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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Social Commentators Can Be Such Blow-Hards

Michael Walker is probably a really smart guy; he's got more books published than I have so far, so I'll give him that. The problem with social commentating is that it's basically an opinion game. And to be honest, I'd never heard of Mr. Walker before his interview on the NPR program All Things Considered this afternoon.

Walker's latest work, laboriously entitled, "What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born" teases us with the tagline: An epic joyride through three history-making tours in 1973 that defined rock and roll superstardom—the money, the access, the excess—forevermore. The title alone nearly makes a good paragraph. I'll grapple with the idea of whether a book's tagline should be shorter than the title later.

Led Zeppelin on tour in 1973 because the jacket cover can't be on this blog (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

I know I'm skating on thin ice with this blog subject. I'm a born-again Christian who may be committing at least a minor sin by confessing I still listen to the occasional Zeppelin or Who song - although I will also admit the playlist has been trimmed back a little from the bad old days due to some of their lyrical excesses.

Ordinarily, this subject is unlikely to even appear on the Stream of Consciousness radar. But as I listened to the interview between Walker and All Things Considered host Audie Cornish, one statement made me sit up and take notice. When asked why he chose this particular year and these particular bands, Walker explains, "But there's a very specific reason I did choose them: because 1973, unbeknownst to any of them, was going to be their peak year."


Okay, I'll grant you Alice Cooper, whose 1973 Billion Dollar Babies was among my first introductions to serious rock and roll. Cooper always seemed like a bit of a fringe act anyway. He's much cooler now as a semi-retired rocker playing in charity celebrity golf tournaments with Michael Douglas and Kenny G.

Alice has gone from weird songs about babies to helping real kids succeed in life

But Zeppelin? The Who? On the downhill slide as early as 1973?

I started high school in 1973. Let's take a look at what these guys produced after the seminal album tour markers that Walker lays down:

Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy
The Who: Quadrophenia

What came next?

Led Zeppelin
  • Physical Graffiti - 1975
  • The Song Remains the Same - 1976
    • I know, this was a live album with no original material, but any album with a 26:53 version of Dazed and Confused that takes up a whole album side has got to merit some consideration based solely on Jimmy Page's guitar work
The Who
  • By the Numbers - 1975
  • Who are You - 1978 (Would CSI ad nauseum even be popular without The Who?)
  • It's Hard - 1981
Led Zeppelin sadly suffered the loss of their iconic drummer John Bonham in 1980. Who knows where the 80's would've taken Zeppelin? 

Walker's book is no doubt chock full of record sales statistics, key insights regarding the difference in audiences between the 60's and 70's, and, as the NPR interview highlights, a general flaunting of wealth by these vanguard acts (and those that followed) vs. the 1960's ethos of the squeaky-clean public images with perhaps just a hint of bad boy lurking behind the curtain. I'm assuming he means with the exception of Elvis, who by the 70's was getting a tad ostentatious.

Elvis Presley circa 1973

Maybe Elvis had caught the conspicuous excess bug by 1973. Or maybe he was just trying to hang on to the unheard of adoration that he almost single-handedly kicked off, and that was whisked away by those mop-topped lads from Liverpool in the 60's? I don't think anyone who lived through the transition from the 1960's to the 1970's would argue that there wasn't a sea change. Walker points out that the world was moving from peace and love to, "The Alice Cooper band, from the beginning, they were all about trying to explode the hippie myth. You know, we were into switchblades and girls and limousines and guns and we didn't apologize for it; we liked it."

It's true that Mr. Walker focuses on the 1973 tours of the three acts he highlights in the book. Maybe they did set the tone for the rest of the decade as well as sound the call as he supposes for Zeppelin and the others - to paraphrase Tolkien - to go quietly into the West. For me, there was still a lot of life in the old dogs yet - I don't think I'm alone in believing that Physical Graffiti was every bit as powerful as anything Led Zeppelin had released previously.

It may be theologically shaky, but the sentiment is there. 

Oh, Lord, deliver me
All the wrong I've done
You can deliver me, Lord

In My Time of Dying - 1975 - see Psalm 41:3-4

I'm not sure Plant, Page and company bought into the sentiment; maybe they knew - as Walker opines - that there path was all downhill from here...

"Great X; so what's your point?"

I don't know. Maybe I've been on the downhill slide since 1973, too. But I don't think so. And I don't think that the bands Mr. Walker uses as his protagonists were either. But like any other social commentator, good or bad, that's just my opinion.

What do you think?


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Obedience: The Ultimate Gordian Knot

What is obedience? Obedience is defined by the Oxford English dictionaries as, "compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority."

Just underneath the Oxford online dictionary's definition of obedience are a few usages:

  • children were taught to show their parents obedience
  • obedience to moral standards 
  • observance of a monastic rule: vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience

As a parent I know first-hand that teaching obedience to children can be maddening at times. From current events we can derive that obedience to moral standards can be widely interpreted. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the majority of people on Earth would deem the observance of monastic rule to be peculiar, if not downright pointless.

The Rule of Law which typically is held up as our beacon for an orderly society, by definition, demands obedience from all citizens. Throughout history - especially recent - we have engaged in a tug of war over laws by and for the majority vs. laws by and for the minority. I could write for years on these subjects alone but that is not my purpose today.

Representation of a Gordian Knot

The legend, myth, fable, history (call it what you will) of the Gordian Knot comes to fruition in the 4th century BC when Alexander the Great arrives in Phyrgia and, in a bit of a slippery timeline, learns of a prophecy wherein the solver of the so-called Gordian Knot shall rule Asia. Encompassing eagles, ox-carts, various empires and oracles, the Gordian Knot has come to represent that which is unsolvable. In fact, the Gordian Knot has become so ingrained in our society that even those who may not know the original legend might certainly know it in a more modern guise:

Was Captain Kirk a cheater, or just creative?

I suspect college students from the late 1960's onward have tried to employ the Kobayashi Maru defense, when confronted with their own cheating, to little avail. It's doubtful that University ethics committees are Star Trek devotees.

If humanity will ever live together in harmony - and freedom - as a global society, there must be some set of laws that govern us. By definition, we - all of us - must be obedient to a common set of instructions (Pirates will think of them more as guidelines). According to the Roman statesman Cicero, "We are all servants of the laws in order that we may be free."

In the Gospel of John, Jesus seeks to illustrate the ultimate freedom to His followers:

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” [John 8:31-32 (NASB)]

And further along, "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." [John 8:36 (NASB)]

Critics of Christianity will point out that having to follow a bunch of meaningless rules and customs that (they believe) are arbitrary and capricious is an impingement on their freedom, not to mention their free will. Heck all of us believe that about the speed limits, don't we? If we all had our way, the speed limit wouldn't be...

