Sunday, February 17

Your Daily Reflection from Stevo

Dear Diary,

The things I learned today in Haiti are as follows:

Soldiers lined some of the areas we travelled today.  They had uniforms, guns, and motorcycles. The road signs said that the Annual Summit de la Caricom will be held February 18-19 in Port-au-Prince. Regional leaders are coming to town for the meeting, which is likely the reason for the beefed up security. Five shotgun carrying soldiers watched the parking lot of the grocery store we ate in today.

On the road to church, we crossed National Route 9. National Route 9 has a place called City de Sole down the way. It is one of the worst slums in Haiti.  During Aristide's reign National Route 9 was blocked off at both ends and the planes were landed on it with cocaine so the customs at the airport could be avoided.

A sign appeared on the side of the road, painted on concrete:  "Got Karizma?"  Haiti has lots of 'Karizma' especially on Saturdays and Sundays as people on the streets are dressed in their 'Sunday best' on their way to and from church.  Not an hour later, I learned first hand that the Haitian religious tradition tends to be charismatic with lots of singing, dancing, impassioned speaking - including speaking in tongues.  We went to church as the guests of a Haitian man who works with the ministry here connected to the orphanage. The passionate and powerful nature of the service seems to be standard for Haitian churches. Pastor Josh, in line with this, gave a talk at church sighting the simultaneous love and power of God.

After Sandy a road was washed out, and it felt like it would never be repaired.  The locals wanting to be able to use their local road, decided to get their government's attention by barricading the road to the Dominican Republic using burning tires.  DR shares the island with Haiti. The government in Port-au-Prince, unhappy with the trade disruption quickly turned their attention to repairing the road. In this country where the people seem so powerless and impoverished, it's easy to forget how much power an organized group actually has. No matter how dire a situation, it's important to ask What do you have at your disposal that you can leverage? What are your burning tires?

In 1804 there was a revolution in Haiti. As a result, Haiti became the first black republic in the world and the second independent republic in this hemisphere (after the US). Interestingly color-based-discrimination still existed and until the 1950s, Haitians made each other prove some amount of white ancestry in order to hold certain civil sector jobs. Haiti's identity, even today, seems strongly shaped by freeing itself from a system of slavery so early in history.

January 12, 2010 - an earthquake hit Haiti, with an epicenter in Port-au-Prince. The effects are still very much felt. Anywhere we drive the signs of the earthquake are very present.

Here there is so much joy in the midst of poverty. This was especially highlighted in the example of the church service today, packed with young and old.

By the end of the day after a powerful service in a packed church, filled with people in a poor country, I had a question in mind.

Is poverty a prerequisite for knowing Christ? The early church fathers certainly thought so. The closer you get to the Holy Land and the older the images, the more gaunt the early church fathers were, likely as a result of their asceticism, their forced poverty. Is Haiti closer to Christ because of its poverty?

About half a dozen years ago Time magazine ran a graph that had a list of countries that formed a pretty consistent trend - the poorer the country, the higher rates of church attendance. Only two countries didn't fit that trend. They were the Czech Republic (a poor country with little church attendance) and USA (a rich country with a high level of church attendance).

The US is an anomaly with its high GDP and high church attendance. Church attendance doesn't necessarily bring us closer to God. However it does show that with wealth Americans have, almost uniquely, not given up on religion. Haitians have lessons to teach us about being a good Christian, lessons which I might, admittedly, feel slightly uncomfortable learning.

Ultimately Im left with a reminder about how easily material possessions can leave us isolated and how easily wealth can leave us feeling no need for a relationship with God. Today left me pushing to want to be better and to not use wealth as a barrier but to use the gift of wealth as a greater burden of responsibility to make my light shine before others. Twenty eight hours into this, without having yet picked up a hammer, I feel Haiti challenging me to be better.


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