Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Misadventures Of Baking In Haiti: Thanksgiving Addition

Thanksgiving is my favorite family holiday. I can still count on one hand the number of times in my life I have not been with family on Thanksgiving. One of my all-time favorite Thanksgiving dishes is green bean casserole. It has been a staple of our family feast, and I started making it myself in recent years, so naturally I decided it was necessary part of Thanksgiving in Haiti, which was hosted by the incredibly hospitable, and amazing John & Beth McHoul. Wednesday, I "ran" to the store for the ingredients. There are only four, so I figured I could be in and out in no time. But, that turned into "Haiti time"... It's possible to find many typical American items at the grocery, but just because you saw it last week (or yesterday) does not mean the same store will have it today, when you really need it. And IF you find it, it's likely to cost 25-30+% more than it would in the US.

So, here's what I needed:
4 cans of green beans
3 cans of cream of mushroom soup
1 bag of shredded cheddar cheese
1 can of french fried onions

Green beans and shredded cheese where found in abundance, so I was hopeful as I scoured the shelves for the other two in ingredients. In the soup aisle, they had cream of EVERY kind of soup, EXCEPT mushroom, so I had to make a quick decision about which one substitute: cream of onion won the "eeny meeny miney moe" game. There happened to be canned mushrooms at the end of the aisle, so I threw those in for flavoring. (even though I am not a fan of eating fungus...but that's another story.) I asked one of the employees who spoke English if they had french friend onions, and thankfully there was a picture on the green bean can label, or I may have been there all day trying to describe in my broken creole, exactly what they were. No such luck. But, at the end of the aisle, where they would have been, there were cans of bread crumbs, so I snatched one up to use instead.  $57 later, I had everything I needed for my "easy" Thanksgiving side dish (plus a new frying pan, because frying eggs in a pot is bit complicated...)

Thursday I taught til 12pm, and had exactly one hour to change clothes, mix the ingredients, and get them in the oven to cook before my ride came to pick me up at 1:00. Everything was mixed and put in the pyrex ready for the oven, when, wouldn't you know, NOBODY can figure out how to light the inside of the oven I have been cooking on. Twenty minutes and 3 people later, I asked Edelyn if I could please use the oven in her kitchen, or it wasn't going to be ready in time. Miraculously, I was dressed and ready to go, and the casserole was out of the oven, just as my ride arrived.

I made a public disclaimer before dinner since I had no idea how it would actually turn out, but at the end of the feasting, there was only a small serving left. I'm happy to say that my 2nd mis-adventure of baking in Haiti was another success! :) (and I'm also happy to report that the missing "cooking gene" that runs in my family has seemed to have found it's way into my DNA.) ;)  I'm thinking about starting a cooking blog on all the recipe successes, substitutions, and disasters when the "Haiti" ingredient is might be useful for someone, if for nothing else than a little a bit of comic relief!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

If You Build It, They Will Come...

I remember the scene well: Spring of 2006, walking into a delightfully cheery little preschool in Morocco, and peeking my head into each classroom as we were given the tour down the hall. The children were eagerly writing, singing, learning, creating. Filling their classroom walls with typical preschool "art". Enter the "orphan class". All the way at end of the hall, 15 little boys, all dressed in ratty white shirts because they didn't have uniforms like the rest of the students, crowded around 3 round tables in a room so small they barely had space to stand up and walk around the tables. Nothing on the walls, no books, no chalk boards, no singing, no art. I remember how it broke my heart. I remember that was the beginning of the dream to provide a place where the most vulnerably children could learn and grow TOGETHER, with equal opportunities and resources: Children with and without families, with and without disabilities, with and without socio-economic challenges. I didn't know how long it would take, or where I would even start, but I could see the vision.

When I think of the earthquake 2 years ago, building is the last thing that comes to mind. But in this story that's exactly what was going on, behind the scenes of destruction, heart-break, and collapse.

"If you build it, they will come..."

