JUST LIKE THAT
by: Lisa Honorat
It was a day like any other. Sunday morning we all aroused early to prepare for our 7AM church service. The kids lagged slightly, buying a few extra minutes of sleep before the sun shone in and staying a little longer in the shower to ensure their freshness. Worship had already begun and the music floated through the air to the guesthouse. Barry, our friend and neighbour from Airdrie, Alberta that has been with us in Haiti for the past month, offered to wait for the kids then lock up the guesthouse, as became his custom each Sunday morning. Eventually, we all made it to service. The youth performed a powerful skit about the searching of the human heart for purpose in all the things the world has to offer, but not finding true life until we find God. It was beautiful and inspiring and led perfectly into the message I’d prepared. I was scheduled to preach this morning, but had been feeling slightly under the weather with a cough that would catch my breath when I would try to speak. This morning, my voice was so hoarse that I prayed earnestly for God’s hand to touch me before stepping onto the stage. As I have experienced his hand of grace many times before, He did. As soon as I took the microphone, my voice was clear and I was able to preach for the hour without a problem. The church was full and held a certain vibrance about it, thick with the presence of the Spirit.
As church let out and the campus cleared, friends lingered to visit and Barry made plans for his Sunday soccer match that he would go to watch with Francky later in the afternoon. I was wiped out and he recommended to me to get some rest, some cough syrup and go get some vitamin D from the sun. He said he was planning to get some sunbathing in later as it may be his last chance before heading back to Canada this week. We would often comment about its apparent efficiency to help combat the dreaded virus that is capturing the world right now. And it still seems evident that COVID is not present in Haiti, despite my cough. I believe mine is related to allergies and the lack of rain causing streets to be dusted like sifted flour. I took his advice after lunch and went for a rest while he scooted off to his match. The kids hung out visiting with friends and Marc took his usual position under the mango tree to enjoy the quiet of the midday Sabbath.
A few hours later just before 2pm Barry returned with Francky, pumped about the game. “Aw Marc, you should have come to watch! It was brilliant!” Barry exclaimed with his thick Scottish accent. Barry was a dedicated soccer lover and Marc and Barry often would enjoy matches together, even while we are in Canada. If it was a soccer day, I could predict that either Barry was at our house telling Marc about the game, or Marc was at his house watching it with him. Today it was the same, only we are in Haiti. “I’ll share the highlights with you tonight,” he excitedly promised. Then he disappeared into the house to fetch a coffee, good book and go enjoy the sun. Marc preferred the shade, so he stayed put.
In the meantime, I had felt much better after my nap. So I took our kids to our south campus, where the school and children’s village are, to practice some driving skills. They all got a chance to try it out. We came back to the main campus just before 4pm for the girl’s dance practice and for the boys to go off for basketball. An unexpected friend we had not seen for some time dropped in just then to bring me a message she felt the Lord told her to share with me. In fact, she testified that she had a dream 2 weeks before concerning me, but had not had a chance to come tell me. During that time, she fell very sick and was even taken to the hospital. She said she felt a heavy weight upon her that she would not be well until she came to tell me the message. She was not even able to get up in that morning for church, but that afternoon had determined she was coming to see me. As she prepared herself to come, she felt her strength return to her. The message that she came to share with me was a confirmation of a very specific prayer I had asked the Lord to speak to me 2 weeks ago! She had asked the motorbike driver that brought her to wait for her, but because it was Feb 7th, the day declared as public protest, hardly anyone was in the street and he was not willing to wait. I offered to drive her home, but thought I’d invite Barry to join me. He was always up for a ride into town. I went inside to look for him, and found him sunbathing on the roof with his cup of coffee and his book. He was enjoying himself and I decided not to bother him.
