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Ministry begins with presence, listening

A letter from Cindy Corell serving in Haiti

July 2015

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Mine was a ministry of presence long before I’d even heard that term. For starters, I certainly think of any part of my life as “ministry.” That word! It’s so big. It’s so encompassing.

And there couldn’t be any room in it for little old me.

But yet, there is. Ministry. Journey. Presence.

All these words describe my being from the time I awaken until I close my eyes in another sweaty slumber. But it has taken years for it all to make sense. My first “ministry of presence” came in June 2010.

It was my first trip to Haiti. Between visits to schools, our group stopped at a waterfall in the Central Plateau. It is called Bassin Zim. It’s beautiful. The water gushes white over the rocks, and it falls into a blue-green pool. And at the edge of the beauty, trash, bottles and fallen twigs are washed against the stony shore.

Mission co-worker Cindy Corell reunites with some friends at Bassin Zim, a popular waterfall in the Central Plateau of Haiti.

Mission co-worker Cindy Corell reunites with some friends at Bassin Zim, a popular waterfall in the Central Plateau of Haiti.

That is Haiti. The beauty is readily evident, but you must squinch your eyes closed to see only the beauty.

Likewise, the people are beautiful, but their poverty too will hurt your eyes. Hurt your heart.

My heart was aching that June afternoon.

While the others climbed to the top of the waterfall, assisted by young boys eager to help, then ask for a tip, I waited on a concrete foundation not far away. I’d become a victim of car sickness. My head hurt. I felt dizzy in the oppressive heat. So I rested there.

Some of the local families had gathered nearby. I heard them speaking even before I opened my eyes. I heard the word for hunger. Grangou. I heard them wondering what they would eat that day.

My Creole was basic. I think I understood their stories more through their faces.

I wanted to pull money from my pocket to give them. I wanted to yell to my American friends that these people needed food! And now!

But I didn’t. So many reasons I didn’t. I didn’t even understand all the reasons.

There were several women and a few young children. One woman held a naked infant. When I glanced up, they smiled at me. One woman pointed to the edge of my skirt that was about to fall into a nearby puddle of water.

Within a few minutes I felt more comfortable. We communicated through a few words, gestures and, mostly, smiles.

I’d come to Haiti with a group in partnership with a small school in the Central Plateau. We’d spent two lovely days at the small school, visiting with the children, listening to people in the community, celebrating Mass. But sitting with the families from an even more remote area opened my eyes to the fact that helping people in a small developing country is so much more than raising funds or planning school construction or visiting once a year. If I were to truly be a part of God’s plan, I would need to be with people. If I were to truly stretch myself, I would need to listen. If I were to truly grow into the human God created me to be, I would have to be uncomfortable for longer than a week.

I would need to listen to people who are poor, to people who are hungry. I would need to look into their eyes, and let them see mine. I would have to reach across schisms that it turns out I, not just our different cultures, create.

I would have to risk every comfort I was working hard to use to cushion myself against the world.

I was going to have to go.

Something happened to me that day, sitting on a concrete slab and visiting with strangers. Something happened that I wouldn’t recognize until years later.

I had begun a ministry of presence.

Fast-forward three years, and I was living in Haiti. I was appointed to serve as a mission co-worker, accompanying members of farmer organizations across the country. I live in Port-au-Prince, the capital city, but I often travel to rural areas and other cities, getting to know the issues and the great work being done by Haitians.

I am the companionship facilitator with FONDAMA (the Creole acronym for Hand-to-Hand Foundation of Haiti). FONDAMA is an initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program designed to connect Presbyterians with networks of grassroots organizations fighting for food security.

In July 2013 I was back at Bassin Zim, enjoying the view and visiting with the boys who hang out there.

I sat again on that concrete foundation. The boys surrounded me. We talked about what they wanted to be when they finished school. At the pond below the waterfall we skipped stones.

Walking back from the waterfall to get into the truck, I realized that I was where I’d wanted to be.

And here’s the thing that surprises and delights me. By choosing to leave my home in the U.S. two years ago, I didn’t leave my comfort zone. I stretched into a new comfort zone.

Walking up from the water’s edge at Bassin Zim, my young friends grabbed my arms and helped me over the gravel-sized rocks. The feeling in my heart was true and absolute joy!

Like just about everyone else in this beautiful country, they lifted me.

I tell people, and too often believe it myself, that I came to help the Haitian people.

It is true that I came here to do that. But it is they who help me grow and learn. Together we will find ways to make food and clean water more easily accessible.

But this ministry of ours, the ministry of presence, lifts me every day.

Thank you for supporting our work here. Thank you for keeping us all in your prayers, for supporting us financially and for listening to our stories.

We welcome you to continue learning about the issues affecting the people of rural Haiti. And we welcome you to join us in continued prayers, and even in coming along.

In ours and every ministry, we remain in God’s presence first and foremost.

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 62

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