Learning from 2015 and Looking Forward at 2016 (Part 2 of 2)
By Susan Watkins, Haiti Ministry Team Leader
In January, we looked back at the successes of 2015. But not everything happened exactly as planned or expected. We encountered a few hiccups along the way, or should I say, opportunities for learning and growth. Many of these were the result of cross-cultural differences which we are beginning to recognize more clearly as we spend more and more time working together. Following are three important learnings from 2015:
Our Words Hold Weight. I mean this two ways: 1) The words we choose are important, and 2) A verbal agreement is as binding as a written contract.
Because of the language barrier, what we mean can often be misconstrued unless we’re very specific about the words we use. For example, Dave and Sam were talking the other day about something Sam was planning to buy. Dave said, “We’d like to help with that.” In Dave’s opinion, this meant help, as in, we’d like to pay a portion. As someone who was listening to the conversation, I saw an opportunity for misunderstanding. To me (and I thought, perhaps to Sam), it sounded like Dave wanted to help Sam by paying for it, in its entirety. Dave and I talked about it afterward and agreed that the following offer might have been more clear…”If the price goes up, we’d like to help by paying the difference.”
Likewise, in Haiti, deals are often made verbally, without the benefit of paper and pen. (Just ask Mariners’ accounting department; we rarely even come home with written receipts!) When we (Americans) say we’re going to do something, people remember. Case in point, we told Rivaldo and Lucson (the two oldest boys at the Glory Glory Center) that we would get them small flash drives to go with the portable radios they received for Christmas…and they’ve reminded us every single day since. Though we’ve told them they’re coming down with the Men’s group this weekend, they still ask…and they won’t forget. About a year and a half ago, we (Mariners Church) promised to pay for a new church in Rosiere (for which the locals had already raised the money for and laid the foundation). In what has become one of our biggest “opportunities for learning and growth”, we were unable to complete the project within our original budget. That doesn’t mean we’re going to walk away with a half-finished church. We made a promise, and we intend to keep it; however, it’s going to require concessions on both sides and meticulous planning (not to mention additional fundraising) to make it happen. This is one of the big items that Dave and I are addressing while we’re here.
Our Sense of Urgency Is Self-Imposed. In general, Americans love results and value efficiency, but efficiency isn’t even a concept in Haiti. Walking 3 miles to fetch drinking water isn’t efficient. Neither is plowing a field by hand. Or washing laundry by hand. It simply is what is.
Whereas we operate as if time is a limited commodity (there’s never enough), there’s always plenty of time in Haiti. What doesn’t happen today will happen tomorrow…or the next day…or the next (you get the idea). There’s no rush.
By default, projects conceived by westerners inherently come with timelines, which don’t carry the same weight here in Haiti as they do back home. For example, construction on the animal husbandry project spearheaded by Harvest Craft (see blogpost) was scheduled to commence on January 15th. Today is January 21st, and it hasn’t started. Why? Because we’re still waiting for the coconut trees to be delivered that are required for the fence posts so that a fence can be built before any construction materials can be brought on site. I’m sure the Harvest Craft guys are chomping at the bit, but the attitude here is, the trees will come, and when they do, we’ll get started. Until then, why fret?
Back in 2010, after the earthquake, everyone felt a sense of urgency. The Haitian people needed food, shelter, and medical assistance. But the need for disaster relief is over. Disaster relief requires urgency. Development occurs over time. Though there are still people in Haiti who are struggling to eat, the kids at the Glory Glory Center are not. They are housed, well-fed, safe, and in school. (Thanks be to God!) As a result, we now have the God-given gift of time, and with it, the gift of flexibility. Projects we (the Haiti Ministry) once considered urgent no longer seem to be so. Rather, God seems to be blessing us with time in which to relax, re-evaluate, and put distance between us and some of our previous plans. Why? Because we feel He’s unfolding a new plan before us, which will bring even greater blessings to Sam, the kids, and the Glory Glory community than anything we had previously imagined.
The best solutions are those that are derived from honest communication and collaboration with our partner. Honest communication and collaboration are key.
As Americans, we wield power, whether we recognize it or not. We have the financial means to purchase what we want and to give what we choose, which automatically puts us in a position of power over those who need (or want), and with that power comes great responsibility.
Early last year, Pastor Samuel asked us to purchase some software for a Bible School that Pastor Aunaud wanted to start. Unfortunately, we were told the wrong product to purchase. (It was like the children’s game of “telephone”; the message went through so many people, it got misconstrued somewhere along the way.) When Sam discovered the mistake, he was really nervous to tell us. He was afraid we would be upset. Well, we were, because it was inconvenient. But that didn’t mean we wouldn’t do what we could to fix the problem. But Sam was nervous that we might just say, “Sorry, you get what you asked for.” Or worse, that we might withdraw our financial support altogether. As the person on the receiving end of our giving, that’s a natural concern for Sam to have, though it’s a concern that never even crossed our minds.
Ours is a covenant relationship. Mariners Church entered into a covenant with pastors Samuel and Joseph and the Church of God by Faith back in 2010. We’re partners, and we intend for our relationship to endure long-term. A mistake doesn’t mean the end of the partnership. If that were true, Sam would have given up on us a long time ago. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, and are sure to make more. But what Sam knows, is that we always have the best intentions in mind. When the Men of Mariners built the chicken coops at the Glory Glory Center, we didn’t consult with Samuel about the cost of feed or the labor required to care for the chickens. We only considered the cost to build and buy the chickens. So the coops have been empty for a little while (in part due to a theft of chickens—that’s another story), but not for long. The logistics have now been figured out and a new crop of chickens is on the way.
These are just three of the major lessons learned this past year. Over the course of 2016, we’ll share the others as as well. And since learning never ceases, I’m sure we’ll encounter new “opportunities for growth” all year long!