Thursday, September 22, 2011

In the Middle

Let me start this post by saying, this is not intended to be a criticism of short-term mission trips.  Also, these thoughts are based off of my own experiences, which, I have no doubt, differ vastly from others.  In no way is it my aim to belittle anyone else’s own life experiences.

Since my last blog post, I have passed the halfway mark in my HNGR internship.  I can’t tell you what day that halfway mark was since as of now, my HNGR internship doesn’t have an end date and, as you all know, you can’t have a middle without an end.  Milestones can be a big deal, and the halfway mark is a significant one; I would say it’s probably the third most significant milestone, following the beginning and the end (though who’s to say which of those two is more significant).  Anyways, being here in the middle has made me think a lot about middles and the fact that this internship is long enough to have one.  All of my other cross-cultural experiences have been significantly shorter and have never had “middles,” at least not middles like this; they were composed entirely of the beginning and the ending.  I’d get to a place, settle in for a week or two and then get up and leave again.  It was all “hellos” and “goodbyes” with no time for life in between.  Those cross-cultural experiences (while certainly valuable) were more like pauses from my real life, which would then resume as soon as I left.  This implies that my life wasn’t really happening while I was out of my normal context, which isn’t entirely true, but does make a certain amount of sense.  They were different from the rest of my life, set apart, and though they certainly influenced how I lived my “normal everyday” life, they didn’t really fit in with the other stuff I did. 

HNGR is different from that.  My favorite of the HNGR proverbs is “HNGR is life.”  “HNGR is life” can be misinterpreted so let me be clear: it does not mean that HNGR is this richer, fuller, more real experience that makes the other parts of life seem worthless; it does not mean “you haven’t lived until you go on HNGR.”  In fact, the real intention behind the phrase is just the opposite.  “HNGR is life” means the six months that you will spend living and working in another country is a part of your life, no more and no less.  HNGR is not this super-life or life on steroids; neither is it a break or a pause from reality.  Here at the middle, I’m finding that to be very true.  Even though 6 months is a relatively short time in the grand scheme of my life (assuming I complete my internship in full, it will have taken up 2.2% of my entire life), it is just long enough to get past the hellos before the goodbyes start; succinctly, it is long enough to have a middle.  Of course, that can be good and bad.  Bad because beginnings and endings are the exciting (or at least emotional) parts of the story and the action can kind of stall in the middle.  But it’s good too because it makes that 2.2% of my life a real part of my life rather than just a pause.  In December, Lord willing, I will be able to say that I have lived life in North Carolina, Illinois, and Haiti.  I’m not sure I can say the same for the other places I’ve visited, at least, not in the same way. 

I’m not trying to say that vacations or short-term missions trips don’t count in regards to life; often those are extremely formative experiences, as has been true of my own life.  But life takes on a different quality when its rhythm is sustained for a greater period of time.  It is that quality (which I’ve been calling “middle”) that I have been experiencing here these past few weeks.  It’s different here than it was in high school or back at Wheaton (in fact, I’m afraid my middle at Wheaton has already ended and when I go back, I’ll find myself in the end).  It is certainly only the beginning of a middle here in Haiti and I doubt it will last much longer, but I do feel blessed to have tasted it.  Here’s to hoping it is a taste that ages well. 

I do realize that this post is long on abstract thought and short on the details that make up my middle, and for that I apologize.  Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things that have been going on the past few weeks:

-A ten-minute visit to the Dominican Republic.  One of the practical ramifications of being in the middle of a HNGR internship means visa renewal.  I crossed the border, quickly realized I’ve lost all my Spanish-speaking ability and crossed back.  I am now allowed to stay in Haiti legally for another 90 days.

-The beginning of the semester for UCNH.  Convocation (hours of French of which I understood about 50% in the hot Haitian sun) was on September 5, though most classes didn’t begin until the following Monday.  The English department finally opened its doors to students this past Tuesday, though so far, I’m the only professor who’s had class.  I had two classes on Tuesday and one class on Wednesday, all of which went as smoothly as could be expected.  We’re still waiting on the finance office to give us money for the students’ books, but I’m glad to finally be in the classroom with a relatively consistent schedule. 

-Lots of planning for Ryan’s visit.  The assistant director of the HNGR department will be gracing me with his presence in a mere 41 hours (not that I’m counting).  Ryan will be with me at UCNH from Saturday until Tuesday.  After that, we’re taking our show on the road.  We have planned a 3-day, breakneck-speed, multi-organization tour of Haiti that will include visits to Pignon in the central plateau and Port-au-Prince.  Hopefully this will help increase the internship options for future HNGR interns as well as opportunities for members of the Haiti-Wheaton Partnership.  Stay tuned for the results of our adventures. 

Prayer: Please be praying for safe travels for Ryan and I.  Ryan will be travelling to Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow and then to Haiti on Saturday.  We both will be off together Wednesday-Saturday of next week.  Please also pray that our time together will be rejuvenating for me.  I’m looking forward to seeing a familiar, English-speaking face and I hope that our time together will be helpful and refocusing for me.