Hello friends and family!
This is Pastor Stephen blogging today. We made it safely to Haiti, along with all 33 checked bags, plus all of our carry-on baggage! We left Seattle around 11pm, landing in New York in the morning. We had a one-hour layover there, then caught the flight to Port-Au-Prince. The Delta flight to Haiti was bi-lingual, which was our first time hearing Haitian Creole spoken dominately on this trip. One of the coolest moments of the plane trip (for me) was a stewardess from the first flight telling us that she was so happy that we were going to Haiti to help and that she would be praying for us today. Awesome!
Landing in Haiti was more "first-world normal" than I imagined. The runway was paved, with just a few potholes. If you've ever flown before, you know that the open all the flaps to help slow the plane, then use engine braking after that. By the time our plane was barely rolling, we were at the end of the runway. The plane turned a 180 degree turn and taxied back to the terminal. When the plane door opened up, a wave of humidity came over us. We were instantly hot and sticky from the humidity. The first stop inside the airport was immigration. We handed the officers our passports and immigration forms, got them stamped and headed downstairs to get our baggage. The baggage claim area had lots of official-looking, red shirted Haitians excited to grab your luggage for you and help haul it to the car - for a handsome tip, of course. After about 30 minutes of waiting, 33 bags counted and checked off and countless "no thank yous" said to our red shirted friends, we were on our way to customs to get checked out of the airport. We got to the station where we declared the value of our "family's goods" and the hallway forked - one way was customs, the other the exit. The group, after turning in our white goods page, was waved to the exit. So, we really don't know if we officially went thru customs or not, but no one official has ended up on the doorstep of our house wanting to talk to us, so I assume we're safe.
Waiting at the exit of the airport, our group and luggage huddled together, I ventured out of the airport to attempt to find our group leader, Colson. The moment I stepped out the door, my heart jumped into my throat. I was swarmed by more red-shirted people, offering to help me find Colson - some even claiming to be Colson! The arrivals area of the aiport was barricaded off - only pedestrians allowed. However, it was still packed - with people. Most were taxi drivers bickering with each other on who has rights to take me to the Nazarene seminary. After failed attempts of finding Colson, I asked a UN police officer, Shawn, if he could help. He offered use of his phone, so I called Colson and met up with him. Come to find out, Colson had been looking thru the window, motioning at our team members that he was who we were looking for. Since he was definitely not the only person to be saying that, everyone just said "no thank you" and politely ignored him. Ha!
Leaving the airport was another adventure. Colson and our translator Absolu had a medium-sized bus and a small box truck waiting for us. We loaded the luggage into the box truck and the people into the bus and were on our way. The parking lot was barely there - at one time paved, but has had its share of wear and tear, both from earthquakes and daily use. Of course, since there wasn't much pavement around, there were no such things as "parking spaces." Everyone parked where there was room, and for a while, we thought that the bus was blocked in. An option at that time did include having our team members pick up the end of an Isuzu Rodeo SUV and physically pushing it out of the way. Our team cheered loudly when Colson somehow magically directed our bus out of the parking lot.
The first impression of the streets were chaos. No lanes, no sidewalks, no street markings, no road signs, no street lights - no order. Motorcycles weaved in and out of traffic. Once, when driving back to the Work and Witness house at the seminary, the road was packed with three oncoming motorcycles wide, and they were in our lane! The horn is used liberally here - such as, "pay attention to me being here!" or "get out of my way" or "thank you" or "hello, bus full of white people!" and on and on. Personally, I love it! Horn use in Wenatchee usually includes road rage, it seems!
The Nazarene seminary is a nice piece of property. It's on a beautiful hillside with a few buildings for classes, a dorm, an outdoor church building (basically a church with no walls, just a roof,) a few maintenance buildings and our Work and Witness house. The house is built western-like. It has a nicely-sized kitchen, an eating area, nice bathrooms with "first-world plumbing," multiple sleeping rooms with nice bunk beds and a nice deck that looks over the property and beyond. we all grabbed a bunk and took the afternoon of Saturday to rest and get used to the Eastern time zone. Elise, our team cook, put together (and continues to make!) awesome Western-style meals. Her work ethic is unparalleled. She works preparing our meals, then almost immediately after serving the meal, she starts cleaning up. After cleaning, she immediately jumps to preparing the next meal. She left the house to go to her home around 10:30pm last night. She's a sweet-spirited, humble woman who just wants to take care of everyone.
We woke up this morning to the smell of coffee and bacon. (You all are probably thinking, "wait, I thought you were going to a third-world country!") Elise cooked up scrambled eggs, bacon, seminary-grown bananas, homemade buttered croissants and homemade coffee. Yes, Elise roasts and grounds her own coffee! She said she buys beans from a friend then slow cooks them in large pans over low heat with a little sugar. After she's happy with the beans, she pours a little at a time in a mortar and pestle type bowl - then hand-grinds the beans! The coffee is a sweeter black coffee, except that it has almost no bitter taste. We sucked down at least three 12 cup pots before heading out the door to church.
Our church service was amazing - tons of people packed into a very basic building with no windows, just spaces between the cinder blocks. We arrived when the congregation was singing, and they were SINGING! It was an awesome time of worship where the energy was contagious and the worship was genuine. The pastor preached a wonderful sermon on 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul talks Christ's resurrection and our reunion with him in Glory. Following the sermon, multiple groups of people got up to share a testimony or share a song. One pastor stood up at one point and asked everyone visiting the church to stand up and tell their name and how they heard of the church. (Slightly different than how we treat visitors to our church!) After they were done sharing, the congregation prayed for four people who had been baptized earlier in the week. After one more song, the service was dismissed and the pastor instructed the team to stay seated so that they could give us a gift. A few moments later, one of the pastors pulled out two crates of 750mL, glass-bottled Coke, Spirte, 7-Up and Lemonade. We enjoyed a drink with the pastors then headed back to the house for lunch.
We've spent our down-time resting for our project that we leave for tomorrow. Some nap, some read, some play card games but everyone seems to be having a great time settling in to their Haitian life. We're anxiously awaiting Pastor Mike's arrival Monday afternoon. In the meantime Monday morning, we're headed out to a local water well project to help install a roof and/or walls around a community well.
Thank you so much for taking time to read about our time here. Please continue to pray for us! Thanks, friends and family.
Posted on Sun, March 31, 2013
by Stephen Vandervort