I was asked to do the sermon at Grace Episcopal Church in Anderson, SC, for their Global Missions Sunday yesterday. It was a wonderful event, complete with a food festival with samples from 13 different countries (including Haiti!). My sermon is below.
4/19/2015 Sermon for Grace Episcopal Anderson, SC
Good morning! It’s wonderful to be here at Grace, another amazing parish in this diocese that I get to visit while back in the U.S. this month. For most of you who haven’t yet met me, my name is Alan Yarborough, and I am currently living and working as a Young Adult Service Corps missionary for the Episcopal Church in Cange, Haiti. Cange is a small town in the Central Plateau of Haiti about two hours north of Port-au-Prince and about two hours from the nearest beach. It’s an isolated community located on a mountaintop surrounded by clear evidence of deforestation, lack of access to health care, and limited economic means. It’s also where I have made my home for the past two years.
Some if not all of you know that the Diocese of Upper South Carolina has had a relationship with the small town of Cange for around 35 years. This parish has had a significant role in the ministry, most recently in supporting the Cange parish mission in a town called Bois Joly. Some of you may have even visited Cange and have seen it for yourself. It is as a part of that relationship that I am here today to discuss this ministry in this service, during the Sunday school time at 10, and this evening with the youth group.
But before I get into the meat of my sermon, I want to begin with a disclaimer.
There’s a great commercial on TV right now—it’s one of those Above the Influence commercials. There are some teens sitting at a table in a diner, and one young man gets asked a couple of questions on topics from partying to alcohol to sharing private information via telephone. Each time he opens his mouth to respond, there’s a second mouth inside of his own that speaks on his behalf clearly in a different voice. It’s a bit of a grotesque, surreal image of another mouth inside his own—two sets of teeth two sets of lips. But it’s the one clearly not his own that does the speaking. The tag line of the commercial is, “speak for yourself, live above the influence,” meaning, don’t give into peer pressure and let others speak for you. It’s a great ad.
This ad gives me a visual for another instance where one may speak for another, except in what I’m thinking, the primary speaker’s voice is being overshadowed by someone else speaking for them—and it is beyond their control. In effect, though the person is capable of speaking for themselves, unlike our character in the commercial, their voice is nevertheless being robbed by others.
I am here today in part to talk on behalf of Haitians. It could be very easy for me to put words in the mouths of the Haitians that I know, and others who I do not, in a sense diminishing their power over their own thoughts, words and actions. But I pray, because I am aware of this risk, that I speak to you today in conversation with our Haitian brothers and sisters rather than speaking for them. I also pray that the words that you hear, the conversations that follow, and the questions you may have of me, may be a part of a conversation with one another, and not speaking in place of another.
Last week, the theme of this disclaimer actually came up in the Gospel reading from John. In that reading, we know that most of the disciples have had a chance to see Jesus risen firsthand, except Thomas. When Thomas, who was absent from the others, reunites with the disciples, they all tell him the Lord is risen! But Thomas, speaking up for himself, says, “wait wait wait, I know YOU are saying you have seen the risen Lord, but I myself have not seen him and will not believe until I do with my own eyes.”
Jesus then comes along and shows Thomas the truth and the light. He shows Thomas the marks in his body so he can proclaim the good news himself.
Today, in the reading from Luke, we have another account, this time without special mention of Thomas, of Jesus revealing himself to the disciples so that the disciples can be witnesses themselves that the Lord is risen. Jesus does so not simply by speaking, but by accepting their food and eating in their presence.
I tend to think the church’s objective, as an institution, is in part to carry forward this witness, because you and I have not had the chance to see Jesus ourselves. But I think we each can find Jesus in the relationships, the outreach, the healing and the prayer. Through the work of the church, the work of other Christians following the example of Jesus, we can see with our own eyes and then speak with our own words that Jesus has risen among us.
At least, that’s what I can say about my experience in Cange. Let me tell you a bit about Cange. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a hydroelectric dam that flooded a valley filled with agriculture and farming families that were forced to the mountain tops and lost their means of living. Twenty years later, a Haitian-Episcopal priest Father Fritz Lafontant began a mission in Cange called Parish Bon Sauveur, and met Bishop Beckham of Upper South Carolina, beginning the 35 year ministry that thrives today.
Right now, I live in Cange, which started as a squatter settlement of internally displace refugees and is now a town of 3,400 people. In Cange is a hospital, the first site of Partners in Health, now an international health organization. Bobby, who was born and grew up in Cange, works in that hospital now as a certified physician.
In Cange is an Episcopal school that is currently providing an education to 1,369 students from all across the Central Plateau. Lucien, who graduated in the second graduating class at the school, is now the director of the secondary school and instrumental in its future success.
In Cange is a high-class, treated water system designed, built and currently supported by the Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries group led by David Vaughn, a parishioner from Holy Trinity in Clemson.
In Cange are young professionals, graduates from the CFFL vocational school, working on new construction projects including a sanitary biodigester toilet for the school and a new marketplace for the community to spur economic development and improve safety.
I believe Jesus has risen, because while translating for a rural medical clinic with American and Haitian medical team members, I saw inspiring initiative of doctors, support staff and community health workers like Dr. Harry Morse, Victoria Jolibois, and Menius St. Jean.
I believe Jesus has risen, because while assisting the process for relocating the Cange marketplace, I saw the relationship between Cange and the regional government grow, developing the accountability between the town members and their representatives.
I believe Jesus has risen, because I have sat in long and difficult meetings with leaders here in EDUSC to discuss how we move forward with this ministry while facing economic difficulties here and in Cange only to see a widening of the relationship beyond where it has been before.
I believe Jesus has risen, because I have watched high school age youth in Cange start organizations to call for more female visibility and opportunity in education and sports, to lead initiatives to fight deforestation, and to call for increased attention to the formation of Haiti’s children so that tomorrow their society will be stronger than today.
But what about you? I’m up here putting images and experiences in your mind about the reality of Cange and the relationship with the Episcopal Church in Upper South Carolina and why that is proof to me that Jesus has risen. You don’t have to take my word for it, in fact some of you may already be wanting more proof for yourself. I think you know how to find it.
Now, it may seem at first glance that I’m doing a broad call for you to travel to Cange, which, if you’re now thinking about it, I strongly recommend you do. But what I’m really asking of you is to simply get engaged—if you aren’t already—or to deepen your engagement—if you already are—with the relationship between this diocese and Cange.
There are so many different ways of being in relationship with each other here in South Carolina and with those in Haiti. Jesus is shining his light through each one of us so that we may illuminate his truth and the way forward toward a more united kingdom. Much of that light can be shined simply by breaking bread, or being present, with one another, as Jesus did with the disciples in today’s Gospel. I truly believe, for it has been my experience, that if you become engaged with this relationship, you will see for yourself that the Lord has risen and you will eliminate your doubt. Don’t just take my word for it. Come be a witness yourself.