Friday, February 10, 2012

Next Steps

We went to Haiti to learn more about an "orphanage". But when we got there, we soon discovered that it was not an orphanage but a very large family. Pastor F and his wife had 6 biological kids and have become a family of 22 since the earthquake after taking in 14 more children. I don't believe they had plans to run an orphanage or to grow their family before the earthquake. They were praying about coming along side kids in their neighborhood, but they didn't know the earthquake was going to happen, so they didn't plan for their life to be changed in this way.

However, right after the earthquake that left thousands of children without parents, they saw the need and they responded.

Not only have they taken in 14 extra children since the quake, but they have been living in temporary shelter, first in tents in their back yard and now in plywood structured, tarp covered, dirt floor rooms.Their home is not livable.

It felt a lot like camping to me. This style of living would make me very uncomfortable. I probably wouldn't last too long but this family of 22 has been living with their circumstances for 2 years!

The reason we called this a vision trip is because there was a strong possibility, after we learned more about this orphanage that we would, at the minimum, make some short term commitments to come along side them. Yes - it requires more accountability but it also serves a purpose that I can justify.

After returning to the U.S., I have been asked several times, "What did they have you do there?"

But our purpose for being there was not to "do" things for them. The purpose wasn't even for us to tell them what we think they need. The purpose of the trip was to first hear their dreams and vision for the kids, their orphanage and church. Then, decide how we can work together to help them achieve their vision.

We left telling them in the end that we would like to begin with helping them rebuild their home. There is an urgency to this - they run the risk of being shut down because of their dirt floors. We would also like to help them not ever run out of food again.

The interesting part is that Pastor F told us not to set a timeline on raising funds for a rebuilding project but to work with God's timing. He said that timelines are man's creation.

Since home, we have been in the process of having conversations and sharing their story with others. Soon we will be laying out a fundraising plan. Stay tuned!!

This is all very exciting stuff!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day Trip

Our first full day in Haiti, we took a one hour tap tap ride to a near by city. Our fearless leading and American pastor, Dan drove. The tap tap was owned by the Haitian pastor. Just before taking off, our team was briefed on the shape of the tap tap.

What we learned before we loaded into the back of this very sketchy form of transportation, is that when you let up on the gas, it dies. Also, there is no radiator cap and at least one of the wheels had only 3 lug nuts. Oh - I guess I didn't know about the lack of nuts on the wheels until we arrived safely back home that day - one of several times God spared my anxiety.

We had plans to use the tap tap more throughout our time there but after our Friday day trip, the tap tap no longer started for us. We found out, however that the day after our team left, it miraculously did start. I believe God's hand of protection was on us.

The purpose of our one day trip was to spend time with a friend who runs an HIV clinic. Our team arrived at her gates at the same time as two young men arrived asking to be tested. She has these simple tests that work much like a pregnancy test. She takes a small sample of the patient's blood, puts it on a strip where we watch the line disappear if it is negative for HIV. Very interesting stuff.

After she took care of her two patients, we walked down the street with her to purchase a few eggs from a small store. Then we returned to her home for a spaghetti lunch and learned more about her ministry and the surrounding area.

Next, she walked us to a nearby orphanage where dear friends of ours are adopting 2 girls. Our team was able to spend some time loving on the children and bringing gifts from their adoptive families. Most of the children in this orphanage, all but 3 (I believe) will be joining their forever families very soon. I can't wait to see them thrive and grow once home.

From there, we traveled to another orphanage run by an American couple. They had 56 children, some of which were available for adoption as well. Our team was very impressed by the set up and management of this orphanage. The American couple felt the Lord's prompting to sell everything, move to Haiti and take in kids. They arrived 4 years ago with just a few bags and very little funds, living in very primitive conditions, trying to navigate their way into the Haitian culture.Hearing their story and the obstacles they had to overcome to get them this far, made my jaw drop a few times. Truly a great example of living by faith.

