Abundant Love

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy…. This is one of those blog posts that has been written in my head countless times before actually making it to published status. I’d start writing only to find my zeal turning to doubt and fear and frustration before returning to joyful anticipation. It’s kind of a long story.

Tim and I have been in Haiti nearly four years (four years?!?!). There have been highs and lows, but at the end of the day, there has never been a time when God has not provided for us. But because of His abundant love for us, He wants to do more than simply provide. I believe that every once in a while, He gives us something just a little extra special. Maybe it’s a day when absolutely everything goes your way or the weather is perfect. Or maybe it’s a day he gives you a new assignment; one that will challenge and overwhelm you.

My assignment? Dessources Cadet.

Cadet_2016_03_30I wish I could recall the first time I saw this little guy, but I can’t. It was probably on the compound where we live and work since his aunt is one of the mission cooks, and he lives with her. The cooks put in some long days around here, so it’s not uncommon to see family members here, especially kids.

The thing about this particular aunt is, she is mom to Jeff and Christopher. Some of you may recall me writing about Jeff before. He passed away last year. Occasionally, I go back and re-read that blog post, Broken, and it still brings me to tears. It was devastating.

But this aunt is an amazing woman. The broken system that let her and her family down hasn’t beaten her down. And for that reason, she brought 5-year old Dessources to the compound when a visiting Lions Club from Grand Rapids, MI, was here conducting an eye clinic.

The group spent a week here and saw hundreds of patients per day. Some of you may recall seeing the pictures on Facebook. The line to get in was crazy long; likely because there hadn’t been a group of optometrists and ophthalmologist here for many, many years.

[Note: If any of you are in this line of work, there is a great need for visiting vision teams.]

When the group first set up shop, there weren’t enough translators, something that’s kinda sorta important when you’re doing anything medical. I offered to help, and quickly found myself working with the folks waiting to be seen. I would direct them where to sit, and distract them while a team member put drops in their eyes. Periodically, I would explain why the drops were necessary (to dilate the pupils), especially since they burned a bit at first. It was somewhat alarming for me to see so many people obeying a complete stranger, doing what they were told to do without question. I figured they were either scared, or trusting, or desperate. Perhaps a combination of the three.

Several days into the clinic, one of the doctors called me over. He had just examined Dessources, and he needed someone to explain to his aunt what he was proposing. If possible, Dessources could go to the U.S. for surgery to remove the bilateral cataracts he’d had since birth.

Whoa.

The doctor, a pediatric ophthalmologist, explained that he would work with an organization called Healing the Children (HTC) to see if Dessources qualified for the surgery. I had never heard of HTC, but quickly returned to the house to do a little bit of online research.

Whoa. Again.

I was so impressed with what I found online. Rather than rewrite everything on their website, I encourage you to visit it for yourself (www.healingthechildren.org). Really. It’s worth it. Medical professionals donate their time and services, people donate their airline miles to help buy tickets, off duty flight attendants donate their time to travel with the kids, host families house the kids and take care of their needs for however long it takes; all of it is just so well organized (at least it is in the MI-OH chapter).

About five weeks after the group left, I received my first contact from HTC. The doctor had been true to his word and contacted them about Dessources. My initial marching orders included completing a social history record which documented basic demographic information; a description of the child’s home and neighborhood; description of the child’s emotional and psychological behavior; his daily routine; likes and dislikes; eating habits; sleeping patterns; and anything else that might prove helpful. We were also told to start working on obtaining a passport.

Suffice it to say, things in Haiti aren’t efficient and nothing happens very quickly.

Three and a half months later, we got word that the passport was ready. A copy was sent to HLC and we waited for the next step, whenever that might come.

Little did we know that next step would come in just 11 days! We had the approval from the hospital which meant that we could apply for the travel Visa. Once we had that, we needed to obtain government authorization for a minor to travel without his/her parent.

We quickly scheduled an appointment with the U.S. Embassy. The first available appointment was after the scheduled surgery date, so we petitioned for an emergency appointment. Five days later, at 4:00 in the morning, we set off for the US Embassy with a slew of documents in hand. Initially, we told the family that they could go without us. After all, we don’t want to do for people what they can do for themselves. But the afternoon before the appointment, Tim and I couldn’t shake the feeling of “What happens if they don’t need you and you are there? What happens if they do need you and you aren’t there?”

So we went.

Tim and I have never been inside the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince; it’s something we have tried to avoid because there are always soooo many people outside. Our appointment was for 7:30 am, and we’d been told to arrive at 7:00. When we arrived at 7:00, there was already a long line outside – 3-4 people across and 50 yards long.

