Saturday, March 28, 2009

The hill

Those of you who have been to the mission know what I am talking about when I refer to 'the hill'. It's the road that starts at the bottom of the mountain and leads up past the church, school, office, cafeteria, warehouse, and eventually the guesthouse (where my apartment is located). The hill is what everyone who has ever visited the mission has trekked. It's rocky, long, and often steep, but over the time I've been at the mission, it's become kind of like a friend to me.

A few times a week I strap on my 'Keens' (hiking shoes) and go a few laps around the mission.... It's kind of like doing a workout on an incline treadmill,  just add in a bunch of random-sized rocks and dust... it definitely gets your heart rate up! Because I spend my working hours indoors teaching in the classroom, it's often one of the highlights of my day to get out in the open air and bright sunshine where it's just me and the mountains. It's a beautiful place to be. At some points in the journey I stop at different lookouts and the sights take my breath away. The sun reflecting off the water, the grey clouds that hover over the tops of the highest mountain peaks, and especially standing at one of the highest points of the mission and overlooking the land below for miles and miles. 

The other day I was walking along and right up ahead a horse and her colt trotted across the path in front of me. A few moments later a little boy, probably not much older than 12 came out of the brush along the side of the road with a stick in his hand. He was wearing a dirty oversized t-shirt, shorts, and had no shoes. I made the connection quite quickly that he was tending to the horses - either he was working for his father or another farmer - but when he saw me walking towards him, he gave me a big smile and fell in stride with my pace. He asked me my name and we chatted a bit until he scurried off to retrieve his horses. I was encouraged by his thoughtfulness to take time to talk to me, and also impressed by the way he offered such kindness to me even though I was a complete stranger. 

Another memorable hill story happened after dark a few weeks ago. I don't usually intend to walk the hill alone at night, since I do have a slight fear of darkness, but it was on a Friday evening and I was at the Hope House for movie night. I usually catch a ride with Rachel or the van der Marks when the movie ends, but for some reason which I can't remember now, I was venturing up alone. I had my flashlight and was set to walk up with my bright beam leading the way, yet as I ventured away from the lights of the Hope House I looked up into the night sky and was in complete awe at what was above me. It is one of those moments when everything simply stops. The sky was the deepest of blues, and the millions of bright white stars literally sparkled. As I stood in the middle of the open field outside the Hope House and looked up into the sky, I felt so small. The vastness of everything around me was overwhelming, and yet I felt the Lord pull me in and whisper His love into my heart. It's something I can't really describe in words, but I think we've all had those moments.... Times when God's glory is so unfathomable and we feel so unworthy to be known by Him... and yet He gives us a peace to rest in His arms. It's a moment that will be forever engrained in my mind.

But the neat part about that night, was that there was a full moon was shining down, creating a dimly lit world of blue. Excitedly, I slipped my flashlight back into my pocket and began walking with the moon lighting my path. I don't know if you've ever had an opportunity to use the moon as a guide, but you should really try it sometime if you haven't. The moon's light transformed the trail into a greyish-blue colour and the large trees cast down black shadows that swayed in the breeze along the way. As I made my way back home, I began to realize how much of an adventure life Haiti can be... There I was in the darkness using just the moon as a light and hiking through the mountains in the middle of a Caribbean island... It was really awesome! 

It's just neat how the littlest things can make such a difference sometimes. Like the moon lighting my way home, or the bright smile of a little farmer boy following his horses, or the beauty of sunshine and mountains in such a barren land. I feel like Haiti is changing me with the little things. Back at home last year, it was rare that I had time to notice the little things. Life seemed to have taken a grip on me and I struggled to find chances to really breathe and appreciate the everyday miracles. I feel like I've captured a part of that again, which has been sparked through my walks on the hill. It can be seen as such a pain to have to climb, but I admit that I actually look forward to it. It gives me a chance to breathe. It gives me a chance to open my eyes and be aware of the beauty that surrounds me. And as a result, it gives me no choice but to be utterly amazed at the wonder of my Father's creation.

Maybe today I'll go for another walk. There is a good chance that somewhere along the way someone will drive by and offer me a lift, but I will politely refuse. Even though the hill leaves me dirty and in a crazy sweat, it's worth it for the majesty of His creation. It captures my heart. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend update

This weekend involved some sad news.
As most of you have probably already heard, on Saturday morning, Ed (from Tytoo Gardens) died. It came as quite a shock to all of us when we got word that he had fallen from a ladder and died instantly. He was a wonderful man and an example to us all in the way he chose to surrender his life to be used by God. There have been countless lives that have been changed through his testimony. We can rejoice in the way he lived to serve and help so many desperate children.
But there is still sadness for the ones he left behind. Above all right now I ask you to pray for the children who live and are fed at Tytoo Gardens as they grieve Ed's loss. It is still unknown to me what will become of Tytoo Gardens and the children, whether they will be re-located or if someone new will step up to run the orphanage. Please keep this all in your prayers. Below I have included a picture of Ed, and one of the older orphan girls who was a great assistant to Ed in managing the children. Now that he is gone, she will have a lot of responsibilities resting on her shoulders, so please keep her in your prayers as well.

