Monday, May 4, 2015

Hospitality House...STAYING and GROWING!!!

It is hard to believe it has been two years since we moved into our Haiti "Hospitality House" by the sea.  As I sit here looking back over the post I wrote during our initial move while listening to the hum of our generator, I pause to thank God for answering so many prayers. God clearly provided and has blessed us with many relationships among our Haitian neighbors, a place to show hospitality to strangers and friends passing through, as well as an abundance of material provisions we once lived without (furnishings, appliances, vehicle, generator) since we have been here. This home has held 82 consecutive days of guests (both old and new friends, expected and unexpected travelers) during the summer of 2013, has been home to a Haitian mom (Genise) and her little girl (Evangeline), a home away from home for Miguel who has lived and worked with us this past year, for my brother Jonathan who has been with us the past month as well as Haitian nurse (Juliane) finishing up her clinicals at the hospital in St. Marc for the next six months. There are eleven people sleeping under this roof tonight as I write this. I am in awe of the different ways God brings people together just thinking about the people in my house. 


The go to work/school bunch

Two of the stay at home bunch
This week He has been at it again. My brother leaves on Friday. Before his hand washed sheets will have a chance to sun dry we expect his room to be filled with a family of five...maybe even six. Long story. I'll just say for now that by next weekend there will be fifteen or sixteen people sharing this home. An acquaintance who overheard this announcement at church yesterday asked me after, "How big is your house?" Then added, "Not big enough huh?" We love to share. But we don't always love to share. Sharing space with this many people is easier said than done. I'm especially thinking of the shared toilets that don't flush. We have had a doozy of a time trying to get running water in this house for the past two years. We got all excited last week thinking we had it fixed. We enjoyed our rations of running water for a total of four days. I think we had running water approximately four days the first year we were here. That's approximately eight days out of the past seven hundred and thirty five. This may have something to do with talk around the dinner table mostly revolving around whatever has been going on in the bathroom. The walls are thin, the smells are large, the people are sweaty. If it's not at least one of us causing a raucous it's the naked neighbors or the pigs, goats, dogs, donkeys, chickens, and host of crawly things that make for interesting days around this place. Miguel has had a whole new level of inappropriate added to his missionary resume. I remember after he had been with us for a few months asking him if his family talked about such things at the dinner table. He flushed and said, "Um. No. Not. Um. Ever." Perhaps we should try harder to not be so inappropriate most of the time. But I'm thinking that's probably not going to happen any time soon. I guess this is my version of a warning to our new housemates and future guests. We love to share but sometimes we share too much. We love to be ready to help but need a lot of help ourselves. We are almost always eager to practice hospitality except for the days when we aren't so eager because we cannot remember the last time we had an ounce of privacy and are selfish sinful creatures all practicing sanctification in tight quarters. We are thankful that God is merciful in all our lack of appropriateness and pray that He continues to use us and this house despite our many shortcomings to be a blessing to others. We greatly appreciate your prayers for all these things!


I took this picture at our rest stop/attempt at a cheap fast lunch after church on Sunday. All but maybe one of the bodies in this picture are currently or soon living at our house. I'm sure the other one will be around a lot to visit. Oh yeah plus myself, Eric and two others not in this pic. I just stood there in awe imagining...just a tad overwhelmed.
Some of you may remember hearing about our nightmare journey trying to negotiate a contract for our yearly rent last year. We just finished that long drawn out weary process a few months ago and were not so eager to have to do it all over again. Thankfully negotiations this time around have gone smoothly so far. The landlord delivered the agreed upon contract this afternoon. We have considered looking for a different house many times over the past year because of several negatives but for many positive reasons we feel that we should stay. So we are staying. Staying feels good. As I think about staying in this house for a third year it dawns on me that three years is the longest I have ever lived in any house in any place I have ever lived in the sum of my thirty seven years. This means that I will have spent as much time here as I have anywhere else in my lifetime. I guess that means that this is just as much my home as anywhere else. Staying feels right. I'm thankful God had opened the doors for us to stay and excited about the new relationships already being built in and around our home this third year here. 

We always struggle to pay the yearly rent which is due in one large lump sum. This is due right now. The landlord is scheduled to come fix a water problem that the neighbors are complaining about (separate from the running water problem) on Wednesday. The owner is scheduled to arrive this Thursday from Miami. I'm sure we will be asked to hand one of them a $7,000 check before weeks end. We have saved barely enough to cover it but will have very little left to get us through the rest of this month. We regularly pray for new monthly supporters to come alongside us so that we can meet our budget goals. We also very much appreciate our dear friends who make other types of contributions to help meet our needs which keep us afloat and keep reminding us that God will always provide. We have some other needs to get things fixed on the house to make it less burdensome (and hopefully less inappropriate) for all the people under this roof as well as the expense of feeding our lot and buying gas for generator electricity and cooking. We ordered a water truck today to fill the cistern so hopefully that will last through the end of the month. If you are able to give financially and desire to do so we could really use some extra help this month with all the additions and transitions. You can give a tax deductible donation through any of the DONATE buttons on this site.

Praying this verse will be true of us.

Elisabeth



"When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality."
Romans 12:13

Thursday, April 16, 2015

KOFAEL - The Poor Will Be Glad

People who are treated as helpless come to hold a lesser view of themselves. People who believe they are "blessed to be a blessing" and not in need themselves come to a lesser view of the people they serve. These victim and savior complexes create a co-dependency that perpetuates the problems of poverty and far outweighs any temporary relief such missions provide...Poor people understand that getting help requires appearing helpless, and rich people unwittingly advance the helplessness of those they serve by seeing them as objects of charity, not equals (Greer and Smith 53-4).
A little while ago Eric came in after climbing the hill behind our house to check on a teenage girl with a life threatening medical condition. I asked him about the girl and after giving me the report he sighed and said, "seven". Seven people stopped him to ask for money, food, and medicine on his short decent home. This makes us so sad. Not just because our neighbors are so poor or because we are so sick of so many "give me's" (view the last post on that subject HERE)  but because we see the paralyzing effects that come from simply providing handouts which keep the poor in a position of helplessness and rob them of dignity, responsibility, and equality. Because we have seen the difference.
A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, development, or some combination of the two. Both relief and development can be appropriate interventions, but if we sustain relief efforts instead of transitioning to longer-term development, we hurt the very people we are trying to help. Our desire is to see the church move from well-intentioned blunders to thoughtful compassionate acts of mercy that result in lasting change (56, 58, 60).
It was this same shared desire that birthed KOFAEL, the Haitian women's mirco-finance program we have been working to progress alongside Haitian partners and founders Frantz and Julienne Osier. Progress seems to come slowly as we painstakingly and prayerfully discern how to transition from relief to development with many twists and tweaks along the way. Slowly and steadily the program has come a long way since my initiation three and a half years ago. We have learned so much. We have much to learn. 




