We used to play horse-shoes here. The heavy pieces of iron are still in the shed. The game would catch fire from time to time, and then dwindle away.
While at home in 2020, the Craig Kenney family taught me to play cornhole. I had a pair of old plywood shutters that are the size of a cornhole board…roughly. Craig’s family sent me a set of beanbags this Fall. When they arrived, I cut holes in my shutters, and we have been enjoying the game ever since.
Band practices and other meetings now begin with a quick game while we wait for the people who are late. During Christmas break, one relaxed morning the guys at my house agreed to play for serious consequences…losers wash the dishes. I won that game.
It is a joyful event each time a new player tries to hit the boards. Bean bags fly high across the yard or drop way short. Sometimes they head right into innocent bystanders. It always brings giggles and real fun.
Games are an important part of life. Haiti lacks games. In Haiti people play soccer, dominoes, and cards. Soccer is mostly for boys and men. Dominoes and cards are often associated with gambling or with work-capable people who waste their days playing games. So, there aren’t many choices for a family that wants to play together.
Here’s hoping more people in this country learn to love games.
Many missionaries spend a year or maybe a few years on the mission field. Then they return home. They may have occasion to visit the work they engaged in, but at that point it is like trying to return to an old dream. So many parts have moved that nothing seems to make much sense.
On the other hand, a long-term missionary (who is stable in a single location) is blessed with the ability to see lives changing and follow those changes over a lifetime.
I have been responsible for the children’s department at our church for many years. I have both pictures and memories of children from 20 years ago who are now adults working in the community. Emilson is one of those.
Emilson would visit our children’s programs in church. He was not an official «child of our church.» He would visit regularly though. Nor was he a student at the school I administrated. But Emilson was often present for our special activities. I have photos of him speaking into the microphone as a young boy. He was part of an annual Christmas program.
Emilson is very smart. He finished school easily and has studied education and has completed some intense French studies. He is now teaching in a local school.
Emilson played soccer, but never on a team. He was one of those players who was valuable for comic relief. People loved when he played. He was all laughter and smiles, but would shock people with great plays from time to time as well. He lived in the community as a joyful kid. One of his nicknames was “Reggea”, and another was “Candy.”
Last night Emilson preached the message on night #1 of a twenty-one night series of services. When he preaches, the room is silent. People love him, and respect him. They trust him. He is not a powerful leader. He is not an ambitious man. He is still pretty much a quiet kid. But the community knows his story. They listen to him. They appreciate him. Emilson preaches meekly, but powerfully at the same time. I can’t help but wonder if it is similar to how Jesus taught. His sentences are carefully constructed and so often land right on target.
The church service went overtime last night as God moved in the room. God was using Emilson’s message. As he held the mic and preached the Good News, I couldn’t help but remember that photo of a boy reciting some little passage as part of a Christmas program so many years ago.
That is the joy of being in ministry a long time. I am getting older. I am blessed to be able to look back and see the hand of God in the lives of people I know well. I wouldn’t trade my place for anything.
Patricia Riodin attended the Help-From-Above School in Pasbwadòm where I administrated for so many years. She attended with all her brothers and sisters. The Riodin family was always a key family in the local church. They are my neighbors. I walk by their house every day that I leave mine.
Only a few years ago, the ASAPH Brass Band played for Patricia’s wedding. She had often struggled with some health issues. In 2020 she was pregnant and prepared for her first child. She died after giving birth to a baby girl.
A few days later, the ASAPH Brass Band played for her funeral. It was a difficult thing to do for all of us. We felt that we have not been a band long enough to have played for both the wedding and funeral of any person.
Patricia’s brothers and sisters spoke so eloquently about her short life. They shared stories about her faith in Jesus Christ, and her commitment to Him. Her sisters stood and sang a song that Patricia sang often…Just As I Am. Her older sister spoke of a ‘strength’ that God gave her to be able to do such a difficult thing.
Patricia had learned and appreciated several songs that I wrote and taught to the church. I wrote a song for her wedding. Her brother began his speech with a worship song that I wrote, and that they had sung together in a singing group years ago. It was both a happy and sad moment for me. The song talks about loving God more than anything in this life…more than friends, more than wealth, more than fun, more than anything. It is a gutsy thing for a person to say out loud. Patricia had sung those words many times. Her brother sang them at her funeral, and I was happy to say the same words with him in my heart. I was sad that we wouldn’t hear Patricia sing again on this side of life.
Every funeral reminds us of how fragile life is down here. I hope you don’t love anything more than you love Jesus Christ. Life and death both make sense in Him, and in Him alone.
I love pine trees. I always dreamed of living in the mountains with pine trees all around me. That never happened. On December 7th, I went on a mission with several friends to bring a single pine tree into my yard.
WEC know of my interest in pine trees, and happened upon a ten-foot pine tree in Cayes that was going to be chopped down in order to clean the side of a road. He asked the owner if he could take the tree. The owner agreed. Trees like this one would cost $1000 H if you purchased it from a nursery.