It started with relationships. A 10 yr old Haitian orphan living on the streets of Carrefour. A group of Haitian pastors who thought of rebuilding the church first before their own collapsed houses. A Haitian teacher with a kindred spirit... Little by little, the foundation was laid and the dream began to take shape. My five months at the Hands and Feet Project was a bit of an experiment for everyone involved. And although it was shorter than anticipated, I count it as a success for everyone. The toddler house grew from 4 to 9 kids while I was there, and 3 of them had developmental delays in various areas. I didn't go looking for them, they just showed up. And we had all kinds of fun learning, reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?, playing dress-up, and building things.

Even after I left Haiti and returned to Nashville for a few months, the building continued behind the scenes. When I returned to Haiti, I found myself in a new place, with new people, but the dream was still there. I tried hard to envision 20 preschoolers in a room that held little more than a cafeteria lunch table and another table full of computer equipment. Where would they sit? What would they play with? What would they look at on the walls? How would they learn? God had that covered. One of the many wonderful relationships I've built in Port au Prince over the past few months is with David Sandler, the director of Child Hope's transition program, Lighthouse Designs, who along with the young men he is training, built shelves, tables, chairs, cabinets, and a door, to make both classrooms as child-friendly as possible. The team from Greater Works Outreach brought loads of materials donated by friends and family, to stock the cabinets and fill the shelves with developmentally appropriate toys and books.

Level 1 - Before

Level 1 - After
And then the registration list kept getting longer and the questions changed. Where am I going to put all these children? Do we have enough staff? Will the classrooms be ready in time? Have I lost my mind???

"If you build it, they will come..."

Level 2 - Before
Level 2 - After
After many a late night, the rooms were put together. The lesson plans were made. (more or less) The teachers were trained. On October 1st, 2012, six and a half years later, the dream became a reality. In God's infinite wisdom, creativity and timing, HE built it, and they came...the orphans, the ones with families, the one who lost his leg in the earthquake as an infant and now walks with a prosthetic leg, the ones who cry all day long because they've never been away from home, the one who doesn't speak or respond to environmental cues, the one with autistic behaviors, who comes to school with marks on her face from an incident the parents can't identify because they weren't home to see it happen. They come, ready or not, to learn, to be loved, and to build the foundation for their own dreams.
Early Literacy
Creative expression during morning praise & worship

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Confessions Of A Coffee Loving Missionary

If you are a coffee drinker, like me, you know coffee is an essential part of daily life. I can function without it, just not very well. I cannot tell you how many things I forget or get utterly confused about between the hours of 6:30am-8am, pre-coffee. (mostly because as I write this I haven't finished my morning cup of joe, and therefore can't even attempt to do mental math!)

In the US, we will go to great lengths for our daily coffee fix, even planning our timing and route to work to include a stop at the nearest Starbucks along the way. (or for my non-Starbucks Nashville peeps, Fido's or Frothy Monkey)

There is no Starbucks in Haiti. I make my coffee at home...if the coffee maker works...if we have power. Here is my typical morning coffee routine, as it happened on this Saturday morning: EDH (city power) was actually on this morning, which is a first for this week, so I went to retrieve the coffee maker and all necessary ingredients from the preschool room, where it has been plugged in since Monday. I set it up on the newly cleaned kitchen counter and plugged it in. Two seconds later, EDH cut off. So, I gathered up everything and took it upstairs to my bedroom, where I have an extension cord connected to the inverter, and plugged it in there. Thirty seconds later, THAT power cut off. So I gathered up everything again and went BACK downstairs to the preschool room to plug it in where it had been to begin with. Finally, I have my coffee and I can start the caffeine-assisted, fully-mentally-functional part of my day! Yeah, I know, 1st world problem in a 3rd world country... Just keepin' it real.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Freedom of Choice

For most Americans, the title of this post has a certain connotation that will most likely cause a spike in blood pressure when brought up, regardless of what "side of the fence" you are on. Rest assured, that is not what this post is about.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Technically, Haiti has been been "free" for 209 years. But freedom looks and feels very different here, than it does in "the Land of the Free" that I am familiar with. The shape that freedom takes is largely dependent on one's own generational experiences, "pre-freedom". I recently read the book "Same Kind of Different As Me", which sheds great light on the complicated transition from slavery to freedom, both physically and psychologically, in the modern world.

