storytelling

It is enthralling how one experience…one moment of just fifteen minutes…could change your entire perspective on how you see the world and how everything fits in it. I tend to sit in those moments and soak them up for months afterward. It is such an intimate God moment that sometimes I wonder if it actually happened, and then realize God has sunk me deeper into his Kingdom and given me a clearer vision of what he needs me to be within his world to help bring restoration and reconciliation.

That, or, maybe I’m just over caffeinated this week, it could go either way.

What I do know is that God has brought clarity of the importance in telling his stories while he has had me living in Haiti. I remember sitting with our staff in the office during my week of training before I moved to Haiti. They were telling incredible stories that were busting open my worldviews. One of our staff said to me, ‘You will have your own stories to tell soon enough.’ Though I didn’t take him completely seriously…he was 100% accurate.

Somewhere along this journey of healing and calling I became a storyteller. Each of the stories we tell chaotically yet perfectly merge into The Story, it is just a matter of actually making the effort to see where it connects to God and his heart. It’s there, I promise. The stories we tell point to the first Storyteller, and Jesus spoke those stories to include all – believer and nonbeliever. You could claim to be atheist your entire life, but you will have a hard time ever convincing me God did not use a piece of your story to build his Story. As we are gifted with the opportunity to be storytellers like Jesus and point to the Kingdom of God, we get to actively point to the one who owns all our stories.

“Another story. ‘God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years, it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests into it.’ Another story. ‘God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread – and waits while the dough rises.’ All Jesus did that day was tell stories – a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day.” [Matthew 13:31-35 MSG]

In that spirit of storytelling, I am compelled to share a story that I could have told months ago, but there was just something so precious about it that I didn’t want to let it loose yet as well as things I still needed to learn from the experience. Hindsight being 20/20, I’m glad I waited, because last summer the story was only beginning…

IMG_3651At the end of the summer of 2015 in Haiti, church had just finished at our local church partner we were attending with our visitors that were in country, and the kids were running to hug their friends they had met the day before. I was standing off to the side when I saw one of the first year Global Orphan Project Pathways students with a woman that was crying. It’s not uncommon for us to see the students of the trade and discipleship program at the local church partners, since that is where they come from before moving into the Pathways building or their Pastor from home guides them to that church for Sundays while they live here for two years.

I remember praying in that moment for whatever was happening. Was it his mom? His aunt? Older sister? Congregation member he was praying with? But even within that prayer and those questions, I had no need to know what was happening, because I am an outsider to their culture and country.

Then he walked over, ‘Can I talk with you?’

‘Of course.’

‘We need Jonas to translate.’

‘I can understand you. It’s ok.’

‘No,’ he adamantly said. ‘We need Jonas.’

‘It’s ok! I can understand a little.’

‘No. We need Jonas.’

‘Really?’

‘We need Jonas.’

I had been trying to avoid pulling Jonas away from helping our visitors communicate, but the young man standing in front of me was insistent and I had no choice but to ask Jonas to help.

As Jonas and I walked to the back of the church with the young man, he took us to where the woman was standing with tear streaked cheeks glistening in the sunlight.

Immediately, my mind starts raising red flags. What is he going to ask me for? What does he think I can provide? How do I gracefully and kindly tell him I can’t give him anything?

It is constantly a balancing act in Haiti between helping and hurting, and being an ambassador of sustainability in a culture that looks to someone like me as having everything: money, food, candy, soccer balls, etc. It’s not false in comparison, but as the random white person living here, I never want to elevate myself to being the one who can ‘save’ them from their circumstance or look at them in pity from posture of superiority. Whether it be perceived or unperceived. There is so much value in Haiti, but in action and vernacular, the world tells them they are nothing, even from something as simple as calling them ‘third world’ and the States ‘first world.’ In many ways, Haiti should be elevated above Stateside cultural norms, but in so many ways our government, actions and people make them feel inferior. Just as another government will not solve their problems, I will never be the answer to any Haitian struggle and my actions cannot make them rely on me…God is so present in their lives and he is their answer. Every time. Not me. God has given me permission to not feel guilty about saying no, and that it is sometimes the best word to use while in this culture and space. My mind settles on when he asks for what he needs, I will send him to the pastor. The local church will be what he needs no matter what the ask.

