July 12 – 19, 2014 – Jacmel, Haiti Mission Trip with NECC group

Instead of going to churches this week, I left to go on my first mission trip. Along with 10 others, I went to Jacmel, Haiti. Liz was one of those “others”. What an amazing journey!!

We were not sure about what to expect so I had very few expectations! What I found was beautiful, God-filled people, gorgeous Carribean Ocean, green and brown mountains that seemed to reach out in every direction, and two room cinder block houses filled with generations of families. The earthquake that devastated Jacmel was four and a half years ago, but the remnants of tent houses and demolished homes are still there and the rebuilding is occurring in baby-step-like stages as people pay little by little for the work that needs to be done.

We didn’t really know our true purpose for the mission as far as actual work goes until right before leaving for Haiti. The details unfolded as we went along. Of course, I kept track of what we did:

1. We were introduced to the church members by Pastor Lafleur. The warmth of the people was immediately felt.
2. Played with the Preschoolers in the summer camp program
3. Took nails out of the wood after some of the crew along with the town guys took off the preschool roof
4. Handed out spoons along the food line in the feeding program where we fed over 200 kids inside the church as Tishon scooped hearty spoonfuls of rice and beans onto the plates
5. Washed dishes after lunch with Solange, Suvendi, and Roselyn in the “Kitchen House”
6. Set up for Vacation Bible School
7. Moved rubble and watched some demolition of a wall of a house on the 2nd job site we were at
8. Taught Vacation Bible School with Liz – 160 kids came through in waves of 20!
9. Set up for VBS for the 2nd day
10. Cleaned beans (separating the good beans from the bad ones and the gravel!!) at the Kitchen House
11. Taught VBS again with Liz to about 140 kids
12. Interviewed Jean Aly Jean Simon – an 18 year old – about the day of the Eathquake! Fascinating….I will write that up eventually!
13. A church service on a Tuesday night where there were more teenagers than older people – all of whom shook our hands to say “Peace” at the end of the service.
14. Visited the kids at the preschool again on Thursday morning for a few minutes
15. There was no demolition to be done, so I chose to clean more beans at the Kitchen House. I loved being there with the women who cook EVERY DAY for the kids in the Restore Haiti sponsorship program.
16. Visited the school where Colson and Aly both attended. They were so cute. They had a woman open up the Principal’s office so that I could go in there – once they knew I was a principal. What a special treat this was to see their school. Tiny rooms, cement with benches. They were so proud of their classrooms.
17. We hung out at the Restoration House and just played with some of the kids
18. Witnessed Kelly and Dede giving the Kitchen House ladies new aprons and new shoes – YES, I cried!! It was a beautiful moment of love!
19. Served plates of meals at the feeding program and ate the “chicken leg day” meal with a group of kids and Liane and Liz.
20. Witnessed a conversation between Liz and a young man named William on the rooftops between the hotel and his home. William is studying to be a lawyer. He studied every morning as we did our devotionals….right around 7am. It was so cute to witness and he is so smart!!!
21. Had breakfast at the Restoration House – just like every meal.
22. Liz, Dede, Leyka, and I visited Jean Aly Jean Simon’s house so we could see his “world, his home life, and his new home being rebuilt”. As an added bonus we got to meet his grandmother!! What great stories she must hold in her memories!
23. Went to the Ocean beach in a jam packed “tap-tap” (open taxi) – stopping at the public library just to see it along the way – with the 5 cooks who fed us all week from the Restoration House. I believe the total number of people in and on the Tap-Tap was 26!!
24. Saw the kids at the Restoration House for the last time in the evening. Liz gave Colson her Bible – very sweet!! I did NOT give him my backpack that he asked for every time I saw him…..I think it almost became a joke between us, but I do LOVE my backpack. Sorry Colson!

Needless to say, we packed a lot into a week. The details that remain with me are many: the daily Prestige beers for $2 each at the “South Haitian Boat Club” as we referred to our afternoon gathering place, the beep beep from the Tap-Tap beckoning us to jump in for breakfast and dinner, the gravel bump a long road lined with cement block walls, women selling fruits and juices, and cast iron gates on the windows and doors of the cement block houses, the sunrise over the mountains and the sunsets over the ocean, the garbage strewn in the roads and yards, and the tiny fires the home-owners made to burn their own trash. The 14 year old boy who met me on Sunday, after church, by saying, “Hello, I am Colson. What is your name?” Then 2-3 sentences later said, “Can you pray for me? I am having surgery this week.” That was my first tears of the week.

