Saturday, December 20, 2014

Pain and Trouble - "Just a part of life"

I am reminded of a scene from "Princess Bride" when Wesley, disguised as the Dread Pirate Robert, meets up with his true love.  He tells her, "Life is pain, Highness!"

There are times in life when that statement feels so true - life is pain.  The troubles in this world, the pain and suffering that we go through - sometimes it leaves us wondering what the point in this all could really be.
Jesus said in John 16:33 "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart; I have overcome the world."
 As I read through John 11:17-44 this morning,  I was amazed at the truth of that verse.  I have gone through some extremely difficult things.  So far, when I finish walking through them, I can look back and see the good that God has done with it.  Typically, I mention my teen pregnancy as one of my most painful experiences.  However, it built a bond with my husband that I do not take for granted.  It changed my view of the world and those in it.  It gave me a son who challenges me every day to be a better person.  It drew me closer to God in such a powerful way.  I was drifting, but having a son made me realize I could no longer afford to waiver...I had to be strong and firm in my faith so that my son would see God in all that I do.  I have absolutely failed at times, and have shown a lot of my selfish sinful nature, but through this God has shown me what it means to humble yourself and apologize for those errors too.


 
 I can look back and see how God has used a bad experience for good, just as we see with Lazarus' death.  Reading through the story of Lazarus' resurrection, I see Jesus in his humanity.  That is probably one of the ways this story is often summarized or remembered - Jesus' humanity.  Yet, it hit me so strong this morning - Mary came to him weeping, with a crowd following, also weeping.  When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews with her also crying, he himself was deeply troubled.  Just a few minutes before, he was talking with Mary like Lazarus' death wasn't any big thing - Jesus knew he would be raised again. It didn't seem to phase him at all. In the view of the eternal, the daily worries did not seem so big.  Yet, once he saw Mary's pain and heard the cries, it brought reality to him in an instant.  He felt their pain, and ached for them.  Yes, hope is found in Christ alone, but sometimes pain just hurts.  And so He weeps with them.  Through the passage we see it pointed out that Jesus was deeply troubled, upset, and crying.  Emotion is something we try so often to hide, but it came spilling out that day.
 
Jesus told Martha that Lazarus would raise again, then followed by saying, "I am the resurrection and the life."  If you believe, you will live even if you die; everyone who lives and believes will never die.  Then he asks if she believes.  Her response is so precious.  You can sense the comfort she found in Jesus' words.  She is brought face to face with the Eternal.  She is reminded that although it hurts today, she can focus on eternal things and the Eternal One.  She has hope. 
"Standing on the edge of [Death Canyon] draws all of life into perspective.  What matters and what doesn't are easily distinguished.  Above the canyon wall no one is concerned about salaries or positions.  No one asks about the car you drive or what part of town you live in.  As aging humans stand beside this ageless chasm, all the games and disguises of life seem sadly silly..." (from God Came Near by Max Lucado) 
The story of Lazarus is one that often brings comfort - we are reminded that Jesus sees and feels our pain.  Not only does he see the pain, He cares about it!  He does not look at us and wonder why we are once again focused on the temporary instead of the eternal; He empathizes with us in a way that others rarely can, for He truly feels our pain.  He hates death for what it does to those who are left behind.  He hates sickness for the suffering it brings.  He hates the fallen state of this world.  Yet He came - oh, praise God, He came!  THAT is why we celebrate - THAT is why we care - THAT is our hope!  Yes, He came...He came for me and for you.  He came to show us a hope that cannot be taken.  He came to show us life everlasting.  He came to bring the eternal to our every-day walk.  He came to replace the mundane with adventure.  He came to walk with us, love us, and show us a hope that surpasses all the pain in this world.  

In the view of the eternal, the daily worries did not seem so big.

I have seen pain work in such a miraculous way.  Our God is the only one that can take the pain in this life, and use it to draw us closer to Him.  He is the only God who can make something good from pain.  He alone can give purpose to the troubles and hurt in this life.  Over and over I have seen people go through such pain, such trouble, such hardship; over and over I have seen them turn to God and find joy, peace, and hope.  What god can compare with this?  Yes, our God is good - He is love - He is worth it all.  For in Him, we find all we need to get through today...
 
"All of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are..."

This is my hope in Haiti.  This is my hope for my family, for Chambrun, for the hurting people I see every day.  This is what I cling to - that one day this will all fade away, and all will be right with the world again.  This is my hope for you - that as you walk through the pain this life brings, you will find that in the face of eternal things, in view of the Eternal, daily worries seem to fade.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Weddings and a Funeral




