Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Decision to Stay, and What Came After. (A Missionary's Tale)

This fall, Chris and I made the most difficult decision we have yet had to make: to not move our family back to Haiti.  You might assume that it would be more difficult to decide to move to a third world country than to remain in- what my son calls- the best country in the world.  But, really, our choice to move to Haiti was a choice of obedience.  God clearly and undeniably called us to Haiti-the choice was to obey or not.  We obeyed.  And we have not regretted or questioned that choice at all.

But, we have suffered for it.  In nearly a year in Haiti, we experienced and shared in hunger, frustration, fear, grief, despair, and longing.  We also experienced joy, and hope, and development and potential.  We did what we set out to do- build strong and true relationships with our Haitian brothers and sisters, to learn the language and the culture and to lay the foundations of a long term ministry.  We were blessed in these accomplishments, and by friends and family, and eventually strangers, praying for and funding our work.

We had always planned on returning to the US for the summer.  We knew we would need a time of rest and healing as well as consultation to develop the right next steps in our ministry.  We arrived in Chicago in July with the plan to return to Haiti in September.  Over those first few weeks, though, it became increasingly heavy upon us that returning might not be the best choice- for our family or for our ministry.  As our bodies and minds healed, we wrestled and prayed through questions of  "what next?"  There was so much to consider- our children, our marriage, the example of ministry so many had told us we were setting, the children in Haiti who we love and love us, the church groups that were blossoming under our care, the dependency upon us that was growing.   The most difficult part of this was that we didn't have the clear, strong call from God.  Our prayers, together, independently, and offered by others- seemed to be revealing a calm, openness from God- we felt him leaving the choice to us, saying 'I can work with you either way.'  Really, God?  I can barely choose what to order at a restaurant.

With council and prayer, a new plan evolved.  The kids and I would stay in America full time, where I would continue homeschooling.  Chris would travel between Haiti and America-working to further our ministry  in Haiti, as well as building relationships with American churches that want to work in Haiti.

If I'm being honest, I wasn't completely confident in our plan.  But, I couldn't come up with one that would better meet the needs of our family and our ministry.  So, we leaped.

And that's when things began to happen.  One area of our plan that especially concerned me was our finances.  The amount of support we raise, while enough to sustain our life and work in Haiti, is only about half of what life in America costs.  We knew we would need to supplement those expenses, but I had no idea how we could do this without sacrificing our ministry.  But God did!  Before we could even print resumes or begin networking, both Chris and I were offered part time positions with para-ministry organizations that would allow us to supplement our sponsors and afford a small apartment of our own, while still making our ministry our first priority!  We still are dependent on the partnership of our supporters to accomplish our work in Haiti, but the additional cost of life in America we can share- we are humbled by this blessing.

Chris took his first 'work trip' to Haiti, and made more tangible progress in a week-long visit than in a month of living there.  His limited presence seemed to drive action.  The Haitian leaders that had been quick to default to us were rising up to lead projects.  Preparations were begun for our five upcoming mission trips.  New possibilities for partnerships and project development in have begun to grow from the seeds we planted months ago.

And then there is our family.  Our kids' cheeks have regained their fullness.  They are thriving in their church, homeschool co-op, and park district groups and activities. Chris and I are back to 'doing life' together with our small group, engaging in the ministry and community of our church and learning our new neighborhood.  As I type this, my son is hanging his latest art project on our refrigerator.  This little normal act hasn't been seen in our home for well over a year (mostly because we didn't have a fridge!)  I might cry. 

The decision to stay was difficult because we weren't sure that we were following God.   I still wonder 'what if', but I know this- God is bigger than my decisions, and he knows my heart.  He doesn't need me to be perfectly right, but he wants me to be perfectly willing- willing to love, to serve, to sacrifice.  These things can be hard, but what comes after is worth it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Surgery for Luke: Part 2

In June, our little buddy Luke was scheduled to have a hernia in his intestine repaired by an American surgical mission team.  Many of you generously donated the necessary funds to make that operation possible.  But, on the scheduled day, the surgeon felt that Luke, at 7 months old, was still too little for the surgery.  It was rescheduled for December, this week, when the surgical mission team would again be in Haiti.

This morning, in his pre-surgical evaluation, the anesthesiologist felt that Luke's little lungs were too congested to fare well in the surgery.  He has again been rescheduled, this time for 3 months from now.  In the meantime, Luke's upper respiratory infection is being treated and he has been given additional vitamins to try to get and keep him healthy until the surgical team returns.

