years

Seven years ago this month, I found myself among a group of people that allowed me the freedom to grow into the life and language that God was leading me to move from ‘doing mission’ to ‘living for Kingdom.’ It’s actually not that big of a leap, but it is a flip in perspective. God took what I thought ‘mission’ was and completely broke it all down, and rebuilt it as Kingdom. Doing mission encompasses a lot of doing, building for and typically results in stealing dignity from those you think you are helping. Kingdom is embracing the person God has created you to be to empower others to live in that same freedom. It is choosing to see multiple perspectives and sometimes making a hard choice to humble yourself to see others lifted to their full capability. Kingdom has no borders, no language barriers and brings us into a unity unlike anyone has ever experienced.

The thing about Kingdom is that it is solely owned by God. It is God’s Kingdom we work to see realized in our world. It is hope, and it is life.

In the ‘doing mission,’ we tend to think of ourselves in the ‘saving’ role, and elevating our own accomplishments, when realistically…they were never our own to start with.

It has always been and will always be God’s Kingdom, no matter how many times we try to redefine it.

While God was changing my language and growing me in ways I never thought possible, he also led me to start a small group in a church largely defined by Sunday school, and women’s weekday Bible studies on mornings that excluded working women. I still vividly remember those conversations, because what I was feeling led to start was not like anything else available. I did not want to be the ‘teacher,’ and I had been in enough Beth Moore studies to last a lifetime. Learning was great, but I knew God had more within his heart for us than learning without action steps. My heart was in the discipleship and passing on of everything God had been pouring into my head and heart.

I wanted a group of people that would revolve around the Kingdom of God. From the beginning I felt led to only use studies or books that would lead us into the action of incarnational living and see God’s Kingdom realized on earth. I wanted people who would be willing to fight for justice, and passionate about righting the wrongs in our world. I wanted a safe place I could experiment with ideas and conversations that didn’t always fit into the ‘church culture’ and wouldn’t bat an eyelash when cuss words would become littered in my passionate rants. I wanted people that were aching for discipleship and to go beyond the surface level of a Sunday morning. I wanted to give God the space to create genuine community among us.

After much prayer and discernment, I put an announcement in the church bulletin and left it in God’s hands as to who would show up and what our group would look like. I had no preference on gender, age, life stage, etc. I was at peace with not having a lot of people, and thought that was probably better anyway since I was experimenting with the poor schmucks since I had never done this before.

Through conversations with the group of people I was learning with, I had found a great resource at Missio Publishing and had chosen ‘The Tangible Kingdom Primer’ to start our small group.

On March 5, 2012, I had three people show up…all women. One was a surprise, and the other two were friends I had persuaded (maybe bribed) into coming and over the next couple of weeks we would grow to six women. I still remember where I was sitting in that room, and in that first night, I had no idea where God would take us and what we would go through as a community of believers.

At one point in the Primer, there was a community day that said to have fondue together. We made fun of that suggestion for WEEKS. Comments like: ‘Did this author live in the 70’s?’ and ‘That is SO weird, who eats fondue anymore?’ Until one night someone said quietly, ‘Well, I have a fondue pot we could use…if we wanted to…’

The night we ate fondue was the end of the eight week Primer, and that night was unlike any night I had ever had within a small group of people. In that unique setting, God broke down barriers in conversation unlike anything that we had talked about in the previous eight weeks. It was incredible. Truly, only God can create a night like that one, and he has been creating moments for us ever since.

That night started our rhythm of marking ‘big’ moments with having fondue as a community: when we’ve finished studies, when someone moves away or a time of celebration. We’ve been as large as twelve, and settled into a group of eight people for the last couple of years. Each woman has uniquely been added into the group. Though one of the most memorable is my friend I met in Haiti who needed a small group, and started hanging out with my friends while I was living in Haiti. That first night was a surreal moment for me on FaceTime to see her with my friends, who quickly became our friends.

We have done a multitude of studies surrounding incarnational life, missiology, justice and discipleship. Admittedly, we have gotten into a nasty rhythm of not finishing what we start, which is why we are doing a four week Bible study at the moment.

Today is SIX years since I sat in that room with three other people.  Six years, while four of those years I have lived outside of Kansas City. FaceTime is a lifesaver when your ‘people’ are far away, because without technology, I would be even more disconnected.

These seven women have been the support system I never knew I needed, and had God allowed me to see the pain our community would walk through when I started it…I might not have started it out of fear of what was to come.

