Sunday, December 23, 2012

Biblical Must-Reads

It is useful to recall that the Bible is a library, not a book – God’s Folio, as it were, a collection of permanent and unchanging texts.

It is also good to remember that God was not the curator of the texts. Church Fathers were. (Some books written by women were considered but not included.) We are therefore in a situation of source analysis: primary or secondary, required or recommended.

Born to a pastor’s home and being rather biddable, I did not set out to reach that atypical conclusion. Rather, I reached it out of an honest hungering for answers: “How then shall [I] live?”

So among the 66 God-inspired books by 40 authors written over about 1600 years, I play favorites. I choose. Some I deem essential, while others are optional, though good and powerful. Hamlet outranks both Timon of Athens and Othello.

So, my list of Biblical must-reads consists of the following: Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Ruth, Nehemiah, Esther, Psalms 1, 23, 34, 42, 46, 103, 121, Isaiah, Daniel, Jonah, Haggai, Luke, John, Hebrews, James.

This 2013 year, I will (re)read those books.

I believe my choices are inspired, but they all have applications to me, to Haiti. They offer ways of increasing goodness and joy, and reduce brokenness and misery.

What matters, of course, is to read Biblical texts, all or few or one. Concerning this, the Church Fathers were right: the Bible is alive and mighty to change, to transform.

As for my list, it may prove much too ambitious. For a couple of years running, I have found it impossible to get away from Genesis!

God said, and there was – little else seems required.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

To do

Behold and note Haiti’s beauty
Intone, adore this gift to me
Dance to its beat till dark is gone
Drink of its rains and not to drown

Write down a poem to my homeland
Proclaim the songs furled in its veins
Dance to its beat that birthed my core
Drink of its rains till I’m no more

Monday, December 17, 2012

Re: Missionaries

Living in Port-au-Prince, I have the privilege of often being around “missionaries,” loosely defined: evangelical foreigners from rich countries working to help poor Haitians.

Often, they are employees of established Christian organizations, receive job descriptions, submit reports, undergo performance evaluations. Some must raise their own funds, but are assisted in doing so.

Others are self-employed entrepreneurs. They create their own “ministries” and pursue whatever activity they wish. Blogs and generous friends facilitate fundraising.

Those two groups share many traits.

First, almost to the person, they are in Haiti because they were “called” by God to come “serve the Haitian people.” I have yet to be told by even one missionary “I am here because your country is beautiful, interesting, haunting, maddening, real.”  Or “I am here because in Haiti, being American is enough. It brings untold opportunities for personal growth, for power, for leadership.”  Or “I am here because I had to get away from home, and Haiti provided that get away.”  That is not said.  All missionaries are here because God told them to come.

Second, the missionaries here live well. Well-appointed homes, nice cars, good schools, regular vacations, easy international trips, all are theirs to enjoy.

Third, they wield much influence and power. Imagine an Evangelical church, in a town somewhere in North Carolina. Imagine the choir of that church. That is Haiti’s missionary community. Except here  they decide who gets jobs, who goes to school, who eats. Wherever they go, from the grocery store to public ministries, people defer to them, ask them for things, value their opinions, accept their decisions. (Yes, it is because they are white and clearly not Haitians.) In absence of charisma, their Americanism does nicely.

Unfortunately, some also hoard power. They stay very, very busy overseeing staff, counseling pastors, checking financial reports, setting strategies, fixing generators, hosting teams, leading workshops on time management and leadership. 

In Exodus, we read about Moses and his management style: I will do it all, not because no one else can, but because I can. 

Exodus 18:13 is particularly telling:  “... Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening.” This is a devastating picture, achingly accurate of what happens in Haiti. Here, the “blan” calls the meeting, decides, acts, does. The Haitians stand around, wait for their turn, wait for him to solve the problem, and then say “thank you,” that awful, awful word.

And everyone asks, “how will things ever change in Haiti?”

As Jethro told Moses, “What you are doing is not good.”

Saturday, December 1, 2012

No-money Transformation

Everyone agrees Haiti is not good as it is. Things must change. The problem of course is that precious little money is available. But what if no-money-required changes could be had?

Here are some examples.

Smart Votes
Thousands of Haitians work as detectives, military experts, accountants, judges, psychologists all over the world. And they are very good at what they do.

Therefore, the diaspora could form a voter education initiative ahead of the next national presidential elections, maybe for the senate and the lower house as well.

The idea is to conduct background checks (professional experience, family history, financial activities, criminal involvement, etc.) for the serious contenders, and issue a “report card” for each one. This would not be based on policy positions of the candidates, but rather on their private-public persona: what kind of persons are they? What have they done in their lives?

That system of “good public service seal,” as it were, would help the population cast informed votes.

Civic Lessons
Dire statistics aside, the overwhelming majority of Haitian children spend at least five – seven years attending school before turning 21.  Most of them will have gone to Catholic or Protestant schools.

Those schools, that reach at least 1,000,000 students on any given October weekday morning, should systematically teach them to love Haiti and to speak well of their fellow Haitians, for example; to determine to make a family before making babies.

Those schools should train these children to throw trash only in trash cans.

How would Port-au-Prince look if school children, all school and university students were instructed every day “don’t throw trash in the streets”!

Home Schooling
We have all witnessed two and a half year olds, wearing diapers and too little to walk, being carried or stuffed into tap-taps around 6:30 a.m., “going to school.” Those same children are back home by noon.

Again, churches must play a creative, crucial role, and encourage parents to home school their children during the early years, let’s say until the child turns five.

In addition to the financial savings, homeschooling would provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to bond with their children – a practice badly needed in Haiti.

If the parent is unable to do so, he could hire one of the 100,000s of young educated Haitians with no jobs, as private home tutors.

Either way, that poor toddler gets a respite from outside influences for one more year or two – and really personal instruction.

These suggestions are a mere sample of what is possible. And they require no flash appeals, no calling on “the international community to honor its commitment” to Haiti, no new taxes on the Haitian middle class.

Just Haitians being smart and creative – what we already are.