RSS

Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Humorless World of Haiti, Part 3

Part 1 of our trip to Haiti is here.  Part 2 is here.

As we unloaded from our van, we were greeted warmly by Pastor Lucner Jean and his wife Marie of the Phaeton church.  They welcomed our group to their house, we sat down outside on the porch and began to get to know one another.

The meeting on Lucner’s porch had the feel of dignitaries gathering.  I guess that comment is self-serving…as if!  But…well, maybe you know what I mean.  Anyway, he offered us a beverage.  Hmmm.  John had told me of some things that he had eaten when visiting Haitian pastors.  On another visit somewhere else in Haiti, he was told that he was being served the “best part of the chicken.”  John reasoned…It wasn’t the breast, wing, thigh or leg.  It was two things altogether – go figure – but his Haitian hosts couldn’t remember what it was called.  

He ate it like a good missionary.

The cola I hoped for (really risking it, huh?) turned out to be a bottled ice cold Coca-cola that hit the spot.  Then we got going – I asked Lucner how he became a Christian.  I foolishly expected a three minute testimony, somewhat like they taught me in the Navigators.  His answer?  “God chose me.”  I liked his style.

 Later I asked him, “What would you prefer, $2,000 or a group to come visit and help.” 

“I would choose the group,” he said, “It is better to have a bakery than a piece of bread.”

We went to his church building which was a 4 minute walk from his house; the building was one of G.O.’s fairly recent projects.  Lucner demonstrated the drum-like musical instrument in front for us, and before too long had to excuse himself – he had a wedding at 3 p.m.   It was about 2:15.  John told me, however, that he knew of one Haitian wedding that was scheduled for Saturday and got off the ground on Monday. Therefore, John had doubts about the 3 p.m. start, and sure enough, when we left sometime after 3, Lucner was still tying his tie.

Entourage! Our new friend and translator Schera is on the right.

We headed to the beach – Phaeton is on the Atlantic, and took some photos of the fishermen, and the many children of Phaeton that followed us around and held our hands.  Before long, it was time to leave. We needed to make it to the border by 5 unless we wanted to stay overnight.  In the end, we made it easy – with 4 minutes to spare. 

It’s funny – when we brought over a plane-load of Mission balls to give away, I had envisioned somehow going to a neighborhood playground and passing them out.  But early on, John began steering us toward giving them to pastors, and therefore letting the pastors (and thus their churches) be the “heroes” with the balls.  Right on.  Wish I had thought of that.  One of the reasons I have come to appreciate G.O. Ministries over this past week is the fact that they are unabashedly church-centered. Christ-centered first, and church-centered second.  Amen.  I wasn’t the first to say it, but I truly believe it: the local church…is the hope of the world. It’s true in Waupun, Milwaukee, London and Los Angeles.  And it is so true in Phaeton. 

Diane, Marie, and Schera

So here we were on this trip – visiting another church, this time in Haiti.  We brought a total of 5 Creole mission balls from the U.S.  We left Lucner with two of them. 

God bless, brother.  Hope the wedding has started by now.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

The Humorless World of Haiti, Part 2

You only need to cross the border to know you’re in a different world.  The first impression of the country is not unlike the Mad Max movies, or more recently, The Book of Eli.  In other words, there is a feeling of anarchy, of the world of the book of Judges, where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  Men and women, boys and girls, wander the streets without purpose. Trash is everywhere.  And laundry is done at the polluted river side (see the photo from part 1). Roving trucks with U.N. are all over.  Many Haitians are none too pleased with the United Nations – it was U.N. soldiers from Nepal that introduced deadly cholera into the country.  The Nepalese soldiers were kicked out.  The cholera stayed.

It took us another hour to get to Phaeton – thankfully the main road had been paved since the earthquake, the work of the European Union – but our driver and host John prepared us as we turned onto the dirt road that led to Phaeton and only to Phaeton, “It’s going to get bumpy.”

Three New Friends

Our three Haitian friends we picked up on the road to Phaeton

Abruptly he pulled over.  There were three Haitians on the side of the road hoping for a ride to the village, and John, always on the lookout for a way to help or share the gospel, stopped to do just that.  As we drove along, with Schera translating, we found out that Haitian children from Phaeton who want a high school education must walk – this still seems unbelievable to me – 4 hours each way to school…every day.  These three (mom, dad, and daughter) whom we picked up had made the long trek to the main road earlier in the day to sell some sort of wares and buy rice.  It had been possible to make the trip out from the village, but carrying the heavy load of rice made the trip home nearly impossible without transport.  So they sat by the side of the road and hoped for someone like John to come along.

