Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Haiti Project of St. Luke's Episcopal Church

This post has two parts, connected over a broad span of time and space. It's the story of two churches (three, actually) in very different parts of the world, and a woman who is the link between them.

I received a message from someone I've known since childhood, Jane Peck, whom I met when we were both in (beloved) Mrs. Boehmke's class at the (now erased, only a grassy hillside) Oakwood Elementary School in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Jane and I also attended Christ Episcopal Church, on Fountain Lake, associated in my mind with many vivid memory fragments. The winding back staircase up to the nave, the musty ladies' powder room, the icy glass bottles of Orange Crush that were our reward during summer Bible camp, the odor of choir robes, the Sunday in spring when each child was given a red geranium (and the amazing smell that produced), the effort of trying to make sense of the prayers: was it "made well in us" or "may dwell in us" – and what exactly was the difference? That's just the very beginning of a memory flood.

Jane sent along this photo of our confirmation class, taken when we were 11 or 12 years old. She is the first girl on the left, and I am standing beside her in my Groucho Marx glasses and nose. (And my very cool Jackie Kennedy dress.) I don't know if the boys in the photo turned out to be middle school principals, used car salesmen, and insurance guys, as their apparel might suggest, but I like the way they form a tight little fence around the four fierce young brides. We all look so adult by today's childhood standards...but wait? Aren't kids today supposed to be getting too old too rapidly? We look adult in a culturally conservative way, so I guess the photo suggests (or "confirms") a successful transition out of childhood into socially sanctioned maturity.

A  few days after receiving this photo – days separated by a natural disaster – I got another message from Jane (via my mother), with a photo of her taken in sometime in the past, in Haiti. She's been involved in a project there through St. Luke's Episcopal church in Minneapolis. I'm including this message, too – a letter explaining the status of the project after the earthquake. It gives a glimpse of the tragic situation in Haiti outside the cities, and points to the perseverance, dedication, and personal engagement required after a disaster of this kind.

It also reminds me of how fortunate I am to still have such a wonderful friend from childhood.

From: Jane Peck 
Date: January 19, 2010 1:36:01 PM CST
To: Haiti Supporters List
Subject: Haiti Project after Quake

St. Luke’s Haiti  Project Update – Jane Peck, 1/19/2010

Dear Supporters of the St. Luke’s Haiti Project,

            Thank you for your patience. I have been waiting for more information on our school feeding project at St. Patrick’s in Haiti.  We still do not know the status of the school or the people in the village. Our project is an Episcopal church partnership. There are several others from Minnesota, as well as over 100 across the US.  We in Minnesota have been sharing every shred of information that we receive. This is what we know so far:

1. St. Patrick’s in Tomb Gateau village is quite near the epicenter.  It is high in the mountains on the highway between the north coastal town of Leogane and the south coastal town of Jacmel. The highway is impassable. No relief has reached the area.

2. St. Patrick’s is a very small school and church, dependant on a larger church and school about 15 minutes down the mountain. That village and church is called St. Etienne’s (St. Stevens). This is where we stayed both years at the minister’s home. We were informed following the quake  that the home, school, church have all collapsed and covered the highway.

3. We have received information through an unofficial source that all Episcopal ministers and their families have survived.  We hope it is true.  No word on the school principal.  Luckily, the quake struck at 5 pm and school had been out for several hours.

4. All partnership funds go through the Episcopal complex in the capitol Port au Prince. This complex of cathedral, high school, offices, seminary, convent,  has been destroyed. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to get information. (There never was internet, electricity, water, or sewer in St. Patrick’s on the mountain.)


First we wait until the main church organization is restored and money and communication can flow.  We will be involved in the rebuilding phase. This phase may begin in the spring. WE WOULD APPRECIATE YOUR DONATIONS TOWARDS RESTORING OUR CHILDREN'S FOOD PROGRAM. ONCE WE HAVE  FUNDS FOR A YEAR OF FOOD, THE MONEY WILL GO TO REBUILD SCHOOLS.

With the destruction of the anchor church, St. Etienne, our school site may need to be put on hold, as it will be quite hard to administrate. We will then switch to a more accessible Episcopal school partnership where we can feed children, and if we surpass the food budget, construct schools.

Partnership projects are small and grassroots, involving the community in the choices and implementation.   This is the best way to rebuild.  The money is more accountable than in a large organization. We can visit and observe. Remember, the Episcopal Church of Haiti is indigenous, being formed 150 years ago by a church of freed slaves from Boston.  All priests are from Haiti, know the culture and language,  and live there permanently. Churches provide most of the schools in Haiti.
Send your thoughts and prayers to this unfortunate island.  Thanks, Jane

To donate send checks to :
St. Luke’s Haiti Fund c/o Jane Peck
4221 Dupont South
Mpls. Mn 55409


Joyce said...

Such a lovely linking of past and present!

elena said...

..and yes, I wonder too if any of those squirrely Bible class boys are now pillars of the church (Vestry men).

janejiglady said...

Wow, thank you so much!Hey, I haven't thought about frosty bottles of Orange Crush at Bible School for years! You brought back memories of the winding stairway that we all squeezed ourselves through. So illegal now. Do you remember being in the Christmas pageant? Those flannel angel costumes with prickly gold halos? Then there was Mrs. Boehmke with silver hair who had us do a square dance show in 1st grade! It started my life's occupation. My Mom made me a pink poodle skirt for the event , and bingo! -a dancer I became!
Back to Haiti. I just received this plaintive note from a priest I know in Haiti:
Glad to hear from you during our terrible time in Haiti. The afternoon of the tragedy Fenide and I were on the road from Montrouis to Carrefour where our daughter leaves. Fenide was with me in the car during the terrible trouble I was looking for her I did not see her and dead people on my sides ' behind me and in front of me. So I left my car on the road since I did not see Fenide, tried to save myself. I walked from Martissant to Carrefour depressed and when I got near the house I saw Fenide already there with the rest of the family in a empty land close to the house. If you remember the big school of three level close to our house falldown with more than 600 students only 8 save. Now we're all in Montrouis; Fenide's parents and some friends with us. I also have with us in 40 handicaps children & adults From St Vincent.
Keep praying for us Because the earth keep trembling in Haiti.
Love and Peace,

elena said...

Dear Jane,
Thank you so much for writing, for your Christ Church memories, and the so sad message from the priest.

I am watching the Haiti benefit on tv tonight: feeling at such a loss for words.