We have been back in the states now for two weeks, although we should have been just arriving to the states today. The last couple weeks have been wrought with emotions that range from one extreme to another. We are so thankful for our family that goes out of their way to take care of us and help us in this time of transition. At the same time, we miss our home in Haiti and our friends and "family" there. We are mourning the loss of what we thought our last 2 weeks would look like. In the last couple weeks, we have tried to rest and seek comfort in who God is, which consistently reminds us that He is sovereign. We see His hand over every detail of the past few weeks, and even more in the past months. He is good. Ultimately, that is our resting point - He is good.
We know he is working on something new. We feel it and we can sense it coming. We have learned so much in the past six years, and seek to continue learning with each and every step. His goodness pours over us in His gentle grace. Over and over, I keep telling people that the one character trait of God that has overwhelmed me most in this process is His gentleness. He has led me through the grief of letting go of Haiti, the joy of something new, the peace during the protests. Truly, He has been so gentle.
As I consider what may be ahead, I am blessed at the new life I am seeing. My children, within a week of leaving Haiti, could state that they saw God's protection over us as we evacuated. I pray that they hold onto that. Those are the building blocks that lead to a faith that cannot be shaken. Life experience that proves God's work in and through us - nobody can take that from us. So I pray that God will not let them forget. I pray that in this time of new things, a new season, of God doing something new in and through us, that my children will continue to press more and more into Him. As we prepare for our oldest to go off to college in the fall, watch our youngest try to figure out how to walk, and still walk the many stages of life with our kids in between - we pray that they each walk with God.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Last month was a busy one as we helped families prepare their kids to go back to school. In the states, this involves shopping for clothes, shoes, backpack and locker supplies, as well as the classroom supply list the school provides. However, if that is not affordable, it does not mean your child cannot attend school. There are programs to help those beneath the poverty line get what they need for school. If a program is not helpful, the child can still attend school without these items. However, that is simply not the same here in Haiti.
We have been helping the Gracia children attend school for the past few years. This year, the tuition cost doubled. Public schools are available in certain parts of Haiti, but not where we are located. Most areas of Haiti only have private school as an option. If you cannot afford it, your child simply does not get an education. Since we know that education is one of the biggest pieces to overcoming poverty, we try to help in whatever way we can. This year there were more needs than we could meet, due to the increase in tuition. We were able to keep the Gracia children in school by pulling money from other areas/needs, but we know many who had to let go of the dream of their children finishing school because they could not pay the fees. Others were able to pay enough to start the school year, but their children are kicked out of the classroom during lectures because they have not yet been able to pay for books.
While education in the states is mandatory, here it is a privilege that often keeps the poorest stuck right where they are. It creates a great divide between those who are educated and those who are not, and the effects last for generations. The more educated get the better-paying jobs (makes sense), and they can afford to keep their children in school as well. However, those who never received an education are barely making enough to feed their families, and their children are usually bound to repeat history.
There are many ways to take action and help the most impoverished rise up and be freed from the grips of poverty. The simplest way to help from the states is to sponsor a child, school, or organization that is keeping kids in school. While there are so many organizations to do this through, there are some good tests when choosing. After working with Compassion International as a volunteer for many years, I truly believe they are the standard for child sponsorship. Their program is tested and proven valuable, with countless success stories. I have seen their work firsthand and am absolutely blown away by how they do things and the excellence that goes into every aspect of their ministry and programming. One of the pieces that sets them apart is their financial integrity. Simply put, I would not sponsor a child through any organization that does not publish its financial information on how that money is spent. I have seen too many places that it is done poorly, and the children are not being given the opportunities that the sponsor dollars should provide. Be sure that your money is being used well.
Secondly, find a program that avoids poverty tourism, and works hard not to exploit the children. If the organization is showing pictures of children in the depths of their poverty, this is typically done to solicit an emotional response - that is exploitation. If an organization has you come so that you can get your pictures and go back home, that is poverty tourism. A visit should guard a child's (and their family's) dignity, highlight the good you are doing and the good in the country, and leave you with a closer relationship with the child and family. You should also be able to have a voice in the child's life - not by demanding what you think is best - but by knowing how to pray for them, and being allowed to write to them. This is one key to success in good sponsorship programs. Without it, you lose the potential for eternal impact.
