A Time for Everything..

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:”                                                                         Ecclesiastes 3

While not listed in Ecclesiastes I’m sure the writer would agree that there is also a time for coming and going, for being sent and returning, for taking a leap of faith and moving away from everything you know and taking a leap of faith and moving back to the things you used to know and now are not so sure of.

A few days ago we sent this email out to our supporters to let them know we are leaving Haiti soon.

Dear Supporters and Friends,

Over the past few years I have been extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to participate in the work God is doing here in Haiti. Through our partners and through programs like Strategies of Transformation and IMPACT clubs, I have been witness to the ways the Holy Spirit is working through and among our Haitian sisters and brothers, healing broken hearts and bringing restoration and change to communities.

 I am writing today to inform you that after four years working for Christian Reformed World Mission in Haiti I am resigning my position effective May 31, 2016. At that time I will have completed two two-year terms of service and our family will return to Canada.

 The past four years in Haiti have been an amazing experience both professionally and personally. My Haitian colleagues, who I have been privileged to work with, have taught me so much about Haiti, its culture and how to do ministry well in this context. Being closely involved in programs with youth and those on the margins of society along with the discussions and conferences I have been fortunate enough to have participated in, have been formative in molding my theology, and my philosophy of ministry and development.

Our experiences here have been life changing for our family. The opportunity to travel and see different parts of this beautiful country, meet and get to know some amazing Haitians and experience the language and culture of the birth country of our two youngest sons is something we will never forget.

 We would like to thank all of you for your support of our family and the ministry in Haiti that God has allowed us to be part of. During this time your prayers, financial support and interest in the work of World Missions in Haiti has been a huge blessing to us. The ways you have supported us is your partnership in the work here in Haiti but more importantly your partnership in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been honoured to be your representative of that partnership here.

 While we are returning to Canada to continue whatever God has in store for us there, we know that our connection to Haiti will remain and the work of our Christian family in Haiti will carry on.  We hope to find ways to continue to support this connection and are also hopeful that some of you will feel called to continue to support the work of Christian Reformed World Missions in Haiti.

 Over the next few months and into the fall of 2016 we will be connecting with many of you in formal and informal ways to say a personal thank you. If you have any questions for us before then feel free to send an email or give us a call.

The reasons for leaving are not medial, marital (though a week-long vacation for 2 would be wonderful), security related, or that we had issues with the field leadership. It is not that we feel we were never called to Haiti or that the work was not fulfilling. We are not washed up and we are not fleeing this country. This decision was not made hastily.

In many ways we feel the purpose for us coming to Haiti has been accomplished. We are grateful to have been able to be part of the plan God had for us here in Haiti and we know that he has plans for us back in Canada as well. We are excited and maybe somewhat apprehensive to see what God has in store for us but we continue to follow where we believe God is leading us, convinced that the story of our journey has more chapters to come.

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Signs Signs Everywhere are Signs – Haitian Election Signs

I could have titled this blog post And Now for Something Completely Different. Here in Haiti we are in the thick of elections and they are nothing like Canada just experienced. You do not have to go far to see the evidence of that. These elections seems to be about getting the most signs up. Exposure is everything.

The bus that sits outside our gate has attracted a candidate’s sign.

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Every wall is fair game.
IMG-20151010-00688This is my neighbour.
Version 2

My neighbour is running to be a Deputy for the region of Delmas where we live. Deputies are elected to represent their region sitting in the Lower House. There are 99 deputies to be elected during this election cycle.

These are my neighbour’s signs.
IMG-20151009-00685They are everywhere.
IMG-20151007-00669even on this van
IMG-20151012-00700It seems every pole in the city is covered in posters for various political candidates.
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IMG-20151009-00680Almost every candidate has a spot on this wall.
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Walls are not the only target for the posters. This shipping container turned corner store got tagged with a wallpaper of posters after this candidate held a rally in the open area next to the store.

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Billboards with candidates smiling faces are everywhere. The blue and red billboard is encouraging citizens to participate in the elections by voting.