You see, when the Embassy gives you an appointment, the time of the appointment doesn’t really matter. We didn’t know this before August 9th. Basically, everyone shows up early, and you’re seen in the order you arrive. This would never fly in many parts of the world, but it is a necessity here. I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t anticipate this and can totally understand why the Embassy does things this way.

Since we’d never been there before, we approached a security area that was farther away from the looooooong line; a handful of people were gathered here. I intended to ask if we needed to stand in line since we had an emergency appointment, but when the guard saw me hold up our confirmation sheet and passport, she waved us forward (along with others who had the documents). We explained why we were there, and she announced that only one parent would be allowed to accompany the child and me.

Say what??? I figured that I would be the one waiting outside while Dessources went in with his parents! Perhaps I looked official carrying our prepared dossier. Of course, I would be disrespecting an entire culture if I didn’t acknowledge that my white skin helped.

The inside was nothing like I expected, except for the security checkpoint. We exited the first building, entered a second one, and joined everyone in line for the first stop – a checkpoint to ensure that we had all of the necessary documents. When the clerk said, “Have you completed the medical checklist?” my heart nearly stopped. I’d never even heard of the medical checklist.

I started telling him what we did have, and he handed me a paper. He didn’t really care, as long as I checked everything off and signed at the bottom. We were then moved to the interview line.

When the interviews began, we were quickly directed to a station. I’d heard about the Visa interviews from many friends who have applied and been rejected. I always pictured the applicant sitting in a chair with 3-4 Embassy officials posing questions before deciding yay or nay. It was nothing like that. It was like being at a Department of Transportation or the bank. The Embassy agent, a young woman on her first tour, posed a slew of questions; some that I answered and some that Dessources’s dad, Edrige, answered.

We were told that everything looked good and we could return for the Visa in two days. Normally, things don’t happen that fast, but they understood the time crunch. It also helped that two other children travelling for surgery had been there the day before. The liaison who accompanied them to the Embassy was told by numerous people that had a “blan” not been there, the Visa would not have been approved. I have no idea if this is true, but throughout our time there, I kept thinking, “I am so glad we came.” I can only imagine what Dessources’s dad was thinking.

Our next planned stop was the agency that authorizes minors to travel without their parents, IBESR. This agency is notorious for being… thorough (difficult)? We planned to go the day after picking up the Visa, but there were a few surprises in store for us.

[In their defense, IBESR wants to make sure that people aren’t taking children out of Haiti for illegal activities.]

The other children who were scheduled to travel visited IBESR before us, and the liaison working with them had incredibly helpful information to share. We learned that we needed to have some kind of proof that medical care had been sought in Haiti. A U.S. doctor visiting Haiti wasn’t going to cut it. Ummmmm….

And then I learned that the mom’s name on Dessources’s birth certificate didn’t match the name on her own birth certificate. And she didn’t have a national ID card. And though she was in agreement with all that was happening with her son (who she seldom saw), her actual signature didn’t really match the signatures on the power of attorney.

Seriously? It explained how I had gotten the notarized documents back so quickly, but I didn’t really think…

Let’s not go there.

In light of this new information, our scheduled trip to IBESR on Friday was pushed to Monday and then to Tuesday and then to Wednesday. We knew that if our documents weren’t perfect, the trip to their office in Port-au-Prince would be a waste of time.

While I worked on obtaining some kind of medical documentation, Mom worked on getting identification, and Dad worked on getting a legal document regarding Mom’s different names. (It’s common for people to be given their mom’s last name at birth. If/when Dad enters the picture, they frequently take the dad’s name. While this would be a big deal elsewhere, it’s fairly normal here.)

We left Borel at 5:00 am for our trip to IBESR. We picked Dessources’s mom up on the side of the road in Port-au-Prince and headed to a coffee shop to verify we had everything. (We also needed to make sure our driver’s needs were met – coffee and food!)

The waiting room was much busier than I expected so we waited. And waited. And waited. When it was finally our turn, I stayed outside while Dessources’ dad went in. I knew his documents were in good order; he could do this! Long story short, the first clerk wanted nothing to do with him because the medical letter wasn’t signed. I explained that it had been emailed and I could show him the message. After all, we just recently learned that this document was necessary.

