Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Up to speed.

It feels like it's been pedal to the metal these past couple of days. Lots of good things are happening while much needs to be lifted up in prayer... Here is a break down of a few current prayer needs and praises.

As you've read on the news, the Cholera outbreak has been on the frontline in Haiti as well as our minds. MOH clinic has sent out many supplies to St. Marc (where it was originally diagnosed), and our medical staff have prepared our ward for local patients. The good thing about Cholera is that it is very treatable and easy to recover from if you can get proper medical attention in time. The problem with Cholera is that it hits very severely and can cause dehydration to the point of death in a matter of hours. It is also very contagious in areas of poor hygiene. Praise the Lord that our hospital beds have not yet been swamped by the epidemic. Please keep praying for Haitian villages near and far that the disease will not spread any more and that clinics around the country will be able to treat cases appropriately. We are thankful for the continual flow of nurses and doctors who staff our clinic and the full time staff who provide organization and constancy as well as effective communication with other medical professionals in Haiti.

In other news, my students are back! The van der Mark family returned yesterday and I look forward to greeting a class size of 6 tomorrow morning! Noah will now have another fellow grade 6er (Grayden), Caleb will continue in grade 5 and blend along with the older boys in some subjects, Bridgely is going into grade 3, and Ana and Mina will be starting grade 2! I am anticipating a great year ahead! Please keep the van der Mark kids in your prayers as they transition back to life in Haiti, and pray that I can spark an enthusiasm into the hearts and minds of my kids throughout the year.

Speaking of school, Idelie has started teaching 6 of the mountain kids during the weekday mornings and it's going really well! I sat down with her on Monday after school and I am so thankful for her heart for the kids and the importance she is placing on not just educational standards but on their spiritual growth, and their health and well being. Especially with the current infections that are spreading, I was really concerned for the families who retrieve their water from the local water source. Idelie told me on Monday that she was teaching the kids about approriate hand washing methods and providing them with clean water to drink. Thank you for your continual prayers for Idelie and the children (Wala, Jean Bertan, Shaylyn, Marie Rose, Senson and Dida)! See below a more recent picture taken of the kids (all except for Senson - he was out in the garden with his dad). From bottom left - Peterson, Dida, Mikaielle, Shaylyn, Marie Rose - From top left - Wala and Jean Bertan.

Last but certainly not least: 3 cord production is off the hook! The women come in for a full day of sewing and braiding on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it is going awesome. After school, I make my way down to the 3 cords lab and absolutely love working and laughing with the women. After the day is done, I proudly display their handiwork in our tuck shop (see below). Just one problem: We can't seem to be making enough to keep our display table stocked... Only hours after I put the day's work on the table people are requesting more. The Lord is surely blessing this business and the ladies who come each week! In addition to the women's daily salary, I look forward to sharing more of the directions that we will be heading with the money we have raised soon!

PS - If you want one - you better speak up fast!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

That toothy grin.

Remember the slumber party I wrote about a couple weeks ago?
Baby Pierre wasn't exactly the 3rd roommate that I expected, but what did it matter? His shining eyes and toothy grin were more than enough to have Sarah and I hanging onto his every whim. Bottles filled with you name it, oversized sleepers strewn over furniture, and leftovers of mashed banana and pineapple were all evidence of our new favourite buddy.

It's been a while since I've updated you on the little guy so here you go...
As you know, he's been transferred a little bit more of a distance than our living room. He now resides in a playpen at the Hope House and taking after the other babies on campus, he's gradually putting on the pounds.

He was initially labelled with muscular dystrophy, but due to the lack of proper testing here in Haiti, it was not a definite call. Doctors have been monitoring his progression and behaviours over past weeks trying to reach a more definite diagnosis, and recently with his increased strength and motor movement they have disproved the first theory. Their recent conclusions lead more toward some neurological delays (hard to know how severe), and a possibility of cerebral palsy. There are still a lot of gray areas, but piece by piece we are finding where his deepest needs are and where to go from here. The importance is that he is breaking through limits and becoming more energetic every day.

