Saturday, May 17, 2003

May 17, 2003

Saturday, May 17 Our team arrived in Chicago about 3:30 PM. Alan is flying tonight to his home in Tupelo, Mississippi. After the big celebration at the school in Pignon, we flew in an old 18-seat airplane of Russian origin to Port-au-Prince. The “airport” in Pignon is nothing more than a field or a cow pasture that has been enclosed with a fence. There are no lights, no buildings, no air traffic control, nothing except a sign to indicate that planes land there. When the plane arrived, we threw our bags on board and the pilot took off within five minutes. Security was informal, to say the least. Last night we stayed at the plush El Rancho Hotel in Port-au-Prince. The hotel is located in an upper-class neighborhood in the mountains about the city. It has two pools, a nice restaurant, and all the amenities that Americans take for granted but are simply nonexistent for most Haitians. It happened that the evangelical seminary in Port-au-Prince was having a dinner there last night. Caleb met a number of friends he hadn’t seen for years. And I ran into Dr. Walt Baker, one of my missions professors from Dallas Seminary back in the 70s. He is the chairman of the board of the seminary in Port-au-Prince. We ate supper with Kent and Linda Ragsdale, Moody grads who have served in Haiti for 44 years. We were up early today for our flight back to the US. I noticed a number of other short-term missionary teams on the flight with us.We saw things in Haiti that were hard to believe even after we saw them.” It seems like a dream even though we were there just a few hours ago. It’s definitely good to be back home again.

Friday, May 16 1:52 PM, College de la Grace, Pignon, Haiti. The big celebration is winding down now. I am writing this update from the newly-installed Internet connection at the school. When I say “newly installed,” I mean they installed the satellite dish sometime yesterday. The dedication service was stupendous. Hundreds of us met in the huge gazebo in the middle of the field next to the school buildings. Other crowded into an adjoining tent. Many of the students listened to the service from their classrooms. Although the stated starting time was 9 AM, we didn’t actually begin until 10:35 AM. We sang (in Creole) “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” the student choir sang, the many visiting dignitaries were introduced, awards were given, and several speeches were given. Little children in light brown and peach uniforms sat attentively through the two-hour service. I spoke about 11:45 AM for a little over 20 minutes. Then Caleb announced the winners of the “Room Decoration Contest.” 1st Place: Ninth Grade; 2nd Place: 11th Grade; 3rd Place: 8th Grade. Like students everywhere, they went wild when the winners were announced. The winning class received $500 Haitian dollars (about $80 US) for their class party. That’s a truly big prize in Haiti. The mayor of Pignon was there, various people from Port-au-Prince, Dr. Guy Theodore from the hospital. In my talk, I told them what Alan said to me last night: “I have seen things here that aren’t suppose to be here.” Generally, you hear only bad news about Haiti, but when you come to Pignon, there are miracles here—things like the school that can only be explained by the hand of God. We ended the service by singing a rousing, up-tempo Creole version of “Count Your Blessings.” Later we had a feast to end all feasts. The chefs outdid themselves with a table fit for the finest restaurant anywhere. We ate and ate (plenty of fried plantain) and drank Cokes (it’s hot and muggy today and there is no air conditioning) and enjoyed the fellowship. I’ve been to Haiti four times and have never eaten like this. Now our work is done and it’s time to go home. In an hour we fly from the grass airstrip across the street to Port-au-Prince. Early tomorrow, we leave for home. God has helped us all week long and we all feel greatly blessed to have been here. Pastor Sidoine hugged me and said, “I love you.” He meant it and I meant it when I told him, “I love you too.”

We feel the love from the Haitian believers and we’re all glad we made the trip. Thanks for your prayers. God willing, I’ll be in the pulpit at Calvary ready for the first service in 42 hours! On that happy note, I’ll sign off from Haiti. Thanks for reading these updates. Thursday, May 15 The tempo is building toward the big event of the week-–tomorrow morning is the tenth anniversary celebration of the Christian high school started by Caleb Lucien–College de la Grace. We will meet in an enormous field with part of the crowd under the gazebo and the rest in tents. Caleb says people are coming from all over Haiti-–from Cap-Haitien and Port-Au-Prince. There will be lots of music, speeches by various dignitaries, and I will bring the dedication message. Caleb plans to announce his dream of starting a Christian university in Pignon in three years. At least 1500 people are expected to attend. They are bringing in the two top chefs from Haiti to oversee the big dinner. Caleb says they are slaughtering a cow plus some goats and some chickens. It will be a feast of Old Testament proportions. And remember, this is Haiti, land of extreme poverty. I was wrong in the numbers I gave yesterday. The Jerusalem Baptist Church sponsors nine schools with 3500 students. The average cost per student per year: $25 US. And still some families cannot afford it. Last night’s crusade service was wonderful. I preached on Joseph and the providence of God in the hard times of life. Afterwards Pastor Sidoine told me they taped the message and plan to broadcast it on the Christian radio station that covers all of Haiti. Right now Alan is operating at the hospital.

What else? We’re all relatively healthy. It rained last night, turning the dust into mud. And this morning we watched as oxcarts loaded with stones lumbered down the dirt road in front of the church. Life here is difficult and the poverty is everywhere, yet I am writing these notes that will be uplinked to a satellite and placed on the Calvary website. The difference between the way most Americans live and the living conditions in Haiti boggles the mind. After the dedication service tomorrow morning, we fly to Port-au-Prince and then back to the US on Saturday. Please pray for us as our trip nears its conclusion. (One note: It is possible that this will be my final update from Haiti. I’ll add a report on the dedication service tomorrow if we have time before we have to fly to Port-au-Prince.)