In the meantime, Luke is thriving.  He is loved by One Family- kids and adults alike.  He has started walking, and singing.  Today he spoke his first word:  Alleluia.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Surgery for Baby Luke

Lukensly joined One Family Children's Home about a month ago.  At only 6 months old, so  much had changed in his life.  His mother had died.  His father, who had lost his job while caring for his dying wife of 15 years, was now loosing his house and unable to care for his children.   Luke and his brother Marc (age 2) and sister Magdaelle (age 3) came to live with us.

Life around One Family quickly changed with having a baby in our midst.  Luke is a bright eyed, happy child.  He is quick to smile and laugh.  Everyone loves him. 

Within a few days of his arrival, we noticed that he frequently suffered from what appeared to be quite painful gas.  Additionally, his lower abdomen and testical would almost daily swell to 2-3 times their normal size.  We suspected a hernia, and took him to a local hospital. 

Unfortunaely, good medical care can be difficult to find in Haiti.  Without examining Luke, the nurse told us that his problem was because he wasn't being fed 'on time.'  Lots have babies have this, she said.  We don't do anything until the child is 2 or 3 she said.  Take him to the General Hospital she said.  Go away she said.  This is not my problem.

Unsatisfied, and knowing that something was wrong with this baby, Pastor Kesnel, Madame Yanick, and Chris and I continuted to look for options.  We knew of 3 NGO medical centers, we were going to take him to each of them until we found help.

Then a nurse friend mentioned Double Harvest as a place where babies were treated.  Yesterday, we took Luke to their facility.  God is so good and his timing is perfect.

Luke has a severe hernia in his intestine.  It is filling with gas that causes him pain and makes digestion difficult.  It is pressing on and enlarging his testical.  But, there is a surgical team arriving here from Miami on June 26th.  Luke will be their first pre-op appointment on The 27th, and the first surgery on the 28th.  This team will be able to repair the hernia while preserving his testical and likely most or all of his intestine. 

There is no health care system in Haiti, and Double Harvest charges a fee for the surgery and treatment.  Because Luke lives in an orphanage, they have reduced the cost to $500 USD.  This is not a great amount by American health care standards, but for a Haitian orphanage, it might as well be a million dollars.  If Luke were somwhere else he would likely not be getting this surgery. 

We are asking for help.  Please be praying with us for Luke, for the doctors and nurses and Double Harvest, and for the surgeons who are coming.  Please pray for the surgery, and Luke's healing after wards.  And, if you would like to help share the financial burden of his operation and treatment, please let us know. 

We are so grateful for the doctors at Double Harvest. And for the surgeons who will be here in two weeks to treat this little boy.   Mostly, we are grateful for God putting Luke in our lives and allowing us to be his advocates. He is a little joy and blessing.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On: Living in an orphanage

A few nights ago I sat down to write a blog about living in an orphanage.  I wanted to highlight the challenges, the chaos, the rewards of living with 40+ kids who are not your own.  But the power went out and I lost my writing.  Tonight, with the generator running, I tried to recreate my thoughts.  But all I could think was "It's not about you."

There is a sweet faced little boy.  His sister is a lovable, beautiful girl.  They have lived in orphanages since they were infants.  They know their mom, because she lives around the corner, and stops by several times a week to visit them.

The first time I learned this, it was because the little boy's pitiful, desperate wails were filling the courtyard.  When I asked why, I learned that on that particular visit his mom had been unable to give him a little candy before she left.  If she gives him a little candy, he doesn't cry when she leaves.

A few months after we moved here, this lovely little girl started calling me 'mom.'   The first time it  was shy, a quiet question, "Will you love me?"  I want to protect this girl, and myself, from what I know is coming: eventually, I will leave.  But, what could I say?  "I think its better for both of our mental health if you stick to Madame Jennifer?"  "No, I can't love you that way?"  So she calls me mom. 

How is it it that a girl thinks of someone she has known for a few months as more of a mother than the woman who birthed her?   It would be easy to judge this mom, to place her choice in a box.  Is she selfish?  Uncaring?  Lazy?  Is it poverty?  Under-education?  Sin?

I see this woman each week.  I see her pray and worship.  I see the little things she does to claim her children as her own.  I see the two shirts and two skirts she alternates wearing.  I see the tender way she strokes the boy's head as he sleeps on her lap.

This woman, who is not much older than me, has delivered 11 children into the world.  She has buried six of them.  This little guy and his big sister are her last two.  The two she gave up because she was too broken to care for.  The two she hoped to save. 

