A few years ago, we were staying at our friend's beachside hotel/mission house in Carres, Haiti. We'd been staying there on and off, as we did not have a place in Montrouis we were renting yet and this mission was near and dear to our hearts. At the end of a long day, we'd all be ready to take a shower. I remember the first night we were without water. We actually ran out of it. I was mid-shower and had soap all over my hair. After laughing it off, I walked down to the ocean and rinsed the soap out of my hair. We laughed about it and moved on.
When we moved into our house down the street from this beachside hotel, we learned how difficult it was to get running water. Our daily chores consisted of pumping water up from our well or going to a friend's well and having him help us pump it into our big, blue container. Then, we have to pump it into our holding tank on the roof of our house.
None of these anecdotal stories even comes close to painting the picture of the type of situation people in Haiti deal with when thinking about water. What it does do, however, is show how time consuming securing water can be. I never knew, growing up in the USA, how much convenience running water provided. Because of running water, I could consistently do other things in my life. I could go to school. I could have fun after school with my friends. I could bathe when I was dirty and flush the toilet when I wanted to do that. Without consistent access to water, everything changes.
Children in our community go to school if they can. They then go to our canal outside of our house and collect water to do some of the things I have listed above. They put their murky water in jerry cans or old bleach containers and head up the hill to where they live. They must use this gallon of water for all the things they wish to do that day, or they have to make the trek back down to the canal.
Imagine sending your children to collect water. Imagine them walking to isolated and secluded streams and canals, scooping water up with their little cans. They miss school. They are, in many ways, doomed to repeat this life with their own children. How hopeless do you feel as a parent?
I have known people who have lost children who make the statistic about the 801,000 children who die every year due to diarrhea in developing countries pop off the page
I remember walking with some children to a collection site when we were building a catchment tank years ago. We passed several broken wells in the area and the kids said they had never used them. After some research of our own, we realized that many wells in Haiti break down and are never fixed because the community has never been trained in this type of thing. Additionally, Haiti's salty island water does not always provide clean drinking water from a well. There's just not enough water.
When we first started working with water, I thought it was just about water. Hearing the stories and seeing the collection sites of people has really changed my mind. Here's the truth: Water changes everything. Water can keep kids in school. Clean water can keep people out of the hospital. Water can unite communities. Water projects can bring people together to care for their most precious asset. Water is important if you care about healthcare issues, schooling issues, child trafficking prevention, hopelessness, and more. It's all wrapped up in water.
While I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to get to know the people who are in need of more access to water, I am also burdened by the stories I hear. In Haiti, nearly 50% of the deaths in country are due to some type of clean water issue. That's insane to me. I have known people who have lost children who make the statistic about the 801,000 children who die every year due to diarrhea in developing countries pop off the page (CDC.gov). I have sat with grieiving mommas as they wonder if what their child has is a normal stomach flu or something more intense. The statistics are no longer statistics, they are my friends and community.
When we, especially those of us living in the developed world, are presented with these types of facts, we have a few options. I know people who have literally asked me to stop sharing because they feel so helpless they don't know what to do. They want to live with the blinds shut and ignore the problems of the world. It's just too much for them. There are others who want to rush and "save" those in need. They spend thousands of dollars to paint buildings or drill wells. There is a third way, though. I am learning more about it all the time. It's using our skills and resources to empower nationals. I believe this is the way to lasting change, including with the water crisis. While wells can provide amazing pics, unless people in the community know how to fix it, it might just be a hopeless situation in a few years.
I have been consistently impressed by the innovation of the Haitian people. This includes their ability to problem solve and create when dealing with a lack of access to water. I have seen people create large solutions to difficult problems using far less money than a team of westerners uses to take a trip somewhere and drill a well. It has caused me to look my own philosophy and missiology (originally rooted in "wanting to save these people") and realize that to love these folks well, we have to be willing to set our own egos down and do what they know they need.
So then, when we were approached by a local about helping route the spring water from up the mountain down into the foothills, we were intrigued. It didn't happen overnight, but the idea became clear to us through conversation and understanding. These folks in the foothills had thought about the spring water up the mountain and had already set up pipes to have the water funneled down untouched. All they needed was a way to have a source set up for them to use.
We have been working with clean water in Haiti for nearly 7 years now. While I do not claim to be an expert, I can also share with you the hope that water brings. The projects that we do unite the community, bringing out people who bring what they can to the table. The lives of the people working are forever changed and it is an honor to be able to work with them.
I have been challenged by our "mission trip" culture. If you're willing to spend $1,500 to go to Haiti for a week to build a latrine, but are dismissive of giving $300 to a project done by locals, what does this reveal about us? I am challenged, deeply, to give to the poor and disadvantaged to help them create and cultivate their own answers. I am inspired by those I know who have done this before. And, I would like to extend the invitation for you to be a part of a large project we are doing. Check it out: https://www.generosity.com/fundraising/konbit-haiti-clean-water-for-montrouis-haiti
Most of all, do not be discouraged. There is no need to close the blinds because of the overwhelming issues in the world. Let's come together and join in the fight with our friends across the world in whatever way we can. My favorite Haitian saying is this:
Senye, nou kontan se pa nou k'ap kembe ou men se ou k'ap kembe nou.