We had plans to visit one more orphanage but we didn't have enough time. Pastor Dan decided that it would be best that we get back before the sun sets. Sounded like a good plan to me given the shape of our transportation. We did make it back safely to the orphanage and guest house that evening. PTL!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The orphanage

Our main reason for our vision trip to Haiti was to focus on an orphanage that our family has been advocating for a few months. We first learned about this orphanage through a connection I have in Haiti. Steve and I eventually came to the realization that if we were going to continue a relationship with this orphanage, we would need to plan a trip to visit the orphanage.

Fast forward and now we are home from one of the most amazing and challenging experiences of my life. I'll attempt to describe some of our experiences. However, I remember riding down the mountain in the tap tap on the edge of a ravine when one team member said to me, "There is really no way to describe this, is there?" It's true that you almost need to be there to really understand and appreciate the complexity of it all.

Our first day began at 3:00 a.m., when our team members woke up to prepare for our flight to Miami and then onto PAP, Haiti. By the time we landed in PAP at 4:00 p.m., we were exhausted. At the PAP airport, we were mobbed by the official men helping with luggage.We tried our best to pile our bags in one area and guard them. It took all the strength we could muster to load our luggage onto 4 carts, push our way through the crowd and head out the door.

We were followed by the men in red shirts who insisted on helping us. I had two men with both sets of hands on my luggage even though I really didn't need their help. It was overwhelming to say the least.

I was relieved to see 3 men, Pastor Dan, our interpreter Pierre and Pastor F. waiting for us at the end of our road. After a quick greeting, they guided us to the rented tap tap and Trooper that was brought to transfer our team and our luggage.

We continued to be overwhelmed by the men with the red shirts, who were forcing us to allow them to "help". But through the confusion, we all managed to get the luggage and ourselves loaded into the two vehicles. The men from our team road in the back of the tap tap with Pierre and our luggage and the women road with the pastor in his vehicle. I must say I was very anxious about being separated by my husband and each time I lost sight of their tap tap, I grew even more anxious. We traveled through rush hour traffic for a little over one hour before we arrived safely to the gate of the orphanage.

Once inside, our tired bodies were greeted by several smiling faces, hugs and kisses. The warm welcome made me feel instantly at home and for the first time comfortable since we landed in Haiti.

The pastor's wife brought a meal of spaghetti to a picnic table. We each served ourselves spaghetti and sauce from large sized pencil containers used for the serving bowls. I thought to myself, what a very practical use of a pencil case. The food was yummy, seasoned with Haitian spices.

The pastor was aware of our team's concern about food safety, so before we began to eat, he told us not to worry about the food and that being there is doing God's will and when we do God's will, God will protect us.    He assured us that we would not get sick. Somehow I knew that through his confidence and assurance, that the Lord was speaking these words of protection through the pastor. He prayed a blessing over the food and we all ate. Other than some minor tummy issues that were quickly cured with pepto, non of the team members had any digestive problems. Based on the courses we ate, there is non doubt that God's protection was covering our health. More about the food in another post =)

First of all, our team quickly learned that this was not an orphanage at all. It was a family - a very large family! - a mother and a father with 19 children, with the addition of 1 to make it 20 on the day we left.

We could not tell the difference between the kids in the "orphanage" and the pastor's biological children. All were equally cared for, loved for and treated like family.

This is the same orphanage that I wrote about several months ago that has gone on several occasions without food for days at a time. They live in temporary shelters on dirt floor. They have a two burner stove that runs on propane. There was a makeshift bathroom in the back of the compound and a rooster roaming the grounds. It felt like camping to me.

All the kids except the pastor's children were orphaned due to the earthquake. The pastor's family grew by 13 children after the quake. Some children lost both parents, some lost one parent but the living parent is not able to provide financially because of the devastating affects of the earthquake. Despite their living conditions and their tragedies, they are all happy! It's evident that they have the joy of Christ reigning in their hearts.

