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Haiti Update: Communities of Shalom

By Valerie Mossman-Celestin

Deaconess candidate Valerie Mossman-Celestin shares her work with Communities of Shalom as the U.S. director of Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI).

“Sometimes to have peace, you have to make war,” stated Gesner Paul, president of the Methodist Church of Haiti. He elaborated that social norms and behaviors sometimes need to be challenged. New and healthier patterns of behavior need to be modeled and adopted to truly progress toward shalom.

Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI) is the first Latin American Communities of Shalom (COS) initiative, in partnership with Drew University and as a sister community with the Grand Rapids District COS. The focus of the first “Shalom Zone” is the HAPI Peace Park. The park is used by 500 Peace Pals, the Faith in Action Methodists of Mizak congregation, local scouting and feminist movement groups, community Bible studies and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

HAPI’s current local leadership consists of six individuals. HAPI COS training engaged a broader group of community representation. Joshua Clough, an intern with Drew University, delivered eight units of Shalom training, using the COS “shalom” acrostic as a guide to teach the basic principles of

Systemic/sustainable change;
Health, healing and wholeness;
Asset-based community development;
Love for God, self and neighbor;
Organizing; and
Multicultural, multifaith collaboration to nearly 30 participants.

Mr. Clough said that the participants “asked good questions.” He continued, “Haiti is a fatalistic culture, where everything is accepted as ‘God’s will.’ They question—but were interested in—a theology that encourages them to creatively engage and organize their environment, to be active participants in their own development.”

Annie Allen, a national trainer for Drew University COS, alongside the Rev. Franck Aguilh, a United Methodist Elder of the New Jersey Conference and a Haitian native, also undertook community assessment work and training with HAPI COS. They observed the social norms of which Mr. Paul spoke, including the tendency in Central American cultures to look to one leader to be the “benefactor” of the community and to make all decisions on behalf of the community. This is a throwback to the plantation system.

A strong culture of dependency exists in Haiti, particularly between “white people” who give and Haitians who passively receive. Ms. Allen stated, “This passivity is a symptom of the culture of dependency, which prevents leadership development and creative collaborations within the group.” The Rev. Aguilh added, “The cultural psychology of the ‘what’s in it for me?’ needs to be attacked aggressively with biblical images that replace personal gain with commitment to the ‘common good’ to bring about change in attitude and understanding of shalom. Trust needs to be built up.”

In addition to the important internal shifts that need to occur, ongoing training will continue through group empowerment, organizational development, project management, communications and interpersonal relations. The Rev. Aguilh retired from parish ministry July 1, 2010, to devote his time to ministry in Haiti educating children and training adults in marketable skills. HAPI is working closely with the Rev. Aguilh to see how we may utilize his gifts. In addition, Angelica Laudermith, former campus minister at the University of South Dakota, will be serving as an Individual Volunteer in Mission to HAPI. Ms. Laudermith has completed certification in Communities of Shalom.

HAPI is committed to “seek the shalom of the countryside” in Haiti, working hand in hand, praying and dreaming together. We’re learning that we all need to challenge ourselves to embrace new scripts of interaction that empower communities to be agents of change in their own land and to experience God’s shalom.

Valerie Mossman-Celestin is a Deaconess candidate and the U.S. director of Haitian Artisans for Peace International (HAPI).

Last Updated: 08/26/2010

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