Friday, April 17, 2015

God winks & you can't outgive God

          I've heard the phrase "God winks" before in relation to the little coincidences we see that seem uncanny and speak of God's presence and care in our lives.  Recently I had one that encouraged both Caleb and I.  My part of the story started last week as I was shopping with my youngest for a prom dress.  She had been out looking with several friends and was feeling the pressure to get it purchased.  We're living on a pretty tight budget even with the help of many generous provisions while I'm stateside this school year.  So we really stretched it to make the purchase she wanted.  I headed home determined not to spend any more money for the next weeks to make up for it (smile).
          The same weekend my husband was hard at work in Haiti.  On Sunday he was scheduled to speak at a small community church that doesn't have a meeting place just yet.  He spoke under the tent covering about giving to the Lord.  Using 2 Samuel 24:24 he reminded the congregation that we can't offer to God what has cost us nothing.  He taught that giving to the Lord is simply obedience that demonstrates our reverence, commitment, faith, and love for Him.  Finally as he watched several women carrying 60 lb. bags of cement on their head to give for the building of their church, he challenged other members.  Caleb told them that if 100 people gave bags of cement he would match each bag to give for their building.  Happily 156 people responded!  So while Caleb gave more than he planned, he was glad to see the people giving with joy.
          Now, back to my side, I knew he was speaking but didn't know what all had happened or the gift my husband had given.   I went out to eat with a dear friend and was enjoying a great meal and fellowship.  She startled me and said her husband had felt urged to give us a personal gift and she promptly wrote out a check.  I was surprised but grateful and promptly texted my husband in Haiti to tell him about the Lord's provision.  His response:  PTL!  (Praise the Lord)  Later in the day he sent me more details about what had taken place over the weekend and what he had given.  What really blew our minds was that the cost of the prom dress & the cement in Haiti matched our unexpected gift almost to the dollar.  It reminded us that He is always in control, He knows our needs, and that we can't outgive God.  Living under His leadership is the most joyous and empowering way!

Monday, September 02, 2013

It's not even 10 AM

People who know me at all know that I enjoy sleeping in if at all possible.  Part of this is due to the fact that I tend to be a night owl and do a lot of reading and work during the evening hours when it's cooler, quieter and there are fewer interruptions.  So that's my excuse of sleeping in anyway.  
     This morning I got up and was roaming the house by 9 AM and found some visitors waiting for me.  One was a young woman who had a head cold who was waiting under my gazebo in the front yard.  After greeting her and sitting down, she proceeded to tell me about why she had come and this urgent need she had, that her child was in the hospital and needed medications.  I listened and looked at the prescriptions she brought me.  Now, while not unheard of, most people do not come up to folks they don't know looking for help.  I honestly don't recall ever seeing this mother before in my life.  Normally in this situation (where I don't have a relationship with the person), I will encourage them to go to people in their neighborhood or their church and ask for help there.  When I asked her where she attended church, after starting to answer, she glanced at me and told me she goes to the same church I go to.  While I doubted this,  I looked at the receipts she brought to support her claim of need, I noticed that they were dated more than 6 weeks ago.  I told her this.  To me it seemed that she probably had a real need, but was trying to mislead me as to what it was.  Then I told her the cold fact that my husband is traveling and I don't have extra funds available to help others, just to provide for my own household right now.  It's always easier to hide behind the spouse, when you're a sucker like me.  She said she understood, and I tried to treat her with dignity, but I'm not going to hand funds over to someone who is not telling me the truth.  I hurt turning people away but I don't want to be a sucker either.
     A few minutes later, after I poured a cup of coffee I found someone I did know.  Eddie is a former student who graduated a few years ago from our high school and from our sponsorship program.  He had a donor who subsidized his tuition and allowed him to be the first of his family to finish secondary school.  He has come by to see me every once in a while to tell me how he's doing and what he hopes to do in the future.  Initially he found some help to try dental school in the capital city.  He did okay but then the help ran out.  Since that time he periodically comes by to see if I've heard of any opportunities of help available.  Sadly, the answer has been, "no, I haven't".  His needs are real and he is becoming increasingly discouraged.  At about 23 years of age, he says everyone is looking at him expecting him to do something but there are no jobs, no financial assistance programs and no help available from his family.  I told him the only thing I could, that I would be praying and hoping God would open a door.
     I hate not having better answers or more resources to help people.  Not everyone should be helped.  I would not advise helping petitioner #1 due to her attempts to mislead, but I know #2's needs are legit.  I want to scream and kick something.   It's not even 10 AM and I would like to finish my coffee.
     A bit later I get to my home office and find an e-mail message from someone who'd like to help a young student attend school this year.  This is an answered prayer.  I send off an introduction to a student on our waiting list and am grateful.  Why can't they all be helped?  It makes sense to help this younger student who is too young to work.  I'm reminded that while I can't do everything, I can help do something and try not to scream.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

