It is 5:30am on Friday morning. I sit at the desk in the upstairs common area at the World Wide Village guest house in Porta Prince, Haiti. The last seven days have been an amazing experience. I am extremely humbled and grateful to Greg and Lori Ackerson for inviting me and making it possible for me to be part of this team.
The Journey reading for today is John 19:31-42. The disciples had just received a swift kick to the head (read about shokubuku in this post) when Jesus died. Today’s scene is the slow mournful process of taking Jesus’ dead body down from the cross, cleaning it up, wrapping it up, and placing it in a borrowed tomb so that everyone could observe the Sabbath rest.
I can only imagine how the disciples must have felt on that day. Slow and mournful…and retrospective. It is finished. Jesus’ work is done. What just happened?
Those are the questions we are asking ourselves on this team today. Our work in Haiti is finished for this week. Greg and Chrissy are staying for another week, but the rest of us return home today. Some of us may never return to this country.
What happened this week? Was God present? Did it make a difference? What was the point?
The answer to those questions will take a lifetime to unfurl. I would like to reflect on three events that happened this week that were meaningful to me.
I came on this trip, not as Pastor Steve, but as artist/pastor Steve. Some may argue that I am never not that guy. Granted. Perhaps it may be more accurate to say that I did not have any positional leadership roles on this trip and was allowed the privilege of focusing on one task.
The mural project was a learning experience, in which I got to learn the concept of degaje (read this post). The paint didn’t work the way I had envisioned, I didn’t have enough time to paint everything, but I was very pleased to work with a crew of my team members and some students from the school who helped paint. We couldn’t have brought the mural to the acceptable level of completion without all their diligent work.
The highlight of the mural experience, for me, was the moment at 1:00pm yesterday when I was able to stand before Pastor Joiassaint, the teachers, and many of the students and walk them through the life of Jesus by using the mural. It was the first time I had given a public address using a translator. It was a fusion of art, teaching, and the cross-cultural power of the Word of God. And it was a very special moment for me. Thank you, Lord for allowing me the privilege of having that experience and sharing the Gospel with these beautiful people.
I handed the mural over to Reggie and Phicorlympse. They have all the supplies and my blessing to finish it up however they see fit. Blessings on their efforts.
A Cross-Cultural Theological ConversationThe mural project also led to a highlight of my theological/Biblical Studies life. I wanted to write two phrases on the mural in Kreol, so I needed a translator. The first phrase was a direct scripture quote from John 15:1-5, so that was a fairly easy task.
The second phrase was a little more challenging and opened the door for a dynamic interchange between me, three translators, and one of our van drivers. Yes, it turns out that one of our van drivers is a pastor and is in theological school right now. How cool is that?
Here’s how it went down. I wanted to simply write the phrase “The Kingdom of God,” so I thought that we could find the Kreol version in Mark 1:15. We discovered that the word kingdom doesn’t appear in the Kreol version. One of the interpreters and I had a long discussion about it and she thought she understood what I was getting after, so she gave me a Kreol expression. I penciled it on the mural and then went over and started painting in the John 15 passage.
The next thing I know the van driver/pastor is having an intense conversation with another translator about the expression I had penciled in. I came over to them and learned that the phrase did not mean what I thought it meant and didn’t make any sense to the pastor. Then he and I got into a conversation about Mark 1:14-15. He thought that I was wrong when I said that Jesus spoke these words. He thought it was John the Baptist who spoke them. It took us a long time to look carefully at the text and find the subtle shift from John to Jesus. It was cool to see the realization light in his eyes.
The delayed response of working through a translator is both frustrating and fascinating at the same time. You’re never quite sure that what your intended hearer hears is what you actually said. So, you both nod and smile and pray for the work of the Holy Spirit in both of you.
The whole team of translators wrestled a little more and landed on just the right phrase. Wayo’m Bondye. The Kingdom of God. There was a moment when five of us were gathered around a printed Kreol Bible, and a digital French, English, and Greek Bible. It doesn’t get much better for this theology/Biblical Studies Geek.
The story that gripped my heart the most, however, was the drama that unfolded between me and a 15 year-old boy. I wrote about it in yesterday’s post. I did not see him all day yesterday. I was sure that I had crushed him and thought he stayed home from school to avoid me. My remorse created a shadow over my mural presentation. A little voice whispered in my ear, “you hypocrite. You tell these children that God loves them and that we love them, but you treated that boy so badly.”
The large crowd left. School was finished, and as I walked out of the office door, there he was. His head was hung low and he extended his arm to me, holding the T-shirt that I had given him on Monday. Thank God that Reggie, my translator all week, was right there. I won’t rehearse the details of the conversation, but I was able to talk to the boy and we were able to reconcile. He was afraid that I was angry with him and didn’t want to talk to him anymore. I asked him to forgive me for getting upset and making him worry. He repented for giving in to his friend and trying to play me.
We shook hands and started over. Then he put the T-shirt back on and we started painting. I gave him a quick lesson on how to use the brush and let him finish doing the detail work that I was racing to complete. I honestly couldn’t have finished without him.
Now, it is finished.
I am so grateful that I had an opportunity to reconcile with him, and that I had a good translator who understood the subtext that was happening in this relationship.
These two young men taught me a great deal about life this week. I feel so inadequate in this context. I feel so humbled that this community presses on in these conditions. Pastor Joiassaint works day in and day out to shepherd this flock with next to nothing. Yet, he smiles a presses on.
Last night we were asked what we think might be different in us when we return home. One thing that I confessed to the group is that I struggle with contentment. I have a nasty habit of always degrading our facilities at Grace. I compare our building to the three massive ELCA churches that are our neighbors and feel like the little orphan step child. I am ashamed of those thoughts when I think of this church and school in Williamson. I work in a palace compared to them.
My prayer is that I will understand a deeper meaning of contentment in the coming months. I am at a crossroads in my career and this trip was just what I needed to get perspective.
Again, I am humbled and grateful that I was able to come here to catch a small glimpse of life in Haiti. God bless Pastor Joaissaint, the children of Williamson, World Wide Village, Greg and Lori Ackerson, and the Grace2Haiti team for providing us all with this opportunity to share in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God, for the sake of the world.