Haiti Dispatch #5 (October 8, 2017)
The Reverend Sandy Webb
I am traveling with weavers!
All five of our students (and some of their teachers) have been passing their idle time this week by weaving bracelets out of string. Each project begins with four or five strands. In turn, each strand is looped around the strand next to it until a pattern emerges. Each weaver interacts with her string in her own way, which means that each bracelet is unique.
The strands of our experiences in Haiti are now complete, but they are far from woven. In the stillness of an airplane cabin, we are beginning to tie the strands together into something that will be uniquely precious for each of us. Some patterns will emerge quickly. Others will need to be untied and stitched together in new ways. C’est la vie. Our work will not be complete anytime soon.
I started weaving together the strands of our experience this morning. We rose before the rooster crowed (literally), because Pere Fan Fan had invited us to worship at his childhood home parish, Church of the Epiphany in Port-au-Prince, which was celebrating its seventieth anniversary today. (I felt a special connection to this celebration, because Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis is just about the same age.)
Our arrival at Epiphany was less than graceful. Our driver accidentally went past the church’s gate, and we were engulfed on all sides by a sea of humanity. It was market day in the church’s neighborhood, and commerce was bustling. Grain was being ladled out, everything from pastry to potatoes were available for purchase; live chickens were being bound and sold. Chaos reigned.
Once we waded through the crowds and entered the church building, it felt as though we had found the eye of a hurricane. Everyone was calm, and joyful greetings were being exchanged. The service was among the longest that I have ever attended – 3.5 hours from start to finish – but also one of the most joyous. Eight priests flanked the bishop at the altar, including me. Choir after choir came forward to offer their gifts of music. The Haitian Minister of Culture sat in one of the front pews. People from every age and stage were there, giving thanks to God for the difference that this parish church had made in their lives. At the end of the service, Pere Fan Fan and I processed out of the church side-by-side while the congregation sang a rousing hymn; I felt as though the angels themselves were singing. (It was a great time to be at Epiphany!)
As we left the church, reality set in quickly. The market was still overwhelming. Damaged buildings were still unrepaired. Neighborhood teenagers still sat idle. An open street drain still flowed with run-off. In that moment, the work of the Church was clearer to me than it has ever been.
St. Vincent’s Episcopal School is full of joy. Church of the Epiphany is full of joy. Despite the material poverty of their surroundings, the people of God I met in Haiti this week are full of joy. The work of the Church in this place is to be the well from which God’s people can fill their buckets with joy. Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”
Those of us who can more easily provide for our own physical needs are less likely to fill our buckets from the wellspring of God. And, we are poorer for it. When our goal is to accumulate possessions, we will never have enough. When our goal is to find joy, to drink from living water, we have access to a bottomless supply.
We came to Haiti so that we could bear witness to the work that God is doing in this place. We came to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ who call this place home. It is an honor to bear witness to another person’s truth, to weave their experience together with my own, and I was deeply privileged to do that this week in Haiti.
Our plane has been cleared to land in Memphis. Reality will set in quickly as we come down that familiar escalator, collect our bags, and return to our comfortable homes with their air-conditioning and potable water. I pray that my bucket will remain filled with joy for a very long time, and that my experiences in Haiti will remind me of the right way to get it filled up again.
I close this series of reflections with a simple commission for all of my traveling companions, and those readers who have followed us online. The words are drawn from The Book of Common Prayer, and will be familiar to every St. Mary’s student, past and present:
Let us go forth with joy to love and serve the Lord! Thanks be to God.