Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home Again, but Something has Changed

After a long day of travel, I arrived back home in Lubbock, TX yesterday evening.  What a different world.  Shiny airport terminals, all sorts of food and shopping in the airports, trash cans that people actually use!  Not that I don't like any of it all, but it makes me think of all those people living in deplorable conditions in Haiti, including the 36 teenagers and 15 or so staff at the orphanage.  People who I may never see again, but have grown so close to my heart.  For whom death and suffering are all too real in their lives, yet somehow, joy and gratitude are much more present too.  I have learned so much from the Haitians, and I can only hope that I enriched their lives as much as they did mine.  It was with a broken heart that I had to respond to the question I was asked over and over that I did not know when I would be back.

My friends in Haiti took such good care of me, and I am so thankful for the time we had to spend together. We laughed, joked, and enjoyed each other.  We argued and got angry.  We were protected from a hurricane.  We weathered political unrest and the fear of violence.  We washed our hands with soap constantly to prevent Cholera.  And as I sit on my comfortable couch, I know they are still enduring all these things.

And sometimes I wonder how they do it.  Many people in the US live in comfort that if they run out of food, they can go to the grocery store and buy more.  If they get sick, they have health insurance to go to the hospital.  If there is violence in the neighborhood, the police will most likely do something about it.  (This is certainly not the case for everyone in the US.  There are people who go hungry here too.  There are people without proper medical care.  There are some really violent neighborhoods.  But it is certainly not as widespread as in countries like Haiti.)  I wonder how the Haitians survive, how they find the will to survive.  But the answer is not too complicated.  I discovered, first, how little materially I needed.  Some clothes and food.  And maybe some books.  And when you don't have all those other things fighting for your attention, its much easier to see the things that really will give lasting comfort.  The people around them.  And their faith and the hope that only God can give.  Through this hope they find the strength to go on.  There were times for myself during the past five months that I was only able to continue what I was doing through the strength given to me by God.

Today in church, we were singing "O come, O come Emmanuel".  I've always thought it was a really pretty advent song, but it struck me differently today, so much so that tears began to fill my eyes.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.


O come Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things far and nigh,
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.


O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.


I hadn't ever really thought much about it, but I always operated under the assumption that this was an Advent song, anticipating the birth of Christ, which has already happened.  Which it is.  But as I sang "and death's dark shadows put to flight," I thought of the shadow of death that still hangs over Haiti, the fear that lives there.  This is also a prayer of petition, asking for the world to be made right.  Because it most certainly is not.  But the refrain is the confident assurance that someday, all that is promised will be given.  "Rejoice!"  God is coming!  It is both remembrance that Christ has come and a declaration that he will come again.  He will come again, and all the things that are wrong in the world will be made right.  And that is great hope for us all.

I'm home again, and something is different.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Haitian Elections

So if you've been following Haitian news, you know that Haiti just had a big round of elections on the 28th of November, including new presidential elections. Its been a big deal, and its really important who wins. The current president, Rene Preval, is widely disliked. A lot of the foreign aid that was promised to Haiti after the earthquake has yet to be distributed because of the distrust of the current government. His son-in-law, Jude Celestin, is running for president. He is also fairly widely disliked, although he has his supporters. Corruption runs rampant through the government, and though a new president won't change all of that, it should help.

The results of this election were announced on Tuesday evening. Mirlande Manigat, the leading opposition candidate, got about 32% of the vote. Jude Celestin, who had been in third place, suddenly moved into second place the day the results were announced, with about 22% of the vote, Michel "Mickey" Martelly, the other opposition candidate and Haitian pop star, coming in third, 6,800 votes behind Celestin. The way Haiti's elections work, if no one has an outright majority after the first election (which is likely, given that there are somewhere around 20 candidates) there is a run-off election between the top two candidates.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. The day after the election, 12 of the 19 candidates got together and said that they wanted the election thrown out because of election fraud. There were accusations of stuffing the ballot boxes, people showing up and not being on the list of eligible voters, intimidation, and the like, including one guy who showed up to vote and he wasn't on the list, but his dead brother was. After the results were announced, Martelly's supporters took to the streets protesting, claiming the results were tampered with and Martelly should be in the run-off instead of Celestin. Celestin's campaign manager then said he was going to protest the results too, claiming Celestin should have gotten 52% of the vote, winning the election outright. (A pretty outrageous claim if you ask me.)