The loss of Ed leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions in my mind. It's difficult for me to understand why the Lord would take him away from these children, especially after they have already dealt with so much hurt and loss in their lives. And now what? Where can they turn for protection and comfort? It is time for those of us here to step up and fill that void in their lives, and above all, ask the Lord to comfort them like only He can. The Lord is still sovereign and there is purpose for these children. It's now our time to trust Him and allow Him to use us, just as He used Ed to accomplish His will, even when we don't understand.

Friday, March 20, 2009


It's been another 'fly-by' kind of week... There has been a team here that I've been able to do some out-trips with in my spare afternoons, and I spent most of my weeknight evenings hanging around on the porch talking and listening to the rain, and also getting involved in some quite intense games of spoons! :)

Overall, there isn't really much to report on this week, but I've been saving a story in my back pocket that I've been meaning to share with you for a while. It's actually a clinic story, but I think you will enjoy it!

First, some background information: The story comes from a doctor (Dr. Rick) that worked alongside Dr. Cheryl a few weeks ago. He actually serves on the Mission of Hope board, and was here in Haiti for some meetings with the rest of the staff, but extended his stay for a few days to work at the clinic. On the day he was scheduled to depart, Cortney my cousin was flying in (he was actually boarding on the return flight that her plane was coming in for), so I ended up taking a vehicle into Port-au-Prince with him. The way it worked out, the flights were delayed so I spent a significant portion of my day out and about with him and Mr. Marc (the mission director) while we tried to pass the time. During the time of waiting, he shared many cool stories with me about his time with patients at the clinic and this is one of them...

On the day before he left, he was working in the clinic and a lady came in with an eye injury where there was a piece of material stuck in her eye. He worked very hard to remove the piece without causing too much pain, but quickly realized that he would need to magnify his vision to make sure he could get it out properly. So Dr. Rick asked a few of the clinic workers if there were any magnifying glasses that he could use. Unfortunately they had been misplaced at the moment, so he had to think of another solution. He had the idea to use a pair of reading glasses, and began a search. Much to his surprise, he ended up finding a whole box of donated glasses way back in one of the office drawers. So with a pair in hand, he returned to his patient and using the glasses to see more closely, he was able to remove all of the small pieces out of her eye and send her on her way. 

Now this is where it gets good.... The next patient in line was a lady who came in complaining about having bad headaches. As Dr. Rick began to ask questions about more of her symptoms, he began to understand that her headaches mostly occurred from reading, and slowly began to realize how the pieces of the puzzle were coming together... The glasses that were sitting on the desk, which he had just used as a tool to help his last patient, were now just what this lady needed. He took the glasses from the table and put them on the lady's face, and began to say how they might not be the exact prescription for her eyes but would be close, and then stopped. With a smile on his face he began again, this time telling the lady that they were most likely the perfect prescription for her eyes. After all, God had planned it.

As I listened to Dr. Rick talk I felt amazed and excited about that small miracle. Amazed at the way that the Lord had worked out every detail, from the magnifying glasses being missing so he had to find another tool to use, to the patient's being in line one after the other. Dr. Rick said that if the lady with the headaches would have come first, he probably would have had to send her away with nothing, because he was not aware that the clinic had glasses in stock until he needed a pair for his treatment with the eye injury. And it's true that we can believe that the Lord chose those glasses for that second patient, and the fact that they were probably the exact prescription that she needed.

I'm also excited about this story because I know that moments like this happen all the time at the clinic. It's not very often that I have 4 hours to kill with a doctor, so the chance I had to listen to all that he was a part of was really eye-opening for me, and I feel like I have even more of an appreciation now for what happens at the clinic. You can read through Laurens and Cheryl's blog more amazing stories about the Lord's provision and blessing. The clinic is a place where miracles happen!

It's reminds me of other areas in my life that don't always go the way I plan. Sometimes road blocks come up, like Dr. Rick not being able to find a proper magnifying glass, and it's easy in those moments to get discouraged and lose sight of the purpose behind it. But the truth is, the Lord had it planned out all along and without the little roadblocks, the miracle wouldn't be possible. It's a lesson that I can learn about patience and trust that the Lord always has the bigger picture... and He's got far more blessing planned than I realize! 