WEC dug up the tree with help from a fellow agronomist. We rented a truck and headed to Cayes on a Monday morning. With the roots, the tree was as long as the vehicle, so it took us quite some time to actually figure out how we could haul it. We wrapped it with sheets. By God’s grace, the tailgate was a working tail gate so that we could extend the roots out the back. We tied the tip of the tree to the grill of the pick-up and made the long careful drive to Pasbwadòm.
That evening after band practice, some guys in the band helped put the tree in the ground. We carefully stood it up, secured it, gave it some fertilizer and water, and stood back to admire it. It’s a beautiful addition to the blue sky and white clouds that are visible from my front porch.
I love the tree. For several days, I sat on the porch for my morning devotions and spent more time looking at the tree than I did the Bible on my lap. It seems to be doing well after almost one month. No signs of dryness or stress.
Coconut trees and palm trees are beautiful, it’s true. I love them, and have one in my front yard. The pine tree is unique, however. For this American kid, it was a special part of the quiet 2020 Christmas season here at ASAPH.
Pine trees are ever green. They are reliable and never change. God is like that. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love never changes.
AAF (Asaph Academy of Football) Loses A Match To A Small Rival
AAF lost a game in December. It doesn’t happen often. The AAF soccer team made one of its longer trips last Fall…to La Colline. There, the team played on a field they had never seen, they played against a very strong team, and they won. In December, AAF hosted a small team from close by, a team from up in the mountains north of Pasbwadòm. The game was played on AAF’s home field.
In Haiti, there’s a saying about how any team can beat any team on any given day. They say : « The ball is round. You don’t know where it’ll go. » That is the beauty of sports. That is why you play games.
On Sunday December 6th, AAF took the field with every intention of logging another win. It did not happen. The Bassin Caiman team played well from the start. There were few shots on goal. For the second half, the AAF coach replaced the younger goalie with the team’s first-string goalie. Minutes later there was a breakaway, and Bassin Caiman put the ball in the net. It was a great goal. AAF tried to equalize. At one point, it was the goal post that kept it from happening. The final whistle blew, and AAF had lost.
Losses are important. Losses are good. Our team is struggling to stick together after losses. It happened in the summer of 2019. After a win, we are tight. After a loss, there is a wide distance that creeps in among the team members. The players on the team have learned to win. We are working with them on how to lose. It is all part of the big “game” we call life.
The ASAPH Brass Band performed on December 13th, 18th, 19th, 23rd, 26th, 27th and 28th. They played in Tiguave, Cayes, Aquin, Labaleine, Vieux-Bourg and locally. Included were a banquet, two weddings, a funeral, two concerts, and a graduation parade and ceremony.
The schedule was so tight that we ended up being late for one engagement on the 19th, and we ended up missing that one completely. The members of the band were faithful to the end, and gave fine performances on all occasions, except for one (see Strange Wedding).
In Labaleine, the folks attending the concert so appreciated our closing tune that they asked us to play it again…which we did. It is a great song recorded by the group ALABANZA. The name of the song is Se Lavi (That’s Life). It begins with a slow introduction, continues with lively verses and a chorus, then has a key change, a sax solo, and a reprise of the chorus. We follow that same form when we perform the song. A key phrase from the song is : “That’s life. No one can take it without the permission of He who created it. That’s life. Let’s celebrate He who created it. Let’s work together to protect it. That’s life!”
We have a new dog. Her name is Zoe, but I’ve been calling her Cyclone because she leaves the yard in more disarray than hurricane Matthew did a few years back. She chews. She drags and drops. She hides. The thing you would most want her to avoid, she puts first on her list.
I was taking a bucket bath in the back yard one night. I put my glasses on a bucket next to a spongey thing we use for scrubbing. The cyclone loves to run away with the scrubby thing every chance she gets. I had my eye on it all during my bath. Without my glasses, I could see her close to the scrubby thing, but she never grabbed it.
I finished dressing and went to put on my glasses. They were missing, and I heard a crunching sound coming from close by. It was the dog. It was my glasses. What in the world would possess a dog to chew on glasses ?
She also drug music folders out of room where they were arranged on the floor, and she scattered the music in the yard, tearing a few sheets. She pulls towels down off of the line, and scatters our sandals in various corners of the yard.
The cyclone is calmer lately. That’s how storms go, I guess. They never last forever. For that, I am thankful.
I am thankful. Last Sunday in church during worship, I was convicted that I am in the place God wants me to be. I am doing what He wants me to do...at least most of the time. :)
There are problems here (which I won't share in this blog), and some things need real attention, but this is a list of blessings and riches for which I am thankful:
* The group of adolescent musicians that has recently become a worship team is doing great things. On Tuesday we rehearsed for Sunday's service. They play well. They have the right priorities. They work together. They are growing.
