Last March, as Corona virus panic gripped the developed world, Andy Stump was forced to make a last-minute decision about a concert that was scheduled for March 15th. The host church, Bethlehem United Methodist in Dallastown, had agreed to go ahead with the concert…calling it the final group activity before closing the church doors due to the virus. On the Friday before the concert, Andy decided to cancel. That Sunday morning, members who attended the morning service at Bethlehem blessed ASAPH Teaching Ministry with a very generous offering.
Since that day, March 15, there have been no official ASAPH fundraising activities. It has been more than a year now. Ministry, however, has continued. While Andy was stuck in PA, a few ASAPH activities were happening. When Andy returned in August, activities resumed slowly. By September, things were just about back to normal. The new year 2021 so far is what we call “Haitian normal”. There are threats of roadblocks…and real roadblocks. Prices have risen while the exchange rate has plummeted (making each dollar of support that ASAPH receives worth less than before). Life is tough, but not much different than it has been for the past 25 years.
In 2019, Andy (with ASAPH dollars) paid for a fiber-optic cable that brought the internet into his home. From anywhere in his yard, Andy could do a video call to anyone anywhere. The NATCOM company that hooked up the connection maintained if for about one year. In late November, the connection fell. Technicians urged patience while they worked to get it going - - “This weekend!” Now several months later, those technicians say the system may not be functional again.
Andy has gone back to paying a motorcycle taxi to take him to the highway every couple of weeks so that he can find a signal. Sometimes that works. Sometimes the whole day is in vain.
As a result of those communications issues, the one-year anniversary of the cancelled concert passed in silence.
Remember ASAPH this month. Our annual concerts are the mission’s biggest source of support. Without them, we rely on the memory of our regular sponsors. I take this opportunity to remind you about the work being done hear daily. Support as you are able. Thank you.
For years now, I have kind of divided my day into three parts. Each morning I sit and translate for another mission, or I sit and prepare materials for the work I do here. That is part one of my day…documents. Part two begins after lunch. Music students come by for lessons. I teach individuals and groups. I arrange for students to practice on ASAPH instruments. I lead rehearsals and meetings. That is part two…students. Part three of my day is the time I spend here at my house with the guys who are staying with me…right now three young men from 17 to 23. That is part three of my ministry day…family.
Over the years, I have noticed that God would always shine His light of encouragement in at least one of those parts. When translating was rough or discouraging, my lessons would be rewarding. When lessons were dry and seemingly hopeless, the guys at my house would lift me up. There were times when all three would be positive. Those days were great. Even the soap smelled better on those days.
Then, there are the days when not one of those phases seem to have any hope. Lately, I have been experiencing days on end of not much promise. It is part of ministry, I know. God has been faithful to me long enough for me to know He is working when I can’t see it. I find my time with Him to be more important and more meaningful during these periods. Here’s the situation…I share it with you so that you can pray for us :
Part 1) My translation work has suffered greatly because I have no internet. I clearly lost one job because of that. I can’t even say for sure how many others I have lost.
Part 2) The ASAPH Brass band, at one time 25 musicians, is now down to about 10 at a regular rehearsal. Many have finished school and left town for advanced studies. Some have just become distracted. We do have younger musicians in the pipeline, but the level of music we play will go backwards about three years when we integrate them. It’s sad that nothing good lasts very long in Haiti. The soccer team has weakened as well. Our coach is busy with university studies, and has very little time for the team. We haven’t played a match this year. Some of my afternoon activities are fresh and positive (youth worship team, girls choir…), but the Big Two (band and soccer) seem to be dying on the vine.
Part 3) The guys at my house have been a challenge lately. There are three of them. Two are brothers…each from different fathers. None of the 3 has had a father active in his life for longer than a year at a time. In my experience, these are the toughest kids to help. They have a chip on their shoulder, and resist help : “I don’t need anything from you.” They find it hard to trust God. I have worked closely with many such kids over the years. They often end up fairly balanced, but there are years when you feel the road will never straighten out for them. Right now, with the guys at my house, I am lucky if they say good-morning or good-bye…or hello. The two brothers seem to use their silence as punishment against me. I have dealt with this a bit before, but usually not when it is two against one.
I invite you, if you believe that God hears us, to pray for each of these three prongs of ministry here at ASAPH. I love translating (#1), in that it allows me to teach great truths to thousands of people, and I can do it from my office chair. I love teaching and training (#2) people. I have seen God use those activities to make His children grow. I love working with young men who have been abandoned by their fathers (#3). It is a tough row to hoe, as they say. I enjoy being a positive voice for them while they attempt to make sense of their own lives…in the hand of the Father who will never leave them.