At the end of the day, sponsorship matters. It is what allows children a chance at a better life tomorrow. It is proven that - when done properly, with integrity - it is a key that releases children from poverty. It provides hope to families, and that, my friends, is what starts to cripple poverty. Poverty is more than not having needs met and lack of resources. It is a lack of hope - the belief that you only live for today, because that is all you will ever have. Hope allows people to see beyond today and imagine, even dream, of a better tomorrow. Then they have something worth fighting for.
I learned something during my maternity leave that I am still praying through. Every time we travel to the states, our time is pretty self-focused. It isn't that we intend to be selfish, or that we even realize how self-centered our time is. We have fundraising to do, doctor appointments, restock of supplies, and people to see. Our days are filled with what we want and need during the time we have . I had never really thought about how self-focused furlough is until this last stint in the states. Usually, I do not have time to process what is going on in the states, or how I could serve where I am. It is "time off" and focused on rest and refueling, along with fundraising and planning for the year(s) to come. While that is valid and necessary, this trip back was different, and thus quite eye-opening.
I have already mentioned the blessing of being in one place for the entire time, and how that allowed us to get plugged in at our home church again. It also allowed me to move beyond the self-focused time that is typical for furlough. I was able to get past just looking at what the kids and I needed during that time, and start seeing the needs of others. I was able to sense a piece of God's heart for His people in the USA. It was bittersweet, for it reminded me how much I love ministering to people in my own culture. It gave me much to pray about as well.
Something that surprised me during this time back was the desire that grew within me to minister in the states. My heart has been for missions for so long that I did not expect that. It added another layer of difficulty in leaving, for I once again saw purpose in time state-side, and had a vision for where I could be used by God. My eyes were opened to the spiritual oppression that is targeting the young people. From school age on up through the college years, our young people are under attack. I doubt this is news to you, with the many issues going on in the schools and families across the country. I heard of children battling depression and suicidal thoughts, families being torn apart, and cultural norms that are continuing to break apart the family unit by keeping families too busy. My heart was burdened for the young people in the states. This is not an easy time to be growing up, and American culture is not currently helping.
Parents, do not turn a blind eye to the battle that is raging for your children. The enemy has worked hard in the states to help us easily worship things other than God. Now he is attacking an entire generation. If he can turn them away from God, he will have made great progress in destroying what the USA once stood for. It is vital that we as parents lay claim to what God has entrusted to us. We must fight for our children, for their hearts. Come what may, they are our greatest mission field. Deuteronomy 6 makes it clear that no matter where we are, how God leads, or what our days look like, it is our responsibility to point our children to God throughout each day and all that we do. Be encouraged, parents - God is able! Jesus has already overcome the world. Let's follow Him and lead our children to do the same.
Each time we return to Haiti, the transition has looked a little different. There have been times we have returned completely exhausted and ready to be back in our home. There are times we have come back with heavy hearts, sad to leave the states, and wondering what the next season would look like. This time was probably the hardest re-entry I (Cathi) have ever had. I really did not foresee how difficult it would be.
The first thing that made this so difficult was getting sick upon re-entry. However, I think another major contributing factor was that we spent 4 months in one place, in one home, in the states. We lived with “family,” and got reconnected at our home church. The kids attended youth for the entire 4 months, and I attended a small group. We built new relationships and strengthened old relationships. We were really at home, and we were able to just figure out life there for that time frame.
After four months of that, it was hard to leave. We love our church and the many we call family there. We are so thankful for how well the church loves us and our kids. Leaving that, coming back to a place that often feels lonely and leaves us feeling disconnected from our state-side life, was hard. It took (and still takes) a lot of prayer daily – often minute by minute – to keep my attitude in check. There were times I cried and just wanted to go back. Yet, God would whisper to me once again that He has me in His hand, and I am right where I need to be. I may not understand the restrictions I feel on my free-flying spirit (routine and schedules are really not my thing, haha), and I am definitely grieving. I am grieving what I have lost back in Oklahoma – again. I am grieving what I have lost here in Haiti. I am not free to just go and visit with the women whom I love sitting and talking with. I cannot just jump in the car and go run errands for a day, or go out with a group of missionary women. I have a little one who needs me – every 3 hours at the very least. So, I am working on contentment.