Last summer I discovered and quickly devoured the book The Poor Will Be Glad by Peter Greer and Phil Smith from which I am quoting. This book has been a great encouragement that KOFAEL has been headed in the right direction from its inception, a great resource for how we can continue to grow towards sustainability and a reminder that this program is not the end product, nor a total solution. It is simply an opportunity. 
Unlike other forms of aid, microfinance is not an end product. While a bag of rice is the solution for immediate hunger, microfinance is an opportunity, not a total solution. Microfinance is a single step --albeit a very important one --in the process of poverty alleviation. Asserting that the goal of microfinance is poverty alleviation is quite different from asserting that the goal is poverty eradication. Would a 100 percent increase in an income of $1 per day eradicate a family's poverty? Or would even a 500 percent increase? No, but it would alleviate their poverty and make their lives much better. For people earning a dollar a day, a second dollar can make a huge difference -- pocket change to us, but the world to them (110-11).
I have never received a "give me" request/demand from any of the women in our KOFAEL program since my first meeting in October 2011. This says a lot about the program and the mentality of our Haitian leadership. However, I'm not ignorantly suggesting that if you happened to pass one of the KOFAEL women on the street that you could avoid the "give me". Culturally it is considered stupid to not play that card when given an opportunity. But they know that KOFAEL is not THAT kind of opportunity. They are starting over with a new hand. Success is determined by how well they play their hand but also dependent on the draw dealt to them. Sometimes women who come to us needing immediate relief don't have the experience to play very well. Sometimes they have the experience but their deck falls short of decent cards (for ex: personal or family health crisis, natural disaster, theft, government intervention on where sales can take place, increased travel distance and product pricing). There are several key factors that determine a chance for success. Not playing at all is a certain loss. Through KOFAEL the women are learning how to live beyond the hope of a handout, that the hand they play today affects tomorrow and that tomorrow matters. A paradigm shift has to happen in order for this to actualize because...

"For many in the developing world, everything revolves around today. What will I eat today? What will I wear today? Where will I find employment today? Beginning to accumulate savings helps shift an individual's focus from today to tomorrow (85)."

KOFAEL has been working to educate its members on budgeting and saving in addition to growing their small businesses through their micro loans. Saving money in a place like Haiti is much easier said than done. Having any money to save in the first place is a great challenge. Finding a safe place where the money will still be there tomorrow is an even greater challenge. Imagine that you live in a tent with a dirt floor. Perhaps you could bury your money but that won't work during rainy season. Your sister's baby is sick, your brother broke his arm and can't plough the field, the family is taking up a collection for your aunt's funeral expenses, your church's roof recently blew off in a storm and the pastor is going door to door taking up donations. Societal and family pressures such as these make it nearly impossible for our women to save money for budgeted necessities nor the unforeseen but realistically certain emergency that awaits tomorrow. KOFAEL has recently experienced extreme challenges in this area causing us to take a harder look at how we help the women to handle their savings and give them a better chance of surviving beyond today. We have known for quite some time that we need to make some necessary changes to the program but have been praying about the right time to do so. The difficulty was that we have not yet cycled through all of the members that first started the program under their initial loan contracts. We debated starting different contracts with just the newest members but felt that would be too confusing. However, we have now found it necessary to interrupt the current loans on all members, make changes for the betterment of the whole group, and revise all contracts (just moving on from where each individual stands currently in the program). Only once before in the past three years have we had issues with women not repaying their loans and that was due to a hurricane wiping out their homes containing the merchandise they had just purchased in bulk with their loan money to sell. We were able to continue to help them through that time and they remained in the program. Emergency funds are essential to survival. In the past an emergency fund was more of a suggestion than an enforced requirement due to the way the initial contracts had been set up. The leadership of KOFAEL knew the day was coming that we would need to enforce this but how and when was the question. That day has arrived. The past few months have been discouraging for KOFAEL but in hindsight we are thankful for the lessons learned. Several women who had previously been doing well seemingly abandoned the program and were nowhere to be found. We have finally located or found information on a few of them who have reportedly moved away or have suffered from personal or family illness that caused them to not be able to work. When the money that should have ONLY been used for their business purchases was misused for doctors and medicines they feared coming back to the program empty handed. These challenges are common and somewhat expected but the losses from them are even more challenging to recover. Because KOFAEL is not in the business of giving hand outs and the only way to ensure program success and future sustainability is for everyone to repay their loans on time, it affects everyone negatively when that many people have defaulted on their loans. The women have had to learn this the hard way. Our February meeting was not a fun one. The leadership had to inform the faithful members (those who had faced the same challenges yet continued to communicate, attend monthly meetings, and pay back their loans) that they would not be receiving their next loan installments even though they were due to receive them. We honestly explained the situation that the Port au Prince program has enough money to sustain loans for all members continually ONLY IF ALL MEMBERS PAID BACK THEIR LOANS. When one person doesn't pay the next person doesn't get. That's the way it goes. They are responsible to each other. So we told the women that if they wanted their next installment they needed to install some social pressure and go find the missing women. That's how we found the few that had not moved far away. The women are also supposed to be paying into their savings accounts each month that we keep for them until the end of the program. This is incentive to pay back their final loan as well and protection for the program that they will if we are holding their savings. However, if they have not put in enough savings to make this worthwhile, why not just abandon as several have recently done? We had warned our Haitian directors often about this telling them that this was bound to happen soon if they did not start requiring that the women put more into savings. The challenge goes beyond a few members skipping meetings and not being able to pay back their loans for whatever reason. The root of the problem is poverty. Although we know that poverty will never be eradicated completely in this present world, our goal is to alleviate it as much as possible. Before it seemed that charging interest on the women's loans was an impossibly cruel request. I don't know of any other micro funding organizations that don't charge interest and I understand why. You need to if you are going to be fully self sustaining. However, KOFAEL is not like most other micro funding organizations in that we typically will take the women being turned away by other programs.  They are the poorest of the poor and for the majority KOFAEL is their last hope to keep their families together. Our hope is to help them move beyond needing desperate relief toward development so that they can graduate to the next step and possibly be accepted into one of the larger micro funding programs if they so choose. We need to do better to prepare them for the real business world where no bank or loan shark is going to give them a free pass. We are learning through experience that charging interest to both prepare and protect the program is essential. So, after praying, meeting, discussing, praying, and more discussing the leadership has decided upon some major changes that the women have since agreed upon enthusiastically as well. We informed the KOFAEL women of the upcoming changes at the March meeting and asked for their opinions because this is THEIR program. There was much discussion and dramatic debate until everyone understood that the reasons and intentions were positives not punishments. The following are the changes we will begin to implement at the April meeting the end of this month with revised contracts for all KOFAEL members. 

First (small) loan installment: 3% interest charged on each month's payment.

2nd (medium) loan installment: 6% interest charged on each month's payment. 

3rd (large) loan installment: 9% interest charged on each month's payment.