So for this season I will love her children.  I will share with her, in what little ways I can, the burdens and joys of motherhood.  I will trust God to care for each of us when its time to say goodbye.  I will seek her friendship and I will not judge her.  I will praise the God who brought us together, and pray that one day I will rejoice with her and these children in heaven. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

On: Generosity

You might see a few penny candies, but this is actually picture of extreme generosity.

A boy, an orphan, on a rare adventure to Port au Prince to celebrate Haiti's Flag Day, collected a few pieces of candy during the parade.  He counted out four and put them in his pocket.  Hours later, he brought them to me.  Shyly passing them into my hand, he told me that there was one for me, one for Chris and one each for Xander and Ella.

This child has nothing.  Even his clothes and shoes are shared among 10 or 12 other boys his size.  But today he was given something- it was his fare and square.  He could have eaten it or saved it to savor over the next few days.  But instead, he set these little candies aside- more excited about his opportunity to be generous than about sweeties.

A few days ago, two little ones came up to my room to tell me they were hungry.  This happens every so often, but we typically do not hand out food (unless we have 42 more).  But, that day, I could see that these kids really were hungry.  Moreover, they saw the two granola bars I had just pulled out for my own snack.  The left happily munching my chewy peanut butter bars.  I went back to reading.

A short while later, I can hear "Come into my heart.  Come into my heart. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus!" being sung by exuberant little Haitian voices.  I peek out to see two peanut butter covered faces glowing as they bellow the words "Come into stay,   Come into stay, Lord Jesus!".  They continue their serenade, I hope oblivious to the tears in my eyes, and shout "Tank you madame Jennifur!" 

This song was their gift.  Their return.   They gave all they had to give in that song. 

Generosity is about giving.  But that is only half the relationship.  Until recently, it was the only half I was really familiar with.  I knew how to give; I enjoyed (and still do) giving.  But not until I found myself on the receiving end of generosity did I begin to understand its beauty.  

Generosity funds my life right now.  We couldn't live and work in Haiti if not for the generous support that we receive.  Friends sacrifice their own pleasures so that we may do this work.  The faith of those who give to us is humbling and inspiring. 

We have been blessed to receive donations in many sizes.  Each one is special, cherished.  But, I don't know if any can quite match 4 pieces of candy and a song. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

ON: Money

Every so often, I realize that I've come to understand some new aspect of Haiti.  And, inevitably, it's right around that time that Haiti says 'Yea, well check this out smarty pants" and I'm dumbfounded again.

Take money for example.  The legal tender here is the Gourdes (pronounced like good if it rhymed with food).  On the street, 40 Gourdes equals $1US.   After a few trips to our local store Marasa Mart (think 7-11), I found I was getting pretty good at converting prices in my head.  

Then, I learned about the Haitian dollar.  The Haitian dollar, used by nearly every Haitian and many stores, is the equivalent of 5 Gourdes.  Except that the dollar doesn't actually exist.  It's a concept.  Goods are priced and exchanged in a fabricated currency.  How much does something cost?  2 dollars.  That would be a 10 Gourdes.

I've heard that Haitians began using the dollar because it made prices seem less (1 dollar sounding less than 5 gourdes).   Or, that it was because of their affinity for the American dollar, which is also widely accepted (add that to the how-much-does-this-cost mix.)   But, it's the same bills and coins- all Gourdes!

At the outdoor markets, where people negotiate prices based on the currency, it's pretty simple as long as you have exact change.  But, in the stores, conversion is so confusing that there are frequently 2 clerks, a supervisor, and a calculator on each register.  If you really want to stir things up, ask to pay in US dollars on a debit card (which I do for the 5% discount.)

So, I've gotten pretty good at my multiplication and division facts involving 4, 5, and 8 (5Goudes = 1 $ Haitian, 40 Gourdes = $1US, 8$H = $1US.  Whew.)

But then, things had to get complicated once again.  In dealing with money, I started learning to count past 36 (my age, being necessary to share with curious kids).  The numbers are pretty simple.  Until you get to 69.  In every other counting system that I know of, 70 would come next.  But, not in Haiti!  No, 70 and 90 do not exist here.  Instead, we have sixty-ten, sixty-eleven, sixty-twelve.... sixty-nineteen, eighty...eighty-nine, eighty-ten, eighty-eleven...eighty-nineteen, one hundred.  What!?!  How is this even possible?  There are words for seven (set) and nine (nef), seventeen, nineteen, but no 70's or 90's.   It's going to take me a while to master this one.

