“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Do not be afraid
That’s what they each told me. As we walked down steep, narrow paths, filled with ruts and rocks of all sizes, I would flinch at the thought of slipping and falling.
“Do not be afraid.”
Each one of the Celestin brothers told me that, holding onto me with strong arms. “I will not let you fall.”
And they didn’t. And we walked for miles. And the hills were steep, and rain from the night before would have moved the rocks — both large and small — so I’d never know what was ahead of the next hill. The mud was slick, and piles of gravelly rocks were slippery. But neither Felix nor Herns nor Goursse let me fall.
Do not be afraid.
On August 11, Pe Goursse Celestin preached his last sermon as the officiant at St. Andre’s Episcopal Church, Cazale, before he would be transferred to St. Marc Church at Trouin. It was difficult to follow Pe Goursse’s message in Creole, but his first words resonated with me.
“Ou pa bezwen pe,” he said.
“You do not need to be afraid.”
His sermon was on the story of Abram. Abram’s wife, Sarah, was old, yet they had no children. When God said you will have sons and daughters, they cannot believe that. Sarah is too old to have a child. God asked if they could count the stars in the skies, and they could not. “So shall your descendants be,” God said.
And so it was that Abram believed.
It didn’t take long on those walks in the Haitian countryside for me to believe. Even when I walked without the strong arms of a Celestin, I slowly gained confidence.
Now, let me tell you something about these hills I climbed. Easily traversed by goats, in some places, they are little more than ruts in the hillsides. Rainwater has deepened the ruts into tiny crevices. Large rocks lay in the pathway, while even larger rocks jut out from its banks.
Then when we go “off-path,” our feet sink into deep, muddy soil. Or we find ourselves in dry rock that is always either seemingly straight up or straight down.
Gravity is not my friend.
And let me tell you something else about these paths. Area residents walk them every day. EVERY DAY. Often while carrying heavy loads to and/or from market. Or with a five-gallon bucket of water on their heads. And without a strong arm ready to hold them and a calm voice saying, “Do not be afraid.”
Since coming to Haiti in May, I’ve learned to find a place for my fears. I’ve learned this by trusting in the strength and kindness I’ve found in the people here, and I’ve learned this by learning — again — to trust in my faith.
I will not fall. I am not afraid. And though I do not understand all of what Pe Goursse told his parishioners on Sunday, I believe he said that if we follow the paths laid out for us by our Father in Heaven, we shall not be afraid.
Those strong arms always are with me.
And, I believe, they are with you, too.