Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween and Evangelism

This upcoming weekend is considered a very important Haitian voodoo holiday. While American Halloween is iconized by trick or treating, Haiti lives out the reality of what that represents. On November 1 and 2, voodoo practitioners go to cemeteries and gravesites to pray to spirits, offer food, light candles, and dance through the night. During these days, celebrations are conducted in the voodoo tradition, in which people honor Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and his offspring, Gede. These celebrations are called Fête Gédé. During these ceremonies, people seek to be possessed by these voodoo gods as they honor the dead. It is not uncommon for people to leave a church service and head to the graveyard to participate in these festivities. Unfortunately, there is a lot of syncretism (mixing of religions) involved with voodoo, particularly with Catholicism. The Catholic tradition of praying for the souls of those in purgatory finds a home amidst the voodoo festivities honoring the dead. Many Haitians would say that while Catholicism and Protestantism were brought in, it is voodoo that is their own and connects them in a common identity. Pray with us and for us, as this tends to be a rather tumultuous time in Haiti.
I was invited a month ago to an evangelistic crusade that began this last Sunday, leading right up to this weekend, in the face of the upcoming holiday. I was asked to participate on the opening night by offering a prayer towards the beginning of the program. The event itself is hosted on private property – not in a church, but in someone’s walled-in yard of pretty good size. The gate to the property was open, so that people can wander in as they pass by. In the yard, they have built a stage, standing about 4 feet high. Next to the stage are huge speakers that get cranked up so that all in the neighborhood and probably in the next one over can hear what’s going on. Some benches were brought in from nearby churches for people to sit on. Others bring in personal chairs. Many others just stand during the entire service. I got there prior to the start, so that I could pray with the leadership and staff of the event for God to use the efforts to draw people to Himself and that He would have His way with the service that evening. Little did I know what that would mean for me. The band played a worship song to start off and had me pray afterwards. As I walked off the stage, I planned on leaving in the middle of the service, to try and get home before it got too dark. About fifteen minutes before that, I got a call from a friend, saying that he was trying to get to the crusade, but couldn’t find a ride. So, I left to pick him up and brought him to the service. When I returned, they were still going strong, singing worship songs. It was already about when I had planned to leave. At this point, the one who organized the event came up to me and said the speaker they had scheduled for that evening had not shown up. So, he asked me if the speaker didn’t show up in 10 minutes, if I could give the message. Talk about being put on the spot!
Fifteen minutes later, they hand me the microphone and I began giving the simple gospel message for those that were gathered there that evening. I was completely surprised that for such a large crowd, it was quiet as they sat or stood, listening to the gospel. I had no notes and no preparation, yet the words flowed as if I’d prepared all week. I was grateful for the evangelism experience a few weeks ago, going door to door in Village Casimir. I thank God for the experience of more than a year of preaching on Sundays and leading pastors’ conferences, teaching the Word. God had already prepared me for that night. At the end of the message, I prayed for the people and there were those that prayed to receive Christ that evening. It wasn’t my doing – I just happened to be in the place God wanted me to be that night; He changed my plans and used me to do as He willed all along. To Him be the glory!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prayers for a New Village

In May of last year, President Martelly inaugurated a new development of houses, named Village Lumane Casimir. They were an answer from the president to the IDP camps all over Haiti. (That is a whole different story, so here is that, from the Haitian press.) In October of last year, they "re-launched" the idea in the form of a grand opening for the village. Earlier this year, there were still few families living in the village. However, over the summer, there have been a lot more moving here, which is only a mile and a half from our NVM campus. Casimir Village has electricity and running water, which is a huge step in housing here in Haiti. There is a school right in the middle of the village, they have their own police station, fire station, and they provide transportation to Port au Prince to get to work and back. These pictures were taken in April of last year, when I went to visit the units and see what they were like. As you can see, there's no one around. There may have been a dozen families living here at that time, but that's it.

