Graduation Haitian Style
They looked so sharp in their traditional white nursing uniforms with white stockings and classic high moccasin shoes. Each of the young women had styled her hair with a low ΓÇ£bunΓÇ¥ at the back of her head which created a neat, professional look that would also allow their newly-awarded nursesΓÇÖ caps to be pinned on easily. However, what most delighted us was the nursesΓÇÖ procession into the chapel and their coordinated ΓÇ£stepΓÇ¥ routine that was reminiscent of a popular 1960s dance called ΓÇ£the Stroll.ΓÇ¥
They looked so sharp in their traditional white nursing uniforms with white stockings and classic high moccasin shoes. Each of the young women had styled her hair with a low “bun” at the back of her head which created a neat, professional look that would also allow their newly-awarded nurses’ caps to be pinned on easily. However, what most delighted us was the nurses’ procession into the chapel and their coordinated “step” routine that was reminiscent of a popular 1960s dance called “the Stroll.”
The seminarians made their own strong impression on a wave of flowing black robes and caps with tassels arranged towards the back of their heads. They were a quiet lot but most were casting wide grins towards the hundreds of family members and friends who had gathered to celebrate this auspicious occasion. Tim was busy taking photographs while I walked beside Bishops Patrick Villier and Francoise St. Vil Villier at the head of the procession and gingerly bit my lip to hold back the tears. As “Marenn” or “godmother” for the seminary graduating class, I was proud to join these women and men who had made untold sacrifices to be here this day.
It was a subdued crowd that had gathered to honor the efforts of their loved ones in the midst of decorations of white candles, white balloon clusters and sprays of fragrant white frangipani flowers which together created an elegant setting for the occasion. Traditional hymns and meaningful contemporary songs wafted softly from a CD player and I could hear the accompaniment of gentle humming as listeners recognized certain melodies.
Several of CONASPEH’S Bishops, a title given to fifteen of CONASPEH’s Protestant pastors to recognize their authority as well as their years of experience within the church, were present and offered prayers and scripture readings for the 2014 ceremony. I was also invited to speak and I think many were surprised (and pleased) to hear my first full message in Creole. Afterwards, a number of my former students commented on the homily which was typical of their support as they had coached me in Creole throughout the school year.
Along with their diplomas the seminarians received either a gift of a Bible or a commentary or a book of church history. Members from the Longfellow UCC church in Massachusetts provided a nursing bag for graduating nurses that included a blood pressure kit, a nurse’s watch with a sweep second hand, a digital thermometer, a penlight for examining pupillary response and a pair of bandage scissors. This gift bag is part of the church’s “alternative Christmas” program which members have supported for the past four years.
What does this graduation mean? On a practical level it means the newly ordained ministers are able to apply for the government license that will permit them to perform legal weddings, funerals and baptisms. It also means the pastors now have a pool of resources from which they are able to draw as they shepherd and teach in their individual congregations. Additionally, they have good contacts and people they can reach out to as they serve in ministry together.
At the same time, CONASPEH now has the necessary government sanctioned credentials that newly graduated nurses are able to list on their resumes as they apply for nursing positions. These credentials will complement their professional profile for employment purposes. During their schooling the nurses have also had numerous opportunities to interact with mission teams of trained medical professionals in order to share mutual knowledge about health issues within diverse socioeconomic contexts. Such training and hands-on practice provide a broader base of knowledge and experience for both US and Haitian hospital and clinics.
As Global Ministries’ missionaries serving in Haiti, Tim and I have both had the honor of being a part of this annual graduation ceremony on three occasions now and our hearts and our eyes have been opened to a truer sense of the meaning of “possibility.” Today the possibility has become the reality.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”- Philippians 4: 13
Tim and Diane Fonderlin, members of Howland Community Church, Warren, Ohio, are serving a 4-year term with the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH), beginning July 1, 2012. Tim works as a Sustainable Community Development and Micro-Credit Consultant and Diane is teaching theology at St. Andrew Theological Seminary and is also Co-Administrator of the Seminary. Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples’ Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission and your special gifts.