A physical therapist met with Rachel and I a while back and gave us some good exercises to practice with him to encourage the range of motion in his legs and arms. He was very positive about the way Pierre was able to control his neck muscles, and said that with increased practice there is a good chance he could sit up on his own, and even develop his legs enough to hold himself up.
You may recall the post I wrote about baby Angelie when she arrived at the Hope House under a similar abandonment circumstance. Her jelly-like legs were written off by many, but just months later she is pulling herself up all on her own and taking baby steps while holding hands with a mommy. It's so exciting to watch the growth after such a hopeless beginning. Indeed, these babies have more resiliency than we accredit them for.

Like all the others before him, Pierre has got a chance. And as we've seen before, it's more than enough. Thank you for praying for Pierre. Pray for health and healing after months of malnutrition and neglect. Pray that the right doctors would see him and make the right diagnoses. Most of all, pray that the Lord would breathe His love and strength into this little life, and that Pierre would be a testimony of hope more and more everyday.

This weekend Sarah and I are anticipating another sleepover. We've received permission to have him up at our house for the night and we're counting down the days. Make way - there's a baby on the block!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Something to write home about.

Last October you may remember about me writing about 3 children that crossed my path on the mission road at dusk. Their desperate need mixed with hopeful eyes left me searching for answers as I climbed the hill that evening, wondering if I would ever see them again.
Little did I know that first encounter would bridge into what I am about to share with you today - To the glory of God, here is a 'year later' update.

I'll never forget my first trek into the mountains - where I stood at the top of the hill and looked down upon the shambled tent of a shelter where they lived. The way I recognized the barefoot children whom I had met on the pathway, and saw the condition that their parents and many siblings were living in. It left me overwhelmed and unknowing in where to begin, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't forget about what I had seen, nor remove the weight that hung heavy in my heart.

The goat path that was once so foreign to me has now become one of my favourite trails as I've found such joy in building relationships with the 2 families... Watching the babies take their first steps, enjoying watermelons from their farm fields, and learning from the way they testify true contentment and trust in the Lord for provision.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about this family, and I am so grateful for the friendship we share, as well as the partnership and support from so many of you in North America who have lifted up prayers, given financial support, and visited them in Haiti.

In my time home this past summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about future steps and ways that I can play a role in bringing hope to these beautiful people in the year ahead. I asked myself - What would be the best way to help these families break out of the cycle of poverty? The answer was confirmed time and time again: The children needed an education. If they could only go to school, they would have a chance at getting a job and providing for their families in the years to come.
Despite a few of the children attending schools in the nearby villages in past school terms, none of the education they have received has provided a foundation to build upon. In recent weeks, Robenson and I have done basic number recognition drills and alphabet songs, all of which the children have barely mastered without prompting. It would be generous for me to say that the 7 school-aged children (ages 6-14) are at a junior kindergarten level.
The ages of the children are a discouraging variable. Their small physical size led me to believe at first that they were much younger than they actually were. The oldest boy who I judged as a 9 year old is instead 14. The trend of a 5 year gap between the ages I assumed compared to actuality is true for all of the children.

Returning to Haiti this year, my priority was to enroll the children in the School of Hope.
The harsh reality was difficult to swallow - None of the kids were anywhere close to the grade level benchmarks where they should be based on their age. They would not be accepted into school with such a limited knowledge base.
I had no doubt to face plan B - Find a private teacher to work with them over the year, in hopes to catch them up to their levels and try to enroll them again next year.
But plan B scared me. How was I with such a limited creole vocabulary and awareness of Haitian education supposed to communicate the needs of these children and set up a school system with a possible teacher? I put the word out around the mission hoping that somebody would fit the position. A few friends of friends with teaching background emerged as prospects, but nothing substantiated, mostly because of my own hesitancy. The person I had in my mind needed to know the family, they had to genuinely care about each child and their needs, not just do it for the pay cheque each week. My job description surrounded someone with a real servant heart, endless patience with the children, and a concern for not just their educational progress, but also their physical and emotional well being.

