In my overwhelming desire to write about my recent mission trip to Beau-Sejour, Haiti, I find I am significantly less sure as to what I want to write about my recent trip. Part of me wants to reconstruct the trip like a journal or a travelogue. The rest of me wants to try to offer social and religious commentary. It leaves me with an odd juxtaposition, and further causes me to wonder just where to begin. Of course, I suppose in that regard, I am in good company. The great G.K. Chesterton set out to write a travelogue of his speaking engagement in the United States in 1921, and ended up writing a serious work on the concept of a "nation" in general. The title of this post is an homage to Chesterton's book.While I was investigating the Catholic Church, and regularly attending Mass with my girlfriend (now my wife), we had the blessed opportunity to encounter a priest, named Fr. Philippe Jean-Pierre. He had recently arrived from Haiti and was intending to increase his education and English speaking skills. He was stationed at my parish of St. Margaret Mary as our associate priest for a few years. Later, when my wife and I got married, and our priest could not perform the ceremony because he had just been elected Auxiliary Bishop in our diocese, we sought out Père Phillipe (who had been moved to a parish in Ancaster, ON) to perform that honour for us.
Père Phillipe is a large-hearted man who automatically makes you feel like you are not simply his friend, but his very family. With large, expressive arms and a bright smile to match, he would greet you in his Creole accent, "My brotha, how good to see you today!" During his time here in the Diocese of Hamilton (he is now the pastor at a French parish here, Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours), he has continued to love and to work for the people of his homeland--especially for the remote village of Beau-Sejour in the mountains halfway between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, and the parish of St. Gabriel there, which he founded. This work has taken concrete expression at St. Margaret Mary in the form of a "twinning project", in which my parish raises money, prays, and sends down mission teams to help the villagers of Beau-Sejour, and express our love and solidarity with them. In turn, they continue to keep us in their prayers. Through this endeavour, we really are becoming one family.
Ever since the Twinning Project took effect in 2008, I have had a great desire to be a part of one of the mission teams. The problem was mainly, though, what could I offer? In the past, we sent doctors and nurses to operate a health clinic, or a team of dentists to (for the most part) extract teeth. I am not a builder, a doctor, or anything that would seem particularly "useful". I simply am a person who wants to be a missionary.
Then, a couple years ago, the parish priest at St. Gabriel (who took over for Père Philippe), Père Ronal, came to visit us in Hamilton. He expressed to my priest, Fr. Bill Trusz, that it would be good for my wife and I (a teacher and a former youth minister) to go and help run a summer camp that they have for the children in Leogane. Melissa and I were very excited about this possibility, and had tried to gear things around going in the summer of 2009. Yet, because of some breakdown of communication somewhere over the Atlantic, we never heard anything more about the opportunity. When, the following winter, the youth minister at our parish began planning to do the same thing with some of the older youth and young adults, we again signed up to go. But then, in January, the devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti, and at the same time, shook all our plans to go. The camp was destroyed, conditions were far too unsafe for travel, and we were far too ill-equipped to deal with or help in the wake of the earthquake.
Once more, it looked like our plans were shattered, but we refused to give up hope. Recognising that there must be something we could do, we continued planning. We cut the planned team from 10 people over two weeks, down to 5 people for one week, in order to be less of a burden. In this reshuffling, my wife graciously decided to remain home so one more person could have a spot. However, the question remained, "What could we hope to do?" Was it enough to go just to gape at the carnage and offer our petty prayers on their behalf? Wasn't there something we could do tangibly?
Despite many nay-sayers who called us useless and crazy for wanting to go, Père Ronal kept insisting that we should, and that he really wanted us to come. Nassrin, our youth minister, kept writing to him back and forth via email, asking what we could do if we came. Finally, we arrived at the solution: We would teach First Aid to the villagers, so that they could better tend to themselves in an emergency!
And so, with a clear direction and purpose, we turned a deaf ear to the nay-sayers and scoffers, and set out to prepare to go to Beau-Sejour.
Tomorrow, I'll talk a little bit about our preparations, and the beginning of the trip. I'm not sure how long this series will be. Until I've said everything I need to, I guess. God bless.