Monday, August 16, 2010

'We are lucky to be in Haiti'

Exerpts from my Haitian journal....Our driver turns the corner and pulls up between a pile of burnt trash, a tree and a sleeping goat, the dust swirling around the truck. The goats, resting on the ground a few feet away, don't move as our vans and trucks come to a resting place right beside them.
The singing from the members of the church is floating through the air. You see, there is no roof on the church. Just four walls, a gravel and rock floor and sweaty Haitians. A blue tarp somehow covers the 'center isle' of the church. It casts shade. That is where they direct us. To the shade. We sit in chairs that somehow have appeared from back alleys. They are passed to us through doorways with no doors and windows with no glass. They are smiling, clapping, singing. as we walk in, I feel embarrased that they seem excited to see me. I feel embarrased that they seem excited to see me. I feel embarrased that they are watching us come in. I all of a sudden feel VERY unimportant.I scan the room and immediately my eyes fall on a woman weating an orange top. In her lap is her baby girl. No older than a year. I remember Brian saying that all of the children are much older than they appear because of the malnutrition. Maybe she's two. The Mama is feeding her water out of a small bag. The baby gently drinks the water and contentedly nestles into her Mama's lap. Her Mama is nodding and listening to the pastor.Chairs are lined to make rows but the chairs are seated on the rocks. So they sit askew. My eyes are searching, scanning. Do they feel sad? Are they happy? Do they love Jesus? Are they Mama's like me? I am wishing I knew French Creole. I watch their body language. But they are still. The children are STILL. It's hot. They don't seem to sweat as much as our American team. My sweat is rolling down my chest, my back and soaking my blue shirt.
The Haitian pastor begins preaching.
He amazes me when he says, 'We are LUCKY to be here in Haiti. Where we are FREE. We are grateful to be in this church.'
It's 110 degrees. Am I hallusinating? Did he just say that he feels lucky to be here?
He did.
It wasn't lip service.
He. They. Genuinely feel this way.
I am thrilled to be here.
I have soooo much to learn.
I feel expectant.
God is changing my heart right here in this old chair, wobbling on the rocks...
My thoughts leave the pastor and go to the church in Atlanta that we attended when we lived there. Seating for 4 or 5 THOUSAND. Enormous stain glass windows. The beautiful people that smell so good. The clean floors. The band. I loved it. But sitting here in the sun with these people...GOD IS HERE.
The pastor is preaching. I watch the congregation. There are probably 100 there. Mostly women. A few men and children. All hot. Some of them have their heads covered, but not for the reason you'd think. The coverings are hats, rags, even a pot holder, not because of a religion, but because it's so blazing hot.Greg Sheppard is introduced. He is from Tampa, Florida. He is a missionary.
I was drinking by age 12, doing drugs by 14, and I was an alcoholic by the time I graduated high school. For 16 years after high school I continued to drink and do drugs. I totaled 4 cars due to drinking and driving. 2 accidents no one could believe I lived through. At age 32 I stood in front of a judge after getting my 4th DUI, as he told me that I will never be able to drive or get my license for the rest of my life. At that moment, I felt my life was over. I would never find a women to marry, I would never have a child (2 of my biggest desires), I started thinking how would I ever get to work, I would never be able to drive my kids to practice or a ball game, I literally thought my life was done.So with that thinking I continued to drink and drive without a license for 2 years. My roommate found me one night, 1:30 in the morning, passed out behind the steering wheel of my car, with the car still running. Two days later, when I finally woke up, he told me what happened. His girlfriend at the time asked me if I have ever been to church. I told her once or twice but it really wasn't for me. She invited me to her church, so I reluctantly said ok, and showed up at Idlewild Baptist Church on a Wednesday night and she didn't make it. I went in anyway and sat at the very back of the sanctuary. I didn't understand a thing Ken Whitten preached that night, but for some reason I was compelled to go back on Sunday.