On Saturday night, we threw a party for the kids. The pastor's wife made a big feast. There was popcorn, ice cream, soda and trail mix. We brought each of the kids a gift from the U.S. The youth from our church raised $400 to purchase these gifts and other items needed by the orphanage. They also wrote cards with their pictures attached. The night of the party, the pastor read the cards to the kids as they sat attentive around the picnic table excited to meet new friends from the U.S. through a picture and a card.

The next day when we were looking over the cards with the kids, they remembered the ages and names of their new friends from afar. It was the beginnings of new relationships forming.

On Monday we got the pleasure of visiting the kids' school. It was a school with 400 children. The classrooms were divided by half walls. We followed the principal from one classroom to the next, seeing familiar faces. Each time we visited a classroom with the pastor's kids, each of the kids stood up and waved. In two separate classrooms, the pastor had 5 kids!

After our tour, the principal brought us to his office. This was a very special moment for our team to witness and one I will never forget.

In Haiti there are only private schools. There are registration fees and monthly tuition expenses. Despite not having the funds to enroll the kids in school this school year, the principal gave the pastor grace and allowed the kids to begin school with the expectation that the pastor would pay sometime during the school year.

Having any kind of debt weighs heavy on the pastor because the Bible discourages debt. But when you experience times when you are unable to feed a family, there certainly isn't money available for school tuition fees.

Hearing of this need, friends of ours gave us the cash that would cover the total school fees outstanding for this school year.

So in the principals office, our team was able to look on as the pastor paid off his debt to the school. We saw the records of the loans and amounts he still owed. Then we witnessed the principal cancel all the outstanding debt on paper. It was truly a monumental moment.

This experience was among many that our team was able to witness first hand the pastor giving us a reason to trust him.

There is so much corruption in Haiti. Many people are hesitant to help financially because they are fearful of whether the money would be used for the right reasons. But this orphanage was different. Our instincts told us that this is a pastor we could partner with and trust. He was the real deal!

We have an opportunity here to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of those who are the future of Haiti. What a blessing to be able to partner with a Godly family with the right motives and the best interest of the children in mind.

I will write again about the next steps that we are pursuing with our new friends. It's exciting! God is good all the time!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Home from Haiti

We are home from our vision trip to Haiti. I find myself short on words to describe the experience. When someone asks "how was it?" I don't know where to begin or if I get started, I don't know where to end.

For now, I will start by saying, this was a different experience than my last trip to Haiti. Last time, we traveled with a group of 16 of us. Everywhere we went, we had at least 4 translators and a AIM team leader with our group. I had no fear. Other than a couple rainy nights in a wet tent, I hardly ever felt uncomfortable.

This time, we traveled as a team of six. We had our fearless leader, Pastor Dan with us most of the time and part of the time one translator. This time, I felt like little mice running around Haiti, feeling a bit more fearful and more uncomfortable. This time we immersed ourselves slightly more into the culture.

We went with an itinerary. Our days were all mapped out. However, after the second full day, God took our itinerary away - He had other plans.

We were scheduled to take the tap tap up in the mountains to visit Pastor F's church Sunday morning. This was going to be one of the highlights of our trip and an important excursion because we are looking at helping Pastor F build a church and rebuild his orphanage - pretty much the focus of our trip. Him and his family were looking forward to our presence at the Sunday morning service.

But God had other plans. The tap tap would not start that morning. After prayer and discussion, we decided to walk to our interpreter, Pierre's church. Once there, we were able to catch the last half hour of his service. Usually a worship service in Haiti lasts about 3 - 4 hours, so we were very late. Despite being late, Pierre was thrilled and surprised to see our team. After the service, we walked Pierre home, met his wife and child and prayed over them in their home. We were blessed! It was the right thing for our team to be doing Sunday morning. From that point on, Pierre and his family will always have a special place in each of our hearts.

The pastor and his family were so disappointed that we did not make it to their church that morning. However, in Haiti, there are always several opportunities to attend church throughout the week, so we decided we would rent a tap tap and go Monday evening.

