Feelin’ so Extra

They would normally be on tour. They have turned down multiple gigs to be here. The time is non-negotiable. These children are a priority. They said they want to do it for ten years. This is year six.

To play basketball, you need a court. We didn’t have one. After the earthquake, one of the young Port-au-Prince refugees staying with a pastor showed up with a basketball and was dribbling all over Passe Catabois. All the boys in Passe Catabois followed him for a chance to hold or dribble that ball. Pretty soon, a five-gallon bucket with a hole in it, a two-by-four and some concrete disappeared from one of our construction sites. Using the rim of a plastic bucket, they created a makeshift hoop six feet off the ground.

Being mesmerized by a basketball is better than dwelling on the immediate trauma or the aftershocks still ongoing. The news from Port-au-Prince was horrid. Basketball is much better than thinking about the earthquakes that keep happening.

Not long ago, the church elementary school in Passe Catabois started the outline for a basketball court. Compassion, the child sponsorship agency, decided every school needed a court for an obscure game people vaguely knew about. The construction hadn’t gotten very far and things happen. Sometimes the ground shakes and things are very different afterward.

I tell the boys about the remains of a basketball court foundation buried somewhere in the schoolyard. With the pastor’s blessing, I promise, if they will dig it up and get everything ready, we will pour fifteen feet of the basketball court and put up a goal.

By 10 am the next morning, the work was done. It was now “put up or shut up” time; and the perfect time to divert attention from the earthquake. Shortly, we had a fifteen-foot concrete basketball court and a half court in packed dirt.

Over time, we got the half court done in two pours. And then someone said: “Let’s just pour the other half of this basketball court.”

The Boca Raton youth group came to basketball camp that first year afterward and brought two Haitian Americans who have played a lot of ball.

By the third year, we had a second court and a second program at the Poste Metier church five miles away. The two Haitian Americans increased to four and formed a music/ministry group. Local boys are more familiar with soccer. We had to convince them to quit hitting the ball with their head…use hands only and don’t kick the ball. This is basketball.

A bus pulls up. There are 60 cheering boys inside and 60 cheering boys outside waiting for them; all in reversible “Upward Basketball” jerseys. The home team is blue; the visitors, cream.

This is the big day. For a week, these boys have been learning basketball fundamentals and Bible lessons. The Poste Metier ball players travel to Passe Catabois for a ‘tournament.’ This is a competition involving basketball drills like dribbling and shooting. Then they let the older (11-13 year-olds) play some full-court sessions.

“K4C” (or Knights for Christ) is a ministry and a musical group of first-generation Haitian Americans with a heart for at-risk young people in America. They do concerts in schools and churches wherever they are invited, investing in youth, telling them about Jesus and trying to help them stay out of trouble. The leader of K4C says that Jesus saved him, but basketball kept him out of trouble.

They just put out an album: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alaxH0YEXQ0&feature=youtu.be.  Footage from basketball camp is on the video. A friend from Georgia is with them who last played competitive high school basketball and comes out of retirement to coach and organize the camp. I wasn’t sure he was going to make the video. He did, but it was basketball coaching that got him in and not singing. Along with the 120 boys are a dozen volunteer coaches from the two churches, some parents, a sound system and a lot of excitement.

Deb and I don’t know much about children’s ministries. But we receive the teams and provide the venue. Over recent months, we have been shipping everything necessary for a basketball camp:  uniforms, basketballs (many children win their own ball either in the daily competitions or when they graduate at 13), peanut butter for breakfast before camp and other paraphernalia. For the past two weeks, boys in faded uniforms from previous years have stopped me on the road and asked if Sammy, Dee, Lucson, or Hobbs are coming for camp this summer. You can feel the excitement building.

One of the beauties of the Passe Catabois basketball court is that it has trees all around it. I sit in the shade watching the two teams’ race up and down the court. Most of these children are natural athletes and have caught on amazingly fast to this recent addition to Haiti sport. Over the years, many have come to Christ during basketball camp while listening to the story of salvation.

One of the eleven year-olds is blocked by a bigger player in front of him. Without missing a beat, he does a behind-the-back pass to a teammate and they press in toward the goal.  Another amazement is seeing them pass – a lot. Watching local soccer is painful. When one guy gets the ball, too often he tries to take it all the way to the goal himself. It is one against eleven. When someone on the other team takes the ball from him, he runs the other way – one on eleven -without passing.

That doesn’t happen here. This is a profound change and something to take to other parts of their lives: teamwork. They are passing it off, keeping it, moving around and looking for an open man rather than personal glory.

I see all manner of sneakers patched up, sewn up or otherwise improvised. More than several have feet jammed in shoes that are way too narrow and no laces because there isn’t room. Some have street shoes or work boots. Who knows what sacrifices the parents made to find something for their boys to put on so they can attend camp? And someone at home is covering for them collecting firewood, carrying water, or tending to the animals so they can be boys for a week to do basketball and Bible study. And it is all forgotten in the excitement of these boys on the court.