Every time I practice counting, or figure out how much the cereal costs, I have to shake my head.  It's illogical.  It's inefficient.  It's totally Haiti.  And, it makes me smile.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On: Earthquakes

We had an earthquake in Port au Prince last week. It was around 10 PM or so and Ella was already sleeping. There was a rumble that lasted maybe 7 or 8 seconds. It was just a 4.6, deep down, and so mild that Ella didn’t even stir.

 Jen turned to me and said, “Was that an earthquake?”

 “No, it was a truck backing up.” I said.

 Xander bolted upright in his bunk, “What do you mean? Was there an earthquake?”

“No,” said Jen, “I thought there was, but Dad says it’s just a truck. He’s been in an earthquake before so he would know better.” I nodded but, in reality, I am the worst person to pose that question to.

To me, every loud noise is an earthquake. It’s always the first thing I think of when I hear a truck hit a bump, or a door slam, or car tires on gravel. I wasn’t in Haiti for the big earthquake, but I was here for a lot of the smaller ones that occurred for a week after. These ranged from short aftershocks to long disorienting quakes to a powerful 6.8 blow that felt like the world had been rear ended. For many of those quakes I was either in a building or hospital. The room would move and plaster would fall and the cracks in the walls would grow and Haitians would scream. They wailed as they relived their fear. I saw Haitian men and women hurt themselves trying to get outside during the tremors.  I shared some of their fear of being inside. As much as I tried to resist the thoughts, I would imagine myself buried. During those days, I saw what concrete and rebar can do to a human body, and I saw what it looked like to be crushed. These sights amplified my fear.

            During that time I sat next a man with a bandaged hand in a hospital in Port au Prince. He spoke decent English and told me about his quake experience. He was in his aunt’s house when everything “moved like the ocean” and the house began to come down. He grabbed his younger cousin and jumped through a window. I think about that scene and wonder if I could react like that, if I could be that fast. I have two children and a wife. We live on the second floor of a concrete building that has already been through one earthquake. Could I get them out before the building came down? Who would I grab first? All sorts of terrors run through my head and have run through my head on hundreds of nights since that disaster. The man had jumped from a second floor window with his cousin and lost all of his fingers and thumb on his right hand.

            And so we’re lying in bed and Jen asks me if that was an earthquake? I have trained myself to understand that it is, of course, not an earthquake. It’s a truck or a door or tires on gravel, only it wasn’t. After the rumbling stopped, I could hear dogs barking and roosters crowing and goats bleating and Haitians screaming. Haiti Libre (an online Haitian newspaper) said that people poured into the streets of Port au Prince for fear of being indoors. It was the same in January 2010, when hundreds of thousands of people slept on sidewalks and streets.

            Here at the orphanage, most of the children slept through the little quake, but there were about 25 who didn’t, and they dragged their mattresses and carried their sheets into the middle of yard. They crowded 2 to 3 to a bed, and prayed. Then they covered their heads against the cold wind and went to sleep.

My family stayed in our room. Xander fell asleep and Jen eventually followed, but I lay awake and remembered things I just as soon forget.

Friday, March 9, 2012

ON: Goats

I'm a suburban girl.  I've lived in several states in my life, but always in a suburb.  I'm not going to pretend- I like the suburbs.  I like the space, the predictability, the neat and tidy roads. I like that I can get to both the city and the country fairly easily.  Of course, living in the suburbs makes one ignorant of certain things.  I'm not totally comfortable on public transportation, and the closest I get to livestock is at the petting zoo.

In Haiti, though, livestock are everywhere.  You can't walk through a town -even Port au Prince, without encountering roosters, chickens, goats, horses, donkeys, cows, and pigs.  Livestock are valuable, as tools, food, income, savings accounts, insurance policies.  For many, having livestock is the difference between life and death.

We didn't come to Haiti to be involved with livestock. But, well... ok, we did (shamelessly) offer a pet goat as a comfort to our children, nervous about moving to a new country.  After all, how hard could that be?