It was amazing. I feel like I didn’t just go to church this week, “I LIVED CHURCH THIS WEEK”. Will I go again? Probably…..it was hot and humid (which I don’t like), but it was the faces of the children and old ladies that will call me back to Jacmel, Haiti someday.

Thank you to Kelly for organizing the trip, to Liz for going with me, and to the other 8 who made the journey so special for me!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 – St. Joseph Church – Norwalk, CT

What a wonderful opportunity I had tonight! Fr. Frantz Desruisseaux was celebrating his 35 years as a priest with a beautiful mass that blended the English, Spanish, and French Creole communities of St. Joseph Church…MY church. The church that my in-laws were married in, the church my parents brought us to when they moved to Norwalk, the church that I was married in, the church that housed the school I started my career in, the church I baptized my children in, and the church my sisters got married in. I love St. Joseph. It takes me to a deeply familiar place.

When Fr. Frantz came to St. Joseph, I just remember his smile, his booming voice, and loud spoken words that I could hardly understand. This native French was foreign to my ear. That was 27 years ago. And when I brought my first born, Stephanie, to church for baptism, he took her in his arms and promised he’d take care of her anytime I needed a break. He loved babies and I loved him!

The priest who said the full homily spoke about the 3 meanings of the word priest. First, TO TEACH. Second, TO SANCTIFY YOURSELF, and third, TO LEAD. He talked about Fr. Frantz’s promise to do all three in his ministry, but most of all to bring Joy to OTHERS in that ministry. By looking around at the crowd, the Spanish and Haitian community, the English men and women I recognized from my childhood, I would say, Fr. Frantz has accomplished these goals and expectations. It was beautiful!

So, Mass was a special treat for me to be there in his presence with his family and friends.

His mom was there. She is 94 years old and lives in Canada. He was so proud to have him become a priest. Following the homily, Fr. Frantz spoke…that is when I lost it. He explained to the full church who his family members were and made special mention of each of them, but when he got to his mom, he simply said, “Mom, I am your son. I am your priest. I love you.” My Lord, I started crying and couldn’t stop! Sr. Francis and Sr. Lucy started scrambling for a tissue for me as Leslie started laughing at my emotional meltdown!!

The timing of this Mass was perfect for me. Ten days later I would be embarking on a new adventure….the Mission trip to Haiti with the Northeast Community Church. The enthusiasm for worship, the love of a Haitian priest, and the spirit of family and community emotionally pumped me up for my journey…..physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually!
Thank you Fr. Frantz!!

Saturday, June 28, 2014 – Saints Cyril & Methodius Parish

Liz, Lisa, and I headed to Bridgeport for 7:45 am Mass with a plan of meeting Stephanie, Melissa, and Nancy for breakfast at Sherwood Diner afterwards to celebrate my first born child’s 25th birthday!! SO WEIRD!!!

So we got off of exit 28 of I-95, took a few turns, and landed at the church which was located on a triangle of land right next to the train tracks and/or I-95. Squarely in the middle of the triangle was the massive church. We entered through the back door into a beautiful, ornate, old church! The statures were everywhere, murals painted on the ceilings, four kinds of marble that I could see was wrapped around the altar, the columns were solid marble, and the alcoves for the candles and prayers held beautifully moving statues.

At 7:45, the ROSARY started! That was a first! It was lead by a man, who we later realized was the priest. This was a church that screamed, “OLD SCHOOL”. The rosary was a preamble to the Mass, the priest said Mass, while a gentleman his age served as his assistant. The communion time came and a nice man behind us told us we would have to kneel at the altar railing for communion. So we did; and the assistant held the gold tray at our chins and we all received by mouth – one at a time right down the railing. When Mass ended, we said the prayer of St. Michael. Everyone knew it by heart, except the three of us, but Liz at least had the card from her wallet to read from! Smart girl!!

After Mass, as we wandered around the church to take pictures, and quite honestly, take it all in! We watched as everyone knelt by Mary’s statue. They were kissing something in adoration that the priest held for each of them. A lovely older woman, wearing a navy blue lace head covering, called us to the statue, but we missed the opportunity to appropriately adore Mary.