Lord, how happy we are that it is not us that hold you, but you that hold us.
He is empowering people across the world and we have the unique opportunity to jump in and be a part of it!
It was etched into my mind, but it was hard to remember even still. Like a faded memory, or stretching to see the time on my clock in the morning without my glasses on, it was so blurry. The honesty of Haiti hits me like a brick every time I come back home (here). Nothing hides here, at least not in the same way that we hide in the USA.
The heat does not come on gently, but seems to linger both before the sun rises and after it sets. The sun shines so brightly and brashly; the trees break out harshly from the ground. The kids do not make their feelings hidden, rather expressing them loudly for their interested neighbors to hear. The trash burns, reminding the community of their waste. Each night, everyone faces the incredibly honest fact that it is 2017 and many of them do not have access to electricity.
Haiti is brutally honest. It does not hide itself for others, nor does it pretend to be anything other than what it is: take it or leave it. While many see this as a bad thing, I have really started to welcome it. Because it is in Haiti that I myself have learned to be honest.
In the United States, we can hide from one another, from our fears and our opinions. We can hide even when it looks like participating. We share Facebook posts or sit over coffee and discuss ideas. But, we are hidden. Our lives are hidden from one another; our fears are unknown to each other; our abilities can be stretched or elaborated. Reality is a confusing thing to us in the United States at times. We are unsure of what is right and wrong, for some of us. Unsure of how to fight injustices, we either make excuses or talk them into the ground.
In Haiti, these things laid on my heart are put to the test almost instantaneously. I can no longer speak of a life I long to live, but put my faith and actions to work as I am in the middle of an incredibly honest culture.
I look back on my life experiences here and laugh. I think about how one of the first times I ever really heard this honesty was one of my first months in Haiti in which a woman turned to me, after several attempts at saying it in Creole, said in her broken English “Your butt! …its beautiful…and so big!” The honest parts of this culture challenge me in all ways, for sure.
While it can be hard, it is also enlightening. For me here, there is no stretch between what reality is and what my concept is. I see the reality of people I work with and know and love every day. This is their reality. My reality is that I have chosen to be a part of this life with them for some moments, and even in that never fully understand it. Though my perspective is different, reality doesn’t change.
Haiti reminds me of the importance of putting your actions behind your words. How it might be easy for me to hide in a coffee shop or wonder aloud at the injustices in the world, but it really doesn’t change much. In order to change, we have to put in the work. It can be long and painstaking, it can cause us to suffer. But, man, this honesty that I am met with in Haiti is something I need so desperately. I cannot hide. I am who I am here; I am only capable of what I can bring. I have realized rather quickly that if you bring something without love, it is nothing.
So often we feel badly for nations who are unlike our developed countries. We wonder what it must be like to go to sleep without food or lose someone to a disease with a common cure. While these are worthy reflections, I find myself caught between two realities. There is one that says my life is only good if I have access to all of these things, if I can spend money and do things I need to do, if I can put myself first. The other reality is here and it is honest. It tells me that while our needs are important, that nothing can truly replace our character, our honesty, and the amount of love we give away.
When the sun is lower in mid-afternoon, that's when many of the children come to the canal. This is the space where a lot of our community collects water to use for various things around their homes. The canal runs all the way down from a clean water source in the mountains, passing through all kinds of communities until it reaches its final, somewhat dusty destination in Seboy. People use that canal like anyone would use their only source of free water. Unlike the United States, people cannot just turn on a tap and get the water they need. So, many times they bring their cars to this source, parking them nearby and scooping up the water from the canal to wash their vehicles. Other times, people use it as a bathing site. Though perhaps undignifying, it also makes things easier (especially if you are a kid). Others come to the cover that our friend Dan built to retreat from the scorching sun and do their laundry as a group. Needless to say, the canal is always busy with some form of life as a rural Haitian knows it.
Our development center/home/headquarters is all right behind the canal. While it once seemed like a "random" location, I see the benefit of it now. I can't imagine having a place anywhere else as we have grown our programs and reach in this area. I am thankful for the ways that I have been able to so seamlessly interact with a community I love but am (obviously) different from and the way the location of our house has helped me to do so. I am also so thankful for the lessons I have learned from the other staff people from within that house. The way they interact with the community has made me inspired, has empowered me to persevere, and has been a learning experience in belonging.
We have all the technological advantages at our fingertips in the country I am from, the United States. We have ways to connect that I am too old (and disinterested) to understand. We have ways to share our feelings and thoughts and "friendships," but there is something missing. And, it's a deep "something." Somewhere along the way, in between making sure our children and our friends and our homes and our country gets "the best," we have forgotten what it means to belong. We have forgotten the importance of taking care of our brothers and sisters. We have become so tunnel visioned that we perhaps even forget there is a world outside of our busy lives.
It is draining, for me, to live this way. It is difficult to connect with people over the internet. It is hard to truly get to know the heart and motivation of folks who are flying by. It is a fast paced world we live in, and I know many people who wish to slow down (and some who even succeed in this). But, the slowing down doesn't necessarily bring us together. If anything, it continues to seperate us based on the pace of our lives. We still don't remember, in many ways, what it means to belong to one another.
