Haiti: Day Six

Before I share my morning with you, I want to elaborate upon my time at the children’s home. I was so concerned last night about the privacy concern that I don’t think I sufficiently conveyed a couple of my key moments, each being a particular dance. The first was to the song “Beautiful Beautiful” by  Francesca Battistelli.  Here are the first verse and chorus:

Don’t know how it is you looked at me
And saw the person that I could be
Awakening my heart
Breaking through the dark
Suddenly your grace… 

Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need you are so beautiful, beautiful

Seeing their faces and hearing some of them sing along to this song, just having learned how some of them were dropped off at the home with no papers, no identity, and no date of birth –  total cast offs – filled me with wonder,  hope, and joy. 

The whole hour was delightful. But then the last song came on, and in that moment, it was as if all of the disparate aspects of my life came together as they did a Jewish circle dance to one of the most famous traditional Jewish songs, which we all learned to sing as children ourselves,  “Hiney Ma Tov” from Psalm 133:1:

Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity. 

I think we have so much to learn from these Haitian children!

Sarah felt it was okay to post this photo.

Now to this morning… A few days ago Sarah confirmed that I would be speaking at the Sunday service at a church in Saint-Marc led by Delson, the gentleman who was my translator when I was here in 2012.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine in Ottawa emailed me to say that he was going to be praying for various aspects of my Haiti trip, but not so much the teaching segments, because “You (meaning me) are used to that.” With all due respect to my friend,  there is nothing routine about my Bible teaching, and that’s even more true here. In past posts I have already shared my awareness of the great cultural chasm between me and the Haitian people. If God doesn’t provide an effective communication bridge (figuratively speaking), it would all be futile. So I indeed pray. What came to mind seemed risky to me, but as the days went by,  I felt stronger and stronger that this was the message I was to bring.

I planned to teach on Romans 9:1-5 where Paul shares his anguish over his beloved people. While one point I wanted to get across was God’s heart for the Jewish people and to encourage the Haitian believers to pray for us, a key aspect was to explain that it was important to express the grief and sadness we may feel at times. Christians are sometimes wrongly taught that they need to be happy all the time. I wanted them to understand that there are times we all (including men) need to cry.

Could you imagine how I felt when driving to the meeting, Delson mentioned to me and Sarah that his dear, dear older brother died last Sunday at the age of 45, leaving behind a family. His brother was like a father to him. This was the first indication that I was perhaps on the right track. But then on the way back, he thanked me for my talk, and said that during the service he was actually in tears over his brother and had been struggling that this was a indication of weakness, while I explained that no, God himself cries over tragedy. While we can rest in the certainty of God’s love and that we have hope beyond the grave, we need to grieve over our losses. I am so grateful to God for his leading and provision! 

Sarah explained that this is a rural church (not really in town the way I thought)

The view

The congregation (can you pick out Sarah?) 

I see myself doing this, but not sure if I believe it.

Pray for Delson, his family, and the important work he is doing in Haiti. 

If this evening goes as planned, I hope to share some pretty surprising photos tomorrow. 

Till next time! 

Haiti: Day Five 

Today began with a walk, something I try to do every morning back home,  but my first here since arriving. As I approached the small covered stadium on the base,  I saw my soccer guys from Thursday night, practicing. Then I remembered that their leader had asked me if I was available to address them again on Saturday, but knowing that Sarah had plans for me I couldn’t commit. So here was again another last-minute teaching opportunity. It amounted to a “part two” of the other night. From Ephesians 3:14-19, I spoke about the effect our fathers have on us. How having a bad or absent father has not only a negative effect on us, but distorts our perception of God. I shared how my experience with my own father also distorted my concept of what fatherly love is. In the Bible passage Paul prays for the believers that the Father (God) would be their true source of inner strength. That no matter what kind of father we have had, God is able to reveal the true essence of fatherhood to us with the result of giving us confidence and courage, as well as equip us to be the kind of fathers we should be.

Teaching Bible to the “soccer guys” this morning. I am on the bottom bench in the dark red shirt.

This afternoon may have been one of the most precious experiences of my life! For the past year and a half Sarah has gone once a week to a small children’s home to teach dance. Sarah has taught dance in one form another since she was about twelve years old. But to see her do for these kids what I have seen her do at home and to see the wonderful effect she is having on them through dance was wonderfully overwhelming. To protect their privacy, I won’t be posting photos, but how wonderful it was to be greeted with hugs from almost every single one of the thirty kids there and to see them engage this glorious art form so joyfully.

As it turns out, my being here has coincided with a visit from the person from North America who is the liaison between the home’s sponsoring church and the home. Seeing the work through his eyes was really something. He has seen first hand the benefit this ministry has been to the children. I was able to see the difference that can be made in such a poor and difficult country. I think some of my cynicism was healed today.

After the children’s home, we went to the market (another experience indeed!). When it was time to head back by “taxi” (small motorcyle). Due to some logistic issues, she asked me if I would mind heading back on my own, before I had time to answer, I found myself whisked away, riding as a sole passenger for the first time.

I survived! 

Tomorrow I am due to speak at a church service in the town here. The pastor was my translator when Robin and I were here in 2012. I am really looking forward to seeing and working with him again.

Stay tuned… 

Haiti: Day Four

I concluded yesterday’s post by sharing a photo of one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen with perhaps the best tree name ever, the Flamboyant. 

I am going to begin this post with another tree. I was to meet my daughter, Sarah, in the dining area this morning for our day at the beach. While I was waiting I saw one of the daughters of the base’s founder.  So I thought I would go say,  “Hello.” She was doing something with what looked like tree branches like so:

I figured  correctly that she was drying leaves. So I asked her about it. They are from the Moringa tree. Some of you reading probably know all about this very special tree,  but it was news to me (or I knew and forgot!). Moringas grow in tropical climates and their leaves contain an incredible amount of nutrients. They are found in many of the world’s most malnourished countries, but if they only knew,  this tree could save lives. Apparently in Haiti this was common goat food that the people had no interest in. How common is it? Well it sure grows in abundance on the mission base:

A row of Moringa trees on the YWAM base. 

The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel,  chapter 47, speaks of how in the future when the Messiah sets the world to rights, there will be trees for healing, a notion picked up at the end of the Book of Revelation. Besides the wonderful (and still unknown or ignored) provision contained in the Merango, it is a taste (pun intended)  of a bright and glorious future when Yeshua returns. Reminds me of so much of what God has for us even now that we either are unaware of or ignore.

Yesterday I mentioned I was going to be speaking to some young guys who come to the base to play soccer. Every Thursday they have a Bible study. These guys have no church background, and so the Bible is very new to them.

Before I gave the Bible lesson I prepared, I told them my own story of having a very troubled upbringing with parents who aggressively argued all the time and my resulting breakdown at age eleven and the panic attacks when I was eighteen. I went on to explain how as a Jewish person from Montreal,  I knew virtually nothing about Jesus and that he fulfilled the predictions of the Messiah in the Old Testament. The same afternoon that I heard about all this for the first time I asked God to forgive my sins and asked Jesus to coming into my life as my Messiah.  The panic attacks stopped and God completely changed my life (not without challenges). That’s the summary of the longer version I told them. I went on to the Bible lesson, where I spoke about how God’s rules for our lives are not oppressive, but free us to live a good life just like the rules for soccer free us to play the game effectively. But the surprise happened during the question time when several said they could relate to my upbringing. Worlds apart in so many ways, but the same pain. 

So I was able to encourage them to face the challenges of life through the power of God in the Messiah. What a blessing to see their earnest faces and to receive hugs from a couple of them. 

Today was beach day! Sarah knows how to drive like a Haitian. Sarah, her boyfriend, and I had a lovely day by the Caribbean Sea, chatting, eating a lovely dinner, and soaking in the waves. What a country of contrasts. Is it okay to hang out at a resort for the day in a country where most people eat one meal a day of rice and beans? 

Tomorrow, I am going with Sarah to the orphanage where she teaches dance each week.

