Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reflections of a Haiti Mission Trip - January 2009 by Tom Rosenberger

This has been my 7th trip to the mission in Haiti operated by Fr. Glenn Meaux. I would have to say that this trip was the most profound trip for me yet. However, every trip has been wonderful.

All of the people that Fr. Glenn serves are poor. These people are from 14 different villages; I suppose about 15,000 or more souls. When the poorest of the poor (the ones who have no means to support them-selves) came in to the mission while we were there, to get their monthly supply of food, I was struck by how pitifully little food it was that they received. And, they had to feed themselves for a month on it. They received a couple of coffee cans full of ground corn, a can full of rice and a can full of beans and about a pint of cooking oil. That’s it!!!! I felt that perhaps it would have been enough to feed one of our US families for about a week.

On former trips to the mission, I noted that the mission staff also gave them some cash to help supplement their diet. But, there are so many now and the mission does not have the financial resources to continue this practice. I hope and pray that this is a temporary situation. I am again reminded how far a simple $30 a month sponsorship would go to help solve the problem. For most of us, this amount is less than a single evening out. The mission desperately needs many more sponsorships. There are about 1200 kids in the 2 schools that the mission operates. There is so much to do.

As I helped to hand out the food supplies to these poor, I was able to look into their eyes. They had the most grateful look as they received their meager portions. They would each say “thank you—very much”.
I felt that I could truly see Jesus in these poorest of the poor. Jesus’ command, “Feed the Hungry” took on a whole new meaning for me. I think of what we eat in a single meal--------we are so blessed, and so spoiled as a people.

There were about 430 families represented that day. I suppose that that would translate into about 2500 people that we gave food to. Many of them walked several miles to get this food. They were so thin, and many were quite weak.

As I watch them leave the mission, I consider what my life would be like if I had to endure what these poor people have to live with: The most meager of houses, some with only banana leaves for a roof, is home for many. They have no electricity (I think of all that I have that requires electricity to make my life comfortable.) They have no running water, no sewer systems, no grocery stores, no mail system, no job, and very little to eat.

As I reflect, I think that it is not fair that I, we, have so much and they have so little. They did not ask for their lot in life. And, they are helpless to change it. Even the poor in our country would be considered rich in Haiti. I know that there are other poor countries; but I am told that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I cannot imagine a poorer country anywhere on earth.

As I consider these things, I also pray, Jesus, have mercy on us. We are the ones that some day will have to face Him and answer the question, “What did you do for the least of my brothers”?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 4

November 19, 2008 Evening

I’ve just finished praying after I got back from our final meal and evening here in Haiti. I was just thinking about a conversation a few nights ago, when Tom Johnson asked Brother Pete if he thought he was successful after 45 years of work here in Haiti. Br. Pete responded by saying, “No, I don’t think so.” I can understand why he would have said this. The needs here are great, the resources few. There is no doubt that at least in the Mission at Kobonal, a ray of hope certainly has been sparked, and there have been improvements in the lives of those that the mission touches. But at times, it may seem that what is done in this country may seem like a bucket full of water dropped into a vast ocean. It seems so overwhelming. I am overwhelmed. How to make sense of it all?

And then in prayer tonight I read from the Book of Revelation: “Worthy are you O Lord...with your Blood you purchased for God those of every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made of them a kingdom of priests for God.”

In other words every human being has been purchased by Christ’s Blood. Everyone is loved and worthy of Redemption by Jesus Christ. And maybe that’s what this is all ultimately about: making sure that each person here knows their great worth and dignity. That despite outward appearances, each one here has innate human dignity and is precious in God’s eyes. Maybe that’s the success we must aspire to, the Missionary Sister of Charity, Bro. Peter, Fr. Glenn and his Mission, and yes even we who’ve been here a short while. And if one man, woman or child realizes that dignity or worth because of some act of kindness that one of us has done, then we’ve all been successful.

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 3

November 19, 2008

Last night, we had a joy-filled time, with the visit of Brother Pete, who is a Missionhurst brother who has been working here for 45 years – as long as I have been alive. He actually was a delightful man. He mainly has worked repairing all kinds of engines, and showing Haitians how to do so since his arrival. As a hobby, he does wood-working. I don’t think I could call him an optimist. He certainly wouldn’t be considered a conservative by any standards, politically or theologically. He doesn’t feel much has improved here – and after 45 years has no clue how things can turn around here.

This country, where Columbus first came so many years ago, was a tropical paradise, filled with exotic hardwood trees and fruit trees. But in a short time, the land was cleared of almost all natural resources. Its people are actually descendants of African slaves brought here by the French. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population in poverty, and over 50% in abject poverty. And due to its almost total deforestation, is terribly prone to natural disasters and erosion. Farming it is difficult. And there is no industry to speak of.