One night, as I was in our kitchen cleaning up with Clelie, I heard a scream from outside. "Madam Dan!" the little one cried, "Madam Dan!" She laughed and answered back to the child through the window. I smiled, knowing it was one of the many kids in our children's program. "He's bathing out here in the open!" the child shouted, tattling like children do. I laughed and looked at Clelie, who rolled her eyes and promptly rebuked the child for not caring if they were exposed to the community. It was at that moment that I realized just how impactful her life was, not just to me, but to the entire community.
I have spent the better part of 3 years watching this woman operate. She's a mother of an active two-year-old, a wife, and a leader in Konbit Haiti. She goes to school for education. She cooks and helps organize life in Haiti. She helps organize our women's program. And, most of all, she teaches us all how to belong to one another. There is never a time where her door is truly closed to a community member. In times where I have felt overwhelmed and wanted to tuck away, she has challenged me by her own life, opening her hand to those in need. We do not do "feeding programs," but she takes it upon herself to make sure that many of the children in the community are fed regularly. She is quick to give advice. She is the mother of an entire community.
No matter where we live, there are always people who care for the community. And, usually people have something to say about it. Maybe she's from there; she "gets" the people better. There are always excuses like that, right? But, the honest truth is that while she is Haitian, she is not from Seboy, our little community by the canal. It is actually quite different than the community she is from and she did not have to adjust in the way she did. She moved there when she got married and struggled to connect with our community, too. Perhaps what spurred her on was her own culture and faith. She remembered an essential lesson that her nation has not yet forgotten: we belong to one another. Her heart hasn't turned cold toward the needs of her community, no matter how new it may be.
I have learned a lot from Clelie, but this is perhaps one of the biggest lessons. Today is Mother's Day in Haiti, and I wish the happiest of all days to the mother in our community. Clelie, you are a gem and we love you so much. Thank you for teaching us.
The whole month of May always has me thinking about mothers. In the USA, we celebrate Mother's Day on the second Sunday of the month. In Haiti, it is usually the last Sunday of the month. Between planning for my mother and mother-in-law in the USA and then helping our family ministries plan for our huge Mother's Day Celebration, I am pretty much fixated on one thing this month: mothers.
I have a wonderful mother, one who has always embodied sacrifice in a way that I have always been able to identify. She sacrificed sleep, she was always the first one up and the last one to bed. She sacrificed her own wants and needs to make sure we had what we needed, which I realized more as I grew up. She sacrificed so much for us, and I will always be thankful for that.
As my time in Haiti marches on, though, I often think of the sacrifice that is not seen. It is often misunderstood by us, as well. It's the sacrifice of a birth mother, bringing her child to an orphanage or children's home.
Haiti is filled with orphanages. It's a serious problem that has grabbed my heart. As I figure out ways to put more language behind my significant feelings, I will write about it. In May, though, I often think of the birth mothers I have known and those I haven't known in Haiti (and beyond). I think of how they are such unsung heros in a world of total misconception.
On my first day in Montrouis, Haiti, I went to work at an orphanage we fondly called the "Number 7 Orphanage." The blue gate, at that time, had a mere #7 spray painted on the front of it and inside lived about 30 children with a Haitian pastor and his wife. I remember all of the misconceptions I had about this place when I first began working there:
I can't believe all of these children had parents who died in the earthquake!
I can't believe none of these kids have been adopted!
I want to adopt all of them! Right now!
Somehow, without asking a single question, I began thinking about the parents who had died in the earthquake in Port-Au-Prince, a good two hours away from this orphanage. I began wondering, aloud, how many of these children I could adopt (maaaaajor faux paux). I did not stop to ask anything about the children or their histories. I just assumed.
When I tell people I work in Haiti, many tell me about their own experiences. Often times, it is of working alongside an orphanage. They go to "love on the kids," and talk about their important work. I often wonder at these things, but I stop in my tracks when I hear about the "horrible mother who abandoned her child." It visibly changes my face and...let's face it, I usually say something (I mean, I can be quite emotional ;)). The fact is, these perceptions are so one-sided and biased. It places the assumptions of the "best" on us and the "worst" on these mothers we have never met. And, it makes me sad.
I don't know when it was that my assumptions about the #7 Orphanage started being challenged. I wish I could say it was when I realized how ethnocentric I was being and that I started asking all the questions I could ask. However, I really think it was when I could start understanding Creole, the native language of Haiti. I remember hearing my dear sweet Jean Cleline, one of the kids in the orphanage. She had told me about her mother dropping off her and her brother and sister at the orphanage.
I remember my mouth agape, looking at my husband and friends. I loaded up in our blue truck and stared out into the busy road, "I had no idea they had parents..."
From that moment on, my life became about understanding the situations that drive parents to feel their children are better off in an orphanage. As a matter of fact, this is the exact thing I will be writing my Master's degree thesis on starting this summer. It is so interesting to me, in part, I believe, because it is so misunderstood. By me, and by others, too.
I remember moving into our house and people asking when they could drop their children off at the center. We laughed, but after a little while, we started asking "Why would you want to drop your child off here?" The answer was almost always the same: I want my child to have a good life.
What I have realized about the universality of motherhood is this: everyone wants what is best for their child. And, in Haiti, people have far less options for support and help. As a matter of fact, in a recent study, developing world mothers were asked how likely they were to feel equipped to keep their children if they had access to schooling programs and other supplemental programs for their children, and a whopping 90% said they would certainly keep their children in this case(faithtoaction.org). Guys, this is a large number.