To infinity and beyond...

One of the most powerful examples of obedience in the Bible smacked me in the mouth this morning during my morning study. David had been anointed King in place of Saul (who had his own ideas about obedience) and after a time, had the opportunity to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. 

Didn't you guys ever go to Sunday School?

Apparently, the script writers for Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't go to Sunday School. Either that or they took some serious poetic license. The message from the movie was that basically the Ark could act as an army's own little portable Death Star - which is why Hitler wanted it. The facts are a little different - okay, A LOT different. In 2 Samuel 6, David takes thirty thousand of his chosen men and heads off to pick up the Ark of the Covenant and bring it back home to Jerusalem. They put the Ark on a new cart and during the ride the oxen threaten to tip the Ark over. A man named Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark, places his hand on it, and BAM, he dies.

David gets his crank on about it and decides to leave the Ark right there, at the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (surely one of the happiest men in the Bible after this incident).

After a while, David cools his head and takes stock of what happened. In 1 Chronicles 15, we see that David finally does what he should've done in the first place and goes to get the Ark with the Priests and the Levites as God had originally instructed.
  • Exodus 25:14-15 - “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it."
  • Deuteronomy 10:8At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name until this day.
And this brings us back to Obedience. David, Uzzah and everyone else either forgot or ignored God's instructions concerning transportation of the Ark of the Covenant. Whether we want to believe it or not, there is only one Holy being in the Universe, and that is God. He told Moses, and Moses told everyone else, "Don't touch the Ark or you will die."

No complicated rules or rituals there; if this, then that. Cause and effect. 

Obeying God is something we have to work at every single day. Even David, a man after God's own heart, had to be continually reminded of who God is and how He wants us to live. There are no shortcuts, no Alexandrian Solutions, no Kobayashi Maru, when it comes to seeking God's will and being obedient to His instructions.

Uzzah forgot that, and in a moment of perhaps unconscious reflex, he was disobedient. To our modern sensibilities that is horrible. But go back to the time of your childhood. Think about a rule that your parents gave you that, maybe, you didn't always adhere to. How about, "Don't cross the street without looking both ways."?

What were the possible consequences of (even unconsciously) breaking that rule? One would be a small child getting hit by a car and dying.

None of us wish for a child to die. David didn't wish for Uzzah to die. But both of these illustrations speak to the need for obedience. Remember Oxford's second usage that I noted above:

Obedience to moral standards...

I have heard people outraged by the cruelty of God - a God who would kill Uzzah just because he was trying to steady the Ark. When we try to wrap our modern moral interpretations around an immutable law, oftentimes it just doesn't compute. In fact, we don't even like the idea of immutable laws. Humans always look for the loophole; we try to find a reason why a particular rule should not apply to us. 

When questioned about his solution to the Kobayashi Maru test, (soon to be) Captain Kirk said, "I don't believe in no-win situations."

Sorry Jim; sometimes you just have to play by the rules.

What do you think?


Friday, July 26, 2013

And we're not invited...

I took the blue pill this morning.

The blue pill is my malaria medicine. I have to take it for four weeks after returning from Haiti. I practically bathed in bug spray during our mission but I did get a few mosquito bites. Malaria is one rabbit hole I do not want to go down.

I drove to work this morning in the normal construct. With the windows down, I enjoyed temperatures in the low sixties (in July!!) and listened to Morning Edition on NPR. One story which interested me discussed the new Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani and the ongoing problem of Iran.

This is not Rhode Island

Based on some lazy research this morning I found that Iran is reported to be the 18th-largest country in the world in terms of area at 636,372 square miles, with a population of around 77 million. The official name of The Country Formerly Known as Persia is The Islamic Republic of Iran.

They're a republic; we're a republic. We should get on like a house on fire, right?

Not according to Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan policy institute. Iran is vulnerable right now with a myriad of economic, social, and political issues affecting everyday living for the people on the street and the status of Iran as a country of influence, both regionally and globally.

Agent Dubowitz

Mr. Dubowitz therefore believes it is the perfect time to "go after" Iran's foreign exchange reserves, exports, and its currency, in order to bring the regime closer to the brink of economic collapse. The reason for taking Iran out behind the woodshed? To force the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, to make meaningful concessions, most prominently with regard to Iran's nuclear program.

Iran is a plague and we are the cure?

Hubris: Noun; Excessive pride or self-confidence.

We need smart men and women in our government. We need smart men and women in positions of influence that allow us to shape national and foreign policies that both help America and allow us to help other nations - our global neighbors. So what message are we sending our children, our fellow Americans and our allies around the world by adopting a policy of economic earth scorching toward Iran?

Agent Smith - I mean Mr. Dubowitz - has worked in venture capital, technology management and law. He has a masters in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, and law and MBA degrees from the University of Toronto. The collective result of which has led him to believe that we can bully our neighbors into doing what we want them to do.

And what about Iran? What is their reaction to the sanction-o-rama that Mr. Dubowitz wants to escalate? Not surprisingly, we're not on the guest list for Mr. Rouhani's inauguration.

If I didn't know better, I'd think that I took the red pill this morning.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

About that writing thing...

The tagline I use with Stream of Consciousness is, "Writing, random thoughts, football (soccer), and more..." I think the following qualifies in the writing and random thoughts categories...

One of life's little speed bumps that I struggle with is how to present myself as a writer. Outside of my writing group - the most excellent Written Remains Writer's Guild - most people respond with a variation of, "Really?" when I mention that I'm a writer. In fact, I could add Professional Writer and/or Author titles in there if I was feeling especially proud of myself on a given day.

What qualifies me to represent myself as an author or professional writer?

The number of original documents I have penned at various jobs over the years is too numerous to catalog. In addition, I have been paid - in some cases quite well - to write specific documents; not as an adjunct to my normal day-to-day duties but solely based on my experience and ability as a writer. In fact, I've had a company lay me off and then call me back a week later to offer a freelance writing gig.

Alas, they did not offer me another full-time position, but they did pay me quite handsomely for a one-hundred page product guide. In my guise as a professional writer, most of my paying jobs have been of the technical writing ilk. I'll never turn down a good technical writing opportunity - that's a hint for anyone reading this blog, by the way - but I'm afraid my (writing) heart lies in fiction.

Unless you've been on a lunar expedition you may have noticed that I am recently returned from a mission trip to Haiti. Beginning with Day 1 and carrying on through Day 8, you are free to amuse yourself for hours (or more likely several minutes) by reading the blog series chronicling our trip. We had very limited Internet access during the week which led to me writing each day's entry after our return. But it was during our week in-country when I logged onto Facebook one evening and discovered a notice from the most excellent editors at Smart Rhino Publications indicating that my short story The Fire of Iblis (pronounced Ib-lee) had been accepted into their upcoming Someone Wicked anthology, scheduled for publication in late 2013.

