these church’s relief efforts to their communities. we’ll be staying right in port-au-prince, but will also spend time in some of the surrounding towns and villages, where so many who formerly lived in the haitian capital are fleeing. we’ll be assisting in medical relief work, helping with food and water distribution, and a host of other tasks that call for willing hands and hearts. we’ll also be praying with and for these haitian churches and their leaders, dreaming of the spread of the gospel during this national re-birthing.
we also “plan” on blogging every day while we’re there, sharing stories and impressions.
i do covet your prayers. to that end, it would be wonderful of you, my fantastic blog readers, would follow one or more of these means of communication, in order to be more fully informed:
1. this blog
2. the team facebook group (where posts from all the bloggers will be posted)
3. the team twitter page
4. the team prayer update email list
my next post will likely be from the dominican republic, after i’ve met the whole team, and the night before we drive into haiti.
our “youth ministry advance team: haiti” leaves this coming thursday. one of the adventures in missions guys asked our team, on our private team facebook group, to articulate some of our expectations for the trip. here’s what i wrote:
i expect to struggle with my emotional response
i expect to get pissed off — maybe by the gravity of the situation, maybe by a team member, maybe my own attitude
i expect to be blindsided by things i didn’t expect
i expect to wish i hadn’t gone on this trip, but be glad i did
i expect to laugh and cry
i expect to sleep poorly and be overly concerned about my stuff
i expect to be afraid at some point
i expect to struggle with the material blessings of my life
i expect to wish i could do more
i expect to be thankful that AT&T is offering free calls, text and data throughout our trip
i expect to struggle with how to put words to what we’re experiencing
i expect to sweat
and i was comforted by the response of our trip leader, seth barnes, who i know to be a person deeply connected to god:
I expect to see all my wonderful logistical preparation fall apart and then as my frustration builds and dependence grows, I expect God to do what he always does – step in and show himself strong in my weakness.
last week, i blogged about the (still hard for me to believe) reality that i’m going to haiti in a week and a half. as each day passes, and the actual departure feels like a car careening across the median toward me, i’m filled with a combo platter of emotions. i’m nervous — i think that’s the dominant one. yeah, there are a bunch of other emotions in the mix also (like excitement and disbelief and a sense of hopefullness). but as i’m writing this and thinking about it, nervousness is certainly the big one.
there’s plenty — really, plenty — to be stoked about:
– i got to be a part of organizing this awesome group of youth ministry bloggers to go on this trip. i actually conceived the trip; and, knowing my friends at adventures in missions, was keenly aware that they would do what they do best: mobilize quickly and responsibly to host groups in response to the worst disasters. within a day or two of the earthquake, i was thinking to myself, “youth groups, and other church groups, are going to want to go to haiti in the next 6 months. that’s great. but it could be done really horribly; or it could be a tangible blessing to haiti.” and it dawned on me that it might be a good idea to take a group of blogging youth workers as an “advance team”, to experience a trip to haiti right now, and report back to the broader youth ministry community with stories and input. and that’s what we’re doing!
– our team consists of a handful of youth ministry friends that i’m stoked to spend time with, as well as some people i’m really looking forward to getting to know.
here’s the team, in no particular order, with links to their blogs:
adam mclane (who will also be blogging on the ys blog)
anne jackson (not technically a youth worker, but we’re going to make her an honorary one for this trip!)
in addition, ian robertson will be joining us as our videographer; and seth barnes and clint bokelman, both from aim, will be leading the trip (other aim staff from the dominican republic and haiti will be with us also)
– i’m excited that we’re not going as “tourists”, but will be working directly alongside a bunch of hatian pastors who are asking for our help.
– and then there’s adventures in missions: i’ve been a fan of this organization for a long time now. i went with aim on the 2nd missions trip i ever took kids on, back in about 1990. i got to know their staff (particularly their founder and director, seth barnes), and i grew to deeply appreciate their approach. i even served on their board for 5 years, and brought my own dad onto the board also. aim has the combination of deep and biblical theology (when it comes to missions) as well as a practical expertise that’s so essential for trips like this.
– we’re partnering with a network of 100 pastors. one of the key guys in this network is the pastor of a church of 10,000 people in the town just outside of port au prince that was the epicenter of the earthquake. this church has ministries all over port au prince and other parts of haiti, and they desperately need help.
but, yeah, i’m still nervous. not afraid, really, but nervous.
i would love it if you would, in some way, take this journey with us. there are a handful of ways you can do this:
1. “become a fan” on facebook. we’ll be posting all kinds of stuff there, and it will be a central hub for following the team and finding stories and links to blog posts.
2. follow the team on twitter. not all of us will be posting there; but adam mclane, in particular, is likely to update regularly.
3. pray for us. please. we truly covet your prayers. we’ll be adding prayer udpates on the facebook site starting very soon.
4. give. giving on the haiti section of the aim site will go toward food, water, medicine, and other supplies that will be distributed in haiti. it does NOT go to the expense of our trip.
5. check out the aim haiti blog, to see posts about what they’re learning and doing. also, read aim’s haiti relief plan here.
6. pray about going yourself, with a team from your youth group or church.
more to come in the days before we leave, including an itinerary of our trip.