If this is true, which the research shows that it is, then we need to start seeing the orphan system as a great sacrifice for parents. We need to make sure we understand just what we are doing when we go to an orphanage on a trip. We need to get the point when people bring up orphanages, especially in the developing world, that we understand just how difficult it must have been for a parent to say their goodbyes to their children and head back up that mountain. We must understand what it means for someone to feel so hopeless and so helpless that the best option for their child is to drop them off at a place like an orphanage.
I would like for us to stop demonizing mothers like this, who have their children in orphanages, and instead look at them for who they really are. They are mothers making an immense sacrifice for their children. Additionally, they are making a sacrifice that is perpetuated through our Western desire to volunteer at an orphanage instead of give toward family empowerment programs. We play a part in supporting this system when we go on trips to support these systems, de-humanize the mothers and their own stories of sacrifice, and continue to see ourselves as the heroes of the story.
I am not attempting to dumb down the complex situation of the orphan crisis, nor am I saying that every birth mother is a saint. But, I am saying there is another, more holistic and honest, option out there to be aware of and know. The sacrifice is real. The ways we can help are real. So, let's start there!
Happy Mother's Day to Mothers- all of you who sacrifice in various ways to make sure your children are taken care of and loved.
She wraps her finger around mine and whispers, "Kisa ou ap fe?" She smells of charcoal and clothes that have sat in the sun the day before, drying out in that Haiti heat. Her little raspy voice is adorable and I wonder if it comes from her mother's side or her daddy's...and I am struck by that thought because I don't think she'd know either. "Kisa ou ap fe?" she asks again, begging me to answer the question: What are you going to do?
I am sure she means today. Later this afternoon. After I leave her home. She wants to know the way my life moves outside of this little orphanage with tin roofs and a palm frond school. She wants to know what we do in our house down the street. She jokingly asks me if I am going to make rice and bean sauce, because she knows it's my favorite. I laugh because I cannot even come close to making that amazing meal, but appreciate that she thinks I could.
For me, her words hold a little more weight than the immediate future. What I do when I leave the orphanage, her home for the last 6 years of her 9 years of life. When a little girl with the whole world in her heart, full of dreams and stars and goodness, looks at you with her chipped little front tooth and her adorable braids and asks you, "What are you going to do?" You notice your own location reeeaaall fast.
I am an American born girl, with family and friends who simultaneously worry about the work I do in Haiti and tell us how proud they are. I can afford to go back there if I am in need. I can eat the food I choose and not worry about if I can afford it tomorrow. And, lest I think this is some kind of cosmos-God-is-taking-care-of-me-because-He-loves-me-the-most type situation, I am reminded of the fierce (and real) love of the Father when looking at this sweet Haitian girl's face. When I see her deep concentration and her desire to learn, when I see her get along with her friends here, when they offer to pray for us before we leave...oh yes. I am reminded of a time a few years ago when my friend Sara looked at me during one of these prayers and said, "These are God's favorites." Yes, do I agree.
I have been on the bus to Struggletown since arriving back in the US some 7 months ago. And, honestly, I think a lot of it has to do with this question ringing in my head and these memories that linger. What are you going to do? I am struck with the reality of life in the USA as compared to a life more overseas and I am confused at how to walk in my day to day life. Daily, I work for things happening in Haiti, but I am surrounded by extreme luxury and people who do not seem to know how surrounded they are by this same luxury. It's a paradox that I am not used to and it both frightens and excites me to lean into this pressure of both worlds crashing around me.
If I had a dollar for every time people have asked me about how life has been "back in the real world" I would no longer need to do fundraisers for Konbit (maybe). It has been shocking because I want to twist around, my hair flowing around my head in a sassy way, and say "WHO'S real world?" My reality is not the reality of millions around the globe. They are the people that are on the news and make us feel uncomfortable. They are the people you perhaps read about on facebook or instagram. But, for me some of them have shared their tables with us. They have eaten with us, shared with us, loved with us, mourned with us, and prayed with us. These are not just people far away, these are people I have the extreme pleasure of calling "friends."
This real world that I am a part of for this season in my life is a sweet and difficult mix of two totally different worlds: grit under my fingernails and lunch dates; orphans in Haiti and driving a car; skyping with my friends in Haiti and joining my family for drinks. Nothing is bad, it's just a weird way to view my world lately. The fact is, though, that this is my reality.
But, my reality doesn't change anyone else's. For some, the real world is material wealth and roads and running water where you can drink straight from the tap. For others, it is sharing a home with your entire family, working so you can send your oldest daughter to school, and trying to find a job in your tiny little village. Just because its different does not make it less real. Our privilege is not most people's reality, friends.
While there seems to be more awareness than ever about how others are living across the world, it certainly does not seem to come with solidarity. As a matter of fact, a film clip on a facebook feed or a comment made by someone-who-knows-someone-who-has-been-there seems to drive the lines between "us" and "them" even further apart. It's been confusing. But, also, really enlightening.
I keep thinking about how informed we are, knowing everything. All the time. Being scared of everything. All the time. And, then I remember these kids in a small little village off the coast of a town in Haiti I never thought I would know. I think of these kids in mismatched clothes, wearing onesies as t-shirts and shoes with holes in them and praying fervently for their food and their people, and I remember that this is the kind of kingdom I belong to. This is what I want to pursue. In a place where I have been confused where culture ends and real conviction begins, I have found solace in these memories of people I know in Haiti.
"What are you going to do?" she asks. What are you going to do with this heavy reality of people living in different ways all across the globe? How does this change what you pursue in the United States? How does this change you?
For me, it has been the steady reminder that this is my "reality check," (pun intended). The USA is not the "real world" though everyone would like for me to believe that I am back in reality forever. It has been a call to remember that the things worth pursuing in life are a better world for everyone, not just myself. It has been a check in my Spirit to make sure my convictions represent my beliefs and not just what my culture tells me to do "for Jesus." It's remembering that there are so many important conversations worth having, but we've got to fight for them and fight through the discomfort they give us. It has been a fight, most of all, to think about what I am doing- to be intentional and aware of each thing I put my heart into.
I have become kind of comfortable with the fact that I do not have complete answers. And, that's kind of ok. For me, it seems like part of the answering is more questioning, anyway. I do not have the answers, merely a small scratch in my heart that there is more to the "real world" than what people perceive. Even though I know a few other realities, I do not know them all either. I think that's the whole point. Our kingdom is this kind: of orphans and run-aways, of people struggling and questioning, of people who long for heaven come to earth. We are kind of kingdom that does not turn our backs on people because it disturbs us.
Let us not forget we belong to a kingdom bigger than ourselves and the measure of one's faith in that place is not built on money and health- but on the endurance to run. Let's not forget to take our questions and dig deep and search. Let's not forget to learn from others realities.
A year ago, we experienced some deep tragedies both in the lives of our ministry staff and in our own personal family life. I wrote this reflection after spending some time thinking about it and realizing we could not afford to rush back home to be with our mourning family. What ended up happening brought us closer with our international staff and reminded me of our human family.
This spring could best be compared to one of Haiti’s lingering thunderstorms. It came with little fanfare, but stayed and hung over us for a while. We anticipated it greatly, but it was not what we had expected in almost any arena.
Spring is usually the celebration of something new. And, while we cling to hope that new things are being done, this spring time doled a harsh slap in the face for us and our staff and our families that the seasons outside do not necessarily represent the seasons in our personal spaces. For us, for many of our Haitian and Dominican friends and for many of our family members, this season of spring outside resulted in a winter inside.
It has been a few months since I have even sat down to write, mostly because words wouldn’t come. This season has been incredibly challenging, and while I felt exempt from it at first, I realized that this was just a season to mourn. The book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a season to everything and a purpose for that season- and this truly was a season to be mindful of those mourning around us, to be in solidarity with them and yes, for ourselves to mourn well, too.
In late March, we were sad to hear that a volunteer for Justice Water DR was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was a hard worker, a great man and the brother to one of our leaders in this nation. In Haiti, one of our closest friends watched as her aging father passed. And, should we think we were free from these burdens, we had a shocking death in our family and another family member struggling with his hospital stay. All of this was within a 2 month period. It seemed that when things were supposed to be being made new, we were left with broken hearts and cool air. We were dealing with a sudden, unexpected storm in the middle of what was a season of joy and excitement. We were grieving.
Loss is interesting. As a child, I can recall when some of my grandparents passed, and how I simply wanted to help my parents deal with their grief. It is a place to be stuck: dealing with your own sadness while also wanting to be strong enough to help others deal with theirs. This…struggle, this proof of our own instability and imperfection and inability to be totally there for everyone all the time…it represents a bigger thing that loss shows us. Loss shows us that we are small and not often in control. Loss reminds us of our own mortality. Loss shows us just how shaky (or for some, also, how strong) our faith is to us and how truly we believe our convictions. Loss takes and shakes and makes us mourn.
But mourning does something different. It binds. It binds us closer to one another, closer to the things we believe in, and closer to mortality itself. I remember in the wake of the news of our own familial tragedy, some of the first people to comfort us were our friends Jose and his wife, Alexandria, those who had just lost a family member 2 weeks prior. It was truly humbling to have people we so desperately wanted to help and be present with turn around and comfort us. They hugged us, they met us with tears in their eyes and they mourned with us as we had with them. In Haiti, the same thing happened. We were met with teary eyed staff members who had been through so much, waiting with open arms to be there for us and with us. Though these men and women are our friends and co-workers in development, our season of mourning allowed us to reach a new level of knowing one another as brothers and sisters. It allowed us to reach out to one another in a way that was only in love and humility. We mourned. We didn’t offer simple answers or big explanations. We cried, and eventually we laughed. Our mourning and sorrow was met by a joy in knowing that we were not alone, even though Ryan and I were in different countries than our family during a difficult time. We were not alone, and that seems to be the power of mourning. It doesn’t soften the blow, but it eases the pain.
Going through the motions of security checkpoints and checking in for flights came like second nature to me. Even though I had not flown to Haiti since before the summer, my body remembered how to get there via plane, for sure. Upon arrival in Haiti, I was not overwhelmed like I thought I would be. It felt like coming home. The banjos playing in the airport, the chattering Creole, the teams with the matching shirts...it was all there in that airport. When the immigration officer commented on my "good" Creole, I laughed and thanked God I could remember enough to have a conversation with her.
Walking outside, the heat hit me first. But, following soon after were the emotions. So many emotions seeing so many people and knowing how many of them had stories that had changed in some way or another over the last 7 months.
I did not expect memories of the last time I was there, sick as a dog, to come flooding back to me so quickly on the route home. I did not expect to feel so overcome with thanks for the way God protected me in that time, processing that experience as if I were seeing it more clearly. I did not expect to feel so many emotions, reeling in my mind, as I was reunited with the teen mother who we've been praying for and supporting; the cooks for Konbit, who waited in the waiting room of the clinic that night with me; the people I have come to know as family- all who welcomed me with open arms.
I also did not expect to feel so sad. Sad for the woman who had lost her child due to a strange illness or lack of drinking water; sad for the way I made people worry about me there; sad I couldn't do more to help everyone; sad that I am not superwoman and can't do everything I want to do, that I expect myself to do.
Haiti has made me feel a lot of things in my time working and learning there. This short time visiting helped me to see ever so dimly through the veil that stands between the heavenly work God is doing and my miniscule understanding of it all. That in between place, where I have to squint my eyes and think real hard, is usually where I live. Wondering and waiting to "get it," to get the point of whatever it is I am suffering through or learning. This time was no different, but I do feel like I saw through the veil for a moment. Here's what I saw:
1.) Hope abounds. The first thing I felt when I walked into our little community was hope. It was overwhelming, almost tangible. Though people might not know where their meals are coming from or what is happening in their midst, they are hopeful. Flowers were growing, new baby animals were everywhere. It's new. And, it was a reminder that in the middle of everything up in the air, we can still hold onto hope (and hopefully baby animals).
2.) Our lives do not only affect ourselves, no matter how private we tend to be. I kind of sunk into a hole, being away from Haiti so much. I thought to myself that if I didn't share the intricacies of my own pain and life with anyone, that I could only affect myself. However, I realized when we landed in Haiti that that simply wasn't true. Those who love us and whom we love want to know the struggles and issues we are facing. They face them with us and we with them, even if we are far apart.
3.) We will never understand the fullness of the intricate plans God has for us. If there's one thing I learned this trip to Haiti, it was just how veiled our experiences are. The way I experience things in Haiti is different than even how Ryan does, nevermind our Haitian friends. Everyone sees things through their own lenses, their own personal experiences, and depending on what God is actually doing in the lives of the people experiencing things. I noticed that while I hated being gone, there was a lot of good that came out of it, as well.
4.) We can still mourn with those who mourn even when we don't understand. I am just one of those people. I like to tie things up neatly almost before I process them. It is difficult for me to just hear information and not know what to do to tie it up. When we got word that a little girl dear to our hearts (and certainly to the hearts of our friends in Haiti) had passed away suddenly, there was a gnawing at my heart to bury it. I didn't understand it, so I didn't want to deal with it. But, that is not the right way to do things, even in the inbetween time. This is still a painful injustice experienced by far too many parents in the developing world, but we can have a reaction to it: mourning with those who mourn. In that mourning, no matter where you are or what the situation entails, there is something holy that happens in that brokenness. If that's all we experience in this lifetime, then that is enough, too.
5.) There can be (and is) joy in what we don't understand. In the midst of feeling so much and also not knowing what to do with those feelings, I felt it might be best to lock myself away until I could get ahold of myself. However, I quickly realized that wasn't the only thing going on. While we convince ourselves that pain and sorrow are incompatible with joy, this just isn't so. Joy is best when paired with sorrow, I think! I saw and experienced so much deep joy in Haiti because I realized that it is not our circumstances which define us, but the hope withstanding it all. The hope that allows us to mourn collectively, the pain that comes when we the people we love are in pain, the friendship that endures miles and miles. This is what defines us, and this is what gives us joy.
This entire trip reminded me of this verse "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a (wo)man, I set aside childish ways. Now we see but a dim reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.…" (1 Cor. 13:11-13). I don't understand a lot of the heartache in Haiti (or the world) and how it is presented ever so harshly there, like a slap in the face. But, I do know that I don't see the whole picture. Clinging onto the fact that there is joy in the middle of not knowing and to the Map Maker Himself makes me remember that there is hope springing up in every corner. We see dim reflections in our life now, echoes of hope and joy in this life. We see enough for now, though. Enough to know that faith, hope, and love are intrinsically important to the lives we lead. Enough to know that what we see isn't the full picture, but a glimpse.
I am thankful for each glimpse I get- of heartache and pain, of friendship and long-suffering, and of the overwhelming feelings I have when I think of this crazy life we share as a human race, bound together by our experiences.
A covered pot cooks in the corner and the sòs pwa scent rises up. Sitting on a small stool, she sits down and begins poking the ground with a stick. Sweat beads on her brow and her children run around her. She asks one of the children to go fetch some water for her while she laughs at what her friend says as she passes by. She is making dinner for her family, and likely many of her neighbors and friends who might stop by. The rice boils up, and it is not a lot. She is thankful for the some that she has. She shucks the peas as she waves off the flies that have gathered around the cooking food.
She is a Haitian woman.
She gets home after a long day on her feet. She comes home to a messy house, kids shoes thrown on the ground and screaming down the hall. She sits with her tea for a moment, and glances at the crossword puzzle in the paper. She sighs heavily as she gathers herself together to prepare a meal for her children. She checks the fridge to see what ingredients she can scrounge up before asking her teenage son to run out to the store. She laughs at the children down the hall.
She is an American woman.
My life has been a practice in observing strong women so that I might become one. Like the creation of a good meal, I have watched women all over the world work with what they have and make something beautiful out of their lives. I have been inspired by their confidence, their quiet self-assurance, their integrity, and their willingness to get things done.
Today, as it is International Women's Day, I can't help but thank God for the women I have had the privilege to know. To me, these women embody an entirely new perspective on the character of God. While we can call Him our Father, I also believe He is big enough to embody traits of a Mother.
I have seen women create something from nothing. Driven by the love they have for their families or friends or communities, they can't help but bring something together in a tender and caring way. Their imagination is second only to their strength. Through their dreaming, they are able to know their own strength to see their creations through: from meals, to new programs for their communities, to "just" making it work.
I would be lying if I didn't say that it took me a while to notice the women in my life as strong leaders and people to emulate. Growing up with three strong brothers, I often felt out of place and out of touch. I felt like I was supposed to care about things that I simply didn't care about. It was confusing. Until I noticed my mother. Either unaware or just not caring, my mom never put constraints on who she was. She was unapologetically herself, sometimes to my teenage embarrassment. But, she was herself. As I began to know her more as a woman, I began to embrace that part of myself. I grew an affinity for the "funky teachers" who were these unconventional women who dared to be dreamers and schemers. They challenged the status quo and in turn, challenged me.
In my work in Haiti, I was blown away by the charisma of many of the men I met on the island right away. Their loud and boisterous personalities and freedom drew me in from the first time I worked there. I remember telling my friend that I just didn't feel like I understood the women in Haiti, as they were quiet. Incorrectly, I mistook their meekness as weakness.
Though my time growing up in the USA taught me to be unapologetically myself, my time in Haiti has taught me to be myself no matter who thinks otherwise. Haitian women are genuine to the core. They can sense if someone is trying too hard and they are very protective of themselves and their tribe. They give meaning to the word family- and they do in such a way that is humble and sincere.
Through my time watching these two types of women live their lives, I realized that there are more similarities than differences. That fact, really, blows my mind on its own. Because on the surface they look so different, but underneath it's all the same.
We want to be seen. We want to be known. We want to stop being underestimated and start being respected. We want to know that our spouses/significant others respect us and take us seriously. We want to create and dream and be free enough to believe that those dreams aren't just for the boys, but are for us, too. I have seen the dreams that are on the hearts of the beautiful women I know around the world, and I know they are capable.
Strength doesn't always look like gregarious displays. Sometimes it does, though. Today I honor the women that display the heart of God- of caring, of love, of fighting for those they love. I thank them for the ways they press on in spite of difficult and harsh circumstance. And, I continue to want to find ways to connect with them, love them and carry on.
My first trip to the island of Hispaniola, the small rock in the middle of the ocean which is home to both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was in late 2010. I flew into Haiti in the middle of the night and rode bumpy roads to a house in Port-Au-Prince.
In 2012, after a lot of work in Haiti, we had the opportunity to supervise a mission in the Dominican Republic for a month in the summer. We flew into Santo Domingo, the Dominican's capital city, and, following a friend's instructions, navigated our way to Caribe Tours, a bus station in the middle of town. We then rode that bus for a few hours into the poorest provence of the Dominican Republic, Azua.
Little did we know that this was our first of many trips to this island nation and that we'd eventually call this side home for over 2 years of our ministry. All we knew was that it was this entire island that had captured our attention.
I have always been a paradox of sorts. I struggled with crippling fear as a child (and young adult) but also loved new experiences and did not want to be owned by that fear. The result was often vomiting on the way to a new school, or crying all the way to Haiti, or in the case of the skydiving incident, telling the person I was strapped to to GO no matter what I said or how much I cried. This was my personality I brought onto this island.
I believe only Jesus brings true freedom. But, I also believe He uses all kinds of things to do this. For me, He used Hispaniola.
There are many places where fear and new, amazing experiences can co-exist. I just listed off a bunch of them. It was how I survived the first chunk of my life. But, this island is not really a place where they can co-exist. For if you let fear come into your heart on this island, it can consume you. It overtakes you. And...then you don't want to do anything but get back on a plane and head home. Which, really, would be a shame because this island is amazing and you'd really be missing out.
When I landed back in 2010, I immediately was faced with a choice. As I breathed in that scent of Haitian air, I wondered if I would believe I could be free or if I would be crippled in fear of the unknown. With God's help, I chose freedom.
And, He gave me so many people along the way to help me, too.
Once I choose freedom, I could see things in front of me more clearly. I saw people with incredible stories who were willing to walk with me through fear and expectation I had. They were people who would call me into the light and out of the darkness over and over again. They were the people of Hispaniola, no strangers to darkness or overcoming.
What I have learned about freedom from the people I have encountered in the Dominican Republic and Haiti couldn't fit into one blog post.
I learned to be free from material goods- which might be pretty but are still shackles around our legs.
I learned to be free from worry, as each day has enough to worry about in itself.
