We Stayed Smiling
Updated: Jan 11
This last week was so full. Revivals in Haiti are a lot of work. The tropical storm messed up our plans for Monday night. No one can walk to church in pouring rain, so we ended up with four nights of preaching. The goal was to start church at 4:30, which I don't think happened once. I thought it was a bit ambitious, but everyone needs to be home before dark if they're walking. Still, even to get to church by 5 takes a big effort.
We had the ministers, Frè Brutus and Frè Elder, at our house for 2 nights. Both nights Pastor Brutus' daughter came over with her family to sing and talk. They told stories until midnight, and always at some point they came back to the topic of voodoo. Some of the stories were hilariously acted out, like the one of a little boy thinking a puff-puff tree was a spirit, and also the grown man whose neighbor had his gardens protected from thieves by voodoo. The man tried to take a shortcut thru the garden one evening, only to find bees hanging onto every single plant! His garden, separated only by a fence, had no bees whatsoever. My house loves to be full of people and laughter, and we were so inspired by some more serious talks we had over our morning spaghetti too.
We ended the week on Saturday with a member's meeting that lasted from 5 P.M. till 8 P.M. We started by listening to the testimonies of 8 people who wanted to be baptized, then they presented some church work cases, and we ended with self-examination. The first man said a few extra sentences, and was promptly shut down by the minister: "I do not want the rest of you to do like this brother. We do not have time." Some of the people walked straight out of the church after concisely declaring their peace with God and man, because it was already pitch dark.
This morning, my husband was questioning me about communion services in the United States. He said, "I would love to participate in one some day. I think I would just stay smiling."
And it is beautiful, so beautiful, to know a different language and peek into a different culture, and experience something - a sacrament like communion - in a different way.
So many things are different. There is the heat - you must come with sweat rags and water bottles. There is the constant movement: children passing from parent, to auntie to older sibling, being pacified with lollipops and crackers because no toddler can really sit thru a five hour service and the temperature is in the upper 90s which makes mothers a little hesitant to corral a sweaty fighting child in their arms. Communion in the USA is so quiet, but here the church is never completely still. The young men my husbands age get up to adjust the mike, then 10 minutes later another one has to get up because it's squealing again. The usher may switch people around as the sun moves, so no one has to sit right under a window in bright sunlight.
I usually sit by the most animated and enthusiastic lady in the congregation. She loves to sing, and so was in her element today, adding slurs and repeats to the old French hymn, lifting her right hand a bit and closing her eyes. When the minister says that the devil does not appreciate her son's testimony that he wants to be a good example to his friends, she lets out a soft, "Oh," is if to say, well of course... that's exactly right.
There is the same little table covered with a white cloth, but underneath is is a five gallon bucket filled with water, and the deacon dips a glass cup full with a plastic lime green dipper for the baptism, then rolls out a small square of brown carpet at the front of the church for the people being baptized to kneel on. The ministers have to manage a lot: the cup of water, their sweat rags, and a hand held mike. The questions are asked, and the mike is passed to each person, who softly repeats, "Yes, pastor."
French phrases are sprinkled in - anywhere extra emphasis is needed. Like when the water is being poured - that solemn moment when they are being baptized, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. After a fervent plea in French to the Eternal Father the minister prays in everyday Kreyol that the young person being baptized will be protected "from the brown dog that is roaming the streets" and that their desire "to never have their conduct cause discussion in the church" can be realized. The congregation joins in the "Amen."
There are a few French songs too: "Glory to God, Glory to God! It's a song that resounds everywhere!" These are always more soulful than the Kreyol songs, more heads tilted and eyes closed, more extra slurs, just more heart. All the choirs sing: the men's choir, our church choir. The women's choir sings one of the songs written by our sister, no notes, she just teaches them to us by singing them: "All my brothers and sisters who are serious let's serve Jesus, one never betray another, let's live happily forever." Then there are the Kreyol songs from our Chan Kretyen book. Most of the congregation know them by memory when they hear the page number. I love the new twists on the words I'm used too: "Blood more expensive than gold, that saves me from death, there is no other source, nothing but the blood of Jesus." "Come sweet spirit, that comes from heaven, with your light and comfort, we want you as our guardian and guide, over every thought and step we take." The verses to the Kreyol version of "There's a Fountain Free" tell the story of the woman at the well, and just before we take the bread of communion we sing a song that always seems extra strong and powerful, maybe because it's not an English translation, but a Kreyol written song: "How much I owe, this endless love! How much I owe, is Christ for me? I know everything he did for me, I cannot tell how much I owe!"
Feet washing happens in a couple enamel tubs on the front bench. The water gets a bit more dirty than in the USA. The deacon's wife swishes a mop over the shiny tile after it's finished.
It's time for the bread, and the ministers all step outside and wash their hands with water from the lime green dipper. Someone on the women's side passes around hand sanitizer, and the children are being pacified with crackers. It's about 11:15. One of the minster's toddler has just fallen asleep on his lap. As usual, the bread comes out from under the tablecloth, but this is just a simple tin plate, with a big chunk of bread still in a grocery bag. The minister snaps his fingers for the deacon to bring it. He opens it and tears off a piece for each minister. Our minister walks with his toddler on his shoulder, like a sack of potatoes, handing out bread with the other empty hand - the same bread that we take in United States - it gets a bit stuck in your throat - but it represents the body of Jesus, who has "vitamins to protect you from the illness of sin, and gives you energy to make you hot to serve God."
Now the deacon brings out two large glass cups with handles. This year the "wine" is actually a half gallon jug of imported Welch grape juice. My husband flashes me a startled grin as he takes his sip! I'm not sure if he likes the sweet taste or is just surprised that they are following the USA tradition of using grape juice, which is quite rare in Haiti, instead of actual wine, which is very plentiful. I have the urge to laugh - we are humans after all - even as I also think soberly of all those grapes, crushed together in sacrifice to make this sweet juice.
It's after 1 o'clock when closing prayer is said. The minister dismisses the visitors... there were so many... and calls a member's meeting. The door is shut, but the noise level and screeches from the children outside tells that they are ready to go home and eat.
They get right to the point. We have only one deacon, and we think he needs help. What does the congregation think? They say yes, they see a need, there is talent, and it is time to proceed with an election. Now the singing starts up again, and my friend whispers that she's too hungry to sing. I've shared my water with her and some children, and I'm getting hoarse.
The revival ministers are sitting in the back corner of church, and one by one, each member is called back to them. When it is my turn they ask me, "Who has the Spirit laid on your heart to be a deacon, sister?"
When everyone has given their names, and they have the votes counted, Pastor Elder comes to the front with a huge smile on his face. We have a new deacon! Joseph Pierre! His wife is Zèzè's cousin, and they were married a few months before us. They have a sweet baby boy already, and Joseph is consecrated and enthused. I hope that you will help us pray for them in this big responsibility they have been given. The ordination will be held in several weeks, as it will be a large party with a reception and lots of visitors from other congregations.
I wish you could have been here. Because after sitting in church for five hours, singing maybe fifty songs, and sweating a few gallons each, we left the church, and I realized that I had stayed smiling. I know that you would have too.