Saturday, April 29, 2017

Losing Lenia

Last Sunday, midway though a visit with Denny and Leora's family,  and Stephan and Leanne from Kentucky, we were hit with the startling news that our friend Lenia had just passed away.

The news shouldn't have come as a shock, since she had been terribly sick for several months preceding her death. Somehow, as all the memories of the time spent with her came flooding across our minds, we had perhaps believed she was going to get better.  She had been to several doctors at the beginning of her illness, and none of them could tell her what was wrong. After a several weeks in the hospital, she was released because there was nothing they could do to help. Rather than return to her home, though, she went to the home of a nearby church leader. Lenia had apparently been directed in a dream to "go to the woman of God."   There she laid on a thin mat on the floor of that woman's porch, slowly wasting away.  Her children were no longer going to school. They were hungry. Yet she lay there, day after day, while the woman prayed over her. Lenia was almost daily calling for Barry to come, and we made many trips to also go pray.   We arrived one afternoon to find the woman prostrate on the floor next to Lenia with her hands placed over her, while Lenia intermittently tossed back and forth. Over and over the woman zealously cried, "Sortie!" (The Creole word for exit, or leave)

Several brethren from the church at home saw Lenia in this state, and helped pray for her and plead with her about her spiritual state. She persisted that she had no known sin, that she was right with God, and was clueless as to why she was sick.

Barry found that it was not beneficial to stay at that woman's house, so she spent the last month of her life back at home in her own bed, while her family tried to care for her physical needs. Barry recognized her symptoms as the same things he saw the man in the mountain suffer before he died. A couple of weeks ago, a medical doctor came to her house to do some final diagnosis. Pastor Bazalet and Barry were there to hear what he had to say. The doctor's explanation for the sickness: an evil spirit.  This confirmed Barry's thoughts all along.

Barry called Pastor Bazalet to set up a time the next day to pray for her deliverance.  When they arrived, she was not in her right mind, showing her teeth, writhing around, and speaking jibberish. They sat Lenia on a chair and commanded the spirit to leave, in the name of Jesus. Lenia then came to her right mind, and said she had felt the spirit leave, that had tormented her for months. The next day she was even further improved.

Then, Sunday just after church, Lenia's brother came crying to bear the news. We could hear our neighbor, Lenia's sister, crying the familiar screams that are heard after a death in Haiti.

The funeral was held eight days later. Hundreds of people came, but some that were closest to her did not. Her parents stayed home, as well as her good friend, Sonson. It seemed as though the ones the most grieved by the loss were the ones to keep to themselves while they mourned silently. Extended family and friends had a more typical display, screaming, kicking, thrashing their heads, and even passing out, motionless on the floor.

The service was fairly simple and not unlike those at home, with a few songs, a short biography of Lenia's life, and at the family's request, Barry preached.  It was another opportunity to preach to a lot of people who otherwise never step foot into church. When a 26 year old young woman dies, it can cause other young people to perhaps consider the brevity of their own lives.

After the service, the whole crowd followed the hearse up the hill to Lenia's home. Behind the house a large tomb already waited, built a year and a half ago for her husband, Gino. A graveside scripture completed the funeral, and the casket was carefully slid into the tomb.

Lenia's death left her children as orphans. The family says they plan to do their best to take care of them. We have hope that her deliverance allowed her to be free and die at peace with God. Barry pleased with everyone at the funeral not to let her death be in vain, and this is hour prayer as well.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


We are once again thankful for God's loving hand of protection over our children. As I recall the events that occurred around lunchtime last Thursday, I can see the way the Lord has things happen in order to show us something, while still keeping us from major tragedy.

Katie and I were working together to try to clean out the water tank that sits on the roof of our house. Abram and David were playing nicely in the front yard, where we could see them using sticks as hammers to "build a house." It was only a brief moment with eyes off of them and on the water tank before they were no longer in the front of the house, but were in the back, and both screaming wildly. I headed for the ladder as soon as I heard it, but Katie leaned over to see why was going. "Bees! They got in the bees!"

I skipped the last four steps of the ladder  and ran for the stairs. Abram met me in front of the house, with more bees than I could count attatched to his head, and with dozens more angrily swarming him. As I tried to swat them away from my son, I was quickly being taken up in the swarm as well. Katie came down the stairs right behind me as David was making his way around to the front of the house as well. Both boys were screaming in pain and desperation. In a semi panic, we were frantically trying to stand there and shoo the bees away. A few of the nearby neighbor women, after hearing the screaming and perhaps seeing a few angry bees come their way, rushed around to our gate,  which I just happened to consciously leave open that morning.  They rushed inside, grabbed the boys, and took off running. Knowing Bethany was safe inside in her bed, we ran too. The women parted directions with the boys, and bees swarmed the entire neighborhood. David went one direction and was stripped of all his clothes. I had stuck with Abram, and while I tended to him, the other women were calling for a motorcycle taxi to rush David to the hospital.