I learned to be free from expectation, as my gifts were highlighted and encouraged. Not compared to anyone else's.
I learned to be reliant on the Lord, for He is the one who has come to us, to break us free from our chains and bondage and into eternal life.
One of the most important things that I have learned is this: freedom comes at a cost to us. When we are free, we not only notice the freedom of people but also the oppression. We see those bound up in their shame or rejection or loss of control. And, then we realize their freedom is bound up in ours, too.
We realize how linked we are as a human family. We realize how in reach freedom is for not just us, but for everyone.
And that's the cost. We must, in turn, fight to help liberate others.
I have learned to fight for people from the folks I know in Hispaniola.
There is a whole list of women who give new meaning to the phrase "nevertheless, she persisted." Their endurance blows me away and the freedom they possess to move forward in the light of such extreme circumstances and limitations is amazing.
There is a group of men who decide to be free in their staying. They give up their perceived "freedom" of not settling down or taking responsibility for their families and have found freedom in staying: in deep rooted love, acceptance and mutual respect. Their marriages are counter-cultural, but they are beautiful. And inspiring.
There are groups of kids who have literally gone from street kids, fighting and drinking and trying to make money, into children who love well and listen and who want to learn. They have found freedom, too.
So, this Dominican Independence Day....this Haitian holiday, too....I say thank you to God for the way He has used this island to free me from my fears of failure, giving up, and being alone. He has shown me the cost of freedom, the importance of working for everyone's liberation, and the true love and acceptance which comes from a free life.
A plane flew overhead and I wanted to be on it.
Did the people I was with even know what a plane was like? Did they know where that plane was headed?
It was 2011 and I was working in a tent city in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. It was hot, dusty, and all around unpleasant. The mission we were working with made us hand out dried peach pesh and serve them to people out of 5 gallon white buckets. It seemed like a small gift to these people who had been going through hell.
The bathrooms were disgusting. Like, maggots growing in the toilets.
The water was scarce. Like, turbid and flowing through a canal.
The hope was gone. Like that airplane that went by.
I remember several of my experiences working with these displaced people. I remember learning they were displaced in the first place. Many of the people who were living on one side of the city did not have houses near there that crumbled, but were miles away in another part of town. Many of the people who were living in the tent cities had jobs, lives, family members- a typical life- until their house (and world) crumbled.
People claiming to help exploited them. Those who were helping asked them to consider converting to their religion as they tempted clean drinking water in front of them. They turned to one another for survival, but it was rough.
My experience was nearly 7 years ago and I still remember it well. I remember the shock that went through my system when I realized, truly, what these people had gone through. They'd lost real families and real friends and real jobs and real homes. I remember also knowing that I'd never know the pain like this: my entire world changing in an instant and people not understanding my situation. I remember those planes flying overhead.
I have never been to the Middle East. I have great friends who have worked there, I have friends who have worked with refugees in the USA, and I only have a little experience teaching ESL to some immigrants from this area of the world years ago. I cannot even pretend to imagine what it must be like to be fleeing Syria and wondering where I will go. I can't.
But, now, more than ever, I am beginning to understand that plane overhead. For those people in the Haitian refugee camp, that plane was their connection. Connection to the outside world can mean one of two things: hope or despair; life or death. With each influx of people from the US and other countries, Haitian camp dwellers could either be encouraged and inspired or they could have been taken advantage of- made to sell themselves to a UN worker or to have their pictures taken without their consent, made no better than an object.
While my friends and family might not have been thinking about Haiti and those people in the camps back in 2011, they were there. And, while people not be thinking about them now, many of them are still there. In the same light, while we might not all have the Middle East on our hearts and minds, but people in some of these areas are fighting for their lives. Living in camps with really horrible conditions, wondering if that plane passing by is bringing light or darkness.
We are a part of a global community. We don't get to choose this. In a world where we can email anyone in the bush of Tanzania or the mountains of Haiti, the poor and vulnerable are more accessible than ever. People facing horrible situations globally are able to post about it instantly on Facebook. The reason this is important, and the reason it might make us uncomfortable, is because we realize our own position as Americans.
Things like this begin to flit through our minds "The United States and Europe spent nearly ninety times as much on luxury items as the amount of money that would be needed to provide safe drinking water and basic sanitation for those in our global village who do not have these necessities now"- Groody, Globalization, Spirituality and Justice. Through acknowledging the poverty and bondage of others, we reveal our own poverty of heart- and the riches we also have to give. It changes us. And, that's uncomfortable.
Look, I picked an awkward time to relocate to being based out of the USA. The longest stint I have been in the US in 6 years and we have elected a very controversial president and are in the middle of a lot of complex problems in our world. I can get overwhelmed and upset with the rest of them. But, honestly, I keep remembering that plane.
We choose what kind of things we bring to people in crisis and desperation. We choose what kind of message we want to bring. Is it hope and love? Or is it death and meaninglessness? It is my prayer that in these times we remember who God is- the God who is Love, the God who took the part of a refugee and was incredibly impoverished growing up. I pray we remember that He is on His throne, no matter what chaos ensues. I also pray that He would make us brave- to face the injustices of poverty and war- with hope and change.
overthinker and under-planned; development worker, believer, friend, wife, sister, daughter; learning a lot every day.