â€˜An open heart is always an open doorâ€™
In 1997, Sarah and I led our first team to Haiti. We were going to build a school in the remote community of Baissin Caimman.Â There was no electricity, no running water; in fact, there was barely a two-track road cut through the brush to get there. We worked hard that week â€“ mixing cement by hand and stacking cement blocks, and cutting rebar with a hacksaw. I practiced my Creole as I gathered rocks for the school foundation with the children. Onelle, a 9-year-old boy with a brilliant white smile and very soft demeanor, became my teacher.
I would ask him in Creole, â€œKisa sa ye,â€ which means, â€œWhat is this?â€
â€œGwo rouche,â€ he would respond: â€œbig rock.â€ And then ask â€œAn anglais?â€
I learned the name for everything I could point at. It was this week that I also started learning Haitian proverbs â€” the oral wisdom that has been passed down since the days of slavery.
â€œMes anpil, shy pa lou.â€
â€œMany hands make the work lightâ€
I thought we had a very successful week. We put up 1,000 cement blocks for the first three-room school building in that community. We Americans like toÂ do things, and we were certainlyÂ doing things. Pearl Jam captures this spirit of doing in their latest song, â€œThe Fixerâ€:
When somethingâ€™s dark, let me shed a little light on it
When somethingâ€™s cold, let me put a little fire on it
If somethingâ€™s old, I wanna put a bit of shine on it
When somethingâ€™s gone, I wanna fight to get it back again
Later in the week, we met the widow who lived right across from the new school building. Through our interpreters, she told us how she and a few other people had met for years each Sunday under the shade of the tree where we all were sitting. These older members of the community were too worn from a life of hard work and heat to walk the five miles to a neighboring church. So they met together, sang and prayed that some day there would be a church right here in this community.
I can remember my ego deflating, in that instant, like the soccer ball weâ€™d kicked into a thorn bush earlier that day. I thought Iâ€™d organized the group and initiated this new project for these people in this poor and forgotten country. But as we sat there listening to the history of this area, I thought, â€œI am just a tool.â€
God was already present in Baissin Caimman. I was just one of the many many people â€“ one of the many tools in this grand project â€“ able to join in the work of establishing a church, a school and a clean water source. But this was also liberating. All my naÃ¯ve notions of fixing this poor country were aligned with what was already happening.
I know that it is the same God who is working in our lives and the lives of the Haitians. He is the God who has been working to redeem his people. Being orientated with that truth has helped my perspective and built a foundation for us to come along side and work together with the people in that community.