As evidence of my multitasking skills, all of this is going on in my head while I am still listening to this young man’s story, with interjections by the woman every now and then:

The woman is his mother. They lost everything in the earthquake 5 and half years ago, but walked away with their lives. She has not been able to get a job since they lost everything. That was when he started being care for by the local church Pastor that Global partners with in Haiti. His mother comes to church here about once a month to see him, but it’s hard for her to get here across the city. He has three older sisters, and all of them are married. His mother lives with one of his sisters, but this morning she came to church crying. His brother-in-law has been physically and emotionally abusing his mom, but she has nowhere else to go. He feels sad, because he has no way to help her. He has no way to rescue her from that situation, but she is his mother and his desire is to see her taken care of and safe. He feels hopeless.

As they wrapped up, I looked at Jonas, ‘What did they ask for?’

‘Steph, they didn’t ask for anything.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, I am sure.’

As I looked to the young man, I put my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Why did you want to share this with me?’

‘You saw my mother crying, and I wanted you to know why she was crying,’ he shared as the innocence in his eyes catapulted me into the deep depths of shame for thinking every thought I had been thinking while this young man and his mother poured their hearts out to me.

‘Could you please pray for your mother and I will pray with you? I would pray, but I want her to hear Creole words instead of my prayer being translated through Jonas,’ I asked him, unwilling to break the air of intimacy through garbled language.

As his prayers flowed over his mother, we stood there with our arms around each other in one of the most intimate God moments I have ever experienced, or probably will ever experience. Simultaneously, I had never felt so accepted and valued as a foreigner in Haiti, further exploding my view of God’s Kingdom with no borders, language or culture barriers in my soul. We were united, with God’s presence through the Holy Spirit at the very core of our small circle.

I hugged him and his mother as I thanked him for sharing with me, and promised them I would continue praying for their family.

As I walked away, my shame washed over me in torrents. ‘I am such as asshole,’ kept running through my head on repeat. Quickly followed by, ‘I am so ashamed.’

By the time Jonas and I had walked through the church and out the side door, I had to stop by the outside wall of the church. Jonas stopped and turned back to find tears running down my face and panic in my eyes.

‘What happened?’

‘Jonas, I am so ashamed. The whole time he was sharing his story I kept trying to figure out what they were going to ask for. I am such an asshole. I am so ashamed.’

‘Steph, I was waiting for the same thing. I was waiting for them to ask us for something.’

‘What? Really?’

‘Yes, it’s not unusual for congregation members to come with needs on Sunday mornings and ask people to help them.’

‘But they didn’t ask for anything…’

‘I know. I was surprised, too.’

‘He only shared, because I saw his mother crying.’

‘He shared, because you are his friend.’

Within that shame I struggled with was also a realization that the Pathways program is not simply for these students to gain employment and have the means to provide for their future families after being raised as orphans in the care of a pastor. The Pathways program is a way for them to take care of their existing families. My friend was hopeless, because he had no means to take his mother out of a really shitty situation. He had put his hope in God that leads, and had placed him in the Pathways program. But my realization also came with the one truth that…he still had a year to go before graduation.

I’ve prayed so often over the last several months that God would protect his mother as he finishes the Pathways program, and that God would bring him peace, not hopelessness. I have been given a deep love for this young man, my friend, and the God moment he led us into last summer. I guarantee you I will ball like a baby when he graduates in August of 2016, and that comes from someone who rarely cries. Oh, man, get the tissues ready.

Each time I see him, I ask about his mother and how she is doing, always reinforcing that I am praying for them. In October, I saw him at the Pathways building, and asked again. Joy lit up his eyes to a level of sparkling I’d never seen, and his mannerisms exploded, lifting his hands to the air.

‘My mother has a job!’

As his friend, I celebrated with him that victory. I know what a victory that is in this economy. I have seen that weight on him, and then was relieved with her employment. I also celebrated that she will be okay until he can graduates and is able to take care of them both.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw him at Life, SA, the GOEX sewing production plant in Haiti, as I was giving a tour. Surprised at seeing a student there, I said, ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I am here two days a week to learn new things!’ he said with a big smile on his face.

A week later, I was there again and introduced some visitors to him. He graciously shook hands, as is Haitian custom, then putting his arm around me, telling them, ‘This is my friend!’

Choking back liquid ready to pour from my eyes at the compliment, I couldn’t even translate what he had said until later that night when I was sharing his story with them.

Because his story carries so much value in Kingdom currency.

