Monday, November 29, 2010

Something beautiful.

We're all searching for it in one way or another - Beauty that captivates us. Beauty that lasts. Beauty that somehow redeems the struggles we face.
Whether we find it in ourselves or in what we acquire or produce, we keep striving and searching, hoping and wishing for something beyond ourselves. Something beautiful.
This past (American) thanksgiving, I have been reminded of the beautiful things in my life. The friends that make me jump to my feet and dance. The prayers that are lifted up from afar. The memories that I am blessed to cherish. The amazing opportunities that unravel in surprising places. The love of a Saviour.

This same weekend, the elections happened. Headlines pop up on world news websites reporting of fraud and violence. The staff has been advised not to leave the mission property so we're relying on internet and the Haitian community around us to keep us in the loop. Apparently the polls were corrupted before they even began. In addition to the protests, fires, and rumored stoning, it's not exactly a good start to a new leader. It's hard to see the beauty.

Our little buddy Pierre was also hospitalized this weekend. High fever and lack of neurological response keeps him in Port-au-Prince while mommies take turns by his bedside. From being abandoned, to malnutrition and malaria, and now to symptoms that are yet to be diagnosed, this precious little life hangs in the balance. He is so innocent and so helpless. It's hard to see this bundle of giggles, white teeth smiles and shiny eyes suffer. It's hard to see the beauty.

And it's not just in Haiti, everyone has a story. It's easy for me to lose sight of the bigger picture and wish that more people would solely invest in Haiti and the desperation around me. But the truth is, there are millions of people and situations in our world that hold the same needs, the same pain. Check any news station and once again, our world is a mess. It's hard to see the beauty.

The words of this song have resonated in my heart over the past few weeks. Please take the time to listen. The song reminds me that there is beauty and there is hope beyond what we can tangibly see or understand. Even if the problem is too great, even if the destruction is irreparable, even if the trauma is impossible to heal, we are promised that there is something beautiful waiting. Whether in this life or the next, we can rest assured that our Father has won the ultimate battle. A victory that we can celebrate and rejoice over for eternity. May we continue to pursue something beautiful in this life, knowing that our ultimate promise of beauty awaits us forever.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Battle scars.

On September 10, 2008, I flew into Haiti for the first time. This also happened to be the day after the 3rd consecutive hurricane hit the island within a week, causing major flooding and mudslides injuring hundreds and destroying homes and crops. For weeks and months following the storms, the Mission of Hope staff were in rescue mode - housing a whole orphanage of children in our on-campus high school, running mobile clinics in local villages and distributing food and clothes to those who were displaced.
To this day, the bricks of two remaining walls of a home still remain on the side of the Cabaret river - a reminder of the midnight panic that came in the form of a mudslide to the local residents, chasing families from their beds and wiping out homes. I will never forget driving through the villages just days after landing in Haiti and seeing the flooded roads, piles of water logged garbage and homeless families. It was a terrible disaster - One that we are still scarred from.

Last January, which seems like only yesterday, the earthquake hit. In less than a minute, the country faced one of most devastating natural disasters in history. Hunched over and barefoot on the gravel road outside the guesthouse, my eyes beheld the magnitude of the impact as the dust cloud rose from the mountain of Port-au-Prince skyline. In the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months to follow, each of us here at the mission witnessed the heartbreak in the lives of our Haitian co-workers and friends. You've all seen the pictures - collapsed homes, mass graves, hundreds of amputees, tent cities and on and on.
It's been over 10 months since the quake, and each time I travel into the city I see more progress as wooden shacks are built by NGO's and roads are less cluttered as rubble is transported to the hillsides. As much as these small steps move toward a better tomorrow, evidence of brokenness still exists everywhere - reminding me that we've barely touched the tip of the iceberg. The presidential palace still cowers behind lavish iron fences - the central peak descended deepest into the rubble. Cement cracks are everywhere from homes, balcony accents, office buildings, highways and break walls. Sensations of aftershocks leave school kids injured from panicked exits and emotional scarring.
Each day at the Mission we press forward, each day we do our utmost to rebuild and heal and foster transformation in the lives of these broken people, but it takes it's toll. It's not easy witnessing this type of pain and desperation day after day when you know you'll be seeing it for years and years to come. Sometimes it's just hard to see the silver lining.

