Although I’ve done my fair share of international traveling, my past travel destinations have been limited to several countries in Europe and the extremely tourist-populated Cancun, Mexico. While it’s true that I’ve picked up on new cultural practices in each location, no travel experience thus far has been nearly as much of a culture shock as my first week in Haiti. While I could point out hundreds of differences I’ve observed between this new country and my own, perhaps the most shocking to me so far has been my experience with Haitian church.
As a kid and teenager, I begrudgingly went to church with my parents each Sunday. Although I tried my best to behave and participate, I always got very antsy and ultimately decided to eliminate weekly mass when I went off to college on my own. So, when I was told that we would be going to church throughout our five weeks in Haiti, I was extremely hesitant. This past Sunday, however, I quickly came to learn that my fears were unfounded.
The first thing that I noticed about the Haitian church was the large role of children. At first, all of the kids were sitting outside of the church in rows and one young girl was leading them in recitations. After a short period of this, the children moved inside and intermingled with the adults. Every person, children included, looked proud to be there, dressed in their Sunday-best and singing along to all of the songs.
My other main observation was simply how happy everyone seemed. At the moment they put out the collection basket, everyone got up out of their seats and started dancing. I could never fathom anyone getting up and dancing at my church back home! Everyone put what they could in the basket and celebrated. Witnessing such an intense moment of happiness actually brought tears to my eyes. With all of the poverty around them, it seems like it would be so easy for the Haitians at church to feel down and defeated, but instead, they showed me a greater sense of happiness, community, and graciousness in one church service than I ever experienced back home. I believe that the Haitians have as much to teach us as we could possibly teach them in return, and for the first time in my life, I am actually excited to go back to church this Sunday.