Special thanks to Chrissy Petersen for these photos.
Our time in Haiti continues to be a very good and educational experience. We got to work yesterday. My big job at the school in Williamson is to paint a mural on the main wall in the school yard. The pencil lines did not wash away over night, so we were very thankful for that. I and a group of hard-working girls from our team spent the entire day painting. The time flew.
The Journey reading for today is John 19:1-16. It is the scene when Pilate is placed into a power struggle between the Jewish leaders, himself, the Emperor, and Jesus. As I read the text this morning and reflect upon the events of yesterday, I am reminded of how we struggle with power all the time.
First, we struggle with the power of the unexpected. It is a trivial thing, but in the midst of painting a mural in a foreign country, away from all that is familiar and convenient, there can be challenges. The paint that we bought yesterday is an example of this. Let’s just say that I now have a new appreciation for why the paint department in the stores back home throw the paint can in the mixer machine before they sell it to you. Yeah, they don’t do that here in Haiti.
When I opened the six gallons of paint (they also don’t sell quart size containers of paint, btw) I met my first surprise. It was a bucket of water with a brick of colored latex at the bottom. Oh, and did I mention that they don’t sell stir sticks in Haiti, either? Fortunately there was one stir stick at the school, so I was able to mix up the paint a little bit.
So, there I am, surrounded by the girls from our team waiting to work and a tiny school yard full of three hundred children running and laughing and screaming. I dip my brush in the paint, touch it to the cement wall, and my heart drops. It is like water color paint. There is no covering power at all in this stuff. I panic internally. What are we going to do?
Then I remember my new word from yesterday. Degaje.
“Alright, ladies, it is going to take several coats to make this look good, so let’s get to it.” I gave a quick painting lesson, assigned them each to a different part of the mural, and sent them painting. They did a fantastic job of painting the branches and leaves.
I spent the day trying to adapt to the new medium. I got the black paint to be workable by dredging up the thick paint from the bottom and putting it on the frisbee palette. Yes, we are using frisbees as pallets. It became apparent that the only way we were going to finish this project within the week was for me to paint a black line cartoon illustration for each panel, and then color in what we can with the remaining time.
The second experience of power that I experienced has to do with a 15 year old boy. We connected on Saturday when I was drawing the kids. He showed an interest in art, so I gave him a Signo pen and the rest of the drawing pad, along with a little art instruction through the interpreter. He greeted us on Monday with the pad of paper filled with drawings. I praised him and thanked him for showing me. We talked quite a bit about art. He returned yesterday with a desire to paint on the mural. He joined us after school and did a very good job.
Then something strange happened. I noticed it while we were painting. Some of the other teen angers were mocking him. The translator would not tell me what they were saying, so that troubled me. Then, toward the end of the day, he and his friend approached me with a gold necklace. He held it up to me and asked if I wanted to buy it. Something was fishy. It seemed as if his friend were putting him up to it. I did not want to buy it, but I asked how much he wanted for it, to be polite.
“$20.00 U.S.” He said.
“What?!?” I screamed inside. I don’t think so. I politely told him no. Then he said the words that broke my heart. He said he needed the money because he was hungry.
My heart didn’t break for the reason you probably think it did.
Based upon previous evidence I acquired during the week, I don’t think this kid is going days without food. My heart broke because I THINK HE WAS PLAYING ME. My spider senses tell me that his friend told him that I am an American sucker. Since I’ve been nice to him, he could get money out of me if he plays the pity card.
I found myself in a guilt trip power play with a 15-year old Haitian. I spoke with our host later in the evening and she gave me good advice for how to deal with the situation.
The first two examples of how we struggle with power pale in comparison to the power play that Jesus faced in his final day. The real power with which we struggle is that of one group’s resentment, hatred, and lust for power over another group. The Romans had all the power and the Jews were oppressed and had every right to be resentful and seek revenge. Jesus’ popularity with the masses threatened the delicate balance of power between the oppressor and oppressed. Pilate was caught in the middle.
“Don’t you know that I have the power to free you or to crucify you?” He sneered at Jesus.
It is the energy to make things happen. It flows in many directions, and for many reasons.
How does Jesus handle power? First, he acknowledges that God is the only source of power. Then, he simply stands strong, silent, and passive in the face of it. He let the Jewish leaders manipulate the Empire to the point that his execution was ordered.
The power struggle is very real in Haiti. It is beyond my comprehension and my ability to produce change. The Haitian people are oppressed on multiple levels, most of which is internal culturally. Those with power try to help, but nothing seems to work. The powers of pride, greed, resentment, and manipulation flow in all directions on all sides of the equation.
I’m just the guy who wrestles with weak paint and a typical teenager messing with a gullible adult.
I feel powerless here. So, I must simply stand and trust that God’s power is at work in ways that I cannot understand. I must trust the leaders of this school, this church, this mission organization, and this government.
Today I will return to the mural and to the boy, and we’ll see what happens.