I will never forget my first short-term mission trip. It was to Haiti, January of 2017. The previous year my wife, Mary Martha, and I had been visiting a new church for us – First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. She made the comment on one of our early visits to this church, “…what better way to learn about this church and its members that to go on a short term (five days) mission trip.” I agreed – let’s do this! But as we got closer to the January departure day, I was getting a little anxious. What was I going to contribute? I’m not a doctor, educator or skilled carpenter – all I can do is play the trombone. What was I going to build or to fix? Our trip leader reminded me that, “Bob, it’s a ministry of presence. All we are doing is walking alongside our brothers and sisters in Haiti.”
Our team arrived in Port-au-Prince on a Friday night. The next morning we flew over to the Haitian island of la Gonâve, where the partnership for La Gonâve Haiti Partners is located. By 9am Saturday morning we had arrived at the St. Francis Parish which was our home base for the week. I was just trying to get situated inmy surroundings when another team member shouts out, “Hey Bob, there’s a band playing in the courtyard. Lets go down there.”
The band consisted of kids, probably, 12-14 years old: two clarinet players, a trumpet player, a drummer and a little girl playing the violin. And then it happened; I said, “I play trombone.” I was doing the “air trombone” movement! This little girl, not saying a word, puts down her violin, walked over to a closet and brought out a trombone and handed it to me. Silently, she reached out and invited me to play with the group.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be playing a trombone in a little band within 30 minutes of landing on a Haitian island off the coast of Port au Prince. We joyfully played together for 30 minutes or so, building God’s kingdom one note at a time. The kids were wonderful hosts and happy to share their talents with a perfect stranger.
I learned some lessons early on this trip from the youngsters I met. While doing work is important, walking alongside in relationships with others is far more powerful. It did not matter if our little band sounded good or not – we were just enjoying the moment together and building community. I did not have to be persuasive, articulate or experienced. I just had to be available to God and the Holy Spirit would do the rest. I had that unique and magical moment where, as theologian Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness (music) and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That’s why I go to Haiti.
Bob Scarr, Atlanta, Georgia