It can be a bit of a culture shock for some African American missionaries who travel to Haiti with Ezra Vision Ministries.
Several of the black missionaries were initially confused— and even insulted — at first because Haitians often refer to them as “whites.”
“We once had a gentleman who became very upset at this,” recalls Ronnie Hawkins, president and founder of Ezra Vision. “ ‘Why do they keep calling me white?’ he asked.”
Hawkins did some checking and discovered that for Haitians, who speak primarily Creole and French, there is no a term for the word ‘black’ in reference to race. The Haitians are also used to most visiting missionaries being white, so for them the term “white” was a word used to identify missionary, not a person’s skin color.
Everyone calls her ‘mama.’
That’s because Claudia Ceul, 47, does more than supervise the Haitian cooks and housekeepers employed at the Nehemiah housing compound in Chambrum, a refugee community near Onaville.
When visiting missionaries arrive she quickly makes sure they know the rules of the kitchen and tries to provide a menu that will satisfy everyone’s palates. She often asks how people are adjusting and offers words of encouragement.
Adult and youth missionaries are quick to seek her out to talk about concerns or problems.
“Ten years ago I gave my life to Jesus Christ,” Ceul said. “I try to lead a Christian life.
“The way I see it, this is my kitchen and it’s my job to take care of all the visitors. I think that’s why everyone calls me mama.”
In the early morning Ceul can be heard singing gospel music as she prepares breakfast and gives her staff directions. Singing makes her feel closer to God, she said. In her spare time, she makes baskets and other crafts that she sells.
Ceul was hired three years ago to oversee kitchen operations at the compound. It was a blessing for Ceul, whose health problems limit her mobility. She is quick to point out that she has extensive cooking experience and is very good at giving directions.
“If I did not have this job I would not be able to survive or feed my three sons,” she said. “Before this job I would walk around all day trying to sell whatever I could find. It was very hard.
“Sometimes I cry, sometimes I pray and sometimes I sing. It’s all a part of helping you feel fulfilled. All I can tell people is to give their life to Jesus Christ and he will save you.”
It was a noble experiment that quickly went awry.
The idea was to provide a variety of recreational activities for the children of Onaville. Since the missionaries from Ezra Vision Ministries were visiting Haiti during the Olympics, they decided upon an Olympics theme.
Children would throw bean bags instead of discs or javelins. They would jump rope instead of high jump and have sack races instead of running. Instead of baseball, they would play kickball.
More than 300 children showed up to participate on the first day.
It quickly became apparent there were flaws in the idea.
The youth were unfamiliar with the games. When someone kicked the ball, all the children would converge on it — soccer is a well-known and beloved sport here. They would throw the bean bags at each other because — well, that seemed like more fun.
A soon-to-be exhausted Pastor Nelson Sneed, who is in his 50s, spent more than an hour trying to demonstrate how to jump rope and how to jump while inside a sack.
Many of the children struggled and fell while jumping rope and sack racing — a serious problem since most of the ground in Onaville is covered with jagged rocks. The games were quickly halted.
“Well that experiment didn’t go as well as we’d hoped,” missionary Debra Jackson acknowledged with a weary laugh later in the evening.
On the second day the children were allowed to entertain themselves. They formed impromptu soccer games, played games of tag and enjoyed the use of a nearby swing set and slide.
The youth had been rebuilding a cement wall that surrounds the Nehemiah compound, which houses visiting missionaries and a local orphanage.The 13 teenage missionaries were near the end of their two week visit to Haiti when they encountered their biggest surprise.
Jack Langenderfer, 17, climbed down into the muddy trench where his co-workers planned to hand him large cement slabs that would serve as the fence’s base.
Langenderfer heard a strange noise and felt a wet nose bump his arm. Turning he discovered he was not alone. A baby goat had slipped into the trench and was trapped in the hole.
At first the other youth and their adult chaperones didn’t believe him. That changes when they looked on the other side of the fence and noticed a not-very-pleased looking mama goat.
Langenderfer gently lifted the baby goat to the other youth, who hoisted the animal to safety. Langenderfer then carried the baby goat to his mother.
“When I carried the baby to him mom they both started making noises,” Langenderfer said. “When I set the baby down they both started running toward each other.
“They seemed so happy to be together again. It felt good. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect I would find and save a goat while in Haiti.
FAITH against FUTILITY