It's been awhile...but wanted to share an important link

Okay, okay, so it's been awhile since I've posted anything.  It's not because things aren't happening, but rather, it's been hard to sit down and write.  I'm trying to get more organized and am even putting an app on my phone...we'll see.
The reason I'm posting today though is just to share a link I've been waiting for...
I've read alot of critiques of child sponsorship programs for years, especially since I started volunteering with one ten years ago.  I was a reluctant volunteer.  To be honest, I wasn't completely sold that it made much of a difference to students and it seemed a little bit exploitative.
Then I began working with the families.  I realized quickly it wasn't just about helping the kids, but providing relief and a helping hand to the families who were struggling just to send their kids to school.  I've seen mixed results from my viewpoint.  Mixed in the sense that I don't always get to know what happened to certain kids.  Most would advance and graduate, as several are this month.  We had kindergarten students finish today, and more are taking national exams in the next 6 weeks.  The results don't always come right away or at once.
I had a friend send me a link on facebook asking if our stats reflected what Christianity Today reports below.

Sadly, I've had neither time nor funding to do a similar study or analysis, but still it's nice to have this kind of data for those who appreciate it.  What I know is that sponsorship or wisely investing in the education and training of the young, makes a huge difference.  I know because of the families I talk to day by day, the way I see them praying for their donors, and the majority of people I see making a difference in the community in which I live.  Those who are making a difference in the lives of others, paying it forward so to speak, are those who have likewise received targeted help in the past.  Don't tire of doing good people, it does make a difference from my viewpoint.  (Today's grads featured below)

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Ripple Effect

     Several years ago, Dustin came down on a trip with his church, First Baptist of Pekin, IL to offer a hand here in Haiti.  He did just that and then also signed up to help one of the needy students at our school.  We introduced him to Mike and family over a year ago.  Since that time, they've exchanged photos, letters and due to Dustin's frequent trips back, several personal visits.  This winter, Dustin got to visit Mike's home, or rather when he and his family are living for now.  He told Mike's Mom that he was planning on coming back in the summer time with his kids and would like them to meet Mike.
     In anticipation, Mike's mom came to my house twice in the past three weeks wondering when Dustin was going to arrive.  She had her own mission trip planned and wanted to make sure she could meet up as requested with Dustin and his children.  Yesterday  I had the privilege of arranging their meeting at the camp where Dustin's family was staying with Mike's family.  Mike is a quiet, little guy, now entering 3rd grade.  His older sister and brother were also present and received generous gifts of backpacks from Dustin's kids.  I told him the Lord's timing is perfect, because now Mike's family can use Dustin's gifts as they go on their own mission trip to another city in Gonaives.  I shared how his mom was taking their whole family on a mission trip as well, and how cool it was that both families were like minded in wanting to help others!  There is a time for all of us to give and receive, and sometimes it coincides.
As we took this picture yesterday, we rejoiced that they were two families who were friends, but also one family in the Lord!  And the effect of giving to others, goes far beyond what we can ever see, rippling through time and effecting lives we can only see with the eyes of faith!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Women's singing . . fresh from Haiti

Seigneur mwe pa kapab at Women's Conference
Enjoy the singing of area women at the semi annual Dorcas retreat.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I need a break following our recent "vacation"