“Hoping for someone to come along” – that’s life as a Haitian, it seems – a world full of “strangers on the side of the road” dependent on the good Samaritan who will stop to bandage their wounds, pay for the inn and take care any future bills.  But what if the good Samaritan walks on another road?

After a 15 minute drive, we arrived in the village.  Phaeton is a sea-side village that had one day been “thriving” because a group from the U.S. set up a factory here to make rope out of a local plant called sisal, but the invention of nylon rope had eventually driven them out of business.  Now, the people of Phaeton had one industry: fishing.  We dropped off our hitchhikers, and headed to the home and hospitality of Pastor Lucner…

To be continued…

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: ,

The Humorless World of Haiti, Part 1

Haitians don’t smile…or laugh…as a rule.  They seem a humorless people, and no wonder – what is there to smile about?  So it was that on a glorious, sunny Saturday we headed off on a day trip into the dark world of Haiti, well known as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where the only real commodity the average citizen has…is time.

We took along Schera to smooth the way.  Schera is a Haitian who grew up in a Christian family and is being trained in the Dominican Republic by G.O. Ministries to eventually go back and reach his country.  This sort of return is rare – the “brain drain” on the country is tremendous.  Put it in this crass way: if you had enough knowledge to get out of Hell, would you leave?   Haiti isn’t Hell, but it’s bad, and our visit there illustrated this.

Just getting into the country is a bit of a crapshoot.  It’s one of the reasons we brought along Schera, a very sharp and personable young man who, once we got to the border, seemed to know everyone. John says that the G.O. team has bantered about Schera becoming the future President of Haiti.  It’s just talk, of course, but stranger things have happened.  He was glad-handing, smiling (not your average Haitian), and all in all smoothing the way for us.  I only found out later how important someone like him can be in getting through.  It’s not uncommon at all for teams to show up at the border, be forced to wait three hours, and then never make it in.   Fees change apparently on the whim of the border agents…and downright weird happenings are a way of life.  If you’re going on a day trip like we were, and you don’t make it in by noon, you might as well turn around.  The border closes at 5 p.m., so we had to get where we were going (a remote village called Phaeton) and get back by the deadline, otherwise we would be bunking in Haiti, something we weren’t prepared for on this trip.

We stopped at one of John’s favorite chicken (they eat this a lot) places in the D.R. on the way there – we needed to bring lunch with us.  And after an hour or so dealing with customs, we were in, sort of.  We had one more stop to make – the police station just across the border – we needed to register our vehicle.  The only problem?  No one was there, well, except for a guy who didn’t handle vehicle registration.  This man was a member of their S.W.A.T. team.  He was with a woman, and he had nothing on but a towel…really.  Schera developed a rapport with him.  He got on his phone and soon enough an official officer rode in on his bicycle to take care of our paperwork.  Now we were really in.   Welcome to Haiti…

Part 2 is here

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Teaching the Preachers

 

We passed out mission balls as gifts to the pastors. Moises, our translator, is on the far right in the blue shirt standing up.

Just call us the professors, Rog and Jamie.

On Thursday and Friday at the Central church here in Santiago, Jamie and I got to pretend to be experts as we spoke to Dominican Pastors on the wide-ranging subject of ministry.  Jamie taught on youth ministry Thursday morn (while I went to La Mosca with my fam).  I taught them on Thursday afternoon and all day Friday (while Jamie ministered with the Knowltons).  I think we would both agree – it was very rewarding.  I’ll give you my account:

First there was my translator Moises (Moses in the Spanish Bible). What a delightful guy – ready and raring to serve the Lord. He spoke fluent English because he had spent 30 years of his life in New Jersey, his parents having emigrated to the U.S. when he was 5.  Though he had his green card, through a series of circumstances, he was deported and sent to the Dominican Republic.  Imagine all of your life and memories in the U.S. and then being sent to a country like the D.R. at age 35.  But God is good: Moises came to Christ and began serving the Lord through G.O. Ministries.  