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If you do not have posters spray paint works.

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Posters, billboards and graffiti are ways to get the word out but we have intrigued and annoyed by the campaign sound trucks. My neighbour has one of these. His workers like to bring it back to his house late at night, at full volume.
IMG-20151010-00692A truck loaded down with speakers, a generator and a good sound system brings the message right into your home whether you want it or not. These trucks are loud. If you don’t believe me have a listen to this catchy song.

The message is a long commercial about the candidate and to vote for him for Deputy for Delmas.

In Haiti where most people do not have a television and illiteracy is rampant, election campaigns take a different approach. Posters and billboards give candidates public recognition while these campaign sound trucks bring the message to those who might not normally hear about a certain candidate.

Each party is assigned a number and each party has a symbol they use. The assigned number, the symbol and the candidates picture all appear on the ballot to allow those who cannot read to vote for the party they wish. You can see why the posters are important to get a candidates face recognized.

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This Sunday October 25th will be the second round of elections this year. These are the first elections to take place since Michel Martelly took the office of president in early 2011.

As per Wikipedia a total of 2,037 candidates registered to contest the elections this year representing 98 different political parties. However, 522 candidates were disqualified in a first instance, leaving 186 candidates for the Senate and 1,329 for the Chamber of Deputies. The Provisional Electoral Council updated the list of candidates on 26 June, with the inscription of 47 candidates for the Senate and 294 for the Chamber of Deputies that had been previously rejected, making a grand total of 233 candidates for 60 senator positions and 1,624 candidates for 99 for deputy positions. There are over 50 persons in the running to be president.

On August 9 the first round of elections took place for deputies and senators. Because of the sheer volume of candidates there is a need for run-off elections where the top 3 or 4 from the first round go up against each other in the 2nd round.

The elections this Sunday will be the first round of presidential elections, the second round for deputies and senators along with municipal elections. The last election day for the presidential run-off is scheduled for December 27.

Due to general voter disenchantment with Haitian politics and politicians and the possibility of violence at the polls the first round elections saw a 18% voter turnout. There were many polls that either closed early or were totally destroyed due to violence by various political actors.

We do not know what will happen this Sunday but taking the advise from the Canadian embassy into consideration I think we will spend our day at home.

You can get a quick tutorial about Haitian politics reading this article

Here is another good resource if you want to read more about what has happened in the first elections and what we might expect on October 25th.

 

 

A Holy Place, A Place of Hope

This is a holy place
This is a place of gratitude
This is a place to say goodbye
This is a place to return and remember
This is a place of rest

With these words, we opened a recent memorial service with 24 young members of the Kwafè IMPACT Club. The group of young adults gathered with us after their Sunday morning church service to reflect and remember their friends Kalèb and Jacquenor.
Two weeks before, these young men were killed in a motorcycle accident while on their way home from an IMPACT Club meeting. Kalèb was 25 and Jacquenor 18.

Shortly after the accident I received a text from Ledoux, the club leader, telling me of the tragedy. Because the funeral service was the next day it had been impossible for us to attend but as my colleague Fevrier and I talked about it, we decided we should make a visit to Kwafè to show our support to the church, the club, the club leaders and the families.

So, along with 4 leaders from some Port-au-Prince based IMPACT clubs, we sat with the club for over an hour and using a memorial service liturgy from my friends at Street Psalms we spent time with these young people in their grief. We slowly made our way through the liturgy, reading words together that in their honesty brought hope and in their simplicity opened hurts. Together we responsively read Psalm 23, heard poems spoken and then we stopped to hear stories of these two young men.

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IMPACT club members share their stories of Kalèb and Jacquenor

Through tears and grief, a number of the young people shared their stories of these men. We heard how one was a musician and was teaching others using his gift. His friend thought that he might never play music again because the grief would be too much. Another spoke of the playful spirit and strong character of his friend. Others kept their stories in their hearts, the words to difficult to utter. The pain and hurt was evident on the faces of many gathered there.

