One January morning in 1994 (or 95... I can't really remember anymore) I showed up to work on a Monday about an hour late. I no more sat down in my office when Joseph popped his head in and said he needed to talk to me. I popped into his office, finding that the other associate at the time (the incomparable Chris Heckaman) was already seated and waiting for us. Joseph closed the door, and took a seat behind his desk.
"Bryan, do you know Bob May? He's the step-father of one of the girls in your youth group. For years he's been traveling to Haiti to do mission work (laying block mainly), and last week he invited me to go with him on his next trip. I can't get away right now, so one of you two need to go in my place."
So, we kicked the subject around a little bit. In short, Chris wanted to go, and I didn't, but Chris and Lisa were expecting a child any day. This was back in the days before cell phones were common in the states, let alone Haiti, so there was a real chance that if Chris went we wouldn't be able to notify him if Lisa went into labor....
thus, all eyes turned toward me.
"Bryan, Bob left yesterday for Florida. I have a ticket waiting for you at Toledo Metro. You leave at 6pm tonight."
Have you ever called your wife to tell her that you were unexpectedly leaving for ten days in Haiti, today? Well, that gives you the idea of what kind of day it was. I had never been out of the country before. I didn't own a passport. You could get into Haiti in those days with a driver's licence and a certified copy of your birth certificate.... but I didn't have one of those either. I had to throw together a bunch of stuff so the youth ministry could function while I was gone, drive to Columbus to get the birth certificate, pack, leave for Toledo, and fly out to Florida.
Funny thing is that when I came to work that morning, I'm pretty sure the only thing the only thing on my mind was.... "I wonder if Joseph is going to take us out to lunch today?"
Have you ever been to a part of the world that largely missed the industrial revolution? Where guys pull hand carts loaded with engine parts and oxen pull carts piled high with sugar cane? Where sewage runs down the side of a hill in an open ditch and 17 people can ride in one Toyota pick-up truck? Have you ever smelled that smell, and felt the grit that covers your body in a place like Haiti?
The first time you do so, it's more than a little overwhelming. I guess the sad thing is that the more times you go back, the more used to it you become. Maybe the world has gotten a little too used to places like this existing the way they do, day after day after day after day.
But I'll never forget that first step off that plane, looking at an airport that looked like an old rusty King Burger. I'll never forget my first trip through CapHaitian... going past the market section and seeing people pick through a huge pile of shoes... little kids giving me the finger while smiling.... women carrying huge baskets filled with stuff on their heads....
and my first trip to the market!
The grocery catered pretty much exclusively to missionaries and members of the local bourgeois class who could afford the canned food and imported fresh produce. A security guard leaned on a shotgun so old and rusty that as a weapon it's only use was to be swung or thrown at someone trying to steal something. And there was this old woman, obviously having suffered polio as a child, at the front door, begging. I didn't have much cash on me. Heck, at the time I think I was making like $10k a year while both Aimee and I were working on degrees. We were, by far, the poorest family at our church, and possibly the poorest to live in Shawnee. But I slipped her a couple of bucks (American) as I walked to truck.
"She'll use that money to eat for the next week", the missionary asked.
That was the moment I discovered I wasn't poor. Spiritually poor, maybe, but not fiscally poor. No way.
I met Daniel that year on the worksite at Borde. Bob had somehow connected with a little church literally in the middle of nowhere, and the couple of weeks we were there, the plan was to build an outhouse (which meant lots of digging) and the construction of depot that could be locked. The idea was that by building the latrine and a locking depot, this little church which had a little school, could now qualify to receive food from an organization like World Vision or Feed the Children. This way kids could receive at least one hot meal every day they went to school, which would be good for the kids, and good for school attendance. Daniel was a local villager who had been attending this small church, and because we didn't have enough manpower to get this job done, he was one of the local people hired to help complete the project.
Daniel spoke no English, and I barely speak English, let alone Creole, but I think because he has the same name as my Dad, I took an interest in him, and he in me. Pretty soon we were talking and joking around. He made fun of my belly and the fact that I seemed to always be tired, ("Big Buke Fat-i-gue"). I made funny faces and sang songs I made up using random Creole words ("Big Cement Duck Girl Loud Bicycle" being a favorite) to make him laugh. At the end of the week, knowing how much I like grapefruit, he brought me a bag from a tree his family owned. I gave him my shoes, all my clothes, and all the money left in my wallet.
I mean, what else could I do. It meant getting off the plane in Detroit, in January, in a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and a pair of flipflops. I also had to call Joseph to beg for some money so I could bail my suburban out of long-term parking. So, OK, maybe I wasn't thinking real clearly at the moment I handed over my Nike hightops and jeans to Daniel.
But then again... maybe I was thinking clear as a bell.
That year I sang "Lord of the Dance" at a worship service, which got everyone going. Bob May, until this day, asks me when I'm going to sing "Lord of the Dance" again. Ever heard the chorus to that song?
Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance said he
and I'll lead you all wherever you may be
and I'll lead you all in the dance said he
I don't know how, exactly, the dance he did on that Cross, that horrible dance where, bruised and bloodied, he had to lift himself up on the nails driven through his hands and feet in order to breathe, led to me dancing in Haiti while singing that verse.... but it did. And ever since that day I've been helping to support Daniel and his family. I don't do enough for him. I never have. But somehow his kids have been able to stay in school, and he's always had a roof over his head. It has never been much a roof. A roof made of thatch. over a dirt floor. But a roof, none the less. So he does all the struggling to survive... I just help ease the burden.
Well, last year, after the church built a home in Borde that now houses a single mother with two handicapped children, Flora DeVoe was so moved she decided to make a donation in her beloved husband Bud's name, to build another house in Haiti. You see, Bud lost a long battle with cancer a couple of years ago, and the wounds for Flora are still open (Note to Flora: I'm sorry to make to cry right now. I truly am.) She was looking for healing, and since Bud had made his living building houses with Flora's father, there was something about building a house in his honor for someone who really, really needed a decent house, that helped ease the pain. A balm, if you will, for the sore.
Well, they say there's a Balm in Gilead..... and the healing this brought to Flora, the excitement the idea brought to her, ended up spilling over in stories to her large Italian family. Who, of course, responded with more money to build more houses.
That and a large meal. Flora's family likes to eat together at large meals.
Well, the picture above includes three people. The fellow in the yellow shirt is Flora's son, Matt who was one of about a dozen people from the church who made the decision to go to Haiti with this year's building team. To the far left is Flora, who wanted to see the house built on the love she had for her husband.
And in the middle..... there's Daniel. He's the one who will be living in Bud's house.
(ah, stupid tears... must be kinda dusty in this old carrel)
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which although is the smallest seed of all, when planted grows into a huge plant that provides rest, shade and protection for all the birds of the air."
Yep. That's exactly right. That's what it is.
Note: If you'd like to contribute to Shawnee's mission to Haiti to maybe drill a well, build a home, or provide a scholarship for a child at the school at Borde, or if you are a pastor/lay-person looking for a hands-on mission opportunity for your church to get involved in, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll hook you up.