Now being out in the mountains in the evening hours gave me slight hesitation but I thought well, the pastor would discourage us if he thought there was any danger.

So our team set off up the mountain side in a tap tap. Our security was the pastor's 10 year old daughter and 12 year old son. The tap tap was able to bring us only as far as to a bridge that crossed over a river.

10 year only "L" took Steve's hand and gave him a reassuring smile as she led us all across the rickety bridge and up the mountainside through what appeared to be the poorest of the poor in Haiti. Walking a narrow path, past tarp roofed homes and many many stares, was probably one of the most uncomfortable moments of our trip.

After about a 5 minute walk, we arrived to the temporary church structure. There was no electricity in sight anywhere around us as the sun was setting. But the church had a generator, which produced light and sound, so it was like a little "city on a hill" or a light in much darkness.

Outside the church, we saw poverty at it's worst in Haiti. Also, I'm quite sure many of the people we saw had never seen a white person.

The service we attended was a prayer service. They prayed for our team. We sang worship songs. We were blessed and felt welcomed.

During the entire 2 hour service, I had the pleasure of holding the youngest member of the orphanage, little "B", who snuggled into my shoulder and napped. "B" stole our hearts. She is a gorgeous 10 month baby girl with a beautiful personality. As I was holding her close and snuggling her tight, "L", grabbed by elbow to get my attention, pointed to a woman in the next row over and said, "B's mommy!" At the same time, B's mommy was looking right at us!

This was B's birth mom looking at the white woman snuggling with her baby. It was the most awkward moment for me of our trip so far. The rest of the service, my heart broke for a mother who could not provide for her child and made the ultimate sacrifice to give her a better life. I had heard her story already... 5 other kids at home, not knowing where their next meal will come from, all suffering greatly from malnutrition. I wondered what was going through her mind.

When I wasn't thinking about B's birth mom, I was praying that somehow that tap tap would be parked right outside the church so that we didn't have to walk that crazy and scary strip back over the bridge at night.

Well, God answered my prayers. The tap tap was backed up to the church. I found out later that evening that I wasn't the only one praying for that to happen.

Outside in the tap tap as little B was passed around, her birth mother approached our team. Pastor F's wife, introduced us to her. She greeted us each with a gentle hand shake and a warm smile. She also got to hold B, hug her and snuggle with her. It truly was an interesting moment to watch this interaction. Life seemed so unfair at that moment but yet she was happy for her daughter's life.

Once our team was all settled in the tap tap, our driver began heading down the mountain the other direction, crossing over a huge rock pile first. Our trip down the mountain was an adventure. Let's just say, we were literally on the edge of a cliff and the road had so many pot holes and was so uneven that I'm quite sure it would not even meet the standards of a low maintenance road in the U.S.

But we survived to tell the story and joke about it later. The entire trip was full of adventure. This is just one story of many.

Some of what we experienced and learned while in Haiti is so terribly heartbreaking. There are children who need to be rescued from bondage. Slavery and trafficking of children is alive and thriving in Haiti. Being aware of this is one thing but actually being a witness to this injustice, has rocked my world.

The culture there is one that's difficult to understand. If a child is late for school, they get a beating. Physical punishment of children is quickly handed out and widely accepted. I stood by a Haitian woman who was shouting at a 12 year old girl with a strong hold on her chin and arm. I asked her what she was saying to the girl and in her broken English to me, she said, "I told her she is nothing but trouble, that she is a bad bad girl!" This was as a result of the 12 year old girl refusing to stay with her because she wanted to come with me. She was treated horribly. But God is good and this 12 year old is now in a safe haven. I'll share more about her story in another post.

I could go on and on because there are so many more stories. I guess that means many more blog posts on the horizon.

I can't wait to tell you about the orphanage where we spent most of our time, building relationships and making forever friends. Another blog post coming soon!