Within months of my arrival to Haiti the 3rd time around, Haiti was once again on the front lines of another hurricane. By the grace of God, our surrounding village area at the Mission did not receive the harsh storm conditions that the hurricane forecasters were calling for. Although parts of the island were flooded and tent city residents were forced to leave their humble dwellings, we can be thankful that it was no worse.
And yet as we let out our breath in relief, another disaster is taking shape. Or should I say, it's here. Cholera.
What began as a rapid outbreak hours from us has been gradually trickling through villages and popping up through various locations around the island. Medical groups have tried their best to treat and contain the illness, but it continues to spread, and the lack of hygiene in tent cities and marketplaces offers little proactivity and prevention. For the past few weeks, our church, clinic and schools have reinforced proper preventative strategies to the locals in our area. Still, the awareness in the country hasn't been able to stop the rising death toll. Yesterday, a team from our mission travelled to a cholera treatment centre about 20 minutes away. What Sarah explained to me upon her return was so sad and so desperate. The sickness is fast-acting and the patients are extremely needy. Medical personnel are risking their own health to aid others, but there are barely enough of them to treat the masses that arrive for treatment each day.

In the midst of all of this, there is a presidential election taking place next Sunday - the 28th of this month. No matter where you go outside the mission gates you see graffiti, posters on walls and cars, as well as banners and billboards promoting the candidates. It's been like this since the summer. We are now less than two weeks away and it's reaching to new heights. Reports of violence are surfacing in the city streets. Fires, gunshots, violent outbreaks are all in the headlines. Our staff exchange daily news reports and are continually aware of the growing chaos. We all agree that this is a country in need of a new start. The people are in need of a leader who can bring unity and healing. Haiti deserves a fresh slate, and yet it seems like with every step forward we take two steps back.

Somehow, despite the brokenness and the needs of the people in the country, I am reminded each day that hope the Haitian people hold onto is real. To be honest, I don't get it.
The people of Haiti are more resilient than any other country or group I know. They just don't give up. Pondering all of the destruction that I wrote about above, I can't imagine enduring even one of them and remain standing. These people have witnessed so much pain and yet they press on, celebrating the victory of their freedom as a country, and believing in a better tomorrow, all the while celebrating the joy of heaven that will someday be theirs forever.
It's lived out through the women that arrive on the mission bus week after week with amputated limbs, coming to work at 3 cords. Despite their disability, they believe that they can make a living and support their families. That takes courage.
It's in the high school students that return to school week after week despite losing family members and friends just months before. They believe that they can graduate and make something of themselves. They haven't forgotten their dreams or let their pain excuse them from pressing on. That takes determination.
It's in the Haitian staff, from the doctors and drivers to the cooks and security guards. Still suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression, they faithfully fulfill their roles at the mission believing that their work is making a positive impact on the people around them. They don't quit or neglect their jobs in reaching out to others. That takes faith.

I don't know what is to come next for Haiti. Honestly, I don't like to think about it for fear of the worst. Part of me wants to to brace myself for another tragedy, but because of the Haitian's around me, part of me is inspired to hang onto hope that morning will come. Please pray along with me that the Lord would be evidently present in Haiti in the days, weeks, months and years to come. That the wounds and diseases would cease and band aid remedies would be cast aside. Pray that the cholera epidemic would be miraculously contained and cured. That God's peace would cover His people. Pray for the new leader of this country. Pray that they will have discernment and a heart for the poorest of the poor. Finally, pray for those who have lost hope, that it may be rekindled and fanned into a flame that lights the way for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Visit To Haiti: A Guest Blog from Darcie...

On my way to the airport in Toronto last week I told my parents that Haiti would probably be the last place I would go if I didn’t have a personal connection to the country. I never dreamed of traveling here, never had a pull towards the country and never really gave it a thought.

About 3 years ago my dear friend Diana started seriously considering and praying about the opportunity to come to Haiti to teach missionary children at the Mission of Hope. She felt led to take on the challenge and now this is her third year living and teaching on this small island.