He opted to pass us off to a colleague. She didn’t seem too concerned that the letter wasn’t signed, but she told us that the two doctor letters – one from a Haitian doctor and one from the American doctor – needed to be in French. As Edrige and I discussed where we might be able to get the letters translated, I heard the woman sigh heavily and say, “I’ll try to assemble the dossier.” In that moment, we knew. If the dossier was assembled, we were good to go.

We could pick up the authorization on Friday.

I know this is long, but let me review the timeline so you can follow what happened here:

  • We got the passport on July 18.
  • We received final approval and the documents necessary to apply for the Visa on July 29.
  • Our Embassy appointment was August 9.
  • We picked up the Visa on August 11.
  • We went to IBESR on August 17.
  • We picked up the authorization to travel on August 19.
  • We left for the hotel on August 20.
  • Dessources flew out on August 21.

Tim and I are still in shock that it all came together!

As I type, Dessources and the two other children are with their host families in Grand Rapids, MI. I’ve already heard from the host parents, and things are going well so far. There are a bunch of pictures online – the link is pasted below for anyone who wants to follow the picture story. For those of you who say, “I could never send my child off to another country without me,” I suspect you would be surprised what you would do if it was the only option for help.

I don’t share this story because I want glory or credit; that is so not my heart. I share it because it’s so wonderful to see people from all walks of life coming together to make something beautiful happen. Working with this family, this team, and this organization has been an amazing experience, and I’m thankful to have been a part of it. Additionally, I’d like to extend my thanks to:

  • Kim Sorrelle at Rays of Hope for choosing to bring the Lions Club of Grand Rapids to Borel.
  • Dr. Droste for calling me over that fateful day and asking me if I could help translate and serve as the in-country point of contact.
  • Helen Salan at Healing the Children for explaining the process, answering all of my questions, and having confidence in our team here.
  • Dr. Aimee Tow for going before us at the Embassy and IBESR and sharing helpful information.
  • Edrige and Marie Cadet for doing all that I asked of them.
  • The families who contributed financially which allowed us to move quickly on the Visa and put the family up at a hotel in Port-au-Prince before flying out. (I think they would be embarrassed if I called them out, but they know who they are.)
  • Al and Donna for opening your home to Dessources and loving on him. A shout out to daughter Kim for keeping us updated and sharing pictures of what is happening in MI.
  • Our church family for praying us through the multiple trips to Port-au-Prince and the process of securing the Visa and IBESR authorization.
  • The Board of Directors of Water Project for Haiti for their unconditional support, including allowing Tim and me to dictate our schedules as we see fit. Sometimes, our work isn’t about water filters at all.
  • Tim, for never complaining about the back and forth trips to Port-au-Prince and my obsession with having the documents in good order.
  • Our family, especially our children, for not making us feel guilty about choosing to live apart from them. We don’t know how long we will be here, but we know we are doing what God has called us to do for now. Your support means more than you could ever know.

Please continue to pray for these children and their families. They still face surgeries, recovery periods, and travel back to Haiti when all is said and done.

I feel so thankful and privileged to have been assigned by God to work on this little project. And I am grateful beyond words for everyone who worked and continues to work to make something like this possible.

God’s love IS abundant. I’ve seen it in the doctors and nurses, flight attendants, frequent flier miles donors, host families, staff, and volunteers.

I know it is abundant, because I get to do this job.

 

Follow the picture story online at:

https://web.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10210226796011101.1073741848.1375991144&type=1&l=b569f9531a

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I Do.

A few days ago, I posted some pictures about Jou Maryaj on Facebook. My goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people on the streets of Borel! (Editor’s note: Not true, but this ranked pretty high.)

Translated, Jou Maryaj means wedding day, and by the end of last Saturday, 65 couples tied the knot. It’s rumored that one couple didn’t/couldn’t go through with their wedding when the groom’s girlfriend showed up and pulled him from the ceremony, but we have no confirmation this actually happened. It is plausible though.

Following the post, there were comments, questions, and private messages, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to explain how all of this came about and unfolded.

You see, there was a group of missionaries here from a church in NJ – Eglise Baptiste Nouvelle Jerusalem (EBNJ). This wasn’t the typical group that comes here though. This was a group of Haitians who came from the U.S. to minister to Haitians in Haiti. How cool is that?!?! There were about 40 people in all…. +/-20 who traveled from NJ, FL, and Canada with the balance coming from within Haiti.

Throughout the week, the group held a medical clinic, vacation bible school, and pastor’s workshop. Every morning, a truck loaded with people would leave the compound to do street evangelism. Every afternoon, it would return and those on board would shift gears and get busy with wedding fittings. Every night, there was a church service in the school yard near our house… three hours of singing and praising and worshipping and hearing God’s word. Their level of energy amazed me, and the thought of how many people this group could reach because of a common language filled me with hope.

