Leaving Las Vegas

Would you believe that I have been writing parts of this blog in my head since 2014? (Yes, you read that right.) The thing is, now that it’s time to pull all of it together, it’s proving to be much more difficult than I anticipated.

Thoughts, ideas, stories, plans, likes, dislikes, phrases, and sometimes complete sentences all get jumbled around in my head like flakes in a snow globe. The only thing is, the globe is never put down long enough for the flakes to come to rest. It just gets picked up over and over again.

Shake, shake, shake.

Here’s the deal… after six years in Haiti, Tim and I are moving back to the U.S. Some of you have known for a while, but it’s probably a surprise to others since we haven’t talked about it much. We are going back to Pennsylvania, si bondye vle, to be closer to family and spend quality time with our grandkids before they outgrow us. After all, there comes a time when hanging out with Pepaw and Memaw isn’t all that fun anymore.

Tim and I have known for quite a while that this season was coming to a close, but that hasn’t made the transition any easier. There are days when the thought of leaving drives me to tears. When that happens, I grab my phone and watch videos of Ella and Henry. I can’t wait to be with them!

And then there are days when the frustrations here are so great that I go online to see if I can change our tickets to an earlier departure date. When that happens, I look at the pictures of Tim and me with our WPH staff or pictures with friends, and think, “I don’t want to leave them.”

Sigh.

When Tim and I prayed about coming to Haiti, the whole process took about six months. Isn’t that crazy? We visited in March 2012 and moved here in September. We knew it was God’s plan since living and working in Haiti was never on our radar screen, but He brought us to unity fairly quickly. When people asked us how long we planned to stay, we always answered honestly: “God was clear in telling us to come to Haiti. We’re counting on Him being just as clear when it’s time to go.” We always hoped our departure wouldn’t be because of an emergency or crisis, and we are thankful that it is not.

The thing is, it’s taking us much longer to leave Haiti than it did to come here. For years, our kids have heard us say, “We WILL be home for Christmas next year,” only to see Christmas 2016 and 2017 come and go without us being stateside.

Shake. Shake. Shake.

When we left PA in 2012, we left our home to go to a place that had little emotional attachment to us; Haiti was our assignment. I remember meeting with former missionaries and expressing concern that I didn’t feel drawn to this country or her people. We were being called to serve here, but there wasn’t the sense of affection that I’d heard others talk about. It was a lesson in obedience, nothing more.

Since that time, this strange world has become home to us. In 32 years of marriage, this is the second longest place we have lived in the same location. And two weeks from today, we are leaving it.

It is hard trying to reconcile these conflicting emotions of looking forward to going home but not looking forward to leaving home.

Shake. Shake. Shake.

I’ve had so many thoughts about where to take this blog, and I know that if I try to incorporate all of them, I will lose you along the way. I believe that I could lose myself.

I want to share with you what I will miss, and what I won’t. I want to write about some of the lessons I’ve learned.  I want you to know these beautiful people, even if they are their own worst enemy at times. I debate whether or not to tell you about how this work has wrecked me. I’m not sure I want to go there, but if I don’t, then I miss the opportunity to write about forgiveness and redemption.

(Note: A quick glance at my blog history ought to tell you that the chances of me doing a follow-up blog are slim to none, especially when we have groups coming in and Tim and I are trying to pack up a house.)

I will tell you that I am somewhat scared. I didn’t realize it until Monday. I should be scared because we don’t yet know where we will live and what we will do for work (feel free to contact us with any job leads in the Harrisburg area, please!), but that is not what scares me most.

No, what scares me is knowing that there are people I love who will need help, and we won’t be here for them. Trust me, I get that there have been people I love in the U.S. who have needed help and we weren’t there for them, but things here are so much more… raw.

One of our technicians was in a motorcycle accident on Monday; some of you probably saw that on Facebook. Praise God, he is OK. As we waited for care at the hospital (which we’ve been to numerous times), what I saw got to me. Part of it was because I care deeply about this man, and it hurt me to see him hurting. Part of it stemmed from overwhelming gratefulness because he was on his way to pick up his 3-year old daughter at the time of the accident. Had she been with him, it would have been much worse. The driver of a car parked on the side of the road opened his door without looking and hit Jonathan. Had Leica been there, she would have been riding in front of him on the moto and taken the full force of the door to her head. Lord, God, thank you for sparing this precious little girl.

Part of it stemmed from seeing a woman in a wheelchair (made from a plastic lawn chair) who looked very uncomfortable while she waited to be seen. When they took her vitals, her blood pressure was 178/99. We were there for hours, and not once did I see her open her eyes; she laid as still as possible. Another woman lay on a concrete bunch, her dress down around her waist, and wounds to her shoulder and face. Clearly, she had been in a moto accident as well; her right eye was swollen shut and blood dripped across her cheek and into her ear. I took turns fanning both women, and wiped the occasional tear or streak of blood from the accident victim’s face. With tears in my own eyes, I knelt and prayed with her. Finally, someone came to tend to her wounds and take her from the ER.

