One week in April, our church sent a team to Haiti to teach about 40 pastors in a conference. This was the third year we conducted the pastors conference and it was great to see many of the same pastor returning. The theme of the conference was community. I taught from the Bible about community, but I ended up learning about community as well.
Haiti is a country that is perhaps more African in culture than it is Western, even though the country lies well in the western hemisphere and in proximity to North America. Countries can be categorized between countries that are more communal and those that are more individualistic. Communal countries emphasize community over self; however, individualistic countries emphasize the individual over community.
While we were teaching at the conference, I became sick with a stomach bug and was out about a day and a half. With my Western, individual way of thinking, I decided I would fully retreat, not shake hands with anyone, or try to talk to anyone since I was sick. In Haiti, however, the tradition is more that if a person is sick, community will come and support them. As I announced that I was sick, more people wanted to come and shake my hand, give me a hug, and lay hands on me to pray. The point was that the support of the community was much more important than the individual retreating and dealing with the sickness themselves.
I learned something about community from previous trips as well. For example, one Sunday we went to the mountains and preached at a remote church. To get there, we drove for about an hour, and then walked up into the mountains for another hour. I was enjoying the hike, especially with the surrounding scenery. Soon I found that there was a group traveling together as we moved along.I asked the missionary why everyone was traveling together as a group as no one knew each other nor did we necessarily have a common destination. He replied that it was a part of the culture to travel together, even with people you do not know. His point was that one never knows what will happen on the journey! You might need others around you!
As I was teaching in Haiti about community, I soon found myself truly living it out! I think I saw living it out even more so than in our American, individualized culture. The Bible encourages us to seek after community as we are not meant to live this life alone. We are to seek after community for fellowship, confession of sin, accountability, and worship.
So, all I can say is “thanks” to my friends in Haiti. I went to teach about community, but ended up learning more than I knew and could teach!