The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Haiti

By Leslie Nacke

I’d like to bundle up every St. Philip parishioner, every American for that matter, and have them experience what I have seen, heard and smelled on my three trips to Haiti.

As we drove through the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince we saw many children in neat, clean uniforms. Their parents sacrifice greatly to buy these mandatory uniforms just for the opportunity to send their children to school. As they walked, their heads were held high with purpose. As a teacher, it was reassuring to see such determination in their faces.

We visited a boys’ orphanage. One young boy, about 6, had me sit next to him while he proudly read from his book. He was eager to show what he had learned. His warm smile melted my heart. We delivered a few of the 25 soccer balls we
brought with us. The boys were so grateful to kick a real soccer ball since so many Haitians substitute a wad of tied up old socks for the real thing. Soccer is, after all, their only national sport. A group of boys, determined to learn a few English words, chanted after me “Kick soccer ball!”

On a previous pilgrimage we brought along 400 St. Philip “holy bears”. Their destination was Cite Soleil, the slums where 600,000 people live in squalor. Cardboard shacks pass as housing. Open sewage runs in the street, with no fresh water. Our bus drove into the heart of the slums to deliver these bears to a group of more fortunate children who attend a Food for the Poor kindergarten. This class is a pure oasis in devastating surroundings.

Children lined up in their crimson uniforms, each with their right hand on the child’s shoulder in front of them. We walked down each row, placing a teddy bear in each set of arms. Their eyes danced and the sweetest sound I ever heard fell from their lips….Merci. It broke my heart when to think that when the bell rang at 3:00 the locked gate would open and they would return home to the sewers and the shacks beyond the gate.

There are smells in Haiti. While on our way to visit our sister parish in Boileau we drove through the crowded streets of Port-au-Prince and witnessed MARKET, a means of daily survival. Streets were packed with people who had a few wares to sell. Open sewage was everywhere. It was a horrifying, yet bustling, sight.

When we returned from Boileau it was dark. MARKET was now in full swing, lit by kerosene lamps, with sellers trying to find buyers for their mangoes, pieces of fabric or chewing gum. The air-conditioning in our bus gave out, so we had to
open the windows. The most repugnant smell hit us with an odor we will never forget.

The daily conditions of Haitians are filled with sights, sounds and smells that are so removed from our sheltered, comfortable existence in America. I hope you will consider joining a Haitian pilgrimage to see for yourself this unique
culture because you will be forever changed and your fire will be eternally lit to keep this ministry alive.

God Is Full of Surprises!

By Juli McCullagh

Give alms from what you have and look, everything will be clean for you. Luke 11:41

We get things backwards quite often, in our good intentions, in our security, in our way of life. We hear the admonition to give of ourselves, give our 10% tithe, perform our works of mercy and our acts of charity. We listen to the Gospel (you know, the one so often read on Christ the King Sunday just before the Advent shopping season begins and we get in the Christmas spirit through buying things we don’t need and eating food that makes our clothes too tight) about the sheep and the goats and feeding Christ whom we find in the hungry and the homeless and the abandoned. Somehow, in our comfort, we think that it is we who are giving when we write a check or visit the sick or even when we sponsor helpful programs to bring our brethren in places foreign and familiar a little closer to the comforts and the standards of living which we take for granted and cannot imagine anyone being happy or satisfied without. We know that we are the ones with all the blessings and it is our duty to share those blessings with  those who have not. It is simple redistribution. We give. Others receive.

Well, sure, I guess. That’s what it looks like. But what about… and then, in whatever time it takes for us to understand, it dawns on us that we are not the only ones doing the giving in these transactions. Something else is at work here, something that pries open our guarded hearts and wounds us in a glimpse of understanding.

God is full of surprises.

Just read the testimonies of the Haitian Pilgrims who go armed with charity and good works and medicines and generators and plans for schools and clinics and lunch programs. They come home changed. They received gifts in their works of mercy they cannot put in the bank or hang on a wall. But just talk to them and look at the photographs they want to show us. These are not photographs you will see in the New York Times or on a 20/20 report. All you see in those media
is the poverty and corruption and misery. In the photos our Pilgrims share of the devastated landscape, the shacks of cardboard and scrap metal, you can hear the children laugh. Look at the photographs of the elderly women with love
wrapped like a mantel around them, giving that love freely to all who come near. Some are blind, some have diseases we no longer tolerate in our land of plenty, most are frail, but yet, they laugh, they cry, they hope, they love. And in their weakness they break through our defenses and our certainties. They break straight through to our well-protected hearts and teach us.