Pray that God will continue to use me in each of these three areas.
When I was a new missionary here, I heard about an African word…Kasana. It means ‘sunlight’. I wrote a song for a kids choir about the passage in I John that talks about how God is light. The song was called KASANA, and it became the name of the group of singers…way back in 1994. Jean-Pierre was a member of that group. He remembers the song. He is now my landlord, a teacher, a husband, a father, and a church leader.
I recently began an all-girls choir. Boys are easy to gather here. Soccer will bring out 30 boys every afternoon. Girls are much closer to home. Because of that, boys more easily reap the benefits of team activity and band activity. (The ASAPH Brass Band only has one active girl.) SO, to reach girls, I decided to begin an all-girls choir.
We have been meeting every Wednesday afternoon at 4:30. I teach the songs (both music and the important messages they carry). I teach singing in 3 parts. I have prepared a drummer, bassist, and (almost) a keyboardist…all girls. I will be preparing a director from among the choir to lead the group in performances. We are getting close to being ready to sing in a service. The song the girls most enjoy is KASANA.
“Kasana! Kasana! The light of the sun! God is light. There is no darkness in God. If we say we are living with Him, but we live in darkness, then the truth is not in us. But if we live in light, as He is in light, then we will live together in harmony. Kasana!”
ANOTHER PROJECT DIES ON THE VINE, BUT HISTORY PROVES GOD IS WORKING
It may be pessimism, but I often say that good things don’t last long in Haiti. A coffee cup can do it’s job for 25 years in an old lady’s house in the USA, and then that cup lasts only two months in Haiti. A decoration can be beautiful for decades…in the USA. After a year in Haiti it is ugly. Teams come and go. Choirs come and go. Businesses come and go. Schools come and go. Churches come and go. It is a sad reality that good things tend not to last long here.
I have tried a few projects over the years to make money here in Haiti…for myself and/or for those around me. My chickens never laid eggs. (So, in a way, you could say my chicken project laid an egg.) My rabbits never had babies. My books never sold.
Last year I bought a freezer. I enjoy cold water, and frozen fruit blended into a smoothy. It is nice to be able to keep food as well, meat especially. My freezer is hooked up to an inverter, batteries, and solar panels. I bought the special inverter last year. It is less than one year old.
This year I decided to begin a tiny frozen meat project with WEC and his sister. I would store frozen chicken for her to sell in the street. Each night, any unsold meat came back to me, and I would freeze it up again. This project made money…both for me and for WEC’s sister. It made money until my inverter broke down. Now I need to run my generator to make the freezer freeze.
This week has been a discouraging week in many ways. My internet service is dead and gone. My inverter is fried. Ironically, I am working on a message for Sunday morning based on Psalms 77. Asaph was losing hope as he thought about himself. The number of I’s, me’s and my’s in the first verses of the psalm is telling. That kind of self-attention leads to doubt. Then, he decides to recount the works of his God, the things he knows God did. It is the perfect response to discouragement and doubt. I have made a point to go back into my journals from my early years in Haiti to see the hand of God again. He has been faithful to me, no doubt. We so easily forget the doors God opens for us. We so easily overlook the problems He fixed along the way. It’s good to look back and count blessings. It is a doubt-killing exercise.
God is faithful. Invertors aren’t.
I met a young man named Kendet years ago. He was a third-grader at the time. He was living with a family that I visited often. At some point, that family asked him to leave. It happens that way about 80% of the time in Haiti. Families will gladly help a little boy, but are not interested in helping the boy when he turns into a teenager.
Kendet called me around Christmas time. He then came from the city of Cayes to my place for a visit. He has finished school and is a leader in his church. He was planning a youth camp for the Mardis Gras vacation. It worked out for his youth group to spend their days in the National School of Flammands…about 2 miles west of my house. Kendet invited me to present a two-hour session for the youth campers. I enjoy the chance to meet Haitian kids from other areas, and I have learned a few ways to capture their attention. I think the session went pretty well.
The questions that they had for me after the session showed some clever thinking. They had heard the subject I presented and were working to tackle it, each in his/her own way. City kids often have serious advantages over rural kids here in Haiti...better teachers, more equipment in the classroom, and parents who are more educated. I had them work in groups to answer a few questions. Their answers were all good.
