Friday, June 26, 2009

List of Loves

It's Friday night and I just got back from movie night at the Hope House. I came down early enough to hear most of the kids singing their favourite choruses in Creole, and then when everyone had finished their chores, 'Over the Hedge' was projected on the side of the orphanage wall. The kids snuggled in around me and fresh popcorn was delivered by one of the mommies. The sky was scattered with white stars and the cool breeze was perfectly refreshing... Just another one of the countless nights to be reminded of the love and blessing of this place.
It feels kind of surreal to think that I will be coming home in less than 2 weeks. Even though I've only been gone for 10 months and I got a bonus trip at Christmas, It feels like I have lived here all my life! I am really excited to see you all.
However, just like the beauty of this evening, there are some things in Haiti that I am going to miss over the summer while I am in Canada. I was just reflecting on the many aspects of life that I love in, around and about this place, and I thought that I would jot them down...

- evening lightning storms

- rice and beans
- barefooted smiling children
- tap tap rides
- mountains
- the view of the Caribbean Sea from my front door
- church worship
- tropical flowers that bloom all year
- Haitian time :)
- sitting on a wooden bench listening to the Hope House kids sing
- fresh mango for breakfast
- warm Haiti sunshine
- walking the hill
- rocking out to Group 1 Crew with my kids

.... I guess that's a start. Oh! and tomorrow I'm going to the beach. I think I should count that in my list too! :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

A tribute to my students...

What started out as a year of teaching has led to just one week of class left. 4 days to be exact. 4 days to wrap it all up and celebrate 9 months of success!
We've waded through endless science experiments, math masters, journal entries, spelling quizzes, book reports, alphabet letter combinations, internet research websites and that is just the beginning... Now, we're at the end and it's time to par-tay! It's been an amazing year. A year full of possibility, growth and challenge. A year full of learning, laughter, and lots and lots of memories.
I would like to dedicate this Saturday's blog to my three students, who made my first year of teaching one I will never forget.
Let's start with Bridgely.

Bridgely knows how to break the ice. Throughout our year, he came up with the most random phrases and out-of-the-box ideas which had us all laughing. The picture above was taken on our beach day before Christmas. He's quite a 'poser'! Although it took him a few months to warm up, I also discovered over the year that he has an zealous personality as well as a hard-core dance rhythm. In our afternoons together, we would crank up the music and Bridgely would shake his stuff with absolutely no inhibitions. Aside from his silly antics, Bridgely is also a very 'smart cookie', and has been such a rewarding student to teach as he has grown in leaps and bounds in his reading, writing and math skills throughout the year. I look forward to working with him again next year for grade 2, and for more crazy memories to be made!
Grayden was also an integral part of our successful year in Haiti.

For starters, he helped us keep our 'cool'. Grayden is very in tune with style and loves to live on the edge. This is a photo of him 'free falling'. Over the year Grayden has also really come out of his shell through his involvement in the Church of Hope worship band. With the help of some band members down at the church, Grayden has become quite the little drummer boy, and has played in church with the worship team on many occasions. In addition, Grayden is a fantastic writer. In our journal writing times, he would run with my opening questions and write pages upon pages of great stories, experiences and ideas. It has been so awesome getting to know him over the school year and he has shown extensive growth and passion for learning. It's sure to be another great year with him this September!
Last but not least we have Teagan.