All interest earned will be kept by KOFAEL in a savings account and will go back to each woman when she graduates the program. This system does several things to alleviate the problems our former system enabled. We are still able to give loans at 0% but with a required percentage going into a savings account designed to protect individual participants and the program as a whole. The women see the benefit of this system after being punished because someone else defaulted on their loans. Now if a member defaults, we will be able to roll her interest savings to cover the loss of her loan and protect other members from personal loss. Members who complete the program will have saved an amount equal to the 3rd large loan (previous savings when no interest was charged were only amounting to the first small loan) and will receive this to move forward and continue to build her business upon graduation. If there is a personal or family emergency that would prohibit a member from working and paying back her loan, she should communicate the specifics of the situation with the KOFAEL directors for help. If is it deemed necessary she can also apply to receive some of her accumulated savings upon approval. However, we are not in favor of dispersing savings accounts before a member graduates the program if it can be helped. Our next step is to take measures to help with the dire need of medical care as this is the #1 cause for defaulting on loans. 

Medical care is very expensive in Haiti. One trip to the hospital and her entire loan and all profits are gone, plus she has most likely gone into debt. But what else can she do? This issue is of serious concern for all members who know the reality of inevitable sickness all too well. We have already watched members and family members die before they graduate. Over the past year we have been researching and physically checking out every possibility we can find in Haiti to help our women with medical care through a health insurance policy for KOFAEL members. But we are a small organization helping the poorest of the poor and there are not many options willing to help. In fact after a year of searching we have found only one that has agreed to work with our Port au Prince group. It is the DASH (Development Activities and Services for Health) program, "a Haitian NGO health provider that will offer a market-based, low-cost, pre-paid health card to serve 100,000 low-income Haitians with limited access to quality basic health care. The health services will be made accessible in the densely populated low-income neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, where DASH has medical facilities..." We can acquire health services for our KOFAEL members at $10 (US) per woman per month. Insurance that would include their family members will be around triple this amount. Family insurance is highly desirable but at this point we do not see that as a near future possibility due to limited financial resources. Our women are already stretched to the max to be able to pay their loans and with the new interest/savings accounts will be stretched even more. Asking them to pay another $10 per month is more than they can afford. We have 50 women in our program and paying 50 x $10 totaling $500 monthly is definitely not a cost the program can afford. And yet how can we afford not to? So at this time we have proposed that DASH health services can be purchased optionally with members paying 50% at $5 per month rolled into their loan payment for those who choose this. KOFAEL would like to be able to offset the remaining 50% ($5 per month per woman) of the cost to make this much needed option affordably available to the women. We will need help to do this through donations by monthly or one time sponsors. Can you imagine that only $5 per month could help provide health care for a Haitian mom or grandmother to help keep her healthy and able to continue providing for her family? This would be $250 per month we would need to raise for all 50 women. For the time being we are testing the waters in this area to see how the women will benefit from the DASH program and will be asking for contributions of $60 for a yearly sponsorship ($5 x 12 months) for each woman that signs up this month for the optional insurance. Teaching the women about things like insurance has been another way they are learning to think about and prepare for tomorrow. 

KOFAEL is now beginning to train those who have modeled success throughout the program to teach the next group of learners how to do the same. 
Here is one of our graduates sharing her experiences with the KOFAEL women at one of our monthly meetings.

A wise woman (Eleanor Turbull who has been a missionary in Haiti for 70 years) once shared with me, "Don't learn the Haitian's language so you can talk to the people. Learn their language so you can listen to the people!"

"How much time is spent diagnosing the causes before imposing solutions? How much time is spent listening to the people we are seeking to serve and developing strong enough relationships so that we can hear their voices? (55)" We pray we have listened well.

In summary here are some specifics we have been praying through over the past year for the KOFAEL program and would love your prayers and support as we move forward. 

Precautions: 

Keeping it small for the time being with the Port au Prince program as our main focus before trying to move forward with our second program in Trou du Nord (near Cap Haitian which is a six hour bus ride from Port au Prince). I made a trip with our Haitian director Frantz to Trou du Nord last November to assess the situation and Frantz continues to make trips each month to check on the current waiting women. We feel that until a Haitian director who lives in that area can be trusted and trained specifically for the needs of that group we cannot fully move forward and will just continue to patiently wait and pray for the right timing, financial provision and leadership to progress.

We received discouraging news that none of grants we spent a good deal of time and finances applying for were approved with no reasons given as to why. We had hoped to be able to move forward more quickly with the Trou du Nord program, hiring a few of our top KOFAEL graduate leaders to help run the growing Port au Prince programs, funding our minimal admin costs, at least cover the travel expenses of our volunteer leadership, and helping the women with health insurance costs. Receiving even one of the grants we applied for would have helped the program so very much with all of these things. Our mission organization/501c3 that KOFAEL is under is planning to try again with grant applications now that we have some experience under our belts in this area. 
We are trusting the Lord in His timing and that keeping KOFAEL small and successful vs. growing too fast without sustainability is for everyone's good. 

Petitions:

Telling women about the lost members and money and not giving more loans out until a solution was agreed upon for how to proceed after these losses was very difficult. We cannot afford to waste limited resources. Each member has something to give and some responsibility to use their resources to serve. What one person does affects another. We are praying these are lessons well learned and continue to praying for protection over the missing members and provision for everyone. Please pray with us as we move forward with the revised loans this month that the process with go smoothly and alleviate some of the past struggles. 

Praises:

Out of the sadness of the lost members and lost money came the greatest joy at the end of the day. We were able to share the plan of salvation in Christ alone with a KOFAEL member who accepted her free gift of eternal life. This joyous occasion happened directly after the February Kofael meeting where we broke the bad news to the women. It reminded us of why we are here. We are not the solution. We are here to share about the One who is the solution and look for every opportunity to share Him! What one does with a life changing opportunity like microfinance in Haiti, or the ultimate life changing opportunity to know and follow Jesus is not up to us, but the responsibility of sharing because we know Him and care about them is up to us. 
We praise God that some of the missing women were searched out and found and remember how God has done this in our lives as well. 
We praise God that there was a unanimous positive response by the women toward the new implementations decided upon for their benefit and program success.
We praise God for our sweet Canadian friends who care about and recently donated to KOFAEL. 

Thank you for reading this long update and praying with us for this ministry! 


"The poor will see and be glad--
 you who seek God, may your hearts live!"
Psalm 69:32







Friday, March 27, 2015

Give Me

The first part of this post is written by our friend Maggie and can be found in its original HERE.

All day, e’ry day

I am asked for things constantly.  Every day.  All times of day.  All places I travel in my day.

Sometimes it’s just my attention—the never ending chorus of “blan! blan!” as I walk down the roads demand a wave or acknowledgement if I want them to stop—even when I am lucky and they know my name and yell, “Maggie! Maggie! Maaaaaggieeeeee!” there is no ceasing until I walk far enough past them that I can’t hear any longer or give them the attention they want.  On other occasions there aren’t even words exchanged, just men who think making kissing noises at me as I pass is an acceptable way to communicate since, you know, I’m white and female.

Sometimes they want my English speaking brain. On a daily basis I am asked to teach people English.  For free.  And these would-be students are so eager to learn they are completely willing to invite themselves to attend our school (despite the fact that I tell them our school is for children and registration is closed) or invite themselves to my house for a free (always free) lesson.  They literally laugh in my face when I ask why they think I should teach them for free or try to tell them of classes I know for adults to learn English (because they know these paid classes exist and they expect that since they happened to cross my path that day they should get free lessons straight from the American-source).