Who's a paperback writer?

Technically speaking, I could still refer to myself as an author even without any publishing credits. Were I to finally complete my (newly re-branded) New Kingdoms novel series, I would still be an author even if not one page saw the proverbial light of day. However, as I alluded to in one of my Haiti blogs, I am one of those odd sorts that actually wants other people to read what I write.

The writing bug tends to come and go with me; mostly depending on how busy I am with work, home and church (not necessarily in that order). But despite incredibly long layoffs from creative writing that normal humans would not comprehend, I continue to have the current three volumes of New Kingdoms constantly on my mind in some way, shape or form. As of this particular moment in time, New Kingdoms will contain the novels:

  1. Night's Edge
  2. Dawn's Light
  3. Sunset's Fire
The Written Remains Writer's Guild has provided me an incredible amount of practical and moral support over the years and I can not adequately express my gratitude to Joanne and my guild-mates. 

In closing, I'll leave you with a slightly edited version of the best writing advice I ever received:

Apply butt to chair.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 8

This is the last post in my Haiti 2013 blog series. Thank you to all the (few) folks who have taken the time to read my musings from this year's mission. As is fitting after a hard day relaxing (see Haiti 2013 - Day 7), I overslept. Although early by some standards, I woke at about 5:40 am - about an hour later than normal for the week. Once I gathered my gear and headed out to brush teeth and climb to the roof, I determined that today was Saturday - and my phone alarm had been programmed for Monday through Friday. At least I hadn't slept through the alarm!

If yesterday was weird, today was bittersweet. I missed my wife fiercely, especially since she had been scheduled to come to Haiti with me; until a second rotator cuff surgery put the brakes on her mission. I had been unable to connect with her via email or Facebook during the sporadic Internet access moments available over the last couple of days. Looking out over the countryside during another incredible sunrise, I was struck again by the beauty of Haiti. Mission of Hope is situated between the mountains and the sea. From the roof, I could look west and see the sparkling blue-green waters; to the east rose the mountains I've posted photos of earlier in the week.

Why do we crave St. Croix or Antigua and not Haiti?

I thought I would use today's blog to highlight a couple of things that are awesome about MoH.

I know it sounds corporate, but...

One of the BIG issues I wrestled with earlier in the week was how corporate MoH comes off as at times. I live in a corporate world and there are a lot of things I just don't like about it. Arriving at MoH and getting vision briefings, films about the goals and objectives of MoH, etc. was initially somewhat of a turn-off; it just wasn't what my brain had been programmed to believe was a heart-felt mission.

However, as I worked in Haiti through the week, I thought about the MoH mission and about the core resolutions that accompany their vision statement.

  1. Relational Proclamation
  2. Evangelistic Saturation
  3. Indigenous Mobilization
  4. Holistic Transformation
  5. Excellent Implementation
For everyone who reads these, I'm sure there will be one or more that will either turn you off, make you scratch your head or just leave you saying, "What?"

My experiences led me to focus on number 3: Indigenous Mobilization

I had been up close and personal to exactly why that one is in there. From the men at Bercy who stopped our truck and blocked the road because they were upset by the perception that a bunch of Blancos were taking away their work, to Mr. Evans in Guitton, wondering why he couldn't get a job as a driver at MoH.

Indigenous Mobilization means that MoH will do everything in their power to have each and every ministry and community service area staffed and managed by local Haitians. In a way, it's a little like home. These days we see a lot of immigrant labor working on construction sites. But it's the American residents, staff, leadership, etc. that take over when the facilities or homes are completed.

The Mission of Hope clinic

For example, pictured above is the MoH clinic on the main campus at Titanyen. The clinic is staffed and run 100% by Haitians - Haitian doctors, nurses, techs, etc. While there is more of a North American leadership presence on the construction and maintenance sides of the operation, it is very small when compared to the Haitian people who run the school, hospital, orphanages, etc. Even the Bible school that is run weekly throughout the summer is taught and led by young Haitian men and women. 

Sure, the vision statement, mission statement and core resolutions sound way too corporate to be associated with a thriving ministry organization, but resolution number five may be the most important of all from a success standpoint: Excellent Implementation.

Sometime around 1150 AD, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs" or "Hell is full of good wishes and desires." 

It is believed that this is the genesis of our modern proverb, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

How many well-meaning ministries, missions and organizational initiatives fail because they believe just because they're making a good go of it, things will be well?

Mission of Hope has not entered into Haiti lightly. They are there to make a lasting, meaningful impact on the lives of every man, woman and child in Haiti. They will not be successful merely because they have good intentions. Success requires excellence. It's easy to carry around the old, "Close enough," ethos in Haiti, but MoH does not measure itself and the impact on communities it serves by, "Good enough."

When we were digging trenches at Bercy and filling them with gravel and re-bar ahead of the Haitian workers pouring cement, we used the transit over and over again to ensure that the footers we were digging were exactly the right depth at each and every point. We had several instances of a trench being too shallow or too deep by just a couple of inches. We could have said, "That's close enough," but that's not how MoH does things. Imagine if we were haphazard in our approach to laying those building footers; how confident would we be in our work if, several years from now, the completed training center was full of Haitian men and women training to be Pastors and there was another earthquake or hurricane? How would we feel if that building collapsed because of a poorly laid foundation?

Excellent Implementation

The sign above sits in front of the main MoH campus. L'espoir (the Hope) that so many Haitian men, women and children have in Titanyen, Leveque, Cabaret, Bercy, Guitton and other communities nearby is symbolized by the mission that MoH carries out each and every day - and by the way that mission is carried out.

Beyond the vision statements and core resolutions, beyond the vision film and the interns who can recite all the corporate tenets of MoH, is something larger than all of us. If you look closely at the bottom of the sign, you will see some words in French, which translate to:

How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God.

We were in Haiti to lay some new foundations, but every single thing that MoH does is based on the greatest foundation we have in this life, and the next.

God bless you, and God bless the people of Haiti.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 7

Day seven in Haiti was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. All this week, I've been doing my level best to compress as many blessings, struggles, grace-filled moments, examples of God's mercy, thoughts, and anecdotes into blog-form as possible. Today's post highlights what was the weirdest day: Friday, July 12th.

The standard rotation at Mission of Hope is for teams to arrive and depart on Saturdays and Wednesdays. The threat of Tropical Storm Chantal threw us a curve ball, moving the Wednesday rotation to Thursday. Although we did not see any significant impact from the storm, there were some flight cancellations and travel delays for the Wednesday teams.

