First Friday of Advent: Watery Hope
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
—Isaiah 9:1-7 (Read Isaiah 9)
My concept of hope can be watery and anemic. Like pale red Kool-aid served at summer camp, I hope for things like good weather or Stanley Cup titles. Even the most serious of my hopes aren’t accompanied by a great deal of patience.
Hope for the prophet Isaiah was more like rich, slow-brewed coffee.
It had to be. Isaiah spoke to the nation during dark times. The northern kingdom of Israel had been carried into captivity, and the kingdom of Judah was consumed by idolatry and evil. God’s promise to the chosen people seemed to vanish. Restoration was nowhere in sight.
The Israelites, of course, weren’t the first nation to experience this kind of despair. Nor the last.
Like the people in Isaiah’s time, today the poor in rural Haiti have no empirical evidence that life can be anything more than a struggle to survive.
Yet they, like Isaiah, have been slowly thickening my watery hope.
I was a sophomore in college the first time I went to Haiti. The sights, sounds and smells were overwhelming—landing in Haiti was more like going back in time than traveling 700 miles south of Florida.
That first drive away from the airport is seared into my memory. Men straining in a sprinter’s stance to pull carts made from car axles. Carts overloaded with things ranging from rebar and lumber to sacks of rice. Women, sitting in the road, hawking little pyramids of mangoes, oranges, and avocados, shielding the blazing sun with bits of plastic strung from crumbling cement walls and propped sticks. Garbage everywhere. Goats roaming freely, picking their way through the heaps that were not burning.
We headed for our destination in the countryside. Riding in the back of a truck, weaving through the potholes like a slalom skier picking through moguls, we traveled fewer than 150 miles in eight hours.
The remoteness of the village left me with no doubt that these people had to make it all on their own.
Since 2007, my wife, Sarah, and I have been working with Haiti H2O (Hope 2 Opportunity). In response to the love of Jesus, Haiti H2O works with rural Haitian communities, cultivating hope and opportunities. And there, in one of these small communities set among the thorny bahone trees, we met Pastor Foglas Celone.
Pastor Celone has committed himself to this village of Baissin Caiman, Haiti. It is a place where people survive by cutting down trees—even though Haiti is reported to be 97% deforested—and making charcoal to sell in the market. He would visit the handful of Christians each Sunday to serve communion and pray together. They met for years in the shade of a few trees, praying that someday a church might be built in their village.
My very first trip to this village happened a few years after the church walls had been constructed. The roof was only a tattered tarp. Our task for the week? Breaking ground for a new school.
Pastor Celone (or “Pas,” as an endearing term of respect) is a fountain of energy, willing to do anything to improve the infrastructure in a place where kids still collect water in gallon buckets before the sun is fully up. A chuckle follows almost every statement; Pas is like Father Christmas squeezed into a 5’5” frame. His curiosity is insatiable. I remember the day—years after the school was completed—when a 5,000-watt generator was donated to the village. Pas sat in a chair and read the French version of the owner’s manual cover to cover.
Being in Pastor Celone’s presence melts away the starkness of the landscape, because his joy celebrates what is good.
For more than two decades, Pas has kept the dream of the possibility of a better life alive. When offered a promotion and opportunity to pastor a church in the city, he chose to stay in the village. He mentored the school’s teachers, who often went months without collecting a salary.
After the completion of the community bread oven, I asked Pas what we should do next, imagining improvements to the church or a motorcycle to make his travels easier.
Without hesitation, he answered: “Toilets. The people need toilets.”
And so we initiated a composting toilet project to meet the hygiene needs of the community. Over the years, life in Baissin Caiman improved; pas a pas ti zwozo fe niche—“Little by little, the bird builds his nest.”
And as I watch Pas live, I experience a taste of something more, something to come. As Isaiah prophesied,
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Slowly, as the faithful work and wait, light breaks through.
Jeff VanderMolen is a freelance gaffer in the Pittsburgh film community, a Partner with First Light Rentals, and Deputy Director of Haiti H2O, a nonprofit ministry serving communities in rural Haiti. He served the CCO for ten years as a wilderness specialist.