The Meaning of Life

If you ask Siri “What is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?” she will tell you “Forty-two”. I’m not making this up and I’m not sharing this with you to make fun of Siri – she’s probably a lot smarter than I am. Of course, the answer doesn’t make any sense, but that’s because the question isn’t the right question. So what’s the right question to ask Siri?

I’ll cut to the chase because I think I might know what question we should be asking:

Why were we created? 

We were created to live in relationship with God and with each other. What kind of relationship? Loving relationship. 

I don’t want to get all quotational on you, but here is one of my favorite quotes:

“Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” -Jesus Christ

I have about a million things I want to say on this subject but I can’t say it all at once so I’ll stop there. As I was pondering this subject today I was thinking about how I think the first time I read through my bible I didn’t really understand the answer to the question of why we were created and what I should do about it. I think I have a better idea now but I still have a lot of learning to do. 


Clean Water for Haiti Stories: Hurricane Jeanne in Gonaives

Back in the day, Clean Water for Haiti was a training organization and we didn’t build filters at all except for demonstration purposes. We were a very small organization and we mostly worked on improving the training center. Come 2004, our work and our fledgling little organization were turned upside down. Tal Woolsey, our beloved founder and his wife, returned permanently to Canada in February, the same month that Aristide was forced out of the country by a either a coup d’etat or a popular uprising, depending on who you talk to. Haiti became quite unstable and dangerous, and we had trainings canceled. Many, perhaps most organizations suspended operations and all of their foreign staff pulled out and took unscheduled vacations. The Peace Corps also pulled out which was a shame for us – we had hosted a short training for them and we were hoping to get them more involved in Biosand filters. 

We remained in the country, hunkered down and doing what we could while we waited for things to get back to normal so we could start giving training again. We did manage to get one neat little project completed that I’ll tell you about some other time… Come September, a nasty tropical storm blew in over the north of Haiti that dropped a ridiculous amount of rain in the Gonaives watershed. Water rose until it flooded the streets and kept rising. The rain didn’t stop as the flowing, muddy water entered people’s homes, and it didn’t stop falling as people climbed up onto their roofs as it rose 4, 6, then 8 feet up the sides of their walls. Smaller homes vanished under the water altogether. The destruction was apocalyptic, and as the water descended the next day people found their homes entirely filled with mud and all their possessions destroyed. Something between 3,000 and 5,000 people had lost their lives.

Consider this: every single well and every single latrine in Gonaives had become entirely filled up with mud. It was an absolute sanitation nightmare. 


I didn’t know what to do other than to get on the phone and email. We had previously trained 18 Biosand filter technicians with World Vision and I asked their Haiti director if they would consider installing filters in Gonaives to help the population. I was told that World Vision couldn’t possibly work out the logistics of such a project but if Clean Water for Haiti would do it, World Vision would fund it. I swallowed hard and a vision of a mud covered nightmare entered my mind. I made some more phone calls.

The next day we loaded all of our molds into our truck along with some other tools and materials and headed for Gonaives. The nightmare began before we even reached the city. There was a large depression in the desert area outside of the city which had filled with water and covered the road. It was a raised road bed, so without being able to see the road through the muddy water, one had to look at the cacti sticking up through the water on either side of the road and drive roughly midway between them. Several trucks had misjudged and flipped over off the side of the invisible road bed. The road through the lake was about a mile long. I took a deep breath, said a prayer and drove in. 



Our first drive through the lake was truly a surreal experience for me. All the red lights came on in the dash, but the motor kept running. Fortunately, the truck has a snorkel. The water rose up until my feet were actually under the water as I worked the accelerator. I learned an important lesson the hard way: it is not possible to change gears while underwater. The clutch itself becomes immersed in water and it works fine until it’s disengaged. When you try to re-engage it, the water acts as a lubricant and wild clutch slippage is the result. A big old school bus saved us. It came up from behind and it just started to push without asking for permission. Once I had momentum going, I was able to drive us the rest of the way through the lake. 


We started working in Gonaives at a time when it was truly bleak. Mud had taken over the city. We started with a run of 300 filters and when word got out about what we were doing donations started coming in. World Vision’s $10K was added to by Pure Water for the World and Crossroads (100 Huntley Street) until we had $60,000 designated for Gonaives filters which is more money than we had ever had available before. At first we used contractors but then because of quality control issues we decided to run the project directly. 

Tony Presindor was brought in as project manager and at full speed he was producing 36 filters per day – 18 molds poured twice each day. Needless to say, the work was extremely difficult. Gonaives had been largely been taken over by gangs. We wanted to install filters in Roboteau, a slum area close to the ocean, but to do so we had to get the permission of Jean-Tatoone, aka “the general”, the gang leader in Roboteau. I had to smile and shake his hand and thank him for his hospitality. All the while I was inwardly cringing as I pictured myself shaking hands with the devil. The internet made vague reference to Jean-Tatoone being responsible for something known as the “Roboteau Massacre”, whatever that was. “The General” has since died in some sort of a gun battle, I’m unsure of the details. I can be fairly certain that one of his followers won’t show up here to talk to me about the negative publicity he’s getting here, though. In any case, Jean-Tatoone’s support enabled us to get filters into Roboteau at a time when not many people were able to get in there and help. 