Over the past 3 years I’ve watched Diana grow in her faith and in the kind of person that she is. I’ve watched her do things that I never thought she could do. I’ve listened to her talk and write about her students, about the Haitian people, about the living conditions, the food, the beauty of this country, the insects and most aspects of life here. When she would come home at Christmas or for summer break she would tell me stories about Haiti and usually end by saying “oh I want you to meet these people, I wish you could see it”. There were times when I really wanted to go but the timing never seemed right and money was always a factor. I often wondered in the back of my mind if I would ever really go. In September, shortly after another tearful goodbye to Diana as she went back to the country that she loves, my Mom encouraged me that I needed to go to Haiti for a little while and see it and spend some time with Diana. I decided that I agreed. So I made plans to come for 12 days in November.

I came to Haiti to visit my dear friend. What I never expected was to have my heart broken. I never expected that I would actually like it here. I never expected to have thoughts and feelings so foreign to me that I don’t know what to do with them.

Yesterday I went to an orphanage in a nearby village. There were lots of children, all different ages and they wanted to be held, and hugged, and played with and SEEN.

They wanted someone to SEE them.

And I sat there holding a few of them and I looked around, looked at their faces and I just wanted to take them all home. And I can’t even write words that can express what I felt. I don’t know what it’s like to not have a mommy or daddy to take care of me, I don’t know what it’s like to be thirsty and hungry. I don’t know what it’s like to not go to school and learn. I don’t know what it’s like not to have clean clothes or a proper bed.

A few days ago I traveled to visit two families that live in tents in the mountains. Diana brought them shoes that were sent from Canada. The joy that they had when they tried on those shoes was the best! The kids were the sweetest and they latched onto me and held my hand and I could have stayed there all day. I watched them interact with Diana; they know her face, her voice, her smile. She visits them each week and she cares for them and there is a deep part of my soul that wishes that I could know them the way she does, the kind of knowing that comes from being present, not just here today, gone tomorrow.

Last night Diana took me down to the Church of Hope for one of their evening worship services. I watched and listened to the people praise. I’ve never seen worship like this, so desperate for God’s presence, for Him to change the country, for Him to provide, so thankful for His love. I saw a demon being cast out of a woman; she could not even say the name of Jesus before. His name is powerful!

With God's help and direction, The Mission of Hope is changing this country.

I find that interwoven amongst the incredible needs in Haiti is much beauty and laughter and joy and possibility.

So I find myself in a new place, one I’ve never been before. And I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m not sure how to come back home to Canada knowing all of these things in my heart and having seen them with my own eyes, in real life, not just on the television or computer screen. They aren't just distant faces in some distant place, they are beautiful people with names and eyes that stare into your soul, and they have sat on my lap and held my hand and touched my skin because it's a weird colour. And having been here I see that I cannot leave without being deeply effected and I don't yet know what it means for me but I know that I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that for some reason, deciding to stop putting it off, I came. I'm thankful that I have love to give and arms strong enough to hold these little ones. I'm thankful that God loves me despite my ignorance and despite all the attention I give to "petty problems". I'm thankful that God works here and there and in the theres I know nothing of. And I'm thankful to have known the best kind of love; the kind that is behind me, in front of me, beside me, above me, below me and inside my heart.

Thank you Jesus for your love that is available to every person no matter where they're from or what they've done.

And so if you're like I was and you never really thought about going somewhere like Haiti or you're putting it off for some other time....



If you have love, give it.

And I can tell you, now that I'm here, that you won't leave the same.

May you be inconvenienced with the thought and desire to go somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere that needs you and what you have to give, even if you go only for a short while, just go.

I am being reminded that the world is a big place and it's full of things that will break our hearts, things that we don't understand, and it's full of things that will make us laugh, things that fill us up with so much joy that we overflow.

And I think it would be a shame if we let this life pass us by without feeling it all.

Here's to living life being FULLY ALIVE,


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nick of time.

