Haiti: crisis in Fonds-Verrette

Beware, this is a long story. But it also has many pictures from my trip to Haiti.

Some of our stories are too painful to reveal plainly to new friends. Some of our stories have fractured our identities so much that it's almost necessary to fabricate one that will enable us to function in our community. The identity She shared with us yesterday in Her town of Fonds-Verrettes had collided with truth today as we passed back through Her town. She wasn't a widow. In fact, Her husband met our truck coming back down from Oriani in the mountains and rode with us back into town. Everything spilled out before us and the townsfolk at the open air market in front of the chain across the road, intended to slow traffic, especially the large Tap-taps. It seemed like the merchants were ready for entertainment by domestic dispute as they hoped these trucks of white visitors would stop and make purchases or hand out dollars. It was also getting dark. We hadn't purchased anything from them yesterday. Yesterday could have been a week ago. How could I have experienced so much in only one day?

The road from Port-au-Prince into the mountains traced the washed out ravines carved by recent hurricanes.

The ravines are tempting places to build a town. They are flat. Some water runs through, providing easy access to water for the family and the garden and the chickens and goats. There is not a long walk to wash the clothes. Previous storms have washed rich soil down and concentrated it for abundant vegetables and fruit. Yet when the rain does not stop, when a hurricane or a tropical storm overstays, the water finds the path of least resistance down the mountain sides devoid of trees and into the ravines. As had happened in Fonds-Verrette in 2004 with Hurricane Georges. A seven foot wall of water washed through the town killing at least 680 people and leaving so many homeless. More than 500 homes were washed away. This devastation is still making its cost felt almost 5 years later. Specifically, Her child was swept by the flood out of her arms into oblivion. We find this out from one of our interpreters who listened to the exchange in the road, alongside a washed out valley that used to be a town. I took this picture above the town from a church I was helping. The view is of the town, growing away from the path of the flood 5 years ago. The building across the exposed rock was empty but had probably been simply another building near the center of town.

Yesterday, it took us 2 hours to drive a dozen miles from Port-au-Prince to Fonds-Verrette. We came up in a small SUV, a Toyota Land Rover, and a large flat bed truck that carried all the supplies and the extra passengers. We rarely drove over 35 miles per hour on the paved roads. Once on the dirt to head up the mountains, I don't think we ever approached that speed again. Only one woman joined the dozen testosterone junkies on that flat bed, but two of those guys were brothers, and the third and fourth were church brethren. We had only met them that morning. They had just flown in and asked a favor of Pastor Boulle who was planning on taking our Calvary Chapel crew anyway. It doesn't seem necessary to ask a Haitian if they have room on their truck. There is always room. What lacked in speed for excitement was made up with insane inclines, narrow two way traffic, and plunging cliffs only a pothole away from receiving a rolling truck, like this tap-tap. It had rolled at least 50 feet down a very steep incline.

We had to drive across the river a couple times.
When we arrived, we didn't realize we were approaching half of a town. The chain wasn't across the road. The merchant stalls were empty. It was midday and school was in session. That was exactly the right time for us, because the team from Calvary Chapel in the city, Boston, MA, had prepared several skits for the school children in the school with the principal's blessing. we unloaded the generator, the massive speakers, the sound board, the full drum kit, the keyboard, the guitars, and the props for the skits, including the wooden cross. The portable PA system had troubles though. It kept overheating and shutting down, but the skits were choreographed with music. I was given the ministry of starting and stopping the accompaniment CD in the laptop. I also took pictures.

One technical thing I learned is that the generator electrical noise will wash out the songs from the headphone jack into the PA, so the songs had to be played on the laptops battery power. That was fine for three songs, but I was lacking faith for the fourth song. Between skits, the band would play, and a short message was given to explain each skit. I asked my brothers J & JP to pray the battery would recharge enough before the next skit. Of course it did. Over and over again I became convinced God extended the range of batteries and generators and vehicles. How does a generator run so long without a refill? How do 3 trucks drive for hours, overloaded in extreme conditions without more gas? My mind and my faith are too small. When the band played the praise music I first noticed Her push her way to the front. She wanted to be near the stage in the midst of the smaller children. She enjoyed the skits. She didn't seem interested in the speakers. She really liked the music though. She danced inappropriately. Her loose clothes and provocative clothing strongly contrasted with the school children in their school uniforms and innocent enthusiasm. I wondered about mental illness. I even let my mind consider spiritual reasons for her behavior. I felt guilty about that though. After the skits it was time for a testimony from brother MM, and then a puppet show. I relocated for a different perspective.
A few of the guys, including me were asked if we'd like to do some work further up the hill. Since I felt I had more to offer than the CD pause/play ministry, I agreed. The truck still had a dozen 94lb. bags of cement in it that needed to be put to use. We drove up toward the massive new Catholic church which is in the background of the picture at top. The work crew's sand and stone for their concrete work blocked the road. I helped shovel sand out of the way while others moved rocks.
Eventually, we made enough room to get the truck through. At this point the road was only one in theory. It was wide enough for a truck, but the amount of grass on it, indicated, not many pass that way. How many could though with the inclines and declines we encountered. We had to hold on so we would not slide off the truck. Eventually, we parked on a steep "driveway" between a donkey and a small church and began to unload the cement.
Then we joined the Haitian crew mixing concrete. The recipe seemed pretty straightforward. Pour one bag of cement on the pile of crushed limestone, add a few shovelfuls of stone, and several buckets of water. Push the pile around with your shovel until it has the consistency of oatmeal, then shovel it into the waiting wheelbarrow which will deliver it to the floor area. The crew there will then smooth the pile. Those of us not participating in this were digging up rocks from the adjacent hillside and adding them to the earlier stage floor on the other half of the building.