By mid 2005 when we wrapped up the Gonaives project we had installed some 3000 filters in Gonaives and the organization had changed dramatically. We were no longer just a training organization. We had learned how to install filters in large quantities. We learned that it is nearly always a questionable idea to give away filters, even in a disaster situation, so we modified our model into a subsidized project. We learned a lot of things about how to manage employees. Most of all, people knew who we were. We had done an amazing work under incredibly difficult conditions and while there were problems, we had managed to help many thousands of people gain access to clean water in the midst of a disaster. Our donations increased substantially, and we were able to start an ongoing Biosand filter distribution project that has become Clean Water for Haiti as we know it now. 

Baby Alex

Leslie gave birth to Alexander Michael Rolling today at 3:19pm. He’s 9 pounds 13 ounces! Leslie gave birth with no drugs at all, and I’m really proud of her. She was sometimes smiling and even joking right up until the end of the pushing! She will write more about the birth here when she gets out of the hospital. We’ll need a couple of days to analyze the baby pool and figure out who got closest!

I will say that this baby is surprisingly long for a newborn and has very long fingers and toes. He’s a very different baby from Olivia, who was only 5 pounds 4 ounces when she joined our family.

No Means No

Olivia is absolutely hilarious. I’m certain I didn’t have such a developed sense of humor when I was 3!

There is an album by They Might be Giants, one of their children’s albums called “No!” I frequently sing the cover song to my daughter when she is whining and makes me say no to her several times. It goes “No means no! No is always no! When I say no it means a thousand times no! Looking forward, eyebrows low, mouth in the shape of a letter “O”. No means stop. Do not go! No! No! No.” Great song. Find it somewhere and listen to it, especially if you’re a parent. The whole album is brilliant, actually.

As of yesterday, whenever I sing this song Olivia sings her own version, which is: “No means Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!, Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” Gotta love that kid.

Jabez Rest in Peace

I’m going to miss my dog. Jabez died of old age today, lying under the calabash tree.

I guess I don’t have anything more to say about that tonight.

There was a time before I ever came to Haiti when Joel and I went on an epic road trip. When we stopped for gas at a place in Arizona we met some hippies who asked us for a ride up to their camp. In fact, they promised us a vegan meal if we would take them up there and we could even camp there for the night if we wanted.

In case you haven’t had the opportunity to dine with one before before, you should know that vegans know how to cook. They make a point of cooking well so that they can convert others to their way of life. I would happily eat vegan every day if I had a vegan cook to make a feast like we had that evening. Actually, I’m sure part of the reason the food tasted so good is that Joel and I had been eating Top Ramen and hot dogs for the past week, but it sure seemed like a feast at the time.

We hung around and got to know the vegan communists, who had names like Justice and Angel and the like. Their dog was named Bobo, and he was a vegan too, but I think not by choice. The morning after the feast, the hippies were complaining about how their van had severe mechanical problems and they didn’t know what to do. Joel got his tool box out and we had their problem sorted out straight away and we became heroes of the day. They invited us to come back that evening for another feast.

Joel and I talked about it that day as we toured around the Grand Canyon. They had started some mild recruitment tactics, but I was pretty sure we wouldn’t become part of the commune that easily, and they were nice, and had good food, and they were hippies and I was fascinated with anybody who would choose to live in the woods 6 months out of the year. Joel thought they were weird and wanted to move on. We literally flipped a coin, and I won.

When we returned to the camp that evening, Joel went straight to sleep and I ate a second vegan feast and hung around my new friends by the campfire. Predictably (although not predicted by me) the conversation turned to eating meat and why they lived the way they did and shouldn’t I live like that too? I changed the subject a number of times but the vegans became very focussed. There was a specific moment in the conversation when I saw everyone defer to the Guru to let him give the recruitment shpiel without interruption. They already knew I was a Christian, but they felt I would make a good vegan anyway. Finally, I was put in a position where I couldn’t change the subject anymore. “Don’t you agree that we’re morally obliged not to eat meat?” I replied, “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe animals have souls.”

I’m not sure I have ever heard a more deafening silence. I felt pretty sure that I’d ruined the party, so I excused myself and went to bed.

The next morning, I woke Joel up and told him we should probably leave early before the others roused. Before we left, Angel brought us a vegan tract and told me “I hope one day you have a relationship with an animal.” I’m pretty sure that happened with Jabez. We went through a lot together.

I’m sure going to miss my dog.

This American Life

Leslie and I just took an hour and listened to this week’s episode of This American Life, which is about Haiti and the particular difficulties in trying to help this special place. It’s an hour long, but a very good hour spent by anyone interested in Haiti. “Island Life” is the name of the episode.