I bring all this up to highlight how we were sitting around on Friday morning waiting to go to the beach, while all the Wednesday teams (who had actually arrived the day before on Thursday) were loading up to head out to the work sites.

The beginning of Friday started out pretty much just like the rest of the week. Slide out from under the mosquito netting at about 4:45 am, head over to the communal facilities to brush teeth and then make my way up to the guest house roof for early morning prayers, contemplation and a little exercise. Round about 6:30, I was back down on the porch enjoying a tasty cup of Haitian coffee, eating breakfast, writing in my journal, and wishing I was going to a work site instead of our chosen destination.

No firearms but plenty of souvenir vendors!

If I was in Haiti on mission, serving God and the Haitian people through construction projects, building relationships, Bible school or whatever, what on earth was I doing on a bus to the Wahoo Bay Beach Club? Apparently it's standard practice for the Saturday mission teams to spend most of the day there. I wasn't the only one who was a little uncomfortable with this. There was no doubt that we had put in a strong week of work but did we really need a day off to recoup?

Kenèp fruit

One of the first things some people did when getting off the bus at Wahoo Bay was to get after some Kenèp fruit from the trees behind where we parked. Kenèp is a summer fruit, called Mamonsillo fruit in English. The fruit comes in berries a little smaller than a golf ball, with an outer skin that splits easily. Inside, a sweet, sticky fruit wraps around a fairly large, hard pit. The fruit doesn't offer much juice, but is more of a candy snack like the ubiquitous kan (sugar cane).

We were given wristbands to ensure that we were authorized and pretty much had the run of the place. Extras (think: stuff we had to pay extra for) included fresh stone crabs or lobster if we preferred seafood for lunch, Jet Ski rides ($75 an hour? No thanks!!), boat rides, snorkeling, and a swarm of souvenir vendors that would've made the Biblical locust plague jealous.

If I could make $75 an hour with an old Jet Ski, I'd probably thank Jesus too.

Beautiful, but not a lot of beach...

It took me most of the day and a chat with Lester, the oldest souvenir vendor on the beach, to figure out that having a regular stream of missionaries coming out to Wahoo Bay every week was pretty good for the local economy. I asked Lester - while I perused his black coral necklaces - what life had been like for him thirty years before. In lilting, Caribbean English he said, "There was nothing then. Now, the missionaries are the tourists."

I closed the deal on a nice necklace for my wife, even getting some advice on how to use baby oil to clean and polish the black coral as needed. Lester wandered off in search of more missionary tourists and I headed to the open-air bar to enjoy a refreshing Diet Coke on the rocks - the first drink I'd had with ice in it for a week!

It's the simple pleasures that make life worth living, so they say.

I spent the rest of the day putzing around the club, shooting some hoops on the half-basketball court and even taking a brief but refreshing dip in the pool. Around 3:30 we all changed back into suitable clothes and climbed aboard the bus for the ride back to MoH. As we drove south on Route National #1 I was fortunate to snap the picture below...the highlight of the day:

You just can't make this stuff up...

I wish I'd had the time to explore the Obama Beach Hotel; I can't find a web site for it (like the more upscale Wahoo Bay has) but there are plenty of pictures and other articles about it in the blogosphere.

The rest of Friday was back to normal. We had a dry spaghetti dinner and spent time together as a team unpacking the week and sharing our thoughts and experiences. One thing I've learned from my three trips to Haiti: you will bond with your teammates.

Tomorrow will be my last Haiti blog in this series. But for now, I will be thinking of Lester and the people that live around Wahoo Bay who depend on short term missionaries like me to make their living.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 6

This time last week, I was finishing up breakfast and saying final goodbyes to fellow mission teams and staff at Mission of Hope in Titanyen, Haiti. All this week, I've been doing my level best to compress as many blessings, struggles, grace-filled moments, examples of God's mercy, thoughts, and anecdotes into blog-form as possible. Today's post recounts some of these things from Day 6: July 11th.

Thursday morning stole upon us quietly, just as each one before it had done. As I rolled out of bed, deftly negotiating the white netting which protected me from the midnight blood suckers, I thought to myself, "Three days of construction work hasn't taken the toll on me that I expected."

He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. [Isaiah 40:29]

Still, I felt the need to stretch and exercise in preparation for the day which loomed mysteriously, our fate entwined with the path of Tropical Storm Chantal. Were we going to bunker down? Were we going to be called upon for disaster relief? I listened to the morning as I slipped a Bible and toothbrush into my backpack. There was a slight breeze blowing through the mosquito netting which covered the doorway, and I could still hear the distant drone of the big diesel generator. Everything sounded normal...
Where was Chantal?

I made my way up to the roof and found all the wooden benches turned upside down and placed neatly in rows, side by side. Those wonderful interns had taken care of some storm preparations after we had dozed off last night. Bless them.

However, absent a strong morning breeze, I could detect no threatening signs of impending doom in the morning sky. It seemed overcast, but the glowering thunderheads of yesterday afternoon did not bulge menacingly from the pre-dawn darkness as I would have expected.

I picked up a bench and carried it over to my favorite spot - the one that allowed me to lean against one of the stone supports and lift my eyes to the east in anticipation of another beautiful sunrise. As day broke, the scattered clouds fled and Chantal was - apparently - no more. I marveled at how God had spared Haiti from what would've been a pretty serious tropical event. Others will have different opinions of why the storm drifted off to the south and died somewhere in the Caribbean, but as the cool breeze came down off the mountain, I knew.

A day like any other day...

At breakfast, we spoke to Derek (our intern) and we had a choice to either go and help with Bible school - which had been running all week - or help out down at the Depot, which also serves as the Motor Pool/Garage. Having been in Haiti twice before to teach Bible school (among other things), I was pulled in that direction, but I knew that one of the key benefits of Bible school would be missing: relationships.

There had been a team of people working Bible schools all week, both at the main MoH campus and up at Bercy. I didn't want to "do" Bible school this morning just to check a box. I wanted to serve where God called me to serve. Amazingly, this ended up being helping Kirk and Jonathan in the Motor Pool. My friends will know that I am NOT a mechanic.


From my earliest attempts at being handy with my older brother's Erector Set to working on my bicycles and even today, if I take something apart and put it back together, I'll have parts left over. Maybe that's why God wanted me to work with Kirk and Jonathan - they were handy men who can sit there and figure out how something works and take a bucket of parts that the Depot supervisor gave us and put them back together.

"Can you guys get this starter working for that Polaris ATV over there?"

Jonathan replies, "We'll give it our best shot."

The Depot Supervisor hands us a pile of metal and wires and walks off.

Kirk takes the pile and, while Jonathan and I are working on a 4-wheeler with a sticky throttle and high idle, works out how they go back together to create an actual Polaris starter. It was pretty exciting when we hooked a 12-volt battery charger up to that sucker and the rotor started spinning. I was among men!

