Monday, July 14, 2014

More Post Mission Thoughts

Some more thoughts, having to do with my attitude towards short term missions. STMs or as we call in our church STAMP trips have been criticized a lot, and for good reason. Most such trips do for people what they could or should do for themselves, thereby creating dependency and eventually destruction of industries which could prosper without such intervention. Donating food, clothes money, etc have a place- but they cannot make up the whole mission.

HART in my view has been more successful than most other trips. Some of the reasons, I think, as these:

1. Each STAMP trip revolves around supporting an anchor missionary stationed long-term. In this case the anchor missionary is Father Roosevelt who is local and invested long-term. There is great trust between him and his people. Often a foreign long-term missionary lacks this trust, but does carry a lot of trust from his church or support teams back home. The inverse in true in cases where the anchor missionary is a local leader. In HART's case both these problems are non-existent. Father Roosevelt is not supported for his daily living by the Detroit churches, he is invested in his people and he carries enormous trust in Detroit. Each time he visits there is great love and affection, and many STAMP trips have over several years seen his work for themselves and come away impressed.

2. In HART's case there are 2 'medium-term' missionaries, one of whom is committed enough to go to Haiti at least once each quarter. He also spearheads the construction effort for the church HART is building in Haiti. The accountability is stronger with these missionaries' efforts. But such medium-term missions arise out of personal desire and investment into the people. They have found their own personal missions- in the case of one, supporting orphans with medical care and other resources. The bond between the local mission and the overseas church becomes stronger with this quarterly contact.

3. STAMP missionaries are committed to go each year to the same country. In our church each year different STAMP missions target different countries. I remember a STAMP trip to India a couple of years ago, and another one a few years previously, but the frequency of contact and constant investment isn't there. In HART's case there are a few countries they are invested in- Haiti, Uganda, Cameroon, and some others- but this list is limited, and the team is committed to travel to these places each year. The number of people on each team is limited to 25 people but the wait-list is 25 people-strong.

4. Medical care is sorely needed in this region- this does not necessarily create dependency. Without this medical care the people simply will not get any other such care. Best of all, the missionaries make it clear they they are there because they love Jesus. The youngsters who go with the team live in spartan facilities with 25 people to 3 restrooms, having 2 meals a day, supplemented with energy bars they bring with them. Eventually though I think HART would benefit from having a Haitian missionary doctor stationed long term and supported by the church financially.

5. HART is made up of people from 3 different parishes. This is great, and creates the best form of accountability. Also it provides critical mass for the number of people who could be a part of such trips.

6. The 'No Negativity' clause works wonders. Mission trips are often compromised by hurt feelings, sarcasm and other such issues. Most of the time HART missionaries were kind- I can vouch for this, as I myself messed up on several occasions- particularly my lack of care in keeping my sickness to myself- but people were forgiving.

7. Often having heart for missions means saying No to a trip. In this case Tom let me know that his wife did not come because she felt it would be good for some others to be a part of the trip. A true missionary is intentional this way.

I have not yet been on a college church mission trip. But I sometimes wonder if our mission trips could learn from this one. We usually have an anchor missionary who is financial supported by the church and other churches, but local missionaries who partner with them (if they exist) are not heard of at all. In our church we pray for the missionaries we support but not local partners. Such partners also do not come to our church to interact with us. The lack of communication, except in the form of periodic emails requesting prayer and detailing small events, makes for an impoverished form of partnership. Considering that our missionaries are supported financially (each family getting $4000-$5000 a month), this is strange.

We pride ourselves on being a sending church- the fact that half of our annual budget of $6 M goes into missions speaks for itself. Besides this the STAMP teams support themselves, and the long term missionaries raise funds from among the congregation as well as other congregations, which is not a part of the $3 M missions budget. It is likely much higher than the 3 HART parishes put together. We are present in several countries- I wonder if we are spreading ourselves too thin in this way. Alma and I support 2 missionary families in India financially, but the inadequate communication and partnership is not a good thing. There is a lack of clarity as to their work, and there is typically no mention of local ministry partners, no requests for prayer for such people, no introduction of such people to the team in the US.

Medical missions in my view are an excellent way to minister to people. I do not see a focused effort to build such teams in our church. A lot of point to ponder.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Post-mission thoughts

I'm still processing all that Haiti meant to me, and I look back and realize that 9 days have the power to change the course of a life. I had not actually expected this though I was told this time and again. The common mission model is that of having an anchor missionary in a place and having teams of short term missions full of eclectic people with varied skills come in to do focused work throughout the year. The anchor missionary should be accountable and trustworthy in order to be able to do this effectively. To avoid situations wherein teams of short term missionaries go to third world countries to build a house that noone lives in or paint a building that then gets abandoned, the missionary needs to plan for these short term trips in advance.

