Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Justice Roll Down from the Mountain of God

What is redemptive is that death &injustice aren't willed by God, but that they're repurposed &worked together for good. This is the Gospel.

Our latest trip to Haiti that we returned from a week ago tomorrow was an 11 day journey that was blogged about from on site only twice. Typically, when the events of each day start to wind down at the guesthouse, that's when I'm able to pull out a laptop and recount the storied living that we get to be a part of in Les Cayes. However, after only two days of blogging, life for our team of 16 refused to wind down even a little bit. So a week later, here I am, committing to at least attempting to write out the process of our last 8 days in country. Thank you for your prayers for our attempts to quickly work with the legal and medical systems in Haiti. Thank you for your prayers for Acenita. Thank you for your prayers for our team that got to see a newer, messier, heavier side of missions. Thank you for your prayers for our presence as comforting arms to grieving Bighouse Orphanage after Acenita's funeral. And thank you for your continued prayers as we return to Haiti on Sunday to love on our family there, that is surely still working through their loss. We recognize and love the Lord of Lords for His master story-crafting. We recognize and love the Lord of Lords for not letting us be satisfied with "everything happening for a reason," and for calling us to only being quenched in our thirst for the Kingdom by reminding us that we were called to renew the world; by reminding us that He detests death, fear, sin but still is faithful to work even those to the good of His people; by reminding us that everything is purposed, that we are asked to believe in a culturally relevant, Christ-centered Good News, that when we can do something, we are called to do something. Here's how we've been reminded...

Tuesday afternoon at Bighouse Orphanage, I sat across from Pastor Jean, Frantzou our translator, and Anna Connell (a team member) who was holding the tiny framed, basketball bellied toddler, Acenita. I could hear the organized chaos of VBS being executed by our other 14 team members who were helping lead 75 children in the creating of Moses Beards made out of foam and cotton. An attempt 95% successful only fallen short because of Peter who had glued the cotton straight onto his face. It's always Peter.

I stared back and forth between Acenita falling in and out of sleep in Anna's arms and the pile of cinder blocks drying next to the chapel, thinking about how if those bricks didn't dry properly, their foundation would always be weak. Acenita had surely been sick since birth. But it was clearly getting worse. The Pastor told me how he had exhausted his efforts. How the Port Salut doctor, the Les Cayes Pediatrician, and the Port au Prince specialist had all attempted their tests and diagnoses but no one could get past simply treating the symptoms. Everything was negative, however her spleen was taking up most of her belly which was taking up most of her body. Acenita's stomach was hotter than the rest of her skin and her heart beat was fast though she had done nothing but lay in her metal-framed bed for days. I prodded for as much information that I could. I looked at all the medical records with no understanding of the field. But no one needs text books to know when someone is dying. Surely souls know. And in point two seconds, my mind shifted from, "I hope they get her help" to "Who's going to do that, Britney?"

I whole-heatedly believe that it was the Holy Spirit's deep, you hear me?...deep...conviction to "Not overlook what you have been entrusted to care for." I knew at that moment that if Acenita passed away and we had not spent ourselves in every way possible in helping her, it would be on my hands. I made a call to our field partners of the orphanage, and told him her situation and asked what the reality of medical visas look like, if we thought that would be necessary depending on her status over the next couple of days. We were given permission to watch her and decide accordingly.

The next day, we went to Bighouse again with the team for another day of VBS and mosquito screen installation. I pushed through the grabbing hands and cheek kisses that were searching for their favorite team member from the day before, and I made my way to Acenita's bunk. I'm not sure I've ever felt so panicked. After feeling her high-fevered stomach and her throat that was vibrating due to the rapid rate of heart beat, I yelled for Sarah, left instructions for the team, and in ten minutes, Anna Connell, a translator, the truck, and a driver were rushing to the hospital.

Acenita hates going to the doctor. She was 5 years and some small number of pounds worth of Diva, and she would let a doctor know what she thought on her energized days. Today was not one of those days. She sat in her little underwear made for babies, heart beat racing, in the young physician's office while he looked over her papers, listened to her chest, and mumbled constantly in a concerned creole conversation that let me know we would have to get her to the states. And sure enough. He committed to writing a letter for our trip to the embassy, but highly encouraged us to do something, as he had nothing for her.

The rest of the day was like a movie, for sure. The rest of the week was like a movie, for sure. We quickly found out that Acenita was without a birth certificate, which we were told wouldn't come in for another month. "I have money, how much for one tomorrow?" I am ashamed for working this type of system. But there was a choice to be made. The next day we had a birth certificate. This was only after we had gotten in to see Junior, the head of Immigration in Les Cayes, whose office we visited after hours at an unmarked building up a back staircase where a florescent light flickered and a broken A.C. blew weak, warm air. "Is this real??"