The culminating event to the week’s activities would be Jou Maryaj.

I first heard about the event while visiting a church serval months back. An announcement was made that anyone who wanted to get married could register for this event. You see, it’s very common in developing countries for couples to be together and never marry. After all, if dollars are scarce, are you going to spend money on food for your family, medicine for a sick child, a place to live, or a wedding ceremony?

Right.

The fact of the matter is that some couples never want to marry. They like the freedom to be with whoever they want, whenever they want. They use the “not married card” as their out. Sounds like the developed world.

Some want to marry, but it’s more of a status thing. If you can afford a traditional wedding and reception, you’re doing pretty darn OK financially. Peer pressure is alive and well here. Sounds like the developed world.

And then there are the couples who want to marry and be right in the eyes of God, but they lack the resources to do so. That is where the missionaries from EBNJ step in.

Couples were required to purchase their wedding license, and men were required to purchase a collared shirt. Other than that, everything was provided. Women – young and old – came to be fitted for wedding dresses, veils, and shoes. Men – young and old – came to be fitted for suits and shoes. The gowns and suits would be returned and laundered to be used again in another year at a different location. (Side note: this group was in Jeremie, Haiti two years ago where 120 couples got married in one day!)

Excitement was in the air the morning of the wedding. Grooms, Godmothers, Godfathers, and friends filled the compound until Security had to lock the gates to prevent more people from entering.

The big building on campus was loaded with brides…. big, puffy dresses nearly everywhere you looked. The women sat stoically in their chairs, trying not to sweat.

The call was made to “line up!” around 8:50 am. Given that the event was to start at 8:30 am, this in and of itself was miraculous. Weddings in Haiti frequently start 1-3 hours late.

As the brides filed out of the big building, grooms filled in alongside and godparents found their respective places behind each couple. They made their way to the large roll gate, ready to walk to the church across the street. There was a slight delay as the lead pastor called for the gate to be opened, but the security guard who was working the guard house was having problems closing one door so he could move to the roll gate. Poor Mamane… he had his hands FULL. Once he arrived at the roll gate with the key to open it, the band started playing and the procession began.

Outside the gate, the schoolyard was full of family, friends, and people just wanting to catch a glimpse of the brides and grooms. There was applause and shouts of joys as the couples passed. It was joyous and exciting and absolutely beautiful.

Inside the church was a packed house. I stayed long enough to snap a few pictures and then gave up my spot for someone who needed to witness the ceremony more than me. Haitian weddings are long. And hot. When the group came back several hours later, I was thankful I’d chosen to give up my spot in the church. It also worked out well since the woman who baked the wedding cake had no way of transporting it to the campus. So… she and I hopped in the Water Project truck and went off after it (still in layers, thankfully).

When the group made their way back to the campus after the service was done, they were greeted with a reception. Hundreds of containers of food and drink handed out, and a large wedding cake, beautifully on display.

For the most part, Tim and I kept a low profile since this was another organization’s mission and ministry, but I am so grateful that I got to witness this event. Life in Haiti is not perfect, nor is it in the U.S. or Canada or anywhere else in the world, but every once in a while, we catch a glimpse of what heaven on earth looks like. It seems to happen when we treat each other well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Up and Down

My goodness, it has been a strange couple of days.  Not bad strange; more like my head is tired from the range of emotions kind of strange.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when it started, likely because extremes are pretty normal here. It also may be because the month of May is fast approaching and I’m dreading it. May is the anniversary of losing my mom, Larry, Jeff, and Colleen. The best thing about May 2016 is it gets me one month closer to seeing Ella, our kids, my dad, and Ken & Betty. Oh, and Tim and I will celebrate 30 years of marital bliss on the 31st. Not too shabby for a marriage that wasn’t supposed to last!

ANYHOW, I digress…

For starters, I’ve been fighting with Dixie for the past week. She has this habit of leaving holes all over the place. That wouldn’t be so bad except she insists on digging them right beneath our windows. That means a ton of dust in our house. I paid Wisguer and Ti Jean to bring some dirt to fill in the holes, and we put down a few large rocks down to deter her from digging. Or so I thought. For a chubby dog, she sure can squeeze into some tight spots. It sent my blood boiling every time I came back to the house and found dirt all over our walkway and a new layer of dust all over the furniture and floors. Long story short, the four boulders we started with now total SIXTEEN. I really hope it works. She’s such a sweet girl, and I don’t like being that mad at her.

