Me and Him

Ok. Ok. I get it.  I am not perfect.  I do not know everything.  I am not always right.

I do not do everything exact or correctly the first time around.

I do not know all the answers, equations, formulas, definitions, or reasons.

I do not always choose to do right.

I stumble.  I fall.  I take others down with me.

I speak ill.  I hurt. I disappoint.

I am human.

But He is Perfect.  Omniscient.  Infallible.

He is righteous. Pure.  Unlimited.

He guides & shows the correct way to go.

He corrects.  He forgives.  He teaches.

He speaks gentle, wise counsel. He rebukes.

He listens. He is faithful.

He is merciful.  Gracious.

He heals.  Restores. Rescues.

He Loves.

He is God.


Busy Bee

It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about? 

~Henry David Thoreau

I’ve been so extremely busy lately, I’ve hardly had time to really rest, much less time to blog.

So, to answer Mr. Thoreau’s question, What are we busy about?

  • Seminary.  It’s kicking my butt.  (yes, I know.  I’m only part time…I can’t imagine how those, like my brother, can work 40 hours AND take a full load!)  I started out the semester very well (as I always do).  But then the Prof gave us procrastinators a reason to procrastinate even more…all assignments will have a one week grace period before being marked late.   Since then, I’ve used that grace period for every assignment.  I feel constantly behind.
  • Church.  I really am doing a full-time ministry job as a volunteer.  My position is “Director of Outreach and Missions” and we are a highly outreach-oriented church.  It seems there is something almost every week.  And, add all the other events that do not fall under “outreach” and I practically live at church functions.  Also add the fact that I’m organizing / facilitating the mission trip to Haiti and all the fundraising/preparation meetings/administration responsibilities.   I’m exhausted.  I keep repeating the adage that Prof. Bailey often repeated… “Weary IN the work, not OF the work”.  
  • Home Life.  We’re moving AGAIN.  we’ve been married 10 years, and we’ve averaged 1 move every year.  The current house we’re in is a lease and the owners want to sell.  Josh and I aren’t ready to be homeowners again, so we’re moving out.  Our lease isn’t up until April 10, but we’ve decided to move out early for a couple of reasons…  But, at the last minute.  Last weekend, Josh decided he wanted to move out THIS COMING SATURDAY!  We had not even started packing!  Can you say “frazzled”?  That’s how I feel.
  • Everything Else that comes along that takes time…grocery shopping, laundry (which I still haven’t done in two weeks).  Oh yeah…a 40 hour work week.  Dr. appointments.  Much needed Date nights with Josh. etcetera. etcetera. etcetera. 

A TRUE Sabbath Day would be nice!

Haiti: Jim Brown’s Story – Reflections

I really learned quickly that things we consider “essential” here at home…. aren’t essential at all. People are essential, friends and family are essential, people that you can trust to keep you going when you want to collapse or cry are essential, but electricity and running water and a nice shower are not essential.

Initially I disliked Haiti. I was dismayed by the poverty, disgusted by the garbage, and thrown off by the lack of vegetation and trees like in the Dominican Republic. I couldn’t understand how such poverty could be tolerated, how such living conditions could even exist. I didn’t see how anyone could live like that, how that life could be fruitful or happy, or anything but a mere struggle to survive in the worst of conditions. Reflecting that night on that boys story, and on the people we had helped at the orphanage today, and the stories of their families, of the little boy that Anna treated that was trapped in rubble for days, of the man who had cancer that we couldn’t help, of the father who wanted me to take his daughter, and of all the poverty and sadness, I strangely began to love Haiti for the first time. I don’t know why, I can’t really explain what made me switch. But that night, for the first time in a really long time in my life, I felt like I was doing something right. I felt like I was part of something good, and important, and even though I was not important to the trip and I was not a doctor and not able to make the impact I wanted in Haiti, I felt like I belonged there and I was doing the right thing. That night, looking out over the mountain side in the darkness, I first -loved- Haiti, and the Haitian people. From then on I wasn’t as dismayed by the poverty and the situation. I stopped asking “why” and “how” in my mind. It became less about the situation as a whole, and more about the people I was with and the patients that we treated, and the particular moment that we were in.

