Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Haiti Reflections

On Sunday, before church, we took a walk around the work site at Gressier. This is a small compound on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince with a church, a school and a few shacks were the pastor and his family live. The schoolhouse was well underway, with all of the cinder block walls up and a few walls finished. When completed, the school would have twelve classrooms, a larger room, and four small offices. This is where we would spend the next three days working with a Haitian construction crew.
We helped with every station at the site. We sifted rocks out of the sand and black dirt. There wasn't a concrete mixer, so Father Rob spent hours mixing concrete by hand. Jody, Tegan and Hilary learned to bend small rebar squares that would be used to hold the larger pieces together. Mary and Fred helped pour concrete into the forms for the posts and headers. Lacey and Deanne spread concrete mud on the cinder blocks to form the smooth walls. And we all cleaned out debris from the rooms.
We did all of this work under the tutelage and supervision of the Haitian construction team. These are skilled men who take pride in their work. The concrete was mixed to just the right consistency, bricks were laid evenly, and the finished walls were beautiful in their own smooth, grey way. The foreman, or “Big Boss,” held his crew, and us, to high standards. When he found a wall that wasn't perfectly square, he had the workers strip the concrete and start over.

What amazed me is how they did so well with so little. Wheelbarrows, buckets, shovels, pick axes and trowels were our primary tools, but there were never enough to go around. Rebar was bent on a plank of wood with nails used as guides and a battered piece of pipe.
Cleaning out the rooms was probably the least desirable job. We wanted to be building, not cleaning. And constantly scrounging for tools didn't make it any more enjoyable. There was a rainstorm every night, so every morning we had to bale water out of the rooms: with a five gallon bucket and a small soda bottle with the top cut off. When we couldn't find the wheelbarrow, we'd haul the broken cinder blocks and gravel by hand, in buckets, or in a large tub made form the bottom of a 55-gallon drum. But, when a room was cleaned up, we would look it over and know we had actually accomplished something.
Wednesday afternoon, it struck me that I wasn't going to see the completed school. Only a fraction of the headers and posts had been completed, and the walls of only three or four rooms had been finished. In fact, I wasn't even going to see all of the rooms cleaned out. When our bus arrived to take us back to the lodging facility, there was still a room and a half full of debris. I felt incomplete.

We are so thankful that so many people wrote us notes of encouragement and prayed for us, commending our bravery for going to Haiti. But for me, it wasn't going to Haiti that took courage. Sleeping on the floor, new food and even the heat were easy for me. My challenge was listening to God, and trusting in what He asked of me. He didn't ask me to build a school, he invited me to be part His plan. He didn't ask me to do what I really wanted to do, which was tie rebar while standing on rickety scaffolding, He asked me to help the Haitians. And for three days that meant hauling construction debris. By cleaning the rooms out, we freed up the skilled Haitian labor to work on finishing walls and pouring the posts and headers.

Until this trip, I had never heard God. For me, this was not a voice, or a sign. Instead, I ran my experiences and feelings through my understanding of how Jesus lived, and how God asks us to live. I recognized that I was focusing on my own need for a sense of accomplishment instead of focusing on the privilege of serving God by doing what needed to be done. Wednesday evening, we had a closing ceremony were the pastor asked for two people to share their testimony of how the week had touched them. A gentleman from Middlebrook United Methodist shared how the community came together to form a bucket brigade. And then the room fell silent, waiting for the second volunteer. Surely, I thought, someone else has something to share. Then I realized, I had something to share.

We don't always get to see the results of our labors for God. In fact, we're lucky if we even know what part we are playing in His plan. But that doesn't make our actions any less significant. In everything we do, every decision we make, we are invited to be part of God's plan. Everyday, at home, work, school — and even in Haiti — it is up to us to set aside our own priorities and have the courage to follow God.

I gave this talk at St. Matthew's on 15 August. If you would like to support some great, on the ground work that is directly impacting the lives of Haitians, I encourage you to donate directly to Praying Pelican Missions. They partner with local churches who decide what work needs to be done to best serve their communities.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like you had a great experience in Haiti. Building in the poorest communities is very difficult, yet it still goes on.

    Our concern is that we are accepting construction methods that produce problems in the future. I would hope that you would consider the following blog post: http://cementtrust.wordpress.com/2010/08/04/concrete-crisis-in-haiti/