On Friday, we took some friends to the airport. On our way home, we found ourselves in some traffic that had all the telltale signs of trouble. Seeing tons of people on the street and smoke ahead, we opted to turn around and pull off the road until things simmered down. All kinds of things go through your mind in those moments – anger at the thugs who cause the problems, sadness for this beautiful country, gratefulness because we had a Haitian friend with us, frustration with the local police who won’t do anything while simultaneously recognizing that their resources are limited, and yes, even a little fear.

I recently read a devotional for that day: “Trust me and don’t be afraid. Many things feel out of control. You tend to feel more secure when your life is predictable. Take refuge in the shelter of my wings, where you are absolutely secure.” Perhaps I should have started my day with that word.

On Saturday, we had plans to meet up with some other missionaries for dinner. Those plans got postponed because a good friend of one of the missionaries was kidnapped and killed last week. He leaves behind a wife and six children. So many thoughts; so many emotions.

It’s not all bad though.

After making the decision to postpone dinner, Tim and I left to run some errands. The first stop was at a church in then neighboring town. I’d seen the pastor several days before, and he shared with me about a monthly bible training at his church. It started with +/- 40 people, but he expected close to 100 this month. He asked if we would stop by and take some pictures.

 

This blew me away. More than 100 people meeting together from 8:00am – 4:00 pm two days a month to study God’s word. Try to grasp this… no comfortable chairs, no air conditioning, no on-site kitchen for food and drink, I’m not even sure there’s a bathroom! And yet, there they were, sitting on those hard wooden benches or uncomfortable metal chairs for eight hours.

Another training will be held on May 20-21, and then in June, and July, and, and, and. They’ll conclude with a graduation in November.

I think there is something special about indigenous missionaries. I’m humbled to have witnessed the beautiful work that Pastor Lemaitre is doing in the community where he lives, and my heart was full when we left the church. He shared with me that he’s praying for God to provide a way for him to offer a little food and drink to those who are participating in the program. Won’t you join me in praying with him?

On Sunday, I visited a different church. During announcements, two visitors shared that a group in the US (headed by Haitians) will be organizing a day of marriage later this year. The group will provide suits for the men, dresses for the women, a full reception, nearly everything needed to get married! Men just need to buy a shirt and the couple needs to pay for a marriage license (about $10 USD). If I understood them correctly, there are already 50 people registered.

You see, it’s not uncommon for people to never marry here. We’re told it’s because of the cost of the wedding, though I’m sure there are other reasons too. For those who want to be married yet lack the ability/capacity to make it happen? You can’t help but feel happy and hopeful when you hear about a wedding day ministry.

This morning, I took a quick walk to a friend’s house to let them know of a doctor’s appointment they have for Sunday. The family didn’t ask for it, and what they don’t know is that we’ve been working behind the scenes to see if we can get their son to the US for surgery. There is a l-o-n-g way to go in this process, unless Sunday’s consultation reveals that surgery won’t help anything. Lots of emotions either way.

Jameson_2016_03_30

Shortly after I got back, a local church leader showed up at the house to talk about… tattoos. He wanted to know how they were done, why people got them, and how the church in America responds to people with tattoos. We watched a YouTube clip together so he understood how they were done – that was way better than me trying to explain it. I shared my thoughts with him with the caveat that there are as many opinions as there are people. After all, moun se moun tout kote. People are people everywhere.  Some churches and people are more legalistic or liberal than others, regardless of the country.

It may sound strange, but his visit was the impetus for this blog. Having this young man feel comfortable enough to pose the question(s) and his desire to know more about something that is obviously changing in his own culture strikes, intrigues, and overwhelms me.

There are other stories I could share from the week – the young man who was denied a visa… again, another one who wasn’t, the dad who started working this week, the problems between a church and its pastor, and a friend who had a simple need met that filled him with joy. Yes, many stories. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a clue what is going on in the bigger picture. I feel like God is trying to show me something and I’m not picking up on it. But I KNOW that He is at work in all of these circumstances and relationships.

As an aside, today’s devo reminds me of life in Haiti:

“I have designed you to need me moment by moment. As your awareness of your neediness increases, so does your realization of my abundant sufficiency. I can meet every one of your needs without draining my resources at all.”

People here definitely live that way, dependent and thankful moment by moment; a combination of survival technique for dealing with extremes and appreciation for the many ways that God shows us He is faithful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment