Sunday, July 5, 2015

Bougainvillea and Barbed Wire

Let all those who seek the Lord *rejoice,* today, every day. Joy is to be the keynote of our lives. He calls us then to make an act of faith every time we would naturally be pulled down to the pit of joylessness, for there is an end set to the sin and sorrow and confusion of the world as well as to our own private trials. We only see today. He whom we worship sees tomorrow. [amy carmichael]

Here in Haiti I am brought closer to some recurring themes.. Life and death, hope and despair..

I was talking to a bold woman named Sister Judy the other day. She is a force to be reckoned with, and drives her Nissan truck through the streets of Tebarre and Port au Prince in a way that I wouldn't want to mess with if I were another driver on the road.. Squeezing between an inch of clearance around other drivers, gunning it over potholes on a partially completed road, deftly using her horn.. All of this is needed to drive safely through the free for all of driving here. 

She was talking about three stages of living in Haiti: a honeymoon stage where you come with hopes high and bright eyes about the possibility of making and being a difference, then anger or frustration or despair about the conditions and systems in place that you realize you can't change, and then (if you make it and don't leave) a greater strength and humility and ability to laugh about things that can help you stay here long-term.

One common thing I see foreigners frustrated with here is what can inaccurately mask as laziness or rudeness or stupidity on the part of Haitians.. On a closer glance, it seems to more accurately be difficulty with critical thinking skills. Educationally, the school system is taught in a rote system of memorization with a good deal of copying sentences or learning ideas, but without a chance to apply the ideas to a bigger picture. For example, in therapy it can lead to a lot of repetition of the same activity without trying to apply and generalize learning to new situations, or a therapist who gets stuck when a daily treatment schedule is presented. When a patient does not show up, they may just stop working for the 45 minutes instead of knowing to work with another patient or find something practical to do at work (also with cultural differences present with many of us foreigners coming from a high efficiency, work focused society- we are not always used to resting or taking moments to slow down). 

As one who loves Jesus, I get to hope in what lasts; to have a hope that endures; to stay present and work for change here and now, even if change is not yet seen, and to look at cultural differences that may impact the way I think change needs to come.. To live a life of love (as John Piper puts it, love is an overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others).

Things I am learning: it's good for us to not have everything we need. It makes us depend on each other with our real needs and practice faith in God to ultimately meet them, and can allow us to be more generous ourselves when we live in community that supports this freedom of generosity. 

We heard fireworks last night coming from the U.S. Embassy in Tebarre, and I was reminded of great gifts and challenges that come from living in the U.S. One thing I am especially grateful for back at home is that there is relative safety- we can walk outside our houses (in many but not all places) without a second thought of getting shot or robbed or kidnapped, and go to sleep at night without a bug net without worrying about malaria. The tap water is safe to drink- no possibility of cholera or a parasite... 

Death is a more present reality here- many masses are funeral masses, with the coffin(s) and grieving family present in the room, culturally expressing grief much more openly. We hear reports of security guards getting a bullet to the head after being ambushed on the way to work.

In the midst of health work, we see kids with cancer, kids who have been orphaned or abandoned by their families, young men with HIV, kids with disabilities who are being cared for basically, but who receive little stimulation in their homes.. Left to amuse themselves.. And I am grateful for them to have a home, to have food and medical attention, and even therapy sessions each week.. Compared to being left on the streets to die, it is a big step up, but also I long for a better quality of life for these kids as well.  

Yesterday, Sister Judy drove my brother and I to meet up with the Missionaries of Charity, some beautiful, patient, loving nuns. The drive with the nuns was full of their prayers and singing, and we managed to avoid close accidents and squeeze our van down a completely packed marketplace in City Soliel with a large truck coming the other way.. Women carrying large bags of rice on their heads, a man running out of the way with his wheelbarrow as he was getting stuck between our van and the truck, the smell of burning trash coming from lightly smoking piles lining the sides of the road.. 

And then for about 6 hours of sweaty medical work, meeting the basic health care needs of people who can't access public health, which costs money. The nuns do this three times a week, and there were several hundred people coming through the doors on this day.. One section was a wound care clinic- treating burns, cleaning out wounds.. The other main section was a health check up center with medication dispensed as needed.. People with little of every medical malady you could imagine walked through the doors and it was noisy with crying and as hot as you can imagine, but I saw great beauty in the work that the nuns and volunteers are doing; their love and patience and faithfulness in this hard work is inspiring. They attempt to teach as they care for individuals' health needs (about wound care, how to prevent HIV, etc.); they caught a man stealing and had to talk with him about it; a Haitian doctor and healthcare volunteer give up their Saturday mornings to work with the sisters; we started the medical work with prayer and engaged in practical love for the people who came.. 

When I drive to Tebarre each morning to do therapy sessions with kids, we pass by beautiful bougainvillea flowers, growing over barbed wire and sharp glass fences. What I have learned so far about haiti is there is this stark contrast between very sharp, broken pieces of society and also great beauty and hope here- like the locals taking action to work with kids with disabilities and provide free health care to those who need it. 

Today in the midst of whatever you face in your life and things that you may feel powerless to change, may you be full of the enduring hope and love and strength found in God. 

Some photos from the kids:

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