Help us make a connection

I’m writing with a goal in mind today. Clean Water for Haiti is growing, as we’ve written in previous posts, and we need to start looking at where we’re going to set up our next filter production site. Peter and Sara Craig will set up shop at the new site in January 2011 if our plan goes smoothly, so now is the time for us to start looking at where we’ll be setting up and where the Craig’s will live. We’re being very careful about this process so that when we actually get started things will go as smoothly as possible.

This post is mainly directed towards other missions in Haiti that have suggestions for us, but if you want to send the link on to one of your missionary friends to look at that could be helpful too. Ideally, there is a mission out there that would love to see a clean water project come to their community and would be willing to introduce us to some people.

We’re looking for several different criteria, so I’ll present them in billet format:

-We would like a renewable lease for both a work site and a home for the Craigs.

-The community needs to be receptive to a new project coming in.

-It would be nice to have an established mission nearby to be in contact with for mutual support.

-Ideally, the site would be 2-3 hours away from Pierre Payen, not too close or too far.

-We do NOT want to move into a community with excessive crime or anti-foreigner sentiment.

-We would prefer to be on the outskirts of a smaller town, not in Port au Prince.

-We would like to be in an area that has a water problem! I realize this isn’t really an issue, because all of Haiti has a water problem. However, our work is easier and more effective if the source water people drink is visibly cloudy, not just full of microbes.

Thank you! We’ll eventually find the right place to set up, but it could go much more easily if someone can steer us in the right direction. Please send me an email if you think you can help. -Chris

Church this Morning

This weekend was a national time of prayer and fasting lasting from Thursday through today. When we showed up in church this morning, it was already full of people who had been there since 6am. They were late starting the regular service because the congregation wanted to pray longer. That’s right, we spent an hour in prayer and worship before the service even started.

One thing struck Leslie and I both as particularly interesting. The pastor kept repeating one thing: that we needed to pray against corruption in the government. He said that senators sell drugs and deputies (congressmen) sell drugs (both true). The literal Creole was that they were “in” drugs, but the meaning was that they were “in” the drug trade. He even said that Preval sold drugs, which is probably not true but it’s common knowledge that one of his close friends is in that business and immune to prosecution.

For the purpose of getting this post finished, I’ll just state that corruption in Haiti’s government is universal and the government is beneath contempt by the citizenry at this point in time.

I had an email waiting for me when I came home from church with a paper attached that was written by a Haitian man and passed on to me by a friend. The man’s name is Dieumeme Noelliste and if anyone would like to read the full paper let me know and I’ll email it to you. Here’s a quote:

For Haitian Protestantism, when it comes to the relationship between the church and the state, the watchword and bedrock principle is apoliticalism. In an exhaustive study entitled Le Protestantisme Dans la Societe Haitienne, sociologist-theologian Charles Poisset Romain has shown that for the majority of Protestants of all stripes, the church should have no say in things political except praying for those in authority. Through meticulous empirical research, Poisset has demonstrated that this Protestant desertion of the political domain is due to the erection of a rigid dichotomy between the spiritual and the temporal, the hereafter and the now, the church and the world. The gospel is believed to hold sway in the first set of realities, but is said to be persona non grata in the second.3 The net consequence of this stance is the abandonment of the political domain to its own devices. It contributed to the emergence of a public square bereft of evangelical witness and prophetic challenge.

In places where rigorous systems of checks and balances exist, this withdrawal from the political arena would not be catastrophic. But in a country such as Haiti where these things were nonexistent until very recently, the absence of a rigorous gospel critique meant absolute power and total lack of accountability on the part of powers that be.4 This absence of accountability, not the country’s economic status, is what explains the nonexistence of the most basic structure of services for the society in general and the poor in particular. All suffer from such reprehensible neglect, but the poor suffer even more dearly.

In other news, Clean Water for Haiti delivered 342 filters into the disaster zone in the 30 day period following the quake. 235 was our previous 1 month record. We’ve been working a lot of extra hours and days but now is the time when everyone on Haiti needs to be doing what we can, and we do filters!

I’ll just make this a separate post.

Ugh… I just spent the last 45 minutes trying to track down a link to a news article about one of Haiti’s deputies shooting another deputy IN the Chamber of Deputies. I couldn’t find it, so I called a Haitian friend who told me he couldn’t remember exactly, but he thought there wasn’t actually a shooting, just threatening with the gun. I wanted to make some sort of point, but now I can’t even remember what it was. Anyway, now I have two versions of the story. The more exciting one is that the deputy who had been shot (or shot at, depending on the story) turned out to be an American citizen. The Americans had Marines come to the Chamber of Deputies from the Embassy to whisk the wounded deputy away to safety and put him on a plane to the states. It’s illegal to serve in office in Haiti if you hold a passport to a different country. There’s a rumor that the majority of Haiti’s Senators and Deputies actually hold passports to different countries in addition to Haitian passports.

If anybody would like to do some research and find out what actually happened, please post a comment. I’m really curious!