The unique thing about our group is how much it has morphed and flexed with time, yet still maintained as community. People have come and go. Some left with drama, some with silence and some just needing to be released from our community for the season of life they were in. Others just found that our group was no longer a good fit for what they needed. Some of those moments still bring up bad memories and other moments have been heartbreaking, but the reality is community is messy and you have to live in the mess. It is coming out on the other side of the mess as one body of believers focused on God’s Kingdom that is common unifier. It is also about prayer and discernment. Our community is really shitty at praying out loud. It just isn’t a comfort level for many of us, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pray and discern direction, words and life with each other. It just looks different and every small group has a different rhythm.

One of the other unique factors about our community is that each woman has entered into God’s Kingdom perspective with orphan ministry while being present in Russia, Haiti or both. We cross into very different languages and cultures, but the passion and desire to see children know their worth, be educated and live with their families is identical. In other communities, I am the odd duck who has made ‘weird’ choices revolving around care for orphans and seeing families’ whole. Yet in our community, I am among friends who get it and I don’t have to explain why I do what I do. I can be who I am, and know I am accepted unconditionally.

I know within our community we are not perfect, with some of my asshole tendencies leading the pack, and we have to be comfortable with people going through different seasons of life.  One of my very best friends waited to join us until her kids were a bit older, but now I don’t think any season of life would pull her away.

But I also know there is no other group I would want to have my back when everything goes to complete shit, because they have wrapped around me and protected me in ways no one ever had before in those moments. They are fierce, and together we are insurmountable. I am honored to walk with them through their shit, too, because that is what friendship is to me: loyal, accepting, unconditional love, presence (because, quality time…) with insane amounts of laughter (sometimes inappropriate humor…okay most of the time). Even in my worst moments, they never abandoned me…even when I abandoned them to move to Haiti. The real truth is, I never would have been able to stay in Haiti as long as the time God had for me without their unconditional support.

For the times they have gone beyond the Stateside borders with me, the times they came to me in Haiti, for all of the amazing weekends in Missouri and for the time we get next month in Colorado when they come to me…I need these women in my life just as much as I need air to breathe. They are the gift I never knew I needed those six years ago when God whispered, ‘Start a small group.’

I still look back at 2011, and am mesmerized that God had me in that room with leaders that were decades beyond what God was teaching me at the time. I had no seminary degree and no undergraduate degree that even warranted being in ministry, yet I was among people that were leaders in large churches. That I had the privilege to learn from them and be included as a part of their group was a gift I will never forget. It is no coincidence that God had me in that group at the same time he allowed me to see vision for His Kingdom. He knew where I was going, what I would be doing and how I would grow into him…and he also knew I would need seven insanely amazing women to walk with me through the good and rough moments we would encounter while aching for God’s Kingdom to be known.

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spirit

The big three. (No, not ‘This Is Us’)

The trinity.

God. Jesus. Holy Spirit.

Outside of the standard Sunday School answer of “Jesus is the most important,” sits the reality that the Holy Spirit is the insanely strong Kingdom unifier among us.

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” [Matthew 3:11-12]

Jesus continually told the disciples that when he ‘left’ he was leaving a connector with them. No matter what the name used for the Holy Spirit, the intent is clear…we will still have direct connection to the One we serve.

“He told them, ‘You don’t get to know the time. Timing is the Father’s business. What you’ll get is the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.’” [Acts 1:7-8]

That interaction with the Holy Spirit is different for everyone, as each of us naturally communicate and feel things differently.

It’s the tingle on your spine when you ‘know’ something is wrong.

It’s the 3a random wake up that you can’t fall back asleep and find yourself praying for someone someone specific.

It’s the ‘intuition’ that guides what we think is right and wrong.

It’s that surreal moment when you know the words were not your own as you speak into people around you.

It’s knowing something is wrong with a friend and the incessant prodding to reach out to them.

It’s the electrical current that courses through your body head to toes when you find yourself in a significant spiritual moment in worship, studying the Bible, praying, etc.

It’s that firework display in your chest that leaves no room for denying the Holy Spirit is alive and active not only in your life, but all those around you.

As we grow in our belief and continue to experience the Kingdom in all areas of our life, the Holy Spirit is the guide that will never steer us wrong. One of the most blessed things God ever gave me was the ability to acknowledge when the Holy Spirit was at work around me and how to hear God’s voice though those moments. It’s not a perfected practice, as humanness and sin are massive road blocks to active interaction with the Holy Spirit.