Bottom line, Teagan has been my lifesaver. She consistently went way above her 'big sister' responsibilities and helped me so much both inside and outside of the classroom. I have been continually thankful for the way that she has been able to work through the majority of her school units with independence, while also maintaining a peaceful patience with her younger brothers. In addition to her assistance in the classroom, it has also been a joy for me to get to know Teagan as a friend. We have had many 'girls nights' together over the year where made supper together, watched chick flicks, and painted each other's toenails. She also has a real heart for the children of Haiti, and we've taken many out-trips with the teams together. It is amazing to watch her thrive in this environment and all of the children love her. This fall she will be going into grade 8 and it's an honour for me to watch her turn the next page in this journey!
So there are my students in a nut shell. I could go on and on about our memories together and the pride I have in each of them as they have adjusted not just to a new school system, but a whole way of life. In September, there were many moments of doubt that I experienced, wondering how and if we would ever make it to June. But now by the Lord's grace, we've arrived! Reflecting back on how far we've journeyed and the hurdles we've overcome, I am reminded of a song that has recently been sung at the Church of Hope during our worship times.
The chorus words in Creole say -
Nou ba ou tout louwanj ak glwa, Nou adore Senye, Ou merite tout louwanj.
English translation -
We give you all the glory, We worship you oh Lord, You are worthy to be praised.
These words really connect with how I am feeling as this school year comes to a close. The kids and I can testify that without the help and strength of the Lord, this successful school year would not have been possible. Just as we prayed every week, and in our devotions each morning - Lord we dedicate this time to you, and He has honoured our prayers. It's a privilege now to give all of the glory back to the Him as we see how much He has blessed our first year together. Just as the song sings, He is worthy to be praised! While we celebrate all that He has done for us in our final days together, I also want to thank all of you back home for your prayers and support to us. It's been such a blessing to receive such affirmation and encouragement.
As our time comes to an end, my heart continues to be filled with peace and hope about all that the Lord is preparing for the kids and I in the year ahead. May we never forget how much we need His power in our lives and may we never cease to give Him all the glory.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mountains beyond mountains

The title of this blog is a common saying that has been established Haiti. Just as this island is blanketed with mountains far beyond what the eye can see, so it is with our lives as we live day by day, season by season and year by year. We all have mountains to climb, with moments both in the valley and at the summit. We are all on a journey, and when one mountain is trekked, there is always another to follow. 
With that being said, I would like to share my new 'mountain' with you. As I've already expressed in a previous blog, I have committed to another year to serve in Haiti with the van der Mark family. This year has been full of firsts and a lot of climbing - my first year living away from home, planning and implementing my first year of teaching, and my first real-life exposure to a new culture, language and climate. 
By the Lord's help and grace, I've trekked the mountain.
Even though I haven't mastered the climb or made it to the top yet, over the past few weeks I have felt like school next year will be pretty easy. Kind of like an instant replay of this year, except now I know what to expect as far as living accommodations, I'm familiar with the Haitian lifestyle, I know my students, and we've all been broken into the 'one room schoolhouse' routine. 
This feeling brought a lot of security and confidence in my own abilities. However, somewhere deep inside me I knew that the Lord had something else up His sleeve. After all, that's not the way God works. He is in the business of miracles and making the impossible a reality. My own confidence wasn't leaving much room for His strength and power. Something else was coming. So in a sense, I was waiting in expectancy for my next 'mountain'... Trusting the Lord to bring along something that I'd really have to 'lean into Him' for. I know it might sound strange... It sounds strange to me even as I am writing. Why would I ask for more mountains??? And yet, I feel that the breaking points and challenges that this year have brought me have also been the source of my greatest growth and most abundant rewards. To go into another year of teaching the same kids with the same schedule undoubtedly will bring unseen hurdles with them all going into a new grade, but I had faith that the Lord would open up another door, another mountain, where that would stretch me in my ministry in Haiti.
The Lord heard my prayer.
A few months ago, while still in 'decision' mode, Laurens and Cheryl informed me of friends of theirs from Canada (Grant and Sandy Rumford), who were thinking seriously about committing to serve at the Mission of Hope for a year (just like us). Grant is a paramedic and would be involved in mobile clinics, development of the emergency room at the Hospital of Hope, and assisting Cheryl in her many roles at the clinic. Sandy, who is currently an office worker for Feed the Children Canada (the same organization that all of my financial donations have been wired through) will be getting involved in the office work and sponsorship administration at the Mission office. 
What does this all have to do with me you ask? Well, they have 4 children. 4 children that need a teacher. So next year instead of 3 children in my classroom, I will have 7... There's my mountain!
A mountain that I can't climb alone, but it's also a mountain that reminds me I belong in Haiti and that the Lord is not finished with me yet.
Let me tell you what I know about the kids and their ages. Although I still haven't met them, I have been corresponding with Grant and Sandy and I've enjoyed learning about their family so far. I look forward to meeting with them this summer for a more formal introduction!
Another bonus is that Laurens, Cheryl and the kids already know the Rumford's well (both families attend the Meeting House and were in the same house church), so I've also been hearing a lot about the Rumford's through the van der Mark family. As you can imagine, the kids are pretty excited to have a new family, more friends and classmates to work with in the fall!
The Rumfords also have started a blog recently which I have tabbed in my links section. Check that out to read more about their family and their journey to Haiti. Please keep all of them in your prayers.
So, beginning with the youngest we have Riley. He will be in grade 1 next year so a lot of my teaching with him will be a repeat of what I have just gone through with Bridgely, although I will probably do my best to combine Bridgely and Riley together... Kind of like a grade 1/2 split. Next we have Samantha (who goes by Sam). She is the same age as Grayden, so I will be going through grade 5 curriculum with them. Following Sam comes Madison (who goes by Maddy) and her and Teagan are the same age. They have already become good friends through junior high youth programs at the Meeting House, so it will certainly be a fun year for them completing their grade 8 year together! Finally, there is Michelle who will be entering grade 11 this year. She will be following an online program available for homeschooling students, so Michelle will be fulfilling all her requirements through that program. This is good news for both of us since I certainly don't feel adequate to teach the senior years of high school - especially when it comes to math and science - yikes! The bonus is, Michelle wants to become a music teacher (all of the Rumford kids, like the van der Mark kids, are musically inclined), so it will be a wonderful benefit to use her assistance in the classroom from time to time. Through this, she will be growing in her experience as a leader and teaching skills, kind of like a coop placement! Attached below is a picture of all of them.