With our few, day-consuming stops, we had our list of papers that would need to be collected within the next day and a half to get Acenita approved at the Embassy in Port au Prince for an emergency medical visa. The whole time, the baby growing weaker and more confused.

The next morning, Sarah and the team headed out in prayer for us and mission to accomplish projects while waiting to hear from our endeavors. We probably drove all over the south that day. We went first to get a certificate in a town forever away. Which we did. Check. However, once we returned, we realized it was the wrong certificate, so we would have to go back. But first, we would need to get Acenita's most recent papers. We then met the pastor, his wife, and the child at the General Hospital in town, where she waited in the heat while we waited for her letters and papers. After a wait far too long, Acenita was put in the car with us to cool off in the A.C. The shock of which pulled all of her juice and crackers (which she hadn't been able to keep down for weeks) up and all over my clothes. I felt like I was holding a skeleton, and for the first time, I thought about what it would be like if she passed away in travel with us before we were able to get her to Schumpert in Shreveport. Lord, have mercy.

6 hours, many bumpy miles with an enlarged spleen, 1 washing in the well to remove vomit, three doctors sites, and 1 visit to Junior was now time to go see Acenita's parents to get their ID cards that approved her leaving for help. I asked how far they lived away. They said "3-4 miles." One day, I'll learn not to ask. A 45 minute drive on ridiculously awful back roads after questioning, we were told, "Now we get out and walk the other half of the way" because the road had come to an end. Good thing I wore my flipflops and it had just rained.

Anna Connell and I became quickly jealous of the Haitian women who glide across the roots and the river beds with total ease. We passed rice fields. Wobbled by neighbors asking "Kikote Zami Cayes??" in search for her family. Then we got to the stream that my shoes weren't going to survive. So I prayed the parasites away, and grabbed them in my hand, and hopped the rocks to the other side, just in time to snag a cactus and keep trekking.

"Where is their home?"
"Up there?"
*neck strained all the way up a mountain* "Where?"

Acenita's mother and father (parents to three orphanage children and three children that live with them) are the poorest people I've ever met in my entire life. She sat shaking on the side of her short, 3-sided, dried banana leaf hut, waiting to hear from us that Acenita had passed away. Relieved to hear we were there to get help. She had to have been younger than me. So primitive. So disconnected. So surreal.

The hike back was just as epic, as we were able to see the mountain tops from where we climbed. We now had all the documents we needed to head to the embassy that weekend, aside from one. So we headed back to our first destination to get the corrected document. We drove for an hour in the back of the pick-up, drying off from being wet in the river, now coated with the white dust from the road...just to find out that they were closed and that we would be given no help until Monday. Our first unbudging roadblock.

That night at the guesthouse was the most intense worship I've ever witnessed as the team poured out on behalf of the sick, on behalf of God's healing power, on behalf of justice, on behalf of guidance and peace, on behalf of leading us in rescue because we were first rescued. We called to the heavens that death had lost its sting and that our God was triumphant. And He is.

We would then wait, and at 3am Monday morning (two days later) Missy and I would separate from the team for good and head to Port au Prince and then hopefully immediately to Miami then DFW and then Shreveport's Schumpert whose doctors were waiting for Acenita's arrival. Everyone's parent's were notified. We were terrified. And willing.

Sunday afternoon Acenita went into the hospital for emergency blood transfusion to help slow her heart. Our translator came to let us know that he was going to go sit at the hospital until the Doctor told him whether or not Acenita would be released to travel by the morning. We waited. We ate supper. We talked about every single detail necessary for my separation from the team. And the team collected all their extra cash to pay for the passport and visa. And we played games and tried to pass the time. And waited.

Frantzou came about 9:30 to let us know that Acenita had passed away. And a bizarre tension of peace and heavy heart ache rested on the team, the pastor and his wife, and our hard-working and compassionate translator.

We called off all of our plans and made new ones to put all money toward Acenita's funeral which we were asked to attend the day before we left.

That night, Lomax gave the devotion on the second floor, white-tiled, wrap-around porch. And he talked about eternity. And how the Bible says that this life is like waking up from a dream. And there was peace. And many tears. And a good amount of anger. And peace.

"In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song, This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm, what heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease, my comforter, my all in all, here in the love of Christ I'll stand." Surely, Jesus.

Our 15 passenger van got stuck for the first time all trip behind the vehicle carrying the casket on the way to Bighouse Tuesday morning. And I thought about Lomax's devotion, and I thanked God that this too would build the Kingdom, and that we will all be home one day. And I thought about how my Aunt Kathryn's memorial from February went toward building at Bighouse. And how she always loved to hear about my Haiti trips and the children. And how now she is probably holding one. I trust that.