After being called and alerted of the situation, Barry rushed home and arrived before they took David.  He found us on Oscar's front porch, slathering David in baking soda paste from head to toe and silently pleading for God's intervention. While the commotion continued to draw a growing crowd, many of them had taken notice of Bethany's absence and were certain she needed rescued from inside our house, as if she was trapped in a burning building.  Rather, she was  in a pack-n-play inside a room with the door closed and screens in the windows, with the bees sealed out.  Despite our insisitance that Bethany was fine, and seemingly even safer where she was than out with us, one neighbor man put on a winter coat, his motorcycle helmet, gloves, and the rest of his gear and went searching for Bethany.

She was with us for a few minutes before we decided that the bees had calmed down enough to return home. Nearly two hours after the initial attack, we went home, while little David was still screaming and terrified.  The best option was to pray. He finally stopped crying and instantly fell asleep in his Daddy's arms.   Both boys still suffered some repercussions that afternoon as they were physically sick from so much venom in their systems, but the evidence of the Lord's protection was astounding! A peace came over us that told us they were both going to be alright. And what a testimony!  They knew it, too.  Someone told Barry about the bees in some areas swarming after the hurricane. Their hives were damaged in the storm, and they were so powerful that they were actually killing cows. He was the one to say that if it wasn't for God, our little boy would be gone.

David's head had been completely covered in bees. Hundreds of stingers were pulled from his skin. Six days later the swelling and redness returned so that I could more clearly see where each sting was, but I counted about 35 that had actually done damage.  That's a clear witness of the Lord's protection!  Our boys say they both learned something from the experience, and don't plan to do silly things with the bees anymore (David struck the hive several times with a stick). As parents, we have another reason to thank God for keeping them when the eyes of a mother fail to watch closely enough while little boys play.

Falling asleep after the incident

Six days later

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What is Normal?

There's always something to talk about in Haiti, insomuch that its a regular thing that a news-worthy event takes place, but does it always make the news? Are the Haitian people just used to these strange things happening?

There is still a sense of war on the streets here in Arcahaie. Last week the group of rebels blocked the road (normal) near our home. A news reporter showed up to video tape the action, but she must have forgotten that they would not appreciate there photo being taken. The camera was confiscated and the reporter executed. Earlier this week, the president of Haiti drove through on his way up north, on his way back threw Arcahaie, the rebels were waiting. They riddled the convoy with bullets and soon a shootout proceeded, The shooting could be heard clearly from our home. The president finally made it out, but is not happy. He has sent many secret police to our town trying to round up the culprits, and many innocent people have been arrested in the process.

We've had a couple of groups visit us recently; Barry's sister and her husband from Kansas, and John Lengacher and his children, from Utica, Ohio.  During the downtime from working on the house, the weeks have been filled with preaching and Bible studies again.

 One of the services on the schedule was at seven in the evening, when the sun has already set over Barbancourt, and the occasional solar powered light is all that breaks up the blackness. We crossed the blacktop and ventured a ten minute drive down the rocky dirt road that runs eastward into the countryside. We weren't headed for a church building, but rather found the congregation gathered practically on the road. They had left a break in the seating large enough for vehicles to pass through, which we did in order to find a place to park the truck. A make-shift stage with a tarp roof actually looked quite professional in the dim lighting.  Pastor Bazalet was there waiting for us. The speakers blared the strums of the electric guitar, the melody of the piano, and the enthusiastic praises by the pastor leading the singing.  All the men, women, and children were dancing, shaking, and chanting along with the repetitious lines of the song. We couldn't help but notice the two women in the back who were so engulfed in the rhythm that they seem to forget they were holding little baby bundles, wrapped tightly in thick blankets in the "chilly" night air.  After a half hour or so of this festival, the pastor opened the mic to anyone who had a testimony to share. A middle aged man quickly came to the front and began relaying a dream he had in full detail. Our translator tried to interpret, but couldn't really make out what the man was saying and soon gave up. It wasn't long before everyone was lost on the story, so the pastor thanked the man and kindly cut him off. 

Barry has preached to this particular group several times. They typically seem receptive and the pastor is thankful for the message, reiterating in his follow-up what Barry shares during the sermon. It was the same the same this time. The music fired back up after the message, and included a Creole rendition of "Power in the Blood." At the end of the service, about half of the people gathered there climbed into the back of a large tap-tap to head to their own neighborhood.

Another stand-out service was two Sundays ago, when, thankfully, the Lord struck me with a reminder.    We were thirty minutes north of home in the town of Mouri, where we had been in February as well.  The tightly packed, unfinished church was bursting at its seams again, and we squeezed to find a sturdy bench to sit on. The drums banged. The people danced. It was a real party, and I was struggling to watch it.  Just when I had started to "get used to" church being this way and was learning to sit through it. Can we ever become comfortable sitting through vain worship? As soon as the music ended and the pastor got up to mediate the service, everyone lost interest. The young people chatted and giggled, the old people leaned their heads and started falling asleep. When he was finished and the pastor returned to the pulpit, I had a squirmy, hungry baby to tend to, and I finally decided it was time to find a place to take care of her.  As I was about to exit, a young man stretched his arm across the doorway, and surprising me with his English, asked, "Where are you going?"

