Becca Montgomery, an elder from First Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, singing "Amazing Grace" for the farmers in Bayonnais gathered for an end-of-the-year celebration of their yard garden program.
“She gave from her heart. Now we need to give back from our hearts.” That was the response of Viljean Louis to a group of about 60 Haitian farmers after Becca Montgomery, an elder from First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa, Ala., had provided them a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Together with Kristie Taylor and Liz Hubbard, Becca had spent three intense days with the folks from Bayonnais. The three tested their own limits, and some of their assumptions about what mission work really is. The culmination of the group’s visit was a joyful gathering organized by Viljean and other leaders on Wednesday, November 12th, to celebrate the organization’s yearlong work with the MPP-FONDAMA Yard Garden Program
I have been working with the yard garden program of the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) since being sent to serve with MPP by PC(USA) World Missions in 2004. In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to extend what we had learned in MPP to other groups of organized farmers. The Bayonnais folk represent the fifth and latest organization where we have begun training and providing follow up through home visits.
With funding from Presbyterian Disaster Agency (PDA), MPP created this extended yard garden program in conjunction with FONDAMA (Hand in Hand Haiti Foundation), a network of Haitian grassroots organizations working together to address the root causes of hunger — mostly through campaigns of advocacy. FONDAMA is affiliated with the Presbyterian Hunger Program initiative, “Joining Hands.” Cindy Corell, from Staunton, Va., is the PCUSA mission co-worker serving with FONDAMA and she led the group that came to Bayonnais.
Most development projects involve some type of material input. That has become a fundamental expectation throughout most, if not all of Haiti. When a project begins, the first question “beneficiaries” normally ask is “What are we going to get from this?”
But leaders of Mouvman Peyizan Bayonnais (MPB) and the new participants accepted a different paradigm. Instead of them asking us what the project would give them, we were the ones who challenged them. We asked “Are you committed to taking everything we share with you and pass it on? When you do ask something from us, are you willing to limit what you ask to the things that you can then pass on to others?”
They said, “Yes” and these past 12 or 13 months have shown to me that they really meant it.
When we provided ideas for finding their own seeds, rather than providing seeds, they said “thanks.” When we brought them red worms, instead of wheelbarrows, they said “thanks.” When we provided prizes for the participants who had transformed their yards the most, Notaire Philippe said, “We should be giving you the prize.”
When we asked them to define their vision for the program the other week, this is what the Bayonnais crew came up with: “We, the participants in the Yard Garden Program, want to produce an abundance of food in order to be healthy, so that we are not dependent on other people and so that we can live our lives where we were born. We also want to share our knowledge so that everyone in our communities can be part of the Yard Garden Program. In this way, there will be more people who trust the [Bayonnais] organization and they will support us when we need to make changes at every level of our society.”
When the Yard Garden team asked the Bayonnais participants how we could support them in their vision, they did not ask us for wheelbarrows, for seeds or even for watering cans. They asked us to simply keep working with them, helping to train new participants.
When Becca finished her beautiful song and Viljean challenged all of the Haitians gathered to respond, from their hearts, they did. They sang Becca’s song back to her, in Haitian Creole, and in four-part harmony.
It was electrifying beyond understanding.
World Missions, the mission-sending body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) talks about what they call “the community of mission practice” and that defines as well as anything who we were that Wednesday. The visitors from the First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa, the Haitian grassroots organization, Cindy Corell and me, present together, defining and celebrating our common vision and our common pursuit of God’s Kingdom come, here on Earth.
Jenny and I want let you know how grateful we are to all of you who have been such active members of our particular community of mission practice, some of you for more than ten years. It is your prayers and your financial support that have allowed us to be part of such incredible work, serving together with the partners of PC(USA).
Please continue to be a part of our mission through reading our letters and our blogs, through your prayers and through financial support. And if any of you think you would like to be part of something like what the Tuscaloosa folk experienced, let us know!
In addition to the prayers that we covet for ourselves and especially for our daughters, Keila and Annika, we ask you to pray for my fellow team members working with the MPP-FONDAMA Yard Garden program in Haiti — for their health and for the well-being of their families. Even more than myself, they are frequently gone from their homes for extended periods, and they take real risks traveling on bad roads and walking up into remote mountains.
And in all things, give thanks with us for God’s abundant blessings.
Mark, Jenny, Keila and Annika
Doing home visits with participants in the Bayonnais yard garden program. Left to right, Mark Hare (project coordinator), Kristie Taylor (member of 1st Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa), Lucien Joseph (member of MPP and team member in the MPP-FONDAMA yard garden program), Silvenie Desantus and her mother, Rosalie Sineas (members of Bayonnais farmer organization and participants in yard garden program) and Liz Hubbard (member of 1st PC).
Notaire Philippe, member of Bayonnais farmer organization, in his yard with a patch of moringa (Moringa oleifera). In addition to cooking with the tender shoots, Notaire has begun drying and pulverizing the mature leaves to make a nutritional supplement which his wife is using in their food. The family also shared some of the leaf powder who could not afford the vitamins prescribed by their doctor.
Aladie Colin, Notaire's wife with their seven-month old son. Aladie has been able to produce abundant milk without losing weight herself and their son got top marks from nurses in the clinic where she took him for vaccination at six months. Notaire and his wife credit this to the addition of moringa in their diet.