You can find a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning in almost every Christian Church in America. There are different flavors, different brews, different brands, different presentations, and even different types of cups in which the coffee can be served, but you can almost always find a cup of coffee no matter the church. In fact, you could probably come pretty close to guessing the average age, background, and socioeconomic status of a congregation based on what type of coffee is served at that church on a given Sunday. While that last sentence is a bit of an exaggeration, if you have been to different churches over the past few years you know what I am talking about. Is the coffee brewed in a percolator (how old is that percolator), are the beans freshly ground, is it a fair trade brand of coffee, what type of creamer is offered, etc. and based on the answer to these questions you have a good idea of what type of church you are attending. The truth is, I am not a coffee drinker. The only time I drink coffee is if it is free, if I am really tired, and/or if it has enough cream and sugar to no longer taste like coffee. So these observations are from a “coffee outsider.” But what I know is that in America, somewhere along the line, coffee became trendy and somewhere along the line it became a part of almost every church I have ever attended.
When I moved to Haiti, I kind of thought that this phenomenon was over. Coffee is not the same here as it is in America. I can promise you that if Starbucks opened up a store down the road, only Americans would pay the $4 needed for a grande iced coffee. People definitely drink coffee here, but it is a much different thing in Haiti than in America and I had actually never seen it served in a church until last Sunday, and let me try to describe the scene that we walked in on.
Every Sunday morning, Jess and I pack the kids into the stroller and walk to a local church right down the road from us (about a 3-4 minute walk). We usually walk up right around the time Sunday School is ending and the music portion of the worship service is about to begin because Sophie and elijah really like to dance when the music starts. We usually greet everyone and then take a couple of seats in the back because we know that we will not be staying for the entire 2.5 hour service with our 2 babies and we want to be able to walk out quietly. Last Sunday, however, when we arrived at church, we noticed that every single child at the church was outside holding cups and bread that the church had clearly passed out to them. This would be significant at any church to have all the children outside together, but at our little church the attendance is a little different than what most churches in America look like. For instance, yesterday, there were 109 total people at the worship service when it began…78 of those people were children.
As we are walking in, we noticed a very strong coffee smell. Initially I thought, “that is interesting, someone is drinking coffee and they brought it to church with them.” And then I saw Fedeline holding a big cup filled to the top with coffee, milk, and sugar. If you know Fefe, then you know she definitely does not need coffee to get her going, but there she was, drinking about a 12 ounce cup full. Then we noticed that Vageley, Gladine, Mvinsley, Samara, Tilene, and every other child from the orphanage were outside drinking large cupfuls of caffeine and eating big pieces of freshly baked bread (and they had literally eaten a huge plate of breakfast spaghetti about 30 minutes before arriving). As I continued to look around I saw children even younger than that with their stomachs full of coffee. There was one particularly noticeable 2-3 year-old girl whose white dress was pretty much completely light brown at this point after dribbling half of her cup of coffee out down her chin and all over her clothes. It was quite the sight.
My initial instinct was to get angry that adults in our church, and our house moms particularly, were ok with giving little children copious amounts of coffee when their bodies clearly could not handle it. Instead, we just sat down and decided we would talk to Gina the next day and find out what on earth was going on prior to jumping to any conclusion (Jess’s idea, not mine). What we found out was not funny at all. Gina told us that this was quite common in Haitian churches and that it was the churches way of providing a “meal” to the children in their congregation. The bread and the milk/sugar added to the coffee would provide quite a few calories, and it would serve as both breakfast and lunch (and in some cases dinner) for the majority of our congregation. I was no longer angry. The first thought I had was how different the “coffee experience” is in the 2 countries we currently call home.
When I get back to America, I will attend a church with quite a few different coffee options from which to choose. There will be flavored creamer, dark and light roasts, and nice coffee cups that will help keep the coffee warm while we worship in an air conditioned building with a nice sound system and working instruments. When I go back to church here next week, I will see children clamoring for a cup of coffee and a piece of bread that will quite possibly be the biggest meal of their day. They will drink the hot coffee (right off the burner) in a very hot building with sweat streaming down their faces while a few people bang on tambourines and 1 guy (they call him maestro) plays on a drum set to help the worship leader. The 70 children will then sit back in their seats and they will sing worship to GOD along with the 30 adults that accompany them in this worship service and they will do so with a stomach full of coffee, milk, sugar, and bread. The funny thing about all of this is that they will be thrilled with the experience.