Friday, September 24, 2010

Haitians, Orphanage Need Our Prayers

Day 7 continued (Saturday, Aug. 7)

Leogane, Haiti

After returning to our hotel from our Port-au-Prince jaunt, we all quickly finished packing our bags for our 5 a.m. departure time the next morning. Everyone wanted to make sure their suitcases were under the 50-pound maximum, so lots of filthy t-shirts and pairs of jeans were tossed in the garbage. Any extra food was given to Amy, who was staying the next week to work with the children.

By the time Saturday night rolled around, we all were exhausted and ready to go home. Everyone was anxious to go to bed, knowing we would be getting up at 4 to drive the two hours to the airport.

Saturday night also meant our last evening group gathering. Chris Stockhaus, missions director at Cornerstone Fellowship (Livermore, California), gave our 200 missionaries “Humility: True Greatness,” by C.J. Mahaney. Each day, we were to read two chapters for our personal devotional time, then talk about it later in our group time.

Frankly, every chapter was a little depressing. Do any of us ever feel humble enough to be worthy of the presence of God? We might feel humbled for a minute, but in that instance, our pride has kicked in and humility goes out the window. And yet, humility is something we all need.

I found it ironic that I received a book on humility. For the past nine months, I’ve been working on developing a new ministry, Feast With the King, also the name of the ministry book I hope to finish writing someday and get published. My morning prayer since January has been that I be a simple, humble servant, seeking to fulfill his God-given mission.

Sometimes, I think God is so funny. Was this book God’s way of telling me that I still need more humility? I thought I was doing pretty good there … for a minute or two. Or was it just a few seconds?

My gauge for humility has always my dad, who passed away 5 ½ years ago after a four-year battle with lung cancer. Pop was almost always who he was: a hard-working, simple farmer. That’s what made him happy. He was a deacon and sang in the choir for 40 years at the church I grew up in. I don’t think my dad ever sought attention for himself. He devoted his life to his God, his church, his wife, and his three sons. My dad was always willing to help others in need.

Me? I can find countless ways I bring attention to myself – every day. Sometimes, I get caught up in our “look at me” world.

It was equally humbling to hear others in our group tell their stories during our evening meetings. Going down to Haiti to help the orphans wasn’t the only thing this week was about. Short-term missions are God’s way of connecting with us in special ways.

I went down to gain some carpentry skills, only to hear God to tell me to plant a garden. I still don’t have many carpentry skills, but I grew up on a farm and worked in the fields for 10 years. God knew that when he recruited me. He knew both my brothers still work in the ag industry, so I have instant experts at my disposal.

As we went around that night, person after the person were so moved at seeing God work in the lives of these poor orphans and the adults associated with them. I think we all realized how rich we really are compared with Haitians, many of whom make around $100 a year. If I make less than that in a day, it’s a bad day. We all have air-conditioned homes and apartments to go to, cars to drive speedily to where we need to go, microwaves to heat up our dinners in a minute refrigerators to keep food cold, and freezers to keep food frozen.

Americans are so privileged to live the lives we do. Going down to a place like Haiti taught all of us who went how fortunate we are to live in the country we live in. In Haiti, we saw the worst form of poverty any of us had ever seen right in front of us. I’m a firm believer in being an Acts 1:8 church (paraphrase: go to Samaria, Judea and throughout the world to share the gospel), but where do you start with a place like Haiti? These people just saw the worst devastation they will ever see.

These people walk in humility every day. Many of the orphans lost one or both parents, friends and relatives in the January 12 earthquake. They see the same devastation around them every day. Hunger is a part of their daily lives. They battle near 100-degree temperatures and 90-percent humidity on a regular basis half the year. Drinking clean water is not a guarantee some days.

What do we do to help them? Maybe a better question is what can we do? Maybe you’re unemployed or underemployed and taking government welfare, and you don’t have any funds to send? Maybe you can’t get away from work or family to go to Haiti on a short-term mission trip. If all you can do every day is get on your hands and knees and ask God to help these people, then that is what you should be doing.

But, do not be one of those Christians who says “I’ll pray for them,” and then never think about them as you merrily go about your daily lives. That is one of the worst form of hypocrisy in the church today. Write a note in your Bible reminding you to pray for the Haitians. Keep a prayer list near your nightstand that includes a prayer for the orphanage.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV) says “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Haiti is a land that needs healing; Haitians need our prayers. When we pray, at home, at our churches and nationwide, change occurs, miracles happen, bellies fill up, clean water springs up from dirty wells, crops grow where only weeds grew before and people begin living again. Those things may need to happen for the Haitians to feel God’s love for them.

