Sunday, November 10, 2013

Building Community Through Summer Camps in the Diocese of Haiti, Region du Nord

At long last, I want to share a bit about the first ever women and young adult summer camps that were held in the Northern region of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.
Camp Setting

Both camps occurred on the grounds of St. Luc Episcopal Church and School in Trou du Nord, a rural community located about 30 minutes outside of Cap Haitian.  Though St. Luc does not have electricity, it does have a newly renovated and sizable school.  The church has also been recently refurbished.  The quality of the buildings and the spacious property made it an ideal location for the camps.  There were no shower, bathroom or kitchen facilities on the premises.  Ten outdoor showers were constructed, as well as a basic outside structure to serve as the kitchen.  10 portable toilets were also brought in and used for the duration of both camps.  All the campers slept on inflated mattresses or college dorm style mattresses on the floor of the various classrooms.  Each camper brought their own cup, plate and utensils in order to reduce garbage and ensure that each person wash their own cup, plate and cutlery.  Solar run batteries were available in each “dorm” room in the evenings.  Their respective panels were charged during the day.  In addition, a generator ran a few hours each night to provide additional electricity and fill the water tank with essential water for the showers.  LOTS of supplies and equipment were brought to St Luc to properly equip it for the camps.  This even included a large gas stove!  All told, a more rustic camp experience than that of the average American!  It also required the work of many, many people to create and disassemble the three-week camp operation.   


Women’s Camp
47 women from throughout the Region Nord participated in the women’s camp.  They ranged in age from late 20’s to 80.  All were thrilled about the opportunity to come together and strengthen their general knowledge of Church History and the Bible, while also sharpening their leadership skills in Church Ministry.  The women even had a two-hour session on health care, for some, the first in their lives.   Worship services were held three times a day.  It was during evening prayer, though, when the women broke loose in full song and dance.  Madame Jacques, one of the 8 cooks who provided meals for both camps, led one of my favorite dances, affectionately called the “chicken dance”.  Every open space was filled with women dancing and singing!

The women look forward to having camp again next July.  They have asked that it be longer and that more women attend.  They are also willing to pay more to come.  This is welcome news to any camp coordinator’s ears!  Women are the backbone of Haiti.  They have a strength and capacity that is beyond comprehension.  They also have a faith that is unfailing, inspiring and ALWAYS joyful.    


Young Adult Camp

As some of you know, youth and young adult ministry is my passion.  I was particularly excited about the young adult camp.  67 young adults participated.  While I was readily accepted by the women, it was somewhat less the case at the beginning of the Young Adult camp.  I should not have been surprised.  Trust and acceptance needs to be earned, especially among young people.  Most of the young adults had never met me before.  I imagine they might have been thinking “Who is this ‘Blanc’ (White person)?  Why is she really here?  Does she care about ME?”  There were certainly some ups and downs along the way as we worked to build a sense of community, mutual respect and responsibility.  As each day passed, the group became more connected.  And as we washed dishes together, used the same portable toilets and outdoor showers and cared for each other when someone was sick or upset, we gradually grew into a family.  I was no longer the “Blanc”, I was Kyle.  As in the U.S., I am now engaged in the occasional text message exchange, shared postings on Facebook and a shout out in Cap when one of the local youth sees me in the street.  I eagerly await next summer’s camp and know an even greater sense of community and leadership development will occur.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Six months In Haiti-Still Finding My Way In This Call

I owe an apology to all those who have offered me encouragement and support in my work in Haiti.  I have not posted a blog entry since the end of May.  Truly shameful.  I am not going to try to make excuses.  It has certainly been a busy few months for me.  However, I just seem to be less disciplined, less intent on writing about my experiences during this appointment.  I am not sure why that is.  I will try to be better about sharing my experiences.  As on of my dear friends says, “It allows your prayer partners to know how to pray.”  Of course, I also want readers to have an opportunity to understand a little more about Haiti and its remarkable people.