It is sure to be a year full of fresh challenge and growth for the all of the kids and I. Already I have been anticipating all of the fun that we will have together, as the larger numbers will allow for more 'group work' activities, and potential to combine lessons across grade levels. 
In the same way, this task also feels quite daunting. Especially when looking ahead to the months I'm home this summer, I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of planning and preparation that I will need to cover for all of the different grades and levels, and the amount of resources that must be gathered during my time in Canada. I know without a doubt, just like last year, that Haiti is where I belong for another year, but it is not going to be easy. I am thankful to the Lord for confirming this place in my heart, while also trusting Him to guide me and help me to give leadership to this expanding classroom. Despite my worry, I lean on the promise that He never gives us more that we can handle!
Thank you for your prayers for me in this next chapter. I am so excited to come home and share with you more of the details of this new adventure I'm on! But for now, I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers as the van der Mark kids and I 'finish well', and look ahead to another mountain with confidence in the Lord to carry us through.


For those of you who have not embarked into the facebook world, I thought that I would give you a little taste of my latest weekend album. The children in the pictures are from the village of Cabaret who I met on the Saturday river walk, and from Good Samaritan orphanage. 

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Countdown frenzy!

Can you believe that we are almost halfway through June already!? 
Time is FLYING.
I think it must be something to do with the 100+ people on teams that have been here over the past two weeks. As you can probably imagine, dinner times have been quite overwhelming! As life here at the mission gets more and more busy, my mind has easily been lost in a spin of winding up with the mission summer schedule, and also winding down as the school year comes to a close.
We have 2 weeks of school left. That's it! So needless to say, and the kids and I are in major anticipation mode! We've got a 'spendid summer' number countdown where we cross off a number, and a countdown chain where we cut off a link of a paper loop each day. Just 10 days to go!

With our last unit wrapping up, it is definitely starting to sink in that the school year is coming to a close. It's hard to get my mind around it... On one side, when I think about our start back in September, it feels like years since started out in my spare bedroom. And yet, the thought of our school year coming to an end already feels like it's gone by in a flash!
Thoughts of finishing my first full year as a teacher is quite an exciting though... This is what I have dreamed about even since I was little! The fact that the kids and I actually survived all of the planning and units amazes me, and compels me to give all the glory and thanks to the Lord. He brought us through!
It has truly been a year full of growth, not just for my students, but for me as well. I am looking forward to using these lessons I've learned and the experience I've gained to benefit in the year ahead.

