Pics: Orphanage at Tamazeau

I wrote about our orphanage experience in Haiti, but wasn’t able to post pictures.  (You can read the story by clicking HERE).    The pictures are now posted below.  Click the picture to get a larger view and more description.

Home Again Home Again, Jiggity Jig

The internet at the guest house in Haiti was in a bad mood the last few days, so I was unable to post any updates.

I’m now home, as is all of my Dallas team.  Everyone else is either home or on their way home.

THANK YOU for keeping us in your prayers and for visiting the blog for updates.  Many of you do not even know me or my group, but your words and support have been a great encouragement.

There are so many stories left unshared, so I encourage you to continue checking in with me as I continue to post some of our experiences.  I’ll also be uploading some pictures for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure, in some cases).

Thanks Again!

You’ve heard of Mayberry…

Now you’re going to hear about Ganthier, the complete opposite of Mayberry.  In fact, if you can’t pronounce “Ganthier” just call it “Mayhem”.

It’s important to understand that not every ministry experience that a missionary participates in is all fun and games (just ask any full-time missionary…they’ve got all kinds of horror stories).  We don’t always leave an outreach site with smiles and positive, life-changing thoughts.  Some days can be downright frustrating, exhausting, and a temptation to pack up early and get the heck out of dodge.  Today was one of those type of days for me and most of our team.

The townspeople of Ganthier greeted us with outstretched arms as we parked the bus.  We still had a small 5 – 10 minute trek to the wood and tin church where we would set up our last clinic.  Several women and children helped carry our boxes and supplies, while the rest of the crowd gathered around and paraded down the road alongside us.

As the word spread of our arrival, the space in front of the church became packed with people wanting to visit the nurses.  As the lines grew, so did impatience, greed, and tempers.  Women flung small children around by their shirt collars, boys shoved each other around, and grown men screamed at anyone nearby.  Anytime any of us walked out of the church with some kind of equipment or supply in our hand (for example, gloves we used as balloons or the papers we used to take names for the clinic), we would be swarmed and pushed in upon.  Out of all the places we’ve been this week, these people were the most aggressive.  The worst was when the pastor of the church and some other men took tree branches and started beating the kids.  One man even took off his leather belt to whip small children who pressed in to get in to see the nurses.

Along with the aggression, there was conniving, disrespect, and lying at a level we had not seen in the previous cities.  Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely instances on the previous days of people lying to get more stuff or trying to sneak (aka steal) things, but they were never disrespectful or mean, nor was it occurring on a large scale.  But today, these people were downright mean and ugly…purposely ignoring our directions, blatantly mocking us, and at one point, throwing rocks onto the church we were in.  One group of 4 – 6 teenage boys kept preying upon the women of our group, encircling them, and even tried to get one of us to follow them away from the area.  However, we’ve got some wise ladies who refused to heed the hoodlums requests and would go and stand by our men for protection.

In our group time tonight, I asked who thought today was frustrating…12 out of 13 of us raised our hands.  In all honesty, it’s very difficult to see the positive in today because we were surrounded by such unGodly behaviors.  But, we KNOW that God was still glorified.  Besides helping medically and nutritionally (we fed them), every member of our team remained focused on the goal – to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  This like-minded purpose enabled us to encourage each other through the difficult moments and kept us persevering, even when we wanted to give up.

As we looked upon the ugliness of the people around us, God taught us a few things:

  • We do not fight against earthly enemies, but there is a spiritual battle going on all the time.  Sometimes that battle is more difficult and more apparent than other times.  Today was definitely a great spiritual battle.
  • God showed us our own ugliness…in our reactions, in our thoughts, in our attitudes, in our motivations.  We all sin and fall short of God’s glory.  We just sin in different ways.  Sometimes, though, we are just like them…angry, greedy, manipulative…
  • God loves them just as much as he loves us.  He does not show favoritism, but his gifts of grace, mercy, and salvation are free to all people who call upon him.  Because of that love He has for all of us, we, too, must love all.  Even when they respond in hate.
  • Even when all we see is Chaos, God is still working.   We may never know the results of our actions today.  Perhaps the young boy who asked Jeff about Jesus will grow into a strong, loving Christian leader who will one day guide his neighbors into a deeper relationship with God.   I don’t know…but I do know that God was still glorified today.

The Orphanage at Tamazo

I’ve visited at least a dozen or so orphanages throughout Europe, Mexico, and S. America.  The one we went to yesterday wins the award as the worst orphanage I’ve ever experienced.

Honestly, I don’t know what I was expecting -  maybe a simple concrete structure with dormitory style rooms, a large meeting room, small kitchen, etc – you know, a basic setup to take care of all the needs of children.  That would have been heaven for these kids.  Instead, they had one strip of a concrete shell divided into rooms, except the rooms had no doors, most had no roofs, and most of the walls were missing chunks of bricks.  If you ever visited old castle or monastery ruins, picture those…except surrounded by trash and green overgrowth, and inhabited by children ages 4 – 15.  No electricity.  No plumbing.  No kitchen (except for an outdoor fire pit with two bowls and a pot).