It turns out pretty hard.  Goats need a quite a bit of room, and contrary to popular belief they do not (or should not) eat every/anything.  They need care from someone who didn't grow up in the suburbs.  Of course, as guilt will do, I felt compelled to come up with some way to fulfill my comfort-promise to my children.  Around the same time 3 things were happening: (1) Chris had visited the One Family Church campus in Maisade, a distant mountain village and felt called to help the pastor (also a farmer) move his church (and school for 100 village children) from being supported (by Pastor Kesnel and the One Family Central Campus) to being self sustained.  (2) The children's ministry of our home church contacted me and asked how they could partner with our children and our ministry in Haiti. (3) we drove through the market were Ella expressed to Pastor Kesnel her desire to have a goat.   {Sidebar- Pastor Kesnel adores Ella and Xander.   He treats them as grandchildren.  How many doting grandfathers can deny the sweet, innocent requests of their beloveds?}  
"Ah, we must have a goat!" says Pastor.  Conversation begins.  And before long not only do we have the plan to purchase goats, we have the place and person to keep them... Pastor Jackson in Maisade, and moreover- we have a purpose.  Kabrit Kids was born!
The goal of Kabrit Kids is simple- folks in the states purchase goats which are raised by Pastor Jackson in the mountains.  As the herd grows, it will provide a source of income, meat, and milk for Pastor Jackson and the One Family, Maisade campus.  Through a short-term and relatively inexpensive initial investment, we have a reproducing, self sustaining ministry.

The Numbers:  (skip ahead if you must)  Goats vary in cost from $35 for a young male, to $55 for a pregnant female.  A nanny goat will deliver 1-3 kids.  The average weekly collection of One Family, Maisade is less than $2.   The sale of one goat per month (a very low goal) will increase church revenue by about 500%.  The sale of 2 goats per week (a very high goal) could fully sustain the church and school (currently subsidized by Pastor Kesnel).  We hope to purchase 20 goats for the herd.  The rest is up to nature and Pastor Jackson.  

We haven't yet met a Haitian pastor who doesn't also run a business or 2 or 3.  I think that's the nature of being the church to the the poorest of the poor.  While the goats alone will likely not be enough to make One Family, Maisade completely self-sustained, we hope that the additional revenue will allow Pastor to invest in other forms of support and spread his ministry throughout his community.  

Yesterday, we made the trip to Maisade (about 4 hours up the mountain) and visited the livestock market.  We were presented with dozens of goats.  Pastors Jackson and Kesnel haggled with several farmers over prices.  Xander and Ella loved the goat market, and each helped select and name a goat (Mr. Tumnus and Achilles).  Finally, 6 goats were bought for a total cost of $246.  Our little herd now consists of 2 young males, 1 young female, and 3 pregnant females.We are looking forward to visiting again in a few weeks, when we expect at least one of the nanny goats will have delivered her kids.

Pastor Jackson was truly excited and encouraged by this investment in his ministry.  He has great hopes for these goats.  He has already prepared the land where they will live and grow.  God took the ignorant promise of this suburban mom and turned it into a promising future for a small mountain church.  His ways are not our ways; they are so much better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ON: Being a Missionary

Yesterday, while reading Francis Chan’s latest book (challenge), I got to thinking about who is Jesus for me?  A facebook friend?  Some one I follow, enjoying his status?  Someone I comment on while reading a note or checking out family photos?  Is he my confidant & comforter?  Trusted to be available, to accept and love me anytime, anywhere?  Or, is he my Lord, Savior, God?  One I would lay down my life for?  One I can’t stop talking about, the one I want everyone in the world to know?  The one I want to spend my days, and eternity, worshiping?

I’ve heard a lot of talk in America about having a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus.   But, what does that mean?  I think about those I consider my dearest friends, and how difficult (even when I was living in the same town) it is to find time to spend together.  I’m no bible scholar, but I don’t recall too many stories of Jesus and his ‘friends’ squeezing a hour out of their week to meet at Starbucks and call it ‘relationship.’  No, Jesus’s relationships were demanding, exhausting and active.  He didn’t say ‘Hey, let’s catch up next time I’m in town.’  He said, ‘Drope everything (because it’s really nothing) and come with me.’

Some people think that because I live in a Third World Country, I am somehow a ‘different’ sore of person.  That I have a different relationship with Jesus. That the rules or pressures of ‘real’ life don’t apply to my family.  I recently read a visitor to Haiti write ‘I’m not a missionary, I don’t make my own clothes or churn butter.’  Hmmm..  me either.

Our life in Haiti, our life as ‘missionaries’, is in many ways different from our life in American suburbia.  Yet, it is very much the same.  I have chores, goals, deadlines, arguments, conflicts, jokes.  I discipline my kids and worry over their academic performance and social development.  I work with people I don’t like.  I crave comforts, entertainment, and good food.  I clean toilets.  I go to the grocery store.  I forget to read my bible.  I neglect to pray.  I find myself quick to accept praise and quicker to pass blame.

When I first met Jesus, I 'liked' him.  I grew to depend on him, to call on him in the middle of the darkness.  Then, once, when he said ‘follow me,” I did.  It just so happens he was heading to Haiti.