So if all you can do for Haiti and the orphanage in Leogane is pray, then pray earnestly every day. God hears our humble prayers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

These Boots Were Made for Working

Day 7 continued (Saturday, Aug. 7)

Leogane, Haiti

During our last few days at the orphanage, I began to think of ways to lighten my luggage load for the flight home, knowing I had to keep it under 50 pounds. I threw away a holy pair of jeans that were utterly filthy (and smelly). I tossed a white t-shirt that would never come clean, no matter how much bleach was applied.

The heaviest items left in my suitcase were an old pair of work boots. Surely, someone could use a good pair of work boots. I hadn’t used them in several years before this week; I surely wasn’t going to miss them.

Jonathan, our team leader, pulled me aside and reminded me of the church’s rules to not give personal items or food to the locals. Inside, I was sad, because, in my heart, I knew I was right in wanting to give one of the Haitians something he needed to work in local construction. But I also knew I had to follow the rules, whether I agreed with them or not.

After saying our goodbyes to the children, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up (so important for male construction workers), before heading off to tour Port-au-Prince. When we got back to our rooms around noon, the local construction team was hard at work on the second floor, where I was staying.

After changing clothes (I felt so refreshed), I started to head downstairs to our vans, ready to be a tourist. One of the workers passed by, and I just happened to look at his feet. He was wearing this ratty pair of tennis shoes feebly held together by short pieces of shoelaces. His heels hanged out over the back of his shoes, flattening them, and he was barefoot. The shoes looked like hand-me-downs that had handed down a couple of times.

I got his attention, then put my foot up next to his. His was bigger, but that was OK, because the boots were too big (they were given to me and probably a size 11; I wear a 10). I motioned for him to wait by my door while I fetched the boots. “Please, Lord, let these boots fit this man. He looks like he could use them.”

I put the boots on the ground for him to try on. Perhaps he was wary of me, thinking I was a used shoe salesman from the States. The young man slipped on the unlaced boots and smiled. I smiled back. If the boots fit, you must … keep them.

“Yours,” I told him. “Gift.” I was thinking, “You need them more than I do, fella.”

We shook hands, sealing the deal. He quickly slipped off his tennis shoes and put on the boots, without socks, mind you. I couldn’t help noticing this young man of perhaps 25 had the feet of a 70-year-old man.

He went back to his labors, with toes stretching out, and I skipped off, gleefully. I had lightened my suitcase load and I had gladdened my heart. (The next day, my suitcase weighed in at 50.3 pounds, close enough to not pay the additional fee.)

I probably bragged too much about my thoughtful gift, but I was truly happy that I could help someone in need. Our team rules said nothing about giving your stuff away to the locals.

Caption: These are the shoes worn by the Haitian before my free gift.

One of my teammates, Amy, has returned to Leogane to care for little Charlie, who was sick the entire week we were there. Read her blog at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Not Even the President Escaped Devastation

Day 7 continued (Saturday, Aug. 7)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

I felt a bump. It happened in the blink of an eye. I looked down to find a boy about 12 years old, dark as midnight on a starless night, looking up at me. “Hey, don’t do that,” I said to him in a firm English voice, thinking he was pick-pocketing me. Of course, he probably didn’t understand me, because most Haitians speak Creole. He stood smack dab in the middle of a group of 12 American tourists, bunched tightly, looking about at the rubble around us.

I reached into my zippered pocket, and my cell phone was gone. Our Haitian interpreter, Fred, acted quickly, prodding the boy for answers and trying to scare him into cooperating.

“He doesn’t have it,” someone in our group said. “That kid over there has it,” pointing to a boy 20 yards away in the street, halfway between our side of the street and the other, a large (read thousands) tent city.

Fred, still thinking quickly, pulled out his wallet that contained a fake badge from his days as a security guard. Later, he said he yelled at the boy that he was a policeman and if he ran, he would arrest him. The boy froze, then slowly started inching backward.

