Challenges and Trials – Working Through Them and Keeping the Vision
Bonswa!! I hope this post finds you all doing well and loving life wherever you may be. We have had a challenging couple of months here in Haiti as we try to move forward within the new community at Leveque. We will continue to move forward as best as we can given the circumstances and climate within the community, but based on the last couple of months I have some new thoughts and reflections on the nature of work in Haiti and on the difficulties that come with development here. I want to clarify before these reflections that I truly believe that the community at Leveque is a game-changer for development, Christian mission, and the empowerment of communities in Haiti. That amidst all challenges, there is a light and a hope for the future that will continue to take stronger root in the hearts and minds of the community. In the pursuit of that light and hope for a better life there will be battles that rage, challenges that will emerge, and people who will attempt to undermine the good work for the sake of greed, political ambition and power. We know that it is often these people whom God transforms and uses for His glory – but man is it difficult to deal with them on a day to day basis right now. . .
As I have written before, Haiti can be an extremely difficult place to work. Due to the raging flood of dependency and entitlement, mixed with the violent and unstable history of Haiti, any true work in development and sustainability is difficult. I have found here that envy, jealousy, and the anger that follows those emotions can manifest terribly and become incredibly detrimental in any attempts at moving forward in communities. We find often (not always) that people here are very quick to anger and very slow to listen or discuss problems, or even come to some sort of compromise. I should clarify here that I do not blame this mentality on the Haitian people – this is what generation after generation of people here have learned – starting with the violent revolution of the early 1800s. For the last 200 years the Haitian people have learned that violence is the best way to get what they want, and that foreigners are not to be trusted or compromised with (and in all fairness, there have been thousands of foreign missions and groups who have promised the world and not come through, have come with good intentions but have done damage in the process, or have come to Haiti to exploit the people who are suffering here – there are of course, thousands more who have helped and empowered . . . ). Millions of people are just trying to survive and they are doing everything that they can to do so – unfortunately that often blocks aspects of development that will be incredibly beneficial for their communities not only today, but for the future.
I think this is an interesting reflection because it sheds a lot of light on why organizations find it so difficult to function here in Haiti and truly help people move beyond dependency. The average person in a community has learned for his or her entire life that violence and rioting are the best ways to get what they want. This is obviously a worldview that is damaging to progress and opportunities to move forward. There are millions of people in Haiti right now who are hurting, suffering and just trying to survive. There are also thousands of missions and organizations working in Haiti to try to bring aid and help to those millions of suffering people.
The true difficulty comes with the realization that we cannot possibly help everyone – that focus, hard work, and pouring into individual communities so that the Haitian communities themselves can someday become agents change for their nation is the real key – it is not billions more dollars in funding, thousands more NGOs setting up shop, etc… etc.. rather, it is hundreds more communities of Haitians helping Haitians that stands a chance of bringing this country out of extreme poverty.
But this is once again where jealousy and envy rear their ugly heads. Just as a hypothetical example . . . It is a wonderful thing to start a school in a community – to be able to focus in on a community or section of a community is necessary. It takes A LOT of work, an incredible amount of coordination, and a true belief in the transforming power of education. In Haiti the difficulty in development is that the surrounding communities often then become jealous and riot or block the opening of the new school until several more schools are built for them, but the surrounding communities of those communities then perpetuate the cycle and no schools are started or built because we can’t possibly build for everyone.
The same holds true for building homes, helping people find jobs, developing programs, etc… etc… For so many communities in Haiti, this mentality hinders pilot programs, the ability to start small and work out the kinks in order to expand. When the first response is to become angry instead of sitting down to talk to try to gain clarity or perspective, there can be no real discussion about the hope of the future – about what this means for the community 6 months down the road, or even 5 years down the road. Again, I should clarify that I do not blame this mentality on the Haitian people – it is a result of what the last several hundred years has wrought in this country. It seems impossible to think about the future when the needs of today are so pressing or overwhelming. Make no mistake, the needs of “today” for millions of Haitians are extremely heavy, oppressive and overwhelming – THAT IS THE REALITY and perception of so many in Haiti – and that leads to a worldview of only thinking about today.
