Friday, May 30, 2008

Amnesty on Haitian Rights in the Bahamas

This week Amnesty International released its annual report on the state of human rights around the world. Below, I have posted a summary of the section of the report on the Bahamas that deals specifically with Haitian migrants.
Treatment of migrants has been a constant theme in Amnesty’s evaluation of The Bahamas. Its review of things that transpired in 2007 was no different.

"The authorities continued to deport migrants, the vast majority Haitians, in large numbers," the report noted of The Bahamas.

Amnesty reported specifically on the May 4 shooting of a Haitian migrant by a member of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force during an operation carried out in New Providence. It said the court found that there was no evidence that the man had resisted arrest and the Defence Force had no legal authority to conduct such an operation without immigration officers present.

The latest repatriation figures released from the Department of Immigration show a slight increase in the first four months of 2008 compared to the same period last year.

According to the statistics compiled, between January and April 2008, 2,388 Haitians were returned to their homeland compared to the 2,361 returned during the previous period.

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Today in Church History

On 30 May 1822, a slave betrayed the plans of African Methodist (and former slave) Denmark Vesey to stage a massive slave uprising on July 14. Of the 131 African Americans arrested in the plot, 35 were executed (including Vesey) and 43 were deported. Vesey's Charleston, South Carolina, church was closed until 1865.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bahamian Converts to Non-Christian Religions

The following article from the Nassau Guardian profiles three Bahamians who have converted from Christianity to Buddhism, Islam, and Rastafarianism. While Christianity is by far the most prevalent religion in the Bahamas, accounting for well over 90% of the population, the reality is that non-Christian religions such as those profiled below are making inroads into the Bahamian religious landscape. Undoubtedly, this is a trend that will continue--albeit slowly--in future years. In the meantime, pastors and churches would do well to ask themselves why a growing number of Bahamians are dissatisfied with Christianity and, likewise, what they are finding in other religions that is not being offered by the Christian church. While I suspect that the answers to these questions are complex and multifaceted, my initial response would be that increasing legalism, nominalism, emphasis on the "get rich quick" ethos of prosperity theology, and the huge disconnect between what the church preaches and actually practices are all major factors that have encouraged a growing number of Bahamians to embrace alternatives to Christianity.
Owning your religion

By Nadine Thomas-Brown
Guardian Lifestyles Reporter

If Bahamian religion could be seen as a fabric it would probably be Androsia cotton with little if any room for Gabardine or Kente Cloth. Usually when one thinks of religion in The Bahamas, Christianity with its variant denominations is the only one that comes to mind. However several faiths call The Bahamas home.

Among them, Buddhists, Muslims and Rastafarians. Though many people do not wear their religion on their sleeves, some faiths have no choice due to their doctrines, but to sport some tangible proof as evidenced by a Muslim's clothing and a Rastafarian's dreadlocks. Unfortunately these characteristics of their religion label them and at times make them outcasts in their own country.

James Rolle, 35, (name changed) is one in what may be a growing number of practicing Buddhists. However it is difficult to ascertain the exact numbers that practice the religion here in the country. Rolle does not want to be identified for personal reasons pertaining to his religion. He explained that in his faith, Buddhism, while aiming to eradicate suffering, is about looking at and thinking about one's own life. It shows how to understand one's self and how to cope with daily problems.

Though brought up between the Anglican and Catholic denominations of Christianity, Rolle says he was formerly introduced to Buddhism seven years ago, shortly after meeting a relative who had practiced it for many years. "It just seemed to be the most practical thing for me because I am still wary of what religion does to people and families and it overwhelms you when it is supposed to be a unifying element, but it creates division and that part of it has always made me apprehensive," he said.

Buddhism has brought him peace and comfort. But says his biggest fear as a practicing Buddhist is that of being ostracized. "I am always fearful because anyone knows that the worst thing that you can talk about is religion. It always ends up as an argument." Rolle says that the conversation often positions you in opposition to Christianity which is not the case. "I just believe that people, particularly in Buddhism, believe that we try to take responsibility for ourselves in the environment in which we are in".

As the father of a toddler, Rolle says that he will expose his child to both Christianity and his Buddhist beliefs (his wife is not Buddhist). "I would never force him or anyone to follow my beliefs."

As far as future conflicts for his child because of his religion, Rolle says that so far he has not heard of anyone being subjected to religious persecution because for the most part a Buddhist's faith is not something public per se.

This is not the case for 39-year-old Abdul Hakim, a Bahamian who converted to Islam while living in the United States. His faith, which has been made very public through the years because of it's association with the civil rights movement and 911, has made Muslims the victim of religious bias and persecution.

Hakim says that he became a Muslim because of his disillusionment with Christianity. "After experiencing Christianity and seeing that there was a lack of connection to the creator and the attributing of the creator to other things, I did some research on Islam which brought me to the understanding of our purpose here as humans beings and our relationship with the creator and how we should worship him," he says. Hakim says he chose the religion because he found that it was the closest thing to anything in any other religion as far as worship to the creator was concerned.