The boys' on the team were shirtless and covered in mud by the time the reached the chapel. The laughter was good for our souls. And helped energize our hearts that drove our arms to hold the 75 grieving children who were lost in their sorrow. But let us love on them. And let us know that they could not wait until we returned. Our sweet family.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I trust this.

And I know, that this too, will be worked for good. That is how other our God is. Even what He hates, that being sin and death, will work together for the building of the Kingdom. So we choose to remember that we were first rescued and then are called to accept the responsibility of rescuing those who cannot do it alone. That we were not called here to simply watch. That the Spirit gives peace just as He gives empowerment to free the broken and heal the wounded. That our work is here and our home is there. That my hope is found in Christ alone, as is my drive and purpose, which is always changing depending on how we are growing and who needs to be loved.

That, currently, looks like praying for and working toward better healthcare with our partners both here and there. Because not loss will be looked over in vein. But will only be recognized, as all things, as a catalyst for restoration. We are greatly for the tiny Diva that welcomed us to bighouse with her little body and big personality three summers ago. We, along with our family in Haiti, will never forget her. And we will accept the fight for freedom in the name of those who have gone before us, and by the power of the name of Jesus.

Continue to stand in agreement with us while we seek the Spirit's discernment for healthcare and what that process looks like. And again, thank you for living the storied living with us.

We fly out again for Haiti, this time with the Youth Team, this Sunday morning. So, more blogs to come.

Bondye renmen nou,


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My God is so Big, so Strong and so Mighty

There's a big white table that currently accompanies 5 wooden chairs and 10 folding chairs on the second floor wrap-around porch at Hosanna Guesthouse. If you lean on it for too long (like I do when I blog) its paint chips off onto your sun-screen/bug-spray covered arms that are already pretty dirty from a day of play and work at the orphanage. A row of potted plants sit on the the railing in old paint buckets and a broken cushion-swing begs for a team member to journal on its green and white stripes underneath the hanging decorations of plastic flowers.

It is day 4 of travel and day 2 of site-work in Haiti for the college and young adult team. Trip-goers are scattered about the complex busying themselves with rest, reading, and showering while we wait for Frantzou (our wonderful translator) and Luke to get back here on Frantzou's motobike from purchasing a circular saw from the market. Luke has never looked so tall than he did situating his long legs and video camera behind the smaller Haitian who assured me that "he is under my protection and God's protection, now worries."

Today was a sweet day at Bighouse, as the second days usually are because teams are getting familiarized with the faces and the heat and the routine of our short stay. It's always really rich to see new team members as well as old quickly fall for one specific child. Where when they hold each other, though no one says anything, you can tell the two are soaking in every minute of loving on one another that they can, subconsciously admitting to the fact that lives change lives little by little, if even by long hugs and group sing-alongs.

Half of the team (mostly the guys) spent the morning stripping wood and taking measurements to install all the many mosquito screens into the orphanage windows. Which keep "evil out" we hear. And I suppose in a sense, that's true. However, our battery powered circular saw was overworking and losing power quickly. So the guys finished the measurements, loaded the wood on top of the 15 passenger van, and decided that we would finish building the screens at the guesthouse and bring them to install tomorrow. (Which is why Luke is now at the market.) The other half of the team spent the morning corralling all 75 of the children into "un lin, sivuple!" not two lines, but one, as we brought them into the chapel three at a time to get their updated heights, weights, and pictures. This is always a fun and chaotic and hopeful and chaotic and humorous and chaotic task. It is essential to get all of the children through the process, but sometimes we have wanderers. It is essential to get the children's correct information, but sometimes Louvilia from three years ago who was Dovilia last year is Novilia this year. Welcome to Haiti. This is why it is good to invest in one area deeply, so that we can recognize the child even when her stats shift slightly due to typically unsteady structure.

The children at Bighouse are still growing, one boy, Charles Fritz Kendy, already at a whopping 106lbs. I swear he's gained 20lbs a year. Just one or two of them seem to have not, but this is more about chronic health problems than unprovided nutrition. We are currently in conversation about how to remedy these chronic health problems for these two--mainly one--children who have already been in and out of doctors offices in Cayes, Port Salut, and Port au Prince now for a few months.