Teaching through a translator takes some getting used to, and it helps to have an expert like Moises.  Once he even finished my sentence. I said half of what I wanted to get out, and I could tell by his inflection that he said what I said and what I was going to say.  

I turned to him, “Did you just finish my thought?” 

“Yeah…I knew what you were going to say.” 

Maybe you should call me predictable Professor Rog. 

It was a great class and the guys were eager to learn.  We covered preaching and shepherding. We talked about the pastor’s most important responsibility: staying close to the Lord personally in the Word and prayer (“Abide in me and bear much fruit…apart from Me you can do NOTHING”).  We talked about all the toughies: ministering to the divorced, sexual sin, etc. It’s amazing how similar ministry in the Dominican is to ministry in Wisconsin.  People are just people.

Unlike the others, one guy would stand up every time he wanted to ask a question.  He would always start very seriously, but as he would be finishing his query, the guys around the room would start laughing. Of course, I would be scratching my head until Moises could translate his little comedy shtick – a regular pastoral Jay Leno.  I started calling him the comedian.  

More than anything though, I think the men most appreciated the part of my class that was new from the last time I had taught in Belarus.  I spoke with them about how the gospel was not just for non-Christians, but for Christians also.  I showed them how Paul was eager to preach the gospel to the Christians in Rome (Romans 1).  I told them Paul urged Titus to preach the gospel to his church in Crete, so that his congregation would devote themselves to good works (Titus 3).  Oh, how we as Christians need to be daily reminded of the love of Christ displayed at Calvary for us, so that we will be moved afresh by Christ’s love every day, and devote ourselves anew to serving Him.  

            For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (ESV)

 
4 Comments

Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags:

La Mosca – Garbage dump city

Thursday was a gorgeous, sunny day, and after breakfast on the refreshingly windy third floor terrace where we take our meals, we made the 20 minute trip through Santiago to “La Mosca,” translated, the Fly, where we ministered to about 60 – 70 kids at the G.O. Ministries nutrition center.  La Mosca is a gathering of (1,000? 5,000?) squatters who have made their homes next a great mountain of garbage (I will add pictures soon).

All in all, it was a sight of sadness. Scrawny, emaciated dogs were everywhere.  Purposeless human beings leaned against posts and sat on “porches.”  Upon arrival at the nutrition center, John warned us about the significant dangers of disease (after we touched anything, including the people, we were always to keep our hands away from our faces) and then, as we got out of the van, five to 10 little urchins surrounded him and began hanging on him like metal shards to a magnet.  When John disappeared to set up our visit, I became the magnet.  Apparently these kids didn’t care who was loving them – they just wanted a friend to play. 

Josh (and Elisabeth as the arms) is the wee little man

Our ministry seemed to go very well.  The little VBS that the Knowlton family set up went well, complete with a skit and a nice little craft that we spent hours preparing for what we think will be a total of 300 kids (more kids’ ministry in other locales was to come)  – Sycamore trees out of paper bags.  We helped the La Mosca kids with their crafts, served lunch, had a conversation in broken English/Spanish with a couple of teenagers, and then wandered over about 50 yards for a greater view of the garbage. 

A river of sludge from the festering trash ran next to the mountain of refuse.  Beautiful little girls played nearby on steps made of used tires.  One man wandered through the mountain looking for treasure, often shards of metal that can be traded for cash which will bring meager sustenance.  One “home” seemed especially close, and a couple was sitting in the back.  The woman asked John why he hadn’t brought them something, a completed craft, I suppose, and he said when he had tried to invite them and their kids to the gathering, they were outdoors engaged in… do you want to guess? 

Would you call this love in La Mosca?  I hesitate to do so.  Sex maybe, but I would cast serious doubt on love.  There are many children in this place, but also many single mothers.  Men use these women and leave them, cruelly treating them just like the mountain of refuse where they make their homes.  

Come, Lord Jesus.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

First day in the Dominican Republic

Flying from Miami to Santiago…

What a joy it was to be greeted at the airport by our old friend last night, and then to drive through the Dominican night into his neighborhood.  John is so at home here, opening the windows of the van and shaking hands and talking easy Spanish with anyone and everyone.  He’s obviously well-loved…an example of someone who is so obviously gifted by God to a particular calling…

Woke up to the sound of roosters, Dominican roosters, apparently, because they sound different than ours, but they were definitely roosters. 