So, for those who wonder, here are the top 10 things we are missing (other than the obvious – people), but we are choosing contentment without:
I have often seen a piece of artwork at the local metal market that says, “I am satisfied.” It is a beautiful piece that I have never even considered purchasing, because it is a hard statement. Could I honestly hang this in my home? Lately, I think it is time to make this declaration – to remind myself daily, minute by minute, to be satisfied in Him and all He provides.
When we started telling people that we were going to move our family to Haiti, we received an array of reactions. Some actually were angry at us, while others simply did not understand. We thankfully also had many who were completely supportive and encouraging.
One person (with great wisdom) told us to be sure this is where God is calling us.
"Haiti is a missionary graveyard," he warned.
We took his advice and prayed considerably more over this decision. God confirmed numerous times (and continues to do so today) that His plan was definitely for us to move our family to Haiti. That being confirmed, we still wanted to know more about why Haiti is a missionary graveyard, and how we could ensure that it did not "chew us up and spit us back out," like it does/has done with so many missionaries!
We read lots of books, blogs, and articles about Haiti and missions in Haiti. We talked with anyone who was willing, and sought their insight and wisdom. The reality is, there are many reasons that pile up to lead to the burn out and sometimes near destruction of missionaries who flock to this country. There is the day-to-day frustration of living in a developing world, where the conveniences of "modern living" are not so easily found. There is the racism that any light-skinned person will face while living there. There is damage done by decades of well-intentioned (most of the time) people/organizations, leaving a wave of distrust and dissension behind. There is the constant coming and going of internationals, which leaves most missionaries living with one foot in each world. There is the overwhelming loss that is felt as people die of preventable causes, adults flee the country for hopes of a better job somewhere else, and fellow missionaries pack up and move back home. There is the battle against what has become "normal" in the churches: a mix of superstition, legalism, and religion with so little heart change. There is the constant rebuttal that we, as foreigners, simply do not understand because we are privileged (some truth here, but it is a true hindrance to furthering the gospel!).
One thing that so often adds a sore in addition to all the rest - the reality that all you have to do is book a one-way flight, and within hours you could be on American soil. You can drive for hours to get to a store that does not have what you need, but you know that one 2-hour flight back to the USA and you'll find it at a handful of places. This ease of access to our passport country is challenging in many ways. It allows us to run back anytime something goes wrong, and still prioritize our medical care in the states as well. It keeps us from completely doing life in Haiti, and thus holds us back as "outsiders." It tempts us with such strong urging on the really hard days - "Just pack a bag and jump on a plane; leave this all behind. You can forget it and move on and have a "normal" life."
Yet, we fight through the urge to run, and we choose to stay in the muck of it all. When we sit with a mother who lost yet another infant for unknown reasons, when we counsel a woman whose lifelong "mate" is never faithful, when a child is sick and there are hospitals within one flight that could save them, when violence soars and hatred rages, when evil rules and it seems like it will never end...we stay. We choose hope; we HAVE to choose hope. Hope is the ONLY way to combat the overwhelming life we live. There is hope that one day God will redeem His people, one day evil will be eradicated, one day there will be no sickness or death, one day we will be reunited with the many who have gone way too early. There is hope that God is still reigning, even today. There is hope that He has the power to heal every wound - physical, emotional, mental - He is the Great Physician. There is hope because we can still sit in His presence in the middle of what many consider one of the darkest places on earth. There is hope because He is still victorious, even when we cannot make sense of the battle around us.
So we hope, and we stand. We know that this place has wrecked us...life will never be "normal" or "simple" again. No, it will always look different and there is no "forgetting." It reminds me of a song that Gami and I sang so often with the youth years before we went to the mission field: Ruin My Life.
We sang this song with such fervor...God, ruin my life and my plans! Ruin desires for my own selfish gain...until it's you alone I live for!
Now we look back and see how He answered that prayer - that cry - that we sang out in worship so many times together. Truly, He has ruined our lives in what we thought they would look like. He has wrecked every desire for the American dream and worldly success. He has broken our hearts for what breaks His, and we will never be the same. Praise God, we will never be the same!
So, yes, Haiti is a missionary graveyard. We have seen many come and go, and the damage that living in such a hard place has caused on them and their families. Still, this is where God has us, and we will continue to stand, and hope, and be faithful. We rely on the prayers of many to carry us through. We praise God for the encouragement He sends us through caring people - encouragement that comes at just the right moment to remind us that we can do this. We seek God and His people, for there is truly strength in numbers. And we thank God for you - the one who takes the time to read our ramblings, to pray for us, to send us a note, to care, and to remember us even when we are a world away.
We enjoyed celebrating Mirlanda's birthday in November. Mirlanda had never been able to celebrate her birthday - this was the first time she even really knew that it was her birthday. Out of all the Gracia children that we help with, Mirlanda is the "newest" to our family. She had lived with a godparent until this last summer. Thus, we have only gotten to know her since September when we returned from furlough. She is a sweet, quiet girl.
In preparing for Mirlanda's birthday, I asked her what she wanted. In Haiti, this question always refers to food. Since I usually make spaghetti on Sunday after church, she asked for rice instead. I asked if she wanted beans in the rice. "Yes," she said.
"And sauce, do you want sauce to go on the rice?" (a Haitian staple)
"Yes," she said.
That was it...I asked her what else she wanted and she stopped there. I asked if she wanted juice or pop, and she said juice. When I asked what kind, she gave me a brand name instead of a flavor.
I asked about dessert, and we agreed on a chocolate cake (brownies) like I had made for another recent birthday, after I suggested it.
As I asked her about her birthday meal, I was struck by how little she asked for. When I ask my own children what they want, they can give me a menu for the day - sometimes even down to the snacks! Yet, Mirlanda could only think in terms of rice versus spaghetti.
This being her first birthday celebration, I realized that she had no idea what the limits were, or where she could begin. She could not even fathom what a feast she could ask for. She had never been asked what type of juice she wanted, so all that she knew was the brand. She did not even know she could ask for a specific flavor.
This reminded me of the Sripture, Ephesians 3:20, "to him who is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..."
Eight years ago today, our lives were forever changed when a 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti. At the time, I was much like many people today - I knew next to nothing about the poorest country in our hemisphere. I knew it was a Caribbean island, and that it was poor. I don't know that I understood much more than that.
When the earthquake hit, I was a stay-at-home mom of 4, our youngest being almost one year old. I so desperately wanted to jump on an airplane and go to Haiti - I would have done nearly anything to help. I just wanted to take action. I watched the news and followed what different ministries were doing in response to the devastation. My eyes were opened to the world of Haiti, and God continued to pull our family towards this country in the coming years.
Our oldest daughter did a fundraiser in the spring of 2010 to help with earthquake relief efforts. Gami and I led our youth group in the World Vision 30 hour famine in 2010 and 2011. Each year we focused on Haiti, and designated our funds to go to Haiti relief efforts. Indeed, God was opening our minds and hearts to this land. Gami and I had heard a clear call to missions as early as 2008, but still did not know where God would lead us - or when.
Fast forward to 2012 and I was honored to lead a group from our church to Haiti to serve for one week. Our family on both sides, well aware of our prep work to go into missions, asked if this was it - would we be moving to Haiti? We assured them that Haiti was not a place we felt called to, and that it was merely an opportunity to expose our two oldest children (accompanying us on this trip) to missions and the reality of poverty. In that week here in Haiti, God grabbed hold of Gami and I both, convicting us of the fact that we had never sought Him in relation to Haiti.
Only nine months later, we were moving our family of 6 to Haiti to do long-term missions work. That was May, 2013. We were beyond the relief efforts of the earthquake, and felt God was opening doors for us to do missions work in a place where so many are hurting and need His grace, hope, peace, and love.
I never would have thought, back on January 12, 2010, that I would move my family to this place. As I think back to that day - watching the news, listening to the horrors of all that was happening, and feeling so helpless - I realize that God directly intervened in my life and the lives of our family. There is no other way to explain it. Haiti was not on our radar at all - and yet, today Haiti is home.