Being a missionary isn't living some ‘other’ life.  It’s saying yes to Jesus in this life.  It's saying, yes, I'll go where he’s going, share what he’s offering, and invite others to follow, too.  I feel blessed to know several missionaries who have followed Jesus in obedience, with sacrifice, into the unknown.  Sometimes they struggle, sometimes they complain, sometimes they question.   Some of them went across the world, some went across the street.  All went with Jesus.

Friday, February 17, 2012


I just finished my second small group meeting with two young men. We have been working to develop a bi-lingual church service, using the content from CCC (our home church) and modifying it to make it Haitian. The series we are working on is about identifying your personal mission, the thing that God created you to do with this life and then making it real in your life using the B.L.E.S.S. strategy (begin with prayer, listen, eat together, serve, and strory). At the end of the meeting we prayed that God would bless us and give us the chance to bless others. About an hour after the meeting these two young men(Alsa and David) came back to my door and told me about an encouter they just had right after leaving the meeting.

They met a man sitting on the street corner with a guitar. Alsa  asked the man to play something for them so he did. Alsa said "That was beautiful. Have you ever considered playing music for Jesus?" The man said that he had never done that before.Alsa said "I have this guitar at church that is just laying there waiting to be played." Alsa asked the man if he had Jesus in his life. The man said no. Alsa asked the man if he would like to. The man said, "I have been wanting to for a long time, but I don't know if I am ready. I don't have clothes that are appropriate for church." Alsa told him that he didn't need to wait for clothes to know Jesus, and asked him again if he would like to know Jesus. The man said, "Yes, I would." They all got on their knees and prayed together, and the man turned his life over to Jesus. Just like that, on the street corner.

So Alsa and David  came to my room, because they wanted to pray with me for this man and ask that God will lead him to church on Sunday. We prayed, that God would remove all obstacles keeping this man from Him. And while we are praying I am thinking I have a pair of black pants and a white shirt that I wore to church when i first got here but haven't worn since I got some new clothes. I hesitated because I don't want to always have my first reaction to be give him/her something to make it all better. I continued to pray and the weight on my heart to hand over these clothes becomes undeniable. I asked Alsa and David them about the size of this guy and David said that the man was "Kind of fat, just like you."  Haitians are brutal. I went into my suitcase and grabbed a shirt and some pants that should fit a fat guy like me. Alsa took the pants but said, "You know, I want to be blessed too." and handed me back the shirt to me and said, "I want to give him one of my shirts.".....Blown away.
 Man did these guys get that message or what? I am so grateful for this opportunity to be in small group with them.  Alsa told me that this very thing (God blesses us so that we can go and bless others/God has a mission for each of us) has been on his heart. They can't wait to share it, so they aren't waiting. I am blessed.
Dargout, Croix des Boquettes, Haiti

Friday, February 10, 2012

In God's Hands

Last night, Ella came to show me how the center of her upper lip was swollen and hard.  She had had the sniffles all day, and my first assumption was that her lip had been irritated by tissues.  But, within 10 minutes, her entire upper lip was swollen to about 3 times its normal size.  Chris and I asked her if anything else was wrong, and she said her neck hurt.  Pulling aside her t-shirt, we discovered 2 bites or stings, that she couldn't remember getting.  Looking further, we found hives all along the back of her legs and a couple on her hands.  Her left pinky was also swollen.  As we were watching her, the lid of her right eye started to swell.

I have never seen anyone, let alone one of my babies, with such a reaction.  Trying to keep calm for Ella, but TOTALLY freaking out inside, we gave her Benedryl and an instant ice pack.  Holding her favorite doll, she laid in my lap as she drifted off.

In the States, I would have called the doctor and likely driven 5 minutes to my local ER, where I would have been given all sorts of medicine and advise.  I would have felt in control.  But this is Haiti, and care is different.  The nearest clinic, if it was open, is 20 minutes away.  The nearest hospital more than an hour. Would they see a tremendously swollen lip on an otherwise healthy girl as worrisome? Would they have the necessary medicines?

I prayed over my baby girl.  I prayed for God's healing.  I prayed for wisdom.  I prayed for guidance.  I prayed for the other moms out there holding children far more sick than Ella.  In my prayers, I was again reminded that there is one being in all of creation who loves this child more than I do and who claims her for His own.  She is more than her body; her soul was made for Him and His kingdom.  She is only mine for a while. Recognizing my daughter as a child of God brought me immeasurable comfort and joy.

I can't control a bug's bite.  I can't control a body's reaction.  I can't control what this night or tomorrow may bring. Not so many years ago, I would have been paralyzed by fear and my lack of ability to control a situation.  But here, in God's presence and peace, I find tremendous strength, peace and hope.

