Saturday, April 25, 2015

Last Day (this trip)

My final day in Haiti, on this trip, was one of the best days I have had in this country of endless contradictions. 

6:00 AM Wake up. 
Mornings are nice here. They are cool, the birds and other animals make sounds, and everything seems fresh and promising. I read 1 Peter and walked around the campus of L'Université Chrétienne du Nord d'Haíti (UCNH). It is a green and vibrant campus. As on any university campus, the students bring youthful energy and optimism. UCNH is dedicated to keeping green spaces and has a large agronomy program. Walking through the campus is a bit like being in Eden.

7:15 AM Breakfast
My friends Steve and Nancy James, CBF medical missionaries who live on the campus of UCNH, invited me to join them for breakfast. I always enjoy their company, and my friends Andy and Jutta Cowie, CBF/BMS missionaries who drove me from Port-au-Prince to Limbe, were staying with the James. They were also at breakfast. The conversation was nice, yet somehow deep. 

8:00 AM Teach
My philosophy of religion students were waiting for me. I gave them an essai or final quiz. They handed in their take home tests. I lectured until about 11:00, went to my room and packed up, said goodbye to Monel Jules and Lori and Coso, had lunch with Steve and Nancy, said goodbye to them, and we left. 

12:30 PM Depart
The drive south to Port-au-Prince was, for me, at this time in 2015, a neat experience. Some of the roads are smooth, and the diesel Nissan Frontier can make 120 kph. Then, there are enormous potholes. There are pedestrians everywhere. Sometimes there is a market ON the motorway. There are people with horses, goats and other animals grazing or wandering, there are people pulling carts, broken vehicles, and more. Instead of flares or orange safety triangles, a person with a broken vehicle will break off a green, leafy branch and set it in front of and behind the vehicle. People recognize it as a symbol for a broken-down vehicle.

1:30 PM Visit SHG Leader
As on the way north, on the way south, we had to visit one of Jutta's Self-Help Group (SHG) leaders. Jutta trains the leaders and helps establish the groups, but they do not give the participants any seed money. These are self-help groups. The emphasis is on Haitians helping other Haitians. There are 137 groups, but they grow rapidly. With continued support and proper management, there is no reason why these groups will not continue to grow and lead Haitian people to be self-sufficient. CBF is passing this program to TearFund after Andy and Jutta go on to their next assignment in Guinea.

4:30 PM Pit stop
We stopped at Easy Hotel ( to get fuel and use the restroom. It was clean and the people were friendly. We passed a section of beaches and resorts, just a bit north of Port-au-Prince. The turquoise water tempted me to fake an emergency and dash off to explore this section of the Caribbean. 

5:30 Driving through PAP
Back in Port-au-Prince, we drove through Cité Soliel, a place that is famous for its danger. Andy described it this way: "It's one of those things where the richest people live on the hill [Petionville] and the poorest people live by the sea." Jutta pointed out that many people still live in tents there. Then, we drove past the main market; it is sort of an open air wholesale district. It buzzes with energy.

6:30 Dinner
Last night, we went to Ali's Pizza, where a live band entertained us while we enjoyed pizza, Prestige, and camaraderie. 

We walked to the new PAP Marriott after dinner. 

The new Marriott is a stark contrast with the world around it, but will possibly attract more Westerners to visit and spend dollars in this country that is a bundle of contradictions. I hope it does. I hope Haiti improves. There is too much potential here to ignore.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Yesterday, I visited Source de Lumiere orphanage in Port-au-Prince. My fourth visit over the past two years revealed many changes. Individually, each change was relatively small, but taken together, they make a big difference. 

On my first visit, the boys and girls were segregated by gender. There was a large room for boys and another for girls. One and a half years ago, I was with a group who built storage cubbies for the children. Now, they have subdividers in their respective rooms in order to further separate the children by age. This is a great step forward, as the older children are now in adolescence and need increased privacy. 

On this visit, the children seemed happy. They were in an apparent routine. 

The long term mission of the orphanage is taking shape too. New children entered in December. A well and water dispensary has increased capacity and four of the older children are learning how to operate the machinery. One of the older girls was working in the kitchen. The children were all doing their homework when we arrived yesterday. 

Vocational training might seem obvious, but on previous visits, I could see no evidence of plans for the future. Some projects have started and failed, but others, like the water dispensary, are growing and providing revenue for the orphanage. 