Clearly, I wasn't just looking for an ordinary teacher.
These children needed someone to talk to them about the truth of the Bible. These children needed someone who could guide them in proper nutrition and health. Education, and ultimately the goal for the children to one day be integrated into their proper grade levels was important, but these other areas were just as much of a priority considering their background.
The days passed, School of Hope commenced, and nothing had developed. I was so discouraged, but I couldn't lower my standards. I put the word out for people to start praying. It became clear that only the Lord would be able to find this person and plop them in my lap.

It wasn't until last week when I was chatting over Skype with Sadrac, the interpreter who used to accompany in my mountain treks to visit the families last year, and I was sharing my frustrations. He understood the needs of the children and echoed the importance of having healthcare and Christian education integrated as a key theme into the numeracy and literacy curriculum. I asked him if he knew of ANYONE in his social circle who fit the criteria.
With that he said - well, my older sister used to teach kindergarten.
I almost fell out of my chair. I knew that this was the answer to our prayers.
Since that time, I have met with Idelie (which is also Robenson's sister) and Sadrac has communicated with her by phone about the unique description of the teacher we are looking for. On Wednesday I walked with her to the mountain families where she met the children, and we discussed more of the weekly routine for them, as well as curriculum needs.
Slowly but surely, it's coming together. There are still daily roadblocks that come along - curriculum books, school location, need for a chalkboard and benches, morning routine structure, but day by day the Lord provides a solution that I could have never found on my own.

Yesterday I met with Joan from the School of Hope, who is developing a new Christian education for Mission of Hope, and her encouragement and guidance to me was more valuable than I could ever express in words. She gave me great insight into the types of lessons to start out with and gave me another link to a mutual friend of ours (Jennifer) who has a Christian community health manual that Idelie could use. I am meeting with Jennifer on Monday afternoon to see how this can be incorporated in the weeks ahead. Once again, the Lord reminds me He's got it all figured out, I just have to keep trusting each step. I feel so grateful for the way He is affirming this path we're on, and people who are joining along the way.
In other news, the hope of building real homes for both families is also taking shape as housing equipment gets shipped in for reconstruction. I will do my best to keep an update on what future developments take place for these families in the future.

I'm learning step by step that an uphill climb isn't easy, but by God's grace He is paving a path for us as we keep the faith. Someday when we finally reach the summit, the view will be all the sweeter. All glory to His provision and faithfulness day by day.
Please keep these children and Idelie in your prayers as they begin school on Monday. Pray that Idelie will have a maintained passion for teaching, a love for the children, and fresh ideas for building trust with them day by day. Pray also for the children that they will have an enthusiasm for learning, and that they can easily retain the information they are taught. Pray that the relationships will continue to flourish and that each child will grow into the person God has created them to be.

Now all glory be to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us,
to accomplish infinitely more than we could ever ask or think.
~ Ephesians 3:20

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Orphans, Kingdoms.

I've been asking a lot of questions of myself lately.
Questions about how to balance the life of privilege that I have, with the life that I am seeing around me day by day.

Tent cities that collapse under wind and torrential downpours leaving hundreds without shelter.
10-year olds who can't say the first few letters of the alphabet, and parents who prompt them with the wrong answers.
Parents who have no other choice than to abandon their year-old babies at the clinic unknown to what will become of them, than to carry them home to poverty.
An earthquake that stole parents away from their daughters and sons, and daughters and sons away from their parents. Unfathomable loss.

