23 June 2013

When Culture Meets Kingdom

We pull into the grass parking lot/soccer field at 6:50 AM. "Wow," David comments, "we made good time. Must be all the roads they've been paving lately." He opens the back door and pulls Peter out of his carseat. I put a new outfit on him today--a lime green polo onesie with matching plaid overalls--and he looks sharp. He's wearing small brown sandals with velcro straps, because all babies must wear shoes, whether they can walk yet or not. Nowhere does culture stand out more than at church. Nowhere do I learn more about Haitians and more about God's kingdom...sometimes simultaneously.

We stop to get a friendly "cheek-to-cheek" kiss from our pastor, who's pulled up in an SUV with most of the kids from the church's orphanage in the back. They press their hands on the window to say hi to me...I am very recognizable, and they always remember me, though I've only visited twice. The group wanders toward the large open metal structure that reminds me of a covered play area at a park. The corrugated metal roof serves its purpose, keeping off the sun, and the ushers are turning on the overhead fans mounted on cross beams. On either side of the projector screen are vinyl outdoor signs which, in French, say: "The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners." I notice another white couple, and I think I recognize her from the Haiti Missionary and Expat Facebook group. (Yes, there is such a thing, and it is super helpful.)

There's only a handful of people in the plastic lawn chairs which are neatly arranged in narrow rows and columns, and we make our way toward our normal seats. We tried a new place last week, which turned out to have serious drawbacks. Our normal spot is near the middle, yet out of the direct blast of the large speakers which are positioned at an angle "so everyone can hear." (Since my MAF coworkers half a mile away can hear, I wouldn't worry about that so much if I were them.) We are close enough for me to see Serge's face, which is essential for foreign language preaching comprehension, and David is on the aisle so he can stretch out his legs.

The first song is in Kreyol, and Peter plays on David's lap. The second song is in French, and Peter's decides it's time to nurse. I prefer to nurse him through the worship time, because it's easier to cover his ears. Between the heat, the milk, and the singing, he dozes off. The third song is in French, but I know it in English, so that makes the translation easier. Then I realize that they've changed some of the meaning in order to preserve the rhyme...so that makes translation tougher.

The last song is a favorite, and we sing with gusto in French: "Soldiers of Christ and Haitians / We are citizens of heaven / In the word of God / we find our only true happiness. / Save, Lord; bless our beloved Haiti! / Our small nation is advancing to Zion. / To God, dedicate yourself. / Make Jesus your king. / Save, Lord; bless our beloved Haiti!" I feel silly for singing...but I too love Haiti. I too want to see her saved, and there I stand, a citizen of heaven with them.

We've barely started into Hebrews 13 when Peter wakes up. David is my Bible-holder, but we're both lost, so I swap him the baby for the book. A small girl in a white dress with pink flowers is edging down our row, I assume to use the bathroom, so I move my purse to let her through...but she stops in front of David. She takes Peter's hands, and he squeals with delight. She watches him with fascination, but doesn't smile. Then she doesn't leave. David looks at me helplessly as Peter tries to kick her in the face in his excitement. For five minutes, she stands there, leaning against David's knees...staring. I try to talk to her quietly, noticing her gold bracelet and necklace. "Did you come to see the baby?" She stares at me. "Where's your mama?" She looks back at Peter. The lady to my right tries to coax her away from Peter, but she quietly resists. Finally, her dad, who probably thought she did go to the bathroom, came and led her back to her seat by the hand.

Of course, by now, we're into verse three: Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Serge puts a picture of Chuck Colson up on the screen and talks about how he started Prison Fellowship. If I understood him right, he's been working with their curriculum here, and he's hoping to expand into every prison in Haiti. I knew we had weekly Bible studies going into all the prisons in the Port-au-Prince area--men's, women's and juvenile. This one man's faithfulness, he says, is benefiting Haiti as well. Don't underestimate the influence of your faithfulness.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. "Check your brakes," he tells us. "We often think it's not infidelity to have sex before marriage, but that's not loving someone as a brother, as verse 1 says. I have blood, too," he says with a grin, and we snicker. "But that's why I'm married. We have a class here, and if you complete it, we'll marry you. But we want you to know what you're getting into and why it's important. If you're not married, check your brakes. Honor marriage, even before you start it." 

This sounds like a "duh" moment to my American ears, but I know that many people in Haiti are common-law married. It's a point of contention amongst missionaries--is that good enough? If they're faithful to each other, what's the problem? I always try to let my Haitian friends and the Bible guide me on cultural issues, and from what he's saying, Serge seems to come down on the "not good enough" side. Because there often isn't fidelity, I know, and some people jump into marriage because she's pregnant, and that's a pretty stressful way to start a life together. But there's all these cultural demands that Haitians put on marriage: you have to own a mattress, which is expensive. There has be a big ceremony, which is expensive. You can't use birth control, which is expensive because kids are expensive. I appreciate how our church is trying to cut through the static and give people an affordable option.

And I sit there reflecting on how I want to reflect the kingdom, not my culture, in Haiti. I can reflect because David sweetly took Peter out, who was punctuating the sermon with noises like this: "BLAH-BLAH-NA-NA-NA! GAAAAA!" He's a cool kid, for sure. Most moms with young children just don't come to church, or they leave the baby with a relative. Not really an option for me, and I'm very self-conscious about his noises, happy though they may be, because their kids are always so well-behaved and quiet. 

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,“Never will I leave you; / never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. / What can mere mortals do to me?” You wouldn't think that a church in an impoverished country would need to hear this...but he turns it around. "Do you use your money for yourself, or for your children? Don't steal their dreams. Don't steal their future. Send them to good schools. Have confidence in God that He'll take care of you. That's the context when Paul says in Philippians that he can do everything through Christ who strengthens him--whether he's hungry or full, having plenty or in want. It's a verse about money--not that you can get anything or do anything in the name of Christ. The context is important." 

The context is important, indeed. And my context is here, putting shoes on my baby. Kissing my pastor. Worshiping outside. Listening and learning how they apply the same words here and now. Finding God faithful to this small nation, advancing to Zion. May we advance with her.

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