It was deeply convicting to me today while standing under the pavilion with the translator and Pastor Jean as he told me the details of these doctors appointments. When the updates are in emails, they seem crucial and significant. But when the update is in your arms, it becomes of utmost priority. I'm never quite sure when or if the tears will hit me in Haiti anymore. The trash doesn't shock me. The dirty feet don't appall me. The torn clothes and thin mattresses at the orphan dorms don't paralyze me to ineffectiveness as they once did. But today, standing under the pavilion with the translator and Pastor Jean as he told me the details of these doctors appointments...I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit of my responsibility as a go-between. As a voice. As a witness to sickness and a witness to good medicine. We are introduced to health and wealth and introduced to poverty and sickness for one reason and one reason only, and that is to answer when called to fill the gap. Not take over. Not "Americanize" the world. Not assume that we are fix-alls. But as far as it depends on me, and on us, if we know of a sick child and know of someone who knows of good doctors (whether in Haiti or overseas), or know of someone who could fund the medicine...then it is the calling coupled with our salvation that commissions us to stand in the gap.

A 6 year old with tiny arms and beautiful cornrows shyly scooted up to me today with her vbs craft in hand. When I picked her up, she whispered something into my ear that I couldn't understand. "Kisa?" I said. And she repeated. When I asked the translator to do what he does best, he said, "She says, 'Please keep holding me.'"

I thought about how many times my soul cries out like that to God. "Please keep holding me. Please don't let me down. I'm not sure about a lot of things, but I know that this feels safe, and right. Please keep holding me." And I held onto that baby girl in the back of the chapel where the team was leading the 74 other children in Creole and English verses of "My God is So Big So Strong and So Mighty, There's Nothing My God Cannot Do." And I thought about how the children's songs are sometimes the most relevant.

Sweet Peter (the often crying and consistently intense 6 year old) then came up to me with his foam Moses beard craft in his hand, but cotton stuffing glued onto his own face. I wish I could say that I was the compassionate caregiver who then took him to the well to wash it off. But, alas, I took him around to all the team members to show off his newly developed white beard.

Speaking of weird bugs. Our translator ushered a very, very, very, very large spider out of the classroom we were eating lunch in today. This was of course prior to him punching a wood bee away from the ladies and then dropping down to the ground to complete his share of the push-up-competition that some of the boys have made a daily routine for after our mid-day-meal.

We finished the day with Nilla Wafers in a round circle and answered "Wi!" to the children's questions of whether or not we would be back tomorrow. Then Anna Connell did what she does best and rounded up the team for another adventurous mudding experience in our lumber-topped-white van.

Now we wait to finish screens, take cold showers, and play another tense game of BS and Spoons on this long, paint-chipped white porch table before dinner and devotion time.

We ask you to help us stand in the gap in prayer for the sick, in gratefulness for the healthy, and in seeking for those who can meet needs. Trusting that we have been introduced to all three for a beautiful purpose. Awareness, hope, and restoration.

Mesi Anpil, from the team in Les Cayes, Haiti:)


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

We're kind of in love....

We set aside two days for travel at the first of this college and young adult trip, since it was a 12 day venture and we wanted to ease into it. So instead of making the 4am-10pm all-day-trek from Shreveport to Les Cayes, Haiti, we stayed the night in Miami after church on Sunday and flew out yesterday morning about 6:45. That put us in Port au Prince around 8:30, which would have normally put us in Cayes around 1:30 after a good 5hour bus ride to the south.


At the packing party last Saturday before we left, we talked about how wonderful the trips can be, especially when we let ourselves be ok with the phrases "Haitian Time" and "flexibility." We just didn't know we were going to get a chance to practice that upon immediate arrival into the country.

We had gone over the drill multiple times prior to getting to customs in Port au Prince. We would collect all 17 of the bags that have yellow duct tape on them. Put them on three carts. Surround those three carts, and respond with the typical and typically not useful "no mesi, we can carry them" to the many many red hatted "workers" assisting you for a tip. So our team made up of half former members and half first timers did a magnificent job lugging our loads down the newly finished and definitely more efficient walkways at the airport. The concrete path and the overhead roof made for a much easier transition to find our driver than the potholes directly outside of baggage claim used to. And there we were, hard part over, sitting on our bags, looking for a sign that said "Britney" or "FUMC Shreveport."

No where to be found. We had gotten by with only giving out $3 in tips to a guy who took our cart and were eager to throw our bags on the Hosanna Guesthouse bus and hit the road before we received any further assistance. And after a call to the Hosanna pastor, Sarah confirmed that he would "be there really quickly, he had just gotten into Port au Prince."

So, that meant another hour of waiting as it takes an hour to get through the city once you've reached its boarders. But we were good. We had witnessed Justin running to a sweet French Nun's rescue after she fell while loading her team and got to visit with her workers from Belgium who were there for rebuilding. And we were chilling on top of our bags, visiting with Francois, our newest helper, who was "keeping a look out for our van and driver..."