Today, we visited Br. Pete at his shop. What a kind, interesting man. His place is near the airstrip. UN troops were guarding the strip today. Apparently they were expecting some arrival that needed extra security.

So tomorrow we return back home. The mix of emotions I have experienced is still churning inside me. I imagine that it will be that way for some time. Those who work here are so very dedicated to being the hands and feet and voices of Christ. I am so very edified by Fr. Glenn. I can’t imagine being able to do what he does. And yet I am somehow drawn to this place. I certainly felt before coming here that once would be enough! Now I am not so sure. Despite what I would see as overwhelming challenges here, there is joy to be found. Somehow, many here live with hope. They carry on – they accept the inherent difficulties of life here. I am left to believe that it is because somehow they sense the presence of Christ close to them. I wonder if, left with few possessions and little else to give them security, they know that the only hope we all really have is in God.

When we were at the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Theola, the superior there, said that Mother Teresa always told them that no matter what they did, they did with joy, because the people they would encounter every day would have little joy in their lives. Brother Pete said of them that “they have chosen a very difficult path to heaven.” I’m not sure about that. Certainly anyone here, whether native to this land or not, has a difficult life. It is hard work to make your way even a little bit. Yet it seems that if it’s done with love, and in joy, then it’s all worth the effort. Tonight we have our final meal together here for this mission trip.

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 2

November 18, 2008

Today we distributed food to those who are the poorest in the area (near the village of Kobonal where the mission is located. Of course, when you say “poverty” here it is a relative term. We simply don’t know this level of poverty in the US. Today the people who came here received enough food to feed their families for a month. Corn, beans, oil, a small package of bouillon cubes and some lye soap. Those without any adequate shoes received simple sandals. We distributed to about 400 families. That represented about 2000 people. Some came with donkeys to help carry the load. Many were elderly, who have no means of support.

It was interesting to see many carry sticks, wood, for fires which the mission will use to cook food for the children. Even in their poverty they want to help. Leaving, those without any “transportation,” which is most, carried the loads balanced on their heads. They were so very grateful – and so very gentle. One of our group mentioned the fact that it seemed that what the 10 of us ate last night at supper, in one meal, would last a whole family a week, or perhaps a month. And then I thought of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday – how much food we’ll eat in one day – the sheer amount of food readily available to us. And then there are many people who don’t have any access to a place like this mission, so they resort to eating cakes literally made out of mud. They simply want to fill their bellies. Of course for them, malnutrition will come quickly. Again today, when I thought I had seen it all, I realize I hadn’t.

Reflections from Haiti – Fr. Tony Wroblewski Part 1

I’ve just returned from the house of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s sisters) in the city of Hinche. I am now realizing the great gamut of emotions I’ve been feeling the past few days. Though today was the first time since I arrived in Haiti a few days ago that I felt an overwhelming sadness – my heart broken over seeing so, so many sick people in the sisters’ home – especially the children. The sisters were wonderful. But the plight of the children broke my heart. The sisters take them in – they have no place to go. Their legs and arms are thin to the bone, and their stomachs distended like balloons from malnutrition. More and more have HIV and other illnesses, but they can get no medicine that could help them. (I am made aware of the immense amount of samples that are given freely to clinics in the US.) And yet, these children hold out their arms – only wanting a loving embrace – the smallest human touch which would validate their humanity – their dignity. And there are so many.

As I said, the range of emotions I have felt is wide. Landing in Port Au Prince I was guarded. Flying to Hinche, and then landing in that tiny dirt path they called a runway, I must admit was frightening. The next few days, I felt a building sense of joy. The people here are so warm and inviting, despite their utter poverty, what most of us in the US would describe as destitution. But they carry on. They muddle through.

But today I am overwhelmed. I wonder – where is the light at the end of the tunnel? How do they find hope in the midst of all this? And why was I, and not them, so blessed? These questions gnaw at my soul. I have no answers.

Time to pray…

I’ve just opened my prayer book. The first line read: “…the Lord looks tenderly on those who are poor.” I sure hope so. And later on: “…endure joyfully whatever may come.”

We ate supper tonight, and then enjoyed each other’s company with a game of cards. In speaking with Lyle, a doctor with us, he indicated that most of those people we saw today, especially the children, wouldn’t be in such dire circumstances in the US. In fact, they probably wouldn’t be ill at all. In his own words, he said in the US these diseases no longer even exist. There was a little boy – his name was Jean (John) – who was going to die very soon. He couldn’t be more than a year old, though with the malnutrition it is so very hard to tell the children’s ages. He suffered from anemia and malnutrition, which in turn brought about heart failure. His parents brought him to the sisters too late. There is nothing that can be done. So the sisters are helping him, and of course his family, to die with some dignity. I’ve seen so much poverty, and yet tomorrow I am told we will be seeing the very poor! The mission will be giving them, their families, enough food to live for a month. If the mission wasn’t here, they would most likely die. I am told that there will be hundreds here, those who have no other recourse. Words seem inadequate to express what I now feel in my heart and soul.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Helen Johnson's Testimony Finale

We Went, We Worked, We Received and Were Blessed

We supervised the cutting up of a pig! We painted the exterior of a recently completed home (and the color scheme, well, let’s just say that it fits Haiti). We hung a new door for the storage room in the Bakery. We did some very extensive cleaning up in the Guest House and the Convent/Chapel. We helped on the day for distribution of food for the destitute; we helped on the day for distribution of uniforms. We visited the hospital and Missionaries of Charity.