When someone is born into slavery, and their parent, grandparents and everyone else in their family has only known being enslaved, what happens when they suddenly find themselves with the gift of freedom, either by someone else's hand or their own? The knee-jerk reaction is to completely reject anyone or anything that has potential to exert power OVER them and take exceptional pride in the choices that they are now free to make. This is the culture I find myself in currently. Haitian people are long-suffering, resilient, determined, passionate people who are proud to have the freedom to make their own choices about the lives that they live. They are sometimes reluctant to embrace change from an "outsider" because they perceive it as a threat to their freedom to choose how they live their lives.  It's hard to understand why they do the things they do the way they do them sometimes, until we see things from their perspective. Or better yet, God's perspective. Then we begin to see that, cultural differences aside, we are all struggling to understand and choose to live in true freedom, the kind that only comes from surrender to God.

I am a visual learner. I have to see things in action for them to really sink in. The longer I live in Haiti, the more I realize how much I still don't grasp the depth, and breadth, and width of Heavenly Father's love for me. I'm thankful for the "real-life" examples he shows me through everyday circumstances that literally makes the word come alive. There are so many examples in the new testament of Jesus teaching about choices: Mary & Martha, the prodigal son & his brother, the parable of the talents...Not every example has a clear "right" or "wrong" choice, but in every example, Jesus emphasizes the "better" choice.

Here is how this lesson played out in my world this week: I have had multiple conversations with the Haitian director and the the stateside coordinator of sponsorship for the girls here about state of their clothing and whether I had permission to take out the old, ratty stuff and replace it with the brand new, still-has-the-tags-on pile of clothes that sits out in the open for all to see, but it being "saved" for outings that never happen. I was given the green light, so I decided this weekend would be a good time to tackle the closets for the 16 little girls.

I measured each of the girls for new school uniforms and undergarments last month, so I set out to sort the clothes according to size for each closet (shared by 2 girls). It is impossible to do anything here without everybody being in your business (or at least observing it) and this was no exception. Anything with a tag size smaller than 2T, or a hole bigger than my thumb nail went in the "toss" pile. After a few hours of passive curiosity, the revolt started. The girls kept picking things out of the toss pile and trying to reclaim it, saying it was "bon pou mwen" (good for me), or grabbing shirts that were 4 sizes too small and insisting that it belonged to them. Many hours into the process of sorting/counting/folding/putting away, I took a 20 minute water break, only to come back and discover that the girls had mixed up all the remaining piles. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. My default choice was anger and frustration. It wasn't necessarily a bad choice, but love and a gentle answer would have been a better choice.

After day 2 of the tug-o-war in clothing choices, I began to ask myself the question,"Why would they CHOOSE to wear old, ratty, worn out stuff that clearly doesn't fit them anymore when there is brand new stuff waiting to be worn??" "Because they can." The answer that came back surprised me, and caused me to contemplate how it translates into my own life, both spiritually and physically. I can reorganize the closets all day long, but I can't force them to wear new clothes. They choose the old clothes because they are familiar, comfortable, stretched to give the illusion of actually fitting, safe. There's nothing inherently wrong with choosing to wear old clothes, there are no eternal implications. But from the perspective of the provider (in this case, me), there is a better choice. The better choice often comes with some degree of risk, and insecurities come to the surface: "If you throw away the old stuff, will you buy new clothes to replace them?" (ie. will I be left with nothing?) The better choice is not always (or ever, let's be honest) easy, but it is ours to choose. Therein lies the beauty of the the freedom we have in Christ. The challenge is allowing our freedom of choice to be influenced by the One who will always give us the BEST choice, if we will choose to accept it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

     "You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule." Mathew 5:3 (MSG)

Life in Haiti is not easy. Nothing in Haiti is easy: not baking cookies, or growing vegetables, or putting together bilingual lesson plans for 2 preschool classes, or washing clothes, or gaining the trust and respect of 34 girls who have no frame of reference for boundries or meaningful consequences. But, in light of what others in Haiti have been through this week, my life in Haiti is fairly uneventful.