After I taught, the young men in the group hosted me in their room. It was a just a classroom…with benches and blackboards. However, they had transformed it. Each time this youth group goes to a camp, the girl’s room and the guy’s room are involved in a competition for the neatness and attractiveness of their sleeping quarters. These young men did what most Haitian people do when sleeping away from home : They brought bed coverings (like you’d find on a bed in a hotel), and they used them as their mattress on the cement floor. BUT, in the morning, they used those same quilts to cover the school benches. It was amazing! They looked like upholstered furniture. I couldn’t help but be impressed with their creativity, their cooperation, their planning, their ingenuity, and their attention to detail. It was like I had stepped into a hotel lobby.
People are amazing. I love working here in Haiti. The potential that people have is remarkable. It encourages me every time I meet new people and learn to know them. God has made a wonderful world. I wish everyone would see more of the world than their own little space.
I bought a tent several years ago. About twice each year we go camping somewhere on the beach. Thanks to Bethlehem United Methodist Church and their youth yard sale, I now have 5 tents. Over the Christmas holiday, we had planned a trip, but it never happened. We rescheduled for the 3 days of Mardis Gras vacation that Haiti always observes. On Monday morning, I worked most of the morning. At noon, I visited a youth group from Cayes that was spending the Mardis Gras vacation in our area for a youth camp. I taught a 2-hour session in which I encouraged them consider that the best way they can prepare for their own future is to fix their eyes on God (His word, His creation), and then fix their eyes on others (service). In the evening we gathered our gear, loaded up the wagon, and headed to the beach. We set up under the lights of my Honda generator.
We don’t always travel with the generator, but it does give an extra feeling of safety when you can see the space around you all night long. A favorite part of beach camping for me is waking up early (not too hard to do…the soft beach sand turns to asphalt at about 2:00am). As light moves into the environment, fishermen head out to do their jobs. The peaceful, easy feeling out on the beach is remarkable. Another day is being born. Waves lap. Birds sing. Crickets settle down. Trees stand still. Live begins again. The sky is like a theatrical show. At some point the sun appears like a special guest whose entrance has been built up over time. In an hour or so, it will be hot again. But for a brief period, Haiti is all beauty and no heat.
Without thinking of the connection to the American holiday, I packed several doughnuts (that a neighborhood lady sells from time to time) for Monday night and Tuesday morning. There were 3 left for breakfast on Tuesday…for three guys. I enjoyed mine before I even realized I was eating a doughnut on the day before Lent, like so many other people.
The guys at my house brought me food at noon. Eating at the beach makes a regular meal great. I then rode a cycle back to my house in order to watch a big soccer game on TV…in which the team I had hoped would win was beaten soundly. That has been a theme lately for the games I choose to watch. Immediately after that, I walked quickly back to the beach wondering if our tents and my generator were disturbed while we were away for a few hours. They were not. Everything was as we left it. The guys with me agreed that they would be shocked if ever they heard that Andy had something stolen from him in Pasbwadòm. I live in a community that appreciates me.
Tuesday evening was hotdog night. We ate…too many. As always we roasted them on an open fire of coconut leaves and other twigs. Even the sandy ones were tasty.
Wednesday morning was another glorious beach morning. I wrote a song about Haiti the other week. One line in the song is : “Ayiti! Chak jou mwen lakay ou pou tande pipirit chante, mwen santi nanm mwen beni.” (Haiti! Every day that I get to hear your morning birds sing, I feel blessed.)
On Sunday morning, I got up before 6:00am. I arrived at the church to find a group of people already headed to the beach. Five young people and one adult were about to be baptized.
As we left town on foot headed south to the ocean, the sunlight of a new day was enough for us to easily see our way. But, the sun had not yet peaked above the trees on the eastern horizon.
The six baptism candidates had trusted their lives to Christ at some point recently. A new day was dawning for them, but the public declaration of faith was still ahead...just ahead now.
As the ground under our feet turned from rich soil to sand, the sun was beginning to appear in all of its glory. By the time I walked out onto the beach and looked east, the whole sky was glorious with light. The dawn had given way to day.
Six people were baptized as the sun began its trek across the sky. Their lives in Christ had just begun. It is a new life, a new day. The new day had actually begun earlier, but this was a dramatic and key event. The sun was now visible. Their commitment to Christ was now public and clear. They died with Christ and rose again with Him.
I am humbled by every baptism I attend here in Haiti. It is a blessing to see people profess faith by receiving baptism.
May God bless each of them...all day long.
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.
Missionary in Haiti.