There is great poverty, corruption, and sickness in Haiti, but there is great good there too. This is the injustice that the media does when portraying the city as one big pile of rubble and the people as totally helpless. I have even heard people describe the living conditions in Haiti as “only slightly above animals.” I suppose if your standard of comparison is life in the luxury of the US, then living on the ground and struggling for food and water and trying to feed your family every day is horrific. But I saw Haitians happy, and joyful, and who found meaning in their life and who were struggling not to just “get by” or “get the next donation,” but to make their world a better place and to do what they could. What they can do is not much, just like what I could do was not much. But the GCOM orphanage is still standing, and it has produced people like Bobby Winter who grew up there and is leading trips to Haiti to help people now. And it has blessed people like me, who went there to give to the Haitians, but ended up receiving instead. Sure, there was lots of sadness and PTSD and destruction, death, and senseless poverty. I even felt a sense of anger after that night about why certain aspects of the city life weren’t taken care of by the people that could have been taken care of, but I no longer let those fester in me and I no longer saw Haiti as one big heaping mess. I wrote on my facebook wall that night that I felt more alive in Haiti than I ever had before. Life IS more real there. The simplicity of it, the basic necessity of it, brings out the truly important things. Haitians don’t have to worry about the ridiculous things we worry about in our jobs and our fast-paced American lives, and because they have to worry about the more basic necessities, they are more constantly focused on and concerned about the most important things, the things we always miss: people. All the Haitians I met remembered my name from the first time I met them. They all took an interest in me, and they all knew each other and were genuinely focused on the people around them. There is great beauty in that, and something that I hope I can learn from.

Haiti: Jim Brown’s Story – The Rest of the week

The rest of my trip with GCOM was spent in the same place in Carrefour. The next day in particular was the best day, in my opinion, in terms of logistics and efficiency. We were a well oiled machine that day. Someone came up with a way of numbering patients to reduce wait times, and this allowed us to spend more time with each individual and focus on them. We managed to get Kool-Aid for the kids and patients, which was a blessing because at this point we were giving them Peanut Butter sandwiches, which is a cruel type of torture if you don’t have something to drink with it. Many of the patients stayed after their treatment and asked to pray with us or to be prayed for, and the day really went by very smoothly and without turmoil or distress.

The team all had different days on which we had to leave, and we were all leaving Haiti at least one day before our flight from Santo Domingo, simply because of the difficulty of travel in Haiti. I was sad to leave, very sad, though I also was longing for a shower and a shave by that point, and my tent had a very peculiar odour to it after all my hard work and nasty clothing. Plus, sleeping on concrete was beginning to cause me to act like an old man in the mornings.

The next morning I got up with the animals again and had my last moment by the broken school and under the stars, and then met up with Anna and Bobby to make our way into Port au Prince to find transportation back to Santo Domingo. The bus station we arrived at had what I could only describe as a riot going on in front of it. As I was later told, some of the people felt that if they could just get over the gate, or even get their luggage over the gate, that they would be able to pass over the border and somehow get asylum in the US. There was also, apparently, a sense that there were a very limited number of spots, so everyone was fighting one another to get through the gate and to get one of these “spots” and get out of Haiti. We arrived at the back of this riot, which was for me quite nerve racking. Anna retained her normal simplicity and composure, and Bobby worked his normal magic with the crowd and got us closer to the gate. I, of course, was stressed out. Eventually some armed guards arrived and from what I could understand of the shouting, Bobby told them that we were Americans and needed to get out. The guards said something along the lines of: “These are Americans, they came here to help us we have to let them go first.” This was not well received by the crowd, and the guards were able to get Bobby and Anna through the gate, but for a minute I was caught outside and was being pulled in two directions. The guards were pulling my arms, and the crowd my luggage and backpack. Fortunately for me, I did not tear asunder and the guards won, and we were able to get through the gates and get on our way back to Santo Domingo.

I wish I could cover more, or really convey how … “successful” this trip was, but the media of written word doesn’t provide me that opportunity. I’m not sure anything provides it, except for experience. If the trip is measured in terms of how much we appreciably impacted Haiti, we don’t measure up to the big boys like the Red Cross or Catholic Charities, but then we never intended to. This trip was about getting directly to the Haitian people, and helping as many as we could directly from your donations to their hands and mouths and hearts, and that is precisely what we accomplished

Haiti: Jim Brown’s story – The day emotions hit

We traveled to Carrefour for our next medical mission. Carrefour was the epicenter of the earthquake, and from what we could tell nobody had reached there yet. We passed the American military lines, and we were in much more devastation and poverty than I had seen before. The first place we unloaded was so bad that some of us were frightened to be there, primarily because of the piles of garbage and human refuse at the corner we had stopped at, and because of our fear of disease or of being unable to leave or control the crowds. Again though, the team pulled together really rapidly, and I was impressed to see several team members calming those that were worried, and others praying for a solution which quite rapidly appeared. About a block away we found an area with a still standing gate, and no garbage or refuse, which suited our purpose wonderfully. It allowed us to control the number of patients that got in, and provided some shade and kept the dirtiest and most infectious concerns away from the treatment area. It was once again a testament to the fact that our plans simply weren’t going to work, and that we needed to simply rely on God and rely on grace to make the mission happen, both in terms of the logistics of where and how we operated, and in terms of the emotions of the team members and the ability to work together as a team. Our “strife” lasted all of 5 minutes, and everyone pulled back together (though it would be a huge exaggeration to ever say we were “apart”) and got quickly to work.

The injuries and illness were more severe in Carrefour, and again we did not have the supplies necessary. This day, however, we were more experienced and more able to keep things organized, and I believe we helped far more people and were able to connect with far more people. Everyone found their “groove” that day, and everyone found what they were good at and we worked diligently and faithfully trying our best to get out as much medicine, food, and donations as we could. We could have gone on non-stop for a very very long time were it not for our lack of supplies and our need to get back to the orphanage before dark and before we collapsed of exhaustion.

Despite all the wonderful efforts of the team to distribute -things- (even medicine and medical care), our impact in this regard really felt like a drop in the ocean, or even less. There was just too much to do, and not enough of us and enough “stuff.” Our real impact was on a person to person level. I called my son that day, and he asked me if any of the children in Haiti were “wearing his underwear.” He had donated some clothing, and I believe that question most properly answers how donations were used, and how helpful they were. We couldn’t feed or take care of large numbers of people, but I was able to tell my son that some particular person was helped by him. Often times I hear from charitable organizations that “such and such amount of money buys enough food for 10 children for 10 days,” or some phrase like that. I don’t know how much your money and donations impacted the trip in those terms, but I can say that I saw with my own eyes particular people helped by those specific donations. Some little boy got Jacob’s underwear. A father got the antibiotics, a little premature infant girl whose arms were so thin that they looked, literally, like twigs, and whose temperature was very high, and who was crying so hard and moving so much that I couldn’t get her pulse rate, got the formula you donated. I personally used quite a bit of the sanitizer on myself, and also used the sanitizer on my gloves (which were donated too) every time I switched to a new child patient. We didn’t have enough gloves or sanitizer for us to switch every single patient.

The team, myself included, personally handed out food that was donated to the Haitians; the vast majority of it went to children and pregnant mothers. If you sent something with me, or with any of us to Haiti, it was used and used well.

This day was also the day that I encountered the saddest part of the trip, for me. One of the people I took vitals for was a father. He spoke broken english, and I couldn’t understand his story, but I believe that the mother of their infant girl had died in the earthquake or was at least missing. He handed me his infant girl, who was very young (no older than 3 months) and in a pretty pink dress, and said: “You take her. You take her, adopt her, to America.” I was not the first, or only member of our team to encounter a situation just like this. As you probably know, it is impossible for us to adopt these children due to Haitian law, though with all my heart I would have taken her home if I could have. It was heartbreaking for me not only to hand her back to her father and say “No, I can’t,” and to see how much it upset him, but also to know, as a parent, the pain and humiliation he must have experienced to try and give his child up. I love my son very much, more than my life itself, and I can’t imagine the pain I would go through if I was in a situation where I knew my child would probably not survive if I didn’t give him up, and then to muster the courage and the grief to actually hand him to someone and ask that question, only to be turned down. That moment will probably forever define the trip for me in a special way. All of my problems and all of the things I stress out about here in the states just seem… pardon my language, “stupid,” in comparison. Somewhere in Carrefour tonight that man and his daughter are struggling to survive. I’m in Pennsylvania, warm and drinking a coke, and I know where my next glass of water is coming from, and where I am going to get my next meal, and I have every reasonable assurance that I will hug my son again and that he will grow up and be happy and healthy. Please pray for this man, and for his little girl. She, too, was one of the children that received your donations of infant formula and children’s medicine.