I want to share some thoughts on the 6-month anniversary of my second appointment in Haiti.  As I reflect on my first appointment in 2008-2009, it was truly a “honeymoon” mission assignment.  I was living with two courageous and deeply faithful young women, Margarette Saintilver and Carmel Chery, who were literally blazing a trail for young women called to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.  We became very close during that year, forging a bond that remains today.  I also had a wonderful rapport with the rest of the seminarians and, in some ways, served as a kind of Dean of Students at the seminary.  I wrote numerous grants that year and, amazingly, each one was approved for funding.  I had a great relationship with Pere Oge Beauvoir, the Dean of the Seminary and leader in many other aspects of the Diocese of Haiti.  I also lived in Port au Prince, within easy walking distance to the Champs des Mars, the center of historic and governmental operations for the City.  While it took a few months to gain my stride, there was a common rhythm to each day and a sense of accomplishment in ministry.

My current three-year appointment has been different.  Reporting to a Bishop requires a different level of accountability, a deeper understanding of the inner workings of the Church and a MUCH busier travel schedule!  As Bishop Beauvoir is the first Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Haiti, particularly focused on laying the groundwork for the Northern Region to become its own Diocese, the goals are high and expectations higher.  There is wonderful energy in the region about becoming its own Diocese.  Aside from the technical process (which I won’t go into at this point) our work requires both a strengthening of existing churches and ministries as well as expansion and development of new efforts.  It is both exciting and daunting.  I find myself involved in uncharted territory and, above all, want to make sure that I am able to work effectively in helping to actualize the vision for the Region du Nord.

And how do I know God’s hand is in it all?  First, because I feel God with me every day.  Secondly, because I feel the loving prayers and support of friends and family from the states, Kenya and Haiti.  And, thirdly, because, I am continually reminded of the incredible intersections that occur in life to help bring people together to do good work.  Just the other day, I was taking a cab to the Bishop’s office (Haitian cab rides are worthy of their own blog post!).  There was already someone in the front seat when I got in.  There was no conversation until we pulled up at the Bishop’s office.  Then the Haitian woman in the front seat turned around, and in beautiful English, asked if I knew of any apartments for rent.  She then said, “I know this is a strange question, but do you know anyone working with the Episcopal Church?”.  It turns out that her nonprofit is interested in possibly working with our farming school.  On top of that, her last name is Holly, so she is related to the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti!  It is these moments that convince me that I am where I need to be and that God will be by my side and all those working to effect positive change in the Region du Nord.

Next blog post will reflect on the woman and young adult summer camps!          

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fete Dieu- Feast of Corpus Christi

Today, May 30, is Fete Dieu, or the feast of Corpus Christi. It’s celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday in the States but, in Haiti, it falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.  It is a big feast, with services of Holy Communion preceded by very large street processions.

I only became aware of the day's significance when our office secretary did not appear for work.  As has happened before, I immediately turned to the calendar and discovered today's celebration.  In doing some research on Fete Dieu via the internet, I found the article below, written by world renowned Haitian author Edwidge Danticat, during her August 2011 visit to Haiti.  If you are not familiar with Edwidge's writing, this article will give you a taste for the power of her words.  Her reflections also provide a wonderful representation of the strength of the Haitian people and the permanence, amidst loss, corruption and destruction, of this incredible country.

It’s the morning of Corpus Christi, Fête Dieu, in Haiti. The sun rises early, along with a chorus of voices singing hymns all over Port-au-Prince. Altar boys in flowing white robes and girls in communion dresses weave rosary beads through their fingers. Their parents walk at their side, their faces glowing in the sun.

 Larry Towell / Magnum

the-city-port-au-prince-OV50-main-artCORPUS Christi processions are meant to commemorate Christ’s body in pain, but many Haitians have their own pain. The procession circles a displacement camp where mothers are bathing their children in front of the layers of frayed tarp they call home. Before entering the crowd with her grandmother, my 6-year-old daughter, Mira, who is returning to Port-au-Prince for the first time since the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, repeats something she’s told us many times since we landed in the city: “I thought everything was broken.”