Sometimes they want my things—if I am carrying anything: backpack, sunglasses, a dirty sack of garbage—I am told, “give me that”  or “I want that.” 

Sometimes they want my money.  The one English phrase virtually every child knows is “give me one dollar.”  They can’t tell you what they want or need when you ask in Creole; they can’t explain why they ask you for money and none of the other adults they passed before me (hint: I’m the only white person).  A lot of times, in fairness, they don’t know what they are saying in English, they have just been taught to say this phrase.  That doesn’t make it any less frustrating. 

Especially when I tell them no and am called selfish or rude.  When they laugh at me for speaking Creole to them to admonish them or ask why they are doing it.  When they lie after I ask them a question in Creole. When anyone else around who witnesses the exchange joins in laughing at me, a crazy white lady who is too selfish to give kids cash on the street.

It’s exhausting. It’s upsetting.  It’s frustrating and disheartening.  But worse of all—it makes it so much harder to love them.  The “them” who I pass on the street and the “them” who I work with every day.  Now, to be clear, no one at my school, or the beading program or other Haitians I have relationships would ever ask me for money like that or call me names. But they are the ones who bear the brunt of my frustration and hurt.  It’s so much harder to love people when by the time I walk into the school gate at 7:30 I feel already emptied dry, frustrated, hurt and on the brink of tears (or actual tears.  Poor Maxime never knows what he’s going to get from my roller coaster of emotions).

I know this sounds bitter and unkind.   I know that the lives of the average person I pass on my walk are harder than my own and exist of far less comfort.  I know that even in my salary-less, support-based, missionary lifestyle I have more money than they do.  That doesn’t mean I can or should say yes to them.  That doesn’t mean they have the right to treat me like I am their entertainment or meal ticket walking down the road.  I am here to serve, and I want to do it with hands and eyes wide open, but I have to be mindful of how I spend my few, precious resources (time, energy and financial).  A wise friend told me not long after I arrived to stay laser-focused on the purpose God called me here for because it is so easy to get sidetracked out of pity or guilt and attempt to start/fund/help the endless causes that will solicit me.

Waving to some kids who scream “blan!” might sound easy and free.  Smiling and walking past kids who ask me for money might sound like the right option.  Feigning ignorance when they yell insults in Creole, a language they assume I cannot speak, might be the preferred path, but it’s not the one I am on right now.  Because while I know that the thoughts I have in my head and occasionally the words that come out of my mouth aren’t always loving, giving them everything they want and allowing their actions to lack consequences isn’t always loving either. And the truth is, screaming at someone for their attention is rude; asking a stranger for money is rude; calling people names is rude.

So how do I do it? How do I lovingly and patiently serve? How do I show Christ’s love to them when it feels like I am at my breaking point? The tenth kid to ask me for money or scream “blan!” doesn’t know that nine other kids did the same thing in the span of an hour; he doesn’t deserve a tongue lashing the others didn’t get simply because he is the tenth and I only had patience for nine.  How can I teach and model better behaviors so that, ideally, there are less rude screams, requests and insults being slung at me and other white people living here?

Seriously.  Anyone have that answer? I’m all ears…because today, I’m exhausted.  And my feelings are hurt. So I need a little help. 

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Our friend Maggie​ who wrote this lives about a fifteen minute drive from us. She writes so well about how we feel and what we experience on a daily basis that I've wanted to share for a long time. Lately it seems I am incapable of sharing anything besides adding to the noise around me. My writers block could have something to do with a certain two year old, her busy mother who cannot grasp that working at a computer could ever equate with "work", very loud male neighbors who are all singularly in love with our front door, four children (Oh wait. Sorry. That's three children and one sixteen year old who states she is "WAY older" than child status even though she typically consumes more energy and effort than the other three "children" combined), two dogs, rising heat and the mosquitos that come with it, and a houseful of both expected and unexpected overnight guests. I'm not complaining. I truly treasure spending my days and nights with all of these. But sometimes I need a teeny break and figure a walk around the block or trip to the market will do the trick. But as soon as I step outside...

An older-ish man sees me. I do not know this man and have not seen him in on my street before. He calls me by my name which is always "blan" (love how spell check always tries to change that word to "blah" cause that is exactly how that word makes me feel). This guy I have never seen before points to me and then to his belly and then to his mouth. If I didn't know better I would think he wanted to eat me. I give him the "I don't know you so why are you asking me" look and keep walking. This makes him use his words. Then I use mine to say exactly what I already said with my eyes. I have no way to know if he actually is hungry but even if I performed the miracle of pulling food out of nowhere I would have a mob of other "hungry" witnesses on my hands. He doesn't care about any of that. I do care. I am conflicted about whether I care more about him or the consequences. I know he is suffering the consequences of all those who have come to "bless" this tiny speck on the globe with stuff for nothing, the consequences of immense poverty, of bad manners passed down, of either a lack of dignity or extreme desperation that would make him ask the cream colored lady holding back a snarling dog in one hand and a bottle of mace in the other for ANYTHING. But if I didn't care about him, I wouldn't still be wondering about him a week later. I am thinking about whether he was actually hungry and feeling both guilty and stupid for feeling guilty that I was still standing outside my house (that he didn't know is mine) and therefore could have gone inside and grabbed a banana or something. But why couldn't he just ask the fellow Haitian he just passed selling bananas for a freebie? Why ask me? This is the perpetual question (we already know the answer to but cannot accept) ALL THE TIME. EVERYWHERE. EVERY DAY. I think it is in the caring that much of the frustration comes dear Maggie. I am so frustrated that I couldn't even walk to the end of the street without being accosted and yet even more frustrated that I have no solution to meet either need (my need for an ask-less walk and his reasons for needing to ask).

Since I have lived on this tiny speck only a little bit longer than you and feel the same way, I'm certainly probably not qualified to answer your question. I only know what has helped me to hold it together as long as I have thus far--not always well, but I'm still here. 

#1. Jesus. You know I don't mean the cliche Sunday school answer. I mean the Jesus we both know that is the only answer left when you come to a crisis end to yourself, to what you thought you knew to be true of humanity, to an utter incapacity to fathom the lack of justice in this place. When I am at that crisis breaking point it is comforting to remember that He fully understands above and beyond how I feel. How many dirty hands selfishly groped for Him each day? How many titles did He endure that were not His own? How many people did He teach, feed, listen to in a day and it never be enough? How many occasions when He tried to get away for a walk in the wilderness, on the shoreline, or even on the sea was He bombarded with needs, wants, insulting name calling and despicable kisses at every turn? Sometimes He ignored them. Sometimes He healed them. Sometimes He fed them. Sometimes He lectured them. Sometimes He taught them. Sometimes He got righteously angry with them. Sometimes they were stricken with consequences. Sometimes He had compassion on them. He despised the foolish lack of understanding, the "you give me" attitude (equating to "you owe me" simply because You are Jesus and therefore have all things at Your disposal). The lack of respect of anything resembling the humanity He created (lack of respect of humanity = INHUMANE) exhausted Him too! And yet He loved them. He left his heavenly home and His Father to come and serve them. He was willing to die for them and did. But did they make Him mad and grieve His heart? Yep! Did He wish they could understand their ignorant foolish request at times? Yep! Did He make a big deal out of those who did "get it" and use them as the few examples for others to stop and take notes? Sure did. Sometimes it was that tenth one that got it. And it wasn't who everyone expected it to be. It was a foreigner like us. Which reminds me that the experiential lesson is just as much for me. 