I'm glad to say that our Haiti trip works well in that limited sense. It is only once a year that it happens, but Wayne State University is going in December, and I believe other teams go there as well. Father Roosevelt is clearly a man of the people with his heart firmly planted in Point a Raquette. He lives in modest conditions, and while there are those in the US who would ask why he is building a church when he could use the money to help the material needs of people (like a disciple famously asked Jesus why a woman would spend so much money on buying a perfume to wash his feet rather than spend it on the poor), he knows his people and they love him- it is so obvious.

I also see genuine faith. The petty differences in denominational affiliation that mark us out in the US or for that matter in India do not apply here. Protestants here seem not to carry so much baggage from the protesting attitude stemming from Reformation history against the Catholic church. Catholics on the other seem very similar to protestants in their worship. The sermons I heard and conversations I had with both US and Haitian leaders in Haiti point to this fact. The "bipolar gospel" or the "evangelical two-step" that makes a firm distinction between salvation of our souls and the desire to see God's justice accomplished among the poor also doesn't seem to exist. The people I met were worshipers and seekers of justice. There is no such thing as a "mercy ministry"- it is part of the package.

I've thought long and hard about going back with the same group. It opened my eyes to be part of a Catholic group, the leaders of which are Christian in every way that I consider myself to be. But I wonder if the future holds another opportunity to make more opportunities to go with another group. HART has a group of 25 who go yearly- they also have a waitlist that is 25-strong. After 5 years of serving God in this way, this has become an established mission group. They also go to Uganda, Cameroon and other places.

Father Roosevelt tried hard to get Joyce to return independent of the group. She wasn't sure, but clearly there is great need for more people to go. If we can have another group going to Haiti it would help the cause. I checked with Tom to make sure there would be no issues concerning a different denomination serving with him- he assured me that there would not be.

A recurring piece of conversation is the capability to implement EMR. Each year they talk about it but where there is scant internet access (except in the rectory) and difficulty in carrying networking equipment, computers and printers, not to mention the money needed to customize the EMR for the Haitians' needs, it has become a tough task. Although this is the case, I have an idea to create spreadsheet-based EMR that is not networked. Just like the triage forms we use now, we could fill out this information in a spreadsheet-based form which would then be consolidated into a table. The data from the triage, nurses, doctors and the pharmacy would then be consolidated at the end of the trip, and uploaded to a central location. It would need laptops (preferably tablets) with Microsoft Excel installed in each, as well as portable light printers capable of printing 1000 forms each day. Each station (doctor/nurse/triage/staff) would need to have one. Clearly this would limit our ability to carry pills and equipment due to baggage restrictions, but if we could get this equipment to Haiti as a one-time expense, it would help future missionaries. I will talk to Tom about creating this.

Another thought I have been having is about creating awareness. Tom and I talked about the intentionality of missions. Most of us in the team could afford to buy a ticket to Haiti and back with our own money. But one of us, Dr. Post created a letter that he sent to friends and associates in order to raise funds for the trip. This way a partnership could be established and more people could share in the riches of God's kingdom- the rules of which are to serve people that he came to save. Both Tom and I have had conflicting thoughts about publishing our activities on social media, in that we need to be careful to draw a line of distinction between promoting ourselves and sharing the news of God's transformation of the Haitian people. This is tough because our own motives are often mixed.

Friendships are among the most treasured souvenirs of this trip. Besides the friendships among missionaries, the bond between people in Haiti and myself is a priceless thing I would not trade for anything. It has been a very long time since I have seen people go out of their way to do something out of love, even simple things. This opens up a whole new dimension of Jesus' character that I have seen but also seen it fading away over the years.

More such thoughts, and I will try to pen these down in the next few days...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Days 7½ and 8 in Haiti

Day 7 had its share of patients that tugged at one’s heart, particularly one of Joyce’s. She had cervical cancer that was very advanced and there was no way to treat it. Joyce says it had to be at least 3 years late. I kept thinking of Dr. Paul Farmer’s concept of the “long defeat”. He says, “How about if I say, I have fought for my whole life a long defeat. How about that? How about if I said, that’s all it adds up to is defeat? I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing. Now I actually think sometimes we may win. I don’t dislike victory.

