Friday, January 8, 2010

La Gonave, Consecration of Two churches

As I mentioned in my advent reflection, we had an opportunity to visit the island off of Haiti's coast, La Gonave, at the beginning of the year. It was an eventful and wonderful visit in many ways, and rather difficult in many others.People came from all over the island to attend the consecration of the two new Episcopal churches, and we had over a hundred confirmations and baptisms all told.
was a moment to remember, and to mark the moment the people came out in their finest clothes. Young girls and women dressed in beautiful pastel summer dresses, and more often in what looked to my eyes like First Communion dresses: white lace, ruffles, and veils.
Men, young and old, dressed in slacks or jeans with button-down shirts and ties. The children were fascinated with our cameras and came close for several pictures, which was very sweet. We all sort of hung around awkwardly staring at each other for a few minutes before we ventured toward them to say hello.

La Gonave is very remote, and relatively untouched by modernity. To get there we took a speed boat, dubbed "the yacht," with the bishop, some seminarians, and a well-known Haitian journalist. The bishop was fearless and stood at the front of the vessel as it jetted over waves, rising and falling with a thud against the water. We were soaked by the time we arrived, and grateful for it too since it was scorching hot outside.

Being on La Gonave felt a little like stepping into the Jurassic period. It's full of lush vegetation, patched-together huts in small villages, and perilous clay roads covered in rocks and boulders of various sizes. On the footpath we took to get to Platon Balai I noticed most rocks that were protruding from the clay ground were riddled with marine-like fossils so that I surmised the island must have been some kind of ancient sea bed millions of years before.

Advent Reflection from Haiti (La Gonave)

"Ca viendra" ("It will come"): simple words of reassurance offered at precisely the moment when I needed them most. It was September 2001 and I had just begun an academic year abroad in France. I was lonely, lost, and I could barely speak a stitch of French.
I had no idea how I was going to take classes at the Sorbonne, and I was doubtful I would ever understand my sweet, little old host mother, Madame Deborckzuk. In the midst of my distraught frustration, Madame Denis, the resident administrator of Sweet Briar's Junior Year in France program, leaned over her desk and intoned those simple words of benediction as only a mother can: "Ca viendra, Jude. Ca viendra"

Simple as those words were, they achieved their intended effect as I felt a sudden rush of hope surge through my veins, displacing the fear that had settled in weeks before. Despite many difficult moments that year, Madame Denis' were the only words that really gave me any comfort and strength. In that instant, she had the words of everlasting life, and they remain with me to this very day. Indeed, after she passed away unexpectedly in 2006, Madame Denis' words took on a sacred character, becoming a mantra I recite in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances.

When I first arrived in Port-au-Prince I found mylsef reciting that mantra much more frequently than I would like to admit. My living situation left much to be desired and crossing the Champs de Mars-- the city's central square--every day required nearly superhuman energy and courage as I dodged heedless traffic, avoided gaping holes in the sidewalk and massive piles of trash, and passed the countless homeless, helpless and hungry who cried out, "Blanc! Hey Blanc, s'il vous plait, give me some money!" Life here is exhausting and tough and often unforgiving—as much for this "blanc" missionary as for the city's street people, though admittedly on an order of magnitude altogether different.

So when I and the other three missionaries were invited by the Bishop to go to La Gonave, a remote island off of Haiti's coast, for four days I was thrilled. We were to consecrate two new churches recently constructed by American partners who would join us for the trip. Among the churches to be consecrated was Saint Simon and Saint Jude in the remote hamlet of Platon Balai. To get there is a real pilgrimage. La Gonave's roads are unlike any I have ever seen anywhere else in the world. They are covered in jagged rocks ranging in size from baseballs to watermellons and sometimes much bigger still. At some point, I was certain the only thing holding our van together was grace. After a two hour car ride over this unforgiving terrain, we arrived at a compound where we began our hike along a winding footpath over arid, shrubby hills as far as the eye could see. Drenched in sweat, our bodies faltering under the intense Caribbean sun, we finally arrived in Platon Balai two hours later. Entering upon the church yard grounds we set out greeting parishioners who had come great distances to be with us for the festivities.

I met a young man that morning about my age, Jules Thomby, under a leafy green tree in the middle of the church yard whose rich red soil betrayed the volcanic origins of the island. Jules beamed with pride as he spoke of his evangelizing efforts in the town, and the light seemed almost to dance around him as he proclaimed his profound love for Jesus and his deep faith that God had brought us there that morning for a reason.

He asked me how I was finding Haiti, and for some reason I felt compelled to tell him the truth, how I was struggling with the language, the cultural differences and the crushing poverty. As I was telling him all this, he donned a knowing smile, leaned in and looking directly into my eyes, wispered in a still, small voice: "Ca viendra, Jude. Ca viendra."

Jules heard the prayer of my heart, and in his own unassuming way, spoke it back to me in a disarming affirmation that God really is listening. He reminded me that morning that the first and most fundamental prayer is: Let your Kingdom come...Let us enter into it, until it enters into us and our whole world is transformed in the crucible of God's love. In Haiti, it's not easy to believe that it will come as there are so few traces of tangible hope for the people who need it the most: young people, like Jules, who want the same things as we do in the Sates—to go to university, graduate and land a decent-paying job, raise a family, do something interesting with their lives, feel like they're contributing and giving back in some way. For the vast majority of Haitian young people these will always remain unfulfilled dreams. Most people here live in a state of hope perpetually deferred, an interminable Advent without Christmas.

Still, they guard their hope that one day it will come, that one day the promise of a better future will become reality, that their faith in their beloved Jezi is not in vain. That he will come in power to judge the living and the dead, and to establish a righteous reign on this crooked earth. This Advent, the prayer of my heart is that it does come: that this beautiful people's hope is renewed, that justice and peace will finally prevail in this country which has so long been ravaged by famine and strife, that Haiti's rich spiritual and intellectual resources may be matched by her material resources to see her dreams through to fruition, that as Mary sang in her glorious Magnficat the hungry will be filled with good things, and the lowly will be lifted up (Lk.1:52-53). I am confident it will come, in the fullness of time it will come. In the meantime, I ask your prayers for my ministry here, for the Diocese of Haiti, and for the country—that God's work really will be accomplished in and by us this Advent season and always. I can almost hear the Spirit wispering in response to our collective prayer: "Ca viendra. Ca viendra."