Monday, October 17, 2011

What might you "Encounter"?

We are lucky to have our buddy Keith bloggin' tonight! I think you will really enjoy what he has to say!!

“Encounter” was the name of the young person’s ministry group we had joined at our church. The Executive Pastor suggested that if you were over thirty-five years old, you shouldn’t even bother attending this ministry, “you just won’t get it.” This warning confirmed that I would attend. At Encounter we met lifelong friends like Danielle Black and Jolene Schrock.

The group was an eclectic, organic mix; recent high school graduates, college students, young married couples and curious individuals. Encounter was described as a group of young people who were raised in active youth groups and who didn’t understand adult church. I confess most of the time I don’t understand adult church.
The group was active in service to others. I loved this piece of our journey together at Encounter. Being involved with Encounter has helped cement my family’s commitment to servant leadership today. We continue to stay involved at the street level in our current church, Immerge. Additionally in July of 2009 we planned a mission trip to Haiti.
A team of nine was put together to build a house in Haiti. Eric Demeter was the team leader and he took this position seriously. His mission work, prior to Haiti, helped children get needed cleft pallet surgeries. Eric loved spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ through service and thrived on sharing it in far off places. Eric recruited the nine people to go to Haiti and my wife and I were invited.
My first thoughts of the area surrounding the village of Ballala were this must be what Africa is like. I have never been to Africa, but this must be like it, dry, hot, sand, scrub-brush, a few palm trees and huts. Perhaps it was the primitive huts that reminded me most of pictures I had seen of Africa. It is no coincidence that Haiti was settled by slaves from Africa; voodoo’s roots trace back to Africa. And interestingly the United States owes part of our independence to Haiti but, that is a story for another blog.

All our days in Ballala were difficult. Our first day may have been the hardest for me. As soon as we got there we set up camp. Camp consisted of a ten foot by ten foot canopy and some plastic chairs. It provided some shade and a place to hang our backpacks off the dirt. Then our interpreter set up lunch; fresh pineapple, peanut butter or bologna sandwiches and cookies. Bear in mind, we have not done any work, just arrived in the village, and our first duty is to eat. This may not sound bad, but when you have thirty children smiling and staring at you, it stinks. I could not stomach it.

The children by all outward appearances were perfectly happy, naked and dirty, but happy none-the-less. The children rarely begged. This was something we found out the YWAM staff was trying to instill in their community, no begging. I marveled at their curiosity, handsome features, and happiness. I set up a makeshift fort out of old boards and boxes that they played in for days. A stick or a tailless lizard provided imaginative play for them.
On our third day in Ballala, my wife was honored by the offer to hold a six-month old baby. This may not sound like much; however, Haitian women are extremely protective of their babies. The life expectancy of infants under two years is very low in Haiti. The mothers routinely don’t name the children until after their second birthday. This gesture was an enormous show of respect and trust toward my wife. Sharon treated the occasion with the dignity and compassion it deserved. I could not have been more proud of her, that day, and throughout our journey.

As I write this blog for Awake & Alive to post it occurs to me, I am not sure the direction of the commentary. Is this a blog about the Christian commitment to service, about social responsibility and mission? Or is the article a critical look at established, traditional, irrelevant church liturgy? Taking a second look at the writing my conclusion is all the above and it depends.

Here in Haiti I had found contented, well-mannered, beautiful people. People who when provided with an opportunity wanted to work. Haiti is a country similar to the United States yet different in so many ways. They are different from the United States in their attitude toward each other. Children who engage you right where you are, in that moment and are eager to learn. They loved creating new things and showing us their ways. In large part, everyone was reasonably happy and content. How could this be? Why didn’t we share the same attitude in America? In the US we are taught the “poor” are sad and depressed. We think that if only poor people would pull themselves up they would be all right. They must want to be in that situation or worse- somehow they deserve to be in their situation.

As I sat there in the heat, amongst the bushes wondering about this place, a lovely butterfly landed on my knee. Upon close inspection, he revealed bright yellow wings with intricate black spider web designs. Looking closer still, I discovered the tip of his right wing had been horribly mangled, probably by another insect or a nasty cat. My first thought was this is Haiti, beautifully broken.

From Port-au-Prince to the village of Ballala and all points in between, there exists a beautifully broken atmosphere about Haiti. The country struggles to establish its independence once again, and escape its desperate situation. However, Haiti’s problems are multi-systemic; finding a sufficient leader is just the beginning. A devastating earthquake destroyed what was left of their infrastructure. Financial aid struggles to get to the hands of people who can use it. In addition, a cholera outbreak has claimed more than 700 lives and threatens thousands more. Unfortunately, “In Haiti the insults never end,” as quoted in a Byron Pitts interview on “60 Minutes”. I believe Haiti can rebound and become the beautiful Caribbean nation it deserves to be.

Coming back to the United States was surreal, a cultural readjustment. During the debriefing session, the base leader suggested that, “Not everyone will care to hear about our mission.” Tony said, “Don’t be surprised if people have a lack of interest.” I found this to be awfully true; we are calloused to the plight of the poor among us. We have separated ourselves from each other. The rich, poor, white, black, North, South, Republican, Democrat, Catholic, Baptist and Buddhist and now Tea Party-er and Occupy-ers have all closed in. Unfortunately, we are in a time when we need to be turning outward. People say “Thank God that is not me” or “There but for the grace of God go I.” Why not share God’s grace and mercy? Until we realize that we are them, and they are us, we are not going very far. Until we stop viewing those in need as separate from us, as stray dogs or bad vegetables, we are not going very far. More people should stop believing everything they see on Fox News, turn the TV off and stop writing checks to ease their moral conscience (unless you are thinking about writing one to Awake and Alive). We should get off the couch and meet our neighbors, and pick up a shovel beside those in need. Only then would real, long lasting change take place.

1 comment:

Danielle said...

Love this, Keith. And I love the pictures. What would we do without you?!?