Friday, March 13, 2009

100 days of school and clean feet!

It's official! On Tuesday we made it to 100 days of school... and we're still kickin'! :)
I feel so thankful for this 'century' of days that I've spent with my students and for the way we've grown to be in sync with one another. Like I expressed in my last post, I feel very fortunate to teach these children, and everyday I spend with them I feel like I get a little closer to the teacher that the Lord called me to be. Thank you for your continual prayers for the children as we move into these months of spring and look ahead to summer.
As a part of our 100th day celebrations, we also took a field trip on Thursday to Haiti's National Museum in Port-au-Prince. We got to see lots of ancient artifacts, including the original anchor from the Santa Maria ship which was sailed by Christopher Colombus, and a crown worn by one of Haiti's first king's. The tour guide walked us through Haiti's history, beginning with the discovery of the island, all the way through the slavery and oppression and leading up to the freedom that the Haitian's have today. During this time, I was reminded again about the blessing of freedom and despite the poor living conditions that Haitian's live in, they have pride in their liberty as a free nation. 
Unfortunately we were not able to take pictures inside the museum, so I can't show you any close up's of what we saw, but below is a picture of the us on the roof of the museum.

Afterwards, we took a lunch stop at Domino's pizza, Haiti's only American food chain restaurant, which was definitely a highlight for the kids and for me! Oh, and I think I found myself a weekend job... When we left the restaurant, we followed a delivery boy out into the parking lot, who placed the hot pizza bag into a small 'Domino's Pizza' thermos box which was mounted on his motorcycle, and headed out into the streets to deliver.... Both the kids and I raved about how we would love a job like that! :)

Another highlight of my week happened way back on Sunday last weekend, during the evening service. A church team from North Carolina that arrived last Saturday had planned to hold a feetwashing service on Sunday evening, and although none of them had ever done it before, it turned out to be such a blessing for the people who attended, and for all of us who went to serve. I was actually more of just a tag-along and did what I could to help set up and assist with organizing the distribution of shoes. It was really cool the way that they did it by the ladies of the team washing the church ladies' feet, and the guys of the team washing the gentlemans' feet on the other side of the church. After a brief devotional from one of the team leaders, they began washing feet, and reading a special blessing to each person after they were finished. Then, as an added bonus, every person got to put their newly cleaned feet into a new pair of Crocs (the shoes were shipped earlier in the year on a container by the company and we've been distributing them ever since). I was really touched as I watched the feetwashing take place, and my heart was warmed by the way that this team really blessed the church congregation. 

And the coolest part of all is that at the end of the service, after all of the men and women had left with their new footwear, one of the ladies from the team came up to me and asked if she could wash my feet. It was quite a surprise for me, but as I sat on the bench and she began to pour water over my dusty feet, I couldn't help but think about our church feetwashing tradition at Easter. 
This will be the first year since I can remember that I will not be at the feetwashing service at church. It makes me sad because it's something that I always love to be a part of and share with our church family. However, the Lord really blessed me during that moment as if he was reminding me how he always provides abundantly more than I expect. In a few weeks you will be gathering for the feetwashing service and partaking in the love feast, but the Lord already looked after me and gave me clean feet here in Haiti. I'm amazed at how He always blesses me exceedingly beyond what I expect, and it's in moments like last Sunday that I know that I can surrender the rest of my concerns to Him as well. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about what unfold next year, and I appreciate your prayers in this area as well. I don't want to worry my time away here, because I know that the Lord has the best plan, but I've always been focussed on planning my next steps, so it's an area where I need the strength to surrender. If He cares enough to provide the daily blessings that lift me up, then certainly He cares about the bigger picture and where I fit in all of it. May I be open to whatever doors await.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Brag Blog!