Earlier in the week we had a pretty big thunderstorm blow through Port-au-Prince one evening, with strong wind and LOTS of rain. Interestingly, there were several posts on FB by friends who were enjoying thunderstorms in various part of the US. The sad reality in Haiti is that no matter how long we've gone without rain, when drops finally start falling the relief is short-lived when the realization hits that there are still THOUSANDS of people living in tents whose businesses, homes, and lives are at risk every time it rains like that. It makes me appreciate the roof over my head so much more, and it makes my heart ache for those that don't have that "luxury".

     "You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for." Matthew 5:7 (MSG)

There are some hard parts of life in Haiti I avoid by virtue of not having a vehicle or driving (or leaving the compound much at all). A couple days ago, a missionary couple sent out a warning to others in the area after the they were robbed at gunpoint, in broad daylight, while stuck in traffic on a main road in PAP. Unfortunately, this in not an isolated incident. With an under-resourced police force and rampant corruption, there's little being done to stop the people behind these attacks. The missionary and ex-pat community in Haiti is a pretty tight group. Although I don't personally know the people who endured this attack, I know others who have had similar experiences and my heart aches for them because they are part of my "Haiti family".

     "You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you." Matthew 5:4 (MSG)

Last night there was post on Facebook from the executive director of the Hands and Feet Project in Jacmel. While playing in the ocean yesterday afternoon, a part of their weekend routine, Junette, one of the 6 yr olds, was pulled under by the current and disappeared. After hours of searching, presumably by fishing boat and on foot, as there is no "coast guard" that I know of in Haiti, her body still has not been recovered. The loss of a child under any circumstances is unfathomable, but such a tragic accident on what is usually such a happy day for all the kids is exceptionally heart-breaking. It is a reminder to everyone that this life is short and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. My heart aches for everyone at Hands and Feet as they mourn and cope with the hole that is left in the absence of Junette, who was so dear to everyone who had the privelege of knowing her.

     "You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom." Matthew 5:10 (MS)

A little closer to home (literally and figuratively), a missonary friend of mine in the neighborhood has endured several days of physical and verbal threats to her safety from people who are power and money hungry, who despite previous ties to the mission where she serves, clearly care nothing for safety and security of the children under her care. I do have to say, in spite of feeling heavy hearted by this situation, I am also quite proud of my friend, who is nearing the end of her commitment in Haiti. Rather than packing up and high-tailing it out of here, she is standing her ground and trusting God to vindicate her and give the "all clear" before she returns home.

Please pray for Haiti. Pray for people who serve here year in and year out. Pray for the spirit of Adoption to be poured out on this country, that people would no longer feel compelled to steal and threaten others to get ahead in life. Pray for comfort and peace for those dealing with the loss of a loved one. Thanks for all your love, prayers, and support!

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Accidental Garden

                At first look, the space at the front of the mission looks like any vacant lot. A gravel surface with rebar columns at equal intervals on the perimeter, it stands “empty”, a reminder of the effects of the earthquake 2 ½ years ago.  Upon closer inspection, one will notice that the gravel has laid untouched long enough that has become dirt that is capable of sustaining the growth of a plethora of “green things”.

There is moderate foot traffic across the lost, as the cistern is in the center, and it is in close proximity to the kitchen, showers, and laundry “room”, which all require a steady amount of water throughout the day.  It also serves as the “dumping ground” for leftover cooking ingredients not needed to complete meals, thus lending itself to the regrowth of “recycled” fruits and vegetables. But it also hosts a whole lot of other vegetation that may or may not be edible or useful in any capacity. As I intentionally started tending the few identifiable plants (tomatoes), I got to thinking about the parallel between the accidental garden and our own lives, particularly as it relates to the parable of the seeds in Matthew 13:3.  Here are a few things I have observed:

1.       Seed thrown on the foot path: The seed of Truth has to take root in order to grow. If it falls on the foot path, with it’s steady flow of traffic (i.e. entertaining everyone else’s thoughts, opinions, philosophies without forming your own), it will get lost in all constant movement and will not have a relevant impact. Nothing will grow in those areas.

2.       Seed thrown on shallow soil: It looks like a good place, it even produces growth. The seed may even produce a few leaves, and look green and healthy. But if the seed only stays close to the surface and never develops a strong root system, growth becomes stunted and never produces fruit.

3.       Seed thrown among thorns (weeds): Good plants can grow among weeds, but eventually it will either be overtaken by the weeds and die, or become so hidden that nobody can even see it's there.
4.       Seed put on good soil: Good seed + good soil doesn’t always = good fruit. It takes time and effort to nurture the seed as it grows, to the keep the weeds out and provide support to bear the weight of fruit. If it’s just left on its own it will grow, and even look good, but the fruit it produces will not ripen fully in a reasonable time frame.

5.       Sometimes things start growing, and we don’t even know what they are or how they got there, much less if they will produce good fruit. Sometimes we need other people to tell us if it’s good or not, and help us pull out up the bad stuff.

I’ve been pondering all these things over the past few weeks, as I endeavor to change the vacant lot, and my own life, from an accidental garden into an intentional garden that flourishes and produces all kinds of good fruit (and veggies!)…

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Mis-adventures Of Baking In Haiti

So, it's Friday and I decided to be especially domestic today. I thought baking cookies would be a nice treat for the girls, and it would give me something to bring along to "missionary hang-out night" at Pastor John & Jocie's house this evening. I searched the web for an oatmeal cookie recipe, and this is what I came up with:

Soft Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups quick cooking oats
raisins or nuts (optional)
1. In a medium bowl, cream together white sugar, butter, and brown sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla.
2. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda,and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in oats. If you are using nuts or raisins, mix into dough, combining well. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. Roll the dough into balls, and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes approx. 36-60 cookies, depending on how large or small you make them
Seems easy enough, right? Except that you always have to add one extra ingredient to anything here, it's called "the Haiti factor". Nothing in Haiti is easy, and this was no exception.


Butter: I discovered as I set out gathering all the ingredients needed, that there was only one partially used stick of butter in the mostly-empty refrigerator. So, I went to the depot in search of Ti-Malice, which is more or less margarine/vegetable shortening. I found a small tub. I also checked for salt while I was there, but failed to find any. I grabbed 2 eggs on my way back to the kitchen.

Sugar: There is no white or brown sugar here (except at the expensive grocery stores...maybe), there is only cane sugar, which thankfully we have plenty of.

Salt: I didn't really substitute anything for it, but when I asked Edelyn where the salt was, she handed me an uncovered plastic cup full of rock salt.

Utensils: We don't have an electic mixer, so I "creamed" the sugar and margarine by hand with a rubber mixing spatula. The mortar & pestle were still dirty from lunch, so I used the handle end of an ice pick to crush the salt. Good thing I only needed 1 tsp worth!

Preparation Time

After I creamed the butter & sugar, I made the mistake of cracking the first egg directly into the bowl. It was rotten! Ewwww. There is no trash can in the kitchen, nor is there running water in the sink, so after I hand carried the rotten egg out to the garbage. Again, EWWW!!! I dumped the contaminated ingredients and filled the mixing bowl up with water from the cistern, took it back to the OTHER kitchen and asked where the dish soap was. I was given a can of powdered Tide laundry detergent. ??? In case you are wondering, there was nothing lost in translation about the request, or the answer... So, I washed the bowl with Tide, went BACK to the cistern to rinse it, and returned to the kitchen to start all over again. This time, I was much more careful in my egg selection. And I cracked them in a separate cup, BEFORE adding them to rest of the mixture. The rest of the prep went off without a hitch. TWO HOURS after I started, the dough was ready to be chilled in the fridge.

We have two ovens here, one in the kitchen, and one in my bedroom. It comes time to pre-heat the oven and, guess what?? Neither of them work. Here's to hoping Pastor John & Jocie have an oven that works...and that my cookies don't taste like laundry detergent!!

The joys of baking in be continued...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pulling Weeds

I posted a status update on FB the other day about the girls' reactions to me weeding one of the plant beds. As the week has gone on, I've made a point to spend a little time each afternoon pulling weeds in different areas of the compound. The observations I have made during these moments have provided both learning opportunities for the girls, and revelation for myself. 

Day 1: (FB excerpt) "Tried in vain to explain to the girls while weeding part of the garden that, just because something is green, leafy, and growing very tall, doesn't mean it's a good plant. A weed, by any other name (or in any other country), is still a weed. I think there's an object lesson in there for all of us..." While they did reluctantly help me carry the pile of discarded greenery to the trash can, they mostly just frowned at me while I worked.

Day 2: I sat down down just below the front porch where the girls gather to do homework, fix hair, or just play and talk, and begun running my hands through the long grass planted in a rectangular cement block. It's then that I saw something that would make any environmentally conscious individual cringe: trash! And lots of it, hiding beneath the lovely green blades. "Fatra (trash)!" I exclaimed, and began making a pile of the foreign objects to be deposited in the appropriate container. Before long, the twins, Angelene and Angeline, came and joined me in removing the trash. After a significant amount (but not all) of trash  had been removed, I started identifying what I was really after...the weeds. A few other little girls came along and the twins gave them directions to keep looking for and removing trash, while I continued to pull weeds until there were none left.

Day 3: This time I started in the plant beds along the drive way by the gate. As soon as I sat down, there were 5 little girls, practically tripping over each other to remove and dispose of the trash appropriately. They watched intently as I started pulling the weeds around the beautiful flowering bushes. A few minutes went by, and the girls started pointing to green sprouts, asking if they were,"Pa bon (no good)", and then pulling them up by the roots, just as they had seen me do.  It wasn't long before they were going after the weeds all by themselves and getting excited when they pulled up something with surprisingly big/deep roots. We finished up, and the little girls went on with their afternoon/evening routine.

Lesson: that trash is bad for plants, it keeps from growing properly, and just plain looks ugly. Through observation, they are also learning that not everything that grows is good. After just a short time, they can now look at a small area of garden, and identify the things that are "pa bon" and remove it themselves. They naturally celebrate when the "pa bon" weeds have been removed, and what remains is a lovely, healthy plant.

Observation & Revelation: As I thought about the whole process, a picture of life in the Spirit began to emerge. Where were the older girls during all this time? They were busy doing "other stuff": homework, sewing class, English class, etc. They have been looking at the same things for so long, they don't know any different so why bother to change it? Often times, that's what happens to us. The older we get, the busier we are, and we get so caught up doing "stuff" that we don't even realize how much trash we've allowed to accumulate in our lives.  The middle girls are the ones that mostly frowned at me for pulling up something that was clearly green and growing strong, so it must be good. They've never been taught any differently so they are reluctant to get rid of the weeds,  because they look "pretty". If we don't pay attention to what we allow to grow in our lives (thought patterns, habits, relationships, etc) it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate between the good stuff and the bad stuff. Sometimes they are so intertwined that they begin to look like the same thing. Then there are the little girls: naturally curious, quick to accept instruction and learn, and not afraid to put it into practice on their own. If that is fostered on a continual basis, there will be little opportunity for weeds to grow before they are identified and plucked out. What remains is the good "fruit", if you will.

I think I'm really starting to understand what Jesus meant when he said,

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 18:3

Friday, March 30, 2012

Good Things Are Happening

Two years after the catastrophic earthquake that brought the eyes of the world to the tiny Caribbean country of Haiti, there are striking differences in the perception and reality that is the current state of life in Haiti. If you ask the average person who has not experienced Haiti for themselves (and some who have) what they know about Haiti, you would probably get an ear-ful of negativity: impoverished, dirty, unhealthy, disease-ridden, lack, corrupt, dangerous...hopeless. But stay a little longer, dig a little deeper, look a little more intently, and a different picture begins to emerge. It's a well kept secret that those of us who have come and fallen in love with this country and it's people ache for the rest of the world to know...

While the majority of large NGO's have pulled out, either because "their work is done" or due to an increase in the threat of random violence, individuals and smaller organizations, many with pre-earthquake ties to Haiti (like myself), are coming back. After being away for a 4 month stint in the US, I'm excited by what I have seen, and the people i have met in my first 2 weeks back.

The piles of rubble that once were buildings, while still visible, are fewer and farther between. So, too, are the tent cities. Improvements and additions have been made to the roads and airport. Schools have become accessible to more children, thanks to initiatives proposed by the new president this year. These are all encouraging signs, but even more encouraging are the Haitians I have had the privilege to meet, who, one by one are beginning to plant the seeds of change in their own country.

There's Rosaline, who grew up in an orphanage, and longs to create a more loving and nurturing environment for the next generation of children who will grow up with little or no knowledge of their biological families. Doudine wants to become an early childhood teacher. She is eager to learn about best practices and resists the status quo by doing independent online (free) courses in behavior management and child development. Ramone is a physical therapist who works at an orphanage specializing in the care of children with disabilities. When I told him I taught in an inclusive preschool classroom, he was ready to put me to work with the now blended orphanage population ASAP. :) He is doing research on laws in hopes of introducing a disabilities act, which current does not exist in Haiti. And then there are the parents/caregivers of the patients at the rehab clinic I have been visiting this week...despite the prognosis or severity of disability, they are willing to travel long distances, sometimes hours, multiple times per week to see that their loved one gets the therapy they need. They show up consistently, ask questions, follow instructions, and as result their child is able to do things they've never done before. This is a good illustration of the mindset that is beginning to emerge here and it consistent with the country I have come to know and love. So the next time you come across a story about Haiti, I hope you will see it through different eyes.

Good things are happening in Haiti!

Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious-the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (Philippians 4:8 MSG)

Monday, January 30, 2012

"Taste The Joy Of It"

sa·vor (svr) - 1. To impart flavor or scent to; season 2. To taste or smell, especially with pleasure 3. To appreciate fully; enjoy or relish

I've been staying with my brother since I got to Nashville last month, so I have been spending a lot of time with my 4-year-old niece. She is a bundle of thoughts and energy, always on the "go". Most days, she can't be bothered with sitting down for meals because it intereferes with whatever grand activity she has planned to do next. In an effort to curb her "speed eating", have a nice family dinner, AND teach her some new vocabulary (because us teachers can't resist making any moment into a teachable moment), I introduced her to the word "savor". We discussed it's meaning and implications on eating habits and proceeded to enjoy our meal and conversation for a few brief moments. Each day, at the start of a family meal, we reviewed the word and went about our meal. About 2 weeks passed, and one day I asked her if she remembered what "savor" meant. She answered, "To taste the joy of it."

As often happens when teaching "new" concepts to small children, when they reflect back what they have learned, it first strikes a humorous chord, then a genuinely profound one. I chuckled at her response, and then thought about how her definition relates to my own life.

I am a Producer, a do-er, a fixer. I see a need and I want to make something happen NOW to meet it. Most of the time, this is a good thing, but I sometimes forget to put myself and my own individual needs in the equation. Everybody needs nurishment, physically and spiritually, to keep going on a daily basis. If you don't take time out to stop and eat a nutritious meal at regular intervals, you will eventually become weak, and maybe even pass out for lack of energy. The same is true for our spiritual and emotional health.