After a brief explanation of my need to tend to the baby, he reluctantly let me pass. I found a small, homemade chair inside a charcoal-dusted cooking shack that's used by the church's orphanage. When Bethany wasn't quite half-finished, the young man came out to where I sat and boldly declared, "Excuse me, but, your time is up. You are only allowed five minutes and that time is up."

"Excuse me?" I asked more than once, confused. He repeated himself twice. I got up and hurried back inside to ask Barry what was going on and why this boy was telling me I can't be outside.  Apparently, people are so "squirmy" at this church that they have patrols at every doorway to keep people inside during the service. When "Pastor Barry" told the boy to let me go, I was able to go back out and finish what I had intended to do. I had to fight back tears while I sat back down on the little homemade chair. The whole morning worship service had already been a struggle watching the way people behave, and a young boy telling me I can't be outside while I tried to feed my baby was almost too much.  

While this particular Sunday morning was a challenge at the time, I'm thankful for the Lord's reminder.  What is normal?  I am so certain that God is pleased when we can truly worship in Him in sincerity without the emotional highs that come with the blaring instruments and rhythmic drum beats.  I also don't plan to ever have a comfy rocker to sit on in an air-conditioned nursery while we're here, but maybe someday soon I'll figure out just how to modestly tend to a baby without stepping on the natives' toes while I do things our way. I pray that God gives Barry patience as he travels, preaching in these environments throughout the week!

Anyone's welcome, but nobody's leavin'

This past Sunday service was perhaps a little more uplifting. Pastor Oscar invited us down the road to his church again, and Barry is always very willing and thankful for the invitation. This large church in Barbancourt is where most of the people in our village go, so it's always a chance to preach to lots of friends and neighbors together.   They usually like to give us the comfortable chairs with the choir at the front of the building, a few feet from the speakers that can be heard a half-mile away. For the sake of the children's hearing, we thankfully declined and asked to stay on the benches toward the back.  We soon found out why they like to give us those nice chairs. At the start of the service, Katie and I and our three children shared the bench with just one older lady, and had plenty of room. Over the first fifteen minutes of the service, more and more people kept packing into the benches. The children were all on laps, and we were squeezed leg to leg with other women and their children.  On a warm day in Haiti, it doesn't take long for 200 people, most of them dancing and waving their arms, to really bring the temperature up in a building. Most people bring a rag to church to keep the sweat from dripping. Regardless of the heat, I thought it was nice to sit back with our neighbors and be "regular" people at church.

When Barry posed the question, "Do you REALLY believe in Jesus?" to the congregation and explained what that meant, it was well-received. Pastor Oscar, who sometimes disagrees with the Anabaptist vision, followed up with total agreement. He even told them, "the ax is already at the root of the tree, and every tree that doesn't produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

Inside Pastor Oscar's church, with not room for one more person on the benches.

Bethany making friends with Frido, our close neighbor and a deacon at the church.

May God keep working in this village, and in this whole country!

On Preaching and Pork

Barry has been encouraged with some of the progress that seems to be showing with some of the regular Bible-study groups. Interestingly, it seems as though the ones with sincere people who listen intently and ask lots of questions are groups of young people. It's been over 13 months since we arrived in Haiti, and the list continues to grow with churches desiring to have him come preach and teach. Seeing fruit from the efforts helps to give courage to continue doing the Lord's work, despite what obstacles may come along the way. Abram also loves going along to Bible studies with his daddy, and eagerly hands out tracts if he gets a chance to go street preaching.

In other news, the time finally came to butcher the hog that Barry's been feeding for several months. With much help from Brother John Lengacher and his family, as well as Katie and her sister who were all here, we are very thankful to have a good supply of homegrown pork in our freezer. Since I'm not very experienced with rendering lard, we offered the extra fat trimmings to the nearby neighbors, knowing they're accustomed to doing a lot of things the old-fashioned way. Well, it wasn't just the fat they wanted. They took the skin, the head, the intestines, the kidneys, and would have taken the feet if a random dog hadn't snuck away with it.

 The whole village was excited about the donation. They were all having a really good time, laughing and chatting as they prepared their feast. The big, heavy skin was hauled out of our backyard by three women, then scalded and the hair scraped off. The whole thing was then chopped into smaller pieces to be boiled or fried, depending what each household had on hand.  I boiled the bones and made broth, and we had pulled pork for supper. Piker was then glad to take the bones home to his mom for her to make more broth. When they were done with that, they would break open the bones and consume the marrow as well. I'm not sure if they all thought we were wasteful for handing out all those "extras," but I do know they were a little bit surprised that Americans would do their own butchering in the first place.   It was a good day building stronger relationships with the neighbors and learning a little more about the frugal ways they know how to do things.

Using dead banana leaves to make a quick fire to scald the pig skin

Showing off the skinned pig head.