It was my turn to act quickly. I sprinted toward him as fast as my 51-year-old, sweating profusely body could go. The boy turned and ran just. All I could think of was to say stop in Spanish. “Alto!” I yelled. The boy dropped my cell phone in the street, and I was never so thankful. Thankful that I got my cell phone back and that I didn’t have to run any more. That 20 yards winded me.

A few minutes later, Fred pulled me aside and told me how lucky I was. “Had you gone another 20 yards, you would have been in the middle of all those Haitians. Had (the boy) screamed out, the Haitians would have come to his rescue.” The implication was that I was a bigger, White American seemingly taking advantage of this scrawny, probably hungry, probably orphaned, Haitian boy with no shoes.

I couldn’t help thinking about those two boys, working in tandem as pickpockets for food, for survival. I immediately thought of “the artful Dodger” in the classic Charles Dickens book “Oliver Twist.”

That was the highlight of our afternoon touring Port-au-Prince. At 11, we left the orphanage, stopped off at the hotel to freshen up and change clothes, and by 2, we were in Haiti’s capital.

Touring Port-au-Prince on our last day in Haiti was our reward for our hard work here and … surviving. One of our guides, Jean, promised us a decent meal at a “safe” restaurant. We stopped there, got out, but the sandwich/pizza/burger joint was tiny, seating perhaps 20 people. We had 25 in our group. The owner was unwilling to let us take over the place and displace his regular customers, so we moved on.

Whenever we stop and get out of the vans, people stop us and ask questions. Who are you? Why are you here? How do you like it here? Some of the Haitians can be downright funny. They laugh and joke with us because … “Why would you come to this?” one of them said. Some of the Haitians were genuine in wanting to chat with us. Sometimes, we realized they were cordial because they wanted money, but most of the time, they were just friendly nationals.

Frankly, Port-au-Prince is disgusting in every sense of the word. Billions of dollars, more money than was donated to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2004, has flooded into Haiti, population 9 million people before the earthquake, yet little has changed in eight months. In a August 22, 2010 article, the Washington Post said 230,000 people have left Port-au-Prince for outlying areas. The story said it is believed that 1.3 million people are living in tents in Haiti. That’s one-tenth of the total population. Everywhere we drove in Port-au-Prince, we saw tent cities. Between the medians on the main thoroughfare, in city parks, on bridges, next to rivers.

Before the January 12 earthquake, Port-au-Prince was home to 2.3 million people. The BBC Network reports that 230,000 people died from the earthquake, and it is believed that tens of thousands are still buried in the rubble. Everywhere we walked, we could smell the stench of dead bodies.

Our church sent teams of people to work in a 55,000 person tent city in Port-au-Prince, and the space it filled was no bigger than a couple of football fields. Allies of maybe 10 feet separated tents that were usually about 10 feet by 10 feet. The next tent was no more than a foot away. As far as the eye could see, blue tents filled your vision. Sometimes, you could see what organization had given the tents away, such as Samaritan’s Purse or the Red Cross.

Walking around the capital, it is hard not to feel deep sympathy for these people. Our group would talk awhile, then feel rage at how this country had gotten to this point. Haiti has been pretty much this way for centuries, mostly because of a corrupt political system. The nation has nearly a 50-percent literacy rate.

Jean and Fred, our interpreters would tell us the background about what we were seeing. Jean pointed out the national stadium, where the national soccer team played before the earthquake. He says he played semi-pro soccer earlier in his life and had played there “once or twice.” We walked past what Jean described as a once beautiful city park that once was a place for families to come and relax on hot evenings or weekends. Now, a mega tent city resides there and no grass can be seen anywhere. The national museum was closed, though not because of rubble. The Presidential Palace was in shambles, as was the national treasury and the national cabinet building, all within a few blocks from each other.

Jean got a kick out of seeing the crumbled treasury building. “We don’t have to pay taxes anymore, because there isn’t anyone to collect them.” He was speaking in jest. Or was he.

A single patrol guard stood near the tattered Presidential Palace, easily as large as the White House. The Post story quoted President Peval as never having walked across the street to talk to people in the mega tent city Champ de Mars. While we were in Leogane, President Clinton traveled to Haiti to represent his nonprofit and make a sizable donation to the cause. Every time we saw a helicopter, we joked that it was Clinton. Even Clinton got out and walked about the rubble. But not the president of Haiti.

The Haitian presidential elections are coming up in the fall. One of the people running is a popular rapper, Wyclef Jean. The joke was that he couldn’t be any worse than Peval, who is described as “distant” by the locals.