Together we committed Kalèb and Jacquenor to our Saviour’s care then, in the fashion of the Street Psalm community, we raised our hands and blessed each other. We ended our time with these words:

Now to Him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,
to him be glory,
to the earth be peace,
our family be hope
and to our heart’s be courage.

This IMPACT club is hurting. They are struggling with the heavy loss of their friends and each time they meet they are reminded again that their friends are not there. In this mess of hurt and grief we are confident that the Holy Spirit is working His restorative power in these young people and we look forward to the day this club takes up the challenge to again be change makers in their community.

After our time with the club we traveled to the homes to visit with each family. We sang with them, prayed with them, brought them words of comfort and hope and listened to each family, through their tears and pain, share stories of their son and brother.

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Meeting the family of Jacquenor

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Kalèb’s father introduces his family to us.

Those were holy places we traveled to that day in Kwafè and it was a day I will not soon forget. While grief and hope were wrapped so tightly together that it was difficult to see where one started and the other left off, the hope shone brighter and clearer that day and for that small wonder I give thanks and take hope.

And Now it is May

I have a poor relationship with blogging and I think most people who have started a blog know what I am talking about. Once you have a blog you need content and unless you are a professional blogger content doesn’t always come easily or you run out of time, energy or words by the end of the day.

Today I will forgo the words and pictures and share with you this video we put together for our supporters. Enjoy and hopefully there will be words again someday.

 

A Trip to the North – In Photos

One of the places on our “Must Visit While Living in Haiti List” was the Citadel or Citadelle Henry Christophe in the town of Milot near Cap-Haitien in the north. In late December we took the 7 hour drive up there with our visiting son and his girlfriend to spend a few days out of the big city and to see a part of Haiti we had never been to.

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We stayed in a little beach hotel in the village of Labadee

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The beach hotel was accessible only by boat.

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Royal Caribbean owns a small beach here for their cruisers to spend the day. We were not allowed to visit.

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The rugged beautiful shores of the north

 

With the help of a wonderful local historian and guide we explored Palais Sans-Souci and the Citadel.

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Palais Sans-Souci seems out of place in the small town of Milot but in its day it was a wonder to behold, it still is.

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The Citadel from the trail that leads to the fortress.

The Citadel from the trail that leads to the fortress.

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We decided to take the easy way up riding on donkeys.

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Built as a fortress to protect against a possible attack by the French, the watchmen on the walls never saw a Frenchman and thousands of canon balls were never fired.

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A series of forts was built in the area to give a view of the entire area. If the fort that was on this hillside was overrun by the French the cannons would fire from the Citadel to destroy the fort

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Samuel helped our guide reenact how the Haitian guards would have presented themselves to us

Samuel helped our guide reenact how the Haitian guards would have presented themselves to us

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The views were outstanding

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A view to the north and the city of Cap-Haitien

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Back to the hotel in the early evening as the sun sets

 

Having Eyes That See

After living in Haiti for more than 2 years now, I find great interest in seeing and hearing the reactions of first time visitors. It is great to experience Haiti through their eyes. The sights, the sounds, the strange and unfamiliar elicit sometimes odd, sometime deep questions.

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A group from Canada full of questions

Their questions and comments remind me of some of my first experiences with Haiti 10 years ago and I am reminded that I need to keep my eyes and my heart open to the people, places and sights around me.

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Why is Justin Bieber on the side of that bus? And other questions first time visitors might ask.

After having been here a while, I must confess I simply ignore many things going on around me that I found interesting or strange when I first arrived. Familiarity can lead to disengagement. I have seen enough pigs wandering through a ditch filled with garbage that it doesn’t register anymore.

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Pigs and goats, goats and pigs – every where

I know the streets are busy with people doing all kinds of things so someone peeing against the wall is commonplace for me (no pictures needed). I think I have seen absolutely every kind of traffic jam, so waiting for the line in front of me to pass by the broken down dump truck doesn’t bother me so much any more.