Deb and I just got the new K4C CD. One of the songs is called ‘So Extra.’ For those who, like us, may need a translator to communicate with the younger generation: in rap/jive/hip-hop, it translates to ‘so blessed.’  As I sit in the shade watching these boys play basketball and have fun, I am feelin’ “so extra.”

We are so thankful for you, your friendship, prayers, and support.


The Young Woman in Red

I had not been to this church just 12 miles from my house in more than ten years. When we finished work on the school, the pastor’s house and cistern, I no longer had a reason to suffer roads that defy description to go to this church.

The reason we worshipped with folks this particular Sunday had to do with construction. We have half the money to build a cistern for drinkable rainwater at the church-sponsored school and are hoping to use the cistern water for new construction. We were to have budgeted for the new church building so they could apply for funding. We should have had the budget done a long time ago, but there is the eternal shoving match between WOW! and functional. We were looking for a solution: something buildable in ‘wow’ with little letters and no exclamation point. And there was a hurricane almost a year ago that disrupted our schedule and rhythm so that some things haven’t happened yet; like this budget and church plan. Any construction means building a cistern first for water to make concrete.

The existing church building is masonry with attractive laid-up stone on the outside. Inside is low and primitive and hot. Upon entering, we take seats on the ‘benches’ with doors on both sides for a little breeze. However, as honored guests, we often get upgraded to the better chairs on the front row where there is “no breeze.”

Ever the engineer, I assess the structure overhead. Even if this building were big enough, there is nothing we can do here. Unreinforced masonry walls in an earthquake are not safe, let alone permitted by any known building code. The roof framing is squared off saplings. The roofing tin has enough pinholes of light to be a planetarium; however, I don’t recognize any constellations. It is obvious from the hole-patterns in the tin, it has roofed a building in another life or weathered a major storm.

It is a Haitian church, and despite no sound system save a set of drums, we love to sing. Following a hymn, comes a group of ladies from the church. Next up is a young woman.

There are women in this world that make whatever they wear look great. This young lady is one of these women, and she had taken extra effort with her hair and the perfect red dress to knock it out of the park.

She starts singing ‘Blessed Assurance’ with a voice that could be professional with a few voice lessons. Sitting right in the front row, we are close enough that we could be turning pages for her… if she were using music or a hymnal…which she is not. She is singing from memory. This is my story, this is my song … Or more accurately from her heart. Praising my savior all the day long…. And then, is that a tear?

The entire church is quiet save the young woman in red. No one is daydreaming or talking to their neighbor or looking at their phone or focused on anything other than this woman singing. It doesn’t matter that the roof is full of holes, the building “iffy” or the hot air not moving….there is only one thing going on in the universe. A lady’s heart has taken over her voice.

I am sure now that I see tears because they are the biggest tears I have ever seen. They are wetting the hymnal she is holding (but not looking at) and the floor and everything. She faltered on the second verse but keeps crying and keeps singing. She has the heart of everyone in the room dangling on a little string until she just can’t go on anymore and covers her face with both hands.The congregation (remember this is Haiti) joins in to finish verse two and carries her through verse three. The pastor gets up and escorts her to the back out of the limelight and calls some of the church ladies to comfort her.

I ask the pastor, before the sermon, what is wrong. He said her family used to persecute the church, and often they put her out front to do the persecution. Then she left the countryside, moved to a town where she had a child out of wedlock and then came back home. After realizing that she had been persecuting those who loved, accepted, and cared for her, she gave her life to Jesus. Her life was a tragic mess, and she had so much regret. But now, she has this blessed assurance. The song has been sung millions, if not tens of millions of times, but rarely with the depth of emotion and gratitude for the salvation of this young woman in red.

All We Want For Christmas…..

I’d like some metal roofing for Christmas this year, so the children at Raymond Jean Bois don’t have to go to school under a tarp. It was a pretty easy decision as decisions go – either take the roofing off the old school before Hurricane Irma arrived or have it blown away. In the last several years, every storm has taken a few sheets, but none were like Hurricane Irma.

We are building a new building around the old building. The guys have the floors, the walls and the trusses done for the new church and school building – except for the roofing. Roofing Plan A is on a boat in Miami, loaded since April but has not sailed yet. Roofing Plan B is purchased in Port-au-Prince but, with so much rain right now, we can’t even go home in a 4-wheel drive Landcruiser.

For my Christmas beverages, I’d like a couple of glasses of water. Not just any water, mind you. I’d like one glass out of the pipeline we are repairing with the Lacoma church and community. The other glass of water (that will taste really good) is out of one of the seven new fountains to be installed in Moustiques … until the pipe got delayed on that same boat in Miami.

Oh, I guess I am going to need more than two glasses of water. I was over at the Lacoma job site. The church folks were loading sand onto donkeys, mules, and horses to carry down to the men making the concrete conduit to protect the pipe. A lady was smiling when she said I owed her for transporting the sand. I said, “OK, I’ll pay … in water.” She said, “It will cost 10,000 gallons!” “No problem,” I said. That is less than two hours of water flowing through the pipe once it’s fixed. So what I am really looking for is 10,000 gallons plus two glasses of water. Did I mention we have a lot of 4” PVC pipe sitting on the ship in Miami?