After lunch I had another decision to make: head back to the Motor Pool or join up with the team from North Carolina (Derek's other charges for the week) and ride out to Cabaret for some more Village Time. I had a productive morning in the Motor Pool but felt God calling me to get on the bus and go to Cabaret.

There is still work to be done...

We parked in front of an empty school and disembarked. We had enough folks to divide into two teams and as people began to congregate in their comfortable peer groups, something felt wrong. We had worked with Debbie, Deborah, Vince and the rest of the North Carolina team when we had visited Guitton; they were great people and I felt like we needed to mix things up a little bit as we prepared to walk the city of Cabaret. With our translator Emmanuel, a new intern (Deon), Debbie, Vince, Sheila (from NC), and myself and Keith from WHBC, we set off.

Emmanuel was more knowledgeable of the local area and was our guide as well as translator. We stopped at an open gate down the street a ways and he asked someone inside if we could come in and talk to them. After receiving an affirmative, we all entered the small courtyard of what seemed like a two-story apartment building. There were several ladies present and a couple of young children. The ladies insisted on gathering chairs for us on a tiny porch, so we all squeezed in. Introductions were made all around and after some small talk one of the ladies - whose name sounded like Sheila - asked us the big question: Why are you in Haiti?

What a huge question! I will say right here for anyone who feels the call to missions - regardless of where that call leads - having an answer to the why are you here question is something that needs to be clear before you set foot on the plane.

There are two categories into which I put the answers to that question - and we discussed them both with Sheila and the other ladies who were present.

  1. Spiritual: The easy answer is that God calls us to be there. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus clearly instructs all believers to take the Gospel and share it. The where is between you and God.
  2. Practical: The practical answer can get lengthy but Isaiah 58 is a great place to start. In fact there are so many places in the Bible where God instructs us to care for our brothers and sisters, you will be hard pressed not to stumble over one if you spend any time at all in God's Word.

We tried to articulate both of these as best we could to Sheila and the others who were present. One of the great things about Mission of Hope is their commitment to the communities around their campus and beyond. We heard a true story on the first day we were in Haiti. The story illustrated a time right after the Earthquake in 2010; hundreds of thousands of people were affected as individuals, families, businesses and even the government struggled to function in the aftermath. But there were businesses that survived and were attempting to meet their community's needs. One such was a man who sold fresh water. He had been in business for years and his livelihood centered around his water business - that was how he fed his family.

Yet, after the earthquake, pallets and pallets of bottled water were shipped to Haiti by people all over the world who only desired to offer some help to all the many who were thirsty. Well-meaning organizations began giving this water away for free to everyone, even those who could still afford to buy water. With a seemingly endless supply of fresh, clean, free water, no one wanted to buy the water the local businessman was selling. Why would they when they could get as much as they needed for free?

Eventually, the man's water business was out of business, and another need was created where before had been a self-sufficient man providing for his family.

"Why are you in Haiti?" Sheila asked.

I was there because God has called me to lay down my vacation time, my knowledge and abilities, my money, my self, and go to Haiti to serve Him and to serve the people who need to re-establish their independence. I don't know where I will go next year, if I will serve with MoH again or partner with another organization. In His good time I expect God will let me know. Until then, I pray for Sheila, for Mr. Evans and for all the Haitian people.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 5

By now, my legion of followers knows that I have put aside my normal falling-down-the-rabbit-hole blogging in favor of writing a blog a day about our just-concluded mission trip to Haiti. We were in-country from July 6th until July 13th working with Mission of Hope. I am doing my level best to compress a week's worth of blessings, struggles, grace, mercy, thought, and anecdote into blog-form. One thing I've noticed is that each post is longer than the last - maybe I have something in common with J.K. Rowling after all! If you read the Harry Potter series, you'll remember that each book was longer than its predecessor...

I began Wednesday morning following the comfortable pattern of slipping out of our room before dawn and heading to the guest house roof for exercise, Bible study and prayer. On this particular morning, I was still buzzing from the two hours we had spent in praise and worship the night before. The scene in front of the dais at the end may have resembled a Mosh Pit to others, but as I gazed up at the last morning stars, 2 Samuel 6:14 came to mind:

And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might...

When I come to Haiti, I am initially reserved in my worship - a product of our more conservative church environments in North America. But by day four, I couldn't help being a little more demonstrative in my praise to and of God. There is a point at which worship becomes truly freeing, and I definitely had reached that point last night as I surrendered completely to the Holy Spirit, feeling it move powerfully throughout the night. At that moment, I could totally get David's joy as he returned to Jerusalem bearing the Ark of the Covenant.

There was a brisk breeze blowing across the land on Wednesday morning and we were bracing for the expected arrival of Tropical Storm Chantal later that evening.

Job 38 says it all...

We finished breakfast, cleaned up, donned the ever-present sunscreen and bug spray, mounted our truck, and headed back to Bercy in order to finish what we could before the storm broke.

Threatening skies

We worked like mad men, women and children to double-check our footer trenches and make sure they were ready to receive concrete. There were two Haitian cement crews running mixers and they were quickly catching up to us. Various team members scurried around, seeking last-minute guidance, tying re-bar, leveling trenches, setting the mesh - you name it, we were a well-oiled machine.

I know storm clouds when I see them...

I've lived a large portion of my life along the Gulf Coast - Florida, Alabama, Mississippi - and I've lived through my fair share of tropical storms and hurricanes. During a break, I walked over to the sea wall and took the shot above, aiming the camera off to the southeast; the direction that Chantal was approaching from. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get a soaking. Weather reports that had filtered through to us indicated up to ten inches of rain was expected, and in Haiti, that means major flooding. We weren't worried so much about ourselves, but more so for the good people of Guitton, Leveque, Titanyen, Bercy, Cabaret, and other communities nearby where there was little shelter from a significant tropical weather event.

Le chien

Of course, there were four-legged creatures to think about as well. The handsome fellow above was our canine companion at the Bercy work site and, I suspect, being well cared for by the interns and staff who lived there. I was missing our German Shepherd Abby by this time and, succumbing to temptation (and a soft heart), rustled up a suitable container and gave le chien a nice big bowl of cool, fresh water. He lapped it up and decided right then was as good a time as any for a rest.