That night, during our meeting at the orphanage, I heard another story that showed the strength and beauty of the Haitian people. A child, probably 14 or 15, who lived at the orphanage, told us about the night of the earthquake. He said that he was sitting right where we were when the earthquake hit, and that at first he presumed it would be like any other earthquake and that he would just sit still and it would pass quickly. When it did not, and when it grew stronger, he grew afraid. The shaking threw him around the room, and he grasped the wall by a window and said that when he saw the buildings around him collapsing and the houses falling down, he knew that he was going to die. He called out to Jesus and began to pray and cry, because he knew that his life was going to end. He was fully convinced that he survived, and the building he was in did not collapse, only because of the prayers he uttered in that moment of distress. When I listened to his story I was moved, but I was so tired and exhausted and full of emotion that I couldn’t pack any more in. It wasn’t until later that night when I went to my spot by the damaged school to look at the stars and decompress that the enormity of the entire day, and of the trip until that point, hit me.

Haiti: Jim Brown’s story – the first night and day

Somewhere around 1 or 2 AM we all finally went to “bed,” which, for most of us, consisted of sleeping in the open in tents on concrete out in front of the orphanage. We were all too tired to do anything else that night, or even get to know the orphanage and the orphans.

My tent was much too small to stretch out in, but it still became my “little home.” Haiti was a lot colder than I expected at night, and the first night I did not have the knack for sleeping in the open down yet. I remember that just as I was about to doze off, a rooster decided to start making noise, then a group of dogs began barking, and then Dave yelled from his tent next to me: “You have got to be kidding me. The rooster started it. I hate that rooster.” It was that kind of humor and light-heartedness that really kept me going the entire trip.

In the morning, at around 5, every animal in earshot woke me up. The sun wasn’t even close to up yet, and this was the first time I noticed just how many stars there are in the sky. I know it seems silly to write about this when I was in Haiti for a major disaster relief effort, but it was really impactful to me and I spent time everyday staring at them. I’ve never seen so many stars, and shooting stars. I spent every morning and every night from then on laying out behind the orphanage in front of the damaged school looking at the stars, either alone or with someone else, and decompressing and praying. Often when I was praying it seemed like a “shooting star” would go by just as I completed a prayer. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive or cheesy, but it meant something to me, and it was something I won’t forget.

The first morning we ate a quick breakfast — I don’t remember what the orphanage offered us, but I do know they offered something every morning. I never ate breakfast though, I subsisted mainly off the MREs I took with me, which were nutritious and foul tasting. After breakfast, we all gathered in the orphanage and had our first ‘group meeting,’ and prayed together and sang together and talked about what we were going to do that day. After this we had 2 meetings a day, once when we woke up, and once in the evening after we got back. In the morning we would praise God and get each other ready, and in the evenings we would thank God and talk about how we could do better the next day, and build each other up with what we had done that day. They were great meetings.

After this first meeting, we got back into our trusty tap-tap and traveled 1.5 hours into Port au Prince (which was probably only a 10-15 mile trip), and I saw the road for the first time. I’ve already described it to you before, so I won’t go into detail again except to say that they are REALLY REALLY BAD, and the tap-tap trips are VERY painful. I simultaneously dreaded them because of the pain in my back and bottom, and looked forward to them because they were just that crazy, and because, again, the team had a way of keeping everyone cheery and up-beat about everything. Anna, Shaun, and Bogden in particular made these tap-tap trips a joy, despite the painful nature of them. Anna seemed to think it was some kind of rollercoaster ride, and even managed to sleep on them. Shaun was always perched front and center and would shout at the driver to shift gears or avoid potholes, and randomly yell “HALLO!” at people on the street, and Bogden constantly acted as a tour guide in a funny accent and kept us laughing.

