The Far Side of the DesertRich Stigall
There are only two dirt roads that will lead you to the northwest tip of Haiti. The first road takes you west along the northern coast, over a couple of river crossings and through a near lunar landscape. The second will take you along the southern side of the northwest coast from Gonaives and through the desert-like outpost of Anse-Rouge. Soon after, you will begin a stubborn climb north to the mountain town of Bombardopolis which will dump you quickly back down the other side to the coast.
Both roads are unique in the lonely scenery they offer, yet equally unforgiving in their ride quality. Both roads also dead-end into a forgotten oasis of a place Christopher Columbus “discovered” in 1492. He called it Mole St. Nicolas, after Saint Nicholas, who is celebrated each December 6th, the day Columbus dropped anchor there.
My first visit to Mole St. Nicolas was in May 2012. When we drove into town we had two hours of daylight to spare. Our pastor-partner friends with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission asked us if we wanted to drive over to the fishing village across the bay. Seemed simple enough.
What we found on the other side was an ancient-feeling fishing village of what could not have been more than one hundred people. They lived in grass huts. There was no water or electricity. It was a small community beyond poor that simply called itself “Presqu’ile,” or “peninsula” in French. They fished, they cleaned their nets, played dominoes, ate, slept and did it again the next day. They seemed peaceful and content living on the edge of the Windward Passage.
My friend, Adrien, and I hung out on Presqu’ile for an hour, walking the shoreline and making introductions to the villagers. As the sun set, I stood on the fossilized coral at the edge of the sea and looked out to the horizon. There I saw our two worlds meet on an imaginary line where the glowing lights of the sunset fused with the dark waves of the ocean. The view was at once serene and ominous.
For me, discovering Mole St. Nicolas that afternoon was arriving at the far side of the desert. It was an unknown place filled with the serene, yet ominous presence of God. There, I realized creation is what God uses to speak to us. Just as he spoke to Moses through the burning bush on the mountain of God in the third chapter of Exodus.
The far side of the desert is found all over the world—in Haiti, Uganda, Malawi, Sudan, India and Thailand. There God speaks to us through the beauty, but also through the tragedy. These places are off the grid and challenging. Yet, through the people and the surroundings, they are where we often experience God the deepest.