It's understood that those of us who live on support or work for non-profits try to be careful with funds and/or use time and resources as wisely as possible, right?   So when my husband was asked to meet some folks in Puerta Plata to discuss possibilities of training Haitian church members, we both figured it would be a good chance to get some R&R, too.  So we left home Monday morning and drove to the northern border town of Ouanaminthe.  We arrived in the coastal resort town of Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic about 6 hours after leaving home.  Caleb had meetings that evening and the next day while our teenage daughter and I lounged at a beach front resort.  The Dominican Republic is well known for inexpensive resorts, especially the all inclusive packages.  So we ate pizza, enjoyed the all you can food bars and pools.  The AC was a big hit for all of us.
Between Caleb's meetings, he took our ministry vehicle to get some service done.  These poor cars have been driven over 45,000 miles in the 3 years we've had them, most of it off road.  Following the earthquake in 2010 they made almost constant trips to the capital doing evacuations and hauling in supplies.  All that to say they've seen their better days and are requiring more maintenance.  Between all of the meetings and car repairs, Caleb did manage to sit by the pool for about 15 minutes between phone calls.  Oh, well.
     Thursday AM we woke up early planning to do some grocery shopping before heading home.  Also Caleb had made arrangements for two Dominican mechanics to travel with us to service some of the school buses and trucks which were in Haiti.   As we headed to pick them up, we noticed immediately the car wasn't running well.  Hate when that happens after getting service.  We found out that a connector to the fuel pump needed replacing and were able to arrive in the larger city of Santiago.  There the mechanics got to work and told Caleb it would be best to leave the next day.  So my daughter and I again waited at a hotel and happily dined at TGIFriday's for lunch, enjoying their enormous burgers.  Caleb came with a loaner car from the mechanic so we could do some shopping and also planned to get a check up with his doctor in the evening.  After looking at equivalent of a super-Walmart, I planned what to get the next day prior to departure.  By then it was 3 PM so Caleb wanted to drop us off back at the hotel so he could get to his appointment.
     Just after crossing a 6 lane interchange, the loaner car died.  I remarked that the gas gauge looked a little low while my husband practiced some new Spanish vocabulary. "I just put 700 pesos of fuel in it" he said in English.  I didn't say anything about the current exchange rate.    We were stuck blocking several lanes of traffic and he told me to steer while he tried to push the car out of the way.  Calling to some passing by Haitian boys, we created quite a sight for gawkers as we tried to move the poor Toyota out of the way.  Just then a large water tanker truck pulled up in front of us and tied it's hose and hauled us out of the line of traffic about 500 ft.  By this time I had gotten out to push the car as well, so my husband was screaming, "get in, get in".  Happily I managed to throw myself into the front seat before it picked up too much speed.
Whew, we got the car out of the traffic and managed to park it in the shade.
     Sadly, Caleb had left his cell phone with the mechanic's phone number back at the hotel, so he told us to wait and he'd get back to the hotel by taxi, get his phone and then call the mechanic.  He gave me the key to hold in case the mechanic got there first.  After he left I realized I didn't know what the mechanic looked like so I hoped noone came up asking for the car keys in the meantime.  Poor daughter and I sat in the shade watching folks sell fresh pineapple and coconut juice.  It was sad because as she looks Dominican everyone thinks she can speak Spanish but she can't. . .creates awkward situations at times.   Mixed kid problems!
     About 15 minutes later, Caleb returned, got us in a taxi and switched places.  I was happy to leave (sorry, honey!) and get back to the AC hotel (this is a vacation after all) when I promptly fell asleep.  Eventually Caleb called with a good report from his doctor and news that the loaner car had been out of gas.       Almost twenty years of marriage does teach one to roll your eyes out of sight, I mean, it was over now, right?  Not quite.
     The next day we had an appointment with the two intrepid mechanics who were traveling back to Haiti with us for 9:30 AM.  Now, the relative heat in the Dominican Republic seems to effect workers there about as it does in Haiti.  Around 12:15 they finally showed up with the car working (yes, the AC was fixed, at least for awhile).  We ran to make our last minute purchases and starting running for the border, which generally closes around 4:30 PM.  About an hour away, Caleb notices the AC has stopped working and I'm really wondering about the wisdom of taking these mechanics to Haiti.  Still, it's too late to turn around now and they are still willing to go.  We grabbed some fast food (chicken and rice in plastic boxes) no colorful names this time at the border town.  Our traveling companions decided to make some last minute purchases. Apparently they hadn't been told we still had another three hours to drive and a closing border.
     Finally we turned the last corner approaching the fence and border control to see about a dozen full sized big rigs hauling 4 foot circumference cement pipes into Haiti.  My first thought, well, that will help someone!  Caleb began to panic that we wouldn't cross in time and said, "Here, you drive! I'll start processing the paperwork."  I replied, "Where exactly?" (darn women we just want some specific directions)
As he's running to the Dominican immigration, he yells, "just give that piece of paper to the men at the gate."
Slowly easing our land cruiser into the line of traffic towards the right hand side of the road, I avoided crushing the merchants pushing their wheel barrows towards the bridge/border.  I watched the temperature indicator on the car, praying that it wouldn't overheat as we waited in the line.  About 15 minutes later, we approached the Dominican soldiers who happily took the paper and waved me along.  We crept passed several UN patrols standing there.  They didn't want to do anymore than I did in this 100 plus degree heat.  As we approached the bridge, the line of traffic slows and suddenly our car is surrounded by about 10 Dominican immigration officers(?) asking what we were doing taking the two guys riding along.  Of course, my husband has our family's passports with him and I don't speak Spanish.  It doesn't help that my daughter looks Dominican as they ask her for explanation.   They ask the poor mechanics who are just trying to do a job or anyway, they didn't offer much help.  After yelling at each other for a few minutes, I pull over the car and start trying to dial my husband's cell phone and suggest he come back and deal with this debacle.  No answers, try to text him.  Finally find one of the Dominican guys who speaks a bit of Kreyol and try to explain.  No one wants to let the poor mechanics go to Haiti to work.  I finally tell the mechanics to wait at this section and I'll go and get Caleb who's now at the Haitian immigration side.  At this border at least, everyone is just concerned someone might get more money than the next official.  No one cares what we have in the car or mentions the word, terrorist.  Ah, this is what life used to be like everywhere.
    My husband shows up and tells everyone he's going to get the permits after he crosses with the workers into Haiti (as he should).  As he hops in the passenger side and tells me to keep driving, he says all the guys/officials just wanted some money. (it's almost time for happy hour).  As we cross the border other Dominican officials jokingly tease Caleb that they knew the car wasn't his because now I'm driving, he grabs me and gives me a big kiss just to say it's all his.  Machismo in the Caribbean.
     After sitting at the Haitian immigration side for 10 more minutes, we finally head out in the setting sun towards Cap Haitien, the northern city in Haiti.  It's really striking how much more beautiful Haiti is than the Dominican (sorry, it's the truth) even with all the hassle of traveling.  We stop in the city to fix the AC and grab a cool drink.  It wouldn't do to have your spouse dehydrate on the way home.  As the sun is setting at close to 7 PM, we are driving higher and higher into the mountains toward home.  The eyes of the mechanics are getting bigger and bigger as they realize we still have along way to go.
Getting a break is nice, but as my Haitian father in law commented to me today, "Now you need a vacation from your trip."   Ah, it's just how it is.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Going on by Faith . . .