We chatted with the woman for a few minutes. She was adorable and so proud of her church. She finally said, “You know, it will be Mary who saves us all in the end.” Of course, feeling witty, I said to her, “Of course, it’s going to take a woman to take care of us all!”. She chuckled for a second and added, “Well, it was a woman (Eve) who got us into the mess, so Mary will get us out!”. She was so cute and oozed a sense of conviction and love for Mary that was pretty cool to see!

This conversation was just an added bonus that gave us a great moment to share when we got to breakfast and for the rest of the day.

As I thought about the day as a whole, I am not sure what was stranger to me: the “old school, throw back kind of experience” we had, the notion that Mary is the ultimate “saver” of us all, not her son, “our savior”, or the fact that I have a 25 year old married daughter!

Happy Birthday, Steph! I love you!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 – St. Thomas More – Darien, CT

That same morning, I decided to head to Darien before I went for breakfast with Rita and Carleen. I had to wait till the summer to go to St. Thomas More since their mass is at 9am! So, I went today; back to back sermons again.
My friend, Bob, greeted me at the door and welcomed me into his church! Bob is a “follower” of my blog, so I was excited to see him at Mass. Although he is there every day, it was very nice for him to greet me and tell me about his church. Thanks Bob!!

The mass was simple, straight, and to the point. Again, the notion of when given a choice, it is better to ACT as Christ would act, rather than just SPEAK the words he taught. The priest gave several examples from the Bible of when Christ’s actions spoke louder than his words. He rattled them off and every example was familiar.

He then asked us to ask ourselves how often strangers would know we were followers of Christ by our actions. Made me think of the song from my childhood, “And they’ll know we are Christians, by our love, …..” (I bet many of you just sang that line in your head, instead of reading it, right?? Hahaha). It didn’t say “They will know we are Christians by talking about what we should do all the time!” Our actions do speak louder than words.
I would like to think that in my day to day interactions, most people can see through my actions that I try to be a kind, compassionate person. But, the reality is that doesn’t always happen! Humans fall short – and, yes, I am human…..but I try. I guess that is what Christ wants us to do; just at least try.

In all honesty, my kids have grown up seeing me try to be nice to others, try to serve others, and try to take the high road, their whole lives; however, I am not sure if they view me as “Christ-like”. I will have to ask them someday……or maybe one of them might read my blog and tell me?? That would be kind of funny!

When I am in Haiti with 11 other individuals, I hope the people of Jacmel will know we are Christians, by our love! I am excited about taking ACTION and going to serve in Haiti, rather than just talking about doing it someday! That someday is in two weeks!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 – St. Michael the Archangel Church – Greenwich, CT

The priest, who will be leaving and going to a parish in Fairfield, had such a nice speaking voice. He had a pleasant voice and was so easy to listen to. I am not sure if it was a French accent or not, but it sounded like he could have been French.

After Mass, I said hello to him and shared with him what my New Year’s Resolution is about. He never let go of my hand that he had been shaking and looked at me with a real intentional intensity. It was as if, I was the only person that he was focusing on, even though some women were saying good-bye or waiting for him. He truly gave me his “undivided attention”. It was intense, but not creepy in any way. It was very genuine and calming for me.

The women who spoke to him before me, following the Mass, were telling him how sad they were that he is leaving. I can see why. I think he has a really nice way about him.

The priest announced the mass was being said for Michael Hess. I thought he said Michael Ness at first. Michael Ness, a young man who passed away last Fall, is the son of my friend, Liz. I couldn’t help but think of how beautiful and graceful Liz has been throughout these very difficult past several months as I sat in these beautiful and peaceful surrounding. As it turned out, the mass was for Hess, not Ness, but that did not make me stop thinking of this beautiful love story between Mother and Son. To me, Liz is living “Mary’s story” and through her grace and example, I realize how interconnected the story of Mary and Jesus is to all of our relationships.

The sermon was all about actively living the gospel rather than just speaking about it. Maybe with Liz on my mind, the sermon made me think about how often I have the opportunity to be more Christ-like. Usually, I try to say nice things to people or have nice thoughts about doing something special for someone, but I often don’t follow through. In the meeting last week for my Haiti mission trip (coming up soon!!!) we talked about “being God through our hands and feet” without any words. Interesting idea! I do know it, but don’t always do it! That old adage, actions speak louder than words is definitely one that I should keep in mind; and actually wish many others did too!

The church itself was very “earthy”. It was pretty with wide big windows. The grounds were beautifully kept and flowers and outdoor statues surrounded the church itself. It was a peaceful setting and I was so happy that I got up early to share a 7:45am Mass with about 8 other people.