Because it is in the willingness to surrender.

Because it is in the willingness to seek the Kingdom of God.

And because, it is in the willingness to relentlessly pursue God’s heart.

Those alignments bring about a purity with the Holy Spirit that consistently blow my mind.

This Lent season, God is leading me to dig into his scripture, seek his heart and surrender to the Holy Spirit so that my voice is used for the Kingdom. I think it is perfectly planned that the first word was ‘Spirit’ from the Rethink Church Instagram photo challenge I am using, because so many times negative, disbelieving conversation and opinion suffocate the reality of the Holy Spirit. That suffocation denies God being able to actively work through us, and we need to come to a place where we are willing to talk about real things and refuse to be told to be silent on spiritual issues that God speaks very clearly on in the Bible. Lent is a journey of fasting, which is meant to draw us near to God through denial of self and genuine worship. Let the journey begin as we invite the Kingdom unifier to speak into our lives and draw us together.

dignity

I once had a friend tell me a story about a pastor he knew in Africa who was explaining to his congregation why my friends’ organization was going to partner with them. The pastor asked his congregation, “Describe to me how we get water.”

“We get our buckets.”

“We walk to the water pump.”

“We put water in our buckets.”

“We lift the water to our heads.”

“We walk it back home.”

“We take it down from our heads without spilling.”

Then the pastor asked, “What is the hardest part out of that for us?”

The congregation replied, “Ugh, lifting the water to our heads. It is very difficult and the water is heavy.”

“That is what our friends will be helping us with. They will be helping us lift the water to our heads, but we are responsible for the rest,” the pastor told them.

The reality is difficult circumstances bring about scenarios that are less than ideal for God’s people who were born into a life meant for dignity, safe from others who – knowingly or unknowingly – rob them of that God-given dignity.

As a body of believers, it is our responsibility to support, empower, encourage…and delve into God-given talents and gifts to discover solutions specific to countries, cultures, communities and individuals. It is complex. Very complex. But that complexity shouldn’t frighten us away from what could restore dignity that has been taken away through varying conditions revolving around the epicenter of poverty.

Be bold. Be stubborn. Fight for Kingdom restoration.

Sustainability is hard to mull over. There is a lot to consider, specifically how it is defined, by who it’s defined by, with what perspective and what it looks like in real situations. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by just how many things I’ve been a part of, what I’ve seen and how God has directed my heart to fight with my friends who I love. God’s heart is for them to consistently feed their families. God’s heart is for them to send their kids to school.

I’ve heard sustainability is educating children so the cycle doesn’t continue with next generation.

I’ve heard sustainability is a ministry paying off debt to free up funds to run the ministry.

I’ve heard sustainability is income generating activities that will bring income into the ministry, so they are not dependent on external funding.

I’ve heard sustainability is a child learning how to make cheese, teaching his family, making it together, then selling it pay for his school fees.

I’ve heard sustainability is job creation so that parents and families do need to seek donations or give their children into the care of a local church housing a children’s home.

Plus a million versions I have not heard.

The reality is not every community or ministry that receives funding from foreign sources wants to maintain that funding until the end of time. Arguably, they do exist and I’ve met some of them who would prefer that route, but that would lead into a wholly different post concerning enabling, bad uses of funds and dependency.

We should want the best for those that we call friends, and anyone else in similar situations, who were not graced with the privilege of growing up where we did. Their political corruption, war, natural disasters, droughts and a myriad of other things are not of their own doing. They did not choose poverty. What we should fight for is dignity restored through their unique and beautiful gifting given by their Creator to use those talents in generating their own income and empowering their community to be a community of people that does not have to rely of foreign funding.

What IF we used the trillions of dollars given in ‘aid’ to actually research what businesses would benefit each community, what is marketable, what could effectively be exported if the market isn’t large enough within the community, build those businesses and create consistent income? What would our world look like if there were consistent jobs in communities that are shackled by poverty? What IF we actually listened to those international communities and supported their OWN vision within their cultural context? What IF we hung up our American perspective at the door and saw with different eyes? What IF we all actually worked together across denomination lines and pooled our resources to accomplish it? What IF it was actually believers supporting believers and we truly looked like a Kingdom community?

It seems unbelievable, but if we don’t work toward it, we’ll never see it happen.

