building a better boat [thoughts before my trip back to haiti]

haitian boat

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

February 8, 2012

haitian boat

[serialposts]I feel like I’m learning the definition of trust as I hesitantly step into the boat. My anxiety increases with every heartbeat as I casually inspect the vessel that’s about to take me across Lake Azuei.

Now isn’t the time for me to recall the River Monsters marathon that I watched before leaving for Haiti.

We haven’t even pushed off from shore as the weight of the seven of us on the boat reveals that this boat wasn’t built for stability. Not like the chrome-laden watercrafts that I’m used to from back home. Rather it’s a patchwork of sticks and boards pulled together to fulfill the minimum requirements for floating on water…

at least temporarily.

As we begin to paddle out, it’s not long before our ‘driver’ instructs us in Creole (which none of us understand) that we should grab the plastic containers and start bailing out the boat due to the water that’s beginning to leak in.

Now wondering if we’ll make it across the lake, I reach for a large (Big Gulp-like) plastic cup and begin to toss the water back out of the boat 32 ounces at a time. Meanwhile, the Haitian man who I’m entrusting my life with now is watching me with all the confidence of the ship captain of the Titanic.

Part of me is praying for God to protect me from sinking and being eaten by a giant catfish, the other part of me is trying to figure out how we can get these guys into a Donzi or Wellcraft. Because that’s what we do…

Oftentimes, we wealthy Americans think that we can fix the problems of poverty by building a better boat and shipping them off to places like this. We think that our fancy technology and comforts will make it all better.

But that’s not the solution, is it?

As I think about the boat, there are three things I see that could make all the difference in the world:

  1. Access to raw materials. There are people willing to build the boat, but too often have to settle for the pieces that they can find. Little access to quality raw materials will lead to a lower-quality (and less effective) end product.
  2. Better education. How the  boat is built is limited by the knowledge of the boat builder. Teaching equals empowerment. Help them learn the concepts and techniques related to boat building, and they will rise up and use that knowledge to build a better boat.
  3. Support and encouragement. Our boat’s driver/captain probably felt shame when he saw the fear in our eyes. Our lack of trust can tear people down, but our support and encouragement can bring hope and confidence. They don’t need our judgement; only our love.

I don’t know how to build boats, but this is what keeps me going back. As I return to Haiti in a couple of days, I want to be a better boat-builder. And with each visit I believe that I’ll see improvements in the boats that I encounter.

Lord, I pray that you help our team be the kind of support that our brothers and sisters in Haiti need. This trip that we’re about to embark on isn’t about making our presence known, but making your Presence known and standing alongside your beautiful children. May they be encouraged and blessed through the work of our team with them! Amen.


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building a better boat [thoughts before my trip back to haiti]

by Dan King time to read: 3 min