But what do they teach us?

If we are inclined to a spiritual nature, they teach us to pray. In our practical and sensible prayerful undertakings we request relief from their poverty, their hunger, their illnesses. We pray to be guided in the service we can offer, in the gifts we can share, in the funds we can direct their way, in the buildings we can construct and the lessons we can teach from our success. We let our imaginations and our better nature wander over the possibilities of how we can teach them to be more successful, like us, and partake of the good things in life. And that is good. We need to do that. We need to open our hearts and our minds and our pocketbooks and share our abundance.

If we stay at prayer a little longer, though, we begin to learn some things beyond checking off items on our works of mercy to-do list. Prayer raises uncomfortable questions and irritates us in the places we thought we had life figured out. All day we are bombarded with images of success and glamour and conveniences and newer and faster and better and bigger. We have a culture that celebrates the ridiculously rich and vain. We scoff at the vanity of these famous for being famous folks, yet, deep in our hearts we do believe that a certain level of comfort and security are necessary for a happy life. We work hard, go to school, and put in overtime. We know that money cannot buy happiness yet we hedge our bets and gather around us our comforts as best we can. Then, without meaning to, we resemble a certain Mr. Scrooge when he complains to his spirit guide on seeing the Cratchets celebrating that they have no business being happy since they are so poor, to which the spirit retorts you have no business being miserable, you are so rich. We are struck to the core of our
conceit when we see that the light of love and life shines in the happy eyes of God’s poorest children. And perhaps, that’s when we begin to realize that it is in giving that we receive and what we receive is a new heart.

I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit within you and make you keep my laws and respect and practice my judgments. Ezekiel 36:26-28

The Devotion I Saw In Haiti

By Roberta Phillips

Prior to visiting Haiti last February I was certain I knew the meaning of devotion. As a wife, mother and nurse for 37 years I learned devotion from family, friends and colleagues. My time in Haiti added another level to my education on devotion, witnessing the true work of Christ on earth amidst abject poverty.

Father Tony is a priest who cares for AIDS patients in his clinic while bestowing the love of devotion of Christ. His demeanor is gentle and humble. He treats his patients with a kind touch and caring words, holding his hand to his
heart while he speaks. His ‘presence’ embodies the Christ in the gospels as He heals the sick. He treats them with respect. The expression on the faces of the patients he touches is equally moving. Clearly the patients prize beyond words
the concern and love he brings to each.

The numerous patients are squeezed into the small building. Rows of narrow beds fill the room with barely enough room to squeeze between the beds. There is no medical equipment. There are no windows; the upper halves of the walls are open to allow air for some ventilation. Clearly the need is much greater than the resources to respond. And there is no sign of improvement from one year to the next. Father Tony has been here for about ten years. Each day it is a challenge to get the food and help needed to just provide them a place to spend their last days.

Fr. Tony is doing Christ’s work here on earth, which is, I believe, the utmost form of devotion. Day in and day out caregivers like Fr. Tony are challenged to help the people of Haiti believe, survive and learn, regardless of their own needs and afflictions. There is no pay. There is little visible progress to provide a sense of achievement or reward. I imagine that the priests, nuns, nurses, doctors and teachers feel great satisfaction when they share the word of God, save a life, cure an infection or teach someone to read. I imagine they have a great deal of contentment and peace from the work they
do.

How do these caregivers continue day in and day out? I believe it is prayer. They need our prayers. As a Haitian Pilgrim not only is it my privilege to encourage prayer for all the people of Haiti, but to encourage prayer for all the courageous and devoted caregivers who nurture them every day. I feel I saw Jesus in the face of both the caregivers and the patients in Fr. Tony’s clinic. Please support the people of Haiti in whatever way you can and pray that with God’s help, these caregivers can continue their work.

This experience brings to mind the words of Mother Teresa: offer always a joyful smile to the children, to the poor, to all who are troubled either in the flesh or in their spirit. Give to them not only your care but also your heart.