"But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." Luke 17:17-19

Perhaps our "foreigners" are the little brother standing beside Mr. "give me one dolla" or the group on the other side of the sidewalk watching for our reaction to this encounter. Whether it is two or twenty (cause we all know there will be a minimum of two) demanding our attention along the way, surely God has a purpose for each one sent our way. It is most often with the last that His reasons are fulfilled--even if we are fresh out of patience and feel like we blow it. Not saying my yelling/ranting is ever justified or comparable to Jesus holy fits of righteous anger, but I know that at least one person (me) receives a lesson in each of those moments. We are not here to be anyone's savior or solution but to point them to the One that is. But how do we do that especially on the days when it is so hard to love our "them"? This is the daily prayer as we strive to display our Jesus well.

#2. Don't discount the seeds planted. Keep doing what you said you do that may seem like it only results in lying, insulting laughter and typically labels you as "selfish". It is still a seed planted. We also sometimes stop and ask the askers to think about the why and how they ask and then attempt a lesson on the difference between the Creole "ba mwen" and English "give me" that are lost in a literal translation. Usually when we begin to explain that the American head and Haitian tet do not hear "give me" in the same way. They typically listen up when we tell them we know how to raise their chances of blan giving. First step is to check the rude factor. We then commence in practicing other, more polite, forms of asking. They try it out on us. We usually say, "no" but explain that this is not because they did not ask nicely. Last week I played this little game with some kids while watching a game at our community basketball court. All I had on my person was my clothes and my water bottle. I was asked for both. I've even been asked to hand over the hair on my head (on a different occasion)!!! I was just about fed up by the time I decided to leave and didn't think anyone benefitted from my little lesson. But then one boy about age 14 followed me to the gate. He gently touched my arm and said in the new English we had practiced, "Excuse me Madam. May I give you service please ? I need travay (work)." Smiling and giving him a congratulatory pat I told him that I did not have work for him that day but that if he continued with that great attitude and asking in a respectful way, he is sure to find work much faster than all the others. He was my "tenth" that day and that encouragement has stretched a long way as I haven't observed a fruitful seed since. But he reminded me that you never know. 


#3. If you can't beat "them", join them when all logical lessons, and levels of tolerance fail. We learned this pointer from our son Evan at the age of five after he had only been in Haiti one month. Evan took a rather unorthodox approach after observing the randomly occasional success of the "give me". The difference for Evan was that he saw no "them". We were at a local restaurant in Port au Prince visiting with other missionary friends. Evan asked his daddy if he could have money to go buy ice cream. Daddy said, "We don't have money for ice cream." A few minutes later I began my usual scanning to see where Evan landed and my eyes and ears find him at a table with about seven big, burly, beer drinking men. Evan is holding his little hand out and sincerely asking, "You give me one dolla" complete with Haitian accent! After picking myself off the floor I look up to see the entire table of big, burly men crouched over in laughter. Plenty had they seen Haitian kids ask this question, but never a ti blan (little white/foreigner)! Evan didn't understand what was so funny. He really wanted money to buy ice cream and was using the skill he had observed to try and get it. We learned a lesson from Evan that day. Instead of getting so aggravated when the "give me" is upon us, we just ask the same. When we receive looks of disbelief or laughter with a but "mwen pa gen" (I don't have) response, we say that we don't have either (or at least don't have something we can willingly give at that moment). Sometimes we carry this as far as asking for their shirt, shoes, etc. When they say, "Huh? No!", "What? Why?" "but then I wouldn't have a shirt or shoes!!!" We say, "exactly". Sometimes we are not in the mood for the consequential laughter and name calling and sometimes we take it in stride. Sometimes there is a teachable moment. Sometimes not. 

The many faces of "Give me".

I guess I'm trying to answer your question with the very question I've asked myself at least a thousand times. As we live among the Haitian people (or any people), and strive to love as Christ loves (in spite of another's negative behavior and equally in spite of my own) I'm thankful to learn from each other and lean on the example of Jesus. How can we model this? Your doing a great job Maggie! Don't become weary in well doing! (I know that's easier said than done.) I really can't imagine a one-size-fits-all answer even if the same ole "give me" is the catalyst. Sometimes we may be led to teach or lecture. Sometimes we should say nothing. Sometimes we might answer a question with a question. Sometimes we might simply ignore a following crowd while trying to get away. Sometimes we might yell and rant. But always we can listen and learn from these experiences. Some One is trying to teach all of us something that He has already modeled for us. His feelings must have been hurt not only by the crowds hurling insults and abuse but by the very disciples He spent every day teaching and loving who betrayed and abandoned Him. And yet 

"for the joy set before Him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." 
Hebrews 12:2 

Because one day there will be justice and answers to all these things. One day there will be no more "give me" because everyone will give Him their everything. I pray He gives us the joy set before Him to endure well until that glorious day!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Overdue

"Overdue" seems an appropriate title for the events leading up to the past three months which have contributed to overdue blog posting. We apologize for not keeping the blog up to date as we have been trying to catch up from recent happenings from our travels stateside and since our return to Haiti. If we have had the privilege to spend face time with you, talk to you, or if you follow Facebook you can probably just go ahead and skip this catch up post! 

Other than our desire to spend time with loved ones over the holidays instead of spending a sweaty 4th Christmas in Haiti, we had the excuse of tending to some overdue issues such as dealing with our pre-Haiti house and extensive dental work I have been putting off dealing with for several years. In an effort to accomplish what was needed and leave time for the healing process, our wonderful dentist and friend, Steve Williams and the staff at Allen Dental where I have been a patient for the past 14 years (even though we moved from that area 10 years ago) worked for 5 hours to extract 3 teeth, prep 6 teeth for 2 bridges, perform 1 root canal, and insert 1 screw into my gums for a future tooth implant ALL ON THE SAME VISIT!!! I was told they used about every tool in the office. My dear friend Kendal picked up my heavily sedated self and took care of me the rest of the day before delivering me to the DFW airport to meet Eric who had just flown in from Haiti to meet me mid December. The next day Eric and I drove to our home for the holidays to meet up with the rest of our family. Both sets of parents/grandparents soon joined us from Virginia and Illinois along with all of my siblings. This was the first Christmas we have spent with all our kids together in the states and it was wonderful to have so many from our family surrounding this joyous time. We enjoyed attending special invites to the premier screening of the documentary "Finding Noah" that my dad was heavily featured in speaking about their personal adventures on Mt. Ararat and why so many explorers throughout history have continued the search for Noah's ark and its importance today. Eric has made this journey three times but was not there during the time they were actually filming on the mountain. Still, he was very happy to reconnect with many from the Turkey team that have been through so much together. 
Eric and kids excited to see the show...

as well as me and my sis Emilee!