Within a short while of giving her the Benedryl, we could see Ella's hives fading.  Her lip and eyes were still huge, but they weren't getting worse.  She spent the night snuggled between Chris and I as we took turns looking over her.  By morning, the swelling was greatly reduced and as I write this at 1pm she is almost back to normal.

In many ways, my love for my children is my greatest weakness.  When God called us to Haiti, our first thought was no, we can't take our children there.  Well-meaning friends and family thought the same thing and often shared that thought with us.  Some even went so far as to say that we were endangering the kids and being selfish.

Maybe that is true.  Certainly, there was a time last night when I wished I was in a place where I could be in control, where anything I wanted or needed could be had within a few minutes or a short drive.  But, what I must remember is that my children are also, and more importantly, God's children.  He has a plan for them that exceeds my wildest dreams.  He loves them more than my finite heart can comprehend.  God called us... all 4 of us... to this life.  He didn't promise it would be easy, but he did promise to be with us.  Last night, he was with us.  I could feel Jesus in the room, stroking Ella's hair, stroking my hair.  Telling us that he is in control.


Monday, January 30, 2012

4 months in a list

We have been in Haiti for about 4 months now.  The first three months we unbelievably challenging.  But, it seems as if in this last month we have found our groove.  Today, I was reflecting on some of the things we've learned so far:

- With enough of an arch in your back, you can wash your hair while keeping most of your body out of the stinging cold water.
- Children are excellent teachers of language.
- Challenges become much easier when you stop struggling against them and instead try moving with them.
- If it looks like stewed brain, it probably is stewed brain.
- You can eat just about anything if you think its chicken.
- Assuming is much different than knowing.
- It is sometimes the things that you don't remember saying or doing that have the biggest impact on another person.
- I am stronger than I thought I was.
- My children are stronger than I thought they were.
- My husband is every bit as strong as I have always believed him to be.
- A reasonably effective bath can be had with a bucket and about 20 oz of water.
- Never, ever discount the simple joy of ice cream.
- Kids are kids.  They all want comfort in their pain, and really enjoy when adults act silly with them.
- A single person cannot represent and entire culture.
- Communication is vital to mission, but can be as simple as a smile.
- A pleasant greeting is the best bridge over the language barrier.
- A spider is only as creepy as you let it be.
- God never fails to provide exactly what you need.  Sometimes I need to be shaken up.
- Make a plan.  Expect it to change several times.
- Patience can be increased by frequent use.
- Life lived outside brings all sorts of adventure.
- It is hard to hold onto negative feelings when you are clapping a crazy beat and singing "This is the day the Lord has made" with 50 kids.
- There is so much I still have, and want, to learn.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


It’s been two years, and I still think about him. He was crushed, abandoned, and given up for dead on the lawn of an overwhelmed hospital in Port au Prince. When I saw him I had to take my emotion and place it in a box deep inside my center or I would have crumbled on the spot. He was naked, broken, barley conscious on a foil emergency blanket. I ran to mix him rehydration salts and fed him through a baby bottle. He couldn’t speak and his only identification was a number written in black marker on his bicep, 1013.

He was dying, 8 days had passed since the earthquake and everything in him was broken, legs, feet, hips, ribs, everything and he was alone. Dr. Bill gave him an I.V. and drugs for the pain. Then it was time to move him, 30 minutes East to Malpasse where doctors had taken over an orphanage and set up a temporary hospital. Bill held the I.V. bag and told me to pick the child up. I can only imagine the look on my face, “Won’t I hurt him?” I asked. “Yes.” He said. And that was that. Bill was the doctor, the best doctor I have ever known and I did what he told me to. I took the boy into my arms.

He was so light. He must have been 8 or nine, though he could have been older, children are so much smaller in Haiti. He groaned. I walked as lightly as I could to the car. I was in the passenger seat and Bill was behind me, the driver was a man I had never seen before and he brought a friend along for company I suppose. The five of us rode together down the rough rode toward the makeshift hospital in the Haitian countryside.

I held the child, still in his tin foil blanket, and whispered to him as he drifted in and out. It was all so wrong to me. I was angry. It should have been his mother’s face he saw, it should have been his father holding him, but he had me and my hairy, pale face looking down at him. It wasn’t right.