Don’t become paralyzed by the need.

Don’t become paralyzed by the many years it will take to accomplish and the commitment it entails.

Create jobs. Keep families together. Maintain dignity.

And see Kingdom transformation throughout.

The community my friends’ organization was choosing to partner with in Africa did not want magical funding for eternity…they just needed a lift up. Because it was coming in partnership and because it was coming through relationship, the community was able to maintain their pride while they were doing the rest.

Probable solutions would take another million posts and a plethora of knowledge that I don’t have, but wisdom and discernment is everything…what I am currently reading is ‘Poverty of Nations’ by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, who happen to be an economist and theologian who wrote it together. I would highly recommend reading along with me, you can catch up…I’m only on chapter 3 at the moment. I would also suggest finding organizations that speak your same language and fight for the things God has called us to fight for in our world. There are many people out there doing very good things to create jobs, export product and work toward sustainability.

 

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.

elysée

Pastor Elysee & MoiseMany times in Haiti, pastors set aside their ideal of safe areas when they embrace the courage to follow God wherever he may lead them. God led Pastor Elysée to Biggarouse while many of the local community was rapidly leaving the area due to an increased level of crime, voodoo and lack of good that comes with a community of people who love Jesus.

“It is a miracle how God made me start the village. It was a really difficult community. People didn’t want to live there anymore. But when God put on my heart to start the church here, I started with a crusade in the community. During the crusade in February 2002, many people came to Jesus. When people saw that the Gospel was being preached again, they came back to the community because they believed there would be some changes. The first thing we had was the church and we started in a tent, then we started a school. After the school, we started the orphanage,” Pastor shared.

When it came to finding the land for the village after Pastor started preaching to the community, it was a dream from long ago that materialized in front of him while walking down the road outside what would become his village to house kids and where many come to school.

“I can say that I was sent by God to this community. I had a dream. When I had the dream, I saw that I began a ministry in a place like where we are now. I kept looking, but all the other places I looked they were not right. What I saw in my dream is exactly the same, there is a corner then a divide in the road right where the place was in my dream, and that corner and divide in the road is the one right outside where the village is now. That is how I knew God wanted me to start the ministry here. I always live by faith, and I knew that God was going to make my dream come to pass,” Pastor said.

One of the difficulties while leading in a community in need of help is when parents need jobs. Pastor shared with me the story of a family in the community, “After the boy’s mom talked to me and explained the situation, I was really sad about her story. I said, what I can do for you is I can give you a job here and you can have a possibility to help your son. Then the boys’ mom came back with her son to talk about the job I wanted to give her. I was sitting with her under that avocado tree there, and she said, ‘I forgot my bag in the road.’ I said, ‘How could that happen that you forgot your bag? Go get it!’ She walked out the gate to get her bag, and after that I never saw her again, and she has not come back for her son. I have called her many times and she never picks up the phone. The boy is 4 years old and in preschool now. He has been living here for 2 years, and the mamas love him and all the other kids like him and help take care of him. He is a very good boy. Because of this, we call him Moise [Moses in English], because he shares his story with Moise from the Bible.”

Pastor’s leadership is deeply rooted in prayer. As he shares with those willing to listen while sitting under a larger than life mango tree, prayers of several women are heard in the church simultaneously mixed with the voices of teachers in nearby classrooms. Just as this chorus floats into the air, pastor shares, “Everything is done by faith. I pray to God and God shows us the way. This church changes kids’ lives. They didn’t know anything about school or God, and because of our presence in the community, they learn about Jesus and are educated. As an example, some of the young girls, if we didn’t have the village to help them they would have a really bad life, maybe they would have babies without fathers or be in prostitution or other things. In the same way, if it was not for the village, the boys would have a bad life and be stealers or other things to have money to survive. But because of the village, they have a new life.”

This new life is nurtured by a local church community that is active in the lives of the kids. Though unable to financially support the village due to the poverty in the community, whenever the village needs to do something, the members of the congregation are always available to help them do it. It is that investment in the kids and village that will benefit the kids’ future. According to Pastor, “The kids that we see today in a bad situation, tomorrow they will be someone that can help society move forward. If we don’t help them they will be bad for society, and if we do help them it will be a benefit for society. They will develop the community. The kids we see today are the ones that will be adults tomorrow. They could be president, prime minister, deputies, doctors and economists. This generation is the one that will help society move forward.”