We have a saying here - "TIH" - which means, "This is Haiti." Most often, this phrase is used to excuse away what we cannot explain. It is used in moments where we recognize culture is definitely at play, but we will never understand the reasoning behind something. It is used in times of humor, and in times of deep despair. There is so much that encompasses this country and our hearts for it. Yet, my son took this phrase and made a piece of artwork for Gami. He wrote about how people use the phrase "TIH," and said, "But it also means This Is Home."
We do not pretend to understand it all, or have it all figured out. But we do know that God called us here. We are one family of many whose eyes were opened to all that goes on so close to our borders of the USA, and we knew God wanted us to do something big. So, here we are, coming up on 5 years in Haiti, and not regretting a minute of it!
I love a good cup of coffee. I have a few large mugs that I greatly appreciate. I am not a 6-8 ounces of coffee type of person. I prefer to get it all in one cup and make it just the way I like it, enjoying 10-12 ounces in one mug. I would be so irritated if I only had a small teacup to make my coffee in. I do not enjoy my coffee black, so I would make multiple teacups of coffee in order to enjoy the amount I like to have. A small teacup just would not be satisfactory; it wouldn't be enough. It would be extra work to prepare each little cup, but I know that eventually I could still drink enough to be satisfied.
The simplicity of a large cup of coffee is a luxury to me. This idea of drinking out of a teacup is kind of like a missionary going on furlough. You thirst for so much, and it comes in such little pieces that it seems it may never satisfy. You have a lengthy to-do list, along with a dreams and wishes list. You have favorite foods to enjoy, doctors to visit, old memories to relive, places to go, and so many people to see. With each item checked off the list, you are filled a little more, and yet that much closer to leaving again.
We spent four months on furlough this year - a much needed time to refuel, reconnect as a family, and build new memories with those we love. For those four months, we constantly felt like we were saying hello to friends and family for the first time in years - all while making new friends. Within days, we would say good-bye to this group of beloved people, and move on again. The only thing softening the sting of the constant good-bye was the anticipation of the next hello.
In four months time, we traveled through 22 different states in order to visit each of our support churches and see all of our immediate family. It was a tiring adventure, with segments of rest interspersed. We were intentional to carve out time as a family all throughout, and can truly say we enjoyed furlough. Still, it was like the teacup approach - small refreshing moments that were never quite enough. It left us longing for more.
As we returned to Haiti, we spent days - even weeks - talking about all of the fun things we did and the people we saw. We met precious babies of close friends for the first time. We quickly recognized how much you miss in 4 years away. Yet, here we are, back in Haiti, recognizing that we are missing so much. The teacup is never quite enough. There is always a longing for more, a yearning to go back to the teacup again and fill it back up. At some point, you have to walk away from the teacup and get back to work. Yes, drinking from a teacup is much like furlough.
So, here we are - back to work - and missing our friends and family. Our friends here are our teacup now...filling as much as they can while we hope we do the same for them. For you see, all we have as missionaries are teacups.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to live on the mission field? There are so many reasons people become missionaries. The life of a missionary is often admired and praised, regardless of the knowledge of day-to-day activities.
When we told J.L. Williams that we were going to move to Haiti to be missionaries, he told us, "If it is within your power, don't do it."
Of course, we were taken aback. J.L. is known for being all about missions - his life poured missions into every aspect of it, touching everyone with a glimpse of his passion. He explained to us that if it was within our power to NOT go, then it was not truly God calling us. Within our own power, we can keep ourselves from doing it. When God is truly calling us, we have a leading and urgency that cannot be calmed or quieted.
We have been in Haiti for nearly 4 years now. In this time we have met so many people who have come to Haiti for varying lengths of time for vastly different reasons. If you are contemplating going into missions - regardless of length of time - here are 10 reasons you should NOT go.
1. Missions is exciting!
While there are many things in missions that are exciting, this is not a good reason to pack your bags. Daily life in missions can often feel mundane. Once the newness wears off, you will find yourself in a new rhythm. In this stage, life goes on as "usual." Though there are new aspects to this "usual," it still can feel mundane and lack the special awe you had imagined. For example, my days are about like this:
wake up and ensure kids are eating a healthy breakfast
start school with kids
quiet time while kids are working
continue helping kids with school
check kids' school
The afternoon is usually spent either getting groceries (a LENGTHY process), taking a child to an activity, or preparing for Bible study.