I was terrified he was going to die in my arms. Three times I thought he had died and then we would hit a bump and his bones would grind and his eyes would open to bulging and he would gasp from the pain. There were so many bumps and cruel pot holes, soon I was praying for God to take him. The road went on and on and then I was begging God to have mercy and end this suffering. I started to recite Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd….and as I stumbled through the words the car cleared the last concrete houses and I could see the clear, January fields and the mountains before us and on either side, and time stretched out and I felt how alive I was, really alive. I looked around and we were in the valley of death and dying, and I looked down at this boy and God showed up and He didn’t do as I pleaded but he showed me the child with His eyes and I saw my child and I sang to him.

We made it to the field hospital and I carried the child and began calling for help and from shoulder I heard Bill say “It’s ok Chris. It’s ok” and of course it wasn’t ok but it wasn’t an emergency, there was nothing anyone could do. I gave the boy to a medical student or a nurse and I just sort of lingered. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I don’t remember it clearly now but then Bill was leading me back to the car.

Two years later I traveled down the same road and through the same valley and there was singing again but this time it was the singing of 13 Haitian men and women on their way to the river to be baptized. I thought about the boy. I think about him all the time but now I replayed the memories through the drive and it all felt real again. And in that moment God showed up again and He did what He always does for me, He healed the broken bits inside of me.

C.S. Lewis once wrote “That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” I hold onto that and I pray for the child I think of as 1013. I pray that Jesus will wipe away every tear and heal all his brokenness and turn every bit of pain into a glory. I look forward to the day when I meet him whole and healthy as a brother in the presence of our King and he’ll tell me his real name and I’ll tell him mine. I thank God for placing me with him for that short time and allowing me to be his father.

1:01 AM

1/18/2012 Dargout, Croix des Boquetes, Haiti

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


It may be hard to comprehend, but clean water is a scarce resource in Dargout. Very few homes have running water. Wells are expensive and unless they are deep enough are often contaminated. The majority of the people must purchase the water they drink and wash with from water trucks (think ice cream truck that sells water) or local entreprenuers.
We are blessed to have clean water at One Family in Christ Foundation. Pastor Kesnel has a deep well and a reverse osmosis water purification system. The Foundation sells water to people in the community at a reduced rate (2 gourdes or about $.05 per 5 gallons). Unfortunately, the system requires power to pump the water from the ground and through the purification system. On the days that we get electricity from State Power this is no problem as a night of eletricity fills the tanks for the day; however, there are many days when State Power does not come. For the first seven days of January there was no power in Dargout. When this happens, the generator must run for at least six hours to fill the tanks, as gasoline is over $6 a gallon here filling the water tanks with the generator is very expensive and the Foundation must either charge more for the water or run at a loss.
This dilema was resolved this weekend when the people from Water Missions International (the organization that donated and maintains our purification system) installed solar panels on the roof of our school and a new more efficient pump for the well. The panels power the pump and fill the tanks in a third of the time that the old pump did. This is a huge blessing for the orphanage, school, church, and the community. Due to the reduced cost, Pastor Kesnel is giving away water for free all week and then lowering the price of water to 1 gourdes for 5 gallons for everyone in the community. An incredible blessing in a country where millions live without access to clean water.
Merci Senyor! (Thank you Lord).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back in Haiti

We are happily back in Haiti!

We enjoyed 3 wonderful weeks of rest and rejuvenation in Florida.  We are so very, very grateful to our parents for making that trip possible.  It was a blessing beyond measure to our family, our marriage, and our souls.  We thoroughly enjoyed hot water, constant electricity and a variety of foods.  It had surprised me how much I truly enjoy variety- it is something I hope I never take for granted again.

We also enjoyed visits with family and friends- both in person and through Skype.  It was a joy to see beloved faces and have real-time conversations!

Our return to Haiti was smooth, and we were warmly welcomed back by the friendly faces of One Family.  We were even celebrated with a beautiful cake and ice cream- the kids were so pleased!

Our rooms are still not ready, but they are very, very close.  It's exciting to be here for the last few pieces to come together.  This time, they really do only need fixtures.  The windows and screens were installed yesterday, and tomorrow we expect the last few shower tiles and nozzles to go in.  We should be able to start moving in this weekend!

We are happy to be back- happy to see our friends, happy to be looking forward to a busy month ahead.  Last night we ate dinner with our missionary friends, who are also returned from the holidays.  It was wonderful to see them and we're looking forward to seeing them more often.

The weather is beautiful.  Warm and breezy days, with cool nights.  It is they dry season, which means far fewer mosquitoes.  Even the roosters seemed to be calmer- they didn't start crowing until almost 3:30 this morning!

While there was sadness in saying good bye again, it is good to be back.  It is good to be living on mission.