While living in the U.S. before 911, Hakim said that he had no problems with prejudice pertaining to his religion. However he said that post 911, attitudes have changed significantly both in The Bahamas and abroad. "They will say that you are worshipping Iraq or something other than the creator," he said. The attitudes are fostered by the media, according to him.

Hakim says that his family and he have gotten accustomed to the name calling and the dirty/curious looks because of the way they dress — the women are covered up, their faces and hands are the only exposed parts of their bodies. Men wear the kufi — a small knitted skull cap.

"My family and I do not go out that often but when we do we get different comments," he said. " Because we know it's an obligation upon us as Muslims we don't let it bother us." While the community of Muslims is not a large one, according to Hakim, it is growing.

Another religious group that is well known in The Bahamas are the Rastafarians — a group which just like the Buddhists, the Muslims and the Christians is made up by varying sects, each with their own way of doing things.

Dwayne Wilson, 26, is Bobo Shante a branch of the Rastafarian faith, which according to Wilson. Bobo Shante is the Ethiopian word for "royal Ethiopian". "This is how we see ourselves," he says.

According to Wilson, the teachings of Bobo Shante originated in Timbuktu, Alexandria, which is in Africa and was brought to Jamaica at Ten Miles, Bull Bay by King Emanuel Charles Edwards.

Wilson said that though he was from a predominantly Christian family, he was led to the faith by certain facts in the Bible which he studied.

"Many faiths come about by people's deciphering of Bible verses," he said. "I had a firm belief in Christianity and 'clean-hearted Rasta' who wants to get away from drinking and smoking usually join up with the Bobo Shante," he said.

Rastafarians are largely misunderstood according to Wilson. "I have experienced a lot of discrimination from friends, family members and others," he said. He said that a lack of acceptance and tolerance also plays a part in the way that Rastafarians are perceived.

Wilson is the father of a child. Though the child is not yet wearing the trademark dreadlocks which would mark him as Rastafarian, his father plans to remedy this soon. "Dreadlocks is the nature and is a sacred pledge between God and the individual," explains Wilson on the significance of the hairstyle in his religion. Wilson said that while he has apprehensions about his son's inevitable interaction with society (his son is a toddler), he has learned and has been prepared through the struggle of other Rastafarians with the system to raise his son.

Even though people may look upon these religions as being vastly different from Christianity and each other, one unifying thread runs throughout each. They say they are striving for peace, love and enlightenment.

Rolle believes that even though he is Buddhist his faith does not preclude his respect for the fact that the society is predominantly Christian. "The rhythm of the society is Christian and is dictated by the Christian calendar and the holidays and the whole mentality. So you need to be flexible, you need to be respectable and you need to say this is where I am. But if I have a belief or conviction strong enough for me to want to adopt a different faith or to believe something different then you have to take it. It's not shocking that the average person of a different faith is going to look at you and go oh you are crazy."

"We worship the same God as Abraham did," Hakim says.

As for Wilson he says that the Bobo Shante believe in the Bible and practice the teachings of the Bible. However he believes that "the only way you can see God is through one another."

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The "Secret Garveyism"

Last week UCLA professor Robert Hill came to Nassau to speak on the topic "Secret Garveyism" at the College of the Bahamas. Unfortunately, I had a prior commitment and was unable to make it. For those like myself who missed this opportunity, a recent article in the Nassau Guardian gives the basic gist of the lecture:
The 'Secret Garveyism'

Guardian National Correspondent

UCLA professor and prominent Caribbean scholar, Robert Hill, introduced an audience on Thursday to a Marcus Garvey that perhaps many of us have never known.

For decades after his death in 1940, the world has been most familiar with the military Garvey, the "Africa for the Africans" Garvey. And people of African descent have celebrated the Garvey who established the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914, a vehicle for pride amongst blacks living in a time when crushing racial prejudice seeped into the psyche and tortured self esteem.

Yet during his lecture given at the College of the Bahamas' Michael H. Eldon building, and jointly hosted by BACUS and the college's School of Social Sciences, Hill presented images of a multifaceted Garvey, one far too big to be stuffed into one chest of history. In Hill's presentation "Marcus Garvey's Mission," the historical and controversial figure emerged as yes, a soldier for black pride, and a gentleman but most of all a thinker, a scholar.

Hill argued that Garvey's foundation was his huge emphasis on acquiring and retaining knowledge. The "Africa for the Africans" Garvey came much later, after years of extreme self discipline in his personal quest for knowledge.

To encounter this Garvey, Hill took the audience to St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica, where Garvey was born and grew up. Faced with the options of becoming a cow herder or a wharf man in a rural town, Garvey chose to read, to escape the limitations of his environment through books.