Wednesday, May 14 So what is it like in Haiti? We’re staying in the village of Pignon. Imagine a town of 37,000 with no electricity, no paved roads, no telephones, no municipal water or sewage system, no newspapers, no air conditioning, very few TVs, and unemployment running around 80%. Per capita income is perhaps $200 per year. You see men riding donkeys and oxen pulling carts loaded with sugar cane. The roads are dusty, filled with potholes, and in places resemble dry creekbeds. Life here is difficult for everyone. There are no grocery stores, and really, there are very few stores at all. People walk wherever they have to go. Lots of students walk two hours to get to school every day. Caleb thinks there may be six or seven cars or trucks in the whole village. Two big changes from ten years ago: You see people with cell phones even though there is no service in this part of Haiti. And there is satellite Internet service for those fortunate enough to have access to a generator. All this makes the work being done by Caleb Lucien and his father Sidoine all the more remarkable. Yesterday Pastor Sidoine (who has been in Pignon for over 50 years) told me that he oversees six or eight (I wasn’t clear about the number) Christian schools for over 1300 students. They charge each student approximately $50 for the whole year. But many parents can’t afford that. What do you do then? “I tell them to come anyway.” Where do you get the money for all this, I asked. “Me?” He said, pausing. Then, emphatically, “God!” “It is a miracle. All my ministry is a miracle.” The folks in Pignon routinely watch God multiply the loaves and the fish so they can keep the camp, the church, the widow’s homes, the many schools, and the branch churches open. All this in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It is humbling to be here. The joy of the Haitian believers is contagious. Whatever good we have done is far outweighed by the good they have done for us. Von spoke powerfully this AM to hundreds of students crowded into the church to hear him. I’m continuing to speak every evening in the crusade. Alan operated on three patients yesterday at the hospital, which is, by all accounts, the finest in Haiti. Another miracle considering the living conditions in Pignon. It’s very hot today–hotter than yesterday. Everything slows to a crawl in the midday hours. Debbie Lucien has been wonderfully gracious to welcome us each day for lunch. That’s why I can send these daily updates. Caleb is a whirling dervish–always on the move, talking to ten people at once, making decisions, laughing, telling jokes, hugging someone. He’s a great, gifted leader. That’s the Wednesday report. God willing, we’ll be back in Oak Park late Saturday afternoon. Thanks for your prayers.

Tuesday, May 13 Sights and sounds from Haiti: Alan has been operating all morning at the hospital, which is, he says, better equipped in its surgical suite than many American hospitals…. We have eaten well on this trip. My personal favorite: fried plantain, sometimes called fried banana, but not exactly like bananas you buy at the grocery store in the US… . We had a restless night at the camp. For some reason the roosters started crowing around 11:30 PM. Later the donkeys chimed in. Of course, you tend to wake up at every strange noise and wonder if someone is outside trying to get in… . We ended up having a crusade service last night… . The tempo of events seems to be building as we move through the week. The whole village is getting ready for the big tenth anniversary celebration of the College de la Grace on Friday AM… . Weather report: Hot, sticky, humid, no air conditioning, lots of dust, chance of rain in the afternoon. That pretty much covers most days in Haiti… Even though we don’t speak Creole, there is a genuine spiritual bond that joins the children of God wherever you are around the world… . Christians here have relatively little of the world’s goods, but their hearts are filled with joy that you can reach out and touch… . Our health is good and we’re having a wonderful week. Thanks for praying.

Monday, May 12 Greetings from Pignon, Haiti. I’m writing this note from the home of Caleb and Debbie Lucien. Our team spent Saturday night at Henoc Lucien’s home in Cap-Haitien (after attending a baptismal service for 17 people at his church). On Sunday we attended the ninth anniversary for the Evangelical Free Church that Henoc pastors. For those used to a typical American service, it’s hard to explain what it was like. We joined with hundreds of people for the outdoor celebration. (Henoc told me that before the church bought the property several years ago, the courtyard was used by witch doctors for voodoo sacrifices.) The service started about 9:45 AM. I got up to preach at 12:35 PM. We finished shortly after 1 PM. The poverty of Haiti is well-known, but the sheer joy of the Haitian believers transcends their difficult economic conditions. Example: The roads in Haiti go from bad to terrible to “you wouldn’t believe it was a road.” It took us about 3 hours to travel 39 miles from Cap-Haitien to Pignon. This morning Von spoke to 800 students at the College de la Grace. We toured the grounds later and realized that only God could have raised up such a school as this. This afternoon Alan begins operating at Hospital Bienfaisance this afternoon. Tonight I speak at a crusade at the church. Before we came, I was told it was a marriage conference for couples. Caleb told me his father, Pastor Sidoine Lucien, may have announced it as a general crusade for the whole congregation. So as I’m writing this at 1 PM, I have no idea what will happen tonight, except I know I’m speaking. Caleb will tell me later what I need to know. But this is my fourth trip to Haiti so I’m perfectly comfortable with an “adjustable” schedule. Coming back from the school today, we decided that the correct answer to this question, “What are you going to do in Haiti?” is really, “I’ll know what I’m going to do when I find out what I’ve actually done.” By the way, it’s hot here—upper 80s, some breeze, low 70s at night. No air conditioning, no electricity unless someone runs the generator. We’re staying at the camp, the same place our team stayed in 1993. That’s the Monday report. As you can tell, we’re having a fine time and are very grateful for your prayers.

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