June 30, 2014

Serving the Campus with

Hispaniola Summer Missions Trip 2014 Thanks so much for praying for our trip, supporting us financially, and writing encouraging notes.  The dreaded mosquito-carried chikungunya virus didn't hit us as hard as I feared.  I'm going to try to distill our project down to a few major themes.  If you'd like to read my trip summary from last year, it is here.  (Thanks to Yanyi Weng, Charles Skold, Kaitlin Ho, and Sarah Carolina Rodriguez Brito for pictures)


First, we not only "explored" issues of justice and reconciliation between Americans, Dominicans, and Haitians - we lived and embodied them!  This was especially evident with Henrico, a Haitian student (pictured right) studying medicine at the Dominican university, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (la UASD).  His life was already a response of reconciliation and gratitude to God.  During the Haiti 2010 earthquake, Henrico was trapped for 2 days under a collapsed university building.  He was able to make one phone call to his mom.  She tried to get help to him, but no one came.  


Henrico was discovered and rescued by a group of Dominicans who had come to help Haitians after the quake.  That surprised and affected him deeply because Dominicans and Haitians have had a long, uneasy, and sometimes tense relationship (we experienced that when two of the Dominican students said "hola" to greeters in a Haitian church, and they dropped their hands and didn't shake hands).  Henrico decided not to go to France to study medicine, which was more prestigious.  Instead, he chose to learn Spanish and come to La UASD in the Dominican Republic to show his appreciation for the fact that Dominicans saved his life.  He was one of five friends from the Asociacion Dominicana de Estudiantes Evangelicos (ADEE, the sister org of IVCF-USA) who came on the project.  He came in part because our team was going to Haiti, and he wanted to learn more about his own country.  His parents, who are fairly wealthy Haitians, opposed his decision to come.


Henrico didn’t expect to like us, the Americans.  He grew up knowing how the U.S. has manipulated Haitian politics and economics for decades.  But in Haiti, Henrico started to admire us when we studied Scripture and I brought out a big bag of rice that our hosts were using.  The bag of rice had a big U.S. flag on it; most rice eaten in Haiti comes from the U.S., not from Haitian farmers.  The U.S. Farm Bill lumps together food stamps with lopsided agribusiness subsidies to stabilize our food prices and oversupply our markets.  So a subsidized 55 lb. bag of rice from the U.S. costs about half the price of a Haitian bag of rice.  This drives Haitian farmers out of business and they have repeatedly called for the U.S. to stop this practice even after the earthquake, when they asked for cash to buy local food and support local farmers instead.  Many migrate to the Dominican Republic or to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, looking for work but finding mostly poverty. This migration has caused tension in the D.R.


I challenged the U.S. students to do something about this when we returned to the States (since internationally, this contributes to hunger in other poor countries).  Henrico expressed his thanks that we were talking about this issue.  He also really appreciated our decision to work with Haiti Partners, a Christian organization engaging with Haiti’s challenges in a non-paternalistic and very admirable way (see below).  I cannot understate how important it was to me, as a co-director and co-planner of this project, to have a brilliant, sincere Haitian Christian like Henrico enjoy the trip, not only relationally but intellectually.


On the second to last full day of our trip, Henrico and the Dominican students of ADEE (Arleny, Elena, Marina, and Sarah) shared their stories and invited new students at La UASD to participate in the fellowship.  The fellowship is one of the only student groups that intentionally brings together Dominicans and Haitians.  Last year, three students started coming to the fellowship because of our outreach, including a Haitian student named Amos who has become closer with several students and came to our campus events.  Henrico shared how grateful he is to the Dominicans who rescued him from the rubble of the earthquake, then Elena shared as well what she's been learning on our month long project about compassion and justice (pictured right).


On the last full day of our trip, Henrico and five other members of our team were asked to appear on national Dominican TV for an hour.  They described our first week in Haiti and our second week in Elias Pina, on the border of the two countries, observing Dominicans and Haitians living and working together.  Pictured is newscaster Diana Contreras with Henrico and Brenda Peralta, a Dominican-American student at Northeastern University in Boston.  I’m thrilled.  May the Lord use this demonstration of His kingdom to bless ADEE, the campus, and the relations between Americans, Dominicans, and Haitians. 