"Eez thees your bus?"
No, thankyou though...
"Wot about thees one?"
No, it won't be here for another hour...
"Oh, I think thees is your bus"
Nope. Not our bus. Thank you.
"Thees one?"
Yes....yes! That's our bus...Thank God, that's our bus!
"K, how much you geev me?"

We loaded our luggage and people into the 15 passenger van and pickup and headed for the southern coast. The drive was of course gorgeous, especially now in Haiti's rainy season when all of the red flowered trees are blooming. Our van windows cracked just enough to miss most of the side-road-stand's smoke but catch a cool summer breeze throughout the back seats. And then, about 2.5hours into the drive, we pulled onto the side of the road to "check the brakes." And there we stayed for the next hour-hour and a half waiting on brake maintenance (which happened completely and securely, mommas). Lucky for us, there was a family selling cold sodas in bottles that let us pay with US dollars, and we got to know some of the locals in Petit Guave. Missy decided to start a game of "I'd plank Haiti" (where you lay flat on any surface you can find and take a picture). She fell off the bumper of the bus attempting plank #2, and swore that before the trip is over, we will have taught the orphans how to plank. Lomax also drew some mazes on paper for the neighborhood kiddos to figure out. And Anna, Sarah, and Carrie received their first proposal for the trip from a young gentleman that thought they were "very magnificent."

No complaints. A little bit of sun. Our first round of sugar-cane-coca cola. And a few good attempts at Creole conversation, and we were back on the road for the last 2.5hours. Which we slept through. Until we heard from the back, "Everybody now!" as Missy joined the Haitian radio station in leading us in a rousing round of "I'm proud to be an American" and we all died out laughing at the randomness of the Haitian rap station's choice to celebrate the holiday.

We got to the Hosanna Guesthouse in Cayes around 5:15pm last night. Settled into our rooms. Ate a wonderful supper of black rice, goat, and coconut muffins. Then unpacked and organized supplies, had debriefing/devotion time, and showered and were asleep before 10:30.

This morning, our first timers enjoyed their breakfast initiation of eggs with hotdogs, potatoes, and carrots, right before we left for Bighouse orphanage.

The drive through the muddy backroads to Bighouse was amazing. And by amazing, I mean, just like a roller coaster. And our driver was a beast. He wasn't playing with getting stuck. We were going to make it through "by the power of Jezi!" dedgummit! The few of us in the backseats got the best show for sure, as we off roaded in our 15passenger. Then we arrived at Bighouse...

...where everybody is family:) Each person was swept away by ten little hands as soon as their feet stepped out of the van. And the kids were so happy. So very happy. We all hugged and squeezed and called out names to show that we remember each other and that we were hoping that a reunion like this was surely to come again.

We gave a rundown of the day with the kids, letting them know they'd be sized for new shoes this morning and that VBS would start in the afternoon. To which they applauded, then Obnese (a 13 yr old orphan) prayed for our team and that God would bless our time together.

I love hearing a language that I don't understand call out to a God who hears them all. It makes me think that He is what connects us. And it makes me trust that that is why we are here.

We sized for crocs. Which, showed us that we brought PLENTY of medium sized pairs, but not near enough smaller children or larger children pairs. So if you're reading this, and you're wondering if there's a specific need that you can give to, I'm planning on bringing little crocs and big crocs down on our next trip in three weeks.

Then we broke for lunch and reconvened with some VBS story telling of Joseph and his faithfulness, game-playing, bracelet making, and dancing.

Our wood and circular saw that didn't get to make it out due to the large amount of rain that muddied up the roads earlier this morning, finally got delivered about 3pm just in time to store for tomorrow's mosquito screen installation.

We said our goodbyes. Anna Connell rounded up the "blans" and we loaded up in the truck, after of course playing round 4 of "locate Lomax" he tends to wander off.

We're now back at the guesthouse showering, reading, resting. Enjoying the lovely, open, tiled second floor, wrap-around porch. And waiting for dinner. And maybe a round or two of cards on the porch before devotion/debrief. Tomorrow we've got the story of Moses, height/weight/picture updates, and mosquito screen installation.

We are focusing on gratitude while we're here. Knowing that it is very tempting during week-two week trips to different worlds to be all-consumed by what to do or what to feel. Instead, we are praying that God will stay us in gratitude. Of you who helped us get here. Of you who are praying. Of the Good News that empowers and equips us. Of the Kingdom that begs to be built. Of the God who knows all languages. Of goat meat. And car breakdowns. That give us stories to laugh about and share. Of the babies and that they're growing. And that they love to dance and remember our names. That they are learning to pray and that they pray for you and me and each other. Knowing that gratitude will put us in a place where God can then lead us to what to do or feel in His own way and timing. That gratitude will free us to embrace a fuller life, a fuller trip, a fuller experience with relationships than anything else chosen.

