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!