These little changes are relatively inexpensive, especially by North American standards. They have made a big difference in the lives of some very precious children. For that, I am thankful. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sail Repair in Haiti

Not all ideas are well conceived. 

For the past three years, I have been going to Haiti. Originally, I started going as a professor at L'Université Chrétienne du Nord d'Haíti (UCNH). I taught philosophy of religion, which is my area of expertise. This is only relevant because it is easy for people to get to unsteady ground when they move outside of their areas of expertise. 

On my first trip to Haiti, my son and I met missionaries Andy and Jutta Cowie. We became quick friends and the Cowies spent Thanksgiving 2013 with my family in Kilmarnock, Virginia. The Cowies took my son and I to visit an orphanage, Source du Lumiére, in Port-au-Prince. This began the second part of my mission in Haiti. In 2014, I brought two groups from the Kilmarnock Baptist Church to work with the children in the orphanage. 

I continue to teach at UCNH and am planning to bring a group from my church back to Source du Lumiére in August 2015. 

In early 2015, I thought of a new idea. I know sailmakers in Virginia (in fact, I am married to one), and the people who fish in Haiti use sailboats to go fishing. Why not take some sailmakers from Virginia down to Port-au-Prince to repair sails?

After emailing with a pastor in Port-au-Prince, the idea seemed promising. Yesterday, we met with two fishermen to discuss the idea. 

In the picture above, one of the fisherman explains to me the way these two gentlemen fish. I kept picturing Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea

I learned a valuable lesson. They fish and live with out us. They exist, mostly, just fine. They said that it is harder and harder to find the fish, but that might have any number of causes.  They use a denim-like fabric to make their sails. Local people make and repair the sails. They have a 15 hp outboard and they go out fishing until they fill a large cooler. They fish by hand. They also said that it would be unsafe for us to come down to the seaside to see their operation or, for that matter, to fix their sails.

It did not sound like our North American sailmakers would be any use. 

Andy Cowie and my friend Pastor Ronel Mesidor were there too, and Andy asked how we could help. They said that they would like a new boat. Well... that is not exactly something we can do. 

Short term mission projects are about doing good. I teach because that is what I have been trained to do, and UCNH does not have another theologian who can teach philosophy of religion. We visit the children in the orphanage because they can use as much love and attention as we, or anyone else, can give them. People in churches should continually ask: is what we are doing helping or hurting? Am I contributing to making a situation better or worse? In my understanding, taking sailmakers from Virginia to Port-au-Prince would not be helpful. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: A Little Exerecise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Protestant theologian and prolific writer. He engaged with Karl Barth’s theology early in his career and was active in the German Confessing Church during World War II. After the war, he was a prominent theologian and lecturer.

His short (very short!) book A Little Exercise for Young Theologians is an introductory lecture to seminary students, and although it is a little dated in tone and gender usage, it appears to be, to me, an indispensible collection of wisdom for seminarians or early career ministers. It is also a helpful reminder for more seasoned clergypersons.

Thielicke presents thirteen brief ideas (2-3 pages each) about the tension between the ideas a student learns in seminary or divinity school and life of ministry. From my own experience, I have witnessed the wisdom in his thought. For example, in the third chapter, “Unhappy Experience with a Theologian’s Home-Coming,” he writes about the difficulty of preaching or leading a Bible study after a semester in seminary. Before the young ordinand goes off to seminary, she or he teaches or preaches with enthusiasm, a passion for God, and little else. After a semester or two of serious study, this same person returns how and desperately tries to share this newfound wisdom. However, the book-learning does not have the necessary accompanying life experiences, and it pushes listeners from where their faith journeys have led them.

One of the best chapters addresses dogmatics. He writes, “[Dogmatics] presupposes scientific and religious study of Bible texts, it ponders the thought of the Church over two thousand years, it comes to terms with philosophy and art, it broods over contemporary problems, and it inquires who [humanity] is with whom it currently has to deal and in what abysses [ humanity] lives” (page 27). He goes on to address proper theology in a way that seems to be ignored in a contemporary age that seems fixated on practical theology, church growth models, and commercializing faith. It, and the following chapters, serve as a strong call for ministers to reengage with theology and the philosophy of religion.

To write more would be to risk writing a longer review than the actual book. For a quick read, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians is worth the time.