Sharing God’s Living Words
By Kent Annan
Ten young men and women, all in their twenties and thirties, arrive on foot or by bike and sit in a circle of chairs arranged on the dirt floor of a pink elementary school building in Dabòn, a town a couple of hours outside Port-au-Prince. The walls don’t go all the way up to the roof, so two perfect coconut trees stand watch as this group Bible study, which came into being through a new program of Beyond Borders called Living Words, meets on a recent Thursday afternoon. Each week a different person leads. Today, Claudy starts by singing a hymn, and the group joins in vigorously. After welcoming everyone—most of whom have been attending this group since mid-February—he reads Luke 1:46-55,
“Lè sa a Mari di: Nanm mwen ap chante pou Mèt la ki gen pouvwa. Lespri m pran plezi nan Bondye ki delivrans mwen…” And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”
Claudy first learned about this participatory approach to Bible study, based on the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina, in an introductory seminar held in Dabòn in early February. He is leading Refleksyon Bib la (its Creole name, meaning “Reflection on the Bible”) for the first time, but is already confident enough that the Creole step-by-step explanatory booklet is nowhere in sight.
He instructs people to listen for a word or phrase that grabs their attention and then reads the passage again:[The Lord] has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty…
After a brief silence, Claudy asks, “What in the passage stood out to you?” Each person in the group says what struck him or her. The ability of Scripture to speak universally yet individually is on display, as only a few phrases from the passage are repeated more than once. Adding to the diversity, nine different denominations are represented.
Listening, reading, and speaking are all elements of lectio divina, the spiritual exercise at the core of the Living Words program.
From this first pilot group, participants have gone out to start four different Refleksyon Bib la groups in their own churches. On one side of the circle sits Rakine, a quiet, insightful man of about thirty who wears thick glasses. Last Friday, Rakine started a group in his church, which is a thirty-minute walk away. He used Psalm 1 as their inaugural passage.
Beside Rakine sits Wilio, who along with Claudy started another group a couple of weeks ago that includes a few illiterate participants, “who are fully contributing, just as much as anyone else!” It is almost unheard of to invite educated and uneducated Haitians to reflect on Scripture as equals. But one hope of Living Words is to help to break down some of the false pride, categories, and hierarchies too often found among children of God in Haiti (and, of course, in the U.S. and elsewhere).
Then Claudy reads the Scripture again: “This time listen for how the passage speaks to your life right now.”[The Lord] has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty…
Some people have taken awhile to warm up to the idea of sharing how God seems to be speaking to them personally through the passage. A few people respond to Claudy’s invitations with sermonettes (“Here’s what I hear God saying to you/us”). But others share how they find Mary’s testimony encouraging or insightful in their current circumstances.
Abelard, an elementary school principal in his late thirties, shares what he finds in the passage. He is part of a small team that is beginning spread this method in Haiti. Before the meeting he’d told me of a recent conversation he had with some other Bible study participants. They’d realized that the technique was valuable not only for studying Scripture and listening to God, but also for leadership training: “People in the group are learning to listen to others share their insights,” he said. “It’s a more participatory leadership than we often see in Haitian churches. It gives us hope, because it’s creating more unity and building up our faith through weekly meditation on God’s Word with other people.” Then Claudy says: “This time after we read the passage, we’ll each take turns responding to God in prayer.”[The Lord] has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty…
Among the prayers is Jude, a young man who is part of the coordinating team for this project and who works with our sister organization, Limyè Lavi. He offers a lovely prayer about God being the source of our collective and individual wisdom.
Earlier in the afternoon, Jude and I were talking with our colleague Fremy about our plans to begin introducing this method in different cities. “I really appreciate this new approach,” said Fremy, “because people can enter into a deeper relationship with the Bible, which is where they tap into the source of their hope. In a way, people’s hope and energy for life are reinforced because their intimacy with God’s Word is deepening.”
After people finish praying, Claudy leads the group in a final hymn. As people stand to leave, conversation quickly turns to whether they will be able to catch the conclusion of the France/Brazil soccer match that the rest of the country has been watching or listening to on the radio for the past hour. (After the Haitian team, Brazil has the most fans here.) We laugh and shake hands; we look forward to listening to God and each other again next week.