Built for 200,000 people yet home to more than 2 million, Port-au-Prince is a city that constantly reminds you of the obvious, as though you were a 6-year-old. No, not everything is broken. And no, not all the people are dead. It is a city that everything—political upheaval, fires, hurricanes, the earthquake—has conspired to destroy, yet still it carries on. The still-leaning houses and the rubble that has begun to grow weeds, the tent camps that have become micro-cities of their own, all bear their own testimony to a city that should have ground to a halt long ago, yet continues to persevere.  The republic of Port-au-Prince, as it is often called, is a city of survivors. It is a city where paintings line avenue walls, where street graffiti curse or praise politicians, depending on who has paid for them. It is a city of so much traffic that it has become a city of shortcuts and back roads. It is also a city of cell phones, where conversations sometimes end abruptly because someone has run out of prepaid minutes.

It is a city of entrepreneurs, a city of markets where the vendors are as numerous as the products being sold. It is a city of music, from the street pharmacists who sing the values of their wares, to the konpa music blasting from the colorfully painted tap-taps. It is a city of canal-clogging foam food boxes and discarded plastic. It is a city of trash being constantly burned, of dust-covered trees.

It is now, too, a city of tremors, tremors that are sometimes felt based on your level of experience with previous tremors, where you might be sitting with someone and that person feels the earth shake and you don’t feel a thing. It is a city where sometimes you both feel the tremors and panic equally, especially when others have dashed outside or leaped out of windows in fear.

It is also, you might be surprised to learn, a city of readers and writers, where at the annual Fête Dieu Livres en Folie book festival thousands of people stream into an old sugar-cane plantation to meet 135 Haitian writers. Among those who show up at the book festival are the former musician-president of the country, the chief of police, senator-authors, and a former Army colonel who has written a book profiling the current president.

What do you write when you’re asked to sign the colonel’s book?

You attempt in your best Creole, “Best of luck in your new career as a writer.”

My 25-year-old cousin Pat, who has just spent three days at a Port-au-Prince clinic recovering from cholera and is one of 800,000 Haitians who might get the disease this year, pensively watches this along with an older friend, Nèl, who like many Haitians believes that post-earthquake Haiti should have another capital, but is not sure it ever will.

“Port-au-Prince is one of the most indestructible places in the world,” Nèl likes to say. “People will live or die here, but Port-au-Prince will always remain.”

Edwidge Danticat is the author, most recently, of Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. She recently returned from her Native Port-Au-Prince, where she participated in the country’s annual book festival, Livres En Folie. These are her reflections on a city where she spent the first 12 years of her life and that she visits often.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Festival Day For Church of the Resurrection