This is healthcare in Haiti, and it’s absolutely awful. It also magnifies what it is that scares me. Without the right contacts or connections, people here endure an incredible amount of suffering, much of it needless. We know life will go on for our friends here, but how much suffering will they have to endure?

That is what makes me scared. Or, maybe it just makes me sad.

Shake. Shake. Shake.

I’m sad that so many people in this country want to see change, but feel helpless to change it. I’m sad because I know that when we leave here, there are some people that I will never see again; there’s simply too much death in everyday living. I feel sad that we are part of an ongoing problem, a revolving door of foreigners who come with good intentions but leave after a few years. It’s no wonder people are hesitant to let you in.

I know that God doesn’t want me to stay in that place of sadness. He doesn’t want me to forget what we’ve seen and experienced, but He doesn’t want me to wallow either. I know this because even as I type, He is reminding me of the good coming our way. In the midst of revising and reviewing this for the umpteenth million time, I received a video of our granddaughter at VBS and watching her makes my heart want to explode with joy.

He also gave me the biggest, bestest gift I could hope for here. He sent someone who has a heart for serving in Haiti. He sent someone who will fill our shoes when we’re gone. He sent someone who will look after the very people I am afraid to leave. Seriously…. How great is our God. He hears the cries of our hearts and He answers us.

Shake. Shake. Shake.

On August 14, Tim and I will leave Haiti with a few precious possessions and no idea of when we will return. Our project will shut down for a few months while we wait for the new project managers to arrive. During that time, our guys will be on call so that those who have filters can reach a technician should they need anything. I have no doubt that we will keep in touch with many of our friends here; that sort of thing takes priority in this country.

It’s going to be a strange time to be sure, and I know that the emotions will continue to wreak havoc, at least for a little while. Our pastor told us that what we are going through is not unlike what Paul went through when he left Ephesus. He had gone there, lived among the people, laughed and cried with them, and when it was time to go, they hugged and kissed and cried (Acts 20:36). This is what I expect it will be like when our guys take us to Port-au-Prince for the last time.

The experience also reminds me of a quote that I saw in the Peace Garden of the same hospital I was at yesterday:

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Serve them
Plan with them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have.

I am so very thankful that I got to live among these people and learn from them, love them, serve them and plan with them for nearly six years.

Tim and I have no idea what the future holds, but we know who holds our future in His hands. We trust that God will continue to provide for our needs as He sees fit.

For those who have questions about Haiti and/or our experience here, feel free to ask. If you’re curious, reach out. If you want to visit here, let’s talk. She is a strange and beautiful place filled with complexity and simplicity, and she will always be in my heart.

#ayiticheri

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Book it, Danno.

One of the really cool things about living in a developing country is watching it, well, develop.

Since we moved here in 2012, we have seen signs of progress like road signs, new businesses, an explosion of smart phones, and more vehicles on the road. Progress doesn’t come without its problems, that’s for sure. Sometimes, the demand can’t keep up with the infrastructure. This is evident when we see 6-hour traffic jams and no internet for days on end. (I have no doubt that if the blog mood struck me on a day when we were dealing with either one of those issues, this post would have a completely different feel to it.)

We live out in the “sticks” so things take a little longer to reach us; evidence of progress is harder to see in our area. One local gem, however, is a community library.

library

The Community Library of Deschappelles Photo credit: Gilbert Thurston

The library opened in April 2016, and we’ve been visiting it off and on ever since. I remember the early days when there was talk about issuing library cards and loaning books… at some point in the future. Time was needed for the community to fully understand what a library is and how it could benefit those using it. The leadership team – Haitian and American – was intentional about their progress.

Fast forward to 2018… the library is now issuing cards, loaning books, and has over 300 members! (Yes, I applied for my card too.) It hosts regular educational symposiums, the most recent one focusing on the importance of a clean environment. They have a kids club that meets every Saturday morning. They have computer classes and science clubs. For those who know anything about the First Lego League, the youth from the library competed in Cap Haitian and placed second in their first ever competition. How cool is that?!?!

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First Lego League Team Photo credit: Community Library of Deschappelles

We are even seeing a middle class community pop up in the land around the library. The homes under construction are somewhat larger with poured concrete floors and added detailing, like bow windows and porches. I’m finding it amazing, intriguing, and humbling to witness this kind of positive development.

Lately, I’ve been on a mini crusade to make sure that the staff here knows about this precious resource. Some of it probably stems from the fact that our daughter works at a library (go, Alex!). I also remember how helpful it was to Jucado when he emmigrated from Haiti to Brooklyn. I could probably pen an entire post on that experience alone.