How do I live my life with blessings that seep out around me everywhere when I am confronted with the harsh reality of these friends of mine?
The smile I wear on my face as I encounter these people who are suffering isn't real tonight.
I just don't know where the line between pouring out and being poured into is anymore.
The worst part about it is that I feel like I've earned this life - that I somehow deserve this comfort. And yet it's nothing, absolutely NOTHING but the grace of God that I'm not sleeping alone on a muddy floor under a frayed blue tarp of protection with an empty stomach.

I've been listening to a song lately that has echoed this struggle in my heart and mind, as well as offered a peace in truth about where to go from here.

In me, in you...
Loneliness. Desperation. Disease. Hunger. Thirst. Brokenness. Abandonment. Heartache.

In me, in you...
Beauty. Life. Joy. Laughter. Faith. Peace. Friendship. Harmony. Understanding. Hope.

I think I need to open up my box-like concept of us being either one or the other.
What may appear to be a division of wealth and poverty - kingdom and orphan, is instead a meshing. Where those in the kingdom suffer with doubt and discontentment and search for something greater, while the orphans thrive with child-like faith and love without bounds and resiliency.

The emotions in both categories have been each of one of our songs at one point or another.
Every life dips and climbs between heartache and celebration. In this world, there is sadness that pulls us down to the depths of despair and rejoicing that lifts up to the heights of heaven. From the cheer of a baby's first cry to the weeping of a goodbye that came too soon. There is a time for everything.

What I am wrestling with tonight is heartache and injustice that clouds over optimism. How can I bring a kingdom and everything that goes with it, into the lives of the friends who have lost it all?
But maybe my question needs to be rephrased to - Where is the kingdom in the lives of these people?

It says in 2 Timothy chapter 11:
If we die with Him, we will also live with Him.
If we endure, we will reign with Him.
If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, He will still be faithful, because He cannot deny Himself.

The last line of this verse is such a promise to cling to.
A promise of God's character and sovereignty far beyond anything in the grasp of our control. When I see the pain around me and the questions flood in and my rationale fails by the wayside, and I just can't.
He is still faithful.
Not because He should be. But because He simply is.
Can that be enough?
It must be.

A few weeks ago I rewound a podcast to hear a line of truth repeated that has stuck with me ever since ~ The moment of despair is the moment of hope.

... And the song plays on....
We are wondering where the Wild Wind blows,
We are happy here cause the Wild Wind knows what we are,
Orphans, Kingdoms.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Give thanks.

I'm thankful for sticky floors.
Evidence of sugary ingredients that drip on my floor while making Haitian juice, or a favourite dessert which us staffers endearingly call 'log'.

I'm thankful for dusty roads and burning garbage piles.
Together the smoke particles collect in the sky and produce the most breathtaking of sunsets over the ocean.

I'm thankful for cold showers.
Who needs hot water when you can be instantly refreshed after a hot day?

I'm thankful for a broken inverter.
Outdoor hammocking outdoes an oscillating fan indoors any day.

I'm thankful for creole.
Even though my communication in this foreign language still fails me everyday, the broken conversations shared with other North Americans here at the mission makes me laugh harder than most things that humour me in english.

As I type, the storm clouds are rolling through and the internet has cut out multiple times. Yes, I'm even thankful for a lost wireless signal.
It allows me to take my eyes off the light screen and break it down on the balcony to hit singles with my roomie.

I'm thankful for thanksgiving in Haiti.
I may be faraway from crisp fall leaves, Oma's zwiebak, and the warm hugs of family, but thanksgiving still exists here by the poolside under the sun, and the bonus is that I get to celebrate it again with my American friends in a couple more weeks.

Happy Canadian thanksgiving to one and all!
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His faithful love endures forever! ~ Psalm 107:1

Friday, October 1, 2010

3 cords.

A cord of 3 strands is not easily broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12

You have read here before about the new ministry that is beginning at the prosthetics lab so I'll try to keep it short and sweet - even though I could go on for days!
My good friend Diana has been working full time at the Mission with prosthetists from all over the country who come to make new prosthetic legs and give rehabilitation to amputees (mostly victims from the earthquake). She has a huge passion for this ministry, and over time has developed some great relationships with the women who have come to get fitted for new legs. This is a very typical scene of her with the ladies!

