Finally! After being in Haiti all this time, I got to attend a Haitian church.
I piled into the van with the rest of the school-age kids from the creche. We drove into Montrouis and turned down the little side road where they sell the bread. Just past a pump where people were filling up dozens of buckets, we stopped the van and walked down a footpath to the church.
The church meets in a half-finished building. The concrete walls form a structure that promises to be beautiful, with arched windows and a high roof--only the windows aren't put in yet and there is no roof. The metal braces that form the rooflines are covered with a large tarp tha,t used to be a US billboard. The words "Emergency Services" and a huge phone number are visible. However, wind and/or exposure to the elements have ripped this tarp from some of its moorings, so it no longer goes over the whole roof but droops down in several places, allowing the sun to shine in. I kept looking up at the blue sky visible above me and marveling at the many different kinds of green leaves I could see--palm fronds, mango leaves, and many others I couldn't identify.
There were a number of wooden benches set up along the shadiest wall in the church, and as we piled in with our huge group of kids, people were very accommodating to make room for us. The church was full. People were dressed in their best, and each person carried his or her own Bible and songbook.
There was no electricity. The church had no instruments, but people sang in parts, and sang heartily and beautifully. The preacher had to compete with someone just outside the walls who was knocking stones together to break them into smaller pieces, and with a hog that was squealing loudly. I was pleased at being able to understand most of the main points of the sermon.
During the announcement time, a man got up and said a few things. A lady behind us stood up and stated her name and where she was from. Then the man made eye contact with me and gave an encouraging smile.
"I think they're asking all the first-time visitors to stand," I said to Shane (one of my fellow missionaries), who was sitting beside me.
We looked at each other, confused because we really didn't understand, and didn't want to do it wrong. What if it was something totally different? Then we would be standing up and making ourselves conspicuous. The man at the front repeated what he had said and gave another encouraging smile our way. I asked a woman sitting next to us, and she said we should stand, so up we stood.
Was that enough? Did they just want us to stand, or were we supposed to give a longer speech? Everyone seemed to be waiting expectantly.
"Bonjou," I said, a little weakly. What was I supposed to say?
"Bonjou," the entire congregation responded.
They still seemed to be waiting expectantly.
"Am I supposed to tell our names?" I asked the friendly lady next to us.
"Yes," she said, "And a little bit about you."
So in Creole, I told our names and said that we worked at the creche, and then sat down.
The church service in general was very organized and reverent and traditional. The people seemed very serious, except for one little boy in the front row who kept busting dance moves and then looking back at me to see if I was duly appreciating them. I smiled at him, and he would always give a huge smile back.
Afterward, several people greeted me, and it was good to connect with other members of the community.
Then we went home. They kept piling children, children, and more children in the van, way more than on the way to church, because they had brought them in two loads, but now they wanted to take them home in one load. I said to Memen that Shane and I could walk home if she didn't think there was room for us. "I think we have room," she said. She kept directing traffic, cramming more and more people into this 12-passenger van, and finally succeeded in getting two seats open for Shane and I to sit. Then our laps were filled with children and she continued filling the rows ahead of us. When we finally took off, I counted. The van had 35 people in it. And then they turned on the heat. One of the girls was right next to the register, and sweat was rolling down her face. They didn't know how to work the switches to turn on the AC in the back, but after a general protest, they finally just turned it off altogether, which was a welcome relief.
All in all, it was a fun day! I hope I can go back! But maybe I'll make arrangements to walk home...