Earlier in the week, I was chatting with one of our security guards about his family. Schools in Haiti recently finished their third round of exams for the year, and his son, Widson, was eagerly awaiting his results. If he improved his grades from a six to a seven (out of 10), Dad promised him a bike. Trust me, that’s a pretty big deal here. In the course of conversation, the guard told me how much Widson loves to read; everywhere he goes, he tries to read whatever he sees. You can probably guess where my thoughts went when I heard this.

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Plerette giving us a library tour. She represents the library well!

The very next day, I picked up father and son on the side of the road, and we went on a little field trip to the library.  I’m happy to report that both are now card carrying members of the Community Library of Deschappelles (or will be when their cards come in)! Father and son spent a solid half-hour reading books together while I chatted with the library staff, and then we were given a formal tour so that the library’s newest members fully understood all that was available to them. It. Was. Awesome.

I was chatting with the same guard again last night, and he told me that Widson hadn’t stopped talking about our field trip. They are hoping to return with Widson’s mom so that she can become familiar with the library and also accompany Wid when Dad isn’t available.

Perhaps I’m over-reacting, but I am excited about the opportunities available to our friends. Not only is it a quiet place in an otherwise noisy world, but it’s opportunity for quality time with Mom and Dad. The learning potential is out of this world since books are available in French, Creole, and English. In a country where people are denied travel opportunities, their minds have the freedom to go anywhere when they immerse themselves in a book. The development we are witnessing here goes way beyond just infrastructure.

For those wondering, Widson got his report card, and though it wasn’t bad, he didn’t make it to level seven. The bike will have to wait. It will be interesting to see if there’s a change in the fourth quarter since he now has the capability to do something with his love of reading.

Development takes on many shapes and forms, doesn’t it?

Oh, and in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, I’m so thankful that we get to live here, and we get to do this job.

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Mamane and Widson on their tour of the library

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Reflections on Worship

Once again, I am delighted to share this space with Diana Thomas, zanmi extraordinaire and a regular visitor to Haiti. I am grateful for how she captured this powerful experience – perhaps a glimpse of what Heaven will be like when we worship together.

Kò Kris la t’ap fè lwanj Bondye (The Body of Christ praising God)

“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  For the LORD is a God of Justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!   Isaiah 30:18

Called to the courtyard by the sound of drums and singing, I step carefully as my eyes adjust to the pitch darkness. Up ahead a young man stands reading scripture by the light of a single street lamp.  I am told he has been here for several hours praying and reading the Word.  Twenty-five or thirty people, mostly women joining him, are praying and walking around nearby.  Sometimes another person steps into the stream of light, picks up the worn Bible and reads.  Someone starts to sing a hymn and soon the rhythm is beaten out on drums.  Everyone is in motion be it dancing or walking or swaying, everyone is singing.  Clear harmonies are woven together, Kreyol mixes with some English and all drifts up into the night.

night worship2

When the singing fades, a friend, Nerlande, begins to praise God, hands lifted high, while one or two others cry out as if their hearts are breaking.  They are pleading for help, for God’s deliverance, for others they care about deeply.  This is the reason they have gathered here for the third night in a row.

The young man returns to the circle of light and I see it is Evenson, who plays the drum at church.  He reads another passage, then shares his thoughts on the meaning.  It is the story of Jesus telling Peter to cast his net again, though Peter had been fishing all day to no avail.  And Peter, a fisherman of experience, followed the directive because it was Jesus who asked.  Evenson asks, “Èske Jezi mande ou pou wete nèt ou ankò?” (“Is Jesus asking you to cast your net again?”)  It is a challenge from this night that my American friend and I will take to heart.

After he is finished, other voices call out in Kreyol, “O God, You are great!”  “You are mighty”  “We give you thanks, Lord.”  “We come to give you praise because you are worthy of all praise.”  “We ask you to bless them, Lord.”  “We ask you to protect them, Lord.”  “Give us strength and courage, Father!”

Someone had an unsettling dream of violence and disruption happening at this place, an aide organization where friends have long lived and worked.  Taken as a warning and a call to prayer, these believers came to thank God for the chance to gather and ask for His help.  They have prayed and sang and read the word for more than three hours each night, the last night until almost midnight.

Eventually they will head for home and a little rest.  Morning comes quickly as most will be up just before daylight, starting cook fires, singing and praying again with husbands and children.  It is so evident that God is truly the center of their lives.  He is their hope and their strength.  He answers prayer.  He is why they sing and dance no matter what the circumstances.

Outside that circle of light the night is inky dark.  I stop to look up into the deep blackness that accentuates millions of stars in the dazzling canopy.  I imagine them to be the bright eyes of the Heavenly Host peering down on this handful of believers.  We are indeed in the Holy presence of God’s covering – a cathedral of His own making for His children who, here and now, are His body on earth.

night worship

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