Keep Haiti in your prayers. Pray for leadership that is solid and transformative. Pray that the dumpsters (that we saw for the first time) continue to multiply around the country's city along with other types of things that point toward progress, cleanliness, education, and sustainability. Pray that our hope is built on nothing less than the promise of Jesus. And like Joseph, who believed throughout years of not seeing, we will partner with the Haitians in our belief that restorative things are happening and there is a greater future than even we could have imagined for the country.

Thanks for coming with us:) We'll be here until the 13th, so check back!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jacky the Cat, Robin Williams, and a Moto-Bike

I not only rode my first Moto-bike in Haiti today…I learned to drive one!!! (On a low traffic, side-beach-street, with small amounts of potholes and distractions, Mom.) It was exhilarating, and after a few good jolts and a nice solid wobble to find my balance, Frantzou (our translator) and I were off. Slowly at first, then second gear, and *gasp* up to third gear even! And I laughed out loud and told Frantzou how funny it must look to see an American girl taxi-ing a Haitian man around Les Cayes. He said, “I will tell them, ‘She knows what she’s doing!’” And I said, “And I will shout back, ‘I am pretending!’” And we laughed as I avoided dips in the road that were unnecessary to avoid just before I got a glimpse of the main road and quickly inquired, “How do I stop?”

It’s a lovely day in Les Cayes.

This morning I woke up at 6:30, watched the curtains blow around the sun rays until about 7 when I got out of bed to get ready for our 7:30 breakfast--pancakes and mangoes. I was introduced to the guesthouse kitty, whose name I expected to sound very foreign, but turned out to be “Jacky.” We talked about the different ministries that the Pastor and his wife here at Hosanna Guesthouse have been a part of growing over the last 40 years. They are visionaries who know their smallness and recognize the reality of God’s provision. Their ministry, Bethanie Missions, was a dream when they started, they said. Now, it has turned into a denomination that supports 65 congregations, two guesthouses, a school, a clinic, and an orphanage in Haiti. They said that Bethanie runs on faith. And that when God wants them to build, they build. And when God wants them to wait, they wait. When the money is there, they expand, and if it is not, they pray, and continue fasting to see where God takes their adventure next.

The wife of the Methodist Superintendent of Les Cayes said yesterday, “How can we preach the God of the good news to people who cannot eat? That is why we do both. We feed them and we tell them about the greatness of God.” I think that’s the most beautiful thing about the name Bethanie Missions…it is active in its caring for people. And that is a natural response of a God who is not booming over us as in the voice of a disappointed boss…but in the voice a Savior who has asked to help carry the load and take us somewhere that makes sense. Who asks us to yoke up to something lighter than lies and more freeing than selfishness or loneliness.

The Pastor and his wife at Hosanna asked to take us up to the place that they wish to establish a clinic, just outside of the Anniversary Arch. We bumbled over a broken, rocky dirt road that winded through a mountain, and came out at a very large, empty, concrete facility. The couple has a vision of turning it into a Christian hospital that cares about life. They are disappointed with the state of the hospital and clinics in Les Cayes and want to be about offering something different that heals people’s bodies and speaks to their souls. We walked around what used to be classrooms as the Pastor painted a picture of the ER and waiting rooms and examination spaces that would one day be there, when God leads people to support it. And I could see a time when I trek back up that mountain side and walk in a place with painted walls and enhanced quality of life for many. Then they took us back past the car and up a hill. And as we peaked the top of that mound and leveled out onto a small grassy area, I realized that I was looking down over all of Les Cayes. Downtown, the villages, the sea and the side Island in the distance. It was that one place you keep in the back of your mind when you travel but you can never fully explain what you want to see or how you’d even get there…but once you’re there, you know. And all I could think about was, can I go higher? I can’t wait to take our summer teams back there to see the city and pray for the hospital and the ministry and healing that will happen on that land. We drove out back toward the city, catching a glimpse of one of the Catholic schools named after a Saint whose picture painted on the side of the building strangely resembles an American Robin Williams, Hu pointed out.

Coming back to the guesthouse, I went to the upstairs porch to plunk out some chords of Jesus Loves the Little Children (as I’ve been volunteered to play that and tell a Bible story at the Children’s Chapel in the morning, haha). And just as I started, I was summoned downstairs because I had a visitor.

Mama Lis! Maxo’s wife who used to work at the other guesthouse, who took us in as her children while we were in Haiti. She speaks as little English as I do Creole, but her presence, affection, and expressions speak deeply enough to reinstate that we belong to her and she belongs to us. It was as if somewhere in our souls something recognizes itself in each other. We attempted the small talk that any four year old could accomplish, then let her know that we would come and visit her and the children with a translator tomorrow. And she filled a bag with some of Madam Franchette’s peanuts to make Mamba a, and left with a wave and a big white smile.