Since Wednesday, we haven't had school becasue of the protests. They haven't been too violent; its more of a volume thing. Wednesday, the whole city basically shut down becasue there were so many people in the streets that no one could get to work. The protesters have set fire to a lot of Jude Celestin's campaign banners across the city, as well as setting fire to his party headquarters. It has gotten a bit quieter, but people are still blocking the streets and a smoky/foggy haze hangs over the city. Its been pretty quiet up around us, as most of the protests have been more downtown and in Petionville. (If you're worried about our saftey, you shouldn't worry too much. There's been no protest activity in our area.)

Today (or possibly last night), election officials announced they would recount all the votes in the presence of the three leading candidates, Mirlande Manigat, Jude Celestin and Michel Martelly, and international observers. Which, I think, is a great move. The could have hardly done otherwise though. There are so many eyes on Haiti right now, and such popular discontent with the current government that it would have been difficult for the election comission to have ignored these protests. We'll wait and see what happens, but its good news for democracy in Haiti.

I don't have any pictures cause we're too far away from the action, but check out news sites for some photos. I know BBC and the New York Times have articles and pictures. is where I found info about the recount.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

So I figured I'd not get any sort of celebration for Thanksgiving this year, being in Haiti and all.  But I did.  And it was great.

Dr Bernard invited us up to his house for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.  But this is Haiti.  Thursday morning he called us and said we'd have to postpone the meal for a day.  Why you ask?  His stove was broken, so he couldn't cook the turkey.  Or more correctly, four turkeys.  There was a group of about 40 Americans staying at his guest house that we were joining for a Thanksgiving meal.  Anyway they got the stove fixed, and we came up yesterday (Friday) for dinner.  And was it magnificent.  Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy. Even cranberry sauce!  And there was desert.  Which never happens at the orphanage.  The closest we get is having cake for joint birthday parties every month or two.  But we had carrot cake, pineapple upside down cake, spice cake, and pumpkin pie.  It was wonderful.

There were a few really good things about having Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, besides the wonderful food.  For one, we were at the school on Friday morning, which happened to be party day.  They had music, dancing, games, and food for all the kids in the school.  It was kinda like a field day, except replace the field with a concrete courtyard about 20x30ft.  But it was a lot of fun.  And the kids had a TON of fun.

Secondly, one of the kids was coming up to Dr. Bernard's this weekend, so she got to have a typical Thanksgiving dinner with us.  Which was kinda fun.  Maybe just for me, though.  Mashed potatoes, stuffing.  Not really your typical Haitian fare.  And she wasn't impressed.  After we finished eating, I asked her if she liked it, and she shook her head emphatically, looking fairly disgusted.  Then, I asked her if she liked the dessert, and oh how her face changed in an instant.  Her eyes lit up with a huge smile across her face.  The head shaking remained emphatic, but with the opposite emotion propelling it.

The last nice side effect of postponing Thanksgiving dinner was that we get to stay up at Dr. Bernard's for the weekend, which is nice to have a bit of time away from the orphanage to rest and relax.  To be off duty.

How much we all have to be thankful for!  I'll leave you with the words of an song/prayer of simple thanks that I learned, well, I don't remember every not knowing it!  Maybe some of you know it too.  Savor these words.

"The Lord is good to me,
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me
the things I need
the sun and the rain
and the Appleseed.
The Lord is good to me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Miracles can be a touchy subject. The Bible is full of stories of men surviving impossible situations, stories of miraculous healing, the deaf and blind receiving their senses back.  Some people say those stories just aren't true.  Some people try to explain them using modern science.  The impulses to explain them away or dismiss them come from the same place.  Miracles seemed to have happened so much during Biblical times, but it seems like they don't happen anymore.  Why not?