"I was born in the country town of St. Ann's Bay," Garvey recalled in a speech he gave in 1935 before embarking on his exile to England. The speech was recorded in a Jamaican newspaper. "Naturally, as a little black boy I grew up there and I saw the limitations of society. If I had elected to remain in the town with the limitations of the town I would have gravitated towards becoming a cow boy or a wharf man or a laborer. But I was saved from accepting that because my father, after dissipating what wealth he had, left us as the residue some good books, and in my tender years I went to the shelf and I read."

Arguing that so many have either wittingly or unwittingly chosen to separate Garvey's pedagogy of imbibing knowledge with an unquenchable thirst from his African pride-infused ideology, Hill called for a refocus on this intellectual foundation of Garveyism.

"That is Garveyism - the secret Garveyism - that most people never know about," said Hill. "All they know about is the man with the plumes. All they know about is this man who was preaching back to Africa ... it's a much more complex and pertinent story than this pastiche that Garvey has been reduced to."

It is this focus on attaining knowledge that will prove timeless, that can empower generations of people across racial lines. Garvey's roots in education became the springboard for his frequent discourses on pride in identity among people of African descent. Such a springboard continues to be relevant for a new generation whose identities may be lost in a sea of materialism, ultimately resulting in waves of crime.

"How many little Bahamian boys grow up here and they look at the society and the society says these are your limitations, and what do they then do do?" asked Hill. "[Do] they accept the limitations or do they challenge those limitations?"

Garvey used education to challenge his limitations, and his influence went far beyond the island of his birth, settling in The Bahamas in the 1920s. Decades later the spirit of challenging limitations lived on in Bahamians who have made the world recognize their tiny home. Hill acknowledged a few of them at the beginning of his lecture, urging their countrymen to learn more about them.

"I'm extraordinarily proud to be received by you ... I feel that I'm encountering here in The Bahamas something of the ancestors of the great Dr. W. E. B. DuBois. Part of DuBois' ancestry comes from The Bahamas," he said. Hill also noted that the mother of James Weldon Johnson, the father of the Harlem Renaissance, was from The Bahamas. He mentioned that the country was the birthplace of theater great Bert Williams, and highlighted the accomplishments of Sidney Poitier and the Golden Girls. One of Garvey's own mentors - Dr. J. Robert Love, a Grant's Town native who became the first black man to be elected to the legislative council in Jamaica - was also from The Bahamas.

Garvey's tradition has the fuel to continue, as Hill pointed out in Lesson One of a mail correspondence course that he began in 1936 called the School of African Philosophy. In 1987 Hill published the transcripts of the lessons in a volume entitled "Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons" for the centenary of Garvey's birth.

The school began with 25 lessons on varied topics of African nationalism and the UNIA. But foremost was the very first lesson on "Intelligence, Education, Universal Knowledge and How to Get it." In the lesson Garvey instructs students, among other things, to read four hours each day.

"Lesson number one is not about reclaiming Africa," said Hill. "Lesson number one is not about African colonization. Lesson number one is not about Africa for the Africans at home and abroad. It is about intelligence, education and universal knowledge and how to get it. You only get to Negro nationalism after you pass intelligence and universal knowledge. That is what we have lost touch with. That is the Garvey that we have ... almost erased. We have to find a way to get back to that process that Garvey himself followed that enabled him to emancipate his mind from mental slavery."

While fielding questions after the lecture, Hill told the audience what he would tell someone who asked about this Garvey.

"I would say, how many hours are you prepared to read?"

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

BHRN Press Release on Adderley Murder

The Bahamas Human Rights Network has issued the following statement in response to the murder of Wellington Adderley:
The Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN) takes this opportunity to extend its most sincere condolences to the family of the late Wellington Adderley. I was first introduced to Wellington, as he was affectionately called, one and a half years ago when a group of us got together to form BHRN, a group dedicated to preserving the fundamental rights and freedoms of any individual within The Bahamas and in the international community.

Wellington was a man of sterling character, who I personally came to respect and admire! He was committed to defending the rights of women, children, persons living with HIV and/or AIDS, the poor and marginalized, persons in the immigrant community and persons in the gay and lesbian community.

Wellington preached a message of love for humanity, he despised intolerance and hypocrisy. Wellston you are loved and missed!

Therefore, on behalf of the members of BHRN we stand with one voice and say as Wellington would have said it: "We condemn all acts of violence in our society. BHRN is now more than ever fortified in its commitment to eradicate the scourge of violence that plagues us all and we call on ALL members of our community to work with the police to solve this matter and bring the person(s) to justice."

Elsworth N. Johnson

Acting President BHRN

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R.I.P., Wellington Adderley, 1957?-2008

It is with deep sorrow that I share the news of the untimely death of my fellow colleague and activist Wellington Adderley. My wife and I first became acquainted with Wellington about a year and a half ago through our involvement in the Bahamas Human Rights Network. As an administrator for the AIDS Foundation of the Bahamas, Wellington was well respected for his work as an AIDS activist in the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean region. He will be greatly missed.