There was also a little girl who took the trip with us everyday from the orphanage: Jemma. She was shy, and there was a bit of a language barrier, but she was always in the tap-tap with us and kept us company. She, too, could manage to fall asleep in the singularly most awkward and uncomfortable looking positions on this tap-tap. Once, on the trip back home, Jemma notified us that her tooth was loose and then wrenched it out on her own. I’ve never seen a little kid pull their own tooth out without a worry and then be so happy about it. Jemma is cool.

We arrived in downtown Port au Prince on the first day and set up our “medical” tent and then went to work. A very large crowd gathered, very quickly, and the place became almost over-run. It was our least organized day, and we were struggling to keep up. The system worked like this: Haitians would arrive and get in a “line” (I’m being overly generous by calling it a line), and several of the team would tape a piece of medical tape around their wrist and write: “BP, P, and T” on it (Blood Pressure, Pulse, Temperature). Then, these folks would move forward in their lines until they came to me and a few others who were on the “vitals” time. Each of us were decked out with a fancy 1-dollar wristwatch that had a second timer, a blood pressure cuff, and stethoscope, and a thermometer. We would try to talk to the patients through the language barrier as much as we could, as this was our particular time to connect with them. I knew no Haitian Creole, so my ability was limited, but I tried with every person to find a way to connect with them on some level, even if it was just saying “Bon” (Good) to them with a thumbs up after I took their readings and wrote it on their medical tape. I don’t know if they knew much about what a good blood pressure and temp was, or not, but I could tell that they were interested in what the numbers meant about them. I also knew that no possible good could come of me telling them that their numbers were anything but good. If they had a problem that could be corrected by us, the doctors would explain it to them through translators and comfort them. If they had a problem that could not be, there was no sense in further burdening them.

The crowds are -not- like what you see on TV. There are not massive piles of bodies in the street. They are NOT violent (in all of our medical clinics, in various places, only one person ever became even remotely violent). They are not rude, or ignorant, or “looting,” or anything like that. They are scared, and they are confused, and I believe that they need more than anything else someone to show they are not there just to hand them another donation, but to really find some human connection with them. The vast majority of Haiti’s GDP comes from foreign donations; these folks get donations all the time — and thats good, it’s a testament to the fact that the human race still has virtue. But I have come to believe, especially on this trip, that what helps the Haitians more than throwing food at them out of a helicopter is treating them as they are, a human person in a difficult situation. A lot of times I couldn’t do more than make eye contact with them, and I confess that after 100 or so patients it was easy to just get into the “groove” of taking blood pressure and pulses and moving on, but I tried constantly to refocus on each person and at least try to figure out their name and tell them “Bon.”

I don’t know how many patients we saw each day, but it was a lot. I’m told that we couldn’t give everybody what they needed, and near the end each day we were scrambling to “make” supplies for them out of what we had left. There were not as many open wounds as I expected, but there was a lot of infection and sickness, and a lot of malnutrition and ill children and babies. The ill babies were the most difficult for me. There were also several cases of what appeared to be leprosy, one of which was rubbed on me and caused me to vigorously scrub my arm with every kind of antiseptic and sanitizer (or ‘santizer’, as Bogden would say in his accent) that we had. It also made me the brunt of jokes for the rest of the trip, and Bogden asked me everyday how my leprous arm was doing.

Haiti Trip: Jim Brown’s experience

As I prepare to go to Haiti, I find it important & necessary to stay knowledgable of current events and progresses (or declines) that are happing in Haiti.  Along with that, I actively look for personal mission stories that give a more accurate day-to-day portrayal of what life is like and what the missionaries experience. 

This week I received an email from Jim Brown, a man from Pennsylvania, who traveled with GCOM International on a mission trip to Haiti.  As I read his story,  I lauged and cried; I was encouraged, challenged, and moved to pray. 

For the next few days I will share some of his story with you.  Today, he describes his entrance into Haiti from the Dominican Republic and his journey to their destination.  Just so you’re not in the dark…He flew into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic where he met a few other trip goers and also their leader/guide, Bobby.


The next morning we woke very early and went to the bus station in Santo Domingo, where we encountered the first real challenge of our trip. Despite having made reservations for a bus into Haiti, we were made to understand that we would not be allowed on the bus because others had been waiting in line for 2 hours prior to our arrival. The bus operators spoke only Spanish, Bobby spoke only English and Haitian Creole, and the 2-3 of us on the trip that spoke Spanish (myself included) were nowhere near fluent. Watching Bobby deal with a crowd of people shoving and yelling, and trying their hardest to prevent us from getting tickets and getting on the bus, was one of the first times I realized that this trip was either going to work because God wanted it to or it was going to fail horribly, because no human power could have coordinated all of the things we needed to get there and out. We had made reservations, we had done our best and arrived on time, but a near “riot” was likely to prevent us from getting on the bus. Bobby handled the crowd skillfully, and after lots of arguing and yelling in Spanish and a scene I’ll never really forget, especially for teaching me very early in our trip to just scrap my plans and expectations and rely upon God. I am not really quite sure what convinced the bus operators to finally let us on, but I think it was the really large security guard that everyone called “Hefe” who would randomly come out of his office when the crowd was verging on riot, and stand in front of everyone and raise his hands and just go: “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” I assume he got fed up with the commotion outside his office and let us just get on to end it.

We got on the bus, and it took 12 hours to travel 120 miles from Santo Doming to Port au Prince, Haiti. In the interim, we had our passports taken for a good 8 hours which was IMMENSELY disturbing to me (though I was told repeatedly by Anna to “not worry, God would handle it!”) The border from the Dominican Republic into Haiti is shocking. The Dominican Republic is something like Hawaii in scenery and vegetation. Though they are on the same island, the literal -moment- you cross the border the landscape changes to dry rock and scrub, sharp mountains and destitute poverty all around. I’m going to try and record my feelings about Haiti as they grew, rather than looking at them in hindsight. At this point I truly disliked Haiti, it seemed to me as though someone or some group had allowed this land to be ravaged, and the poverty was truly striking. Garbage and refuse of every type were in piles, and even at the border it seemed like some structures were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake already. There were lots of homes with signs in broken English that said: “We need help, food and water please,” and one in particular I won’t forget for the pure sadness of how bad the situation was there, and the fact that we did not go there to help. It was a small gulley of ramshackle homes made of tin and cardboard, and a tent city that smelled sharply of human refuse. Outside of it was a sign that said: “The forgotten valley, we need help and water. Please help us.”

Another striking thing was the variety and density of wild animals. Dogs, donkeys, goats, chickens and roosters, cows…. you name it, they were wandering around. I came to know quickly that every wild animal in Haiti feels the need to make every noise they are capable of at 5 AM, even if the sun isn’t up yet. It became my natural alarm clock the entire trip.

Finally, as you can probably presume from the fact that a distance of 120 miles took us 12 hours, the roads were simply horrible. Outside of Santo Domingo, there was no pavement. Calling the roads a “dirt road” would be an injustice to dirt roads the world over. Many of the roads were simply overland routes where vegetation wasn’t growing, with huge potholes and on the edge of teetering cliffs. I can honestly say that driving in Haiti was the single most dangerous thing we encountered. There was no standard of driving, everyone went as fast as they could in used their horns to signal absolutely everything. Closer to the city, motorcycles carrying up to 3 people would swerve in and out of traffic, even on the edge of a cliff on a rocky road like you can’t imagine.

When we arrived in Port au Prince it was already dark, and we arranged a “tap-tap” to the orphanage where we stayed. The “tap-tap” is a truck, somewhat like a Toyota Pickup truck, but with a -slightly- larger bed and camper. By slightly, I really only mean slightly. ALL of us crammed into the back of this truck, and took it up these cliff roads to the orphanage. This was a daily trip for us, and the first night I was not able to see the absolute sheer drops we were skirting and the horrific nature of the road, but I was well aware of the bouncing and jostling around. The entire trip, another member of our team, the head Doctor (Bogden), whose accent was really awesome, narrated the trip like a tour guide. “Guys, this part is really awesome, the road up here gets really really bad. We have only 30 minutes left.” He said that we had only 30 minutes left at least 3 times, and it was more like 1.5 hours.

Previous Older Entries