Friends, these are the stories we get to tell. These are the stories that point back to God in such a way I would never be able to articulate on my own. These are Kingdom stories, and it is our responsibility as believers to share those stories as Kingdom storytellers, as well as all the times our story and God’s story has intersected.

Advertisements

claude

Pastor Claude 2Pastor Claude’s passion for caring for orphans is apparent from the first moment you meet him, and it is fundamentally impossible to not see his passion stems from his redeemed life through Christ, and having been an orphan himself who was brought to Christ by a pastor helping orphans. Pastor is always transparent with what his life was like before Jesus, “Sometimes when I think about my past, I cry, and I remember God is helping me to move forward. When I am crying, I say, God you needed me and you know you are going to use me for your own good. Why did you let me do those bad things when I was young? Not everyone has the chance I have. Some people die when they are doing the bad things they are doing.”

That surrender to the life God has called him to brought Pastor back to Haiti in 1997 for the first time since leaving Haiti many years before with a mission to help those that had no one to provide for them. In each face taken in and he sees the reflection of his own face as a child living in extreme poverty near Cap Haitian. Every impulse Pastor has is to champion children just as he was championed by a pastor that came into his life and led him to the cross.

Walking with him at one of the villages he cares for kids, it is hard to miss the chorus of “Papi Claude” that ring out, or the kids that come and follow him, most of the time receiving a hand on the head or reminder of doing their homework or preparing for church in some way. Once when Pastor was returning from walking the countryside for several days, as he walked back into the village at Latremblay, the kids ran to his side, his absence having been a palpable void in their days.

Love runs deep in Pastor’s ministry, and that deepness is drawing his kids into a transformed life calling some to be pastors, others to music, and as Pastor prays, some to care for orphans just as he has dedicated his life. According to Pastor, “In Haiti, kids who don’t have parents, other orphans or people who don’t have money, people don’t want to marry these kinds of people. You are not considered as people. They think they are superior to them.” It is equality in God’s realm that unifies the villages of Pastor Claude and invites his congregations to be a part of something bigger than cultural norms of this world.

Armed with God’s word, Pastor consistently points back to the Bible to anyone around him. “In Psalm 41, it says, ‘blessed is anyone who cares for the weak.’ The first and the second verses say, blessed are people who take care of people who don’t have anyone to take care of anyone. It’s not only in Haiti, but Africa, everywhere, if you can help people who don’t have anyone to help them you should help them.”

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Claude as he cares for economic and social orphans at his villages of Latremblay, on the east side of Port-au-Prince and Leogane, west of Port-au-Prince. At GO Project, individuals or communities can contribute to life care and education costs of the orphans on a monthly basis or through long-term support of the pastors.

reality

As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own. [Margaret Mead]

As I have been sent out into other cultures over the last fourteen years, there was a time that I proudly posted this quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead. I would go outside the United States borders, dip my toe into other cultures, fall in love with those cultures in a short amount of time and then return to the comfort of my base culture. Drinkable water from a faucet instead from a bottle, running water instead of the pump down the street, eclectic food instead of the same thing every day, laundry from a washing machine instead of hand washing it and toilet paper that went in toilets instead of trash cans. I even had a pre-trip meal plan and a post-trip meal plan dependent on where I was traveling at the time.

I would return stateside, and I most assuredly appreciated my base culture. But after a year and half of living outside those borders, now I find I am struggling with the ideals and reality of my base culture.

This will be ironic to some, since Haiti is so drastically different than the states. Reality in this majority world country is full of struggles under an incredibly high unemployment rate that leads families to strip themselves of their God-given dignity when they run out of options and give their child to the care of a children’s home providing clothes, health care, meals, clean water and education. There are a myriad of other issues with government accountability, infrastructure, clean water, health care and interference from well meaning people who are trying to do good but only hurt the populace more.

It is hard to put into words how God is molding me down here. I know I am being transformed spiritually, physically and emotionally. I am not a ‘super-Christian’ or a ‘better person’ for living here. Living here is a gift I gratefully accept. All I can really say to people is come and see, because it is not what you expect when you choose to really see past the surface. Haiti has changed the way I look at the world as I choose to see beyond their imposed stereotypes.

Haitians are not defined by trash. Decades of cultural acceptance is not going to be reversed by one visitor collecting trash. It is a cultural mindset, and that takes generations to reverse.

Haitians are not defined by their politics. Are some Haitians? Yes. As in all cultures there are good and bad politicians, as well as people who are consumed by it. Realistically, most Haitians do not feel the impact of the current political craziness. Do they want government? Yes, in most cases. But in Haiti, being a politician is a job, and some people will do a lot of bad things to gain a job…or keep it.

Haitians are not defined by rubble. The earthquake five years ago was tragic, a lot of people lost their lives, and more needs to be done, but most Haitians have a hard time talking about that painful memory. For some, telling the same story over and over again is not bringing healing, but reopening a gaping wound every time. Also, a half built building is not rubble. Buildings are always in progress in majority world countries, because people build with what money they have on hand. If they have money for a load of bricks, they build with those bricks and then save up for the next batch to build more.

Haitians are not defined by their country’s impoverished nation status. Do families struggle here? Absolutely. Does that struggle impact their daily life? Absolutely. But it does not define who God has created them to be. They are whole humans, created by God, with a purpose and calling. Poverty does not make them a lesser human than someone born into a wealthy country’s resources.

Haitians are not defined by donations. They do want sustainable, living wage incomes. The guilt from outsiders at ‘having so much’ verses what Haitians have, plus the ‘they are so happy’ mentality, does not create a strong economy. However, your sustainable purchased from businesses that are creating jobs here does help their economy. Haiti started exporting bananas again for the first time since 1955 last week. This is a monumental step for the families of those workers. Haitians are hard workers, but need support in creating a strong economy to give sustainable jobs to all. They want an education, but lack the resources to pay for it. Well-meaning donations that flood Haiti have typically taken away jobs…not create them.

Most Haitians ARE defined by their salvation in Jesus. Happiness comes from looking beyond this world into the one God will restore, making all things new. Worshipping and praying with them floods my soul with joy, hope and leads me deeper in relationship with my Lord. Realistically, we should all be defined by our salvation in Jesus. So, then, why do we stifle it?

IMG_0965I don’t stand on a soapbox with these observations as an entitled American who wants to push my thoughts, habits and perceptions on this culture. The reverse, actually, I am struggling most with my base culture as I learn more about the one I am placed within.

I am struggling with the culture of the United States. I don’t like it, and frankly, it feels like Disneyworld when I travel from Haiti. Are there things I enjoy and crave from the States? Of course, but mostly it seems bright and sparkly…and lacking community. It makes me question which place is real and which is not. The stateside mentality is all about speed, and more often than not it feels fake. In Russia’s tourist areas they put up pretty facades in front buildings they are renovating, so no one sees the actual construction. As if the construction would be an assault on our eyes. Not discounting pretty things, but I feel like we do this too often in our own lives. We put up facades on what we are struggling with, whereas others could learn from how God is leading us through our struggle.

Maybe that is why I feel led to vomit in this space by tossing my struggle out.

I honestly thought my worldview couldn’t be busted open more. I’ve been present and seen the realities of a lot of places over fourteen years. I’ve experienced a lot of cultures and have thousands of stories. I have a lot of international friends who have taught me so, so much. But what I have realized most is that I have so much to learn from other cultures.

This week, I thought of that Margaret Mead quote, and sadly, I am ashamed I put so much arrogance in it being true. We should not be motivated to leave ‘home,’ wherever that may be, simply so we love our base culture more. Some could argue I am scrutinizing too steadily and not loving my base culture enough, but we should be motivated to step outside our borders in an effort to dissolve borders between nations and learn about other cultures. Jesus follower or not, every single human should experience other cultures, and not to force our base culture on others. Democracy is not for everyone, and Coke and McDonald’s is not the unifier they appear to be.

For believers, you should be inspired to step outside your borders to meet believers from different cultures. I assure you, worshipping as one body of believers will rock you to your soul and your Kingdom perspective will be busted wide open.

As I struggle with what version of reality is real, what I do know is it is not about being the same…it is about embracing the differences and learning from each other. It’s amazing how God opens our eyes when our posture is genuine curiosity and building relationships.

go

It’s Easter.

Today I woke up, put on a dress (my least favorite thing to wear, ever, which is why Sunday afternoons are basketball shorts/sweatpants capri days to reward my morning sacrifice), and walked to church with Dexter (also known as Rogelin, who is a student living at the Pathways building). Who consequently got some friendly teasing from the guards on the way out the gate for walking with one of the white chicks to church. Amy would have been with us, but I have a group coming tomorrow that I am leading, so she had to take the one that came yesterday and they are out at Leogane.

It rained last night, thank the Lord for rain to knock down Port-au-Prince dust, so it was muddy on the way to church. The Chacos didn’t fail me as we navigated muddy rocks, large puddles, the part of the path we affectionately call ‘the bush’ because it really needs a good machete chopping, torched patches from neighbors burning their trash and gravel piles as our neighbors work to build up their homes. Really, this is how everyone should have to get to church, because riding in a car is so easy. There is something about the walk soaking in the morning sun and Haitian humidity that makes church a place you have to make an effort to be present.

Turning the corner on the home stretch, we came upon the woman who goes to the market for Jumecourt and a friendly ‘Bonjour!’ was tossed her way. She was in a beautiful coral colored dress and high heeled shoes with her hair resting in perfect ringlets around her face. My frizzy mop knotted on top of my head, long dress and sandals paled in comparison.

When we walked up to Ebenezer Church, a couple of the girls from Source de la Grace were making their way across the street and one grabbed my hand. We all got stopped by the ushers at the door, because they were praying inside. As I stood in the doorway, I couldn’t help but notice the man decked out in ALL white sitting at the front. White suit, white shirt, white vest, white tie, white socks and white shoes…Pastor Claude was in his Easter suit.

Dexter came to my side and said, “I’m going to sit with the kids.” I replied, “Great! Me, too.”

As the prayer finished they beckoned us inside, and started walking toward the kid side when the usher tried to redirect us. Telling her we wanted to sit with the kids got us the Haitian hand slap basically signifying ‘whatever.’

I slid into the row with some older girls and Dexter sat next behind me with his ‘village son’ who still lives at Source.

The singing began and I pulled out my Chants d’Esperance to sing along. I wasn’t listening well, so I missed the song number and the girls next to me were quick to help out. Several of the kids turned around and saw me there, sending big smiles and small waves. The fresh scent of soap drifted into my nostrils as I took in the kids in all of their Sunday morning finery. Girls with perfectly twisted hair, barrettes and bows. Boys in slacks and polos or buttoned down shirts. Haitian men in perfectly ironed suits, and women in beautiful dresses. Haitians dress for Sunday, Sunday doesn’t dress them!

As I started singing, some stared at the white chick singing in Creole. For whatever reason, it always mesmerizes them that I am really participating in the service and it makes me smile to myself every time.

Stand up. Sit down. Sing. Pray. Sing some more. Announcements…these can go on for well over 30 minutes. This is their community time to let everyone know what is going on in the life of the church, and they do not waste it. The choir sang, and then more prayer. Friends, talk about storming the gates of heaven, Haitians know how to pray. Complete lack of caring that anyone else can hear them. Their voices are released into the atmosphere as the most beautiful chorus reaching out to their Savior.

Merci Seigneur. Thank you, Lord.

Jesus vivant. Jesus lives.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Prayers for Pastor Claude’s message came next, and then we dug in.

Matthew 28

Isaiah 53

Matthew 18

The most poignant moment of the entire Easter service was Pastor Claude weeping while reading Isaiah 53. Weeping, friends, weeping…

“He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed…It was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs…” [Isaiah 53:1-5; 10]

I was so caught up in the text he had read thinking about being in Jesus’ lineage as an heir that I would have missed Matthew 18 if it hadn’t been for my friends looking out for me and pointing out we’d switched back to Matthew.

I am accustomed to Easter services in the States being all about joy and light and resurrection. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are for the somber services, right? Easter is reserved for joy and new life! It’s not that Haitians don’t have those services, we could hear them singing over the walls at Jumecourt the other night. And it’s not that they were not celebrating resurrection, because they definitely got their praise on with ‘Jesus vivant!’

It’s almost as if the bearing of their sin and the call to go is so intense in their lives that the hope in resurrection lives through each of those moments, instead of having its own separate time. Truly, new life and the new Kingdom is such a strong focus here that it does make sense. Though, remember, my Creole isn’t stellar and these are simply observations merged with what little I understand.

Pastor stopped in the middle of the sermon and had the congregation stand and sing this chorus:

A toi la gloire – O Ressuscité! A toi la victoire – Pour l’éternité!

To you the glory, O Risen! To you the victory – for eternity!

Death became life. Life defeated death. However you want to look at it, what happens after is the call to go. The call to be love. The call to move forward the message of the Gospel. The call to live out the resurrection. Without living out an answer to Jesus’ taking on the pain of the entire world’s sins, without accepting the reality and miracle that was his resurrection…who are we? Definitely not one of his heirs.

There is a reason Jesus didn’t appear to the disciples and say, “Fellas, I know it’s been hard, so hole up here in this room and they won’t kill you. This is the safest place to be and I want you to be safe.” That looks weird even to type it. Instead, Jesus sends them out with the exact radical message of love, grace and championing the least in their world that got him nailed to a cross.

The entire chapter of Matthew 28 was read during service this morning. This is what happens after resurrection:

“Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this; I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20]

Complete authority, not partial, complete.

Go and make disciples. Or the “Stephanie Interpreted Version,” go and love Jesus so much that others are drawn to do genuine Gospel life with you.

Baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Teach to obey all commands.

I am with you always.

Read between the lines…the Trinity is real, God’s love justifies, Jesus fulfilled every single prophecy and that is a message people will be thirsty to hear and learn in doing life with you. You are a redeemed people. There is hope for this world to be restored. God has not forgotten his creation. The Kingdom is present now.

A large part of that Kingdom surrounded me after church was over…as Pastor Claude had read from Matthew 18:1-6. Kids shaking my hand and giving the customary benediction that for today changed from ‘Bondye beni ou!’ or ‘God bless you!’ to ‘Bon fet Pak!’

Happy Easter, friends!

Jesus is resurrected and says GO.

practice

Thirst for culture and language is a large part of who I am. During my time in China, my favorite class was language class and learning the characters of Mandarin. Over the years I have spent some time trying to make sense of Russian. I will never forget the trip to Kurlovo in Russia when I’d picked up enough phrases to make it sound like I spoke fluent Russian. Little Dima got in my face and just kept jabbering. I think I understood every 10th word. When I said in Russian, “I don’t speak Russian!” He told me “Yes, you DO!” And thought I’d created a new game to play. Ha!

And now I find myself having spent enough time learning and submerged in Creole that I can translate small conversations between visiting Americans and the kids in the villages. Emphasis on SMALL conversations. However, definitely at the point the kids think I speak more than I actually speak and tell me all sorts of things I have not a clue what they are really saying. Contractions in Haitian slang will be the death of me!

But the key to all of this is practice. I spent almost seven years learning French in school and university, but could not have kept a conversation going even if someone held a gun to my head!

Really great practice for me is when a lot of the kids like to test me. Lovesonnes is on a color phase, and yesterday he kept at me with saying a color in English and I would tell him the Creole word. Easy. I know my colors well! Then we switched to animals. Not so good there!

One of the things I cherish most at the villages is knowing the kids. One of my friends has been sick for a couple of weeks. Tacura has slowly been healing, and yesterday was the first day in a while that he was completely back to his highly energetic, goofy, lovable self. He was on my back and would shimmy up to where he could rest his head on my shoulder and put his cheek next to mine with our ears pressed together so it sounded like I was in a tunnel when I talked. Then he was acting like he was driving a car and squealing like a horn…in my ear. Good thing we have a good friendship and I know how sick he’s been, or that screaming *might* have been annoying.

At one point he asked to go to the cafeteria and we sat in a quiet corner where he started asking me questions in Creole. He knows my language limits and phrases things so I understand him. It was precious time spent with my friend, but also excellent practice for my language skills.

Before we left last night, a new American friend was holding Onelson…who was almost asleep. Everyone else is getting on the bus and she looked at me with the question of “Do I just put him down?” We took him to his room where he decided he wasn’t that sleepy, as toddlers do, and kept saying, “No!”

Tacura thought this was hilarious, but they live in the same room, so this was not new to him. Soon, Onelson was out and dead weight. Tacura immediately, started pulling the American’s arm while tip toeing making hilarious contortions with his face down the room length, simultaneously holding his finger to his lips…the international sign of please shut up. I hadn’t seen that animation in his face and eyes in weeks, as I stood in the doorway I couldn’t help but smile at this sweet scene that transcended language barriers.

Language barriers have never bothered me, and I fully acknowledge I am unique in that trait. I find myself so thankful for practice with my American friends, and translators who get that I am at the point where I am just going to go for it and say the sentence in Creole that they will need to correct.

But even more so, I love the quiet, memorable moments of when I practice language with the small friends in my life that speak Russian and Creole…all because it leads to a deepening of trust and being known within the relationships God is nurturing.

poor

Poor.

Perspective.

These two words cannot ever be too far from each other when judging the economy of a country or culture. Emphasis on the word ‘judging.’

