SUNDAY – CHURCH
The day started off with the most exciting ride to church of my life. A swarm of mopeds lined up outside of our hotel, and one by one we headed off in our “taxis”. As my driver and I zoomed through the busy city’s unpaved roads, I clenched the edge of my moped as to not fall off while dodging traffic. When we arrived at church, I entered the building as lovely tropical worship music with powerful vocals wafted out its doors. I didn’t have my coffee this morning, but it was impossible to fall asleep due to the energy in the room. Our Westmont group could not help but sway along to the music and children swarmed around us to sit on our laps and give us hugs. The adorable children kept us entertained during the forty-minute sermon that followed.
After church, everyone rushed and greeted us, and I met more people than I could possibly remember. Many old ladies rushed and gave us kisses on the cheeks. Colton enjoyed it a little too much. After church, we went to a restaurant in a gas station that a lady from church owns. We talked to the locals and asked questions about Haiti. When we returned to the hotel, a few of us decided to go on a walking adventure. This resulted in Jack and Cody playing a pickup basketball game with local kids. Needless to say, Cody schooled them, even thought he was playing in pants. When we returned, we spent an hour and a half sorting the beads made by women who worked in a brothel.
This task was not my forte, but it was great team building experience. Afterward, we flagged down more mopeds and headed off to church again. The great race began, as Colton, Jack, Cody, and I sped through the city passing each other at every opportunity. I said a quick prayer for safety as we left. We made it to church for the evening service. This time there was no sermon – it was the foreigners’ turn to talk. We each had 2 minutes. I walked up and told them a little about my transition to life in America. I talked about the months that I did not feel God’s presence. I told them about how He was there. God is there in our suffering, and he does not waste it. Praising God in the midst of suffering is a privilege that we only get on this side of eternity because in heaven there will be no suffering. I was eager to hear my classmates’ testimonies, which touched on bullying, adoption, depression, losing loved ones, and other weighty topics.
It was amazing to see how God has worked in each of our lives up to this point, and the locals were blessed by it, too. Several of us had people walk up to us afterward and thank us for sharing. A few us had the privilege of taking night-moped rides back to the hotel. It feels like something from a video game. We made peanut butter and tuna sandwiches (not together, new business idea…?), debriefed, and ended the night with a friendly card game of Hearts. We are so blessed to be here and are excited to meet our business partners tomorrow morning. Fried food stand, here we come!
After reflecting on the day I would sum it up as fearless. We didn’t know much of our agenda and we knew none of the logistics. It didn’t help that last night was Daylight Savings and the Haitians were still deciding if they were going to acknowledge it. Our source said, “No, no we don’t observe Daylight Savings here…” we ended up being late to church.
To get to church, our group of “blanc’s” (how we are referred to by the locals) stood out front of our bright pink “Holiday Beach Hotel.” [Maddie described the hotel as “Jason Bourne-esque” and I would agree; isolated, but open on the inside, simple rooms with basic locks, dark lighting, crooked sinks and firm mattresses lying on blocks of concrete.] Soon a handful of men driving mopeds gathered to offer us rides across town to church, in a village called Twa Ryvie – meaning Three Rivers. It was suggested that two share a bike. Emily and I paired up and snuggled close to the driver while balancing our feet on a couple pegs unsettlingly close to the searing exhaust pipe. Before we had time to form expectations we were off! The streets are partially paved, complete with the occasional speed bump, mud puddle, pack of pedestrians and no rules. We wound through the streets, honking around the corners and dodging other bikes. I was enthralled. When we arrived at the church we paid the driver the suggested amount of 20 ‘gouds’ – the equivalent of about thirty cents – but it wasn’t good enough. A dispute began in creole and Emily and I were at a loss. Once the rest of our group arrived we forked over another bill or two. I’m trying to find the balance between thinking we’re being taken advantage of and thinking that we are plenty privileged to give them a few extra Haitian bucks. When does it become an ignorant handout?
The church was muggy and yet so full of life. Our team was a bit sluggish, but it was hard to drift off with the blaring music. The joy was contagious. Following the service, we all took another short bike ride to an old gas station-turned-restaurant for some burgers and fries. Eventually, we ended up back at the hotel, exhausted and sweaty. A few of us took a walk around the neighborhood to see what life was like on a Sunday. After a couple turns we stumbled into the local market with dozens of stalls full of fruit, corn, rice, noodles and occasionally slimy fish and poultry parts. Cody spotted a pickup basketball game in the middle of the street and wanted to play. Still in church clothes, Jack and Cody asked for the ball and began a game of two-on-two. The “court” was on a paved road in the middle of an intersection. A wooden backboard (complete with hand-painted NBA logo) and wire rim were nailed to a telephone pole on one corner. It started out slow, but when the kids realized our boys were here to play, it picked up. There was a small crowd leering from the shade that cheered when Cody almost dunked. The Americans won by one point.
Upon our return, the blancs gathered to count beads. It was a tedious, mindless relief. As soon as we were finished it was time for church again! This time we were early…the Haitians decided not to observe Daylight Savings this afternoon. The songs began and the church started to fill. They sing for a long time here and there are no words projected on a screen and no handouts. Each church member had the songs memorized and passionately belted them out. Eventually Handson – the pastor – stepped up to the podium and introduced our group. Each of us shared for a minute or two and after a few more songs, it was time to go. The moment the service ended we were bombarded with children, smiling, giggling, mumbling in creole and attempting English if they knew any. We communicated as much as we could – mostly with hugs and smiles. It’s good for us to all experience such a pure form of happiness. Often times I feel like my possessions bring me happiness – I know they do. But to see each face not only smiling but glowing! The joy was tangible. This is the happiness each of us needs to know.
My favorite part of the day was after the evening church service. It was dark out and we still had to trek across town. A truck came and picked up the majority of our group. Kyla and I hung back to take a bike ride we’ll never forget. The city comes alive at night! Everyone is driving around or gathered outside of buildings with music and dancing. Our driver spoke English, so we were able to ask questions. We were approached a few times by other bikes who were enticed by Kyla’s bright blonde hair that stood out in the passing light of the other bikes. The other bikers told her how beautiful she was and that she was ‘the one’ for them. We had a good laugh and Kyla can speak French, so one particular bike kept on our tail for a while to chat. The details I noticed were different this time. Without the ability to see much of what was going on, I relied on the sounds of other motors, the shifting of our own bike and the anticipation for a couple downhill slopes. I’m not sure why this ride stands out more against the others. Maybe it was just the adventure of the nighttime and the allure of darkness…
Today, I trusted automatically. I have nothing to compare my experiences to. I had never ridden a moped in a third world country with a driver who could barely communicate with me. I also didn’t know exactly we were going the first few times. I trusted that these drivers were smart and safe and that our leaders had communicated well enough for us not to get lost. I relinquished all control and I enjoyed myself so much. I’m thankful for the safety I feel.
It is almost midnight here. Very few people are still awake. The waves are crashing calmly and the crickets are singing loudly. I know this isn’t a vacation, but it sure is a perfectly peaceful atmosphere for a good night’s rest. Tomorrow we will observe Daylight Savings.