For those who are still trying to block our progress in Leveque, we are trying hard to understand their perspective, and we are all trying hard to help them understand our perspective as well. For housing distribution lists that were done very fairly with the community in a lottery system, the result is that some families will move this month into their new homes – that also means that some families will be waiting for a year in order to get their new homes. As a father or brother in a family I think it would be incredibly difficult if I were towards the end of the list as I watched my neighbors moving forward each month while I waited. Conversely, we also need to see (and help the community to see) that we are building homes as fast as we can, and the only way to truly move forward is if everyone cooperates and works together – but that is again the future orientation that is very difficult for the people in these communities to see.
The possibility for 2 years in the future at Leveque is that everyone has a permanent and safe home with land for a garden, a school for all of the elementary age children, a community center where adults can congregate for literacy classes and vocational training, and overall . . . a true new chance at life. That is the vision and it is truly a possibility – but that vision is only realized when there is cooperation and positive work together on a daily basis for the next many years. WOW – what a tough balance to find and keep reminding people of on a daily basis. Extremely difficult because it also takes a different worldview in love towards one’s neighbor, in placing others above yourself, and in accepting the greater and longer term vision that this is about more than just a house, more than just material possibilities – it is about a flourishing and abundant life for the next several generations of these families. It is about eternity and a life lived in service, peace and humility towards one another. Isn’t that the very nature and detriment of human pride – that it is about “me” and “me first?” This is not something found only in Haiti, it is found all over the world from the wealthiest of nations to the poorest of nations – in Haiti it is manifested much differently.
With that said, I think the positive aspects of moving forward together in new education programs, clean water, gardening and agriculture seminars, an expanding church, recreational activities (all of which have been occurring for several months now) will continue to grow and be the strong foundation for a realization within the larger community – to see firsthand that times of peace and work together have resulted in positive changes to life, and that times of fighting and discord have actually led to halts in construction, fewer opportunities to learn, and blocks to what is possible.
Whew – I could write dozens, maybe hundreds of pages more on this topic, but for the sake of some semblance of brevity will try to wrap things up here. In light of all of these challenges, I have been asking myself often, “so what do we do from here?” The simple answer is that we continue to show up, to try to speak the truth, to try to help people realize that there is something better possible. To teach people that violence will not solve these problems . . . to walk alongside a community as they start to learn a new kind of trust that peaceful work together is the only hope, not only for their community, but for their nation. The famous quote from Edmund Burke states that “the only thing needed for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing.” So again, the question that we ask is “where do we go from here?” The answer remains the same – we show up as (we hope) good men and women to walk alongside and encourage these beautiful and good Haitian men and women in the community – so that as each day comes we STAND for something better together, we STAND for communities that peacefully work together as neighbors, we STAND for communities and a nation that can be changed.
As we have been experiencing these challenges I have spent some time reading the thoughts of great reformers such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa – what we encounter there is the seemingly inherent difficulties that come with great social reform and change within communities. We are all confident that this community can be that change for the nation of Haiti – with the great possibility of social reform and mighty change also arise tremendous obstacles . . . that is extremely exciting, but also, honestly, that is a scary thing to face everyday.
As you can imagine – amidst the challenges I mentioned above it is exhausting, difficult, discouraging, and disheartening to show up many days to encounter that mindset so strongly embedded in communities. Please keep all of the workers in your prayers, to find some measure of peace, to find some measure of rest, and to continue to find strength in walking alongside people as they grasp for a new life for themselves. Also keep the community in your prayers – that the Lord’s peace would reign in their hearts, that a beautiful vision of the future possibilities for everyone would take the place of any jealousy or malice that may currently be overwhelming hearts and minds and consequently creating blocks to moving forward together.
Thank you all for your support and encouragement as we move forward through new roadblocks and challenges in the coming months and years. Keep the prayers coming.
In the Praise and Glory of our Reigning King!!!
grace and peace,