Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A different kind of Christmas

The post-Christmas and New Years' lull has given me some time to reflect on what was simultaneously one of the most memorable and perhaps the most challenging holiday season I've ever experienced. While Christmas was particularly hard being away from family and friends, it was also special in that it was the first Christmas in a while where I felt like I was passing more time than in years past thinking about God's vision for humanity and for the world through the birth of Jesus. The greater emphasis I intentionally placed on my faith this holiday season was partly due to being without loved ones, but also due to the knowledge that this year is a special time designated for my spiritual growth and that I should take advantage of it.

Our holiday trip was full of new sights and experiences. We spent some time in Port-au-Prince and the town of Jacmel, in southern Haiti. I got to (try to) dance Kompa, a traditional Haitian musical genre and dance, we visited a Christmas village organized by the Ministry of Culture and artisans in Jacmel, I got some wonderful days and nights of rest at our hotel in Port au Prince, I drank Haitian hot chocolate for the first time and I got to go to the beach on the southern coast. 

Our trip was also full of some challenges. Alan got sick fairly early on in the trip, which put some stress on what we had hoped would be a stress-free holiday. I was also, naturally, missing family and friends who were far away. It was particularly challenging getting through  a season that is so centered on familial relationships without my own family there. Despite my sadness from missing out on the festivities in North Carolina, however, I remember thinking that this particular Christmas would be forever remembered as a special opportunity to see the season celebrated in Haiti and to lean on God more than ever as a comfort and strength while being away from my home.

Through the praying and journaling I did during and after Christmas, I came to realize that my Christmas was full of blessings this year, just like any year. There was time for fun, time for rest, and even more time than usual for looking inward and doing some hard thinking about what Christmas, in its many forms, can look like for different people in different parts of the world. I have the feeling that it’s the kind of Christmas God wanted me to experience this year—a kind of Christmas that gifted me with a closer understanding of the hope that Jesus’ birth brings to all of us, just as we are-- weary, imperfect and some of us, far from home.

The overlook of Port au Prince at the Observatoire bar/restaurant in Petionville

The upstairs bar area at our hotel in Port au Prince

Couples dancing kompa

The lit-up tree at the Village de Noel!

Artisan stands at the Village de Noel in Jacmel. The jewelry and art is incredible; I had to stop myself from buying an eye-catching bracelet fashioned out of a bent spoon.

At the beach in Jacmel

I'll admit, this wasn't taken in Haiti. My brother, Sam, and sister, Caroline, sent me a much-appreciated selfie on Christmas!

Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. 
The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. 
The only requirement is to believe in Him. 
The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.

-Corrie Ten Boom

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Little joys, Big gifts

I have had many “little joys” in Haiti the past few weeks.

I believe that I am really learning how to appreciate the smaller things in my time here. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of things to be glad about, it’s just that they seem to be simpler, albeit purer, things. The holiday season, for example, is understandably difficult when you’re away from friends and family, but what I’ve been pleasantly surprised by is the way that I’ve been more aware of Jesus’ coming than I have been in a while. Although being at home makes me happy, I’ve found that being distanced from all of the “stuff” that comes with Christmas at home as well as from the physical closeness of family and friends that I’m more aware of God’s presence, more dependent on it, and more appreciative of loved ones.

Specifically, Advent has been richer for me this year than it has any other year. Advent is a time designed for waiting, but couldn’t it also be argued that Advent is about cherishing little joys and being mindful of their greater significance? I think that may be what part of waiting is, anyway. It’s knowing that greater things are to come—the coming of Jesus, for example—but also holding fast to the things that are given to us in that period of waiting. These moments are just as important because they offer the sharpest glimpse on Earth of God’s heavenly kingdom.

I like thinking of the little joys that have unfolded in my life recently and what their greater significance may be, whether they foreshadow something greater for the future or simply offer a concrete sign of God’s overwhelming love and care. I’ve listed a few of them here:

Student Nursery under way at CASB

1. Receiving a list of sentences in Creole written especially for me by one of my students. I chose a student to interview for our upcoming newsletter about CASB. She gave me a surprise gift at the end of the interview. She had written a four page list of sentences she had thought of in Creole with their French translations to help me with my Creole learning. This gift made me feel blessed and appreciated and it reassured me of the continuation of a positive, reciprocal relationship between the students and me.

View riding into Cange

2. Going to get coffee in the mornings while traveling in Cange in the Central Plateau. My friend and colleague, Alan Yarborough, invited me to spend a weekend in Cange, Haiti, where I got to experience for myself the community where he worked for two years before moving to Cap-Haitian. One of my favorite parts of the trip was going in the mornings to get coffee, bread and Mamba from a woman who made the coffee fresh every morning outside. We would sit on a bench, surrounded by other vendors and across the street from people’s homes and just watch and listen. Being able to walk around and visit with people on the street and in their homes was a real treat and something that is more difficult to do in a city. I cherished the opportunity to connect with so many people and enjoy the vibrancy of the community.

3. Trying to Bake a Haitian rum cake— Getting the ingredients to make my first Haitian rum cake took two days of shopping. Despite the fact that I didn’t put nearly enough flower in the first cake and it turned out more the consistency of a bread pudding, it was definitely the experience and the people that helped me to bake and eat it afterwards that made it worth the 700 Goudes of groceries. The most remarkable part of the whole process was how the cake-baking turned into a festive occasion. We had five people at dinner that night, put up some Christmas lights and enjoyed the second cake, which was decorated in green frosting (the only color dye we had in the house) and my name. 

4. Tagging along on a beach dayA family I’ve gotten to know over the past few months invited Alan and me to go with them to a tiny island, Ile Ara, in Labadee port the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It was a beautiful, relaxing day on the beach, but the best part was probably the boat ride there. I had a magnificent view of the landscape from the roof; the water and the mountains are so stunning, it’s hard to believe it’s all real. I was reminded me of what an incredible, unique part of the world I’m in and how lucky I am to be in it.

That's all I have for this post, but please enjoy the extra pictures below!

Collège St. Esprit, the parish school of St. Esprit Church in Cap-Haitian

Nave of St. Esprit Church

Lectern and pulpit


A depiction of the Last Supper on the cinderblock wall outside St. Esprit Church

Front of St. Esprit Church

Friends for dinner!

Bono kindly decorating my cake

This was the first attempt

The site of Bois Caïman, where the Haitian Revolution started with the planning of the first slave-led insurrection against white planters at a Vodou ceremony (August 14, 1791)

"The Slave Revolt August 1791"

Sailing to Ile Ara

View of Ile Ara

Jela Village on the way out of Cap-Haitian to Port-au-Prince

View of water pump in Bas Cange originally built by members of Christ Church in Greenville, SC and the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina in 1984 that pumps water up the steep mountainside (1,000 feet!) to the community.

Bas Cange