Well, in yet another strange turn in this ministerial odyssey, I find myself this minute in the heart of Greenwich Village where I'm staying at the Alma Matthews House, which is a guest house owned by the Women's Division of the United Methodist Church. I just returned from a short walk where I ordered two slices of Two Boots Pizza where they have specialty pizzas named after celebrities and show business characters. I went with two slices of "The Dude" pizza, which had a bunch of cheeses and some sausage.
Now, "The Dude" abides. "The Dude" abides.
I also picked up a bottle of Boylan's Black Cherry Soda which was delicious and refreshing. Those Jones Soda people have got nothing on the good people of Boylan's. Absolutely nothing.
But you're probably wondering... what the heck are you doing in New York City?
It all started over a year ago. One day, late in the afternoon, almost evening, while I was sitting in my office, out of the blue I received a call from someone from UMCOR - the United Methodist Committee On Relief which is a missions organization of the United Methodist Church. Back in 2005, UMCOR, as a response to terrible flooding in Gonaive, Haiti, established an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) to do ongoing relief work after a long, long absence from what is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. By the spring of 2006, people at the UMCOR office here in New York, began to wonder what exactly they were going to do with the personnel (I think one person) on the ground in Haiti, particularly in the northern part of the island. You see, the Methodist Church in Haiti is well established in the southern third of Haiti because back in the 19th century, after Haiti won its independence, the Baptists, Episcopalians, and Methodists missionaries decided to split up the island into thirds for the purpose of evangelism. The Baptists took the north, the Episcopalians took the central highlands, and the Methodists took the south (including Port Au Prince, the country's biggest city). Most of our denomination's mission work takes place until this very day in southern Haiti.
Of course, nobody told me that bit of history back in 1993, when I went to Haiti on behalf of Shawnee to go see if there was any interesting mission work for us to do there We had no idea there were no Methodists in the part of Haiti I first visited. However, given the friends and contacts that were made that year, the question of denominational affiliation (to tell the truth) didn't seem all that important. So, for the past 14 years, Shawnee has largely worked with churches of various denominational backgrounds and small independent mission organizations to engage in a variety of projects throughout northern Haiti. And to be quite honest, we didn't really think too much about it....
until somehow, the folks at UMCOR got our church's name.
Apparently, the guy who called me from UMCOR knew a bit of our story, and because we'd been working in Haiti for a fairly long time, asked if we'd like to be a part of the visioning process for UMCOR's future work in the CapHaitian area. It sounded promising to me, so I said "yes". The guy said he would call back with more details about a "fact-finding trip", I hung up the phone, and never heard from him again.
Fast-forward to June 2007....
Upon arriving back to Shawnee from my one year sojourn to Asbury Seminary and the Beeson Program, I found in my desk the piece of paper with all the details I had written down from the phone call I had taken from UMCOR a year previous. Curious, through their website, I found UMCOR's number, and gave them a call to see if I could find the guy who had called me a year ago, and ask the question, "What happened?".
It did not take long find out that what happened was that the guy I talked to left UMCOR, and never passed our number to anyone else. But the person who answered the phone was nice enough, and patched me over to a guy named Sam Dixon, who he said could answer any questions I might have.
Sam Dixon is the head honcho at UMCOR, and when I told him my story of what had happened a year ago, what Shawnee had been doing in Haiti the past 13 years, and some of our hopes and dreams for the future, he asked if I'd be interested in coming to talk with him and some other folks some more. I agreed, realizing that such promises from UMCOR are probably not worth that much...
but low and behold, this time he called. Late last week, to be exact.
Thus, here I am, typing this post late at night in the city that never sleeps. Tomorrow, I'm told I'll be meeting with Sam, the doctor who is the head of UMCOR's medical division, and the Bishop of the Methodist Church of Haiti to talk about the plans the Methodist Church of Haiti and UMCOR have for the CapHaitian area. What will it lead to? I have no idea.
But, then again, you never know.... maybe God is getting ready to write the next chapter in our church's work in Haiti. I'll let you know when I find out.