Many people much smarter than I have tried to answer this question.  And they have some good things to say.  I don't want to try to answer that question.  I just want to share a story.

Last week, we found out that there was a hurricane/tropical storm in the southern Caribbean eventually headed for Haiti.  We watched it, trying to see how bad it would be so we had some idea how to prepare for it.  And it looked like it would be bad.  For a city in which hundreds of thousands of people are living in tents (tents that have already taken a beating from the sun, wind, and rain of the past 10 months) and many more are living with fragile rusted roofs over their heads, any storm with high winds was going to do a lot of damage.  And Tomas was predicted to be a Category 1 or 2 hurricane by the time it got to Port-au-Prince.  We were a little worried.

Alright, a lot worried.  Thursday night the boys and I were watching the weather channel on Haitian TV, and they were predicting the rain and wind would only get stronger as it headed towards us.  There was nothing much to do other than pray.  And I think a lot of people were praying, both here and back in the US.  I was raining most of the day on Thursday, but Friday it was supposed to hit us hard.  As I got out of bed on Friday, there was a bit of rain and wind, but you could hardly call it a storm.  It was a light drizzle, and maybe a 5 MPH breeze.  It was actually quite pleasant.  We waited for things to get worse.

But they never did.  We had a steady drizzle most of the day, but we couldn't have gotten much more than an inch all day long.  At one point, Cecelia's mom called.  She was watching the weather in the US.  The radar said we should be getting buckets of rain and 75 MPH winds.  Couldn't be farther from the truth.  Still light drizzle and a light breeze every once in a while.

Friday morning as I lay half awake in my bed, I had a vision of a huge God-hand coming out from the tops of the mountains that surround Port-au-Prince and curving over the city, protecting it.  It turns out the storm broke up as it approached Port-au-Prince.  I know weather forecasters are often wrong about these things, but they were really wrong this time.  And I don't think it was because they're not good at their job.  I think God covered the city with his hand of protection.

And I don't hesitate to call it a miracle.

Psalm 46:1-3,10-11
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change.
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult
"Be still and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth!"
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Little surprises

I've actually been back in Haiti for three weeks now, but we haven't had internet for most of that time.  It was really good to have time at home with my family for a bit, and now it is good to be back here with the kids.  I was really missing them while I was home.  They can be really difficult and frustrating sometimes, and other times they are really wonderful.  But I shouldn't be too surprised; they're teenagers.

I want to share one story along those lines.  One of the boys spends a lot of time hanging out with me.  He's a really great kid, and I think I've gotten to know him pretty well.  He's a pretty smart kid, he likes making movies, and he's really outgoing.  But his interests are a little different from the rest of the boys.  To begin with, he doesn't like soccer.  Which, for a Haitian, is really strange.  Haitian boys will turn anything into a soccer ball, whether it resembles a soccer ball or not.  I think my favorite might be a dead AA battery that one of our boys was kicking around one day.  Really. Anything can become a soccer ball.

Anyway, this one boy spends a lot of time with me.  He talks a lot and doesn't really mind interrupting whatever I'm doing.  Sometimes its great; he's helped me a lot with learning Creole and explaining cultural things to me.  But sometimes, he's just annoying.  And it gets frustrating when he does something that he knows is annoying, and keeps doing it. Or when he asks every five minutes when the library is going to be open and we tell him every time that the library won't be open for another four hours.  Well, one evening I was sitting on my bed writing in my journal.  I just finished writing how frustrated I was with him (it was particularly bad that day) when guess who jumped through the door!  Yep.  But it wasn't with the typical "como estas are you."  He was very serious.  And in fact, he had something very serious to talk about.  It really surprised me.  He was genuinely concerned, observant, and quite mature about his complaint.