We finished up what we could at the work site and then broke camp for the ride back to MoH. The rest of the evening was spent in anticipation of Chantal but with the exception of a strong breeze and the occasional shower, we had no weather of consequence up until bed time. Our roommates - from a church in Arkansas - had cleverly figured out a way to leave our door open and secure a mosquito net across the entire doorway. This allowed greater air flow through the room and with Chantal's cooling breath upon us, we drifted off to sleep amid silent prayers that God would spare this island nation from yet another trial.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 4

This week I am putting aside my normal blogging and writing about our just-concluded mission trip to Haiti. Three great servants of the Lord drove our team to Atlanta in the wee hours of Saturday morning, July 6th - and then drove back to Huntsville after dropping us off. Two different (very kind) folks did the same thing upon our return, and we arrived in the WHBC parking lot close to midnight on Saturday, July 13th. Compressing a week's worth of blessings, struggles, grace, mercy, thought, and anecdote into blog-form is proving to be more difficult that I expected but I'll keep at it...

Tuesday morning found me less sore than I expected to be after a full day of manual labor on Monday. I'm not as young as I used to be, and I sit at a desk in my workplace for long periods of time with little activity. Transitioning from a relatively sedentary life to one of heavy labor, I expected to wake up paralyzed. However, our God is great and He strengthened me.

After morning ablutions, I once again made my way up to the roof. This Tuesday morning, I preceded my Bible study and prayer with some stretching and isometrics in an effort to prepare my body for another day of construction work. Working through a series of exercises I typically use to warm up for soccer left me refreshed and feeling strong. After prayer, I read John 10.

As I mentioned in Haiti 2013 - Day 2, our team was reading Bruschko as our devotional material during this mission.
Now THIS is a missionary...

A couple of the verses from John chapter 10 resonated with me on this morning (all Scriptural references are from the NASB translation):

John 10:16 - "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."

John 10:32 - Jesus answered them, "I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?"

Jesus was speaking to the Jews regarding His role as shepherd. In verse 16, it was clear that Jesus was widening His loop and letting the people know that they weren't the only ones that God wanted to bring into His presence in the fullness of time. Many of the Jews were not happy about that and this was very similar to the reaction that Bruce Olsen encountered when he went to Colombia to share Jesus with the Motilone peoples.

In fact, the Jews got so angry that they began to pick up stones and threaten Jesus. His reasoned response in verse 32 pulled them up short. In Bruschko, Bruce Olson endures unimaginable suffering in order to make contact, establish relationships - and eventually share Jesus - with the Motilones. As I raised my eyes to the faint light behind the mountains, it occurred to me again that Jesus did not promise us an easy path. The minor discomfort I was encountering by my physical labor was nothing compared to what Bruce Olson faced in South America - or indeed - what Jesus faced in the hours leading up to His death on the cross.

What did I have to give up? Or, as the song says, "Lay down,"?

Air conditioning; television; some personal comforts?

What was that in comparison? Frankly, I had it easy. It was time for a quick cup of Haitian coffee and a PB&J sandwich - then off to Bercy!

Time to lay down some re-bar!

I ended up only working a half-day at Bercy on Tuesday; each team that comes into MoH spends time during the week on what they refer to as Village Time. Village time can be anywhere in the communities that MoH serves. On Tuesday, we went to a small village called Guitton. Tucked off in a corner of a larger town called Cabaret, Guitton is a very poor community.

Our interns, Derek and Sarah, introduce us to the people of Guitton

The first thing I did was connect with our translator (Johnny) and ask if we could play some soccer with the kids. Johnny said, "Of course!" and led the way to their local 'pitch'. We had an old, half-inflated ball; none of the local boys had shoes, and our pitch was a patch of dirt near the south end of the village. There were no goals. To score in village soccer, you had to kick the ball against a cinder block that was stood up on its end. Each team had a cinder block as its goal.

We got smoked.

The Haitian boys were organized, moved up and down the pitch in concert, passed well and had phenomenal ball control. Our team was (mostly) old, out of shape - both physical and tactical - and despite having two or three guys who could play, we could never find a rhythm against the local's high pressure defense.

After about 45 minutes, Johnny called me over to talk with a man from Guitton. Mr. Evans was a serious looking fellow who spoke no English. My French is sketchy and my Creole is non-existent, so we carried on our conversation through Johnny.

Mr. Evans wanted to know why he could not get a job as a driver with Mission of Hope. He explained that he only wanted to support his family and that he had a driver's license. This was a struggle for me because I had only been at MoH for a few days and really did not understand their hiring practices. However, I do know that one of the core foundations of the MoH vision is to provide meaningful roles throughout the organization for Haitians. For example, the hospital on the MoH campus is fully Haitian-staffed; doctors, nurses, everyone.

I did my best to explain this to Mr. Evans. Earlier in the day, we had been held up at the entrance to Bercy by a group of men who were upset that we (white men) were working and they were not. We did our best to explain the reasons we were in Haiti and, that as much as MoH wanted to hire as many Haitian workers as possible, their budget does not allow unlimited local staffing.

This issue was one that I struggled with quite a bit on Tuesday. I spoke with our interns about it and later in the week had a chance to speak to the MoH COO, Bob King, about it as well. It's a constant battle. The unemployment rate in Haiti is around 75%. So there are A LOT of people looking for work. MoH is committed to putting Haitians to work - they are not a "give and forget" organization. Their goal is to bring life-change to every man, woman and child in Haiti. This means that wherever and whenever they can, they are plugging in a Haitian to work where needed. As I explained to Mr. Evans and some other men in Guitton, it's an exponential equation. As more and more mission teams come to Haiti and work with MoH, they are able to fund more and more projects and, the more projects they can fund, the more Haitians they can hire to work - both contract/construction jobs and permanent staff. Everywhere I looked on the MoH campus, there were Haitians working - security, transportation, medical, education, warehouse, motor pool, kitchen, maintenance, grounds, agriculture...and this was just on the main campus. As MoH continues to expand their campus at Bercy, more and more jobs will be created for local Haitians like Mr, Evans and his family.

This is NOT a rave!

Any blog about Tuesday in Haiti would be incomplete without mention of the worship service we experienced Tuesday evening. I shot the picture above at the end of the service - a two hour worship-palooza; that's two solid hours of singing and praising God. The worship leader took the mic during the last song and exhorted the people. Frankly, I'm not quite sure what he said but between his encouragement and the outstanding praise band that we enjoyed all week, the floor in front of the dais - and many of the aisles - filled with people worshiping God. Young, old, black, made no difference. We were all one, praising God in English and Creole and French - and probably some other languages too. 

Afterward, we walked back to our porch up the hill and had our daily time of discussing what we had read in Bruschko. It had been a long, full and fruitful day. I couldn't wait to see what God had in store for us tomorrow!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 3

All this week, I am putting aside my normal blogging and writing about our just-concluded mission trip to Haiti. Three great servants of the Lord volunteered to drive us to Atlanta in the wee hours of Saturday morning, July 6th - and then drive back to Huntsville after dropping us off. Two other folks did the same thing upon our return, and we arrived in the WHBC parking lot very close to midnight on Saturday, July 13th. Compressing a week's worth of blessings, struggles, grace, mercy, thought, and anecdote into blog-form may be difficult but I'll give it my best...