     The past week had it's ups and down.  While working with those in need it's to be expected, but that doesn't make it easier.  I've been coordinating a sponsorship program to help kids and their families for over a decade now.  This means I've gotten to see many kids benefit from the help of others.  But not every student has the results we'd hope.
     Earlier this week, an old friend named Guerda stopped by.  Actually she's in her early twenties now.  You could tell life had been challenging just by her appearance.  Still, she came by to say hello and more importantly to ask for some help for her young child.  I was discouraged to hear she had a young child without a husband.  Sadly I had to tell her I didn't have any sponsors right now who could help her.  She reminded me that she had finished 4th grade before dropping out.  While that can hardly be called a "success story", I reminded myself that she can read and write which is a major accomplishment in our area.  It took me awhile to realize that just the fact she had come to seek an education for her child was a positive thing.  She now knew enough to know that education was a route out of poverty.  After her visit, I was discouraged watching her walk away as I'd wished so much more for her.
     One of the first things I learned about trying to help others is that you don't always see either the whole story nor the results you'd like.  This goes against the "results" oriented culture I am from; we like to see measurable change, etc.  But I've found working cross culturally takes a certain amount of faith.  Sometimes we don't see the results at all or our definition of success is not the same.  Helping people has become for me about giving choices and opportunities, but knowing those we help have to be the ones to take it.  It's not about me as a worker or about the donor, it's about giving our lives and gifts by faith, trusting in God that He will work out all things for good (even if we don't see it.)  But it's still discouraging at times as I was reminded when I watched Guerda walk away.
     Today I had an appointment with two other sponsored kids, Kerline and Wellington.  They are siblings being raised by their grandmother following their mother's death and father's chronic illness.  It was fun to meet their grandmother and ask how she thought the kids were doing.

  She was happy to express her gratitude for a special gift their donor sent allowing after school tutoring and some home repairs.  I left them after encouraging them to pray for their donor and to study hard.
     As I was walking to my vehicle, the grandmother called me back.  She wanted to give me something, a necklace she had made.  She and other neighborhood ladies had been taught to make beads of recycled paper to make jewelry.  I've seen the art form before and was delighted to receive her expression of thanks.

  I knew more of the story though.  A mutual friend, Dorina,  had volunteered weeks of her time last summer to teach the area ladies to make the beads giving them a route to a livelihood.  It occurred to me, it also empowered them in a real way.  This grandmother now had the ability to give me something, which is a privilege in itself.  Dorina had planned to bless the women, and they were in turn blessing me.
     As I left, I thought to myself, I've got to tell Dorina this because she probably feels the same way I do at times, not knowing how the time and effort spent to help really effects others.  So to Dorina and others who are working tirelessly to help worldwide, while we may not see all the effects of our work,  we can trust by faith, that God is working out what He wants done, exactly in His time.