Upon awaking, my right ring finger itched.  On further inspection – sure enough, I had been bitten.  Oh, well, it is what it is – a mosquito bite – a very minor annoyance in Wisconsin – a potentially significant problem here in the Dominican Republic.  Mosquitoes are carriers of malaria here, but John doesn’t seem concerned about this disease.  However, since coming here in 2002, John has had Dengue (pronounced den-gay) fever twice, and almost always sleeps with a mosquito net.   Oh, yeah, I guess those were on the list.  Last night was the first time I put Deep Woods Off on before going to sleep – no screens on the windows here in the city.

My foot and leg itch too.

We got our “water education” last night.  You’ve heard it before: “Don’t drink the water!”  Well, it’s serious.  The water here has microscopic worms in it – you don’t even want to rinse your toothbrush in the stuff.  There’s a hand-washing station in our eating area – one bowl you dip your hands into has bleach.  G.O. Ministries had a spurt of time where visiting groups were constantly getting sick.  That’s all changed now, John tells us, because they have become “hand-washing Nazis” with those who come to minister.

Time to shower (no singing into the water) and then breakfast.  We have a full day.  Have already met some pastors I will be teaching.  More later….

 
7 Comments

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Off to Hispaniola

It’s Tuesday morning, 7 a.m., and there is much to do. We’ll be taking off for Chi-town later on this evening, and catching a flight out of O’hare Wednesday morning to the Dominican Republic, where we will meet our long-time friend and missionary John Martinez.  John will be our host over the next week and a half as we minister to local pastors and kids.

It was probably a couple of years ago that I proposed the idea to John about making this visit. Or did he propose it to me?  Who knows, but it was a great idea. Over the last 10 years or so, I had gone on two different trips to Belarus, the one-time satellite of the former Soviet Union, where I twice taught a course to Bible students on pastoral duties (preaching, praying, leading, and loving). John and I thought this course might work well with the pastors to whom he ministers, so we had a basic plan, but lots of pieces needed to fall into place first.

As the trip started to become more and more of a real possibility, it was only a few months back that I began to talk to Diane about coming along.  She and John were friends in graduate school before I was even in the picture, and it seemed only natural to have her come along and minister in some capacity also.  Then one Saturday afternoon a couple of months ago, she and I were beginning to think through a tentative plan for the kids in our absence, and we started to feel that we should actually take them along. They’re all old enough to make a great contribution, and we’re trying to pass on a heart for the world to them as well.  It all seemed to fit.

Then our youth pastor Jamie Thompson came into the picture about the same time.  He’s going to teach the pastors a different seminar on youth ministry, while checking out the ministry and locale for the possibility of bringing the youth group next year.

So now, here we are, about to embark on the great adventure of missions together.  While I teach pastors this course on pastoral duties, the family will be ministering to local kids at 4 or 5 different locations around Santiago. We’ll have about two hours at each site with a total of 300 kids, and we have prepared a little VBS-type teaching, complete with crafts and songs on that famous “wee-little-man”, Zacchaeus.  I think it’s going to be terrific.

John and a friend enjoying his company

Though I’m not sure how it’s all going to fall together, there will be other experiences: We’ll make a day trip to Haiti to see John’s work there.  Josh and Diane will doing some medical missions (he’s planning to study pre-med), and all all of us will be taking part in some construction work, likely on Tuesday of next week.

At the end of the week and a half, we’re going to have one overnight at a beach resort on the northern coast (we have paid for this portion of the trip ourselves).  It’s funny: thinking about it a year or so ago, I really wanted to do this trip in January.  That’s a no-brainer – if you’re going to go on a mission trip to Hispaniola (the name of the island shared by the Dominican and Haiti), you might as well go in the winter. But we didn’t have our act together, so we’re off to the tropics, basically in the summer.

But then again, our timing is not so bad.  On Wednesday, May 30th, serendipity descends.  As our time is winding down, and we are driving through the mountains and arriving at the beach for a day of R & R., Diane and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary.   And, truth is, we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate…serving the Lord with our children in Hispaniola.

Final note: We don’t have wifi in the dorm where we’ll be staying, so I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I’m hoping to make two or three blog posts over the trip, to keep those who are interested informed.  Either way, we’ll be making a family report at the worship services at Edgewood on June 2nd and 3rd.  And lastly…we would really appreciate your prayers!

 
5 Comments

Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: