Friday, November 27, 2009

We Gather Together

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with a family gathering at our house. In all we had seventeen family members for the day, though Tuck, Kristy, and Blake had to say their goodbyes before we served the feast. Here are some photos of our holiday:

Our celebration was two-fold: it was also Landon's 20th birthday. Notice how Reed dressed up for the holiday! Below, post-dessert bliss: homemade pies and whipped cream, courtesy of MiMi.

Keeping the post-turkey coma at bay: shooting some hoops.

Let the game play begin! We're a card-playin' family - 3:13 and Canasta two of our favorites. (Can you tell? Aunt Camie doesn't like having her picture taken.)

Reed and MiMi entertained us with some holiday duets on the piano. I think Seth finally heard enough.

We don't limit our games to cards, though. Here, MiMi teaches Reed how to play Mexican Train Dominoes.

Family pictures 2009: Pictured on top, the McCalmons, our family, and Grandmama. Pictured below, our family with MiMi and BaBa.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I’ve just returned from my second trip to Haiti, and to be honest, it already seems like a dream. Barely a week has passed since we left for our trip, but here I am, back at home, back in the routine, and trying to remember all that has transpired.

Many of my teammates, including myself, got this response when we told people we were going on this five-day trip: “Five days? That’s not very long…” I guess it’s not in actual time, but in Haiti time five days feels like much longer. When you’re with the orphans, a single day in their world stretches on and on.

Why does it seem this way? Well, there’s the heat, with no escape from it. There’s the absence of creature comforts, like a clean toilet. There’s the utter lack of any distraction from your present circumstances. There’s the urgent need each of the 120+ children have for a personal touch, a moment of tenderness, and a fraction of your time and attention.

It’s a completely sensory experience where your brain and body don’t get a moment’s rest from the sight of their poverty, the smell of the living conditions, the sound of voices trying desperately to communicate, the touch of their hot, sweaty bodies and small, grasping hands, and the taste of the hot, humid air where the convergence of dust, sweat, garbage, and excrement is palpable.

You hazard to ask, “What time is it?” counting down the hours until the bus will take you back to your hotel where you can take a cold shower and fall into bed. And when you finally make it there, you lay in the dark and think of the children still there … Still in the heat and stench. Still in the dirt and grime. Sleeping on concrete floors and thin mattresses.

And you can’t wait for morning to come, so you can go back to them.

The Heart of Haiti

Journal Entry: Street Scenes

We're on the way to our final day at the orphanage. It's a beautiful day - paradise. The ocean before me makes me think of the vast hearts, the capacity for love, and the depth of need in the lives of these children. Indeed, in this country.

Women crouch over large bowls scrubbing clothes. Young men amble down gravel lanes or lean against trees. The workday has begun, but for them there is only the long stretch of day until night comes and darkness closes in on them once again.

The riverbed is dry. Last night the island was washed in a downpour, but today it is parched.

What are you thinking as you stand there?

From time to time we pass women carrying large baskets of bread or fruit on their heads. How do you bear the weight and walk with such grace? We pass a yard filled with intricately carved furniture, and the artist is at work. He looks like all of the aimless others, yet he is not sitting idle. Who will buy your creations?

School children in their uniforms walk down the street - the girls' heads boasting ribbons and cheerful bows. So neat and pretty and proud. If we speak the words "God has a plan for you," do you believe us?

Barbed wire curls atop block walls where broken glass stands and glitters. The sight is surprisingly beautiful in this brown world of dirt and rock and grime, yet it reminds us that this is a place of desolation and desperation. They need more than help ... they need HOPE.

Journal Entry: Final Night

The same stars that light the sky over our hotel light the sky over the orphanage. The same crickets chirp and dogs bark. Not five miles away a city sleeps in squalor. Families cram into rooms smaller than some of our closets.

Rain from today's downpour drips through the tin roofs of shanties piled beside the river, where thousands of people collapse in sleep before waking to another hopeless day. UN officials and businessmen chatter below at the pool and the bar. They talk and laugh as strains of music fill the air with romance, drowning out the sound of poverty and death.

Tomorrow the sun will rise, we will go home, and life will go on. The children will wake to the same sky we fly home through, huddle on their dirt floors, and live with the memory, maybe fleeting, of eight American women who came for a few days, held their hands, cradled their bodies, and told them about the love of a man named Jesus, who is everything they need.

May they remember. May they believe.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Haiti Trip - Days 1/2

On Friday, November 6, our team of eight ladies and John Miller of One Vision International got a very early start on our journey. Setting out at 5:30 a.m., we flew from Knoxville to Charlotte to Miami to Port Au Prince, Haiti.

From there, we traveled by bus north to Caberet. We arrived too late to visit the children on Friday, so we went on to the hotel. The next morning we woke to see the beautiful countryside of Haiti that had escaped our notice in the darkness of the prior night.

Here's our lovely team: Deena, Lisa H., Mia, Susan S., Rachel, me, Lisa B., and Ellen. Oh, and don't forget our brave leader, John Miller.

Since it was a Saturday, all of the children were present - little ones and teenagers too. We were blessed to have translators David and Cecile. Cecile is married to Dr. Noel, who works closely with One Vision and John in the care of these children and on the plans for their future home. Deena and Rachel told the children Bible stories each day and led them in games and activities.

Lisa and I spent some time with the teenage girls. I had a short Bible study with them, and then Lisa spent some time talking with them about purity. Dr. Noel and Cecile had a desire that we begin abstinence education with the teenagers at the orphanage, and Lisa did a wonderful job. They listened intently and asked questions when Lisa gave them the opportunity.

The children were eager to be held, so I was perfectly content to oblige. It's not uncommon to have a tired little one fall asleep in your arms.

Since my prior trip last May, the children have been moved to this new location. If you remember, they were previously living in an abandoned nightclub. Most of them were sleeping on the former dance floor under a thatched roof and sharing two commodes. The new location is situated beside a river and offers much more space and protection from the elements. Enclosed within its walls is a small church, several structures, and eight commodes. The structures are used for school rooms, a kitchen, and housing. Below you can see the church (I'm perched in the doorway catching a breeze), the kitchen, and the river.

As you saw above, our team worked alongside the caregivers to prepare lunch for the children. They actually did all of the cooking (after all, how would we know how to cook rice for 120+ children in a pot over a fire?), while we helped with dishing out the food and serving the children.

The following picture of Mia expresses how we were all feeling by this point in the day ... and it was just our first day. It's impossible to paint an accurate picture with words or images of what it's truly like to be there: it's so hot, so humid, there are so many children, there is so much need, there is a language barrier, the bathrooms are indescribible, and yet you yearn to offer more, help more, hold more...

Here are the children devouring their midday meal. It's always a heaping plate of rice with some type of meat and gravy. Even though the plates are piled high, the children eat every single bite.

An afternoon shower brought this lovely gift to the skies:

After we left the children, we visited the property that One Vision has purchased for the future site of the orphanage. We walked through the neighboring community, where we were greeted by hundreds of people. The residents of this modest home invited us inside to pray for their family of seven, including a three-week-old newborn who was sleeping on the one bed.

One Vision has purchased 40 acres for the future home of the orphanage. The plans include a dormitory with an adequate kitchen and bathroom facilities; a school (which the community children can attend too); a church; and a farm. It will change the lives of not only the 120+ children currently in One Vision's care, but it will change the lives of this community as well.

They need to raise about $100,000 to build the orphanage and are hopeful to reach that goal very soon. If you would like to make a donation, please mail it to One Vision International, P.O. Box 20608, Knoxville, TN 37940. Mark your check's memo "One Vision Haiti." Thank you!

Haiti Trip - Day 3

Sunday morning our team got an early start, but not as early as these fishermen already casting their nets. We attended church with the orphans, caregivers, and community members. Worship was like their own brand of jazz, with Madame Lucien moving from song to prayer while randomly accompanied by an eletronic keyboard, electric guitar, and drums. The children sang special music for us. After two hours we slipped out of the service to help prepare lunch for the children.

While the children ate their lunch, part of our team left with eleven of the caregivers to return to the hotel. One of our goals for this trip was to build relationships with these women, so we pampered them with a "spa" day - facials, manicures, and pedicures; lunch; and a Bible study. The rest of us stayed behind to help with the children. During lunchtime, we held the babies and visited with Dr. Noel. Pictured below, Lisa holds Jakob, a seven-month-old who was left on the orphanage's doorstep two weeks ago. He was very malnourished, so we worked all day trying to get him to drink a bottle of formula.

After lunch we shared Bible stories with the little ones and played. Here Deena goofs off with them, but most didn't know what to think of her red nose and false teeth. They'd obviously never seen a clown before.

Here's baby Jakob in the pack-n-play we brought with us holding onto a stuffed dolphin. He was a dedicated thumb sucker.

In the afternoon Lisa spent some more time with the teenage girls talking to them about abstinence. The girls were very engaged and asked thoughtful questions. David, to Lisa's left, was our wonderful interpreter. After this, Lisa braved a conversation with the teenage boys about abstinence. She did an amazing job, and the boys were equally respectful and thoughtful.

While Lisa spoke with the older girls, Mia spoke to each child, taking down their names, ages, and Christmas wish. The children were very patient, waiting for their turn to talk with her. Later that afternoon the teenage girls discovered that our team member Rachel spoke fluent French. They were extremely interested in her life and her family, and they were happy to be able to converse with her.

We borrowed this parachute from the boys' school, and it was a definite hit with the children. They squealed with delight and ran underneath as we flapped it up and down.

By midafternoon, we were happy to sit and rest with these babies. It had been a very long, very hot day, so we found the little breeze coming through a door to the church and enjoyed a moment of peace.

After leaving the orphanage on Sunday afternoon, our bus made it only about 1/4 mile on the road before it got stuck in the mud. Despite his best attempts, our driver had to turn it around. Because we didn't know how long this would take, we walked back to the orphanage to wait. Little did we know the huge blessing that was waiting for us down the muddy road...

Madame Lucien and the other caregivers led us by hand into the courtyard, where they had circled chairs around a tub of clean rainwater. They knelt before us and washed each of our feet while another women cleaned our muddy shoes. It was tender and beautiful, and we were humbled by their love and kindness toward us.

God saw our weariness and our sadness, and He used these Haitian women to minister to us in a beautiful way. We ended our evening at the hotel with a delicious meal, a celebration of Cecile's birthday, and a special time of devotion and prayer.

Haiti Trip - Days 4/5

Monday was another beautiful day in Haiti - blue skies, white clouds, very hot. Because of our sticky situation with the mud on Sunday afternoon, we played it safe and rode in the back of Dr. Noel's truck to the orphanage.

We had prayed for Jakob on Sunday night, so why were we surprised to find him much improved on Monday morning? When we arrived, he was sleeping in the pack-n-play; then, he was alert and responsive all day. He even let me feed him a big bowl of porridge. What a blessing!

While six of our team were with the children and teenagers at the orphanage, the other two team members took nine caregivers back to our hotel for their "spa" day. Despite a flat-tire delay, they were able to enjoy ample time for their pampering and Bible study. None of these ladies owned a Bible either, so they were happy to receive one written in their native language.

Below you can see our team as we say goodbye to Madame Lucien, the children, and all of the others at the orphanage. John offered our thanks and prayed for them. Then, the children rushed onto our bus. They, along with the caregivers, prayed for us before we left.

After leaving the orphanage on Monday afternoon, we drove into Port Au Prince, where we spent our last night. Below is a typical street in this busy city. Sidewalks were packed along the way with vendors selling their wares, school children walking home, and men and women milling about. Traffic was crazy, with few traffic signals and many vehicles - cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and even people riding on donkeys crowded the streets.

Here is the view of Port Au Prince from our hotel:

Here we are, enjoying our final breakfast together:

Our final team photo, taken in Miami. From here, Mia left us to fly back to Atlanta. The rest of us flew to Charlotte and on to Knoxville.

In the months preceding the trip, it was interesting to watch as our team evolved. Some who seriously considered going did not; and some who thought they couldn't go went. This group of ladies were each so unique, so gifted, and so lovely. It was beautiful to see them step into a difficult situation and offer themselves however they were required. I was blessed to watch them shine, and I'm thankful we shared this profound experience. I think if you asked each of them, they would say "yes," they'd do it again.