Inspired by moving the next generation into a capable and sustainable adulthood is where Pastor points to the one that draws them together, “God never changes. He is the same one yesterday, the same one today and will be the same one tomorrow.”

The Lord has led GO Project to support the leadership of Pastor Elysée as he cares for economic and social orphans at his village in Biggarouse outside the city of Cayes. 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.

pastors

Today marks a distinctive day in Haiti. It is 12 Janvier. Six years have passed since the earthquake rocked this ground and the lives of so many. It is an emotional day in Haiti, but at the same time, God is doing so much within these borders and the lives of the people here. In that spirit, I chose today to start a series of blog posts centering on the pastors I have come to know and love as our lives have intersected for this time in Haiti.

I have spent a lot of time around pastors in the states. Some are incredible, Spirit-led leaders, some I greatly respect through their flaws, some I definitely do not respect and others have made me evaluate my role in stateside church based on their leadership and how I have been gifted. Pastors in Haiti have infinitely more responsibility and I am grateful God has used them to heal some of my experiences with stateside pastors. 

When it comes to partnering with the local church in Haiti, there is also an element of encouraging, supporting and praying for the pastors in a unique way that would not be considered in stateside culture. Haitian pastors bear the weight of not only the kids in their care, but also their own families, congregation, school support and the surrounding community. As many pastors have said, life in Haiti is hard, but life as a pastor in Haiti is even harder. Imagine the multitude of requests for food, money, medical help and caring for kids in an economy where for every Haitian who is employed, they are supporting eight other Haitians.

Over the months of September and October, I had the incredible honor of sitting and listening to eleven of the pastors partnered with Global Orphan Project in Haiti. We laughed. We shared stories. We encouraged each other. Still, months later, I am enamored by the stories of these men and their willingness to take time from their insanely busy schedules to simply be present with me and allow me toss questions at them. After living for 22 months in Haiti, I am grateful to call many of them friends and even more so, for their sacrifices in caring for orphans in their communities, many of whom have forever marked my soul and continue to do so on a weekly basis while I have the on-going privilege of living here.

It is important to know for each of these incredible pastors that they were all caring for kids in their communities long before GO Project knew them. We get the honor of praying, encouraging and financially supporting them where they needed a partner to come alongside them in education or life care costs for their kids. We have no ownership over their ministries or the children in their care. Many of the pastors are businessmen, some are builders, and others have gone back to school to earn degrees for higher paying jobs to offset the cost of their ministry to orphans in their care. Some have congregations that are very small, while others have hundreds of people in their churches on Sundays.

Their callings and how God has directed their lives are unique to each pastor. Every single one of them told me they never intended to become a pastor, and their obedience in answering that calling is inspiring. Most never intended to care for kids in their communities, but their leadership and placement within that community led them to build children’s homes.

I share these stories to not only bust open your worldview and offer a different perspective, but also to lead you to pray for them. I carry a heavy burden for the pastors who do not have active partnerships and for them to have churches, organizations or groups of people that are loyal to a partnership with their village. That loyalty could look like several different things, but let me offer some Biblical perspective on loyalty in relationships.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8 NIV]

The word ‘MERCY’ from Micah 6:8 in Hebrew means, ‘unfailing love, loyal love, kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship.’ Mercy makes it personal, emotional and genuine. It makes partnerships between cultures a part of your heart and asks you to look beyond yourself. Mercy is not easy. Mercy is not ‘surface.’ Mercy is messy, because it can be ugly at times. Real, loyal relationships are not always pretty. Yet, God uses mercy to not only be in relationship with us, but also invite us to take our relationships with others deeper.

Haiti needs others that are willing to be loyal through the mess. Those who will be curious, learn and ask questions, gain hard answers and be willing to wade through the muck of the mess of relationship. I carry a burden for these pastors to have others that choose to walk with them. The pastors have a deep desire to have dedicated partners to visit, spend time with them, play with their kids, get to know the mamas and pray with them. And not simply one time, but to do so yearly or even multiple times a year.

So…I pray and discern for those conversations and opportunities to tell stories that might bring someone face-to-face with where God is calling them to invest. My hope in these posts is that you pray, discern and be willing to see through a different set of eyes. Life in Haiti is not easy, but in these next several posts, I want to provide you with a look at leaders in local church communities who are on the frontlines of a physical, emotional and spiritual battlefield. May what God does with that always move us toward his Kingdom on earth.

 

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.