When I was a kid, doing major construction projects under the backyard apple tree, I wanted Tonka trucks and construction equipment for Christmas. Amazing things have happened since then. God has blessed us with real construction equipment. This year, I’d like to have the parts to fix the grader and some new grader tires. It has been raining for a week. We are stranded outside of Port-au-Prince at friends because the roads and mud are so bad; like unusually-once-every-ten-or-fifteen-years bad. The roads were barely passable before the rain and now I can’t imagine. The old tires aren’t done yet and the paint that is on the way will make this grader look new, but for now, we could get by with just the parts to fix the drive train. As soon as it dries out, we need to get on the road with the grader and fix it. Did I mention the parts, paint, and tires are all loaded on the same ship that hasn’t left Miami yet?

I know I am asking for a lot. I didn’t ask for much last Christmas, so I feel I have some ground to make up. There are several irrigation pumps on my list too. I know that sounds crazy asking for pumps with all this rain, but I am fascinated with diesel engines and pumps. After it rains too much in Northwest Haiti, there is always a time when it doesn’t rain. These are really special hydraulically powered pumps powered by trailer-mounted, air-cooled diesel engines made especially for us by friends. You guessed it … these two irrigation pumps are on the same ship with everything else waiting until all the problems are figured out so they can sail.

We haven’t sent out an update for a while because we have been waiting for good news. It is always “next week; something is going to happen.” But it hasn’t yet. They are talking about getting the last part, and the manifest straightened out and have just told us “next week,” again! The bottom line is the ship hasn’t sailed yet. And we are talking about Christmas coming up … all I want for Christmas is for our ‘ship to come in.’

Irma-It Could Have Been So Much Worse!

At one point, Hurricane Irma was projected to track exactly along the edge of the Haitian coastline where we live. At the time, the storm was at 185mph with gusts well past 200mph.

All of the reports aren’t in yet, but in Northwest Haiti, we know that all the crops are gone, blown away by the wind.  Many animals are also lost.  Now we are wondering for future storms how we need to shelter the animals.

In Passe Catabois where we live, we know of four roofs lost among the church community. Results from other neighborhoods are still drifting in. The damage at higher elevations was much worse. We are waiting for news from churches like Margo which is above 3000’ elevation. We know there is damage to many houses, but we don’t know how much, who was impacted, or more details yet.

In two places, we went ahead and took the tin roofs off knowing that if we didn’t remove them, the storm would. And I also lobbied for the men to take all the satellite internet dishes down. They wanted to leave two installed. In the end, they brought all the satellite dishes down…and were very thankful they did. Engineer Sadrack said that he had never seen the wind blow like that in before in his lifetime.

After Hurricane Matthew, we repaired some houses that had the mud walls washed away by horizontally driven rain. They were fine. But a lot more houses had the wall panels washed out this time.  It was a scary moment to be in your home in the darkness with rain blowing in through the holes in the walls and no place to get out of it. Or being in a house when, all of the sudden, the whole roof picked up and blows off to crash down outside in a big heap.

But, it could have been a whole lot worse! The final track of the storm took a turn 150-180 miles north of Haiti. At that distance, Hurricane Irma which was a powerful CAT 5 storm still lashed our part of Haiti with 100mph gusts. Judging by the damage that we have heard about so far, had it been any closer, the damage would have been more devastating.

Thankfully, we are talking about damages and not deaths. We don’t know of any fatalities in our area, praise God. However, for several months following the hurricanes, everyone is going to be hungry until we can replant and gardens have time to recover.

Last Monday, we got news that our boat would sail but wait until after the storm passed. It looked bleak with our ship (Slingshot-which holds our cargo for Haiti) at the dock in Miami in the direct path of the hurricane that was projected to make landfall as CAT 4.

People we know in Miami report that the city got beat up and they still have no power. But the storm went west of Miami, and it wasn’t near as bad as it could have been. We are very thankful and have appreciated your prayers. When I called to find out about the ships, I interrupted one friend who was using water from his swimming pool in the backyard to shower. The other ship we use is okay and getting ready to leave as soon as practically possible. We were advised today that the Slingshot seems to be okay. Personally, I can’t imagine that the tarp covering the boat is still there, but they are talking about sailing next week.

Please continue to pray for the people in Northwest Haiti as they are working hard to set up plans shelter and food for the next few days. Please pray for us as we have to determine where to help first and when the recovery work we were doing from the hurricane last October can start again. Please pray that the Slingshot will be ready to go and that they can really sail and get the cargo to us in Haiti soon.

And please remember our friends at First Presbyterian Church in Bonita Springs, FL near Naples. They have been very active in helping in Haiti. They were planning on the church being a shelter and recovery center for this hurricane. We don’t have any news yet but know they were in the crosshairs.

Thanks for your prayers and notes of encouragement.

In Christ,

Bruce and Deb Robinson

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