I don't want to knock the 'Bass Pro Shop' camping tents, but I have witnessed first-hand that they are not fit for the intense sunlight, gale-force winds and nightly downpours of the typical Haitian climate. The catch is, these are the current tents available to us at the warehouse (courtesy of a post-earthquake shipment), so they are my only option to bring as a replacement for the mountain families' makeshift shelters that have already battled the elements for too long.
As Hurricane Tomas approached and the headlines began to speak about the severity of the storm, my mind could not stop reeling over the terrible experience this would be once again for my friends in the mountains. For the first time, I was afraid to even go and visit them because of the harsh reality of what destruction was to come. It was too hard for me to accept.
Mid-week I set up a meeting with Mr. Marc (our Haitian director at MOH) to discuss the possibility of them taking shelter somewhere on our mission. Liability and property issues were all at stake, but I didn't know what other options I had. When I reached the office, Mr. Marc was not around due to the million and one responsibilities he handles on a daily basis (He is a definite God-send to Mission of Hope!). But my hopes dropped significantly knowing that the chances of me meeting with him were slim, and the possibility of the families staying somewhere on our campus was even slimmer.
Shortly after this realization, I met with Robenson and together we trekked out to see the families. Despite the heaviness in my heart, I could not justify any more ignorance regardless of having a solution or not. I did the only thing I could do - prayed for hope.
As we made our way off the road and down the university path (which is currently under construction), my eyes drifted to the classrooms being built along the hill. Thinking out loud, I asked Robenson if he thought there was any way the families could resort to the shelter there during the weekend. His eyes perked up and he headed toward the gatekeepers shelter where he discussed the possibility with some of the people remaining on the grounds. Unfortunately for us, the 'boss man' of the university wasn't present so they could not speak for him, but they did give us a glimmer of hope saying that it could work if we managed to talk to the right person in time.
My anticipation built back up a bit knowing that we had somewhat of an option, however it was not even close to the response I gave when I heard what came out of Robenson's mouth next. He said 'You know Diana, if this doesn't work out, I am sure there is a room available in a cement home in Sourcematelas (the village next to the Mission), that we could rent for them'.
I stopped in my tracks. Here was an option that I didn't even know existed, but as soon as Robenson said it, I am convinced I heard an angel choir. It was our answer. Not only would it protect them during the upcoming weekend storms, but it could also become a more proper living space for them in the weeks of waiting before they receive a house of their own. After so much prayer and yearning for the Lord to intercede, He was answering us with provision and mercy in the nick of time.
Over the past 24 hours with the help of Robenson and a few other friends in Sourcematelas, it has been arranged for the families to take shelter in a secure cement home. It's currently 2:23pm here. The wind is picking up, clouds are darkening and the hurricane is predicted to hit this evening. I just got a call from Robenson saying that the key for the room is in his hand and he's taking it to the family now. By God's grace, they will have shelter tonight.
Thank you all for your prayers and may God be given all the glory for providing for these people.
I have a heart brimming with gratitude to the Lord, knowing that my friends are going to be so much better protected in the days and nights to come, however I still ache for the thousands of others who are still searching, still needing, still hopeful for the Lord to provide. Please join me in praying for all these desperate people. And like the many whispered prayers He is answering already, may His promise of protection and strength be supernaturally evident to those who need it most.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On the horizon...

Common makeshift tents like these can barely withstand a blustery evening breeze and thundershower. Here is a recent Haiti weather radar:

Currently we are receiving mixed messages - "Just a tropical depression" becomes a Level 3 Hurricane headline from day to day. The storm alert colour changes by the hour from red to orange to yellow and then back again. Friends in Port-au-Prince, LaCay, Titanyen, SourceMatelas, Simonette, Minotrie, Cabaret are all at high risk to the unknown. Once again, they find themselves on the frontlines of harsh elements and preparing for the worst.

Every time I look out towards the ocean my heart has a tendency to sink a little deeper. The cloud cover is thickening - and so is the burden for so many suffering people. For a country that has already suffered so greatly, it is difficult to swallow yet another disaster.

But beyond the forecast - beyond the storm radar - beyond the questions and the uncertainties, there is an Anchor that can be trusted far greater than any force on earth.

Once again, may we be made weak so we know the strength of the One who's strong.

Once again may our faith be tested and tried and true.

And may we be able to testify that words of Jesus - Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.