Fourmidable Change

As hard as it is to believe, we are celebrating four years in Haiti today. FOUR YEARS. How the heck did that happen? I remember telling people that our move was a step of faith – our Abraham and Isaac moment – to see if we would go. During our interview with Water Project for Haiti, we told the Board of Directors that we would commit to a year, largely because I didn’t think that God would have us here for much longer than that. Silly me.

So much has changed since we said “so long” to our family and friends who gathered at the airport in Harrisburg, PA that fateful Saturday morning. Weddings, funerals, babies, new houses, new cars, new jobs… you get the idea.

Things have changed in Haiti too. With the exception of the director and assistant director of the larger mission where we live and work, everyone on the original team left and new people have come. We said “orevwa” to Latoshia, the Snyders, Randy, Caroline, Donna, and the McIntyres. We said “byenvini” to the Ayers, Hoslers, Carltons, and Sara. The Water Project staff went from three to five to six and then back down to five when one of our techs moved to the U.S. The focus of our work continues to evolve and the worksite itself looks completely different.

Most of this has been blatant, obvious, in-your-face kind of change; the kind that is inevitable in life. But there’s also the kind of change that occurs under the surface. You know in your head that it’s probably there – you hope in your heart that it is – but its subtlety makes it easy to overlook.

A few weeks ago, Tim and I (and thousands of other people) were stuck in a manifestation along the main road in Haiti. It wasn’t our first, and it won’t be our last, but it was, by far, the longest. We spent four hours sitting in the car because the road ahead of us was blocked. Smoke in the rear view mirror told us that tires were burning behind us so turning around wasn’t an option. We heard reports of rocks and gunfire. Things changed in the town we had driven through just minutes before, a town that showed no signs of trouble.

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Blocked in all directions

As the day wore on, we noticed a change in the crowd walking along the road. People returning from market and/or Port-au-Prince managed to make it only so far before their tap-taps were blocked, so they continued the journey by foot. Those with backpacks, books, and large baskets of goods on their heads gradually gave way to groups of young men wandering the streets, looking for some excitement in their otherwise dull day.

The sun, which had been high in the sky when we first stopped, started to “go to sleep.” Darkness brings a new kind of danger to any already volatile situation.

Sitting there, unable to go forward, backwards, or even sideways, we did the only thing we could do. We put on some praise and worship music to suppress the growing uneasiness and put out a plea for prayer. Shortly thereafter, the police managed to gain control of the situation. As the sun closed its eyes, we started to move. It was slow, but we were moving. We were, and continue to be, thankful for that change.

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A nearly empty school yard on the first day of school

A few days ago, school started in Haiti. The opening of school is an interesting process since it takes several weeks for all of the students to show up. You can’t go to school without a uniform, and it costs money to have a uniform made. Parents wait until the last minute to get this done because (1) any money they’ve set aside for this has likely been spent on something else, and (2) if they try to plan ahead and their child grows taller, which children are prone to do, the uniform becomes unusable and the money spent is wasted.

(As an aside, the school uniform also consists of a backpack, socks, close toed shoes, and tame hair. Seriously, if it’s too long or wild, they will send you home. Girls wear barrettes and ribbons in their hair. Boys are required to have a t-shirt and belt.)

As you can imagine, with so many people needing uniforms, everyone waiting until the last minute, and a limited number of tailors available to make them, many uniforms are not ready on the first day of school.

Additionally, parents are required to supply the books for the year based on a list given to them by the school director, which is handed down from the Minister of Education. Again, this is often a last minute project since (1) any money they’ve set aside for this has likely been spent on something else, and (2) if the Minister of Education changes any of the books on the list, what they’ve purchased becomes unusable and the money spent is wasted. Are you seeing a pattern?

Finally, the tuition must be paid, or at least arrangements made to pay for school. If any part of the process is skipped, the kids are sent home.

Over the course of several days, some of the kiddos showed up at our house for first day of school pictures. It was pretty adorable.

Recently, I went with a local teacher/friend to pay the tuition owed to some schools in the area. Having a “blan” there takes the heat off of him. The school directors frequently want more money, more sponsorships, more support, more <insert word here>. Our friend punts to me, I punt to the program director, the program director punts to the board of directors, and then the information path reverses. If the response isn’t favorable, it makes the people who are far away the bad guys rather than the one(s) who live in the community. Plus, I drove and having an air conditioned truck is safer and more comfortable than going by moto.

Over the course of two days, we made 11 stops. Sometimes, I went in; sometimes, I stayed in the car.

As ashamed as I am to admit this, and what prompted me to write this post, is the fact that not once in all of those stops did it occur to me to pray for the school, its teachers, the director, or the students. Not once.

At some of the schools, the kids were so loud that we could barely hear ourselves talk. At others? There was opportunity. It just didn’t occur to me.

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Fritz with the school director who reminded me of what is important

That, my friends, is a change I do not like.

At our last stop, the director, who I have prayed for and with in the past said, “let’s pray before you go.” And that he did. He thanked God for the gift of another day. He thanked God for the missionaries and the visitors. He thanked God for the people who signed up to sponsor children in his school which meant money to pay his teachers and make building improvements. He thanked God for protection on the road, and he prayed for strength, because he knew that we had been out and about for nearly four hours.

It was a bittersweet moment. I was so grateful for his prayer, yet ashamed that I had missed the opportunity to do that with others so many times that morning.

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Bethsabe and Daddy praying for us

Remember that manifestation I mentioned earlier? I bring it up because I want you to check out this short video of little Bethsabe and her family praying for our safety on the way back to Borel from Port-au-Prince. Praying that God would protect us, and that the malefactors and bandits would be brought to justice.

https://youtu.be/0wcazoCgLwY

Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like this is the kind of thing that only happens when you move beyond the superficial layer with people.

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Meeting new friends

When Tim and I signed on for this job, it was a step of faith. We expected to minister to people and pray with and for them. Over the past four years, though, there has been a subtle change that manifests itself in many ways. In the past few months, we’ve seen the change when:

  • We have a difficult situation with our WPH staff, and Jonathan prays for God to keep us strong, because we have a choice in where we live, and we choose to live in Haiti.
  • We see our friend, Fritz, for the first time after his brother is killed in a car accident, and we sit and cry together.
  • Pastor Smyth stops by the house with his son, and he prays for God to bless us so that we can continue to use our resources to help people.
  • We meet a young man while on a walk through the farm fields, and in the course of conversation discover that he is the older brother of a friend.
  • Pastor Lemaitre comes to visit, and he prays specifically for our family because we are far apart.
  • A friend is willing to come by our house and give a cooking lesson because she knows how much Mr. Tim loves food.
  • A friend from Rotary calls to check on us, and a family prays for our protection because they know we’re stuck in the middle of a manifestation.
  • There’s a gentle knock at the door and we open it to see friends who have come to watch the soccer match on TV.
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Sneaking a picture of the guys while they watch the match

We hear a lot of short term visitors say things like, “I went to bless, but I’m the one who was blessed.” That is so true, friends, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In four years, we have moved from being one of them, to being one of us. It’s not a complete move – I’m not sure it ever can be – but it’s definitely different.

In four years, we have seen a lot of things that make it easy not to like Haiti – the extreme poverty, violence, corruption, injustice, broken infrastructure, you name it.

In four years, we have seen a lot of things that make Haiti very easy to love.

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Pastor Smith & son stop by for a visit

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Cooking class🙂

 

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Ready for the 2016-17 school year

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So handsome in their school uniforms

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Happy after the 1st day of school

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Too cool for school

 

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Bentley with his Uncle Kedner

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Ley looking sharp

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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

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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.

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