Being in the States for the past 2 months (and another 6 weeks to go), has given me an opportunity to re-learn this concept. For a while, if you asked me, I would tell you that I would rather be in Haiti, doing the work God has called me to, instead of being "stuck" here, in transition, just focused on getting back there as quickly as I could. Now, I'm choosing to take a little of my own advice, to slow down and savor this season I am in. I don't want to miss out on the heavenly flavor and scent God is imparting in my life. I want to enjoy the goodness of all the blessings that surround me, and fully appreciate the nourishment that being in relationship with family and good friends brings to my soul. I want to "taste the joy of it", and in so doing be filled up to overflowing to accomplish the work that has been set before me.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Saying Goodbye To 2011: The Preface For My Next Adventures

This year has been an amazing year of growth, change, dreams realized, favor, endings, and new beginnings. And not just for me, but all the amazing people I met and shared life-changing experiences with along the way. It all started in January, with my first trip to the Hands and Feet Project. It was my fourth trip to Haiti  in less than a year. Teacher's don't normally take off a week to go places in the middle of the school year, but I had an extra day off for MLK day, and a principal who understood the need for me to be there at that time and gave me her blessing to go.  That's when I met baby Esthere, who turns 1 year old today. Happy Birthday, sweet girl!
The Pink Princess - 3 weeks old, Jan 2011

Esthere, with her daddy, Nov 2011
(her mama died after childbirth)

I also met baby Woodley for the first time on that trip. He is such an angel, and truly a miracle baby. He has come such a LONG way in a year. He turned 1 on November 18th.
Woodley - 2 months old
Jan 2011

Smiles, face squeeze, and eye contact. Yes, please!
Oct 2011


I came back to Nashville and met with the stateside directors to say,"Sign me up! I want to love on orphans with the Father's love!" I was totally ready to quit my job and move to Haiti mid-school year. Thankfully, I have incredible wise, loving, and supportive leaders at Grace Center, who gently encouraged me to rethink that idea and invest time in developing relationships and getting more "tools in my belt" here in Nashville, until the conclusion of the school year. (OK, my dad said the same things, too. But he's my dad, that's his job!) :)  I recruited my dear friend, Amy, to return to Haiti with me for the week (reluctantly) of spring break in March. I'm not-so-secretly trying to recruit her to lend her amazing speech therapy skills to kids in Haiti full-time... ;)  That week in Haiti in March cemented everything for me all over again. It felt like home. I met some amazing new friends that week. Tamara even came back to serve at Hands and Feet with me for three months this fall and we are both returning to Haiti in the New Year, with different visions, but the same love for the incredible people and country.

Me & Tamara with Wendia and Wendi, Sept 2011
I also met baby Jeziman, who had just come down from up in the mountains. He was SO tiny and fragile then. Losing weight rapidly because of the difficulties with eating due to his cleft lip/palate. We made it our personal goal to get him over 6 lbs before we left. Despite a close call after aspirating and going into respiratory distress, he made it...and he keeps smiling, and fighting, and growing at his own little pace. He also turned 1 in November.

Happy Dance for Six Pounds! Mar 2011
Sitting up all by himself. Oct 2011

I wish I had enough space to document all the milestones reached and amazing progress made by each individual child I had the privilege of loving and caring for in 2011. They are all so special and unique and have the fingerprints of their Heavenly Father all over them! I will give you one more before/after picture from recent months. Luckson came to Hands and Feet less than 2 weeks after I arrived at the end of June. He was terrified, traumatized, and attached himself to me (physically and emotionally) from the moment he entered the toddler house... He even called me "Mama" for a couple months, then "Mama Ka lo", then just "Ka lo". :) He is such a sweet kid! He turned 3 in October.
Can't get enough of that happy face!
Nov 2011

Luckson fell asleep clutching "The Okay Book"
on his first night at Hands and Feet. Jul 2011

I wish I could say I will get to continue seeing these same miracles every day. I HOPE I will get to see them periodically, but I know that there are many more, new miracles in the form of precious Haitian children out there waiting to be loved and to know the Father's love. I'm am incredibly thankful for the lessons I have learned, as well as the the ones I've been able to teach.

Many people have already asked me how they can support me financially as I embark on my next adventure in 2012. I am officially going back to Haiti under "Fire For The Nations", a non-profit that was started by my parents. Tax deductible gifts can be sent to:

Fire For The Nations
P.O. Box 54
Monroeville, PA 15146

*You can write "Haiti" in the memo line, or write a note to me and it will go directly into the Haiti account. Thank you all for your prayers, love, and continued support! Happy New Year!!