There is not much that feels out-of-the-ordinary for me in my regularly scheduled activities. My exciting God moments are probably as frequent as what I could experience in my home culture.
3. I will feel closer to God.
Regardless of where you live and what your "job" is, your relationship with God - and with others - requires dedication and time. Living on the mission field does not always help with this. There are new stressors and things demanding your time and attention. Things that are often a "quick-fix" in the states can take much longer on the mission field. Be accountable for your relationship with God and the time you spend with Him, no matter where you live. There are times on the mission field that you can feel like you are in a spiritual desert...missions does not equal better relationship with God.
4. People will respect me more if I am a missionary.
People will choose how they feel. Some will respect you for who you are, regardless of where you live. Others will find something that they don't like about you regardless of who you are. Strive to be a respectable person wherever you are. Missionaries do not win popularity contests...and they often feel ostracized and/or lonely. If you're looking for respect, live a life of respect. Ultimately, seek your image in who God is and who He says you are!
5. I want to live in a foreign country.
There are much easier ways to live in a foreign country besides being a missionary. Some countries welcome missionaries gladly, and expect great things (which is exhausting). Other countries do not welcome missionaries, and may even despise them (which is exhausting). If you want to live in a foreign country, do it! Fulfill that dream - but do it on your time and on your dollar unless you know missions is right for you!
6. It's on my bucket-list.
Bucket-lists are great. They help us dream big and focus on meeting some of our big goals. There are so many things on bucket lists. If being a missionary is one of them, make sure you have reason for it. Simply doing it to say, "I did that once," will not end well. Being a missionary is not easy, so take the time to ensure you're ready! Otherwise you could go home worse-off than you started.
7. I want to start over (don't like home; run from my past; don't want to face hardships at home).
My daughter reminded me that the book Christy was about a young lady who really didn't want to be at home anymore. She thought missions would be a good alternative. She struggled throughout her time and learned a lot. There are so many ways to run from life...I think most missionaries want to run from life at some point. If your purpose in becoming a missionary is to start over, you will meet that goal. However, you will suffer for it in the long run. As is so often said, stay and work through problems first. Then go as God leads.
8. My friend (or family/parents) was a missionary. I feel like I should do the same.
It would be a lot of fun to join friends on the mission field. It could feel like the honorable thing to do - become a missionary since your parents/grandparents were missionaries. I think (and hope) they would be honest with you to tell you that they don't want you to go just because they did. Think about it - do you want someone to say they are a Christian just because you say you are? I certainly do not - not even with my own children! Because as soon as the world comes crashing down around them, they will not be able to stand. I want people to choose Christianity because they see how much they need and want it for themselves! The same is true of being a missionary - to go because someone else did will set you up for failure when the world comes crashing down...and trust me, it will.
9. Being a missionary will make me special.
My youngest felt this should be on the list of 10 reasons. His answer? "You shouldn't go be a missionary to make you special. God says your special already!"
So there you have it - out of the mouth of an 8-year old. If you are struggling with your self-image, seek your Creator who will remind you of who you truly are. Let Him show you how special you are. Don't pack your bags just to find that!
10. I went with a group on a short-term trip, and it was incredible! I want to go back and live that way all the time.
Throughout the past 4 years, this may be the most commonly stated reason for wanting to become a missionary. We have worked with a LOT of short-term groups. Nearly every group has at least one person who says they want to come back and "live like this all the time." I'm going to let you in on a secret - short-term trips are NOTHING like LIVING on the mission field. They are designed to give you as much positive interaction as can be crammed into your time. They are designed to scratch your itch and help you feel connected. They are designed to educate and inform you so that you can go home and be an advocate for help and change.
As a missionary, you are not on a sprint. You are on a super-marathon. You are not trying to cram everything in, and it is not all positive. You are working on learning language and culture, building relationships with all new people, and mourning the life you sacrificed in order to come.
So there are 10 reasons...and I am sure there are many more. If you are not sure when to go, or how you know for sure, ask a missionary!
The reality is that there is only ONE reason for why you should become a missionary - being called.