Let’s close with some resort photos:

Me and Sarah’s boyfriend Damas in serious discussion (and loving it!)

Sarah and Damas

Haiti: Day Three

We are currently in the rainy season, which means it rains about once every day. My first evening here I don’t think it lasted an hour, while last night it was probably closer to three. But did it ever come down! At home in Ottawa we can get some severe storms, but I don’t recall anything this dramamatic. Is it the metal roofs making the rain louder or the palm leaves being whipped around giving me the impression that the wind was stronger than  it was? Whatever the reason, it put on a pretty good show.

Last night I taught Bible at the mission base’s weekly community service that is provided for the staff on site as well as anyone from the community who wants to come. Sarah said what I shared was very relevant to the community.  I am so grateful to God when that happens, especially in a context of which I have so little understanding. My main theme was the hope of the resurrection and what that means in terms of valuing the creation. 

Speaking at last night’s community service, translated into Creole.

This morning,  Sarah’s boyfriend took me off base. Again, the taxi ride on the motorcycle was really something (see my previous post). I wish I had a Go Pro to share the experience with you. The drivers’ ability to weave in and out of the tightest of places is absolutely astounding! I am starting to think they may have superior depth perception.  

We went to his church which is currently having forty days of prayer and fasting, which is why they were having a service Thursday morning. I have been told that Haitian church services tend to be loud. I was told correctly.

Then we went to his house, which was quite nice. As we went here and there he would introduce me to people he knows. Everyone is so warm and friendly. I especially love the reaction I get when I smile back at the little children who stare at me. 

A few minutes ago Sarah told me that I will speaking this evening to a group of young guys who are here involved in some sort of soccer camp. There’ll be time for questions after, which I love to do. But what meaningful thing can I say to a group of Haitian young men? I have also just learned that I will be teaching at a Sunday morning service in town. Again, same thing. What’s a Jewish Canadian follower of Yeshua guy like me going to say to a gathering of people from Saint-Marc? Stay tuned! 

I want to close this post by sharing one of the more spectacular trees on the base. It is a Royal Poinciana, also called a (I love this!) Flamboyant.

Flamboyant tree

Haiti: Day 2

The flight yesterday from Montreal to Port-au-Prince,  Haiti, went very well. It took me about an hour to get through immigration, baggage,  and customs amidst much jostling and difficult communication (Je parle un peu Francais – I speak a little French. – though it’s been increasing rapidly). I was told later the hour was quite normal. 

After waiting for the person from the mission base to pick me up (an airport worker,  seeing me looking lost,  offered me to use his cell phone to call my ride at no charge). 

The drive to the mission base is something you need to experience to understands.  Part obstacle course,  part maze,  I am grateful it wasn’t a demolition derby.  My favourite was driving on the double yellow line as if it was a third lane,  dodging scooters with multiple people,  taps taps (public transport which are modified covered pickup trucks with side benches,  filled to capacity with always room for three more),  tractor trailers with their horns blasting,  all in both directions.

Not the best photo, but you might get the correct impression.

It was really hot yesterday but hotter today,  though so far today I am handling it ok. I am being housed in a very nice apartment.  Power is supplied through a combination of city power (hardly ever these days I am told) ,  generator,  and battery power). 

I had my first taxi ride today (something I managed to avoid four years ago).  A Haitian taxi is a small scooter with a driver for hire. Personal space is almost a non-concept here as I was comfortably squished between the driver and Sarah. Most scooter (though they might be classified as small motorcycles) drivers don’t wear helmets). We zipped along on bumpy city streets zigging and zagging somewhat similar to yesterday’s drive with the wind in my face as I chatted with Sarah behind me and all sorts of sights,  sounds, and smell around me. 

Can I be honest with you,  dear reader? It was fun!! 

As we went to the local general store,  it was so precious to see how many people know (and love) Sarah as she introduces me to everyone as her Daddy. 

As every minute passes,  I realize more and more how worlds apart the Canadian and Haitian cultures are. I am supposed to teach tonight at a small community service on the base. Most who are attend are the folks that live on site (Americans,  Canadians,  and Hatians),  though people from the town may come too. What can say to bless them when our lives are so very different?  If you are a praying person,  you know what to do! 

