Going to church in Haiti is its own unique experience and for a “newbie” as myself, its not without challenges. Of course,when I’m out with teams, I am in church, and the entire service is centered around an American team being present so the parts presented by the American team are spoken English and then translated into Creole and the parts presented by the Haitian church are spoken in Creole and translated into English. Haitian services are generally very long on their own, so double that and add the portion presented by the American team and you have a very long service. The first Sunday I was in Haiti everything was so new, I didn’t even attempt to attend a Haitian service and last week I was with the team in Picot. But this week, my roommates and one of the missionary families here on the Center were going to visit a church in Cance (Cahns) together and then drive about 45 minutes away to a restaurant in Camp-Perrin (Caump Per-ehn) and they invited me along.
The biggest challenge for me in regards to attending church is the language barrier. I came in with a small amount of Creole under my belt and will begin language lessons in the next few days but what I know is in no way sufficient to actually understand an entire service spoken only in the native tongue. Although I am getting settled in and slowly acclimating to the my new surroundings, and I am feeling somewhat at home here on the Mission Center, things are still new, and it will take time to really feel at ease and at home in Haiti. Because of that I was a little concerned about going to a service. Spiritually it could do very little for me since I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on or what was being said. Relationally it could do nothing for me (from a Haitian culture standpoint) because I couldn’t communicate with anyone I met beyond telling them my name and that I was happy to meet them. And emotionally it could be very draining for the above reasons and an overwhelming sense of unfamiliarity in everything in my life right now.
The service officially started at 9am. The service actually started around 9:30 or so. They have Sunday school before the service and when we arrived shortly after 9am, it hadn’t let out. We were hoping to make a quiet entrance and slip in somewhere near the back. When we walked in though the sanctuary was fairly empty. Its hard to make a quiet entrance anyway in Haiti when you come in with a large group of Americans. We do tend to stand out. Including the four young children, there were nine of us. We stood out. Shortly after arriving, Susanne went outside for something and somehow the rest of us got ushered to the front. The front row to be exact; quiet entrance indeed. Beth and Susanne both know the Pastor of the church and so at the beginning of the service he asked us up on stage, where we were not only introduced but also asked to give a greeting to the church. Any cover we had left was blown.
The church itself was huge; at least twice the size of any other Haitian church I have ever seen. They have been involved in a very slow process of doing an addition on the church and the front was still covered in scaffolding. From what I understand, the process has taken a number of years but its expensive to build and so that slow process is fairly typical of a lot of building projects in Haiti. The inside of the church was quite ornate and had high vaulted ceilings. High on the front wall, above the pulpit was a stained glass cross surrounded on both sides with bibles carved from stone. The church also had a balcony running along both sides of the building. They were not finished (or at least used) but were available as the church continues to grow. The walls were not painted but had been left their original cement gray and there were large windows along one side of the church and doors at the back and two right up front which help with air flow. White tiles had been laid about three feet wide, forming and aisle down the center.
The service was nice; just long. The music was sung in both French and Creole; but not together. The songs were done in one or the other. A couple of the hymns we sung were in French and I was actually able to understand some of what I was singing. There were two “special numbers”; one by the women’s group and one by the men’s group, who called themselves Caleb (Cah-lib) It was the Pastor’s son’s tenth birthday and so he had also asked if he could sing a song. Sometimes things like that can be a little awkward, especially if the person isn’t gifted in the way of the song. But he did well. They had a visiting speaker who preached. Beth tried to translate bits for me, but the full meaning of the message was lost on me. From what the others said, the message was good. At one point, probably around 11:30, Drew, one of the kids with us, looked up at me from his drawing pad and said “Haitian churches are good. They’re just long”. I think there service ended about 11:45am. Churches usually aren’t air conditioned and if you fill a concrete building with a lot of people, when its hot outside, it gets hot inside; really quick. But there was a nice cross breeze all morning, and because the church was so large and the day was fairly overcast, it never really even got above just a little warm.
Overall, it was a good experience but I really am looking forward to the day when I am able to understand the language and the culture better because I really want to get involved in the local church. And that will be a lot easier when we can communicate.
Something tells me though, even then, I’ll still stand out. at least a little.