On Sunday a few things started making sense and I went back the next Wednesday. That night it felt like Ken was only speaking to me with thousands of people there. At the end of the sermon he gave an invitation like he had done the previous 2 times, but that night it felt like someone kicked me out in the middle of the isle and I walked down. I gave my life to Christ, February 20, 2002. Jesus Christ immediately and radically changed my life. February 20, 2010 will be 8 years since I have had an alcoholic beverage. He totally took that desire away from me. Two months after I got saved, He brought a beautiful woman into my life. I told her all about my past. She said she didn't care. In April 2002 we started dating and in September I proposed, and in less then a year we were married on March 8, 2003. We now have a wonderful son named Caleb who is 5, and since my salvation, God has brought me to become a Pastor and has also given me an international ministry which I travel across the state doing conferences to help disciple the entire family as well as missions work in Haiti resourcing pastors and teachers and helping to feed over 15,000 starving children.
Greg begins preaching. He says, 'Our team is humbled to serve you.' He talks about servanthood and who our greatest model is, Jesus Christ. He says, 'We can say "I am a servant." But do we mind being TREATED like a servant? Without expecting anything in return?' I search my heart. Do I mind? Do I want something in return? Greg says, 'We are created for good works.' I think, 'God use me. Teach me what you want to learn.'
'For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.' Mark 10:45
I scan. They are so still and quiet. Occasionally, the sound of 'Ahhh Men' fills the air. One women raises her hand and slowly waves it back and forth.
'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!' 1 Corinthians 5:17
The baby falls asleep on her Mama. The Mama looks down and notices she asleep. She shifts into a more comfortable position and mops her angels sweaty face again. I feel my heart leaping with love because I so desperately want to relate to these Haitian church members.
Greg, at that moment begins to explain to the Haitian congregation that we, the team, have left our families and children to come to Haiti. I then, for the first time since we left of Friday, cry. I miss my babies, Brian. My lap is empty. And all of a sudden I am painfully aware of that.
'We have to be humble' Greg says.
The sun is BRUTAL. A few chairs are shifted around so that those in the sun can retreat from it's harsh rays and heat. I love the way the old sit beside the young. Fathers, daughters of no relation.
Just sitting.
'Nothing is above us.' Greg says.
'Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from his meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.'
John 13:3-5
I think of Jesus' disciples feet. I think of MY feet. It is IMPOSSIBLE to keep feet clean here. The dirt, mud, dusty ground. Just like the disciples. This scripture is ALIVE for me. I have such a new, fresh, living perspective. Thank you God.The translator is the most precious small man with a 100 watt smile. He mirrors Greg's steps. As Greg walks down the center isle of the church, the translator does too. He almost makes you think that he feels the need to mimick his every word, step and move. I seriously love this guy. If Greg gestures, he gestures. His name is Petit-Homme.
The congregation has on their BEST Sunday clothes. They look soo clean. I wonder how long it takes the Mama's to do laundry with dirty water in a wash bin. I feel spoiled with my washer and dryer. I think of all of the clothes the five of us own. I feel embarrased. I sniff through the service, holding back tears, loving the Lord.
I'm feeling like, no matter how many pictures I take,
words I write,
NOTHING can describe this place.
This experience.A baby cries behind me. Off in a distant, shabby, rinky-dink house.
Hungry, I'm sure.
I think of my little, fat, juicy Vivian. Tales from the Haitian Ritz...
Our home for the week is the Jeffell Hotel. It is a compound completely surrounded by a tall wall with barb wire at the top. There's a large metal gate that is manned night and day. When a car honks, a man magically appears out of nowhere and slides the gate open for the car to pull into the courtyard. After church, we pull into the compound for lunch.
And that's when I see HIM.
A little boy.
I notice him because he is wearing a VERY HEAVY material, adult size jacket as his clothes.
I look at him. He looks back.
Our eyes meet.
I hurt for him. And the gate closes behind us.
We have lunch.
An hour or two later, I see him again.
He's where I last saw him. Standing by the gate, staring in.
I see him from a distance.
And what really stands out on him is not even the heavy jacket. Not the dirty legs or the worn out shoes. Not the little frame under the jacket. It's those EYES.
Pleading with me from afar. Those eyes begged...'Won't you help me? Won't you feed me? I NEED water.'
I find a cold bottle of water and a couple of packs of peanut butter crackers.
I go to him.
I hand them to him.
He accepts them and nods.
He immediately sits down under a tree in the shade to eat.
Matthew 25:35-46
'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
A woman passing by the compound in the ridiculously hot afternoon sun sees this. She turns to approach. Hoping that she too will get whatever is being passed out. No matter what it is. The feeling of helplessness is so strong I could vomit. Nothing I could do, but run back to the room for more water and crackers. She's PREGNANT. I get the snacks. I give them to her. I touch her belly. I pray. I want to know about her. When she's due. But we are seperated by a language barrier that insists we use body language. So with nothing more to do, she simply smiles and walks away. I watch her go and feel sad. Sad that I fed her only for a small portion of her day. Sad because I have ever complained about being hot while I was pregnant. I think of home. I think I want to give everything we own away.

There's a man.
He has set up his items for sale on a mat under a shade tree inside the compound gate. He heard that there were Americans here for the week.
His name is Pele Joseph. He is 40 years-old. I look at his gorgeous things for sale. I tell him how beautiful it is. We talk. I ask him if he knows Jesus. He says, 'Yes. Without him, I wouldn't be here.' I think, 'Me too Buddy.'
His things are simply stunning. I think of Mom, wanting to bring back something for her. I think of wanting to have something to remind me of this. This place. These feelings.
He tells us about his Jesus. He tells us of his family. His job seems hard. Not fun. Selling loot, trinkets....but to who? Missionaries? Certainly not tourists....there aren't any. I'm sure there are days...weeks even, when he doesn't sell a thing.
I decide on the woman holding a baby carved out of river rock. We sit in the shade with Pele and ask for his help. We want to learn his language. We write down short phrases. He is overly gracious. He shares his time with us, an hour or two. In the process, our hearts grown tender and soft towards him...I think to buy something for Lindsay and try to negotiate with him. I can't do it. Typically, I LOVE haggling. Like in NYC with the nutty street merchants.
I end up asking him, 'Is $10 enough?' I say outloud, 'It's hard to negotiate with you.' He nods and says,
'It's hard to negotiate now that we're friends.'
I agree.
So I give him more money. The original asking price.
Out of guilt.
Out of compassion. Out of knowing that he and his family need it more than me.
'The Lord is my shephard, I shall not be in want.' Psalm 23:1
Out of my plenty. Our team has devotion.
This night we take turns reading the book of 1 John.
We decide to memorize 1 John 3:16-18
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.

More to come....


Abby said...

Jennie, I do not know if I want to cry, smile, or do both. It sounds like you had a wonderful, life changing experience in Haite. I have enjoyed reading everyone of your blog and status updates. Can't wait to read even more as you continue to look back on your time there.

Nic said...

I'm at a loss for words.....I can't wait for more!

Fiona Godschalk said...

Thank you!
I want to go next time! I speak french too!!
thank you for sharing God's point of view, you are a beauty-full daughter of God!
:) Fi