Dad on the big screen!
We also enjoyed our Shaw Family "cousin Christmas" and celebrating our niece, Elianna's 7th birthday the same day. We attended a wedding and got to see many old and dear friends from our early married and student ministry years. It makes us feel really old to see our former students graduating college, getting married, and pursuing careers and ministries of their own but what a blessing to see them following Jesus! One of the hardest things about living overseas is missing our loved ones' special events and we were very thankful to be able to fill our sweet memories tank once again! 
Hanging out over the holidays with some of our former youth group students who are now all grown up!

Christmas spent with family and friends is just the best!
The girls getting to finally enjoy their sweet little room and special time with their friend who once lived in the same orphanage as them in Haiti and was adopted by our friends in San Antonio. 
A few days after my dental work I began to feel that something wasn't quite right. As the month rolled by I tried to push through the severe drowning feeling I was experiencing with four rounds of antibiotics and trying many an essential oil to alleviate the pain. My dentist office was an eight hour roundtrip drive from where we were staying so just dropping by for a checkup was out of the question. I felt worse and worse but we figured with the amount of work I had done the discomfort level could be normal. Turns out it wasn't normal AT ALL. We are extremely thankful that our dentist knows me as well as my dental history well enough to know something was amiss and order an extra CT scan even though nothing was visibly wrong on the surface at my next appointment. The CT scan showed an unidentified foreign object lodged in my cheek that had certainly not been there before! Everyone freaked out except for me as I was relieved to know that what they were seeing finally matched what I had been feeling! This was certainly the culprit causing me so much pain but what was it? I was sent to a oral surgeon specialist to find out who also debated about what this could be and how this could have happened. Answers were left pending the surgery that was scheduled for the next morning. I begged for the surgery to be done asap and for it to be done without sedation if possible to allow me to make the return drive after surgery with my daughter Esmee who had come along to keep me company and had been waiting patiently through many hours of unexpected appointments. All I wanted was that thing out of my cheek and to get back to my kids and all the overdue work this thing in my cheek had been preventing me from accomplishing in order to get home to Haiti! Turns out the culprit was temporary tooth material that somehow got lodged in an open cavity (the dentist could not detect was still open) from the upper right tooth that had been removed a month prior. The root of that infectious tooth was extremely long and protruded up into my sinus cavities. The hardened piece the surgeon pulled out of the inside of my cheek was an inch long and had blocked all my sinuses on that side of my head which had led to a major infection. Once the culprit and the infection had been removed I felt instantly 90% better even with a cut up cheek, temporary teeth that kept falling out, and no sedatives. My dear dentist felt so bad, traveled and sat through my surgery to be with me and collect the culprit to show his staff for further study as this had never happened to any patient in their office before! I will be forever grateful for all his kindness in caring for me through these ordeals. We praise God for all of these things as his timing and orchestrating of events (even the uninvited ones) were ultimately for our good. We will never know all the behind the scenes details of God's plan but are overwhelmed by his sovereign goodness with just the little we are blessed to see. I was sitting in the surgeons office the day before the surgery asking him how soon he could squeeze me into his schedule to get the thing out of my cheek so I could get home. He asked me where "home" was.  I told him I was waiting to finish my dental procedures so that I could fly back to Haiti. He looked puzzled and asked, "Haiti"? Then said, "I'm sorry to tell you that this is a sinus surgery where I will need to reconstruct some sensitive membranes and as such you will not be able to fly on an aircraft for 4-6 weeks after surgery. Now I was freaking out as I felt that my return to Haiti was already overdue. It was January 9th and I had been in the states for a month already. I thought ahead another month to February 9th which was my daughter Elita's 16th birthday and how she had prayed to be able to celebrate a birthday in the states for the first time. I'm still blaming our overdue return to Haiti on her selfish prayers but am happy she had what she says was "the best birthday ever"! 
Elita Marguerite waking up to her sweet 16!
Turns out I absolutely needed that extra month to continue healing, finish putting my mouth back together and to complete the work on the house. We were planning to sell the house but in the end decided that if the house could be an asset and not a liability to our Haiti ministries then we would keep it as a rental property. We still had many personal items we needed to sell, sort, or store since we had been renting the house partially furnished over three renters during the past 3 1/2 years since our move to Haiti. It was really wonderful to be in the house one (probably last) time with the kids and have that closure. We are entrusting all the management to a wonderful property management company so that we will no longer have this extra detail. Our stuff is now completely out and the house rented very quickly at full market price! Praise God! 
Just a few years overdue moving everything from this

to this!
All our remaining stateside earthly belongings are being stored indefinitely here on family property. It looks large enough but trust me when I say that emptying what was left of an almost 4,000 sq. ft. house into a 40 ft. container is easier said than done!
We had a lot of help from several friends to get the house turned over including putting in two new floors, cleaning and moving crews, and those who loved on our kids during all the chaos. The Lord knew how much I needed all of you and all the extra time as I was still packing and finishing up the house Valentine's morning before heading to the airport! The kids and I and my new teeth joyfully landed in Haiti on February 15th to meet up with Eric and Miguel who has joined us to serve in Haiti for another school semester. Miguel's family were among those who were helping me with the final loads from the house the night before our departure. Thank you to everyone who helped. You know who you are and that we would certainly still be working and even more overdue for our return to Haiti without you! 

Of course with feeling like I was drowning, recovering, and moving, two months of kids hopeful homeschooling was not getting done super well AT ALL!!! They were way overdue to get back to school which they did the very next morning. I was overdue for a vacation from the stateside lack of vacation. We are still catching up but getting there! We are excited to share about all God has done in the past few weeks as they are too good not to share! While I feel perpetually overdue, I remember that our faithful God is never late and we cling to his promise that He will continue to complete the good work He began in us and in you!
All smiles now!
I will spare you the before pic when all I wanted for Christmas was my two front teeth back!

"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
Philippians 1:6


A Continued Work in Progress,
Elisabeth

Posts coming soon!!! (Lord willing)

Djo's Family Gets a New Roof (update for those who followed the previous post)
Precautions, Petitions, and Praises at KOFAEL (update on our women's micro funding ministry)
The Conch That Came Back (the hilarious story of our parents visit to Haiti)
A Day in the Life of a Haitian Lady (our journey with Genise)
Jumper (jumping in Haiti and around the world)





Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Few Hours Remaining to Give in 2014!



To our beloved friends and family,
Our son Evan read 3 John this morning and its words gripped my heart and made me think of many of you in the same way. We pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health as it goes well with your soul.  We look forward to 2015 and experiencing incredible joy as we hear from you the amazing stories of your journey in the truth. Thank you for sending us on our journey in a manner worthy of God.  We ask you to pray about a year end gift this last day of 2014 to help us begin another year of ministry in Haiti. We also need new financial monthly supporters to encourage us in the New Year as we are currently only meeting 50% of our budget. Your faithful prayers are what matter most!