Yesterday's edition of the Bahama Journal reports:
AIDS Activist Murdered
By Viraj Perpall

Amid mounting concerns about the high level of violent crime in the country, Wellington Adderley, administrator for the AIDS Foundation of the Bahamas, was found murdered in his Delancy Street home Monday afternoon.

His death pushed the murder count for 2008 to 29.

The body of the 51-year-old was found in his apartment at approximately 2:45pm, police told reporters on the scene.
Read the rest of the article here.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

Up until now, I have refrained from blogging on U.S. presidential politics because . . . well . . . it doesn't really have much to do with the Caribbean. This week, however, the campaign has taken a bizarre twist as Hillary Clinton has come to Puerto Rico to do what no one else has probably ever done before in a U.S. presidential campaign: aggressively campaign for the island's fifty-five delegates to the Democratic National Convention. This is even more bizarre given that Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony whose residents have no vote in the upcoming general election.

That being said, Clinton's three-day jaunt across Puerto Rico has provided some entertaining news coverage. Some news outlets, for example, have made much of Clinton's efforts to impress prospective Puerto Rican voters by "swigging from a bottle of Presidente beer" (see photo above). Apparently, nobody noticed that cerveza Presidente is a product of Puerto Rico's neighbor, the Dominican Republic. If Clinton really wanted to score points with voters, she should have tried drinking a locally brewed Medalla.

While some pundits questioned the wisdom of Clinton's Sunday morning visit to the Pabellon de la Victoria (a Pentecostal megachurch that I routinely drove by several times per week when I lived in Puerto Rico) in a country that is predominately Roman Catholic, this was probably a strategically smart move given that Pentecostalism is, after all, one of the fastest growing segments of Christianity in Latin America.

Not quite so entertaining, however, were Clinton's remarks in a Memorial Day speech that “I believe it is long past time that we give the people of Puerto Rico--United States citizens all--an equal voice in the vote for the commander-in-chief who sends young Puerto Ricans to war.” While I suspect that many Puerto Ricans wholeheartedly agree with those comments (keeping in mind that many others would argue that an independent Puerto Rico would not have to send young Puerto Ricans to fight in American wars at all), her words rang hollow.

Having lived in Puerto Rico for three-and-a-half years during Bill Clinton's presidency, I observed first hand as Governor Pedro Rosselló--a strong Clinton supporter--practically bent over backwards trying to obtain Puerto Rican statehood (holding two island-wide referendums on the issue during his eight years in office) while the Clinton administration basically ignored him. So unless Mrs. Clinton has chosen to stake out a radically different position on this issue, my guess is that this is nothing more than an empty campaign promise which she has no intention of delivering.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Myanmar Baptists Provide Cyclone Relief

One of the big tragedies of this past month is how the paralysis of Burmese military government has impeded disaster relief efforts in this southeast Asian country. One of the few avenues by which aid is currently reaching cyclone victims in Burma is via the Myanmar (Burmese) Baptist Convention, a fully indigenous association which is recognized by the Burmese government and is well connected with many of the communities that have been affected by this disaster. You can read about the heroic relief efforts being conducted by the Myanmar Baptists here and follow the latest updates on the crisis here.

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British Baptists Apologize for Slave Trade

Today's issue of Ethics Daily reports that:
A delegation representing British Baptists travels Thursday to Jamaica to personally apologize for their nation's role two centuries ago in transatlantic trading of slaves.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain adopted a statement last November not only apologizing for slavery but also repenting of failure to listen to black brothers and sisters who still suffer as a result of that legacy.
Read the full story here.

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Global Baptist Peace Conference

The fourth Global Baptist Peace Conference is planned for February 9-14, 2009, in Rome, Italy. This international event will inaugurate the 400th anniversary year of the Baptist heritage being recognized in various locations around the world.

Like previous conferences in Sweden (1988), Nicaragua (1992), and Australia (2000), this gathering will bring together Baptists who are active in nonviolent struggles for justice and for strengthening the witness of Baptist peacemaking in various global contexts.

The conference will consist of six days including intensive training in conflict transformation, nonviolent prophetic action, and other relevant topics, inspiring speakers, workshops, and worship. There also will be optional opportunities to tour Rome and the surrounding area on Friday culminating in a magnificent time of worship in the Waldensian church.

For the latest information on the Global Baptist Peace Conference, including downloadable brochures, programs, posters and registration forms, visit the event website at:

The Global Baptist Peace Conference is sponsored by American Baptist International Ministries, the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Unione Cristiana Evangelica Battista d'Italia, and the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Getting Acquainted with The Hub

Through my involvement in the Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN), I've recently become acquainted with The Hub, which has graciously allowed us to hold our meetings in their facilities. Basically, The Hub is a gathering place for artists, writers, activists, and others who are interested in exchanging ideas and collaborating together on common projects.