Last week, one of the deacons at our church put together a small team to go on a door to door evangelism visit to the village. That's a misleading term, but it's probably the best way to describe it to an American so that they get the picture. However, you don't really have to knock on any doors, because people are generally sitting outside on their "porch" interacting with everybody else. In this village, the porch area is around the back, where the kitchen and bathroom are. It doesn't matter if you're talking about a mud hut or a cinder block house - this is part of the Haitian culture. So, when the team got back, I told the deacon that if he went again anytime soon, to tell me and I would go with him. Yesterday morning, he walked into my office and said they were going at 4pm. I made sure I arranged my schedule to join them.
When 4pm rolled around, there were 12 people getting ready to go. There were also 4 church leaders present - Clerice (Children's Ministry Director), Faince (deacon), Malone (Music Director), and myself. We split up into four groups, each of us leading one. I had one of the girls from the Children's Home, Mitanya (13), and another young man, Oksiben. I drove us all out to the village in the tap-tap and we split up to go our separate ways.
I told Oksiben he could lead the way and initiate conversation, since I wasn't sure what would be culturally acceptable. Once I realized it didn't matter, when he engaged in conversation with one, I would go on to talk with the next person, whether at the next house or around the corner. At one point, Clerice (who is also fluent in English) called me over because he'd found a white man living there. I think we were both surprised to see another "blan" living in the area. Later, we came across two ladies talking on their porch, so Oksiben stopped to talk with them. They had both accepted Christ previously, so we gave them some tracts to share with others and was getting ready to move on, when I suddenly felt the urge to ask if I could pray for them. When I asked, one of the ladies asked if I wanted to pray for the kids upstairs. She runs an orphanage and has 14 kids living there, upstairs. I agreed and she led us upstairs. My heart was not prepared for what I saw.
Most of the kids could not move on their own. Four of them had hydrocephalus, where their heads were so enlarged, they could not lift them. Many of the kids just lay on the floor. Another woman was there bathing some of the children. I realized this is what a Haitian orphanage probably often looks like - kids who are unwanted, just dropped off or abandoned. I wondered what Mitanya was thinking as we walked in. I smiled at the kids as my heart broke, then prayed. I prayed for the kids, for the orphanage, and for these ladies that had a hard task before them. As we were leaving, I encouraged the other two to ask if the person we talk to wants prayer - you never know what they'll ask for prayer, and most of the time, they'll say yes.
As we continued walking the streets of Casimir Village, we asked everyone we talked to if they wanted us to pray, and I prayed for a lot of people and a lot of different things yesterday. Among those prayers, I had the privilege of leading two people in a prayer of repentance and surrender to Christ. One was a girl between 8 and 10 that Mitanya had begun talking to. The girl had been in church all her life, but never made a decision for herself. After I prayed with her, we gave her a New Testament, when she said she could read some. Immediately, she grabbed my hand and asked me to come with her. She wanted me to come pray for her mother. We walked a few houses down and came upon a woman sitting in a wheelchair and an older man who was blind. I took a deep breath, as I understood what this girl was really asking me. I sat in a chair they offered me (always humbling) and visited with them for a while. Afterwards, I told them that I was there because this girl, Jasmine, had asked me to come and pray with them. I asked if I could and they agreed. I didn't pray for physical healing - not because I didn't believe that it could happen, but because from the conversation, it was clear they needed emotional healing. After praying, I invited them to join us for church and gave them a number in case they needed transportation on Sunday morning.
The house I visited after this, I led a single mother of a toddler in a prayer of surrender to Christ as well. At this point, much of the team had caught up with us, so everyone began to pray aloud for this family. I looked over and the girl that I had prayed with not 30 minutes ago to accept Christ was standing there, praying for this family, too. I had the biggest knot in my throat...
I drove everyone home after this and returned to my family. I was so exhausted on every level, I basically ate and went to bed. It wasn't until this morning during my quiet time that I really processed the events of yesterday's visit to Village Lumane Casimir. I kept thinking of a principle from a friend's book ("Go Well" by Kyle Burkholder) that we have adopted in training our teams. The principle is to remember the eternal is more important than the temporal. Poverty is rampant in Haiti - one of poorest countries in the world. But if you look at the poor's definition of poverty, it has less to do with material possessions and more to do with physiological and social factors. They would use words like humiliation, fear, depression, isolation, powerlessness, low self-esteem, and shame. To put the eternal over the temporal is to recognize that Jesus can and will transcend poverty and meet people where they are and be the answer to their spiritual poverty. In Luke 15:1-7, we read the story of the lost sheep. More than any other seemingly important thing, what that sheep needs most is to be with its shepherd. It's so easy to see in a parable and yet, it also stares us in the face every day of our lives... let's do something about it.

Laundry Day

Part of living in Haiti is just improvising to the situation. This is true of most everywhere you live. It just looks a little different here. The NVM staff shares one washing machine to do laundry. If in the States your washer stops working, you can take your clothes to the Laundromat. Here, we take out a couple of buckets and start scrubbing! This past weekend, we were in dire need of doing laundry. Unfortunately, several power surges rendered our staff washer unserviceable. So, we grabbed some buckets and wash bins and made a family activity out of it!

At one point, the kids from the children's home were walking by our house and saw us doing laundry. They were all surprised we could do laundry "like a Haitian!" Then, they gladly joined in. There was probably more playing than helping involved, but it was fun. Kids started seeing how long they could hold their breath under water in the rinse bin (gross), spraying each other with water, and so forth.
Hanging up the clothes to dry was another matter. We put up a jump-rope from pole to pole in front of the house. Then we grabbed a fence post and put it horizontally at the corner of our fence to hold clothes. The underwear all went inside to be put on our table and chairs to dry (actually, that's what we typically do, even when the washer's working). Once the kids got all the laundry up, it looked like it was going to start raining. Of course it would! So, the kids went back through and grabbed everything that was dry or near enough to bring inside. The rest was taken to the dorms, since we don't have teams here right now and hung up inside there. Our backs and hands hurt, but it was quite the Sunday afternoon in the Ortiz household!