Right now there are 25 children sharing 2 tiny rooms.  Each room has 5 cots (the size of twin bed mattresses).  Small shirts and pants hang on a single line strung across the wall.  Clorox bleach bottles fill the spaces under the cots.  One room has a microwave stuffed full with papers, a plate, and a spoon.  But the children are proud of their space.  As I walked into the rooms, they would run in with me, smiling ear-to-ear and eager to show me the few things they do possess…a toy made from string and bottle top, a pair of craft Styrofoam glasses made with the last mission group to visit, their dogs that roam about the grounds and sometimes get “trapped” in their rooms (kids are still kids…bringing home strays :)

Next to the bedrooms are two rooms that serve as classrooms during the school year.  Thin, cheap chalkboards lean against the gray walls.  A few wooden chairs sit scattered in the corners.  One room has 2 desks. It’s hard to believe this placed is used as a school.  There’s nothing there.   And the worst part…this is the only school for many many miles.  For some of the people in the mountains, the children travel 6 hours to come to this school.  In Haiti, there is no free education.  All schools, even the government schools, require families to pay for the children to attend…sometimes up to $2,000 U.S. Dollars per year.  I’m not sure how much this “school” charges, but people pay.  Not only do many of the schoolchildren just attend the school, they live there as well.  When school’s in session, there can be up to 150 – 200 children staying on the “orphanage” grounds.  10 cots will not sleep 150 kids…so they sleep wherever they lay down.

The orphanage is located in one of the mountain regions, on the outskirts of a small village, which also has no running water and sparse electricity.  Although a water well has been built in the town, the land owners on which the well is located, charges villagers to buy the water.  The main water sources are the streams that run from the mountains.  They dig irrigation tunnels to help stream the water.  On our drive in we witnessed a variety of activity at these streams…a group of women bathing, children gathering water for their families, a few families washing clothes, and the animals getting something to drink.  For the orphans, these streams are off-limits.  For whatever reason, the villagers refuse to let the children gather water from these streams, so they must walk 45 minutes into the mountains to get water.  Remember the clorox bottles under the beds?  They serve 2 purposes…when empty, they’re used to carry water.  The remaining bleach is used to treat the water they bring back to make it drinkable.

This place is basically child exploitation and slavery.  The Owners have received thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations (not including the school tuition money) to improve the condition of the orphanage.  Even GCOM sent a couple of thousand of dollars and new shoes just a few weeks ago.  The new shoes were nowhere on the grounds, the children wore old shoes or flipflops.  As for the money… no one knows…but the director took a vacation to America with her husband this week…(not accusing her of stealing the money or the donations…but where is everything that’s been given?  And why are the kids still suffering in horrid conditions when the owners are traveling abroad and building/expanding a lavish house?)

Once over the initial shock and horror at the orphanage conditions, we set up the clinic and treated all the orphans plus over 175 village men, women, and children.  We also were able to feed them and pass out donations of clothes, baby products, and toiletries.  Despite the conditions, I personally thought this was the best day of ministry…but, I have a special reason…

One of the best activities you can do with children on a mission trip or outreach is to make “Salvation Bracelets”.  These simple-to-make bracelets use colored beads to tell the salvation message.  I set up the director’s office as a craft room and held mini-classes for about 6 children at a time.  We talked about the different colored beads and about Jesus.  I asked questions and then answered their questions.  I was so blessed to hear the children’s knowledge of Jesus.  Most of them were already Christians, but not all.  After the class was over, I pulled aside the ones who admitted they were not Christians, and had the opportunity to speak more personally about Jesus with them.  In the end, 2 boys chose to accept Christ as their Savior and Lord!  I asked lots of questions to make sure they understood what they were doing and why.  I told them that this had to be their decision, and if they weren’t ready, they didn’t have to pray….but they thought about it and said that this is what they wanted!

One boy, Bobo (age 11), touched me deeply.  His parents practice Voodoo.  He remembers attending a local Christian church when he was little, but they never go now and his parents don’t talk about Jesus.  As we talked about his family and how they might react if he becomes a Christian, I could see by his facial expressions that he was truly thinking about what he wanted to do.  When I asked him, “Are you sure you want to do this now?” He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes.  I want to ask Jesus into my heart.”  After we prayed, we talked about how it may not be easy for him, but he needs to try to learn as much as he can about Jesus…read the Bible, pray, talk with his christian friends about God, and go to church when he can.  Once again, he turned his big eyes towards mine and asked, “Can you please pray that I can get some church clothes?  I want to go to church, but I don’t have any clothes nice enough for church?”  As sad as that request was, I rejoiced.  It showed me the heart of a young boy who truly has a new heart to serve and grow in his relationship with God.

As with all the days, we all have heartbreaking stories from this experience.  But through it all, we rejoice because God IS working there…He is revealing himself to these children and they have a strong faith in Him.  It’s that faith, when they grow out of their childlike innocence into an adult realization of how horrible their earthly circumstances are, that will sustain them.

Day 6 Itinerary

Today’s our last clinic.  We’ll be setting up at a local church.