Disclaimer: these opinions have nothing to do with actual numbers. I suck at numbers and honestly do not understand them.

However, in the states, I think we too quickly jump to harsh conclusions about poverty. The poor are in your neighborhood, and they are outside of the borders of your country. Frankly, you have no idea what the poor look like at all. Poor is also relative to a lot of things, most of which being the perspective of where you grew up and the cultural misgivings you may have based on location and economy of that location.

“They don’t have stuffed animals! We must get some in the next container going to [insert majority world country here].”

“They still have a flip phone?!?! They must not have enough money for [iPhone or Glaxay latest models fit here].”

“They eat beans and rice all of the time, because they can’t afford anything else. We should send down some [insert American processed food item here].”

“This house we are building in [insert majority world country here] is not the best way and it has to have indoor plumbing, we should [insert American idea of building here].”

“This school is not being run effectively and it should be torn down and rebuilt. How can kids learn in this environment? We should [insert American idea of what school should be here].”

“The kids are not wearing shoes! How can they not have shoes?”

What each of these lacks is perspective on who and how people are poor in this world. Should every person in the world have a basic human right to clean water, clothes, housing, education, food, medical care and employment? Absolutely. However, the version we commonly convince ourselves of in the states has a different perspective on how each of those seven elements are addressed.

A culture with families that put food, education and housing ahead of toys for their children for hundreds of years does not make them poor. Truly, having toys that are going to mold and be continually dirty in their living environment is not realistic, and it most certainly does not make a parent bad at being a parent, quite the opposite. As well as, in Haiti their children love to play outdoors and have killer soccer skills. Seriously, these kids are soccer ninjas. We need to also consider what gifting a toy to a child looks like from the perspective of a parent in the majority world. Is it worth it to take away their dignity by providing something to their child that they have not provided or have lived without? With perspective we start seeing the incredible value in making the parent a hero in the mind of the child, not the visiting American who is only present for a small amount of time.

In the states, we consistently have different choices of food. I run up against issues with this living in Haiti. I crave Chinese and Mexican food ALL the time, and that is WITH having an ‘American staff’ menu when teams are not here. It does not make someone poor because they like eating rice and beans, or spaghetti for breakfast. It we apply a bit of perspective, we might actually ask the residents of that country if they would eat anything else if it was available. If they are anything like the Haitians I hang out with, they really DO love rice and beans…ALL the time.

In regards to housing, we can easily judge poverty by how a culture lives. I once heard a story of a group that wanted to provide better housing, so they raised the money and built an entire community of homes. There was a lot of pride put into that accomplished endeavor. A couple of years later, they came back and found that the community was basically using the homes as barns for their animals. They had placed the front door facing the wrong direction, and their culture believes that a door should be facing a certain direction for good karma. Perspective on the poor can be made clearer when asking genuine, truth seeking questions and actually listening. Living in a mud hut doesn’t make you poor when the entire culture lives in mud huts…it actually makes it normal in their perspective.

And while we have a constant need for more shoes to fulfill requests from our pastors, the kids have shoes; they just don’t like wearing them all the time to the point that some of the boys like playing soccer barefoot. Sometimes we place judgments on cursory surface observations without asking questions, when we do ask those questions and dig a bit deeper we find that a judgment on their poverty based on what we physically see may be a bit off.

“Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head. Some of the guests became furious among themselves. ‘That’s criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year’s wages and handed out to the poor.’ They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them…’” [Mark 14:3-8 MSG]

In Haiti, a lot of visitors easily see the surface as ‘poor.’ Does Haiti have a lot of poor? Yes. But. Haiti has a lot of issues that pour into that and fixing one aspect of their poverty does not fix all aspects, and in some cases makes another aspect even worse. Based on American ideals, consider that the person who gets labeled as poor on the street does not have that opinion about themselves, but does know of someone who is worse off. There have been a lot of countries, organizations and people trying to ‘help’ Haiti’s poor for decade after decade. Of course, all done in their ideals and perspectives of what poor is and what is a basic human right. A basic human right does not include putting air conditioning in orphanages and making sure the lawn is the ideal perfection of green. In trying to help, many refuse to look at the perspective of the indigenous people, and most completely toss out letting them be empowered to make those decisions based on their own culture.

Many times I’ve wondered if no majority world citizen ever saw what the states physically looked like, would they still think it was the promised land? We know it’s not, but they’ve been made to think it is. I’ve gotten into this debate with many Haitians. Instead, would they be more content at seeing transformation in their own country?

Obviously, today’s word struck a chord with me. Many may brush it off as, ‘She is the crazy one who chooses to live in Haiti.’ Yes, yes I am. And I LOVE it. The world tries to solve the monetary problem of the poor, but what if the real problem isn’t monetary? Money will always be mismanaged, corrupt and lost in majority world countries. Money is not going to fix poverty. Donating enough rice to put rice growers out of business will also not fix poverty. Not seeing where relief ends and sustainability begins will perpetuate the expectation that everything should be provided, and that definitely does not fix poverty.

Jesus himself says the poor will always be among us and we can work ourselves into the ground trying to fix it, but when the core problem is sin of all kinds on both sides we have a responsibility to see each others’ perspective through a cultural lens and point out value in each other’s cultures. Well, I suppose that even depends on perspective, but I hope you hear a piece of God’s heart within these words as well because reconciling with God and allowing that to transform you will work towards the Kingdom God is building here. And friends, in that kingdom…poverty of all kinds is eradicated.

remember

Confession of the day: I was a choir nerd.

I know…it’s a surprise…no one was expecting this alarming confession.

Kidding aside, today I remembered a lyric from a song we sang our senior year from ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent.

‘Remember the love.’

That particular song is forever etched in my memory. Little did we know as we stood on that stage at the end of our senior year belting these poignant lyrics ready to tackle the big, wonderful world that less than a year later we would be singing it at a funeral for one who had stood with us, our arms around each other in solidarity.

Events around that time wrecked me in some pretty substantial ways. As happens to most 19 year olds when they experience the death of a 19 year old friend. When the date rolls around every year I always find myself reflecting on who I was then verses who I am now. I’ve had a lot of pretty insanely awesome experiences.

Almost a year ago, I moved to Haiti on a date that caused me to evaluate my life and who I wanted to be in this world. In ways only orchestrated by God, this place has given my soul rest and a place to belong. God has used Haiti in insanely cool ways over the last year.

Haiti has healed me in ways I could never have imagined.

Haiti has stretched me in ways I never could have dreamed.

Haiti has made a lot of realities in the orphan window of this world very vivid.

Haiti has shown me how real this world is and how big of a bubble surrounds the States.

Haiti has brought a myriad of new people into my life that I couldn’t possibly imagine doing life without.

Haiti has shown me that it is okay to be confident and embrace the weird spiritual gifts and skills I have, and that they come not only within my calling, but with purpose.

Haiti has broadened my capacity to love in ways I didn’t think possible.

As I think back over the last year, I think that is one of the things I am most proud of that God grew on me. My capacity to love. Real. Genuine. I want to know what God does in your life…love.

I think of Johnny running down the side of the church when he sees me at the other end and the massive grin on his face.

I think about Lovely and how she waits for me at the end of the bus until I walk off the bus, then sticks to me like my shadow.

I think of crazy God connections with people I am only with for 5 days…and then they join my community in KC.

I think of how distance has strengthen friendships I have, when rational thought says they should weaken.

There are many opportunities to love during a day…and we are blessed with at least 365 opportunities in a year. What are we doing with them?

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” [Luke 6:32-33]

Remember to love.

Not just remember the ways you are loved and the people you have loved, but remember to love others. Even those the world says it is a disgrace to love. There are no limits or restrictions to God’s love, so why would we put limitations on the love we show others?

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:34-35]

Remember to love.

 

 

‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent:
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Moments so dear
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure – Measure A Year?

In Daylights – In Sunsets
In Midnights – In Cups Of Coffee
In Inches – In Miles
In Laughter – In Strife
In – Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure
A Year In The Life?

How About Love?
How About Love?
How About Love?
Measure In Love

Seasons of Love.
Seasons of Love.

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Journeys To Plan

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand
Six Hundred Minutes
How Do You Measure The Life
Of A Woman Or A Man

In Truth That She Learned
Or In Times That He Cried
In Bridges He Burned
Or The Way That She Died

It’s Time Now – To Sing Out
Though The Story Never Ends
Let’s Celebrate
Remember A Year In The Life Of Friends

Remember the Love
Remember the Love
Remember the Love
Measure In Love

Oh you got to you got to remember the love,
You know that love is a gift from up above
Share love, give love, spread love
Measure, measure your life in love.