The place where we spent most of our time on campus, besides the porch where we took meals and met before heading out, was the roof of our guest house. Monday morning, I was up before dawn - which is to say before the generator shut down. I made my way up to the roof and found a bench where I could sit facing east, toward the mountains behind us. There was only a pale hint of the impending sunrise.

As I studied the Bible and prayed, I kept noticing lights winding down the dirt road that had been graded to provide the Haitians an easier way to get down (and up) the mountain. Naturally, this led me to reflect on the Haitian proverb Deye mon gen mon, which I have written about on previous Haiti blogs (click on the link under the picture to jump to one of those). In short, the proverb translates roughly as, "Beyond the mountain is another mountain."

I have to imagine that as each person wound down the mountain in the predawn darkness and then rode back up the hill at the end of the day, that proverb may have occurred to them as well.

One of the main things I noticed about being on the roof is the wind. The early verses of Psalm 104 came to mind; specifically Psalm 104:1-4. On one level, we sought the wind because it cooled us and kept the mosquitoes somewhat at bay. But in times of prayer and meditation in Haiti, there was a sense that God was on the wind, that He was listening as I and others sought Him in the dim light of dawn. I remember thinking, "We are here to serve God and the people of Haiti, and the Bible says, "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."" [Matthew 18:20 (NASB)]

Monday morning, I clearly sensed God in our midst.

It's amazing how cool the early morning breezes are in Titanyen. Even driving to Bercy, our work site, the wind was really refreshing. But it didn't take long for that coolness to morph into strength-sapping, sweat-inducing heat.

The transit is a harsh task master

Still, we were all grateful that the work site at Bercy was adjacent to the water. I firmly believe that if we had been inland, it would have been ten degrees hotter; count your blessings one by one...

Trenches and gravel and re-bar, oh my!

Anyone that knows me knows that I'm not Mr. Construction. Sure, I can replace a toilet in your house or do a number of other relatively handy things, but this work was taking me to a whole other level of labor that I was unfamiliar with. Much of the ground we were digging out was moist - think Georgia clay infused with Gorilla Glue - and once we got our trenches looking clean, we had to shoot our stakes with the transit to make sure everything was at the right depth and ready for gravel. Anything that didn't measure up had to be worked again until it was level and the right depth.

For the uninitiated (of which I was one), we were digging footers - the trenches that make up a big part of a building's foundation. You make the trench, you lay down a layer of rock, you lay in re-bar ladder mesh, and then you pour concrete. We had a long week ahead of us.

So here we were, the able leading the blind (thank goodness for the patience of the construction foremen who worked with us!), and then John, the big boss, drives up and casually let's drop, "There's a tropical storm heading our way; it's supposed to get here by Wednesday afternoon. We need to get this done."

No pressure.

At some point, someone decided it was lunch time. It's funny how, when you're tired and hot, you just don't feel like eating. We refilled our water bottles and headed over to the shade of the nearby dome for some yummy PB&J sandwiches.

This photo was actually taken Wednesday, when the storm was upon us...

We made some pretty good progress on Monday; but we still had a lot to do if we were going to get the trenches ready for the Haitian crew to pour concrete. Riding back, I sat silently and listened to Jake, one of the foremen talk about college football and other sports. Somehow, it sounded so weird, riding along in the back of a bouncy work truck in Haiti, talking about the relative merits of NCAA Division I football programs. Usually I'm all over that sort of thing but on Monday it seemed so far away.

As if in preparation for Tropical Storm Chantal, we had a hard thunderstorm Monday evening after dinner. Strong winds and nearly horizontal rain but we all thoroughly enjoyed the coolness it brought after a hard day driving our shovels and pick-axes.

This might be a good place to highlight a few rules and customs for those pondering a trip to Haiti. It's pretty similar to camping I suppose but it's still different that we're used to at home...

1. Brushing teeth with the water bottle: There were thirteen of us in the room so we didn't brush teeth and things like that in the bathroom; we just went out on the back porch and stood by the low wall and used the ground below as our sink.

2. If it's yellow: One of the first rules we learned in Haiti was that, even though we had indoor plumbing, the rules here are a little different...

 - Paper goes in the garbage can next to the matter what is on the paper
 - If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down

Basically, number one does not merit a flush all by itself.

This may seem a little gross by North American standards but there are tremendous reasons for the rules. MoH used to truck all their water in. Thanks to previous teams (including ours from last year) there are now water pipes from a well up the hill that feed the camp's water supply. There are a couple of God things about this development:

First, MoH is saving in the neighborhood of $140,000 per year (that's right: one hundred and forty thousand dollars a year) by not having to buy water and have it trucked in. Think of all the other places that money can be used to help clothe, house, feed and educate local Haitians...

Second, MoH had made numerous attempts to dig a water well in years past, including in the same spot where the current well is producing water. What happened? In 2010 there was an earthquake. After that earthquake, they dug again and voila! There was now water in the exact spot they had dug before and found nothing.

God is good.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 2

As noted yesterday, I am putting aside my normal blogging this week and writing about our just-concluded mission trip to Haiti. We left in the wee hours of Saturday morning, July 6th, and returned very close to midnight on Saturday, July 13th. Compressing a week's worth of blessings, struggles, grace, mercy, thought, and anecdote into blog-form may be difficult but I'll give it my best...

I've been to Haiti three times since 2010. Our teams were fortunate to stay in modest hotels in 2010 and 2011 that including in-room air conditioning (when the electricity was working). Mission of Hope (MoH) "guest houses" do not have air conditioning, so last week was a bit more climatically challenging.

Cross ventilation and mosquito netting saves the day!

Sunday morning started out with a breakfast of cereal and peanut butter & jelly. PB&J, we would discover, would come to be a staple for the week. Our food supply was augmented largely by donations that are brought in by the mission teams. It's not unusual to see Captain Crunch, Raisin Bran, or Special K cereals among many others. After petit dejeuner (breakfast, in French), our team went on a tour of the MoH campus. As I wrote in my journal, "The breadth of what MoH has accomplished here is staggering! School, clinic, hospital, prosthetic lab, orphanages, ministry - all while working to put Jesus first - amazing!"

After the tour, it was time for church; I've been to Haitian churches before, having helped with, and participated in, revivals on both of my previous visits. The MoH church is similar to other Haitian churches I've been in: open air (no full walls) and pews made from planks and re-bar; but that was where the similarities ended. The MoH church was huge by Haitian standards...

