Risk and Reward

Tim and I went to a soiree last night. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Of course, the word “soiree” has a different meaning here – it’s not near as formal as it is in the States – but hopefully, it will compel you to keep reading. (I know, I know, no shame…)

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Kinda sorta dressed up for the soiree

The event was a meeting with our Rotary International District Governor (DG), Haresh Ramchandani. This year’s DG comes from Jamaica. Among his many responsibilities, he is required to visit every club in his district during his one-year term. That sounds like a simple task until you realize that his territory includes 84 clubs in 10 different countries/territories. Last night was our club’s turn.

We committed to the event two weeks ago and paid our $30 (US) per person for food and a gift. We had no idea who else was going, but given that DG Haresh speaks English and we speak English, our participation was expected and appreciated.

To say that we were pleasantly surprised by how the evening went is an understatement. It was such a joy meeting and chatting with DG Haresh. After all, it’s always refreshing to come across super down-to-earth people serving in super impactful positions. We were also pleasantly surprised that he was at the venue at the appointed hour. That seldom happens here.

Hanging out with the District Governor

Hanging out with the District Governor

This post could go in so many different directions. I could share about Rotary International, why we are members, the people in our club, or the weekly meetings which present an ongoing challenge for us for many reasons. But, what I really want to do is give you a glimpse of how similar events play out differently. It never ceases to amaze me.

I suspect that the same event in another part of the world might include ample notification… meeting announcements, emails, text messages, perhaps formal invitations. Date, location, time would be clearly advertised along with an RSVP date.

Here? On the day of the event, we still didn’t know the location or time. Thankfully, Tim ran into our club’s president and treasurer earlier in the day. We agreed to meet at an intersection at 5:30 pm and follow them to the venue. We showed up at the appointed spot 10 minutes late because, well, this is Haiti, and we know that 10 minutes late is still early. Much to our surprise, we only waited another 10 minutes for our contacts to arrive. Victory!

Most public venues in the US are well lit with parking, to include government required handicap accessible spots. Last night? It was already getting dark when we arrived which made navigation a bit tricky, especially since this was a new location for us. Initially, we parked in front of the building, but soon learned that there was a back parking lot. We followed our friends beyond the venue, around a bend, and into a “parking lot” that was pitch black. The truck slid on the rocks as Tim backed it in, careful not to hit the car on his side while avoiding the row of cacti on my side. When we got out of the truck, we were met by 8-10 partially clothed, shoeless children who were eager to walk with us back to the venue. I finally turned on my flashlight after inadvertently walking into a child I could not see in the darkness.

Once we got inside, we were shown to a seat and handed an agenda. In our experience, most business agendas stick to the business at hand. There may be entertainment at the beginning of the event, or to close it out; perhaps even a string quartet. Last night’s agenda had 14 points on it to include one song, a two-minute moment of silence (which was really about 20 seconds), three dance routines, and at least five different speeches. DG Haresh was so sweet when he said something about his speech being the only thing keeping participants from dinner (at 8:15pm). He didn’t realize that there were still four agenda items following his speech.

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Our view for most of the night

As is typical at evening events, the lighting was very poor. I didn’t use a flash to snap the accompanying picture because this is truly what we could see… sillhouettes.

People arrived late, which is normal anywhere, but one might think you would enter discreetly. Not so. Here, it’s acceptable to move furniture around so you can sit where you want.

A motorcycle entered the venue at one point. As in, it drove in to the dining area.

Tim noticed that there was a rat in the rafters above the speaker(s). At least it was up above and not on the floor. We’ve seen enough of them scurry across restaurant floors.

Four out of five speeches started out the Exact. Same. Way. When speaking in public, it is customary to list and identify every single distinguished guest as part of your speech, in a particular order. To miss this step is to not show respect.

Apparently, another way to show respect is to be dramatic in your speech. The theatrical delivery of the club president’s speech was akin to a Shakespearean performance. There is a time and place for that sort of thing; a business meeting just didn’t seem to be it.

And then there are the cell phones. Some things are universal, and people who do and don’t silence their cell phones exist everywhere. It was a little alarming to see the District Governor’s escort/translator take several calls during the event, which meant the DG had no one to translate for him in those times. He simply rolled with it.

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One of the venue’s murals

When the speeches were done, and the buffet was opened up, so went the music’s volume. People here love music, and the louder the music, the better the event. I love music too, but loud music just isn’t conducive for conversation.

I hope you don’t read these differences as complaints because that is not my intent. On the contrary, I find some of the differences endearing. Maybe it’s because we’ve become more accustomed to them.

What strikes me most about the differences between your events and ours, and the thing that I will never find endearing, is the perpetual underlying danger. You see, the event was held in conjunction with a sister club located across the river, in the town of Petite Riviere de l’Artibonite.

Earlier in the day, a friend didn’t mince words when he told us that he didn’t want us to go to the meeting. The night before, a police officer had been killed and there was a great deal of unrest in Ti Rivye. As the locals say, people are obligated to “walk with fear” when going to there these days. It doesn’t help that the road connecting the two towns is well known for its dangers after dark. The route is bordered by the canal on one side and farm fields are on the other. There are a series of speed bumps which force vehicles to slow down. It is very easy for bandits to approach and block vehicles since there is no place to go. Safety was a major consideration when we opted to join the Rotary Club in Verrettes versus Ti Rivye.

Still, we went. And along the way, I prayed silently for safety as we sped down the road, dodging potholes, following our friends who had no working tail lights.

Driving home

Driving home

As we drove home in the dark, the same friend who didn’t want us to go called to check on us. He was concerned that we still weren’t back at 9:15pm. When we arrived safely at the compound (mesi bondye), the guard on duty chastised us for going, and then told me that if we ever have problems “anwo” (above where we live), we should tell them that he is our friend. This morning, I learned that two more people were killed in Ti Rivye last night.

People, these are things we simply don’t think about when we go to events in the U.S.

I’ll be honest, with the ongoing frustrations we sometimes face with the Rotary Club here, I often ask Tim if we should continue our membership. I never get a straight answer from him, but we know great things can happen in this community if we work together, and Tim and I are in a position to bring different people together to make it a reality. DG Haresh affirmed this last night as we shared thoughts and ideas.

As last night’s event came to a close and it was time to travel that dangerous road again, our Rotarian brothers and sisters insisted that we all leave together, and they went out of their way to make sure that Tim and I were with them. Though the night had gone so much better than we expected, a new reality set in. My fear on the road we were traveling had subsided. I felt safer because we were traveling the road together.

I love that we aren’t called to do things on our own. Even when there are frustrations and difficulties, God puts people in our path to help us along the way. They don’t always look like what or who we expect; often times, it’s even better than our expectations.

We just have to be willing to take the risk to see it.

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Baby Louiee

Recently, I invited a friend to write about an experience she had in Haiti. Her emotions are raw and genuine.

As many of you fret over the presidential election and/or outcome, let’s take a few minutes to remember what this family, and millions of others around the world, are going through.

Colleena Jimenez, in her own words…

In August, when I sat out to enroll Haitian students in school, I didn’t know that my heart would be so broken. Broken to the point I finally did what God has been trying to get me to do all along.  That is to pray without ceasing and give everything to him.  I’m human and I typically try to handle things myself. As I am getting stronger in my faith, I am realizing that He will guide me the way He wants things to go or He will just have them unfold in front of me.

On August 24, 2016, I was asked to go pray for a little baby boy named Louiee.  We knew he was sick and assumed it was Hydrocephalus but without a medical degree we weren’t 100% positive.  So I went with my interpreter to pray for this baby.  When I walked into their home there were two small beds and about 8 people living there.  Baby Louiee was laying on the bed trying to roll over but he couldn’t because his head was too heavy. I didn’t say anything to his mom, I was instantly pulled to the baby.  I started talking to him and trying to make him smile but he wouldn’t smile for me.  As I was talking to his mom, baby Louiee kept grabbing my finger. This was when I felt him grab my heart and Jesus didn’t let me shake him off.  I spoke to his mom about how Louiee had a medical issue and that is why his head was big.  I couldn’t promise anything but prayer for her.  In my mind I couldn’t imagine being this mom who had no possibilities of getting her baby help.  I left that home fighting back tears and trying to keep my mind from racing.  After meeting Louiee,  I was dropped off at my room where I sat alone and all I could do was think, then I started talking to God.  I cried, prayed and begged God to show me how I could help, asking Him why he brought me there, begging Him to show me the plan.  I knew I didn’t have the means to get Louiee his brain scan that he needed, nor did I even know if they had a place in Haiti to do it.  I decided I had to share his story.  I reached out to full time missionaries that I knew to see if there was a place in Haiti that would be able to accommodate Louiee for a brain scan.  Surprisingly I received several messages back, all pointing to the same hospital in Port au Prince.  I called a few numbers that I was given.  The first phone call was to an actual doctor who quickly got me in contact with the nurse in charge at the hospital.  They were quickly able to schedule an appointment for the scan on the following Monday.  My next task was to find the funding needed to pay for the scan.  Thanks to social media Baby Louiee’s story, request for prayer and support was shared by many in United States.  The next day I received a text message to go to Western Union because the money for his scan had been graciously donated. Sadly, I had to return to the United States on Saturday, but God had placed all the right people in Haiti to help get Baby Louiee where he needed to be on Monday.

The anxiety I felt on Monday was high not being able to be in Haiti with Baby Louiee.  I was fortunate enough to receive pictures of the process and that eased my mind. I felt like I had a hand-picked group of guys from God doing his work that day. I received the results from Louiee’s scan and he indeed had Hydrocephalus. The course of action from the hospital was that they could put a shunt in to drain the fluid off his brain the next week with a Haitian doctor.  I was again brought to prayer as I wasn’t sure what to do.  I didn’t have the funds for the surgery with the Haitian doctor because it was $600 American plus transportation.  I was also hesitant because I kept thinking about the doctors credentials. I wondered if he had done this surgery before.  I wasn’t getting the communication I wanted from Haiti to answer my questions.  Again I turned to prayer.  I remember the exact words that I prayed,  “Dear God, please guide me in this decision.  You know me God, I need you to smack me with the answer.  Make it clear please God. I’m scared, I am making a decision for someone else’s child.  Help me make it as if he was mine.  Please show me what your plan is. Amen.”  The next day I received an email from the Haitian doctor refusing to do the surgery.  He was very vague, but just said “No good outcome.”  I then thanked God for the definite answer to my prayer.  I then decided this was God’s way of saying wait the month for the American doctors to come.

With this development came the need for more prayer and financial support for the surgery and transportation. Turning once again to social media and the sharing of Baby Louiee’s story, people graciously gave and I felt like everything was falling into place.  I still prayed and wondered why God put me here to do this for Louiee.  Baby Louiee had consumed me.  Helping him is almost all I could think about. I was awoken at 3 and 4 am several nights with this heart wrenching feeling that I needed to pray for him and his mom.  I had never felt the overwhelming need to pray at an exact moment but that night I did.   In the days following, I was constantly checking my email and messages to see if there was any news.   Finally, I had a date for Louiee to go to the hospital and see if he was a candidate for surgery with the American doctor.  October 2, 10am, would be the day we had been waiting for.  During the time leading up to this date, I was contacted by a few people that had heard of Baby Louiee and who needed help for other babies in Haiti that also had Hydrocephalus.  They asked if I would share what I had learned in hopes of helping their babies.  During this process, I met a lady who led me to a second option. I spoke to another clinic that had an American doctor coming a week after the Port au Prince clinic. I felt a push to schedule Baby Louiee for an appointment at this clinic because Baby Louiee wasn’t guaranteed surgery in Port au Prince and would only get it if they had room.  So Baby Louiee now had an appointment on October 13h at this second clinic. It was 6 hours away from where they lived though.  I assumed we wouldn’t need this option but felt more comfortable having it scheduled just in case.

Saturday,  October 1, came around and the anticipation for all involved was building.  Then I got the call that normally would have shattered me, the American doctor couldn’t come because of Hurricane Matthew that was slated to hit Haiti.   I was surprisingly calm and I felt like again God had answered my prayers. I had found out the second clinic was going to do an EVT instead of a shunt, which would be safer for Baby Louiee and were also going to be able to fix his umbilical hernia.  God  had answered my prayers on what clinic to take him to.

Now came the difficult task of coordinating how to get Baby Louiee and his mom to the clinic.  Luckily, two Haitians volunteered to give their time and take on the task of transporting Baby Louiee and his mom. Getting them there was no longer impossible. All that was left was the financial part of transporting and their stay.  Everyone here in the states made the financial part of this long trip possible. When I felt like I wasn’t going to have enough money, an envelope with a check would come or someone would come to my door and donate.  I have never felt God work through me the way he has thru this process.  Keeping me calm and just having a peace that this was his work and it was all going to come together.  And it did.

On October 12, they headed to the clinic .  I received pictures of the trip as they went to the clinic. There was some hiccups along the way with Baby Louiee and his mom getting a little car sick but for the most part everything went smoothly.

After 7 hours on the road, they reached the clinic to have blood work and a consultation with the American doctors who would be doing the surgery the next day.  I remember waiting and praying not so patiently.  I started getting messages I didn’t want to hear or accept.  Baby Louiee was not a candidate for surgery.  What?  Why? No way! I won’t accept that.  As soon as I said those words out loud I started thinking.  Who am I to say I won’t accept that? I prayed and prayed and I’m not going to lie I was angry. I questioned why God brought me to this baby if it wasn’t to save his life.  None of it made sense.  I cried and prayed some more.  All I could think was his poor mom.  She had just went thru this hard day of travel just to find out her son wasn’t going to have the surgery that we thought would save his life. I felt bad using others money to send him there and then he couldn’t have the surgery.  I felt like I had let down so many.  When I got over wallowing in my own self-pity and worry for his mom, I heard God again. Here I was giving Baby Louiee a death sentence for believing what the surgeons said.  Just because the surgeons said he had hardly any brain and were not sure how long he would live or even why he was alive, it didn’t mean he was going to die right away. The next day, I had a visitor stop by my house. She was unsure of why she was there, but had felt God pushing her to come.  After talking with her, I realized why she had come.  The Lord had sent her as a messenger. The message being that I wasn’t to pray for Baby Louiee to pass peacefully but instead to trust in Him.  To trust that He is mighty and I needed to keep fighting for Baby Louiee. Fighting with prayer.  Praying for God to show us his power and save Baby Louiee.  Only God can do this and He has shown it in all he has done.  I have felt it all along that he has plans for Baby Louiee. He is the only one who knows what those plans are. So I pray for his will to be done, whether that is to save Baby Louiee for this earth or his heavenly home.

I believe thru this whole two-month journey, God has been showing me that He is in control.  It is so easy to think we can fix everything on our own.  I believe until we truly give it to God, He can’t work in our lives like we need.

I pray each of you find something in your life where you turn to God like I had to and get a chance to feel Him work.  It is an amazing and eye opening feeling of just how wonderful He is.

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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.

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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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