If you would like to give a tax deductible 2014 year end gift, or to sign up to support us in 2015 the following link is the best way to do that. Just click HERE or HERE There is also info. provided for processing donations over the phone and by mail.

 

Because of some of you we will also be able to send Djo’s kids on their journey to learning this next semester and pay for the rest of last school semester and their uniforms. Thank you for the overwhelmingly encouraging response to our last post about helping their family!   Please pray for Haiti as there is heightened political instability and for many in 2015 that God would bring them heightened spiritual stability. 

 

Peace to you in 2015,

Eric and Elisabeth

3 John


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Djo's Kids

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength...Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."
Mark 12:30-31

Djo's Kids

Djo (pronounced "Joe"), his wife and their four kids are our neighbors. We pass by their simple gray block house each day and always look to see if their sweet faces are peeking out behind the door. Recently as I was walking by they invited me inside. The house is just as simple on the inside. I pass a little room I'm told is the "depot" where the supplies for Madame Djo's small business are stored. Djo must have seen my eyes stall in the corner where only a few empty soda cases sat. Looking down he said, "We haven't been able to sell for awhile." Next I passed through a floor less, roof less open space that Djo says "isn't finished yet" which leads to the bed, bath, and kitchen. There is one bedroom for this family of six. Two twin beds, a curio shelf with a small television and stereo were the bulk of its contents. I glance up to see large spaces where the metal roof doesn't cover the concrete block sides in several places and imagine trying to sleep there during rainy season. The kitchen galley stands between the bedroom and the "twalet" (toilet room). But there is no toilet. There is no sink or shower either. The "twalet" only contains one single bucket sitting on the floor. I expect it to smell bad. But it doesn't. The house is actually very clean. The "kitchen" contains a metal stand that cooks food over charcoal along with a few pots and pans hanging neatly on the wall. I thank them for showing me their home. 

Djo has been to our home many times. We were introduced to Djo before we moved to this neighborhood by missionary friends and co-workers that know Djo. When we needed help with odd jobs around the house or a ride home Djo would be the person to call. We called him more often when we became his neighbors. Djo has raised one of our walls so our dog can't jump over it (and so neighbor boys can't peep over it to try to catch a glimpse of our girls taking a bucket bath outside), built a trash burning bin in our backyard, installed our driveway, installed a wall inside our house and has used his motorcycle to fetch cooking gas, and large blocks of ice for us many times. Djo is a hard and efficient worker. Every time we have called him with a job he has been eager to take whatever work we offered. Once we asked him if he could help us with a plumbing problem. He came over to take a look but told us that he honestly did not know how to fix the issue. We appreciated that so much and told him so. It is rare to find a Haitian man that won't tell you he can do whatever it is you ask even if he hasn't the slightest clue. Djo has never asked us for anything other than once when he knew I was headed to the grocery store and asked me if I could please pick up some peanut butter for his children to have something to eat that night. 

During the time we were away over the summer months Djo was in a bad motorcycle accident. We were informed by missionary friends that he could not walk or work for months afterward as a result. One thing Djo and his wife work hard for is to keep their four children in school. The start of school was approaching with no money to pay the fees since Djo had been out of work due to his accident injury. The kids attend the Baptist church school in our neighborhood. The school allowed the kids to begin the fall semester with Djo's promise that he would do his best to pay the school fees before the new year. Djo humbly came to us asking if we could help him find sponsors for his kids to continue to attend school because they have not been able to come up with this money. He is back to work now (whatever work he can find) but is still behind due to months of not being able to work. He doesn't want to have to tell his kids they cannot go back to school after Christmas break. 

We try to be very careful about how and who we help to make sure we are really helping. When we prayed about how best to help with this particular need the verse "Love your neighbor as yourself" continued to play in my head and heart. Sometimes Most of the time there isn't a prescribed solution for the many hard things we encounter on a daily basis as missionaries in one of the poorest countries on earth. We remember that Jesus said "the poor you will always have with you". The poor are our neighbors. For us the verse "Love your neighbor as yourself" means that if our kids eat, we want our neighbors kids to eat too. If our kids have clothes to wear and a bed to sleep in, we want our neighbors to have those necessities as well. If our kids are able to go to school...

We would love to be able to give Djo's family the Christmas gift of school sponsorships for all four of his children. The cost is $125 per child to pay for their last and next semester. We would love to find a sponsor family (or multiple sponsors) that would commit to helping this family with future school sponsorships as well. Perhaps if school was not such a huge financial burden on their limited income, they could put more money into finishing their house. We wish we were able to sponsor all the kids but are personally already committed to sponsoring several other children. Therefore, we are giving YOU the opportunity to help us help our neighbors and show them the love of Christ this Christmas. 

Meet the Kids
Joel
Age 11

Jacob
Age 9

Mardochée
Age 7
Carlens
Age 4

Please contact us through e-mail at eeream@HeartofGodInternational.org if you are willing to provide a school sponsorship for one, two, three, or all four of Djo's kids as a Christmas present to them! It is a joy and privilege to love our neighbors by letting others in on loving them too! Please pray and ask if God is leading your family to love on Djo's kids.

Because He First Loved Us,
Elisabeth

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Of Turkeys and Holiday Plans

We can make our plans,
but the LORD determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9

So... Eric came home with a turkey last night which was kind of a big deal. We have never bought a turkey in Haiti before and this was definitely a Thanksgiving splurge. The kids and Miguel keep talking about Thanksgiving saying they "can't wait!". I have a suspicion that my attempts at a traditional American Thanksgiving in Haiti may not match whatever expectations they have dreamed up. Much of this has to do with my own expectations which include a fear of turkeys. I already planned my speech on how the Pilgrims having come to a foreign land gave thanks for whatever local bounty they were blessed with and likely this did not include turkey on their table either. I was much more prepared to have Thanksgiving without turkey than to have Thanksgiving with it. The truth is I've only cooked a turkey on my own once in my life and had not planned on a repeat of that experience. I've plucked and cooked chicken but for some reason the turkey completely evades me. As I ask for explicit turkey cooking instructions, my mother cannot understand. But I do. Mother is and has always been the designated turkey cooker at every holiday, family get together, and church function. Therefore she assumes that her daughter who moved out of her house over eighteen years ago should be able to cook a turkey by now. I explained that turkey cooking is not an inherited genetic trait nor is it learned by osmosis during the passing of time. All those times when I was shooed out of the kitchen while a turkey magically appeared on the table only taught me that it was my job to consume turkey but never to cook it! Somehow I have gotten away with learning how to cook just about every other side dish but have managed to excuse myself from turkey duty. But this Thanksgiving there is no one else. And now I am asking why Eric never learned to cook a turkey either? I guess for the same reason that I never did. It was never necessary before. Which make me realize that this will be the very first Thanksgiving that we have ever spent around our own table with just us. We have always either ventured to others tables or others have brought their bounties to ours. So this year will be a first for us. And I will make turkey. Which makes me realize that I have no turkey pan. Mom's recipe definitely includes the pan. Anyone have a recipe for Thanksgiving turkey that does not include a pan?