So ask yourself, "Am I being called?" If you do not know that God clearly said to you individually, "Go," you could be walking into suffering that is unnecessary. When the uncalled go to the mission field, they suffer...but they also can cause others to suffer. Too many times, people are sent out and those who receive them are distracted from their ministry because they are trying to help someone survive. All missionaries can go through this. What gets them through? Knowing they are called. Without that clear conviction to stand on, people can be nearly destroyed.
At the end of the day, when I want to throw in the towel and pack it all up to go back to running water, 24/7 electricity, family and friends, English language, restaurants and nearby groceries (that, by the way, have everything!), I am reminded that God called me here. If He called me, He has a reason. I do not want to leave too early and prevent His complete plan from taking place in me. I want to be faithful to wherever He calls me, and I know He will provide all I need while I surrender daily.
These last three days in Haiti are known as "Kanaval" which coincides with Mardi Gras everywhere else. In Mardi Gras, people indulge the flesh right before the 40-day lent season of repentance and fasting. Kanaval is no different in essence, though it is heavily influenced by vodou traditions and rituals. That typically means that vodou and "mystic" activity increases during this time and continues to be at a heightened level up through Resurrection Sunday. Here in Haiti, the Lenten season—Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday—is filled with Haitian vodou ceremonies and practices. Particularly on Holy Week, the most significant of these is the rara. Very plainly, a rara is a long procession with loud music that is steeped in idolatry and spiritual symbolism. On the surface, they seem like such a fun and harmless piece of Haitian culture, with the colorful dress and upbeat music. Underneath, the full picture cannot be divorced from the worship of voodoo gods. A quick Google search for "Haiti Carnival" shows this, among other things: "Rara is called "Vodou taken on the road" by Haitians. Processions of female dancers follow male Vodou religious leaders, accompanied by drummers and vaksen bands, stopping at crossroads, cemeteries, and the homes of community leaders. Rara rituals are public acknowledgements of the power of local "big men" in the communities. Money is given to the leaders of rara organizations and communities during processions. The incorporation of military costumes and dance steps in rara processions is also an acknowledgement of the community hierarchy, and the folk belief that Vodou rituals, including rara, supported the success of the Haitian Revolution, and the continued well-being of Haiti. Rara band members believe that they have made a contract with spirits, and must perform for seven years, otherwise adversity will result."
For the last week or so, we've heard some new sounds coming from the neighborhood. Now, it's typical for loud speakers to be doing political propaganda into all hours of the night. We experienced that leading up to the elections and even the inauguration. However, with all of that behind us, the loud speakers seemed oddly out of place. In the middle of the day, we'd hear bull horns, broadcasting people speaking, but we couldn't make out what they were saying. Last week, we were walking to another missionary's house and realized we were passing right next to where the speakers were located. When we asked the other missionary about it, he said it was a vodou community that had recently sprung up in our neighborhood and they were (obviously) being very vocal.
Cathi commented later that when we were living in Chambrun, people would tell us all the time that the village was deep into vodou and that it just wasn't that common in other places. Given Kanaval and the occurrences like this one in other communities, that is not the case. What was encouraging was that the missionary told us that several church leaders were getting together often to pray against this. I plan on linking up with that group and join in the prayers against the encroaching darkness here.
During this Kanaval season, much of this week is a holiday, which means no work and no school. Many churches send their youth on retreat, hold outreach events, crusades, etc. I was invited to do a 3-day conference in Pernier, at a church atop the mountain village. We started on Sunday afternoon and finished at noon today. During the three days, we took a deeper look into Scripture at what God has revealed about Himself for us and how that should impact our lives. In contrast to the bright lights, loud music, and colorful celebration of Mardi Gras, this was a very simple conference. But it was a great few days, digging into God's Word and worshiping together. They asked some tough questions as they genuinely wanted to grasp more of God. Our motto for the three days was that we didn't want to just fill our heads with knowledge, but fill our hearts with a deeper appreciation for the God we serve and worship. This was also in stark contrast to the spirit of Kanaval which glorifies selfish desires. Instead, people were gathered to deny themselves and glorify the only One worthy of worship.
Gami & Cathi Ortiz
Best friends; married for 17 years; parents of five wonderful children; living on mission in Haiti since 2013.