I’ve gotten to where not a lot startles me in Haitian church. I know the rhythm of worship. I have friends to help me find the songs in the hymnal when I don’t hear the right number. I have other friends who know their English well enough to find the Bible passages for me when it is a book of the Bible I don’t recognize in Creole. I love Sunday mornings in Haiti, because it starts with such pure, unhindered worship and leads us into a completely chill day of community.
But just because you get used to something doesn’t mean you won’t still be startled out of the norm. I was sitting with Pastor Claude’s kids while Makenson and Jonas were farther down the bench recently on a Sunday morning when I was startled abruptly…jolted, really. I knew it was the time where new people are brought to the front and have to introduce themselves, and after almost two years in Haiti, that’s not me anymore, so I had spaced out so I could save my brainpower for trying to understand the sermon in Creole. I know people within the congregations where we go to church, but when I attend without visitors I sit with the kids I get to hang out with when visitors are in country.
Then I hear from Pastor Claude, who is staring me down, ‘Sè Éstefony, cr-blah-ba-kloo-ish-to-ril…’ I panicked. All I understood was, ‘Sister Stephanie…’ Heart beating fast, rapidly thinking why he could be calling on me in front of the ENTIRE congregation during the introductions of ONLY THE NEW PEOPLE. I glanced down at my friend Kervens and his illuminated, expectant, joy-filled face was NO help and then I remembered…Jonas, my friend…who speaks Creole AND English…was 6 feet away…
‘Oh, you didn’t understand him?’
The lack of response, jerky movements looking for help and panicked look in my face wasn’t an indicator? Okay, got it.
‘No, Jonas, I didn’t catch the whole question.’
‘Pastor Claude asked you why you come and are not a member of the church yet. He says you should become a member of the church.’
Whaaaaaaat?!?! Really? Oh dear. Immediately images of the other Pastors I’ve become friends with, and also attend their churches, finding out I became a member AT CLAUDE’S CHURCH and not theirs terrified me.
Thankfully, Pastor Claude moved on and I was able to avoid answering.
These are the cultural moments that I look back on with great humor, because…really it’s the only option. It was hilarious, and I hadn’t had a moment of panic in a Haitian church for many, many months. It’s good to know I can still be thrown off in a place I’ve become comfortable, right?!?!
I keep digesting that moment in church, and thinking about the other pastors and their local church congregations. I am consistently inspired and constantly driven to not only answer God’s call on my life by their faith, but they light a fire in me to fight to see God’s Kingdom on earth through their work in the orphan window. For many of the Haitians in the local church, they live out exactly what the Bible say to do for the poor, orphans and widows in their communities. Granted, there are many who do not and still simply sit in church on Sunday and do not allow God to be real in their daily lives, but that is really to be expected anywhere. The key is that they are constantly surrounded by the witness of people who do make it a part of their daily lives.
It also draws my thoughts to after leaving Haiti, what will I want in a local church?
Strong Biblical grounding, believers who are led by the Holy Spirit, leaders who value discernment and prayer, a significant emphasis on discipleship, worship that pulls me closer to the heart of God…but give or take where I am called not all of those are non-negotiable. What is a non-negotiable for me as a believer called into the global orphan window is that believers are actually doing what God told us to do for the orphans of the world…the kids who need someone to champion them locally or globally.
Anyone who knows me is shaking their head right now, because this has been true for me since 2003 when God tossed me into the orphan window with such force that I never had an opportunity to look back. But realistically, I’ve never been a part of a congregation that is so deeply connected to the orphan window that their lives reflect that connection to injustice. But after living in Haiti and seeing the church partners of some of our pastors come through, I know it exists in the States.
But now…now after being here it has become more of a non-negotiable for congregations I will choose to be a part of in the States. Whether God will use me to cultivate that culture or it already exists will remain to be seen after I leave Haiti, but what I do know is when a community is reaching for the heart of God, fighting for it and advancing as a whole…there are incredible things that God does among them and that is something that a lot of people will want to be a part of…