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Q&A: Ministry, Marriage, and More

Thank you all for your questions. Question and answer is one of my favorite formats to share about ministry and life.

I’ve summed up the questions into three categories: ministry, marriage, and more. Let’s get to it!

Ministry

What kind of ministry do you do in Haiti?

This is a great question to start off with! My husband and I have a small non-profit in the rural mountains of Haiti called Espwa Demen.

The support received through our organization is mainly used in our student sponsorship program. We currently have 29 students. We pay for their education, in addition, we often offer food support and meet other needs.

Once a year we have a big Christmas program for the kids. We tellmJesus’s birth story, share a meal with the families, play games, and give gifts.

Other ministry that we have done:

  • Donating wheelchairs to crippled
  • Covering medical bills for a baby with clubfoot
  • Providing food for families in need
  • Giving Haitian Creole illustrated children’s Bible story books

We are excited to have the opportunity to participate in building a church in an isolated village. The only congregation has been meeting in a collapsing wood hut that is overflowing.

Can I visit you in Haiti to volunteer?

Unfortunately, with the current security situation in Haiti we are unable to have any visitors. If things change in the future we would love for this to happen! Currently Haiti is under a “do not travel” order from the US embassy. Because of the volume of kidnappings it is especially risky for those who do not have established relationships with safe locals or speak the language. We cannot be responsible for such a risk.

Marriage

How do you and your husband communicate? Did you learn his language or he learn yours?

When I first met my husband he had a small English vocabulary from his prior exposure to American mission teams. I spoke and understood no Haitian Creole. Through volunteer ministry I gained a basic knowledge of the language within 6 months. When we started dating I was relatively fluent and we would pull in a bilingual friend to help understand something when we got stuck.

My husband has grown in his understanding of English and picked up more vocabulary but he is not fluent. We rarely speak English to each other. Haitian Creole is our home language with English and French words thrown in here and there.

Is marriage between two cultures really as hard as everyone says?

Cross-cultural marriage comes with unique challenges and I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t. However, I do not find my marriage “hard.” This is the only relationship I have known, so the trials and oddity of it are normal to me. At the same time I would recommend cross-cultural marriage to very few people. It takes so much grace to work through cultural misunderstandings. So much adapting and changing is required to be unified.

The way two people from different cultures view the world is distinctly different, one can never fully change that. I’ve seen many young people rush into relationships on the mission field without learning the native language or understanding the culture. It is arrogant to believe that your marriage will go well if you haven’t put in the work to build a solid foundation. It almost always goes badly.

To one considering a cross-cultural relationship I would say be very careful, spend at least a full year after you are fluent in the language submerging in the culture before you marry a local. If both of you are following Jesus closely and willing to stick it out through the rough patches, your marriage can be uniquely sweet and beautiful. I never wish for a different marriage despite the cultural and logistical challenges. I love the uniqueness of the life we share.

More

What is your least favorite thing about Haitian culture?

The hardest elements of Haitian culture for me to accept would be certain behaviors that I am about to address. They are widespread and normal. Even those who are opposed do not feel at liberty to address them. Not all Haitians fit these cultural norms of course. This is merely my personal observation of the majority in the area where I live.