We’re at the end of our medical supplies, so in order to have an effective clinic, we’ll be buying more medications here at the local pharmacy.  Prices are extremely expensive, but hopefully we’ll be able to strike a deal or God will need to multiply our supplies like he multiplied the fish and bread.  :)

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Last night I was asked to lead the morning worship and devotion for the 30+ missionaries and staff.  I have to be honest and say that I was less than thrilled to be put in this position.  I have not sang in front on people in a long time.  I love worship.  I love singing.  I used to love singing in front of people.  But over the last few years, I have pulled myself from sharing this gift that God has given me for various reason to long to discuss right now.

But I agreed to lead.   I’m here to be stretched, challenged, and used by God…and if this is one way He wants to stretch me, then I cannot say no.   Oh, by the grace of God go I…

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Updates on yesterday’s orphanage visit will hopefully be available tonight.

Day 5 Itinerary

In a few minutes, we’ll be taking the 0h-so-fun, sardine-inspired bus ride to an orphanage about 2 hours away.  Actually, the bus rides are really enjoyable (and not just because it’s air-conditioned) because of the conversations with each other.  It’s a good time to get to know one another, laugh, and also reflect on what God is doing in our lives.  Plus, our GCOM workers have great sense of humor and they keep us entertained.

The orphanage has about 100 children, some who are not really orphans.  Rather, like many situations around the world, the parents could not afford to keep their children or did not want them.

While with them, we’ll put on a small clinic and then play some games.  I’m expecting a joy-filled day with lots of laughter. :)

Tent to Tent Visitations

We maneuvered around the slimy brown muck, careful not to lose our footing and FALL into the slimy brown muck or, even worse, into the side of someone’s unstable shelter.  The paths only allowed for a single file line, as the tents had been placed as close as possible to accommodate as many tents as the empty field would permit.

Tent City residents rarely have guests, except for the occasional non-profit relief groups who offer day clinics or pass out food; they definitely never have guests who walk from tent to tent and ask to sit and visit with them!  Because of the news reports of rapes, crimes, & violence within the tent cities, most guests fear the worst.  But, having good rapport with each tent city’s manager, we felt led to meet the families in THEIR environment; to go to them instead of having them come to us, wait in line for an hour, and then only get to interact on a limited basis.  Furthermore, in the three days that I’ve been in the tent cities, NOT ONCE have I felt unsafe.  In fact, I have experienced only sincere hospitality and gratitude.  NOT ONCE has any person been threatening, hostile, or even rude.  I know that crime runs amuck in these chaotic environments, but as Christ followers, we are to obey the Spirit’s leading without fear, but with confidence, power, and a sound mind.

Every person we visited today affected my hate/love relationship with Haiti.  The people are precious – their kindness, their contagious smiles, their openness and honesty. They exhibit determination and perseverance, even though they feel hopeless.   It’s hard to not fall in love with them.

I HATE the situation they are in…more specifically, I hate their government, or rather, their LACK oF GOVERNMENT.   NO cleanup has started (except for individuals taking initiative on their own homes).  Buildings remain in dangerous heaps, some still leaning on the structures next to them.  Their waterways, sidewalks, and streets are basically trash dumps. I’ve been to some pretty nasty places in my life…none compare to Port-au-Prince.  I did not see any signs of an organized trash collection; the people literally just throw everything (and I mean everything) into the streets or streams.  Portable bathrooms (some just wooden walls with holes in the ground) add to the dangerous, unsanitary conditions…all because the government won’t get their act together.  It’s frustrating…many of us here found ourselves not just saddened, but angry.   And don’t even get me started on the education and health systems!  I may have to write about those later on, because the truth will astonish and overwhelm you with just how oppressive the government treats “their” people.  We just do what we can and then pray that God will shake up the government and either change the hearts of the leaders or replace them with those more compassionate and honest.

My breaking point today came with the second person we visited.  We trekked our way to a tent nestled between another tent, a high concrete wall and thick, low-hanging banana tree leaves.  The tent barely covered a small twin size mattress…just enough protection for a night’s sleep.  Outside the tent was one pot for cooking beans or rice.  The young lady who welcomed us to her “home” looked no older than 20.  She was petite and thin.  Her husband was at the market trying to find work.  She stays home because she is pregnant and needs to rest.

We chatted for a while, then I asked her when her baby is due.  Her eyes slightly danced around, looking for an answer, but then she simply replied, “I don’t know”.  I, confused, looked at my translator.  He apparently understood  my facial expression and proceeded to explain that most pregnant women never get to find out their anticipated due date because they never get to see a doctor during their pregnancy.  It’s too expensive.  So, they have to just make guesses to their dates.

Just the day before, I held a 1 day old baby, thinking about the conditions of her birth.  And now, here I was talking with a pregnant girl, overwhelmed with the realization of the conditions of her pregnancy.  Never knowing the health of herself or her baby.  Never getting to hear his or her heartbeat.  Never getting the opportunity to fully prepare for the new life that she will soon be blessed with…  No wonder she is scared.

We prayed.  She smiled. I cried.

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