Of course, after that, was the Moto-bike lesson. And as I rode around on the back of the kelly-green cycle, passing through more of Cayes than I’ve ever seen before, wondering (as always) about it’s multiple paradoxes of feeling comfortable as well as unnerving, feeling dirty as well as gorgeous, feeling like home and like anything but home…I thought about my driving attempt and my earlier conversation with Lis. And I said to Frantzou, “If I get better at driving this thing and knew the language fluently, there’d be no stopping the possibilities!” And he laughed and said, “You move here?” And I said, “Oh no, maybe when I’m old. We can all be old and in Haiti together. But when I come now, I think I would be much more effective and have many more relationships if I could communicate and could get around your country.”

Which makes sense, I suppose, since we’re all following the life of a divine guy who had the same mentality. That if He could communicate in the way we communicate and travel on the grounds we live on, His ministry would be effective and relational to a greater degree than any god ever followed before. He would be able to speak with the people, meet them in their element, and show them He loved them in a way they could understand. In hopes that they would yoke up with His lighter load and envision, surely live into, a freer, fuller, less fearful, more connected life.

Hu asked if I was going to get a moto-bike when I get back to the states. I said, “No, because there I’d have to wear a helmet and I have TERRIBLE helmet hair.”

Which is true.

This afternoon we’re going to visit Darivaje Orphan Village to check on the children there as well as meet with the pastor to discuss projects for the summer. Tomorrow is Children’s Chapel, back to Bighouse to pick up some painted beads and say goodbye to the children, another visit with Virginia and Lis, then a tour of some of Bethanie’s ministries, and packing for home:)



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gratitude: A reason to Sweep the Streets

I didn’t realize that it had been half a year since I had last been in Haiti until someone in the airport asked me, “Sava byen?” and my response was a stuttered attempt that eventually turned into a nod and a smile. Do I still know how to do this?

As with all trips, this one snuck up on me, but the descent into Port au Prince always brings to reality where I am and what I’m doing. The shift in altitude recognized by my stomach lets me know that it’s time to lift the covering to my window-seat view hole right as the nose of the plane crosses over the edge of the Caribbean island’s port side. I can tell where the sand piles up in the ocean because of the lighter turquoise as if someone with really big hands was playing in it. I can see the folds of treeless mountains turn on top of each other as they poor down into the concrete shacks, scattered here and there at first, but then immediately multiplied as the plane gets closer to the runway. And I thought, “This feels strangely foreign.”

The past 6 months were a perfectly timed sabbatical from my work in Haiti, as it turned out to be very important to be in the US during the last valiant stretch of my Aunt Kathryn’s beautiful life. As the country’s presidential election (and all the riots that came with the runoffs) kept our congregation and teams cautious about reentering between November and March, I was thankful to not have to choose to travel. I remember the two weeks before we were supposed to head out on our February Sunday School trip when I just could not get a peace about leaving North Louisiana. I prayed and prayed and asked God to either settle my mind or reveal a strong enough reason to cancel our travels. I got neither, but canceled anyway and eventually felt as if the decision were “right.” And my sweet Aunt Kathryn left this world for the next on the day that we would have been traveling back to Shreveport. I’m very thankful to have been home. Someone’s timing is better than my own.

She would be glad to know that we are back in Haiti though. And I thought about her as we flew in, thinking to myself, “How different life circumstances were the last time I was here. Life is so strange.” We were greeted by the welcome band (who all have matching red shirts now, fancy fancy), and headed outside to meet our driver. A little disappointed that Jackson the one-armed bag guy was not there to offer a hand to his “Amehreecan Friend!”, we left for our hour drive of winding through Port au Prince and the extra 4 hours to the south.

We stopped at a supermarket to stretch and rub out that soar spot in the middle of my back that comes with sitting in the middle seat of a small SUV for long enough to lose feeling in your farthest right toes. Asked to use the bathroom, was graciously shown one upstairs, and washed my hands in a bucket before we headed out again.

Arrived at the Hosanna Guesthouse just in time to eat dinner, shower, and attempt to fall asleep before 9:30. However, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about everything and nothing all at the same time. A thousand worries. A thousand fears. A thousand things that I could think to be sad about if I tried hard enough. I had forgotten my computer and my international phone decided to stop working for this trip, so I had nothing to distract myself with as I laid in a blue-lit room on top of my sheets and watched the fan blow the ribbon on the wall decoration back and forth.

And then I thought, “Maybe I’ll pray.” And I pictured Jesus sitting on the side of the opposite bed waiting on me to talk to Him. And I got a pain in my chest and shook the idea out of my head so quickly that it scared me. “Why are you so afraid to pray?”

