Monday, August 22, 2011


Many of us here in Haiti joke about how much we dread going to church. Okay, it's really not a joke. It's just not fun. Yes, yes, I get it. The purpose of church isn't to have fun. But let me tell you a little bit about church in Haiti. Also, keep in mind that I don't speak Creole, so I don't even know what's going on most of the time (although Gwenn tells me I'm probably better off not knowing what's being said).

It is hot. I know. Some of you think it's hot where you live, too. You look at the weather widget on your phone or computer and think, "hey, it's the same temp here as it is in Haiti. Why do those people complain so much?"I'm not going to go on too long about the weather. Let me just say- WE DON'T HAVE AIR CONDITIONING. When I go to our church in the village, we have to walk a small part of the way (not nearly as much as most ppl probably walk to get there). I'm covered in sweat when we get there. We go inside. But not to escape the heat in a nice cool building. We go inside to a cramped one-room building. We don't even have fans. It's freaking hot!!

A few things I noticed about our church in the village that are probably different than your church in the states.

First, I walk through someone's yard, corn fields, and past chickens & goats to get there. When we get there, someone leads us to our seats. I guess the best term for these people is "ushers"... however their name tags say "officer". And I think "officer" is much more fitting. Through-out the service, they watch for people sleeping or slouching or doing anything not appropriate for church by their standards and they will poke them or nudge them or pull their shoulders back so they are sitting up straight. They are much more disruptive than the person slouching was! If you are a visitor, they will make you stand and introduce yourself. I was visiting at the Mangine's church this past Sunday... and apparently, they do the same thing. It's awkward and weird. Almost as awkward and weird as the "shake the hands of the people around you" time in the states (i HATE that!!!). The service is long. Our church has a Sunday School from 8-9, then the regular service is 9-11:30/12ish. The church etiquette police stay busy. During the service, an old woman gets up to spit out the window. That's normal in the states too, right?? Our church also has a "special" clap. We use it after the visitors introduce themselves. And... I'm not really sure when else they use it. I just join in when they start it. Most churches believe that women need to keep their heads covered in church. If they don't have a head wrap or scarf, they just put a wash cloth on their head. I wondered what that was about at first... I thought it was maybe just a handy place to keep their sweat rag! The pastor says stuff and we repeat it. Like "mesi Jezi" (thank you Jesus) over and over.

And that's really just a starting list of what makes Haiti church different.

Some more specifics from Gwenn's church this week. The first few minutes (well, more than a few minutes) they announced how many visitors and how much offering each Sunday School class had. And then the class that had the most visitors gets a banner, same w/ the class with the most offering. There was lots of singing. It was during part of the singing, where for a split second I thought, "This isn't so bad. Why do we always dread church again?". I was enjoying the moment. Seeing the beauty in the people around me. Watching them sway their hips and step to the music, waving their arms and singing loudly. It was good. But then that song got over. And we moved on to other announcements or something else less exciting.

Oh, and this part is very much like it is in the States... you just wouldn't expect it here. People judge each other based on what they are wearing. A lady walked down the aisle before the service started and I heard the women next to me point out a spot on her skirt. During a song, a lady went to fix the collar for a woman a few pews in front of her. I also heard the women next to me point out when a Boujwa (creole spelling of bourgeois. The "elite" in Haiti) woman remained seated while everyone else was standing. Through missionaries over the years, we've pushed some of our western civilization ideas and traditions on the developing countries. You have to look nice in church. If you don't have the proper attire, don't even bother going. So even here, where people struggle to get by each day, they make sure to have a decent outfit for Sunday. And if they don't, they will for sure be ridiculed. Okay, sorry, enough on that tangent.

An older woman (well, not just "older". She was old.) that was blind and very possible deaf to got up to sing a special. It... was very special. Off-key and all of the place... but she sang loud and proud. Though there might have been a few snickers when she hit the high notes, everyone clapped for her when she was done.

At 12:45, it seemed like things were wrapping up. I wondered at which point when someone was up there speaking it was the sermon. I didn't really notice anything like a sermon, but figured it had been in there somewhere. No. At that time, the Pastor got up to preach. Thankfully (as we'd been there for 3 hrs now), the message was only around 15 minutes. And then the service quickly wrapped up after that.

And that is my very brief overview of church in Haiti. I'm sure after more weeks in church, there will be more posts to follow this one.