Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Unbelievable 44 Hours

On Tuesday, May 26, I flew out of Atlanta with seven others for a five-day trip to Haiti. It's hard to explain, but a day in Haiti feels like a week. This turned out to be a good thing since I spent just under two days in the country. Unfortunately my roommate became seriously ill on Wednesday night, so on Thursday I, along with one other teammate, brought her back to the States. Thank God we made it back without incident, and she is now home recovering.

This was my first international mission trip, and while I felt scared and uncertain at times, God provided for my every need - even for my overwhelming emotions as I loved on these children, saw unbelievable poverty, and witnessed the reality of voodoo culture and a people that live in near spiritual darkness. Below are photographs that chronicle my time, specifically with the 120+ orphans we visited:

When we arrived in Haiti on Tuesday evening, we stopped by the orphanage for a short visit. Immediately we were each surrounded by children wanting to touch us and to be held. Since it is not safe to travel at night, we couldn't stay long as we still had another hour to drive to reach our hotel.

The children loved having their pictures taken and then viewing them on the camera's screen. Better than that was getting their hands on my camera to take the photos for themselves.

We reached our hotel on Tuesday night long after dark, so we went to bed with really no idea regarding our surroundings. Imagine my surprise to wake on Wednesday morning to this ocean-front view. It was truly beautiful! The hotel's manager said he hasn't had a "vacationer" stay there in 10 years. They primarily host mission groups. (Pictured with me above are my female teammates: Katie, Ellen, and Mia.)

When we arrived at the orphanage on Wednesday morning, the older children were away at school. The younger children were divided into two groups, sitting on benches in front of a chalkboard. The two ladies who care for them were teaching them. Next, they ate their breakfast (spaghetti). Afterward, we told them the gospel story from Creole storybooks we took to them. We had local interpreters to help us throughout the trip.

The above pictures show where these children spend both their days and nights. When these 125 children were found, most orphaned by the hurricanes and floods that struck Haiti last year, they were moved to this abandoned nightclub, which now serves as their home.

Because of danger, they remain locked inside this complex (all except the older children who leave only to attend school). It has this circular structure in the center (a former dance floor, I imagine), a narrow plot of dirt on the outside perimeter, and a small building along the back of the property, where the older children live in the eight or so rooms. At night they lay thin mattresses (you can see them piled in the background of the bottom picture) to sleep, at meal time they spread out two carpets to sit and eat, and the rest of the time the children sit, play, and nap on the concrete floor.

One Vision International has a place to move these children that offers much more space and improved sanitary conditions. However, government red tape is delaying this move. Please pray for this to happen quickly so these children can enjoy fresh air and sunshine, room to play, and a cleaner, more comfortable home life.

The week before our trip I took a crash course on "balloon art" by watching clips on the Internet. While Ellen and Mia "face painted," Katie and I made balloon dogs and crowns for the children. This was a hit! The children were so patient as we worked as quickly as we could to make something for each of them. Afterward, we sang the hokey-pokey together. Imagine our surprise when they then sang the hokey-pokey in Creole to us. Apparently, this song is a classic for children around the world! Who knew?!

For lunch the children had a small pack of crackers and a cup of Kool-aid. Then, later in the afternoon after the older boys and girls returned from school, they were served a meal of red beans and rice. The plates were heaped with rice with a few beans and gravy, and even the smallest child licked his or her plate clean. You can see that they sit on carpets on the floor to eat their meals.

In the afternoon we had the pleasure to distribute the clothes we had collected for the children. They lined up in two lines and patiently waited their turn to receive one item. (The older girls and boys [middle school/high school age] also received a pair of new underpants.) After they received their clothes, a worker marked it with their names. The children share everything, as they have no place to store personal possessions. For example, when the older children returned from school, they undressed from their uniforms, laid them in a pile on a table, and then took clothes from one of two large barrels to wear.

We also told the children the gospel with the aid of a "story cloth." The 48 pictures on this cloth survey the entire Bible, from John 1 ("In the beginning was the Word...") through the Old Testament (including the Patriarchs, Moses, the kings, and the prophets) to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Pictured above is Ellen telling the story to the children, with the help of an interpreter.

The men on our team worked hard to build benches and tables for the orphanage. They completed three tables and six benches for them in only two days time. The men and boys were fascinated by this work, and they watched attentively. When they got their hands on sandpaper, they eagerly set to work themselves. In the above picture, you can see the children grouped around the finished product.

The two girls pictured above spent hours fixing my hair. They had one rattail comb that they used to part my hair into grids similar to their own. However, when they let go, it would of course fall down and the parts would disappear. They were fascinated by my straight, sleek hair and kept trying to style it. During this time, I also held at least one, usually two, other children on my lap. They desperately wanted to be held or at least to be touched by us.

I look forward to the opportunity to travel back to Haiti and spend more time with these beautiful children, and I pray for sponsors for them. For only $50 a month, a sponsor can provide food, medicine, and other vital items for a child's care. Please visit or e-mail Rachel at to learn how you can help.

A Sight to Behold

What can I write about the Haitian orphans I encountered this week? I was astonished by them: their affection, joy, patience, and contentment. My heart was warmed by their tenderness and broken by their need. I was blown away by their radiant smiles, their stunning faces, and their bright eyes. Though we spoke different languages, these eyes told me a story that I will never forget ...

The eyes have one language everywhere.
~ George Herbert

The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
~ Henri Bergson

When I first open my eyes upon the morning meadows and look out upon the beautiful world, I thank God I am alive.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

My eyes make pictures, when they are shut.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The eyes are the mirror of the soul ~ Yiddish Proverb

There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.
~ Walt Streightiff

The eyes indicate the antiquity of the soul.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

No eyes that have seen beauty ever lose their sight.
~ Jean Toomey

I have looked into your eyes with my eyes.
I have put my heart near your heart.
~ Pope John Paul XXIII

Saturday, May 23, 2009

What Is Required?

I was surprised the other day to notice a theme to what I've been reading in the weeks leading up to my Haiti trip. It wasn't intentional - or at least by my intention - so it captured my attention as something that God wants me to hear and to consider.

The first is a small work by Henri Nouwen: The Way of the Heart. In his Prologue, Nouwen writes, "What is required of men and women who want to bring light into the darkness, "to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favor" (Luke 4:18-19)? What is required of a man or a woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?"

As children of God, believers in Jesus Christ, and His disciples on this earth, we often find ourselves asking this same question. I know I do. And the word God has kept bringing me back to over these past several weeks is COMPASSION.

Allow me to share a few excerpts from The Way of the Heart and then a second book, A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred by Brennan Manning. I'm not going to editorialize on these quotations, but I invite you to ponder them and perhaps check out these two small books for yourself.

Nouwen writes:

"...the point where ministry and spirituality touch each other [is] compassion ... Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it. As busy, active, relevant ministers, we want to earn our bread by making a real contribution. This means first and foremost doing something to show that our presence makes a difference. And so we ignore our greatest gift, which is our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer."

"In order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other."

I picked Brennan Manning's A Glimpse of Jesus: The Stranger to Self-Hatred off a friend's bookshelf a few months ago. Like all of Manning's works, this is a beautifully written work with so much to consider:

"The etymology of the word compassion lies in two Latin words, cum and patior, meaning 'to suffer with,' to endure with, to struggle with, and to partake of the hunger, nakedness, loneliness, pain, and broken dreams of our brothers and sisters in the human family. Commitment to Jesus Christ without compassion for his people is a lie."

"What is indeed cruicial to the evangelical enterprise is the awareness that we ourselves are the primary target. It is not 'they' who are poor, sinful, and lost. It is ourselves. Unless we acknowledge that we are the sinner, the sick ones, and the lost sheep for whom Jesus came, we do not belong to the 'blessed' who know that they are poor and inherit the Kingdom."

"The church, the visible extension of Jesus Christ in time and space, is the image of the Compassionate One ... Where the Compassionate One is, there will his servants be. Whether in Times Square, Juarez, Rodeo Drive, middle-class suburbia, an alcoholic rehabilitation center, or a room full of eighth graders, the Word stands: 'I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers or sisters, you did it for me.' "

Nouwen observes, "Many of us have adapted ourselves too well to the general mood of lethargy. Others among us have become tired, exhausted, disappointed, bitter, resentful, or simply bored. Still others have remained active and involved - but have ended up living more in their own name than in the Name of Jesus Christ."

A read through these two works, especially in light of my upcoming trip to Haiti, has caused me to ask: What is my condition? Lethargic, exhausted, bitter, busy? Or alive in Christ? What is my calling? I am "called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope. " And what reminder does God have for me in all of this? To live in the name of Jesus Christ is to bear the name Compassionate One.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Heading to Haiti

Next Tuesday I will have the opportunity to travel to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with a small team from my church. We are going with One Vision International to minister to a group of 100+ orphans, to repair their cots, and to build some tables and benches so they will have a place to sit and eat, other than a dirt floor.

Did you know? ...

  • This Caribbean island which is slightly smaller than Maryland (pop. 5.6 million) has a population of just over 9 million.

  • Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty.

  • The life expectancy of Haitians is 60 years old.

  • Roughly half of the population practices voodoo.

  • The percentage of Haitians over age 15 that can read and write is 52.9%.

  • A 2003 report estimated 1.2 million orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the country.
This trip will certainly be unlike any I’ve taken and this place unlike any I’ve visited. I look most forward to the time we will spend with the children. We will singing songs, playing games, telling stories, face painting, and making balloon animals (a new skill I've just acquired). We're also taking supplies for the children, including flip-flops, clothes, and vitamins, which we've collected in abundance from generous friends from school, church, and work.

I look forward to writing about my time in Haiti and sharing photos on the blog when I return. Please pray for our team while we travel May 25-30 (Ellen, Adam, Darren, Donnie, Mia, John, Katie, and myself), our time the Haitian people, especially the children, and our own families while we are away. Thank you!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Goodbye 1st & 4th Grades! Hello Summer!

It's hard to believe, but today was the last day of the 2008-2009 school year! The boys concluded their first year at CAK, and it truly was wonderful. Both Seth and Reed were blessed with tremendous teachers perfectly suited for their personalities. They were also blessed with wonderful classmates that made the transition to a new school an easy one.

How incredible to reflect on how much they learned and grew this year! Last August Reed was only reading sight words, and now he pours through chapter books on his own. Seth will soon pass his mom in math skills. And both boys had the opportunity to speak, sing, and pray in front of their peers throughout the year.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I'll share two to sum up this reflection. The first is the boys on their first day of school, and the second was taken this morning. We're so proud of how our boys are growing, how hard they work, and how well they've done this year. We couldn't ask for more.

What a Character!

For Reed's end-of-year celebration, his teacher planned a wonderful "book" party. The students dressed up as favorite characters from the books they read this year; activities tied to the stories, such as a dinosaur dig (Magic Tree House) and a newspaper scavenger hunt (Geronimo Stilton); and some parents came in costume to read to the boys and girls.

Reed invited Tim to read to his class. His choice of character: Mordred, headmaster of the Dragon Slayer's Academy. This would compliment Reed, who dressed as Sir Lancelot's evil cousin from the same book series. Tim may wish he'd asked Reed about the costume before he agreed.

Here the stern headmaster prepares to read to his new batch of Dragon Slayer recruits.

Tim reads to the attentive class. Notice Reed sitting on the right in his knight costume.

Here's a very proud little boy and his dad. Tim got a lot of amused looks from parents and teachers he met in the hallway, but the delighted gaze Reed gave him is the only look he will remember from the day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Double Digits

So, this is what a decade looks like...

Happy 10th birthday Seth! We love you.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Celebrating Seth

Your 10th birthday is an important milestone as you finally reach "double digits," so we've been celebrating Seth's since last Friday when he had his first sleepover. Five of his classmates spent the night, and I discovered that it's not so easy to sleep when you have children still awake in the house - not because they were loud, but it just seems against the natural order of things.

For 10 years, my boys have been tucked in and sleeping soundly before I've nodded off. This sleepover was just a taste of what's to come, and I realized that this change is going to take some getting used to. In fact, I know it's only one of many changes to come in the approaching years. Sleepovers, summer camp, driving, dating, ... Oh, talk about sleepless nights!

Well, there have been many long nights in the past 10 years too. Tummy aches, leg cramps, bad dreams, worry warts, ... Times when only a snuggle, song, story, or back scratch would do. We've made it through those nights, and I know we'll make it through those that are to come too.

So, blearly eyed and still yawning from the late night (or early morning - they finally fell asleep at 3 a.m.), I think about Seth and smile. I love his spirit and his heart. I marvel that he is already 10 years old. And I cherish the blessing of mothering him ... through happy days, hard times, big questions, broken hearts, school years, and sleepless nights!