There are many stories created by various people on the same day at the same time. Each story reveals our interconnectedness and these stories reflect our true self. Also, God always relates to, and influences, our stories. My teaching experience in Haiti happened because of the interconnectedness of important people in my ministry.
The connection of the story of Mayville United Methodist Church’s mission and Haiti
In October 2016, I got a phone call from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC, where I studied for my Master’s degree. They have a global program to teach theology courses for students around the world. During this phone call, I was asked to teach on pastoral care and counseling in Haiti. At that time, Mayville UMC had already made special offerings to several organizations for Haitians who struggled with hurricanes and earthquake. The congregation sent 300 dollars to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for Haiti from our rummage sale along with donating 700 dollars to Food Pantry in Mayville. I was so moved and inspired by their love and care for people in the community and the world. Mayville UMC’s mission story strongly influenced me to answer, “Yes” during the phone call from the Vice President, Kyung Lim Shin Lee of Wesley Theological Seminary. God’s call was delivered by my congregation’s mission story.
The connection of the story in a place, Cite Soleil in Haiti
On January 24 2016, I arrived in a place in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, called Cite Soleil. It means Sun City, and it is the poorest, most dangerous place to live in this hemisphere. It is hard for me to describe this place to anyone who has never been there. All you can see is the poverty. I can show pictures, but there are stories that I would need to tell to explain the trash, the dust, the smell, etc. It is a place where people experience death every day. It is a place where people don’t have any clean systems in place and where people have long burned garbage indiscriminately. It is a place where people seek food all the time. It is a place where you hardly see flowers. It seems the situation in Haiti is not good and for many it may be getting worse. It seems absolutely impossible to restore Haitians’ lives in several weeks, several months, or even several years because of the level of poverty and the reality of death.
I met a missionary, Simon Kim, at the airport of Port-au-Prince. He has been in Haiti since 2010 when 200,000 people died from an earthquake. He built the Love and Hope church, elementary, middle, and high school, a theological seminary, as well as 20 local churches. Jesus Medical Clinic has been recently opened under his leadership. He supplies 4500 loaves of bread to local orphanages each week at daily bible study times. On January 24, I met with 150 pastors and seminarian who have struggled to minister amidst the trauma in this place, in Love and Hope Theological School.
From January 25th to January 27th, I offered six lectures, from 9am to noon and from 1pm to 4pm. “What can I teach in three days?” “What can I offer them?” “What can they achieve in only three days of learning?” These questions were in my mind as I prepared to lecture about pastoral care and counseling for healing trauma and recovering the community. The main goal of this course was to provide an introductory overview of the historical, practical, and theological foundations of pastoral care for pastors and seminarians in Haiti. I hoped to strengthen their identification as pastoral caregivers addressing people’s trauma and working toward healing the community. I designed experiences to develop each student’s capacity for empathic relationships with others. I focused on helping student’s ability to take the primary pastoral role for their congregations, to listen empathically to people’s suffering, to provide the space where people can express their emotions including anger, fear, despair, even joy and hope, and to share and receive God’s love and grace in their ministry.
I heard many stories about death, loss, and trauma from students. We talked about immediate financial needs due to poverty. We talked about their burdens of being a pastoral caregiver for the urgent needs of congregations. We also shared the powerful stories about how they have overcome their own trauma and found healing in their life. There were lots of stories of how they kept their lives together and of how God works through them. It was a very powerful time not only to connect with their pain and suffering, but also to engage with their hopes and dreams for their ministry.
The connection with the general resource of Institute of Congregational Trauma and Growth (ICTG)
While researching healing trauma and recovering the community, I contacted Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe who had studied with me at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in the Doctoral program. She is a pastoral psychotherapist, congregational care consultant, and serves as the Executive Director of ICTG. I asked for some helpful resources. She recommended the General Ministry Guide. This guide book introduces three core relational components for healing trauma and congregational growth; calming, community, and communication. For each of these core relational components, there was discussion about how to practice being calm in the middle of the storm and hunger. We demonstrated how to listen to and communicate with each other. Also, we built up personal lists of supportive community in their ministry and in their life. We explored how to form the ritual of healing and lament. It was a very meaningful and spiritual journey as we built our relationship with each other and God. We learned how to listen to and grow with people and the community and to seek their hope, values, and dreams for the future. Then, we all gathered the stories together and connected with each story. Their collective story was one that will lead toward healing the trauma and recovering their community in God.
The connection of the story of God’s ministry
It was about our relation to God. It was about our connection with the story of God’s ministry in our daily life. On the first day all I could see was the poverty. It didn’t take long to realize it was a place where we loved and cared for one another. Over and over again, students and pastors told me how much it meant that they were able to learn about theology, to spend time with me, to get support in their ongoing ministry, and for the future of their communities. Over and over again, my friends, colleagues, ICTG, Mayville UMC church members, and my family sent emails with prayers and support. The love and gratitude was, and is, overwhelming and humbling. Although it was only for a few days, I was with the people of Haiti who were eager to work for God. I see the incredible bravery and patience of the people, and the countless ways God is at work. I pray it becomes a small step to connect the story of God’s ministry in all our lives toward healing and reconciliation.
To access the resource guide and other online training materials, visit the ICTG training menu.