* The BLUES band that I am developing is doing well. Twelve bars is easy now...with drums, bass, guitar and horns.
* The local church (MICEVA) is healthy and active in this community.
* AAF (Asaph Academy of Football) players show maturity and improvement on and off of the field.
* AAF is once again learning the role of real men according to God's plan.
* All of the AAF players who took 9th grade state exams passed those exams.
* Three of my students have been making money teaching music.
* A few young people have been sharing their stories of how I was a blessing in their lives years ago. It is inspirational to me to hear them share. I had no idea about much of what God was doing years ago.
* Two artists (that ASAPH helped to prepare) have been teaching drawing classes. The results are impressive.
* Rain has been faithfully falling in our area since October. The area is lush and more like what "tropical" usually means to people. Goats are happy. Farmers are happy. Bellies of people will be in better shape moving forward.
* WEC is moving into his final year of university study. He is also planning marriage for 2021.
* Steephenson is learning to take great pictures.
* ASAPH is birthing a girl's choir. We have met a few times already...girls from 11 to 18 who want to sing together. It is a ministry that I hope will be parallel to the soccer team for boys. We will develop teamwork and leadership...and confidence. There is a good core group of young ladies. This is an exciting new project that will a great ministry and very very light on the budget.
* WIFI has been reliable. Regular time on the "SKYPE" with Mom is a great blessing.
* I am getting water from a neighbor's pump...through a hose. No more wagon trips to the hand pump.
* Sunday school is back after a long COVID break.
* I have been blessed to come upon a popular subject for some recent messages in church...space! Psalm 19 - The heavens declare the glory of God...
* The Junior Youth group has prepared a good service for Sunday morning along with the younger groups as well....Children's Sunday.
* Translation projects continue to be a good amount of work...enough but not too much. I translate great teaching into Haitian Creole, so I learn and grow while I work. That is a daily blessing.
* My freezer is working well...providing me with cool drinks and the ability to conserve food.
* My new blender is a treat...papaya shakes, watermelon shakes, banana shakes.
* I have enjoyed sandwich meat from Port-au-Prince...thanks a friend who travels there on weekends. Ham sandwiches!
* I am sleeping in the kitchen where there is more air...and more mosquitos. I have 3 solutions now : mosquito coils on rare occasions, a mosquito net when the bugs are bad, and sleeping while wearing socks, jeans, and a hooded sweatshirt.
* There has been no sign of COVID anywhere on my horizon here in Pasbwadom.
* The ASAPH Brass Band is scheduled to help three brides marry their grooms before the year is out.
* We received a slew of instruments that I had shipped last year...3 trumpets, a trombone, a saxophone, a guitar, and a flute.
* The ASAPH Bible memorization program is about to re-boot. We will have Bibles available again, and we may set up a few occasions for students to recite their lessons (rather than one single occasion). We are reaching out to a neighboring community...the fishing village of Laborieux.
I consider each day here a blessing for me. I am where God sent me, and I am doing what He chooses for me to do. Please help me to pray that I will continue to do so each day that comes along. That is our struggle, and our mission : to be all that He created us to be.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING 2020
When I first came to Haiti in 1992, a US dollar was worth about 5 or 7 Haitian dollars. That rate increased over the years. In early 2020 we were getting up to 23 Haitian dollars for each US dollar. With no real warning, the exchange rate fell during the month of September. In the space of a few weeks, the exchange rate has settled at about $11 Haitian dollars for each US dollar.
I won't try to explain the how or why of this change. I don't understand it, even after reading and listening to people who try to explain it. "They" said that prices would be coming down so that everything works out. Well, no so much.
The price of motorcycles has dropped dramatically. That's true, and it's good news if you are in the market for a bike. The price of some food items has lowered a bit, but not by 50%. Everything else (transportation, supplies, communication...) has remained the same.
What this means is that the money I have each month will now go about half as far as it used to go. In October, in spite of some serious cutting back, our food money ran out around my birthday on the 23rd. The money that I pay people who do work for me, the money I spend on transportation and fuel, the money I spend on almost everything else has remained the same. When I fill out my monthly report, the US dollars needed to cover the costs is about double.
We made it through October okay. I am now looking into November. I don't yet see any real chance for things to improve.
I plan to limp as best we can through the remaining months of 2020. After that, if things don't change, we may need to consider some serious changes in the ministry here. ASAPH is not the only mission affected. Many organizations who function on exchanged US dollars are in a bind at this point. I am hoping things will change.
On some days, about 30 or 40 people come through the ASAPH Teaching Center. There are rehearsals, meetings, and lessons. All of those things require equipment and materials. That means there is lots of stuff in one room. After weeks of work, things are often a mess.
For a few days in October, I had three students help me empty the room, clean and arrange everything. We installed new shelving. We hung new pictures. It's all about creating an inspiring educational setting. I believe the more organized a space is, the more good things will happen there.
For now, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. It feels good.
Missionary in Haiti.