Even though Nassau is fairly small as far as cities go (with a population of approximately 211,000), there is quite a diversity of groups that have formed around common intellectual interests or social causes, with many of them often operating in isolation from one another. While that may well continue be the case in the future, I think The Hub's central-location and its commitment to bringing folks from various groups together will ultimately enrich the artistic, intellectual, and activist endeavors of all involved. BHRN's past few meetings, for example, have seen a number of new folks show up to see what we're doing. And the Bahamas Historical Society, another group with which I am involved, has been discussing ways which we might also collaborate with The Hub. Indeed, I am looking forward to seeing how these possibilities develop.

The Hub describes its mission as follows:
"Thirty spokes share one hub." - Chinese Proverb

Located in Nassau's urban heart, The Hub is a versatile, collaborative space that facilitates the sharing of ideas and resources across disciplines, particularly in the arts, but not exclusive to the arts.

The Hub sees collaborations between artists and non-artists (for example, environmental groups) as integral to its mission. The Hub could be described as the central location where all the various "spokes" meet and share. As such, it will enable individuals as well as organizations to form alliances, which serve to strengthen and support a sense of community within the larger cultural context of Nassau.

The Hub's program focus is to encourage more unconventional, progressive ways of thinking within and between various artistic disciplines. A range of activities occurs at The Hub, including a film series/club, lectures and demonstrations, workshops, exhibitions, installations, performances, live music, theatre, poetry readings, discussions, gatherings, Junkanoo shack, and other activities as artists propose them.

Founded by Margot Bethel and Jonathan Murray with the support of many other artists, The Hub is of, and for, the artist community of Nassau. Artists and allied community members are encouraged to approach The Hub with ideas for shows and events, or to help out with building The Hub into a diverse and multi-disciplinary arts and social justice organization. All are welcome.
Click here to learn more about the various activities taking place at The Hub. You won't regret getting more involved.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Jou Drapo Ayisyen (A Photo Essay)

Jodiya se jou drapo ayisyen. Or, for those of us in the English-speaking world, today is Haitian Flag Day.

Here in Nassau, Haitian Flag Day celebrations were observed throughout the weekend, the biggest event being yesterday's parade and cultural festival sponsored by the United Haitian Association in the Bahamas (UHAB) as part of their ongoing collaboration with the International Languages and Cultures Institute (ILCI) at the College of the Bahamas.

Both Estela and I attended this event as members of the Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN) where we, along with several of our colleagues, helped to staff an information table promoting BHRN's work in the Haitian community. While a number of people did stop by our table and we did collect contact information from several dozen people interested in joining our mailing list (and, hopefully, attending our meetings), I found the day to be productive for other reasons as well.

First, it was a great opportunity to get better acquainted with a number of our colleagues from BHRN in an informal, casual setting. Many of our colleagues bring years of activist experience to BHRN from other human rights organizations--both local and regional--and it was great to hear their stories and learn more about their work, something we don't normally get to do at our regular meetings.

In addition to getting better acquainted with our colleagues from BHRN, we also bumped into numerous friends and acquaintances from throughout the Haitian community and, likewise, met a lot of new and interesting people for the first time, thus developing a greater appreciation for those who are working on behalf of and in collaboration with the Haitian community.

As with last year's Flag Day events, this year also proved to be an important--albeit painful--reminder that the Haitian churches, while often doing good work amongst immigrants from Haiti, have not yet figured out how to minister effectively to the Bahamian-born children of their members. Consequently, at Haitian Flag Day once sees hundreds of Haitian-Bahamian young people who have drifted away from churches that have failed to effectively reach their generation. Many of the Haitian churches, of course, do have sizeable youth groups, many of whom participated in providing entertainment for the day's festivities. But based on the general trajectory we've observed over the past eight years of ministry with local Haitian churches, it is likely that many of these young people will no longer be active in the church five to ten years from now. (This, of course, is a complex issue that is beyond the scope of this particular post. For those who are interested, Manuel Ortiz offers a helpful analysis of ministry issues ethnic churches face in reaching second-generation immigrants here.)

Last but not least, this was a wonderful celebration of Haitian culture and history. In spite of Haiti's political instability and status as one of the poorest countries in the world, the reality is that Haitians have developed a rich and beautiful culture that has made significant contributions to the regional history and culture of the Caribbean and, indeed, the African-Diaspora throughout the Americas. In that regard, this weekend's Flag Day celebrations properly emphasized the positive aspects of Haiti rather than dwelling upon the negative. Yes, things are tough in Haiti but Haiti and the Haitian people also have much to celebrate and to share with the broader international community. Hopefully, that is the message that was communicated through this year's celebrations.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Have Job, Will Travel

Since becoming a missionary, I've found that I do a lot more traveling than I ever did prior to becoming a missionary. This is partly due to work related travel such as deputation, conferences, and training. But also because for the first time in my life my wife and I both have full-time salaries (and frequent flyer miles) that allow us to go places that simply were out of the question back when we were students.

On a recent plane trip, I tore the maps out of the back of American Way magazine and checked off every U.S. state, Canadian province, and foreign country that I have visited during my lifetime. I've posted the results of that exercise below. The only criterion for including a location on the list as that I have actually, physically, been within the geographical boundaries of the stated state, province, or country in question. Places where I've actually resided are marked with an asterisk (*) and places where I have never gotten outside of the airport are marked with a number sign (#). I've also attempted to note the approximate date of my first visit to each location and, where possible, subsequent dates. For places I've been numerous times, I've simply used the designation "multiple visits." A date followed by a number sign indicates that the visit was an airport layover. Dates followed by an asterisk indicate dates of residence. As I continue to travel, I will make it a point to update this post on a regular basis.

U.S. States
  1. Colorado* (1969-1993*, 1998-2000*, 2005-06*)
  2. Wyoming (early 1970s, multiple visits)
  3. Idaho (early 1970s, multiple visits)
  4. Utah (early 1970s#, multiple visits)
  5. California (1980, multiple visits)
  6. Tennessee (1982#, 2002)
  7. Washington, D.C. (1982, 1990, 1991, 2007)
  8. Virginia (1982, D.C. area, multiple visits)
  9. Texas (1982#, numerous layovers in Dallas-Fort Worth, 2009 Houston)
  10. Nevada (1982, multiple visits)
  11. Arizona (1982, multiple visits)
  12. New Mexico (1982, multiple visits)
  13. Hawaii (1985#)
  14. New York (1990# layover in NYC, 2005 Rochester area)
  15. Nebraska (1990, multiple visits)
  16. Iowa (1990, multiple visits)
  17. Illiniois (1990, multiple visits)
  18. Wisconsin (1990, 2000, 2005 Green Lake Conference Center)
  19. Minnesota (1990, multiple visits)
  20. South Dakota (1990, multiple visits)
  21. Ohio (1991#, 2005 Huntington, WV area)
  22. Kansas (1993, multiple visits)
  23. Missouri (1993, 2007)
  24. New Jersey (1999, multiple visits)
  25. Pennsylvania (1999, multiple visits)
  26. Florida (2000, multiple visits)
  27. Maryland (2004)
  28. Massachusetts (2005)
  29. Oregon (2005, Portland area, Vale area)
  30. North Carolina (2005#, 2007# layovers on U.S. airways)
  31. West Virginia (2005, 2007)
  32. Georgia (2006)
  33. Kentucky (2007)
Canadian Provinces
  1. Quebec (2005, 2008)
  2. British Columbia (2008)
Foreign Countries
  1. New Zealand (1985)
  2. Mexico (1987-88)
  3. Dominican Republic* (1993-95*, multiple visits)
  4. Haiti (1993)
  5. Puerto Rico* (1993#, 1994, 1995-1998*, numerous layovers in San Juan)
  6. Bahamas* (2000-2004, 2006-present)
  7. Canada (2005, 2008)
  8. Antigua (2007)
  9. Jamaica (2008)
  10. United Kingdom (2009#, overnight layover at London Heathrow Airport)
  11. Italy (2009)

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Review of Mountains Beyond Mountains

Tracy Kidder, Mountains Beyond Mountains. New York: Random House, 2004.

Mountains Beyond Mountains tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a medical anthropologist and practicing physician whose work in Haiti has made significant inroads in treating tuberculosis and AIDS patients. For those who are interested in learning about the day-to-day realities of healthcare faced by Haitians and others living in underdeveloped countries, this book is an excellent introduction to the issues at hand. While Farmer is not a missionary, his work has been significantly shaped by the best of liberation theology and international development theory. To understand Farmer’s work is to gain insight into many of the issues that missionaries must struggle with as they seek to minister effectively in cross-cultural and poverty-stricken contexts. I highly recommend this book. But beware! Once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it back down until you’ve finished it.

A detailed review of this book is available here.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Bahamas' Hispanic Community

The 2001 (and most recent) edition of Operation World reports that are approximately 2000 Hispanics in the Bahamas. Though, I suspect that's increased a bit in the past seven years or so. These figures, of course, are not in reference to the growing number of Spanish-speaking tourists that one increasingly hears in and around the Bahamas' large resort hotels but, rather, the numerous persons from various Latin American countries that come to the Bahamas to work for upper and upper-middle class Bahamians in a variety of domestic service jobs.

Given the Bahamas' overwhelming Haitian immigrant population, which numbers in the tens of thousands, it is really no surprise that scant attention is often paid to much smaller immigrant groups such as the Hispanics. And unlike the Haitians, the Bahamas' Hispanic community is much more heterogeneous, hailing principally from the Dominican Republic and Cuba but also including folks from as far afield as Mexico, Columbia, and Peru. Two weeks ago, my wife (pictured below) and I had the opportunity to celebrate this diversity by participating in the Annual Hispanic Fair, hosted at the Hotel Training College at C.O.B. While fairly small compared to similar ethnic and cultural festivals held in the Bahamas, this event was important not only in highlighting the diversity of the local Hispanic community (which included booths by the Dominicans (pictured above), Cubans, and Peruvians) but also in bringing public attention to the fact that a small but vibrant Hispanic community even exists at all.