The traditions around naming have been an important part of human history. Many cultures have particular practices when naming a person or place of significance. I am particularly familiar with the various ways that names are chosen in Kenya. Each of Kenya’s 42 tribes has a different custom. Some determine a child’s name based on the time of day they are born, where they are, whether they are twins etc. Every one of us has a story about the reason their particular name was chosen for them, how it ties them to their family or a certain circumstance. For most, it is part of one’s identity, something to be celebrated. And so it is with the celebration of church names in the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. Each parish celebrates its name on the designated day or day closest to that of the same saint. For example, a church named St. Francis would celebrate its naming on or close to St. Francis Day. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in the naming festival for Church of the Resurrection in Gros Mornes. These annual celebrations require the involvement of everyone in the parish, whether to help get the church ready for the big day, practice music, prepare the huge volume of food, determine sleeping arrangements for all the visitors etc. For the naming celebration does not just involve the immediate congregation. People who grew up in the community and have relocated return each year to participate. All members of the associated mission churches and preaching stations come great distances from the mountains to join in the festivities. Choirs from throughout the Diocese share in the liturgy with an abundance of singing in French and Creole. Clergy who had any ties to the parish, whether because it was their home church or because they served there at one time, also travel to share in the joyous occasion. It is a massive undertaking that is incredibly moving and inspirational to witness and take part in. Bishop Beauvoir, his wife, Serette, and I arrived on Saturday around lunchtime. The last part of the trip, on a road between a town called Gonaive and Gros Mornes, is particularly challenging. Perhaps it is not fair to even call it a road. It is all gravel with plenty of ruts and obstacles, including the occasional goat, cow, dog or, of course, person. You spend most of your time driving back and forth across the road. That stretch occupies about 1/3 of the 2 ½ -3 ride from Cap Haitian. Traveling the route in a typical tap tap or on a motorcycle must be quite an adventure! Lunch was already on the table as we arrived. The Rector’s wife, Luvernia, probably has the most people to accommodate during the festival weekend. She is not only managing all those who come for a singular meal but also provides the food for the large luncheon following the service on Sunday. Luvernia attended culinary school, so we were all spoiled by her fabulous food AND desserts (not commonplace in everyday Haitian eating.). Saturday afternoon was a time for band and choral rehearsals, various meetings, decorating the church and other related events. I held a meeting with the young adults of the parish, in search of their ideas for the 1st Annual Northern Region Young Adult Camp, scheduled for July 19-31. While at first reluctant to share, soon everyone wanted to pose questions and offer suggestions for the inaugural camp. After our meeting, I spent some informal time with individual young people, especially those interested in assuming some leadership with the camp. I was then privileged with some free time and chose to observe the other activities and connect with some of the children. I was particularly drawn to two young girls, sisters, who clearly loved each other very much. We spent a good deal of time getting to know each other through a string of questions. After dinner, there was a choral concert provided by all the groups who planned to participate in the next day’s service. It was a wonderful evening of music and fellowship. Then, it was off to our little hotel for the night. Early the next morning, we arrived at Pere Jonas and Luvernia’s house for a fabulous breakfast of Haiti’s traditional soup and other fare. Clergy then vested and prepared for the street procession in advance of the service. Everyone, clergy, choirs, musicians and parishioners alike, gathered in the church courtyard for the procession. Children and adults who had stayed at the church for the night enjoyed their last bit of hot chocolate or coffee and bread before heading out on the street. It is really difficult to translate the image of the massive procession that traveled from the back of the church through the streets and into the church doors into words. Even my pictures do not adequately reflect the power of this powerful symbol of community in Christ. Service attendants spilled out into the courtyard that surrounded the church, where benches were supplied as well as televisions for remote viewing of the liturgy. It was an incredible worship experience, particularly since Bishop Beauvoir and Jonas Beauvoir are brothers and Bishop Beauvoir grew up in Gros Morne. The day was capped off with a magnificent lunch of everything imaginable- parrot fish, conch, goat, chicken, beet salad (One of my favorites!), macaroni & cheese and a sea of beautiful cakes, pastries and cookies from which to choose. As we made our way to Port au Prince that afternoon, all the twists, turns and various obstacles on the road were made tolerable by the rich memories of the previous two days. I anxiously await the next festival day of a parish in the North. In a time of declining numbers in the pews and other challenges for Episcopal Churches in the U.S., perhaps we, too, should consider strengthening the community of our own parishes as well as the community of the larger church through this wonderful tradition.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Maundy Thursday- Loving Sacrifice and Humility