When I took a break, children came over to visit us. Like the children at the school several of them asked me, like they asked all of us visitors for a dollar. But they also tried to teach me how to say donkey and chicken and name a few other curiosities around us. One boy was developmentally disabled. The other kids told me he was a baby. When I finally sat down by the work area, the kids followed me up and a child who looked about four years old sat down next to me and rested his hand on my knee. He didn't ask for anything. He just sat. Pastor Serge explained to us that the children in Haiti are treated much better by foreigners than by Haitians. Of course, the children thrive in the attention and permissiveness around foreigners like us. But as we learned from Her, they are no less missed when taken away from this world.
When we used up all the cement we were able to visit a project the extra crew was there to work on. In a tin lean-to lived 3 generations of women whose house had blown down in a strong wind down the mountain. The church had started to lay block for a small house for them, perhaps no bigger than an American bedroom and bathroom. The crew figured they'd have the walls of their house finished before they left in a week.
The shadows were lengthening and we had a couple more hours to drive higher into the mountains to Pastor Eddy's home in Oriani, up where the forest still grew tall. Wisely, I pulled my fleece out from under the pile in the truck. We were warned to pack for cold mountain nights. It is winter after all. But we made room for one more on the flat bed. There's always room in Haiti. There actually was room since the crew of 5 were staying here. The new wayfarer was Her. But She was different. She was subdued. She was dressed. She had a bag and a Bible. Pastor Eddy had prayed for her at the school, he had laid hands on her, and something about her changed. She seemed in possession of her right mind. Had something else been in possession of it earlier when I saw Her? Her disposition was dramatically different.

Our time in the mountains will be told in another post, but during that time She decided to travel with us away from her hometown to Port-au-Prince. She wanted to be discipled in the gospel of grace with this fellowship from Calvary Chapel P-a-P. We once again piled in the truck for the twisty roads down to sea level. I certainly thought it unusual when Pastor Boulle picked up a hitchhiker. But then again, when he escorted us up to a mountain school yesterday, he seemed to konw every single person on the road, either as a cousin or a friend. As far as I knew, this guy may have been another cousin. Instead, he was Her husband, and he was looking for the white people who took Her into the mountains. But I didn't know this. The truth showed through the disguise as the sun started to slip behind the mountain peaks. She wasn't widowed. He was her husband.

Our caravan had to stop at Fonds-Verrette as the merchants had strung a chain across the road. It was hung below the political banner in the upper right hand corner of the picture. Here we are in the hinterland of Haiti where there is no electricity and no quick response in case of emergency and there was a chain across the road. I feared the strains of Dueling Banjos would start echoing out from behind the merchant stalls. I'm glad I was in the company of Haitians from this area. Then the yelling started.

As I found out piecemeal from my interpreters, she insisted to the pastors she would have nothing to do with this man who beat her. She would not stay with him in town. This town was death to Her. It was where the flood ripped Her child out of Her hands. Quick marriage counseling by three pastors was not going to succeed. So much anger poured out from Her to him and then to the pastors who did not want to separate something joined together before God. Did this man have the influence to keep the chain up until he prevailed? Things did not look good. We prayed. The crowd enjoyed the argument and hoped we would help their local economy. Instead of hotdog vendors at a boxing match, we had bread and roll vendors at this match. Finally someone had a great idea. Let's worship God in music and song. So brother R. got out his guitar and we began to sing.

This helped the mingling crowd take their attention off the fight and onto the ad hoc choir.

Brother D. used the opportunity to share the gospel with those assembled. He realized the spiritual opportunity.

Strangely, it seemed someone else recognized the spiritual opportunity as well. There had been no traffic for the at least the last half hour we were there, but when brother D stood up to speak 3 trucks suddenly needed to pass through the crowd standing in the road. Undaunted, D. persevered and gave an invitation for any to receive Christ as savior, which some did by raising their hands.

We had to go. We had to leave Her. But She wasn't left in her husband's power. She was given a wad of cash to provide for Her and take Her out any immediate need that would return Her to dependence on him. She also had all the pastors' phone numbers.

It wasn't my best solution.

We left Her in Fonds-Verrette, all of us changed a little bit by Jesus and by truth. Pray for Her. Pray for Fonds-Verrette.

The truth became a theme for the evening afterward. We could no longer see the precipices we drove alongside of. Clouds had moved in so there weren't many stars to see either. But there was truths to be told. I ended up learning and sharing stories of lives transformed by Jesus. The stories weren't pretty. But Jesus was the hero in each of them.

I saw Jesus as Victor in Her life that day. I know He who began a good work in Her is faithful and true and will bring that work in her to completion (Philippians 1:6).


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