As a missiologist, I have been particularly interested in the emergence and growth of Hispanic churches here in Nassau over the past few years. When my wife and I first arrived in the Bahamas in 2000, there were no Spanish-speaking churches nor ministries specifically serving the Hispanic community. As we became acquainted with a number of Hispanics--mostly Dominicans--during our first several years here, we learned that many of them were regularly attending English-speaking services at Evangelistic Temple on Collins Avenue (affiliated with the Assemblies of God). This was not so much due to an intentional outreach to Hispanics on the part of this congregation but due to (1) many of the Hispanics who were drawn there were members of Assemblies of God or similar Pentecostal churches in their home countries and (2) Evangelistic Temple itself is conveniently located on a major bus route making it readily accessible to live-in domestic servants residing in Nassau's eastern districts. It was during this time that we recognized that their was a clear need for some sort of Spanish-language ministry geared specifically towards Hispanics, though probably more along the lines of a weekly Bible study or prayer group rather than a full-fledged church. But at the time, our ministry responsibilities didn't allow us to pursue this opportunity and no one else seemed prepared to rise to the challenge either. Or so we thought.

While we were back in the States for our home assignment during 2005, things began to progress rapidly in terms of Hispanic ministry development back in Nassau. A small Hispanic congregation was formed and began meeting in a home off JFK Drive near Lake Cunningham. Within a year or so thereafter, two more Hispanic congregations emerged as well. One, which is affiliated with Bahamas Faith Ministries, is located downtown on Market Street and the second is a Spanish-speaking worship service offered by Evangelistic Temple, where a number of Hispanics were already attending English-speaking services anyway. So within the span of about a year--or maybe a year-and-a-half--three Hispanic congregations emerged in a city where there were previously none. But are the demographics of the local Hispanic community sufficient to support three separate churches? That remains to be seen. The last I heard, the congregation out on JFK was struggling and, in fact, may no longer exist. The other two congregations--being more centrally located--have greater potential for long term growth. The important thing is that God has raised these ministries up to meet a need that was not being met by churches or ministries already existing on the island. May he continue to raise up and work through those who would minister to the Bahamas' Hispanic community!

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Documentary on Haitian-Bahamians Now Available

About a month ago, the documentary Can You See Us? premiered at the Hub here in Nassau. Produced by the Bahamas Human Rights Network, this film seeks to show the problems faced by Bahamian-born persons of Haitian descent living in the shantytowns known as the Mud and the Pea on the fringes of Marsh Harbour, Abaco.

Clint Kemp, the BHRN member who headed up the project, has explained that the purpose of the film is not to be politically accurate (and viewers knowledgeable about the Haitian situation in the Bahamas will readily identify a number of glaring factual errors) but, rather, to give an artistic portrayal of the lives and challenges faced by a growing population of persons who are functionally stateless. The situation in Abaco--as portrayed in the documentary--is similar to that faced by children of Haitian migrants throughout the Bahamian archipelago and, to a lesser extent, children of immigrants from other countries as well. In short, this film is a good starting point for discussion about the nature of immigration and related human rights issues in the Bahamas and should be seen by all who wish to engage these issues constructively.

For those who wish to see the film now, I am pleased to announce that it is now available on YouTube and, for the convenience of my readers, I have embedded it below. (Thanks to Nicolette Bethel for bringing this to my attention!) For those who are interested in showing this film to their youth group, church, or other organization, I would encourage you to contact the Bahamas Human Rights Network to set something up.

Part I

Part II

Part III

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Quote of the Week

"Even if that event was packed to the rafters with illegals, a lawful, decent, humane immigration and police operation CANNOT BEGIN WITH A MASKED GUNMAN FIRING SHOTS."

Lynn Sweeting
Bahamian author on the police raid at the Millar's Creek fundraiser

For more details on this event, see here and here.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Drowned Haitian Migrants Laid to Rest

Two days ago, a funeral service was held for nine of the Haitian nationals who drowned when their boat capsized near Nassau nearly two weeks ago. Read the full story here.

The names of the deceased are:

Marie Lorenete Belance
Roseline Almonor
Lucienne Charles
Livania Agenor
Lorna Eugene
Geralda Henrice
Silfida St. Louis nee Camille
Unknown Male
Unknown Female

This is not the first time the Haitian community has mourned such a tragedy in the Bahamas and, undoubtedly, it will not be the last either. There are a myriad of factors that force Haitians to resort to such desperate measures to escape their homeland, ranging from domestic problems and internal corruption within Haiti to unjust economic and foreign policies directed towards Haiti on the part of its larger, wealthier neighbors. And to complicate things further, there are plenty of unscrupulous individuals who have no qualms about endangering the lives of their fellow human beings in order to make a quick buck. That being said, there are many things that we can and must do, ranging from grassroots political activism to micro-development initiatives, to help address the underlying problems that result in both high-profile and invisible tragedy on a daily basis. For those of us who have not yet become active in these areas, I hope that this latest tragedy serves a wake up call to get involved. For those of us who are already involved, these events should remind us of the urgency of the situation and encourage us to renew our efforts.