As we drove around, most of what we saw was more devastation. We could see green hillsides in the distance, and our interpreters said there were still pockets of Port-au-Prince that remained undamaged, mostly homes of the affluent. Our interpreters described the aristocracy as being mostly uncaring about the poverty around them.

We saw lot of big homes hiding behind sturdy gates and tall walls, keeping them away from the population around them. The rich speak French, considered more proper than the pauper Creole.

Our interpreters said the displaced include many of the rich. Jean said he knew of doctors, lawyers and businessmen who live in the tent cities because their homes and business crumbled in the earthquake, and they have nowhere to go. (Jean himself lost his teaching job in Leogane, because the school was destroyed by the earthquake.)

By mid-afternoon, we made it to our destination: MacEpis, a wannabe Haitian McDonald’s. One half of the roughly 2,000-square foot restaurant was reserved for ice cream and desserts, with the other half for hamburgers, fries and sodas. All week long, I had craved a cheeseburger, so I ordered a … cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. After waiting a good half hour, my beloved burger finally arrived, with bacon and cheese.

This truly was a sad day. I nearly cried. The burger was awful, easily the worst hamburger I’ve ever eaten. The bacon was chewy and unedible. The French fries, though, weren’t bad. A Coke is a Coke, even in Haiti. We were told it was safe to drink the carbonated drinks here because the restaurant has a good reputation. (It was safe, as the guards outside carried scatter guns.) In other words, the water was safe. I got a tiny scoop of ice cream for dessert, but it wasn’t the same as Haagen Dazs.

I left with a full stomach, but with memories of more bad food. I refused to claim this as my burger fix. I would have to wait until Miami 24 hours later for that luxury. Ugh.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Saying Goodbye Is Always Difficult

Day 7 (Saturday, Aug. 7)

Leogane, Haiti

Today was difficult because we had to finish our projects and say goodbye to the children. I went back and forth between my construction projects and the kids playing under the trees. I gave Oligas one last romp on my shoulders and spent some time hanging out with him.

We told the kids through the interpreters that we were leaving soon and flying back to America the next morning. We told them that if we never saw them again on earth, we would one day see them in heaven. Sad eyes all around, both adults and children. We prayed in English and in Creole, then we headed out.

The construction guys said goodbye to the seven Haitian men we trained in carpentry and cement skills. This morning, Bill, Paul and the Haitian crew frantically put up a wall around Amalia’s kitchen. I also had to say goodbye to Amalia. She came out to the van as we all piled in and said “au revoire.” I grew to admire her for the hard work and dedication she puts into preparing close to 180 meals a day under adverse conditions. Seven days a week, she cooks and sweats in her outdoor kitchen.

Leaving mission stops is always difficult. I remember leaving my last two mission trips feeling the same way: empty. We had to say goodbye to relationships we had nurtured over the week, not knowing if we would ever see them again. We have to accept that, for one week, this is where God wanted us to be, serving these little lost lambs. Loving these little children was an unpaid job, but we all know we will attain riches in heaven one day because of the love we gave.

Granted, I am hoping to return to the Leogane orphanage again, to plant a garden. First, I must make sure God is, indeed, in this. I have to ensure the farming plan has the necessary support financially farmingwise make it succeed. I knocked off one item on my to-do list by asking one of our interpreters if he thought we could get a local farmer to come in with a tractor and chisel/disc to turn the soil over before we planted. He assured me it was possible.

Before I left, I packed a few pounds of soil from the orphanage in a gallon freezer bag to take home to have it analyzed for nutrients. Yes, I knew it was illegal, but I asked God to overlook my sin. I packed it in the middle of 40 pounds of dirty, stinky work clothes from my week in Leogane. If the customs people in Miami can find it through that mess, they can have it.

Just dreaming such dreams for the kingdom means waiting on God and doing the legwork to make sure that God is opening doors or not. It’s a conundrum of sorts. We can’t do it without God, but it still requires our efforts. Several people in my group asked about coming back to work with the children. Absolutely. This kind of ministry needs irrigation engineers, carpenters, dirt farmers, chicken farmers, bee keepers and canners. Bringing along people to love on the children is a natural.

As I look ahead, I have already started to write down names of people who can farm, build chicken coops, keep bees and design an irrigation system. I am amazed at the resources God is filling my mind with. We need seed companies to donate seed. How do we get bees down there? How do we get hand farm tools down there? Where do we buy chickens to lay eggs? Will the local Ace Hardware have the necessary fencing on hand?

Those are all questions to be left in God’s hands. I will turn to him in prayer, ask others to pray, ask questions of people I think might have answers or solutions to the problems I foresee and watch God work. The project to-do list is rather substantial. I know I can’t do this task God has put upon me without his strength and guidance.

As we waved good-bye to our little Haitian friends, I, like everyone else in the group, began to cry. I looked for little Oligas, and he gave only a half-hearted wave back. Was he hurt? Or was he used to feeling abandoned? I know I have to return to my life in California, but that notion still hurts me. For the next few miles, our van was silent.

Only God knows if I will one day return to Leogane, Haiti … and see my little buddy again.

Caption: From left, Hilary, Fred (our interpreter), Amy and Geannine were the backbone of our kids' team.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Preserving Identities With a Paper Trail

Day 6 (Friday, Aug. 5)

Leogane, Haiti

We stumbled upon a potentially embarrassing problem today at the orphanage when we discovered, shall we say, irregularities, in its filing system for the children’s important papers. The paperwork included report cards, medical reports and birth certificates. Everything was in one, 6-inch stack of random papers, which I estimated to be over a thousand pages.

What’s the big deal? For most of these kids, these papers represent their dwindling identity. Many of them lost both parents to the earthquake, some lost only one parent but were dumped off at the orphanage because the surviving parent could no longer care for them after the January 12 earthquake.

One of the teenage girls was in tears when she showed us where the files were kept in the storage room. Little care had been given to the files. No methodology existed for the Haitians, it seemed. The files were infested with ants (major disease carriers) and most were sopping wet from one of the recent storms. We could see mold and mildew on some of the papers, which could make the kids sick.

After making the discovery, several of the people in our group were livid. “How could they be so careless?” was the common cry.

Then we discussed it some more. Part of our dilemma was our common dislike for the orphanage’s director, who is just 18 and barely an adult. She has made her disdain of our presence known by her ever-present frown. She is rarely at the orphanage, doing who knows what while away. She has clearly left the children in our care. We have witnessed her berate the cook and anyone else who gets in her way. Yet she is in charge, and we have to respect the chain of command.

In truth, this job fell on her after the earthquake. She doesn’t really want to be here, but is here by necessity. This job means survival for her. She wasn’t trained to run an orphanage, and she wasn’t trained to file paperwork. So she stuck everything in a big pile and walked away.

The big issue we faced was this: did the Haitians even want our help with the paperwork problem? If they didn’t, should we take action on behalf of the children in the name of righteousness. This is one of those dilemmas with no right answers. So we prayed: “Lord, what would you have us do?”

Fortunately for us, the Haitians eagerly accepted our offer to help. We separated the files into four sections and even built a storage box with four bins. Our solution to the birth certificate problem came to Catharine in a dream. No kidding. Catharine stayed at the hotel yesterday because she was sick. In between sweating and the sound of hammering by the hotel workers, she slept periodically and … dreamed. She dreamed of taking pictures of the birth certificates.

We used one of our cameras to take pictures of all the birth certificates, giving a paper trail to any potential lost items in the future. One problem solved.

Then a few of our people (all parents) went to work doing what they do best: organize. For people like me who have ADHD, people who organize are gold. These people went above and beyond the call of duty. They showed those kids that their identities mattered. I could see a few of the teenage girls watching them with gleeful anticipation.

One day, these kids are all going to walk away from the orphanage. When they leave, we hope that each one of them has his or her treasured birth certificate in hand.

Perhaps a few of them will remember the time when the Americans came to visit for a summer. Maybe a few of them will leave the orphanage with an identity based in Jesus Christ because of our presence here this summer. That child’s life will be impacted for a lifetime because of his hope in an eternity with God in heaven. Maybe a kid or two will choose to help others around them because of the love we showed these kids.

That’s why we came. We can’t impact every kid here, but we hope to impact a few. As our week winds down, each one of us has special memories of time spent with at least one kid. I hope each one of those kids has special memories of us, too.

Caption: Nora, a mother of two daughters in Pleasanton, California, was one of four people who helped organize the orphanage's important papers. The discolored papers above is from exposure to the sun.