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.
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.