Along with the many guests staying at the mission, Brad and Vanessa Johnson and their four children have also come for the summer. As our school year wraps up, it's been fun to have the Johnson children (Junior and Georgie who have been adopted from Haiti, and Beau and Jayma) join us for our afternoon classes. The van der Mark kids have loved having their friends around, and with the extra numbers, we've been able to do some neat activities. Teagan and Grayden have been learning about simple and complex structures in their last science unit, so we've been branching their new skills into some fun building competitions.
The pictures below show the kids making frame structures out of spaghetti and marshmallows. They came up with some quite ingenious designs!

In addition to our 'action packed' school days there has been a lot of other things happening on the mission. This week my mind has been filled with thoughts about our school finale, and everything that goes with it - report cards, end of the year trips, portfolio organization, de-brief and ideas for next year. However, I've also been fortunate to take part in some of the other happenings on the mission, and make the most of my time here. 
This past Monday, Laurens coordinated 70 team members in roofing the new orphan village kitchen. At about 3pm as I sat in the classroom scheduling lessons, Cheryl came in and said that the workers needed even more assistance, so with that, we all changed into our work gear (kids included!) and climbed onto the roof to pass cement buckets as the final square feet of the roof was poured. 

I felt it was a moment that the Lord was really reminding me what I am here for. As much as my responsibility here is to serve as a teacher for these Canadian children, I am thankful for the daily reminders and opportunities that I can serve at the mission. It was an optimal chance for me to work and serve in such a tangible way and I was very thankful. It isn't very often that I get to join into a big work project or clinic outreach, and it's often easy to forget life outside the compound when I am teaching the kids day after day. I am grateful for the reminder of what life here at the mission is all about - serving alongside people from all over the world to bring hope to Haiti. It is a privilege for me to live in a place where both my strengths and weaknesses can be used for the Lord.

This weekend, I am hoping to polish off my report cards and take a trip to Good Samaritan orphanage to see some of my favorite little ones. I am sure my time with them on Saturday afternoon will be just the boost I need to clear my head of marking for a while! :)
Thanks again for your prayers in this 'home stretch' period, that I can keep my eyes focussed on where I am now, and not feel too overwhelmed about all I need to do before I come home. It's my hope that I can live each day to the fullest here as the days fly by. See you soon!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Laugh Out Loud

It's a birthday weekend!!!!
Yesterday at school we celebrated Grayden turning 10! We took the morning off to bake (making cookies and brownies has become quite a specialty of his!), decorate the house for his party on Sunday, and rock out to some Falling Up, KJ-52 and other rock bands on a birthday playlist I made for him. It's been so awesome watching each of the kids develop over the school year, and Grayden's birthday yesterday is another reminder of their undeniable growth! He's reached the double digits! Look out world! :)

Now for an explanation of the title... I think I have laughed more over the past 10 days than my whole time in Haiti so far.
What's so funny you ask? Well, maybe it's the combination of 3 goofy girls trying to learn creole, late night butterscotch cookie baking, Disney songs, or a stare down game we like to play... Or it could just be the Haitian summer air. I've laughed till it hurts and then I've laughed some more... I must be building some serious ab muscles! :) 
Many of you have left encouraging comments to me about the way I have seized the culture here and adapted my living to the way things roll in Haiti. However, I need to admit that I have also spread some of my own North American culture with the people here too...
This evening before dinner Mallory, Sarah and I embarked on an adventure to celebrate Sarah's 21st birthday! It is an honour to celebrate with her in Haiti! We had anticipated to go all of the way into Cabaret to try out an new restaurant, but due to some afternoon showers, we thought it would be safer to stay in Source Matelas. We opted to dine at a restaurant that I'm sure is becoming familiar to you by now, Gwopapapou!
Part of the 'surprise' of Sarah's party was that Wicky excused himself for a little while in order to go solo to Cabaret and pick up ice cream for us to enjoy with our Haitian food. When he got back, the girls and I had the brainwave to make Coke floats, which Volcy, Wicky and Sadrac had never heard of before. We agreed that it was essential for them to experience it! The girls and I had a fun time scooping them ice cream and then pouring over the Coke that bubbled and fizzed immediately on contact. With that, the float party began and it was the perfect birthday beverage to enjoy with our fried chicken and plantain. 