All of these women lost their homes in the earthquake and are now living in large tent cities towards Port-au-Prince. In addition to the huge loss of family members and shelters, they have also lost any jobs they once had.
In recent weeks, Diana has been inspired to begin a work program for them where they can use their hands to make crafts which are then sold in the guesthouse of our mission for profit.
It's been 2 weeks since the program fully took off, and it is AWESOME. What a blessing it has been for me to join in with Diana and our friends, Christi and Abby, as well as these wonderful women! Please check out Diana's blog here to get more details (read the post titled - 3 cords is up and running)!
She named the program '3 cords' since our most popular product is a braid made from 3 strips of fabric that can be worn as a hair band wrap or belt.The other reason the name suited so perfectly is from the verse I wrote above from Ecclesiastes. 3 cords is not easily broken. During our time working with the ladies this week, Diana, Christi, Abby and I asked the women to share their stories, and we sat in amazement as they talked about the heartbreak of not only their experiences through the earthquake, but also the loss and struggle that they have lived throughout their lives in Haiti. The openness that they were able to have, and the fellowship that they share with each other - supporting and understanding, is a beautiful gift. Together they are able to encourage and comfort one another an a deeper level, just as the Bible talks about - strengthening one another in the Lord and holding each other up. I have been blessed to witness this verse in the lives of these wonderful women, and as I reflect more on the ministries around me, I realize how 3 cords are also woven into other aspects of my life.

In my more recent mountain visits, I've been accompanied by another friend named Robenson. The first time I asked him to come along I was a little unsure about how willing he would be to come, however during our visit I was amazed at how enthused he was to get to know the family. He has always been available to walk along with me, and he has a real heart for the family. But the greatest part of all is that he really loves to teach. When he came along the first time, I expected him to sit at the back and check his watch from time to time until we left. I was all wrong. When I took out the teaching materials, Robenson got right into it. I barely got a word in edgewise as Robenson entertained the kids through the alphabet and counting activities.

It is the hope of many that these children will have the chance to get some more formal and consistent education in the upcoming school year, but in the meantime it is really encouraging for me to watch the kids grasp new concepts, and especially to witness 18-year old Robenson have such a heart for seeing these children break out of the cycle of illiteracy. Tangibly speaking, there is nothing in it for him, and yet he finds joy in hiking out into the wilderness and flipping through flashcards with children who have never had the chance to go to school. It's a beautiful picture of community, love and servanthood. It's a picture of 3 cords.

Recently some professional photographers were at the mission taking footage to integrate in some multimedia programs in the States. One of the photographers also happened to be a gifted worship leader back at his church, and my friend Jean Marc got to watch him in action.

As you can see from the picture, he was fully engrossed in learning the new songs and chords that his new friend had to offer, and once again gave me a picture of 3 cords. How a talented musician can come alongside a friend with a similar passion and invest in them is a picture of hope and faith that God can do much greater things than we ever could. Jean Marc still sings the songs that he learned in that jam session every time I see him.

I also feel blessed to testify a '3 cord' story as my life continues overflow with a community of beautiful people. Coming to Haiti 3 years ago, I was so worried about losing the friends I had back home. I didn't know how on earth the Lord could provide for me even close to how He had provided in my small town of Wainfleet. And yet, I sit here today amazed at the way He has unceasingly provided a wonderful group of people right where I am. Friends and I here have commented before as we are mashing avocados for guacamole, or riding in the back of a pickup, or sipping Cocacola on the balcony after a hot day, how amazed we are at the people we get to do life together here in Haiti. It's more than we ever dreamed! Both near and far, I feel blessed to have people pouring into me, praying for me, and lifting me back up when I stumble. I thank the Lord for the 'cords' around me that keep me going and help me hold a little tighter onto Him.