Sara Groves who took inspiration from this wrote a song called the long defeat. She makes the point that we are “so conditioned for a win, to share in victors’ stories, but in the place of ambition’s din, I have heard of other glories.” And “I can't just fight when I think I'll win; That's the end of all belief; And nothing has provoked it more than a possible defeat.”

I think of the cross, a criminal’s death, so much what seemed then a long defeat, and yet the battle is not ours but the Lord’s, and it ends in victory that will last. And we know that the Christian faith wears the resurrection on its sleeve clearly for all to see. But this doesn't come without the terrible darkness of Good Friday. Again, quoting Dr. Farmer responding to his classmates at Duke and Harvard who frequently challenged his faith, "“You want crucifixionYou ba----ds, I’ll show you crucifixion.

We spent the evening of Day 7 on the rooftop, and shared our one big takeaway from the trip. We went around in a circle and I was towards the end. For some reason my fevered brain kept thinking of only one thing- how cool it would be to have a zipline from the rooftop to Port au Prince. I wasn’t thinking much, so I said some things that came to mind. On more sober reflection, I think the one takeaway is the same I experience when I come across great acts for God- seeing Christ in the lives of people who are committed to Him. In these days of scandals involving priests, evangelists, megachurch pastors and other ecclesial or various leaders of faith, we need a Pauline (or Petrine if you are Catholic) figure towering above the rest to look up to. I’m glad to say that I have seen many such living saints, and this has been a rampart for my faith. We sat there on the rooftop against the darkening sky and I heard distant drumbeats eerily floating to us from the forests below. Dave told me those were voodoo drums. There is a lot of voodoo around the area. It felt strange to hear them with the mountain silhouetted against the sky in the night on one side and the glimmering lights of Port au Prince against the Atlantic Ocean downhill on the other. One of those moments when I think to myself, “Where have I come?”

We woke early in the morning on Day 8 and packed up our things and waited for the bus to Port au Prince, which was magnificently late. We often joke among friends about Indian Stretchable Time. It has nothing on Haitian Time. Clearly due to the non-existent infrastructure, the concept of time here is different from the world of our workaday world. The only way to deal with this and maintain one’s sanity is to relax and take on a laissez faire attitude towards unimaginable delays and unforeseen circumstances such as a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully we did not suffer from the latter problem this time around, but Tom shared that it happened last year on the way back downhill.
A local bank on the way downhill

Prior to leaving we said goodbye to everyone. The kids were the most difficult to part with. I have never seen more trust, more smiles, or more innocence anywhere else. I took pictures with some of them- Jonathan who lives with Father Roosevelt at the rectory, little girls Missena and Gyn (?) both aged 9, a year younger than my daughter Emma. As the bus drove off, I felt a hollow feeling in my stomach, which I realized was not hunger, but an indication of how much I missed Alma and the kids. I kept thinking of these kids. It is no wonder that these missionaries broach the question of adoption each time they come. As I looked at the little girls when we drove away, I thought to myself: When I return the year after next, if HART will have me, will they retain their trust, their smiles? Will they suffer much when they, as they undoubtedly will, go through chikungunya, HTN and God forbid, the terrible ailments we saw? My thoughts turned to how it would be if these girls were with us at our home in Wheaton, playing with Emma and David, how wonderful it would be. People who know me well know I almost never tear up, but as these thoughts raced through my mind I couldn't hold back. Thank God I had my sunglasses on.
Missena and Gyn

With Jonathan (right) and his friend 

We drove through Port au Prince and stopped at Patrick’s home because his daughter was sick. Joyce examined her and thought it must be the beginning of chikungunya. While Joyce was with the patient, I talked at length to Dr. Carol about Paul Farmer- she said she will read it and ask her kids to read it as well. I never tire of recommending it to people, though I give them the disclaimer about slightly colorful language, especially if they are Christian.  

Then we stopped at a store called 'The Apparent Project' ( where we bought arts and crafts created by local artisans. I bought a beaded necklace for Alma made out of clay. They make these necklaces because Haitians eat clay from the acute hunger. It is a reminder of this horrendous plight. I bought similar other things for the kids. We ran into a blonde girl working there and talking in Creole to the Haitians working there. She said 5 years ago she had come to explore, didn't know Jesus, and had now changed and working there in marketing. Tom, to my surprise, jumped in and said, "We are Catholics." He let me know he does to surprise non-Catholic believers and to see their reaction. The girl kept smiling but I think she was surprised. Then Tom pointed to me and said, "We are all Catholics except him- he is a Wheaton boy. We decided to take him with us." She said they get a lot of people from Wheaton. I wonder who.

