In this excerpt, Sally Smith Garmon recounts the story of a covenant-forming trip with mission partners at St. Etienne Church in Haiti in May 2014. In a collaboration with Solar Under the Sun and Central Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas, the mission team is working to provide solar power and clean water to this rural community.
The full article was first published in the special Mission Edition of the Steeple Times (September 2014).
We begin our journey with the sensory overload of the streets in Port au Prince. People are everywhere—on foot, motorbikes, trucks—and the buses contribute a persistent “tap-tap” to the melee, all honking their horns.
Marketplaces teem with people bartering, laughing, talking, and singing amidst piles of vegetables, fruits, animals, appliances, and clothing. The air is thick with exhaust and smoke from burning trash, the ground strewn with puddles of diesel and sewage. Smells seem more pungent this trip, as our rented Kia’s air conditioner is broken, our windows rolled down. We are feeling the two-hundred-degree temperature and the five-gazillion-percent humidity. It really makes me feel alive.
Traffic moves surprisingly well, although at times we find ourselves nose to nose with another vehicle. Lucson, our Haitian driver, intuitively and deftly inches into almost imperceptible gaps, and zigzags around six vehicles in oncoming traffic with surgical precision and nerves of steel. Miraculously, it seems, we make it through yet another intersection unscathed. Chris looks back over the front seat and smiles at us. We smile back.
It’s early Sunday morning and eerily quiet. The dogs have temporarily stopped barking and the roosters have not yet begun crowing. I am lying under mosquito netting at the Catholic compound, Palmiste au Vin, where we have spent the night, before we meet and worship with our covenant partner, the church at St. Etienne. Chris and Ruthie McRae and Dan Daniel are still asleep in their quarters. I am full of anticipation as I pray for our mission.
After breakfast, we drive to St. Etienne, where we are warmly welcomed by the priest, Pere Desire (pronounced Pair Dez-i-ray; pere is Creole for father). Worship starts shortly thereafter, and Chris McRae preaches, with Frantzou Avril, LWW in-country technician, translating. We sing from hymnals, the words in Haitian Creole, and we join voices in prayer to the same triune God. Our mission partners share the same attributes of our own congregational families: dignity, grace, reverence, and joy. Their musical style is faintly reminiscent of reggae, and their language is mostly incomprehensible to us, but their worship is ordered, inclusive. We are in the body of Christ.
After worship and lunch, we move forward in our discussions with St. Etienne’s water council, a body of people who, along with Pere Desire, will be entrusted with helping install and maintain their solar-water system. The water council develops business plans to promote the system’s sustainability, taking into consideration the potential for growth in their community and congregation. Just as in our most beloved biblical stories, this story has deep roots that began simply. As embodied by the cistern they built months before we arrived at St. Etienne, this story is about faith—in forming this partnership—and hope—that someday the people of St. Etienne would have pure water for their people to drink.
After our visit to St. Etienne, we travel over mountains to the Ascension Church and School in the coastal city of Bainet. Last year our mission partner, CPC Fort Smith, rebuilt a solar-water system there that serves not just the church and school, but the entire community. We’re here now to check on the system and provide help with any maintenance issues that have arisen. . . .
Later that day we visit St. Innocent’s School, a trek up a remote mountaintop where the school sits on an impenetrable rock foundation where no well can be dug. Against all odds, a meal program has been established there for eighty-five students using water from the restored solar-water facility down the mountain at Ascension Church and School. The meal program is the outcome of FPC Johnson City, Tennessee’s covenant with the parents, teachers, principal, and priest (who oversees the school). Together they built a rudimentary kitchen on the mountaintop, supplied it with a wood-burning stove, and built a secure storage room on campus for the food, which comes from a U.S.-based program administered in Haiti. The nutritional requirements of each child are recalculated monthly, based on their weight, and each child’s portions are adjusted accordingly to meet their needs. Before the meal program, some of these children only ate two meals per week.
The key obstacle in establishing the school’s meal program was the lack of available water on the rock mountaintop, where a well is out of the question. The water to cook the food is now ferried up the mountain daily on a motorcycle that holds four saddlebags, each carrying five gallons of water purified by the solar-water system at Ascension. I feel as if I have come full circle, having shadowed the team from Johnson City on my first trip to Haiti, as they formed the covenant for this remarkable initiative. I marvel at the things God has shown me of his grand design and purpose!
The principal at St. Innocent’s School, Roger Jean Baptiste, is frugal: he cuts a piece of paper measuring 8-½-by-11 inches into sixteen separate pieces in order to share his contact information with me on one of those tiny fragments. This reminds me of how we are all also pieces of God’s kingdom, and how we can and should partner and share in stewardship of his resources. Principal Baptiste knows not merely how to make do with less, but how to make more with less.
If you are fortunate enough to serve God in a country like Haiti someday, you will meet people through whom you will see God’s gift in a new light . . . We can never repay God’s gift, but we are all called to share it, with abandon, with all those we meet along the way.