In response to my last post about Haitian women and relationships I received several messages and emails, and had a few videochats about how difficult it is for foreign women to sometimes connect with Haitian women. One lady in particular told me that some of the young Haitian ladies in her community seem quiet, shy, and not totally comfortable with her while she sees how close they are with their own Haitian friends.
A cultural note: sometimes young Christian girls may be this way because they don’t want to appear to be unladylike or vulgar to people, especially boys. They may also believe in the importance of demonstrating an outward Christian appearance and not just an inward Christian appearance. Not that they’re being fake but they may want to hold themselves to a different standard. I hope I explained that well.
Friend or Mission-
However, some people may be shy and quiet around foreigners because they’re truly uncomfortable. One of the reasons is that they may feel that they’re a “mission” to the foreigner as opposed to a friend or someone they want to form a friendship with. Think about this, no one wants to be a mission. Someone may want to be your friend, your brother, your employer, but not your mission: “someone needing fixing.” So, while people may accept the donations it doesn’t mean they agree with the possibility that someone may only see them as a person with a hand out. I believe that as much as we talk about training being needed in Haiti there is a kind of training needed with foreigners to where they can learn that even though they’re going to do a work to help and serve the people of Haiti the people of Haiti are not their mission. I hear this expression all the time. When people speak that way they also act that way and quite possibly without realizing how it’s viewed. Sometimes I hear this kind of talk in the airport and I just cringe.
“You should have seen that poor baby! I gave the mom a sack of diapers and you should have seen the look on her face. I love doing mission work? And then nothing. What was the baby’s name? Not mentioned. Where does the mom live and what kind of home do they live in? Such details are spared. Why did you go to or why are you in Haiti? Sometimes this question needs to be asked and reasked until the answer causes you to pause, pray, change the answer, and start over. We’ve all been there if we can humbly confess. We’ve all needed to refocus. Going to Haiti to serve the people is not a bad answer but “and to build relationships to be effective” has to be added even if you’re just not feeling it because that’s the part that is just not easy! You never completely know who to trust until you do and even then you may be proven wrong eventually! But this is why we must go with grace and be full of mercy.
When it All Goes Wrong-
You really know what your relationship was with someone when they do something to hurt you. The best advice I’ve ever been given was, “If you truly loved that person…you would not talk bad about them (expose their sin) just as you would not expose your son or daughter’s failings.” And THAT is key! If you call someone a friend, godson, goddaughter, spiritual son, spiritual daughter, or best friend, no matter what they do, you can be still and pray while HOPING for God to intervene. Don’t slander because you’ve been slandered and don’t expose because you know you’re right and can prove it. Yes, you will get hurt. That’s how relationships work. Some relationships you’ll need to put on pause, step back from, or end abruptly, and others you’ll need to watch your step and constantly reassess. Then there are those telationships, for whatever amount of time God allows, you plunge right into with a full heart but remember (I have failed here countless times) to allow God to direct it always. Your love will never outshine God’s love, never. Don’t try to be God to a friend but try to bring a friend closer to God. If you get burned out that will be the reason why, because you took on the role of God or others. So, take guilt-free breaks while assessing certain relationships to make sure they’re being built correctly. You also find out how much someone values the relationship when you pull back or stop giving things. Who knows, there may not be a spirit of greed in the person you think is struggling with greed. It may be that you’ve created a monster and need to step back to redefine the relationship. This is all HARD, HARD, HARD. Connect with other people doing this right and who aren’t ashamed to teach you through their mistakes and who aren’t too proud to teach you through their successes. That way you have a safe place and can work confidently.
This is said often, “We’ve been in the area for some time now. I’m sure they know that they’re not just a mission to me but it’s about relationship.” How and why would they know that? An organization could be in Haiti for ten years, distributing food, providing education, building churches, and still not be able to expect an intimate relationship or higher level of trust from the Haitians in the community.
In our culture trust is developed through a mutual giving and taking in a relationship. So, an organization that has been in Haiti only six months where the individual goes to the local Haitian church, invites a family he’s pursuing a relationship with over for dinner, and sits in a Haitian friend’s front yard listening to and telling jokes is going to be more trusted and have a deeper relationship than an organization planted in the same area for twenty years. It’s not quantity of time but quality. It’s not what you give but the interaction that comes with it or even the interaction without giving anything.
Once you have been in your community long enough to pray and know exactly who God is connecting you with and in what capacity, begin to take little steps toward friendship. Instead of freaking out about the idea of needing to get out of your comfort zone, prepare to see God change your comfort zone.
Make efforts to develop and grow relationships:
– invite people to dinner but cautiously. You don’t want someone showing up to your house expecting a meal without an invitation, but you do want someone feeling welcome to a meal when you invite them
– respond when someone invites you anywhere! Go to their home when invited and eat what is placed before you. John and I have eaten 3-4 day old rice and beans with beef in legume from people with no electricity, hence no refrigerator to properly store it. The relationship made it one of the sweetest meals.
– have focused parties. If you know a friend has a birthday, have a birthday party where everyone in her family contributes one thing, whether it’s bannann peze (plantains) or just bringing kola (fruit champagne). Have graduation parties for one of the children you connected with, again with family and friends chipping in the little they have. Avoid building enabling relationships where you do and provide everything all the time. A sincere and mature Christian Haitian will not want that kind of relationship anyway.
– host game nights and encourage rotation so that it can be at your house once every other week and then another person’s house the other weeks. Haitians are incredibly hospitable and while you have to call before visiting friends in the US or Canada and other countries, in Haiti friends can show up unexpected and are received as if the visit was planned. Haitians love to laugh and interact (of course everyone does but for the sake of the topic being about Haitian Culture…) so games like Kasino, UNO, and definitely something as simple but competitive as Spoons will help to break down whatever walls you’re sensing. Games are especially good icebreakers for young girls who are being quiet to display an outward model of piety. It’s not that they’re afraid of people it’s just that they may have been instructed or may have learned to be more reserved.
– listen more and talk less.
– show more grace than reactions
– interact with people working with or working for you. You don’t want to set up the old southern housekeeper/boss relationship with your Haitian staff. This is very common where a Haitian works for someone but doesn’t share who they are and what their feelings or aspirations are. Get to know the people you’re trusting yourself, your children, and everything God has given you to.
– enjoy Haiti together by going to the mache with a friend on market day, walking to the river to do laundry with some women you’re getting to know on laundry day, host a movie/popcorn night or a baking party, walk to the beach, or plan an excursion with some friends.
I’m sure more people can come up with far better tips but remember it may not be as easy as it sounds. It may take time but some of the best relationships take time but if Christ is the center and you’re not just giving things, there is a great hope for you to develop deeper relationships with people in your community and that’s so important. That way, when the day comes when someone loses their temper on you, someone steals from you, or someone attempts to harm you, you have a group of people standing up for you because they know your character, they love and enjoy you, and they absoteluy trust you.
Crystal Funk of Hearts United with Haiti
More cultural tips can be found in the newly revised “Learn Haitian Creole with Gloria Level II” book found on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/s/ref=is_s?k=learn+haitian+creole+with+gloria+level+two