Sunrise: A bit before 5. Coffee and more coffee and a little of the Psalms. Walk up Bellevue. Language lessons with the incredible hard working men and women of Gressier. Their English is coming along better than my Creole. No surprise there. We sit under the one tree atop Bellevue, it conjures Eden, the tree of life. For some reason I assume everyone senses this on a subconscious level.
La Colline: The early feeding, so many beautiful children! They sit patiently beneath a US Aid tarp and sing songs. They are well behaved though Megan assures me this was not always so.
Top, the children of La Colline wait to be served the rice and beans and chicken (below) that the lovely women above prepare every Saturday.
We are to meet with Peter and his friend who never show. We walk around looking for them. The houses are mostly tents. There are a few less non-impermanent wooden structures, but as a whole it is mostly tarps and twigs and good intentions. Older boys and young men playfully taunt Megan with catcalls and such. She answers them in perfect Creole, they are both surprised and maybe just a bit emasculated. She smiles a victory smile and adds a parting shot. They are no worse for the wear and she gains their respect.
We stop to ask some young boys if they have seen any other white people. No. Then yes. A look something akin to an epiphany, and then "follow us" in Creole. We do. Winding in and out of walking trails that spiderweb non-circuitously through the makeshift dwellings. No white people. A clearing opens and we are at a mill where sugar cane is being separated into several by-products of what I cannot tell. The smell is sweet and pungent and soured at the same time. Finally we are back at the main road, a half a mile from where we entered. No white people. We meet an old man who claims to have gone to second grade with Martelly and then asks would we be so kind to give our president a message. Somewhere in his exotic mix of Creole and French and Spanish and something else that may very well be made up, Megan ascertains he would like us to pray for him. Health for his prostate she thinks and maybe a little something for his wife. We pray as tap taps speed past and the Haitian sun reaches its apogee. Dust and sweat and tears.
Back in Gressier the workers finish up early on Saturdays and preparations for the 4 o'clock feeding atop Bellevue are underway. 200+ kids from toddlers to teens play games, get a little scripture and a lot of food. As always with anything Respire does, the Haitian element is preserved. As little foreign involvement as possible. Megan does not want to be seen as savior. She doesn't want to breed dependence. She respects and adores the people of Gressier too much.
Dinner time atop Bellevue. The kids line up smallest to tallest. A pump of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, a plate of rice and beans and a bagged water. What a picture of community. Children sprawl out everywhere eating and teasing and laughing and eating some more. Megan seems to take deep satisfaction in this tangible representation of the gospel, Christ's hands extended, God's love given freely, no strings attached. This may not be Respire's most ambitious work but it certainly qualifies as one of the most important.
Above, one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful children I have ever seen in my life. The depth and intensity of her stare is years beyond her tiny frame. Below curious children, bellies full of food. Bottom, Bernard oversees the hand sanitizer and the dispersal of food.
There is an old Christian hymn, Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing that goes:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.
The last stanza of which has always touched me in a very personal way. And such that I have always skipped quickly over the first stanza, particularly the first line. In fact until a year and a half ago I couldn't have told you what Ebenezer meant had my very life depended on it. I was in in D.C. in April of 2010 at an International Justice Mission conference and Gary Haugen, IJM's founder spoke about the Ebenezer stone, how it was a stone set up by Samuel as a remembrance of God's merciful help. Gary gave all thousand of us a small stone, told us to write on it something that we were thankful for God's mercy for. I took the black sharpie and carefully wrote three initials and slipped the stone into my pocket. The next day, at the Holocaust Museum, I bought another stone that had etched on it "Remember The Children."
Later that year, when I was in India at an orphanage I picked up several small stones and again slipped them in my pocket. Here atop Bellevue I revisit the ritual. Two small charcoal gray stones, round and smooth. I put them in the pocket of my jeans and set my heart on record. Think of what I am thankful for. Mercies upon mercy. Remember this moment.
Remember John looking lost in the wonder of it all, holding a sleepy child, missing his own kids I suspect. Remember Bernard wrapping up the last of the feeding, the forlorn look behind his deeply kind eyes, maybe he is tired, but more likely he is missing Naomi his fiance. Remember the sounds of the children laughing, pre-teen boys teasing pre-teen girls and the latter chasing the former around the mountain top with mock irritation. And then there is Megan and the girls silhouetted against the setting sun. But there is no need to tell myself to remember that. How could I possibly ever forget.