What is the significance of Maundy Thursday? At face value, it is Jesus's Last Supper with His disciples and foot washing. Much more than that,though, it represents everlasting bonds in faith and humility in service, sometimes beyond comprehension. And so it was for me my first Maundy Thursday back in Haiti. The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, particularly the Northern Region, has a growing relationship with Food For The Poor (, an inspiring, faith based nonprofit headquartered in Coconut Creek, Florida that serves the underserved in the Caribbean. One of our Diocese's responsibilities is to distribute food on schedule and on an as needed basis to villages near Cap Haitien. Maundy Thursday was a day designated to make four such deliveries. I was part of the team delivering to Chastenoye, a large village supported by Nativity Catholic Church in Burke, VA through Food for the Poor. We arrived with 85 sacks (more than 110 lbs.) of rice, 16 sacks (60 lbs.) of beans and 8 gallons of oil. As we moved from the paved roadway to dirt, the result of two full days of rain was evident. It was a sea of mud (boule in Creole) and I was wearing a pair of leather low-rise shoes. This was going to be interesting. We identified the village leaders and quickly began to unload the rice and other goods into a new, currently unoccupied house. Residents began to form around the truck and, soon, a sizable crowd emerged. They were relieved and overjoyed to see the rice, beans and oil, as they shared that they had no food for the Easter weekend. I wonder how many of us on any particular day question where our next meal is going to come. As we finished unloading the truck, I asked if there was a family who had experienced particular challenges of late. I was directed to a woman who was eager to share the strife of her family and bring me to her home. I speak very little Creole, so, as she spoke, one of the community leaders translated her story into French for me. En route to her home, I was greeted by many children, a couple of whom took my hands. This is one of my favorite parts of theses visits. At one point, I mis-stepped in some of the abundant mud, resulting in some landing on the back of my left sock and leg. Soon we arrived at the woman’s house and were met by a large pool of fairly deep water. I started to proceed toward the back of the house, hoping to access the porch from the other direction. I was quickly stopped by the residents, who explained that the water and mud was even worse in the back. Suddenly, a woman came up to me from behind, expressing distress that I had mud on my leg and sock. She immediately wiped it off. Then, seeing my dilemma, she scooped me up and carried me over the water. I was speechless and deeply moved, both by her kindness and her strength! Once I heard all the challenges before this particular family (to be shared in another blog entry) and started to say my goodbyes, I could feel the woman re-appear behind me. Before I could say anything, I was, once again, wisked across the water. By this time, the truck had been moved to our current location. As I approached the door, I asked the woman for her name. "Rachel", she said. She asked me to write it down. "I will remember", I said. And I have and I will, always. On the typical Maundy Thursday, we may think of the Last Supper and foot washing. This year, my sacred moment was the loving touch and spirited assistance of Rachel, my new and blessed friend in Chastenoye.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Pilgrimage To Church

My home parish is about a 10-minute drive from my house. It is easily accessed on well-paved roads and also relatively close to a shopping center with a grocery store, drug store and other amenities. This could not have been farther from the truth in my recent journey to the dedication of a school and church in a community called Molas. We changed our vehicle to a sturdy 4X4 in Gros Mornes and headed for the hills, literally! At a certain point in off roading through waterways and rocky terrain, we left the car at a coffee grower’s home and continued to make our way to Molas on foot. Four hours each way, up and down mountains, crossing brooks, navigating narrow pathways on the edge of was quite something. It really gave me a glimpse into the life of Haitians so far removed from medical care and needs which we take for granted. In the midst of my struggle to climb steep hillsides and brace myself on rugged terrain, I marveled at the ease with which Haitians of all ages scampered, if not ran, by me, some barefooted. Ah to be that agile again! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, the way all of Haiti must have been long ago. Though people commented on the decrease of trees each time they visited, I was still captivated by the splendor of the lush, green landscape and the clear streams. When one needs to hike 4 hours for a dedication, all the necessary accoutrements must come as well. Picture an entourage of people carrying vestments, beverages, musical instruments and other paraphernalia. Of course, the musicians were not only carrying their instruments, they were playing them! Talk about a joyful noise- a full band leading the procession with great hymns. The music only needed to stop briefly when a particular donkey was frightened by the sound and refused to pass. We arrived at our inspiring destination and spent a delightful night in the cool mountain air, completely absent of mosquitoes. The next morning, following the adornment of balloons and loving handcrafted banners from the sponsor church, Holy Family, Chapel Hill, NC, everyone assembled at the school for its dedication. We all then processed to the church for it dedication. The service was wonderfully celebratory, filled with lots of music delivered by various singing groups, and capped off with the confirmation of 22 people of varying ages. Following a quick lunch, it was time to begin the hike back to the car. Though concerned that my right knee might act up after all the travel of the previous day, a bamboo walking stick served to lighten the strain. Before I knew it, we were back in our vehicle, making our way to Gros Mornes and then on to Port au Prince. I am sure there were those who wondered whether the “Blanc” was actually going to go the distance. While certainly challenging, I felt incredibly blessed to be able to share in the experience of those two days. I hope to have it again during my assignment, whether back to Molas or another part of the North. It is important for the Haitian people in all parts of this country to know that they are loved and valued. And it is important for those of us who have easier lives to be made aware of life in places far more remote. While there are decided challenges that those communities face, there is also a joie de vivre in the simplicity of their lives and the value they place on their families and caring for one another. The new school and church will add important hope and solidarity to the already rich village of Molas.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Haiti - Social : 102nd International Women's Day