We then drove to our hotel, a Best Western, the only one of its kind in the city. This area of town is called Petionville, the wealthy area of town. Sean Penn has a home here. That is not saying it looks like it could belong in Hollywood, much less in Bollywood. But it does have the consuls and diplomats’ residences. We entered the hotel, and let out a collective gasp. It was very much like a US hotel. Tom and I are sharing a room. Looking out our window it felt odd to see the dirt and grime of Port au Prince and the clean order of our hotel room. It is a 4 ½ star hotel. I looked at our bags which traveled downhill separately from us, in a pickup truck. They were covered with thick grey dust.

Later today we plan to go to a local orphanage to distribute rice, beans, medicines and candy. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day 7 in Haiti

I feel much better though I’m yet to completely recover. I’d rather fall sick at home than here but at a place where there are 6 doctors and 5 nurses, there is no denying the care you receive if you do fall sick. I got plenty of meds, helpful advice and a lot of TLC, including a shout out from a nurse about my prayers for the people. What more does an affirmation junkie need?

This is not our last day in Haiti but is the day we wrap up the medical camp. We go to Port au Prince tomorrow morning to spend the day at a nice hotel by Haiti standards. I guess we can only take so much of sharing space in cramped rooms and bathroom rules that declare “if it’s yellow let it mellow, but if it’s brown flush it down”. I can’t say I won’t be relieved. The hotel also lessens our “reverse culture shock” when we reenter the US, which the missionaries have reported in the past.

The triage area again went well. We took pictures with some kids holding up signs saying thank you to Fed Ex, a church and a minor league baseball team, which sponsored some gifts. I left some of my clothes behind for Father Roosevelt. I will leave my guitar behind after tonight’s worship as well.

Among tough cases, one of the students reported a case of a child having worms in her nose! I have to say that these students will have seen far more unusual cases than even the docs who travel to other third world countries. Haiti is a unique place.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Days 5 and 6 in Haiti

The triage area is a now well-oiled machine- it’s amazing what duct tape can do. We sealed off the boundaries and gave definition to the path a visitor needs to take. There is no more jumping the line or squabbles as to who came first. Human beings anywhere are naturally prone to getting ahead of each other when they are desperate to get something for which everyone is clamoring. The way to address this is to give the process definition and set boundaries which are visible. Someone jumping the line when there are clearly marked dividers does so in full view of everyone else. When there are no such markers, standing haphazardly may well mean inviting someone to get ahead. A structure- that’s what makes the US work at airports, movie theaters, Dairy Queen or just about any place. It works just as well in Haiti.

Joyce and I had the opportunity to speak to the crowd of people in the mornings on days 5 and 6. I love how the Haitians interact with the speaker. Unlike in most of our churches, they think of a sermon as a conversation. African Americans tend to do this more often in the US, but I find the Haitian version less a cultural type than it is a normal way to process the word of God.

We found several cases- a girl with chikungunya, covered with rashes, a skinny pregnant woman who ate on 3 times a week as her husband had lost his job 7 years ago and never got another one (she was severely dehydrated), and several others- that makes one wonder how we could live with the ambivalence.

Oriol, one of the choir directors came up and played some songs on the guitar with me. I gave him several pages in a binder that contained musical notation for many hymns and songs. I plan to give the guitar to Father Roosevelt when I leave.

A trip like this brings about several interesting reflections and conversations. One topic that frequently comes up among the missionaries is the question that many ask of us- why go all the way to Haiti when there are so many poor in the US. This is, in my experience, a smokescreen for their guilt. It is usually asked by people who have not themselves done anything for the poor either in the US or anywhere else. This guilt is not necessarily a bad thing. As Paul Farmer says we experience ambivalence when we see poverty juxtaposed against our prosperity. There are 2 choices we could make when we experience this- either do something about it or make excuses. As he says in Mountains beyond Mountains, “among a coward's weapons, cynicism is the nastiest of all”.

In the evening on Day 5, Dr. Tom and I visited the homes of 2 of our Haitian helpers- Markenson and Enock (sic). Markeson is planning to come to Chicago on September 29 with Father Roosevelt, and I would like to meet up with him and Tom. I felt great to visit them and build those relationships. Markenson lost his mom in the 2010 earthquake- her grave site is in the compound of his home, marked by a cross. He lives with his brother. Enock is a younger guy who is very friendly. He introduced us to his family- mom, his younger brother and his friend who was finishing up his dinner at their home. A cow, a bull and chicken roamed about the yard. Funnily enough, after I finished praying for some patients in the triage, he asked me if I were a Catholic or a Protestant. It felt great to tell him I'm a follower of Jesus. Was that a cop out? If it was, I don't care.