  • Sexual immorality in relationships, music, and film. Sexual videos and movies are played in public and no one feels the need to hide that they enjoy them. Kids can be present. There seems to be no such thing as parental control in this area. Not everyone indulges in such videos, but those who don’t would never chide someone who does. Young girls (even at the age of 5 or 6) will replicate provocative dances and often seek to please a crowd by dancing at parties. Though many are opposed to this, no one will reprimand the child or the parents who are allowing it. Men often have women on the side. It is common knowledge that, “It’s just a guy thing.” Nothing is prohibited in dating relationships. Because of this parents are highly concerned for their children who have started dating, but I have only ever heard warnings of “use protection” and “be careful not to get pregnant.” There is no talk about chastity. Only from a pastor’s pulpit have I ever heard thoughtful guidance on the matter.
  • Abuse–both physical and verbal. Abuse is everywhere in Haiti. Normal and expected. The belief is widespread that a man can correct (through beating) his wife’s undesired behaviors in the way he sees fit, but a woman is never to hit a man this would be highly inappropriate. Marital abuse is not kept secret. When a man is abusive at home, usually everyone in the area is aware and stands by. Women are not exempt from being abusers either. Verbal abuse from a woman is common in relationships. Abusing children through cruel and harsh means of punishment is so common that I honestly don’t know a single family that does not or did not beat their children mercilessly with tree branches, metal wires, ropes, or belts. Whipping is usually given on the child’s shins or arms until they scream and beg for it to stop. As hard as this reality is, nearly everyone feels it is the parent’s right to handle their children as they deem appropriate. Those who have compassion may whisper, “that’s enough, let her go she won’t do it again” to a parent in passing, however nothing more is attempted if the abuser doesn’t listen. When hidden abuse is discovered it is usually kept to oneself as there is little hope to change it if shared. Interestingly, most children grow up with love and respect for their parents and seem to harbor no hard feelings for years of abuse.

What is you favorite thing?

For all the negatives there are in Haitian culture there are also many things that I love about it.

First, Haiti is a community culture, coming from an individualistic culture myself I find it liberating and less lonely. I would say 99.9% of Haitians are extroverted, laughably, liking to be alone is seen as strange. No one is expected to make it on their own. There is no pressure to do better than the next man. It is extremely easy to find help when you need it, usually without even having to ask. Families and friends are there for each other in whatever capacity they can be. Knowing your family, down to fifth cousins and up to great-great-greats is important.

Hospitality is universally practiced. The best of everything is offered to a guest. Sacrifices are made and the one imposed on gives up everything to make the guest feel welcome. The master bedroom, the biggest piece of meat, the chair, the fan, etc. Your comfort, as a guest, is put above all else in the moment. This type of generous spirit and sacrifice is beautiful to see. What I see as extravagant in the care of a guest is second nature for a Haitian, they don’t bemoan sleeping on the floor when they’ve given up their bed.

Pregnancy is respected and valued. This may seem contradictory given that I just explained the abuse of children through harsh correction is widespread, yet somehow valuing children and treating them harshly coexists in Haiti. A pregnant woman is often treated as a queen. Allowed to eat whatever she craves from the day of conception and encouraged to rest nearly the whole 9 months of pregnancy. Men treat a pregnant woman with delicacy and care. Everyone desires to make the woman comfortable and assist her however she needs both before and after the birth. Pregnancy is met with rejoicing and babies are readily welcomed in most families. Having a lot of children, though not universally desired, is widely accepted and applauded. There are many Haitian proverbs about children being the riches of the poor man.

Simplicity. In one sense life is simple in Haiti. Because of a lack of options and choices life is simply what it is. Living here is done at a slow pace. There are no deadlines or pressure to rush. This was once my greatest frustration but has become my greatest relief. Imagine a day to just go about your tasks without looking at the clock, imagine the opportunity to just wait for something without having to move on to the next thing, imagine sitting there and looking up at the stars with no sense of panic because of all the tasks that you have waiting for you. It’s refreshing. It’s simple. There is much more time to think and God’s voice appears quite a bit louder without all the chaos and noise of modern life to drown him out.

Let’s talk

Did my response to the question about cross-cultural marriage surprise you, why or why not?  

If you have been outside of the US where did you go and what differences did you notice culturally?

One Response

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate
    your efforts and I am waiting for your further write ups thank you
    once again.

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Hi! I’m Rachel. Through a series of God orchestrated events I ended up in Haiti, in 2017.  Through years of serving with a ministry there I came to love the country and its people. I met Nelson and we got married in 2020. It was the best decision of my life! 

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