“It’s too hard.”
“What’s too hard?”
“Working through everything I’d have to work through to talk to you.”
“Do we have to do that all in one sitting? We could just talk…?”
“…I don’t know….”

And then I thought about the excerpt I’d read in Donald Miller’s “Searching for God Knows What” on the plane ride from Ft. Lauderdale earlier yesterday that said, “Some would say formulas are how we interact with God, that going through motions and jumping through hoops are how a person acts out his spirituality. This method of interaction, however, seems odd to me, because if I want to hang out with my friend Tuck, I don’t stomp my foot three times, turn around, and say his name over and over like a mantra, lighting candles and getting myself in a certain mood. I just call him.”

And so I decided not to have to have all of the answers to life and death’s questions hashed out. I decided not to even have to have the questions themselves. I decided not to have to have a perfectly articulated, hour-long repentance for all of the ways I’ve missed the mark recently. And I decided not to have to be in a pleasant, compassionate, peace-filled mood, even in Haiti, to pray.

I didn’t even say much at first. I don’t even think it was a “greeting.” It would have been more like acknowledging someone was in the room by means of a head nod and eye contact. And this is what I immediately realized through what I’m positive was the Holy Spirit.

Gratitude. A focus on how you’re grateful and to whom you are grateful…instead of your fears, your skepticism, your complaints…changes everything.

The Haitian people on the road to Les Cayes were sweeping their trash as we drove past. Many smiled and a significant number (at least enough to be noticed) were generating a new spirit as they pushed their carts and sold their hats. The country is excited about having a president that the country voted for. They are excited that he is putting a call out to all overseas Haitians to contribute $2 a week to the rebuilding of their own country. They are excited that their voice is supporting a man who is claiming to relocate people and eradicate the massive amounts of post-quake tents; who is claiming to want to work toward free education in a country where 80% of the schools are private and more expensive for most families. Granted, I take no political stance on the outcome of the election, nor do I predict how the country will look in 5 years. But I do notice a difference in a country at peace for the first time in a long time. I do notice a difference in the motivation, attitudes, and conversation of a people who are grateful. Encouraged and grateful.

So, last night, when Jesus was sitting on the bed on the opposite side of the room and told me that I didn’t have to have it all together to talk with Him…and then told me that I’d be less scared and more encouraged if I focused on gratefulness rather than fear, busyness, overwhelming to-do-lists, or loss of loved ones….when He reminded me of Donald Miller’s excerpt and the Haitian lady sweeping the street…I fell asleep thankful. And at peace.

The world is terrifying and corrupt and sorrow-filled if that is all we allow it to be. But it is also freeing and rejuvenating and beautiful when we fight to remember what is good. I am thankful that I get to work in a place where the people remind me that we belong to each other and that God is with us. I am thankful that there is food on my table both here and in the US and that, hopefully, it is sustaining a body that is working toward putting food on tables that do not have it. I am thankful for vision of a Kingdom that is growing, and that God is weaving lives together to dream new dreams and move forward as the church is called to. And I am thankful that the Spirit reminds us that He provides and that we are commanded not to fear. I am thankful for music. And that I can carry an open Bible with me where I go. I am thankful for my family, and for 23 years of knowing Kathryn Lamb Lee. I am thankful for the ability to create, and learn, and love with people. I am thankful that I can feel wind, I can see words to write them, and that God is patient with me. I am thankful that He’s not looming over me with the statement, “Do more! Be better!” but is simply drawing me into a conversation, encouraging me to focus on what is higher, and assuring me that everything else will follow as a natural response.

Haiti, you sweet country…you teach me so much.

We wrapped up the day at Bighouse, checking in on the kids and discussing projects for the three summer teams. Mackendy has seemingly shot up 4 inches, and Bertony wore a floppy white bucket hat that covered his face as he introduced me to the orphanage’s newest resident, Mikenson, who likes to tickle. And as they went through the names of anyone who has ever been on a trip, inquiring about who would be back this summer, a little face planted itself into the back of my knee ever so gently and I turned around to see Son Son who had brought me a rock (at least, that was the outcome after I asked him to please not throw it at Peter…who surely would have reacted intensely). We hugged and took “Photo Photo!” and Judelain asked how my mother was in a deeper voice than I thought he was ever going to have and Acenita jumped in my arms just in time for me to realize she (again) had not put on underwear and we looked at bracelets they had made and they asked for bracelets I was wearing and I was grateful. Grateful for ever having met these little people. Grateful for it to be relationships we are able to foster and maintain. Grateful that God loves us enough to let us do life together and learn from each other. And grateful that the story is just in its beginning.