Anybody can go to the mission and paint, or clean-up, or perform the many odd jobs that need to be done. But, I believe we are primarily called on mission to reveal and be the Jesus in each of us: the Jesus that listens, the Jesus that loves unconditionally, the Jesus that embraces and defends the marginalized of society; the Jesus that forgives, turns the other cheek, goes the extra mile, and gives from the heart.

Certainly, one reason for going on mission is to serve others. But, it is also an opportunity to be still and listen for the Lord to speak. During this mission, the Lord spoke to me on several occasions, one being through the Gospel of Sat. Sept 20th, where Jesus speaks about the seed that fell in different areas/types of soil. In speaking about the “seed that fell among thorns and was choked”, I feel like I have one foot in the “thorns”, where I do get choked by the anxieties, riches and pleasures of life, and fail to bear “mature fruit”; and I feel my other foot is in “rich soil”, where the Lord says I will “bear fruit through perseverance”. I am hopeful that through patience and perseverance, the Lord will provide the opportunity for me to bear mature fruit by planting both feet in rich soil – the question is where.

The Lord also spoke to me through the Gospel of Sunday, Sept. 21st, which told of laborers being sent to work in the vineyard at different times of the day. The last ones are asked “Why do you stand here idle all day?”, and they answer “Because no one has hired us”. This speaks to me that, even at my “late” age, Jesus still seeks me out and asks me why I am not working for Him. And I believe that His response to me is the same as the owner’s response was in the Gospel, “You, too, go into my vineyard”.

A little message in the Gospel of Monday, Sept. 22nd, was to “take care then how you hear”, where the Lord is asking me to listen carefully. He will speak to me about where He wants me and what He wants me doing, I just need to “take care how I hear”. The following day, the Gospel has Jesus saying “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word and act on it”. In taking both Monday and Tuesday’s Gospels, I believe I need to listen carefully and then act on it.

When considering whether to do missionary work, here or abroad, it’s important to remember Matthew 25: 35-36:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

The SOLT Mission in Haiti provides the opportunity to serve the Lord in many ways. While a personal trip may not be feasible for all, we can certainly contribute the financial resources needed to continue these good works, and always pray for the Mission and all who serve and are served in it.

Helen Johnson's Testimony Part 4

School Uniforms

One day we also distributed school uniforms, which had all been sewn at the mission’s Sewing Center. Once again, the people waited outside the gates of the mission. The staff members would call a child’s name (and we heard names like “Smith” and “Johnson”) and they would come forward, with one adult chaperone, and enter the grounds, where they would be seated and later called up in small groups.

We knew we wouldn’t have enough of all the sizes for all the children, but wanted to distribute as many as we could since school had been delayed throughout the country because of the hurricanes. It was really heartbreaking for us when a child would come forward for his/her uniform, and we had run out of their size. They, on the other hand, would just accept it, shrug their shoulders, and move on, as they knew more uniforms would be made and, in due time, every child would be getting their own.

We had brought a lot of candy with us, and we gave each child two pieces while they waited. After they received their uniform, the mission fed the children a bowl of corn mush and beans. We then sent them on their way with a piece of bread (baked at the mission), an orange (from the citrus orchard), and one more piece of candy since we had enough left over!

Sunday Mass

As with all functions at the Mission, the people gathered outside the gates for Sunday morning Mass. When they were allowed in, they walked in quietly, in single file and sat in the “pews”. The music is lively, but respectful, and the cantor has a great voice and, like most Cajuns, loves to use her hands! We also had a special treat that day, a Baptism. The little girl was just beautiful in her special white dress. When receiving Communion, the Haitians generally cross their arms, as they will not touch the Eucharist out of their deep respect and humility.

All in a Day’s Work

Life for the Haitian people, and the workday’s cycle, revolve around the rising and setting of the sun as they don’t have electricity in their homes. There is an underlying current at the mission; one of respect and love for one another, an atmosphere of mutual cooperation – team work. People know what their responsibilities are and fulfill them. Not that there aren’t disagreements or problems, but the people have been taught how to resolve conflicts when they arise. Fr. Glenn has a terrific group of Haitian men in charge, and he lets them run the show for the most part. He provides instruction and gives his opinion(s) to the men, not with an air of domination or superiority, but with an attitude of fatherly guidance, experience, and wisdom.