Second, we played a small part investing in the next generation of leaders in both countries.  In the U.S., children might typically be distracted and unruly.  But in both Haiti and the D.R., we were amazed at how focused and attentive children were.  (1) In Haiti, our team worked with children in three different schools connected with Haiti Partners.  Of course, education is important for human development and human rights.  But we learned that it’s especially timely now.  After the devastating January 2010 earthquake, there were almost no Haitian building contractors who could be hired to construct earthquake-safe buildings.  People in Haiti just didn’t have the knowledge and skills.  So a lot of aid money that came into Haiti left immediately to foreign construction companies in the U.S., the D.R., Mexico, Germany, Brazil, etc.  Investing in Haiti’s children today carries seeds of hope for the future.  


We got to teach English and Spanish to elementary school children for a week.  We were amazed to see these children scrambling for paper to copy down these basic words.  Many learned them so fast we scrambled to think of new lessons!  Perhaps exposure to these two languages will encourage them to explore new directions.  We also hope that exposure to our very ethnically diverse, mixed nationality team encourages them to see the kingdom of God in new ways.


Moreover, Haiti Partners resources a school especially for ‘restavec’ children.  ‘Restavec’ is a French term that means ‘staying with.’ In Haiti, restavecs are children who can sometimes be considered enslaved.  Poor families in the countryside hope to give their children opportunities in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, so they give unofficial ‘custody’ of their children to ‘stay with’ families in the city. These children are generally neglected or abused in some way.  One autobiography illustrates the potential and often actual dangers of this practice.  Estimates vary but this is a widespread problem. When we taught English and Spanish at this particular elementary school, we noticed that the students were sometimes over 18 years old – an indication that being a restavec means that one is, at the very least, not given the same opportunity for education that biological children are given.


Haiti Partners wants to empower Haitians to invest in their children, rather than relying on foreign donations to run these schools.  For this reason, they develop social businesses tied to the schools. In Leogane, they have built a chicken farm run by and employing Haitians.  In the mountains above Port-au-Prince, they have set up a masonry business and are building a bakery run by and employing Haitians.  We were really inspired by this foresight and commitment.


Haiti Partners also wants to equip Haiti’s future Christian leaders through their ‘Micah Scholars Network.’  This is a leadership development track for 25 seminary students centered on a biblical vision of the rights of women and children.  We got to meet these seminary students and hear how they want to bring the gospel to bear on some of Haiti’s challenges, like the restavec practice.  We were definitely inspired to think about how the church could be a force for cultural and institutional change!


(2) On the Dominican side of the border with Haiti, Food for the Hungry showed our team a thoughtful model of Christian community development as well.  In the small farm town of Cristo Redentor, FH runs an educational program for elementary school children that supplements the public school (below, left), has helped the community civically organize to deal with local matters, and has helped set up a local cheese factory (below, right).  FH’s staff (e.g. Carlos, Anamaria, Hilda, and others), who we came to respect and love, also work with local churches to reach out to youth and families.  


Together with your financial support and prayers, our team built four latrines this year for residents selected by the civic association to receive them.  Here’s a picture of a latrine we built last year, nicely finished!


We also really enjoyed the children.  The children greeted us on the first day with a dance in front of the whole community (below, left).  We hosted activities for children on three days, and also hosted an event for youth on another.  During the youth event, a teenage girl named Miranda gave her life to Jesus as she heard our students share about forgiveness (below, right). 


And here are a few action shots to show how energetically our students engaged children, in a tropical climate, no less:


Even though we met one former Dominican military officer who said that Haitians once shot at him while near the border area, we were encouraged to see Dominicans and Haitians living and working together fairly well.  We were touched, for instance, that FH staff Anamaria had married a Haitian man and worships at a church that has more Haitians than Dominicans.  This supports an observation by scholar Samuel Martinez (in his article Not a Cockfight) that lower-income, agricultural Dominican communities show more willingness than urban elites to welcome Haitian migrants.  However, we saw that Haitians who are stateless and are not legal persons (who lack the proper documentation as either citizens or residents) cannot buy homes and have to withdraw their children from public school after sixth grade.  Currently, the Dominican government has made it very possible for Haitians living in the DR to obtain the necessary Dominican documentation, but the Haitian government is now charging a heavy fee that most paperless Haitians in the DR cannot afford.  The international community has called on Haiti to eliminate the fee.  We pray that it would be so.  FH staff Mario, a Dominican man, and a master construction worker, apprenticed TiJezi, a Haitian man, years ago.  TiJezi became a master builder himself; although he doesn't know Jesus, his name in Creole means "little Jesus"; and my colleague Kaitlin Ho gave him a Creole Bible (pictured right) and played him in a favorite past time, dominoes.


Third, we helped the ADEE fellowship reach their campus, La UASD.  During the final week of our trip, we taught English and Spanish classes to mostly Haitian students.  


We also did proxe station outreach on campus using a revised version of the ‘What Can We Do About Evil?’ proxe.  I loved the chance to train the ADEE and IVCF students in my favorite proxe station, and to help them answer tough questions about evil and the goodness of God. 


We hosted a campus panel discussion on the topic of Dominican identity and the naturalization laws that affect primarily Haitians in the D.R.  Our panelists argued that Dominican identity is influenced by an anti-Haitian and anti-African sentiment, especially after Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo (1930-61) vigorously stoked fear and loathing of Haiti.  It was challenging for Dominican students to hear that if it was their first time; but the U.S. students were prepared because we had watched Dr. Henry Louis Gates' PBS program, Black in Latin America.  And we did a big push of phone invitations to everyone who filled out a contact card (we talked to over 50 people directly, not counting voice mail).  


About 40 people came to the big party we threw.  One noticeable improvement over last year was that women came!  Last year, we held it at 7:00pm, and at that time, most women at a commuter campus would have family obligations back at home.  This year, we moved the time of the party up to 4:30pm.  I talked to a few Haitian students of varying levels of faith commitment who expressed interest in ADEE.  Please pray that some would stick around!


Now what?  I will be helping the U.S. students think about how to engage their fellowships and campuses with what we learned.  To wrap up, here is a picture of our team - energetic, devoted, and outrageously funny.  This picture was taken as we were getting ready to attend a Haitian church service, accompanied by new friends in Haiti Partners.  On behalf of all of us, thank you for investing in this trip.  We could not have embarked on this adventure without you.


Two years ago, while in Uganda, I wrote a poem to help me reflect on what I was learning.  This year, I wrote another one, called "Sweat", on how much I dislike sweating, and what I learned from sweating a lot in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 


On this island I sweat the most
My skin gets sticky while I eat my breakfast toast
The tropical sun and the humid air
Make me wish for fans everywhere
I sweated on the dirt roads in Leogane
And in the classrooms in Anonsiyasyon
When we taught restavec children under hot metal roofs
The smell of their bodies served as proof
That they were older than the usual elementary school kids
But had hopes and dreams that far outdid
Any shame or fear that their late age
Might make them look foolish at that stage
Though my forehead dripped salt into my eyes
Haitian teachers had to disguise
The exhaustion that chikungunya brings
To teach smiling children who make your heart sing
With sweat, fruit and flowers bloom
On this beautiful island where people make such room
For us as guests in the heat of the day
Where using stoves almost makes me faint away
I sweated while walking down farming tracks
Where cows and goats left nice, warm packs
Of fertilizer gift wrapped to make us wait
Good things can come from even our waste
Why then do I not like to see
Evidence of my own humanity
My sweat, my smell, or my teammates pee
When we conserve toilet water, it stares back at me
Sweat wouldn't be so bad 
If I could accomplish more than I had
A few latrines are nice to see
But compared to U.S. farm subsidies
How much more work needs to be done?
If I sweat I feel like I should be doing a ton
Changing the world for every drop of sweat
A reward for my armpits getting wet
Is sweat a sign of weakness? Or of love?
That things pass through me from below and above
I depend on water's cleansing flow
To purify and heal me as I grow
Even the Son of God was thirsty when
He waited by a well for a Samaritan
He was sweaty for the sun was high
He probably smelled the way I always try
Not to - so soaked in chemicals am I 
In sanitized illusions do I attempt to hide
But Jesus shows me who I was meant to be
God's true and devoted humanity
He struggled one lonely night in Gethsemane
Drenched in sweat among the olive trees
He wrestled against the corruption within
Smelling of God's love against our sin
Through his sweaty death and resurrection
Jesus led God's insurrection
Rebelling against all the ways we hide our sweat
And the ways we need to be changed yet
Now every drop of sweat that falls
Can find new meaning in Jesus' call
To love each precious person no matter where
We must sweat to show the love of God there
Trudging slowly on days hot or wet
Enduring mosquito bites as I sweat
Without much thanks and without much pay
Without much relief even in the shade
Have I walked with him to the costly point
Where the dust from the road and my sweat anoint?
This earthy baptism through the Spirit's love
Becomes God's refining fire from above
God designed us to sweat, but not to sin
Yet working hard in the body can reflect the struggle within
For we sweat out sin - that thing so odd
And drink in the love of a sweating God