I could take hours to write about the great helpers we have- Philippe who doesn't take a lunch break in the triage, Robbins who lost his dad last week and is trying to raise funds for his funeral, all the while spending entire days with us at the clinic, and so many others.

I came down with a cough and mild feverishness on Day 6, but I’m quickly recovering. The chik virus doesn’t bring about sniffles and Dr. Tom told me it is good to have the cold as viruses compete for dominance of the body. So if you have the cold, the chik virus may not get a chance to operate.

We distributed Bibles in church today, the Creole version of NIV. Everyone wanted one- where there is a famine for the word of God people treasure their Bibles.

“I think Farmer taps into a universal anxiety and also into a fundamental place in some troubled consciences, into what he calls "ambivalence," the often unacknowledged uneasiness that some of the fortunate feel about their place in the world, the thing he once told me he designed his life to avoid.”

― Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day 4 in Haiti

A day unlike any other so far. We began the clinic in the morning after the mass. Dr. Graves (Tom) stood outside the gate and spoke to the crowd of people who had come, “We have come because we love Jesus.” One of our team, Dave, led us all in singing and a student, Conor, talked about his prayer for God to work through him.

I was a little frustrated in the beginning because the task of maintaining order in the triage was getting to me. I kept reminding myself what I was here for and why I wanted to come. Eventually the task became easier and new ideas came up that helped me manage the crowd. I saw members of the team smiling as they did their work and giving me a thumbs up every now and then, and felt convicted that my frustration was not good. I prayed and felt that God was prompting me to pray for patients waiting in line at the clinic to see a doctor. So I went there and started laying my hands on and praying for each one, specifically for the sickness stated on each triage form. More and more patients began to thrust their triage forms into my hands asking me to pray. I prayed for most of them. As Sara Groves said, “your faith has changed me, your hope inspires, your courage asked me what I knew of love, and your courage asked me what I knew of God.”

I came back after lunch and finished triage duties. The highlights of this day was a pregnant woman who came into the triage with high blood pressure, whom Joyce diagnosed to have preeclampsia. She decided to induce the baby in order to save its life. After 8 hours, baby Frank was born and the lives of both baby and mom were saved. One of the Haitian team members told me, "This is why God will always bless you." Father Roosevelt told me, “That Joyce is awesome- she should stay here forever.” After we discharged the woman, she had to walk to her home which was nearby. This was a makeshift hospital which we needed to use the next day. Her family members accompanied her and she went home limping! As we walked back in the tick Haitian night, Brun told me in a hushed tone, “This was a miracle.” I nodded and then he asked me, “At any point were you afraid for the baby’s life?” I said I wasn’t, but I was scared for the mom’s life. I told him that when we were expecting Emma, Alma asked me a few times, “Am I going to die?” I now tease her about it.

Did I not write yet about watching the second half of the US Ghana game? That shows how much electricity was in the air. It was indeed, as Brun said, a miracle. I'll never forget it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Day 3 in Haiti

Day three. Tough to put everything to words. We did a lot of work setting up the clinic. I’m slightly nervous or excited about tomorrow. Over a thousand people will show up. We did my favorite thing- worshiped with singing for over 1 hour. In the morning we attended the service at the makeshift church. As it was in Creole,I did not understand most of it. Some I made do with my limited knowledge of French. I recorded some of the singing during the service and it was awesome, very joyful. Kids swarmed about us today, asking for things. One wanted my camera, another my sunglasses, still another my hat. I plan to give a lot of things away on my return but not those three- the hat because it is not mine to give. 

The poverty doesn't shock me- I've seen similar levels of lack in India. But the fact that nearly everyone seems poor is unsettling. In India both fabulous wealth and grinding poverty are easily visible, and it is easy to see that the society is truly mixed. Not so much here. The rich are far away in enclaves of their own, but I was told that the land this village sits on, including the rectory, school, and the church we are building, are all owned by rich people who let all this happen. All the land is owned. I wonder how all this happens. If in a country there are 7 million people, and only a handful of people own all the land there is, surely this must have come about in a devious manner. How could people be dispossessed of land except by force? Surely these people must have land from the past to lay claim to.

But of course, from Gary Haugen’s writings and others like Paul Farmer and Tracy Kidder, we know how this happens. The same story in every single third world country. Mounting debts, paying it off through unfair labor practices or some other means of giving up fundamental rights. Nothing new under the sun.