Good morning everyone!
We've reached another Saturday, which also means that it's time for my weekly blog.... I try to make a point of getting a new blog posted sometime on the weekend, but this morning there is nothing out of the ordinary that I really need to tell you about. I guess after my mountain adventure last Sunday, everything else that has happened over the week fades in comparison!
Looking back over my blogs from the past few months, I realize that I haven't shared too much about school life or about my 3 'kids', so I thought that I would take the opportunity this weekend to brag about them, and give you a glimpse into my weekday school schedule! :)
At 8am every morning school begins in the spare bedroom of the van der Mark house. Usually when I arrive around 7:30 to get myself organized, the kids are on the porch playing with their dog, Trigger, or eating breakfast in the kitchen. It isn't too rare though that they are even still sleeping, so on a few occasions they make it to school with sleepy eyes. :) Our morning routine begins with devotions, where we are currently working through a one-year devotional guide for children. The story and verse that we read each day kind of sets the stage for a discussion time and memory verses. Over the past months, the kids have mastered a bunch of 'promise verses', as well as all of the books of the New Testament! It's pretty impressive!
At the beginning of the year, our devotional time took about an average of 15 minutes, but lately I've noticed our discussions lengthening and our time extending over half an hour, which is really exciting for me. Devotions is definitely my favorite part of the mornings with my kids because I love talking to them about the bible and hearing their responses about what it means to them. It's exciting for me when they ask questions or remember a story in the bible that connects with something else we are discussing. I surely don't have all of the answers, and I feel like many times I'm learning right along with the kids, but it's a rich time together and I'm thankful for it.
Following our prayer time, we move into our 'language subjects' (which also integrates science and social studies units), where I usually get Teagan and Grayden set up first with whatever their task of the day is. Currently, they are both working through novel studies, and although it is different books that they are reading, a lot of the reporting activities I am giving them are the same. The picture shows them working on gathering research about the book authors.

During this time, Bridgely usually reads quietly and then I call him forward to go through our calendar together. We sing a month song and a week song to remember the names of everything, and then Bridgely updates our classroom calendar. It's amazing to see how he can do it all independently now, while a few months ago he was still reliant on me to lead him. Along with our calendar we've also been tracking the number of days we've been at school, and keeping Canadian coins in progression with each day that is added. On Friday we had reached day 98, so we are all looking forward to having a 100th day celebration this coming Tuesday!
After our calendar is updated, I do some more one-on-one time with Bridgely as we learn the different sound and letter combinations of the alphabet and work through his easy readers. I must say that one of the most rewarding parts of teaching this year has been watching Bridgely's growth in reading and writing. He is at such an awesome age where he soaks everything up like a sponge and it's been a thrill for me to see how far he's come! The picture below shows him switching our calendar over from February to March.

After I've got Bridgely set up in his work, I continue to circulate and make sure Teagan and Grayden are on the right track with everything. Each of the kids overall have adjusted very well to this style of teaching, and are great independent workers so that helps me out a lot!
At 10am we take a 30 minute recess break, but first we do another one of my favorite things. I've always loved reading stories to kids, so ever since our first day in September I've been reading them books before break time. It has definitely been a bit of a struggle to find books that capture the attention of Bridgely in grade 1 all the way up to Teagan in grade 7, but we've managed! Starting in about November we began the Ralph S. Mouse series by Beverly Cleary, 3 novels that surround the story of a little mouse who rides a motorcycle. These books have not only entertained the kids, but me as well, and I admit it's also helped me to be a little more tolerable of mice when I see them around the mission! haha!
So after reading an excerpt from the book we take a half-hour break. The kids get a snack and Teagan usually reads, while the boys use up some energy by running around outside or playing a game on their new Wii. It's also a nice break for me, and I don't usually stay in the classroom doing school work, but go back to my apartment to wash dishes or start a load of laundry... I must say it's pretty convenient living next door to my work! :) 
So after break we dive into math! Teagan is amazing and almost always completes a whole math chapter in her textbook each day without any assistance. All I do is prepare the questions and activities ahead of time and she does the rest. What a blessing that is to me! Bridgely also works well independently with his math workbook, so I usually get the two of them set up with their work for the day and then I work through a math lesson with Grayden. Once I'm finished teaching him, I go back to Bridgely and start a new lesson with him. Currently we are working on geometry with 2D and 3D shapes. It's been more of a hands-on unit as you can see in the picture below... And the marshmallows definitely played a part in keeping us focused! Or not... haha!
So that pretty much sums up a morning of school.... When school ends on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we take a break from 12-1pm and then re-group for an afternoon of art, music, gym or learning games. This block of 2 and 1/2 hours always flies by and is much more casual, so more than anything, it's really been essential for me getting to know the kids at a deeper level. We joke and laugh together and especially over the past few weeks, I've really felt like I have become more than just a teacher but a friend.
I want to thank all of your for your prayers since September, because even leading up to Christmas, I still felt like there was a distance between the kids and I. It took a long time to find a routine and to reach this point of feeling unified, but I've really sensed it over these past few weeks. I feel a genuine love and understanding for each of the kids, and I care not just about their coverage of the curriculum expectations, but for their overall well being and growth here in Haiti. It hasn't been easy, and I still see areas where they struggle to find their fit, but they have come so far, and I am so thankful that the Lord has allowed me to be a part of their lives. These kids are going to go far. They have been exposed to things in Haiti that many people would never experience in a lifetime, and they are becoming sensitive to the needs of others. They are learning that the world is so much bigger than their little hometown community, and that they are developing influence to change. I'm so proud of them and am excited for who each of them is becoming and the gifts they possess. I guess it's the pride of any teacher, but I know it's not about what I've done, but what the Lord is doing in me, and for the way that these kids are taking hold of the life they are living.
Thank you for your continual prayers for Teagan, Grayden and Bridgely, that they would continue to grow and blossom into all that the Lord has made them to be, and also for me as their teacher that I would have a growing love for each of them and be the spark that they use to shine.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A glimpse of Your splendor