One last thing for now. Last night I was chatting with Sarah about the drive from the airport and what I observed to be extreme recklessness on the part of the drivers. She said part of the reason is that Haitians have no fear. I could get really phylisophical and psychological about that, but whatever is at the root of this,  not to mention the fruits,  it is such a contrast to myself,  who was raise on a constant diet of fear.  To close my eyes and picture myself in the midst of all that high-speed, near-miss driving,  yet void of fear is so beyond anything I could dream of for yours truly. 

But,  then again,  the scooter ride today was fun! 

With Sarah and her boyfriend.

Haiti Bound – Day One 

Today I break an inner vow to never go to Haiti in the summer. But I do so, because it is clear to me that this is God’s will. 

Some months ago my daughter Sarah, who has served with the mission YWAM in Saint-Marc since the fall of 2009, developed a serious relationship with a Haitian young man. So now Dad (that’s me!) is going down to meet him. 

This will also be my first opportunity to see Sarah in her beloved environment. Robin and I  were there January 2012,but Sarah wasn’t able to be there then. I have a sense I am going to see a more real Haiti compared to when I was last there. 

Besides the personal aspect, I am due to do some formal and informal Bible teaching. 

Not used to being a visible minority. Boarding began 50 minutes pre departure. I was made to understand this is normal for this Montreal flight. 

I hope to blog as I can. 

What Am I Doing Here?

WhatAmIDoingHere01_600

The other players had just left. I had closed in prayer at the end of another Baseball Chapel time, but he stayed. Looking up at me he said, “You’re from a Jewish background, right? How does that work, your becoming a believer?” I gave him the condensed version of how I came to the Lord almost forty years ago. Then he expressed his frustration with his life. That’s probably why he had stayed. I had taught on Joseph and how his ability to focus on God’s goodness amidst his terrible circumstances not only had sustained him through great difficulties but allowed him to remain free of bitterness and be a blessing to others. All of professional sports is full of dashed dreams, but in the league in which I minister players more regularly find themselves dangerously close to the precipice of despair. “What am I doing here?” he asked me. There are the really young guys fresh out of college for whom this is their first pro gig. They probably just missed being drafted by a Major League club and are waiting for their big break. Then there are the veterans. They’ve been around for the long haul, had a year or two in the majors, or the minors at least. They would rather play baseball in an independent league than not at all. But then there are those like the player I was talking to. Still relatively young, but getting to the stage where the door to greatness is just about closed. “What am I doing here?”

So we talked about Joseph whose dreams appeared to be even more impossible. God seemed to indicate he would be a ruler one day. Instead, he was sold by his own brothers as a slave and eventually ended up spending years in a dungeon for something he hadn’t done. “What am I doing here?” And then there’s David, called to be King, given an early promotion to the King’s court, but it wasn’t too long before he was running for his life from that same King, living in caves. “What am I doing here?”

“Hold on to your God-given dreams,” I say. “Keep your eyes on him, and wait and see what he will do.” Then I prayed God’s blessing on his life, that he would stay close to the Lord and that he would be a blessing to others.

I am no professional athlete, but I knew exactly what he was feelingAlan Gilman after a game at RCGT Park, Ottawa, having a dream and wondering what in the world is going on. As I was teaching on Joseph and referred to being overlooked, getting the wrong end of the stick, having unrealized expectations, I knew what I was talking about. Been there. The encouragement to be like Joseph was not just for the players. I was preaching to myself.

For me, enough time has gone by to learn how this works. The road to the destination God calls us to takes all sorts of dips and turns along the way. When we are younger we don’t realize how much we actually need time to get ready for what God has in store. It also takes time for our God-given dreams to be sufficiently clarified. We are too quick to determine where we think God is leading us. Only God sees the whole picture of our lives. But even as we struggle down the twisty road of life, he is faithful. As I quoted when I spoke on Joseph, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). When we are in right relationship with God, it doesn’t matter what the world throws our way, God’s goodness will always prevail.