Following the meal, we headed back to the mission on foot, and it was a moment for me to reflect on my gratitude for the people walking along next to me. 
In the bible, Jesus says "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come" (Mark 10:29-30). For a long time I have thought about that verse and how it has been true to me as I have left my family and gained new 'mothers', 'fathers', 'sisters' and 'brothers' in Haiti. Once again tonight as I tread back to the mission with my friends, laughing and singing, my heart smiled. This combination of people, from different nationalities, families, languages and ages has become another family for me. I am so thankful for each of them and to be with them in this place. It's an honour for me to be their sister!

Thank you Lord for my families, both near and far. Thank you for the promises that never fade. Thank you for hope even in the darkest places. And thank you for laughter, I'll probably still be giggling when I wake up tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Crumbly cookies and other blessings

I am beginning to see the daylight again - this is in reference to song #10 on my blog playlist... I've been listening to it a lot during this spring season! 
In many ways, I have been in a bit of a slump. I know I have reflected this in my blogs and in my many ways I've been wishing my time away here. As the final stretch of months have unfolded, I've really began to anticipate coming home, and I've become at risk of losing focus. 
This week I feel like I've got my spark back. Over the past few days there have been 2 new girls arrive as interns for the mission. Sarah (on the left) from Kansas City, is here for 6 weeks - she leaves about a week before I do, and Mallory (on the right) from Ottawa, is here for 2 months until the end of July.

Over the past few evenings, there have been no teams at the guesthouse so we have been making dinner together and watching movies at my apartment. They are both very genuine, thoughtful and quite hilarious! I feel so thankful for the chance to unwind with them at the end of the day. 
Last night we were at a slight scarcity for food, so we made breakfast for supper - scrambled eggs, bagels and cream cheese with mangoes. It was fantastic!
On Saturday, I was also able to bring Sarah along on my market trip which was a ton of fun. It was really cool for me to introduce her to the world of tap tap transportation and a meal at Yolty's. 
On Monday evening we were adventurous and decided to bake. Sarah is a huge cookie fan and her birthday is coming up this weekend so we thought that we'd do a test run before making more for our weekend celebrations. We looked up an oatmeal-butterscotch recipe on the internet and went to work. We had high hopes. Unfortunately, the cookies were a flop. We barely got a decent looking one off of the pan as most of them crumbled immediately on contact.
We ate them anyways. :)

I've been reminded this week about the Lord's faithfulness. For a time, things were pretty hazy in my mind. I had a lot of questions about what the He was up to. And yet, just like He promises in book of Psalms, "at just the right time I rescued you". In hindsight, I look back and know that there has been a purpose in each circumstance that has unfolded over this year. Even in my darkest and most painful moments, I know that He has been able to bring goodness out of these things. And now with these new friends, I am convinced that He has been with me all along and orchestrating these days just when I need them most.
I have been reminded this week by the way the Lord has been with me all along, even through the fire. He knows exactly what I need and He provides at the perfect time, even though it often takes me a while to click into it. His provision in the past is what gives me hope for the future, and I know that even in the year to come as I continue to face valleys and roadblocks, He is with me and He will rescue me at just the right time.
Matthew 6:33 has been a verse the kids and I have been memorizing this week: Seek first God's kingdom. Do what He wants you to do, then all these things will be given to you.
I want to live in accordance with this verse. I want to use the gifts that He has entrusted to me to serve others and blessed them just as I have been blessed. And without a doubt, I will continue to see my cup overflowing. Just as He has provided for every one of my needs, He will continue to be faithful. Who He is now is who He is forever. I am in awe of His abundance to me today.