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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Praying to the God who provides . . .

       Friday, March 2nd started out as a normal day for Wilner.  He walked his two young sons, Mikael and Henoc to school and then he returned home to his small dental clinic which ran out of his home.  While he had not had formal training, he had been trained in tooth extraction and offered his neighbors a valuable service of providing much needed dental care. Upon his return home, he told his wife, Lisiane, who is pregnant with their third child that he wasn't feeling too well and sat down.  Sadly, he never got back up and suddenly died, presumably from a stroke or some cardiac problem.  What a shock for the young mother to be left widowed in her 6th month of pregnancy!  She held it together and notified family and friends who converged to help.
       In a place like Haiti, there is no welfare office or social services to ask for help.  However,  Lisiane is very active in her Evangelical Baptist Church in our community of Pignon.    Her church family rallied around her and helped with the funeral services and her parents who lived in a neighboring community came to stay with her.  She busied herself continuing with the every day needs of 6 year old Mikael and 3 year old Enock, taking one day at a time.   And she prayed for the future and to the God she knows.
       About the same time of Wilner's death, two Americans were in the final preparations to visit Haiti.  They had felt drawn to come and help in the country that seemed to have a torturous existence at best.  Their home church had formed a team to come and work with children attending a school in the mountainous northern province.  While they faced a certain amount of trepidation in planning to come, come they did in response to the desire to help they felt.  They were praying that the Lord would show them how to help in specific ways.
       While these two families live very different lives, they follow the same God.   The two Americans, Larry & Gina arrived in Haiti on schedule and busied themselves with the children their group was working with at Camp de la Grace.  Over 500 children attended the day time activities of puppet shows, games, and stories and singing.  The oldest children (grades 3 and up) were allowed to spend the night at the camp.  As is usual, one of the things the kids reported liking the best was eating 3 meals a day.  It was a blast to interact with the kids and share life changing messages with them.  But they still felt drawn to try and do more.  As they heard about our child sponsorship program, they told me they were convinced that they wanted to help two students.
       Normally I encourage folks to return home and pray through the cost and make sure they can commit to helping the students for a least a year.  While the cost is only $35/month it still adds up and times are hard everywhere.   However, Larry and Gina were adamant that they wanted to help and pleaded to be able to meet the kids while here.  I immediately knew who to hook them up with because I'd been told the week before by our administrative staff about the two boys whose father had suddenly passed away.  They had told me as soon as we had anyone else ask to help, these two little boys needed to take priority.
      The next morning I went and met Lisiane and told her of some new friends who would like the privilege of helping her young sons attend school.  She was excited as she'd been waiting on God for just such help.   She hadn't been able to send the boys to the camp because she couldn't walk them to the bus stop and it wasn't running the normal routes.  I asked if I could take the boys to meet the Americans and she agreed and also said I could bring them to her home later in the day.  What fun to introduce Larry and Gina to the two little guys.  They were understandably shy and eager to join their friends in all the camp activities.  Later in the afternoon, I drove the boys home with their new friends so they could meet the boys' mother.  It was very encouraging to all of us to be able to meet together and remember that the Lord who is the God of us all had planned this meeting.  That He was the provider for widows and orphans and it's our privilege to be a part of the process.
            (Pictured below:  Gina, Mikael, Lisiane, Enock, and Larry; all part of the family of Christ)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fancy meeting you here?!?

     Haiti has been referred to as the nation of NGO’s or non-government organizations.  I’d heard that in the capital and areas heavily damaged by the earthquake that these hopefully well intended groups were bumping into each other in their efforts to help.  Even with my limited exposure to those areas I’ve had no trouble believing this to be true.  Still, I didn’t think it would affect me or the people with whom we work.
     Why?  Let me set the scene for those of you who haven’t visited.   We live and work in a community of approximately 35,000 people spread over a several mile area.  It’s rural, about 90 miles north of the capital of Port au Prince.  Just this year, our community is getting paved roads in town but we still must drive on dirt roads for a minimum of 19 miles to reach a paved highway.  So, we’re a bit off the beaten track.  Even with that, there are four NGO’s in the area with different spheres of influence as well as some pockets of unrecognized (by the government) missionaries and charities.  Those of us who are long term residents of the area generally try to help each other when we can.
     This past week, I had the fun role of visiting the homes of some of our sponsored students so that their visiting sponsors could get to know them better.  Five donors and I headed out throughout the week meeting parents and allowing the kids to show us their bedrooms and homes.  Everyone said they really enjoyed the experience (the families, too).  
     On the final visit, one couple was visiting a first grader they’ve assisted for two years.  I had met the boy’s aunt earlier in the week to ask their permission to visit.  We arrived and spent a fun time together, distributing gifts the sponsors brought, and meeting his extended family.   I was serving as an interpreter for a question and answer period when a pick-up truck rolled up.  I was little surprised at this as we were pretty far off the beaten track.  A half dozen men and women hopped out and came up the walk.  The boy’s aunt who we were visiting was bristling, and obviously not thrilled that they were there.  She got up and greeted them and started talking, eventually calling the boy we were visiting to go to the back of the house to take a picture with her. 
     Given their interest in the same child we were visiting, I became nosy/interested.  I was curious what their mission was and what their interest was in the student.  All of them had photo ID’s and T-shirts listing their mission as UNICEF partners.  As we visited back and forth, they explained their mission was to make sure kids affected by the earthquake were re-connected with their families.  I nodded my head and agreed this was quite noble.  The boy’s aunt had already told me they’d been by before.  I remarked that it was great this boy was already re-connected as he was living with his aunt.  (His mom was killed in the quake and his father worked as a driver in a nearby town)  They told me they come by periodically “just to make sure the boy is still there.”  We exchanged info. back and forth for a while and then they went on their way.  After they drove away, the boy’s aunt grumbled to me that, “they come by every once in a while but never do anything for us.”  I explained to her what their goals were, but she continued to shake her head.  Frankly, I did wonder why once they established he was with family why they’d come back, but I have more important question to pursue.  I chuckled as I explained to our visitors that our little community must really be growing because now even the NGO’s were bumping into each other. 
     A surprise awaited me at home for lunch when I arrived.  I knew we were entertaining some visitors including our cousin, Samuel who is a supervisor of a large NGO in the capital.  Over our meal I mentioned what had happened and he elaborated on their goals as technically it was one of his teams.  Again, a small world, but I did suggest to him that he should instruct his teams to explain the importance of what they were doing because the people in the community weren’t able to figure it out.  Ah, the eternal question, if you don’t realize you’re being helped, are you being helped at all?