My first thought was, "Wow!  That's a miracle."  Which it was.  And with that, I realized that people can change.  I know that sounds like a very basic observation, and something I should have learned a long time ago.  But people can change instantly.  One moment they are annoying and frustrating, then the next, the considerate, concerned part of them is brought to the fore, coaxed out by some miracle.  And that gives me hope.  Hope that no matter how difficult or whatever a person is, there is hope that there is something inside is different.  Hope that there is some goodness in there that just needs to come out.  And I don't take credit for that, but its really a miracle.

I want to tell you about one other event from the past few weeks that was fun.  Every month the kids have one big celebration for every kid that has a birthday in that month.  We had the October celebration a few weeks ago.  There's cake for everyone, and the birthday kids get an extra large piece.  But there are two really cool things about this celebration.  First, they don't give each other presents.  They don't have much to money to give each other anyway, but they don't even try to make cards from stuff we have in the library.  Instead, they perform for each other.  Each birthday boy or girl will ask a specific person to sing for them.  And there is often some complaining, but they do it.  Of course, they made me sing.  The other thing I like about it is that it isn't a strictly secular affair.  Unlike most birthday celebrations I've been to, they began with prayer.  Then most of the songs were religious songs.  Then there was cake.  It was just the right amount of God in it all.  It was still about celebrating their birthdays, but God was still present in that celebration.

And one last quick thing.  There is a hurricane/tropical storm headed this was, expected to make landfall late Friday night/early Saturday morning.  I tell you this not to worry you, because all of the kids and I will be perfectly safe.  Our buildings are in very little danger from a hurricane.  They're solid concrete.  They're not going to get blown away.  I tell you this instead to ask for your prayers for safety for the rest of Haiti.  There are so many people still living in tents and other flimsy buildings.  And there are thousands of people who still have their homes who are also in danger of losing their metal roofs.  There are dangers of mudslides with heavy rain.  So I ask for your prayers for the people of this country who are still deathly afraid of natural disasters.  Pray for safety, peace, and comfort.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


So I've been thinking, many of my expectations about what I would be doing at the orphanage were inaccurate, and I'm not doing as much "work" as I expected.

What I have been doing, however, is loving kids. And loving kids is so much more than doing things for them. In fact, sometimes it means not doing things for them. Before I went to Haiti, I was thinking I would show the Haitians how much I love them by doing stuff, by "working". But after a few boring days, some days filled with supervising the library, and generally just being with the kids, I'm discovering lots of other ways to love them, not just through what I generally think of as "work". Loving by teaching. Loving by learning their language and culture. Loving by admitting my faults. Loving just through living in community with them.

So while I still believe work is a powerful way to show love, there are many other ways that love is "made visible" and many of those have been more prevalent in my work at the orphanage than what we might typically consider "work".  For all of us, we have some many more chances to show love than just by the "work" that we do.  So, with that, I'm just going to amputate the first two words from my blog title. I think that will make it a little more accurate.

On the topic of love, a few weeks ago, I taught a Bible study with the kids on 1 Corinthians 13. If you've ever gone to a Christian wedding, chances are good you've heard this passage before, particularly v. 4-7. It talks about what love is, and what it is not. Interestingly enough, it doesn't say, "love is hard-working." It is, however, lots of other things.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pictures. 'Cause I have decent internet

I'm going to take advantage of a fast internet connection while I'm in the US to post some pictures.

First, here's a picture of the boys' house. Its right across the street from the other building that has the school and the girls dorms. My room is in the back left corner of the boys' house.

And this is the "living room" in the boys' house. We watch TV, hang out, and have devotions in this room.

Me sitting in my room reading. (Credits for this picture go to Renick. He likes taking pictures with my camera. Mostly of himself, but sometimes he takes pictures of other things. Like me.)

Here's a picture of all the kids minus three who were taking exams that day (some of them aren't cooperating really well) with me and Mark and Marsha (the other two white folks). We took this picture on the roof of the girls' house.

This is the kitchen in the boys' house. All the cooking is done in the other building, so this kitchen is mostly for storing and washing dishes. And blue thing on the right is our water filter.

I think that's good for now.