Today, Friday, March 8, the world celebrates the 102nd anniversary of the "International Day of Woman". Its many events already announced, Haiti, Atlanta, France, to Montreal, where Haitian women will be honored. Atlanta "Woman and Society" : The Consulate General of Haiti in Atlanta informs the Haitian community and the general public, that it organizes on the occasion of "International Women's Day", a day of reflection and of training on the theme "Women and society "Saturday, March 9, 2013, from 10:00 am at the Springhill Suites, Marriott, located #3459 Buckhead Loop N.E Atlanta GA 30326. This day will be moderated by Ms. Michèle Toledo Cainas Director of Program "Georgia Latin Against Domestic Violence" (GLADV), designed for the women of pastors in the Haitian community of Atlanta, most of the time witnesses and confidantes of problems faced by the members of our society, which will constitute and will animate groups of reflections within their respective assemblies. The Consulate General of Haiti in Atlanta, wish a happy feast to all Haitian women, particularly those of the community of Georgia and State under its jurisdiction. Haiti, tribute to 8 Haitian women : Friday, March 8, 2013 from 7 pm to 9 pm in Room Franck of the Hotel Montana, the Ministry of Culture, took advantage of the "International Women's Day" to honor posthumously, 8 women writers whose names already appear in the great book of history. They are immortal by their remarkable writings published and unpublished, which have contributed to the flourishing of Haitian literature. Haiti, opening of the exhibition "Without women no peace" : Friday, March 8 at 6:00 pm in partnership with the Swiss Embassy in Haiti, will take place the opening of the itinerant exhibition "Without women no peace" presented in Europe and in several countries of Latin America. "Without women no peace" was born in 2005 on the initiative of the international network "Women of Peace around the world" which includes 1,000 women, from more than 150 countries, named that year for the Nobel Prize for Peace. Among them, Haitian women such as Marie Carmelle Rose Anne Auguste, Nicole Magloire and Paula Clermont Péan. This exhibition pays tribute to these women and allows the public to discover the different facets of the struggle for peace throughout the world, as well as UN resolution 1325, adopted in 2005, recognizes for the first time officially, the role of women in the process of consolidation of peace in the world. Free entry from March 8 to 25, at the French Institute of Haiti, 99 rue Lamartiniere, Bois Verna Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti : Conference on nutrition and economic empowerment of women : To mark the International Women's Day, a conference on nutrition and economic empowerment of women, will be held Friday, March 8 at 5pm in the room Unesco of the FOKAL with Ms. Sabine Lamour, specialist genres and gender relations and Ms. Lawrence, head of the office of development and nutritional support of the U.S. Agency for cooperation. Montreal, months of Feminists activities Friday, March 8, the Maison d'Haiti in Montreal located at 7501, streeet François-Perrault, Montreal, QC, H2A 1M1 Metro Saint-Michel, invites you to two events on the occasion of its months of Feminists activities under the matronage of the Great Anacaona, Queen of Ayiti Kiskeya Boyo. The launch will take place March 8 to 9 and the closure, April 6, 2013 from 4 pm to 8 pm (National Day of the Movement of Haitian Women organizations). Launching and closure are open to all. Parking spaces available. For information contact the Maison d'Haiti: 514-326-3022 ext 225 or 221. France, "Les Elles d'Haïti" : The Association "Flame D'espoir France Haiti"organizes the first edition of "Les Elles d'Haïti" on 9 and 10 March from 2h30 pm to 7h30 pm at the Maison de l'économie et de l'Emploi, located 23 avenue Lombart 92260 Fontenay-aux-Roses, France. Portraits of women of Haitian descent engaged and involved, such as Mimi Barthélémy, Anne Lescot and Milcah, will be exposed, to pay tribute to the woman. This event is organized around an exhibition-sale of paintings, jewelry, books and art pieces made ​​by Haitian artists. Books of haitians authors will also be on sales. he artist zouk Milcah, Patron of the Association, will be present for a book signing, Saturday, March 9 from 4h30 pm. HL/ HaitiLibre