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Waiting for traffic to move is a very common occurrence.

The Haitian church congregation breaking out into a cacophony of mumbled yet loud communal prayer no longer puzzles me. Shotgun toting guards at every store, gas station, bank and restaurant don’t rattle me like they used to. Constant noise, roosters and generators have become the soundtrack of my life.

Have I begun to tune things out?  Perhaps part of me is, and perhaps that is not a bad thing. Living in Haiti is difficult enough without dealing with sensory overload every time I leave my house.

Even as I tune some things out there are some things here that I hope never to tune out. I hope I will never tune out the mother struggling up the hill taking her little girl to school,

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or the young child in the street carrying a heavy load of water, a restavek, a child slave. Or the young man, trying to earn a few coins cleaning the dust off my car, so he can eat that day.

I hope I will never fail to see the one armed lady who is always in front of the grocery store where I purchase our drinking water always offering a smile to my greeting or the driver of that tap-tap that rudely cut me off.

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When the tap-tap is a beat-up old pick-up with dents and scratches down both side they don’t really care to look when they merge into traffic.

I hope I can always be tuned into the excitement of participants as they start to realize the potential of the new information and skills they are learning and to see their faces as they excitedly share their plans for making changes in their communities.

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If, after living in Haiti for more than 2 years, I begin to tune out those who bear the image of my creator, I will seriously need to consider what I am doing here. With the firm conviction that all people are made in God’s image I know they all deserve my respect and dignity. I hope I never loose the realization that they are all individuals that have a story, one I will probably never hear, but one that is not complete until God is part of it. I know God loves them and that they need to experience this love so I pray many will come to understand their great worth in the eyes of their Saviour.

Haitian Christmas

We are back in Canada celebrating Christmas with family.  I wrote this a few weeks ago and now I am finally am posting it here. Enjoy.

It’s Christmas time and, while we don’t have the cool weather and snow here in Haiti to remind us of the season, we have heard Christmas type music in the stores since the end of October. There are light displays at the grocery stores and trees (twigs in a can) and artificial spruce for sale along the side of the streets. Under these conditions Christmas can feel real kitschy, an assortment of different visuals from different traditions working on the failed attempt of helping us feel somewhat sentimental for this season.

This Nativity Scene recently sprung up in our neighbourhood

This Nativity Scene recently sprung up in our neighbourhood

We were feeling a need to get into Christmas a little earlier this year so the tree was up and some lights were strung by mid-November and we started playing the Christmas music. I think we are feeling Christmassy.

A Haitian Christmas Tree lot

A Haitian Christmas Tree lot

One of the differences we have noticed in Haitian protestant churches is that most do not follow the liturgical calendar. Advent, Epiphany and Lent are not celebrated; so at a recent staff devotional time I spoke about the season of Advent. I talked a little about the reason some church traditions practice this time of waiting and longing and the practice of lighting a candle each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas day and then the lighting of the centre white Christ candle on Christmas day. My description and explanation of this practice set off a cultural enriching discussion for me.

Because of the strong resemblance of the Catholic traditions and practices to voodoo, historically the protestant church here has removed anything from their churches and worship traditions that looks or feels liturgical or has symbols of any kind including stain glass windows, crosses and burning candles. I was told I would never find candles burning in a Haitian protestant church or in the home of good Christians as symbols for anything. The only purpose for a candle is for light to see by. I was also told that sometimes the burning of candles for some reminds them too much of the candles that voodoo practitioners use.

Here in Haiti I miss the liturgy, the candles, and the Advent wreath, but as we celebrate this Christmas season we wait in the hope and expectation that a new thing is happening here.

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The richness of these words from Isaiah 40 reminds us again of the hope Jesus brings. From time-to-time we catch glimpses and hear stories of “rough ground becoming level and rugged places plain” and so we focus on the waiting and the longing for the restoration of all people and all things to the way they should be, the way they were created to be.

With or without candles it is our hope that Haitians will experience the peace, joy, love, and hope that comes through the salvation Jesus brings.