There are two things that come to mind when I reflect on my recent trip to Haiti on behalf of Global Ministries to serve in ministry and to be a presence with our partners, CONASPEH. One is the adage that “knowledge is power."
Another is Lauryn Hill’s song “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill." I had the privilege of working with a group of young seminarians, which included a father/daughter duo, as we spent seven hours together discussing The Role of Women in the Church. Later during the week, I enjoyed a lively discussion with Bishops and Church leaders on Christian Leadership. At the opposite end of the age curve was a day spent in the classroom with energetic and very active 9th graders. In between the teaching experiences, there was time to serve as guest preacher in a CONASPEH related church two hours outside of Port-au-Prince in the town of Leogane. Each experience was different, but the common theme was an enthusiastic love for learning.
It is always inspiring to see the emphasis that CONASPEH places on education and the eagerness displayed by students and leaders to acquire knowledge at all levels. In a country like Haiti that struggles with so many challenges that shape the international perception of the people and the country, it is refreshing to see how students view knowledge as a powerful tool to improve their well-being as well as the haunting negative image. The sacrifices that many of them made to attend the two seminars (seminary students and bishops) are mind boggling. Some took as many as 4 “taxis” to arrive, some starting walking early in the morning, some had nothing to eat, and some arrived very early to wait patiently in the courtyard.
I was amazed, and quite frankly blown away, by the seminary students who declared, “We are a new generation of leaders”. Their views on women in ministry were unexpected as they talked about providing space for women to exercise their skills in the church as they are allowed to do in civil society. The students made it very clear that, in most cases, women are as qualified or more qualified than their male counterparts. Surprisingly, the most fervent advocates of women empowerment were the 95% male participants in the class.
Lauryn Hill’s song helps with understanding the mindset of many of the bishops and leaders of CONASPEH today. It is clear that the same vision of its founder is still the driving force, but the social and political situations have created a new spirit and energy among the leaders. They find themselves in a new place in time with a female leader committed to working with them as they continue to give hope to the downtrodden. As Hill’s song suggests, there is movement, growth, and an aspiration among the bishops to define their own destiny. They have found their voice and prepared to speak out openly as one body on behalf of the people they serve. For so long, they have felt that it was safer to remain quiet and accept whatever came their way. As one bishop put it, “We have always been a simple, humble people with few demands. We are still a humble, simple people but we must speak out so that our children are not crushed.” There is so much pressure placed on the bishops who, as volunteers, have very limited sources of income to support their constituents for whom they are expected to give care. In order to insure that they and their children are not crushed, they work tirelessly to take control of their destiny and aspirations.
Being surrounded by the 9th graders was a fun, relaxing time to complete my stay in Haiti. They were lively, filled with questions, eager to speak English! There was a confidence about each one of them, but especially the girls. Their laughter and “joie de vivre” was simply contagious. What a joy it was to walk with them for a short period of time. There is a greater joy simply knowing that their aspirations and determination to define and fulfill their destiny will continue to grow exponentially! They are the epitome of “knowledge is power”. They have a promising future ahead of them and we are blessed to be on the journey with them!
Thank you Global Ministries and CONASPEH for this awesome time of sharing!
Sandra Gourdet serves with the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH). Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.