What a day!
I just got back from a day in the mountains with the medical team, and it was probably one of the best days in Haiti I've had yet!
At 7am this morning the medical team gathered and I tagged along as we loaded two trucks and ventured up the mountain. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but even during the first few minutes of our journey, I knew I would be in for quite the adventure! As we climbed the hills along tight curves and dusty trails it was exhilarating to see the view from above the mission... I've tried to attach a few pictures to help you visualize it, but they surely don't do it justice!
So after we arrived at the church, we gathered in the church service which had already begun, even though it was just after 8 in the morning.... Yes, Haitians are definitely early risers! It was quite enjoyable for me to see 4 separate groups of singing groups perform from the congregation. First it was the older men, who even had some subtle dance moves to go along with their song.... It was pretty entertaining! :) After the men, 2 groups of ladies got up to sing and then were followed by the children. It was really neat to see how each age group contributed and played a part in the service. After the singing, we joined in communion and the pastor spoke. Following the message, a few men from the mission set up a projector and a bed sheet for the screen and we were able to play the Jesus movie for the congregation by using a generator powered by an ATV... It was a pretty ingenius system and it worked great! 
During the movie, I went outside with a few group members to prepare for the clinic and John, who I mentioned in my last blog, did some exploring and came back with a few different fruits from the trees surrounding the church. I ended up trying one that I have still yet to know the name of, but it was really good. It was green like a lime on the outside, but had a really slimy texture on the inside. I was a little nervous to try it at first based on the weird appearance, but it was worth the risk. :)
After the movie ended, the doctors set up their stations and we organized the medicines to be distributed. Based on my lack of medical experience, I didn't have much to contribute in the treatment area, so I instead got the sweet job of passing out dolls and suckers to the kids. I loved it! At one point, I had a friend sitting beside me on the bench for quite a while, and at first I thought that he was waiting for his mom to get treated, but after a while I realized why he had to stick around. On the side of his neck there was quite a large abscess that needed to be removed. So I tried to keep him happy by making up little skits and songs with the finger puppets I was giving out and slipping him suckers all afternoon until finally the doctor said it was time. I couldn't bear to watch the operation, but I could hear my buddy moaning and whimpering as the doctor treated his infected skin. It was really hard for all of us on the team to hear this little boy in so much pain, but we can at least be thankful today that he was able to be treated (as abscess can eventually lead to death if not treated), and trust that these next few days of recovery can be smooth and that no other infection will develop. Please pray along with me for this little guy.
Another part of the day which was definitely a highlight for me was watching the ultrasounds of the pregnant women who came to the clinic. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. One of the doctors on the team happened to have this really cool gadget that hooked up to his laptop and he was actually able to perform an ultrasound and show the women their babies right there on a bench in the church. I've seen ultrasound pictures before and watched them being performed on tv shows, etc., but to see it in real life, I was really blown away. It is something I will never forget!

So after about 5 hours of clinic we had treated over 200 patients, and were ready to pack up and head back home. Before we left though, we were blessed by the pastor of the church who had prepared a meal for us. The team and I sat down on his porch and enjoyed a Haitian meal of rice and beans, fried goat, Creole sauce and pasta. It was quite a treat and definitely a sacrifice for the pastor, which meant a lot to all of us.
After a special prayer time, we began our exciting journey home, which included driving through a river, road racing with the other mission driver (I won't go into details mom, haha), and some amazing views on our descent. It was in that moment as we drove down the dusty mountain trail and I was able to overlook the mission below that I once again felt that familiar feeling of fullness in my heart. I was at such peace and joy for where I was in that moment. Today was a day of sacrifice and serving, but my cup is overflowing. I am amazed at how the Lord took my simple offering and multiplied it to others, while at the same time blessing me in return so abundantly.
Tonight I'm sitting on my couch with a body that is sore and exhausted, but my heart is bursting with joy and so alive in the moment. I am thankful for days like today when I am able to be a part of a mountain adventure, but most of all for the way that the Lord shows up in such stunning ways... It's as if He's saying, You ain't seen nothing yet!