The evening wore on, dishes were washed and the remains of dinner were being put away. The older kids had been hanging out on the roof and had come down as we prepared to gather for our evening prayer as a family, Barry included. Then I realized I hadn’t seen Barry since around 4pm. He hadn’t come for dinner and Marc and I wondered if he’d gone out to visit someone as he often liked to do. He’s always befriending someone and wasn’t the type to just sit around idly. But it was already way past dark close to 9:30pm. Marc checked his room, but he was not there. I mentioned he was sunbathing on the roof and asked the kids if they hadn’t seen him up there. They said no, no one else was up there with them in the dark. I wasn’t so sure. I had a feeling that maybe he’d just gone to sleep in his cozy spot he’d set up for himself. So with concern, we all set upstairs to look for Barry. Sure enough, he was still restfully laying where I’d last seen him, with a blanket spread out under him, a couch cushion under his head, his sunglasses on, sandals neatly set to the side, his coffee cup emptied and his t-shirt removed from his torso and covering his forehead. Marc tried to wake him up calling his name as he flashed his light at him. Then a foreboding feeling came as I noticed his chest was not rising and falling. Marc called him again and shook his arm, but he was not responding. The stark shock of a very sudden, unexpected situation hit us. Just like that, our dear friend was gone.
I went reeling. I could not believe it. Marc could not believe it. What had happened? How? Why? All the questions came at once. I couldn’t hold my body as the sobs came and Asher caught me, leading me down the stairs. Everyone was crying but Austin, who’s too young to fully understand what was going on. Marc made some calls immediately; Pastor Moise, Francky, Archange and James Roberts. What were we to do? We didn’t know, but they did. Pastor Moise called Dr Fritz, Francky called nurse Leah. Archange, who is also a city official, called the judge, the morgue and the police. James, who is our Canadian Vice President of Haiti ARISE, called the travel insurance company. Within the hour, the campus was full of staff and church members who cried with us and stayed all night. Marc and I had one more phone call to make, the hardest one to Barry’s family. His wife, daughter, son, son-in-law and four grandkids had all been waiting for his safe return and we had to tell them otherwise.
Barry was supposed to be home by now. He was scheduled to leave Haiti originally Feb 3, but due to new Canadian COVID restrictions and Haitian government protests last week, he had to delay his return. Though he was concerned about the possible risks of traveling back to Canada and he was missing his family, he was not sad about being in Haiti longer. In fact he’d wanted to just wait things out. He loves Haiti, He has many friends here and he was enjoying helping out in any way he could; planting new flowers, fixing broken fences and chairs, staking out the new basketball court and soccer field dimensions, he even shared his testimony with our kids for an evening devotional. He was like an uncle to our family. He knew how to be a real friend. He would drop in to visit anyone on short notice and help with odd jobs, gardening or fixer uppers without expecting anything in return. This trip made his eighth trip in six years to Haiti. And when we are in Airdrie, he would come over for coffee at least once a week. He taught our daughter chess, our son soccer, Marc pickle ball, and me how to plant flower bulbs.
The cause of his death we do not know for sure. He was healthy, active and strong at 69 years of age and spoke like someone who expected to live long. He had no pre-existing conditions that we were aware of. The week before he was climbing trees to cut branches and clean the tech school roof of debris. He had gone up to the roof just after 2pm that day with his coffee, book, pillow, blanket and sunglasses. He even brought a broken chair down to fix later and took a good chair up with him. We suspect he may have had a stroke from being in the sun too long, but we don’t know for sure. One thing we could tell is he passed peacefully, most likely after he’d fallen asleep.
If I learned anything this day, it is that life is just a breath, and can be gone just as sudden as it is given. Just like that. No warning. We ought to cherish every moment and deeply love those around us cause we don’t know when our last conversation will be. And we ought to work to be assured of our faith and where it will lead us into the next life after this. I count it an incredible honor that, although Barry was not aware of it, that God chose to allow him to spend his last month of life here on earth with us in Haiti. I could testify of God’s goodness working actively through Barry’s life as he came to serve, love and share here. As Barry was enjoying the sunlight in his last hours, I am sure he is now in full awe of the true Son and His everlasting light. Death is just a doorway into everlasting life and we have another dear friend that has passed through to the other side.
Alan Barry Hoffman, thank you for your friendship. We will miss you for now, but we will see you in forever.