Moving on...should the Lord tarry past turkey day. I feel like we have run the Haiti gamut of trying to find ways that make Christmas feel special to us the past three years. We have repeatedly given ourselves the talk that Who and what Christmas is really about IS what makes it special. Everything else is just fillers and substitutes. It IS Jesus birthday. But we all look forward to the birthday party right? We are really looking forward to HIS party this year! This year there will be no wondering if the kids presents will make it through shipping and customs in time, no last minute frantically searching and buying a pitiful overpriced substitute present because grandparents didn't make it, no sadness over not having electricity to plug in Christmas lights, listen to Christmas music, cooking Christmas dinner and playing games in the dark, no sweating and swatting mosquitoes. There will be no locally caught tropical parrot fish happily cooked up by Genise as a Christmas lunch present to us. There will be no red and green food themed Christmas dinner which was my totally lame idea to avoid the kids asking for Christmas turkey. So we splurged on imported frozen lasagna and broccoli (the red and green foods) that we didn't end up eating after parrot fish and stomach bug episodes. As I recall all these things from three Christmases past I am smiling. We have made the most of the past three years and don't wish to trade those unforgettable memories. But this Christmas we are all looking forward to un-Haiti made memories. Our family has never spent Christmas together outside of Haiti since our girls have joined our family. We have never all experienced grandparents and cousins and Ta's Christmas turkey all celebrating Jesus birth together. This is what we are most looking forward to this holiday season.

Last April as we were searching for the best timed and priced tickets to return to Haiti after our summer travels we were not thinking it would be possible to return to the states as soon as Christmas. But then we found amazingly priced tickets that cost the same whether we only returned to Haiti in the fall or also booked roundtrip tickets to include a stateside Christmas. This Christmas is the first Christmas in many years that all my siblings and parents were able and planning to spend Christmas together in Texas. We really wanted to be there and felt that finding the affordable tickets was a green light. Little did we know then that there would be other reasons. God knew. We found out in August shortly before returning to Haiti that I would need to have extensive dental work completed over three appointments that must be scheduled three weeks apart. Then there is the home we own in New Braunfels, Texas. The only option we had due to time constraints and adoption paperwork filed under that house at the time we moved to Haiti was to sell as much as we could and rent the house partially furnished. That is what we have continued to do throughout the past three years and three renters. We felt that as long as the house was covered financially without having to raise or take away from donations for Haiti ministry we could feel good about the house being used to bless others with it being a financial wash to us. A sweet family who has rented the house for the past year and 1/2 has enjoyed filling the house with teenagers like we once did during our years spent working with students there. We knew they would like to continue renting the house and it was our desire that they be able to do so. However, the taxes we have to pay on the property value have gone up in the past year and this forced us to re-evaluate the situation. We have not yet raised even half of the financial support we need to live in Haiti and knew we could not afford to keep the house under the current financial conditions with the tax increase. So after praying and consulting financial advisors we gave our renters two months notice that we would need to raise the rent to the current market value or we would need for them to move so that we could remove the rest of our belongings out of the house and put it up for sale. The only time we have to do this is over the Christmas holidays since we already had tickets. This came at a challenging time for our renters as the mother had been struggling with her health but we thought at the time we sent the letter that she was improving. We found out the next day that she was scheduled for heart surgery. She is in Minnesota as I write this undergoing her heart surgery today. If you are reading this please take a moment now to pray for Jill and her family. The family could not justify nor afford a rent increase in the midst of doctor and hospital expenses and time away from work. So they moved out last weekend. We were thankful to hear that they have family in the area that have a home and heart to help them during this time. We felt terrible about the timing. But God knew and we are all trusting His timing is for the best for all of us.

I am thankful that we will be spending Christmas in our old New Braunfels house for several reasons. We moved to Haiti very fast and the boys didn't have much opportunity for closure. Before we knew we were moving to Haiti we had prepared the girls room at that house and showed them pictures. All four children have asked if they will ever be able to sleep in their beds in their rooms in Texas even just one time and have prayed for that even though us parents somewhat discouraged those purely sentimental notions. I have sentimental notions of my own. After spending the past nine months in some form of living out of suitcases, sweating and swatting mosquitoes, and suffering sickness while sweating and swatting mosquitoes I really am not up for that cycle all over again. In between traveling to DFW for dental appointments it will be really nice to wash my own dishes in our own place with actual running water. It is difficult to explain with words what this means to me. You see, since I have been my girls mother they have only been able to observe and learn from me in our Haiti world or while staying in other people's homes in our America world. We have always had adult Haitian women bustling about our house in Haiti doing things to help us that I never had help with in our American home (because in America there are machines that help with physical labor). It was nearly a year before our girls were informed that I could drive a vehicle and wash clothes. When Ethan told them that I used to drive him twenty minutes to school each morning they didn't believe it because they had never seen it and could hardly imagine it. You should have seen the look on Elita's face the first time I pulled into a gas station her second day in the states and she learned that her mom knows how to pump gas. You see, in Haiti you don't get to pump your own gas. This is just one example of a whole slew of things that our Haiti world has never allowed me to teach and experience with my daughters . My girls have taught me how to live in their first world. I have longed for a chance to teach them how to live in mine. We started the girls adoptions and prepared to bring them home to that house long before we knew God was preparing to bring us home to them in Haiti. In His goodness He has brought us full circle.

The kids and I will fly from Haiti December 10th. Eric will follow on the 15th where he will arrive
to meet me in Dallas and drive me back from my first of three dental operations. We will spend a few weeks in the house over Christmas which we hope will give us time to go through the remainder of our stateside earthly possessions and figure out what to do with them and the future of the house. We have a wedding to attend in DFW January 2nd and Eric will fly back to Haiti from DFW on January 6th. We are still praying about the date the children and I should return to Haiti. I have my second dental appointment scheduled for January 5th. The third appointment has to be scheduled three weeks later to give time for shifting and healing before the final procedure. We originally planned for me to use some saved up air miles and make a quick roundtrip from Haiti by myself for this. Now since we don't know how the house situation will unfold we are leaving that up in the air and tentatively planning for the kids and I to stay in Texas during the month of January until after both the dental and house processes are completed. We appreciate your prayers as we make our plans and the Lord determines our steps in all these details and all the details of leaving Haiti and those we are leaving behind. We are praying that our Haiti house could be a blessing to others if there is a need for a family to stay in Haiti over the holidays. We need someone here to feed our dogs and not leave the house vacant. If we could leave knowing someone will be here that would be a huge relief and blessing to us too.

I spent last week with a precious family that has served the Lord faithfully in Haiti for the past 68 years. They had asked me to help document their stories and I was happy to have this honor. One thing Wallace, now in his late eighties continually stated in nearly every story is "You know, God sees ahead." So. Much. Truth. There. While there are still many unknowns such as how we will accomplish all that needs to be done concerning the house, we remember that God sees ahead and there are no unknowns for Him. As we seek His best and walk with Him making our plans we believe that the Lord will continue to determine our steps. He is directing your steps too! Thank you for your partnership as we seek to serve Him faithfully together in all our plans for His glory. Hope your turkey turns out tasty!