I wasn't able to get very good photos of the church, but it is built in the shape of a cross, with three seating areas, including from the base of the cross up to an open area in front of the dais, as well as in the left and right portions of the cross-member. The top photo shows the left (north) side of the church with the long portion of the cross to the right and the left-hand side of the cross-member directly in front of me as I took the shot. The bottom photo is the entrance at the base of the cross.

Amazingly, there was a section of wall to the right of the dais where words to the worship songs were projected - in both Creole and English - for each song. A couple of the most powerful songs were unfamiliar to me, "Depoze" (pronounced "dehpo-zay"), which basically means, "Lay it down" and "Pou kase tout Chèn" (pronounced "Poo kah-say toot shen"), which roughly translates, "To break every chain". Unfortunately, I can't find any Creole versions of these songs on the 'net but you can listen to the English versions below...

These versions are nice, but honestly, they do not do justice to the power of the Holy Spirit that was present in this Haitian church. American, Canadian, Haitian and other believers were singing in one voice - in English and Creole - praising and worshiping the Creator of the Universe. It didn't matter where we were from, what color our skin was, we were all brothers and sisters on this awesome morning.

We spent the rest of the morning in Bible study and prayer. As a team, we were all reading "Bruschko" during our week in Haiti. Bruschko is a phenomenal story about a 19-year-old man from Minnesota who answered the call to share Jesus with the Motilone tribes in Colombia. So Sunday gave us an opportunity to dig into the book as well. As I read, Malachi chapter 2 really came to my mind in a powerful way. Reading about how Bruce Olson was spurned by the established missionary organizations because - in part - he didn't want to turn the Motilones into North American Christians was a powerful reminder of something we needed to be acutely aware of: we were in Haiti to share Jesus with the people there; and it is possible to share Jesus with people without devaluing or destroying their own culture.

After dinner on Sunday night - a "to-go" supper delivered by Gwo Papa Poul - literally, "Great Father Chicken", we moved to the basketball court and watched the MoH Vision film, which describes the history, present activity, and future vision of Mission of Hope. After the film, we were treated to a discussion with Brad and Vanessa Johnson. Brad is the son of the MoH founders. If I haven't mentioned it before, the genesis of MoH began in 1972 when Sharon Johnson (Brad's mom) traveled to Haiti to direct a choir that was traveling around the country. Each year following, Sharon and her husband Bob returned to Haiti, working to address the pressing needs of the people there. Eventually, that led to establishing what is now known as Mission of Hope in 1983.

Sunday had been a long and rewarding day, but Monday loomed large as we found out that our week would be made up in great part of working construction projects out at Bercy, the MoH North campus. It was time to call it a night and see what God had in store for us as our mission began in earnest...


Monday, July 15, 2013

Haiti 2013 - Day 1

I am putting aside my normal blogging this week and will write about our just-concluded mission trip to Haiti. We left at about 1:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 6th and returned close to midnight on Saturday, July 13th. It is quite hard to compress a week's worth of blessings, struggles, grace, mercy, thought, and anecdote into blog-form but here goes...

Like Paul Revere, the Haiti team (Ayiti ekip) from Wall Highway Baptist Church went on a midnight ride. Due to the amount of luggage involved - besides backpacks, carry-ons and our own suitcases, everyone had a donation suitcase that weighed very close to fifty pounds - we needed three vehicles to drive from Madison, AL to Atlanta. That meant three drivers who volunteered to take us to Atlanta in the middle of the night and then turn-around and drive home.

There are so many ways to serve God in a given mission field, and driving close to ten hours in the middle of the night is one of them in my book!

Delta has a great check-in area at the Atlanta airport and we made it through all the formalities quite easily. After clearing security we ambled toward our gate with plenty of time until take-off and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and - for me - a tasty cup of Caribou Coffee. Our flight to Port au Prince (PaP) was uneventful and we all tried to doze as much as possible after our very early start.

We have bags, we have bus...where is that driver?

Having traveled to Haiti in 2010 and 2011, I was pleasantly surprised at the ongoing improvements to the airport in PaP. One thing that hasn't changed is the onrush of Red Shirts as soon as you clear immigration and make it to baggage claim. Red Shirts are men who have gained access to the airport as porters and are quite aggressive about offering their bag-carrying services. Despite our best intentions we ended up availing ourselves of their services, at least for a little while, until we met up with Bobby, our one-man, Haitian greeting committee from Mission of Hope (MoH). Bobby expertly prised us from the clutches of Red Shirts circling like so many helpful piranha and guided us to our waiting Bluebird (school bus).

After a brief word to our team leader Kirk, Bobby and the bus driver disappeared back toward the airport. I thought perhaps there was another flight coming in and they were off to save them from their own avaricious school of Red Shirts. We found a likely bit of shade near the bus and after repelling the initial advances of the first of many souvenir entrepreneurs, I rewarded myself with a cold 7-Up from the drink vendor who's shade we had opted to share. Kirk noticed that there was someone on the bus already and went to reconnoiter, emerging a bit later with a young lady named Micah who had traveled alone to Haiti to serve God through MoH. After introductions all around, we invited Micah - who hails from St. Louis - to hang out with us for the week if it was allowed, assuming she was so inclined.

After what seemed like ages, Bobby and the driver returned - with only some luggage in tow - and we boarded and began the last leg of our journey.

The drive from the airport took about forty minutes after which we swung into the MoH facility and powered up the hill to what would become our home for the week.

Donation sorting is always first...

First stop was what I call the porch. When not out working, visiting local families, worshiping or sleeping, free time was usually spent on the porch. Lot's of hard, wooden bench seating, tables and at strategic times of the day: coffee and food!

We had not yet disembarked when a young, red-haired man bounded up the steps of the bus, introducing himself as Derek, our intern. Interns are typically college-aged young men and women who commit their summer vacations to serving God and the people of Haiti through internship at MoH. After a warm welcome, Derek filled us in on some key information and led us in prayer. We exited the bus and sorted through all of our donations, eventually making our way to the rooms we had been assigned.

Room (Sal) 104 - our home away from home

With a distinctly summer camp-y feel, the guest houses contain seven plain metal bunk beds equipped with slim mattresses. Each mattress has a bottom sheet and no top sheet. Any concern about lack of covers disappeared early in the week as - with no air conditioning - we discovered they were unnecessary.

Once unpacked and changed into shorts, I applied the first of countless coats of bug spray to fend off the ever-present mosquitoes. Back at the porch, we gathered as a team to debrief from the trip, make sure it was okay with Derek that Micah joined our group for the week, and spent time getting to know each other - and the other mission teams - a little better. Dinner and orientation followed, with some personal Bible study and downtime ahead of our first full day on campus (Sunday).

Stay tuned for the Day 2 blog tomorrow, Bondye vle (God willing)!