Understanding Haitian Vodou

Thanks to Pastor Bob Cornwall over at Ponderings on a Faith Journey for pointing out this thought provoking and informative article on Haitian Vodou. Not only does it explain some important new developments taking place in the Vodou religion, it also helps to shed light on a number of widespread misconceptions as well as some of the positive contributions that Vodou has made to Haitian society. In their book Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to Beliefs and Practices, missiologists Paul Hiebert, Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tiénou stress the importance of taking the time to carefully study and understand the beliefs and worldview of others before evaluating and responding--something that far too many many pastors, missionaries, and church leaders have failed to do in their dealings with Vodou in the past. This article is a positive step in the right direction and is highly recommended for all those wishing to interact with Vodouists in a more nuanced and constructive fashion.

Sightings 5/1/08

Headlines early last month, announcing the enthronement of what the New York Times called "Voodoo's Pope," drew attention to one of the world's most misunderstood and frequently maligned religions. The official title of the newly-created position is "Supreme Chief" or "Supreme Master," and the figure in question, Max Beauvoir, a houngan (priest) and longtime self-styled public relations figure for the religion both in Haiti and the United States, wasted no time in issuing statements to the press addressing the unenviable position of the religion he now represents.

"My position as Supreme Chief in Voodoo was born out of controversy," he said, casting blame on "the voice of Hollywood" for enduring caricatures of the faith and its practices. Indeed, depictions of Voodooists as sinister magicians – not to mention the issue of zombies – have done much to shape popular opinion of the religion. Yet the exceedingly problematic reception of Voodoo has more complicated roots. Voodoo is met with disrespect, suspicion, and outright fear for a confluence of reasons, and these entangled issues are what Beauvoir must somehow seek to address, and, indeed, what he claims his position was created to address.

Voodoo in Haiti, since its inception, has functioned as a politicized force, first playing a crucial role in the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), associated with armed revolve and raids by maroon bands on slave plantations. Later, in the resistance to the American occupation (1915-34), Voodoo was associated again with assault and warfare. During the dictatorships of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier (1907-71 and 1971-86) the religion was linked with the nefarious tonton macoutes militias, and in retribution for these abuses, after Duvalier's fall, hundreds of Voodoo practitioners were killed in what Beauvoir calls "pogroms."

Haiti was the first country founded by former slaves. In America, conceptions of Voodoo have been inseparable from conceptions of race. The religion has therefore suffered from explicitly racist portrayals, and has acted as a canvas for race hatred and race-based fear. Derived in part from African tradition and practiced primarily by black-skinned peoples, Voodoo has, for hundreds of years, been victim of sensational accusations associating its practices with cannibalism and other outlandish and canned racial stereotypes.

Voodoo's secretive nature also continues to hinder its public reception. Secrecy as a theological tenet, mysterious initiations, and a priestly economy wherein houngans and mambos are paid for their services based on claims of power to manipulate invisible forces are all regarded with suspicion by contemporary, Western, secular audiences. Likewise disturbing are two central practices – the sacrifice of animals and spirit possession. The former is bloody, the latter theatrical and sometimes violent, as dancing practitioners lapse into ritual trances and are "ridden" by loas from the Voodoo pantheon.

Such acts strike many outsiders as "Satanic," an inaccurate but nonetheless damaging label with which Voodoo is frequently plastered. Compounding the problem is Voodoo's symbolism, prominently featuring the snake, which Voodooists identify with life and God but Jews and Christians identify with evil and the devil. Then there is the tricky issue of Christian saints' names, prayer formulas, and iconography appropriated by and occurring within Voodoo rites, resonating with long-standing fear within Christianity of the parody and perversion of its rites and symbols.

Finally, Voodoo suffers from a flaw built into both scholarly and popular typologies of religion, that of hierarchical thinking about religions. Beauvoir argues that Voodoo's character derives from its location as a "popular religion." But lacking a sacred text, law codes, or traditions of written commentary, Voodoo is a marginalized tradition – marked as "primitive," as if religions evolve along a given trajectory – compared to those "world religions" that come to dominate empires.

Until now, Voodoo also lacked a formal institution of authority. The establishment of a national federation of Voodooists and their election, in turn, of Beauvoir to his current post is a radical (and not uncontroversial) move. Beauvoir's hope is not only, of course, that Voodoo will receive long-due legitimization on the world stage, but that it will also play an active role in addressing Haiti's poverty and social ills, paving the way for a self-sufficient and sustainable future. It is a tall order, but Voodoo, a religion practiced since the 18th century and only officially recognized as a religion by the Haitian government in 2003, has proven its capacity to persist.


Marc Lacey, "A U.S.-Trained Entrepreneur Becomes Voodoo’s Pope", New York Times, 5 April 2008.

Spencer Dew is a PhD candidate in Religion and Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School and a Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center.

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