A few weekends ago, I was invited to go to a mass wedding in Onaville. The date just happened to coincide with the day of the church anniversary celebration as well. This is a church that NVM planted in Onaville (largest tent city after the earthquake of 2010) and has grown considerably in the short 3 years it has been around. In preparing for the wedding, I helped Pastor Massillon with some of the logistics in getting wedding dresses and suits and rings for the couples. Thank you to all of you who were a part of that. It was really a special day. Six of the couples were all married on December 7. We were supposed to start at 7:30 am, but started a bit late because one of the couples had not yet arrived! The couples were all decked out, looking great. The vows were those we are used to hearing (just in French/Creole). But there was a lot about the ceremony that was not what we were used to. First of all, the fact that it was six couples all being wed at the same time was rather different. As a result, there was no procession of any bridal party or the bride(s). There was no unity candle, no runner, no one giving the brides away. Yet, in a culture where it’s ok for men to have multiple women, these  couples vowing to love each other exclusively and making a commitment before the church and God was such a huge statement. 
Though I wasn’t expecting it, I was invited up after they had all said their vows and was asked to pray for them. They all knelt down, facing their new spouses, and bowed their heads as I had the privilege of praying that God would bless their marriages, families, and that they would be a light and example to others God’s faithfulness. Church lasted another few hours (until 12:30) and then came the reception! We were honored by being served goat meat, but there was chicken, beef, fish, rice, beets, and all sorts of other cultural delicacies. There was lots of food and people just enjoying fellowship together. It was truly a day of celebration!

Then, just days after this celebration, I got news that an older woman in our church had passed away. In fact, Carmène hadn’t been at church that last Sunday due to illness when I was in Onaville. This little old lady was full of spunk. She was a short and tiny framed woman. Carmène was 74(ish) years old when she died, but she was energetic up to the end. I couldn’t help but smile, seeing her dance her heart out every Sunday in worship. She was a sweet lady. She would always greet me after church with a big hug and kiss. I was asked to do the funeral last Friday. Having never done one in Haiti, I asked a lot of questions of cultural importance. The elements of the funeral were essentially the same. However, the way in which grief is expressed in this culture is a bit different from what we’re used to in the States. It reminded me of studies of culture in biblical times. Jesus crashed several funerals where people were wailing inside and outside the house, with plenty of professional musicians to play loudly, etc. After the service, there was a processional march with the casket to the grave site. The church was not far from her house (which is where the tomb/sepulcher was). Along the way, others from the community joined the procession to the grave site. That paints the picture a little more accurately for this culture. Yet, the hurting is the same. People lost a mother, a sister, a friend. I preached a short sermon focusing on the fact that as believers, we do not mourn like those who have no hope. Perhaps due to the more “vocal” nature of this culture, it was obvious that there was indeed hope in the midst of the mourning.
Approaching two years in a new culture, there are a few observations that I have made. Sin’s consequences bring grief and sorrow in any culture. Death is a universal truth and proof of the fall. Yet other aspects of culture that are counter-biblical bring their own consequences as well. And they deprive people of joy and fullness. Jesus didn’t just die for us to go to heaven when we die—he restored our relationship to God, which starts in the here and now! And the joy that comes from knowing Him is another aspect of life that crosses cultural boundaries. We have rejoiced with people through baptisms, in dedicating their children to God, in marriage, and in a number of other ways where God was being honored and glorified. Regardless of what the cultural  customs and norms in any country, there is nothing that compares to knowing God and making Him known!


Friday, November 28, 2014

The Missionary Life: Inside Story

I have read countless missionary stories, and they are each filled with excitement in their own way.  Yet, I have yet to read one that accurately portrays the deep loneliness and difficult good-byes we experience.  As I think of my family all gathered yesterday for Thanksgiving, I am blessed by countless memories with them.  I miss them, and re-think so many things we have done together. 

My mind was brought to a memory of some of the farewells too.  I can remember the last farewell with one of my sisters - we both fought back tears (and failed) as we said good-bye.  We have always had a deep connection and our families mesh so well together.  Saying good-bye was difficult enough when I lived in Oklahoma and she in Michigan.  Even then we would often cry.  Now it's different though.  The communication is often limited, and we see each other once per year.  This is a lot in comparison to most missionaries.  Still, it is difficult. 
This makes me wonder what other families feel when saying goodbye and spending so many years apart.

When God calls a family to missions, He asks them to give everything up and trust Him alone.  You give up your friends, comfort, family, habits, language, culture, lifestyle, and most of what you own.  All of this is for the sake of furthering His Kingdom.  Do I think it's worth it? YES!  Do I regret any part of it? NO!  Would I do it again? In a heartbeat... Still, that does not negate that it is often a difficult road.  I am humbled and honored that God would ask me to live this life for Him, and I need Him so desperately - I need Him to be so real each and every day - or I simply would not make it.

So, as I recall the difficult goodbye's, the things we miss out on, I want to encourage you - whoever may be reading this.  Do not minimize the impact you can have on a missionary!  It does not matter who you are, or what you are doing - if you know someone in the mission field, you can be an incredible encouragement to them!  Write them letters, text and email them, send care packages, reply to their messages with encouragement.  Those little things mean the world to us. 

Do not think you cannot have a part in the adventure they are on - God has called the church to stand behind those who are on the front-lines: your pastor, elders/deacons, leader of you home, and those serving in missions are just a few examples.  I cannot express to you how much it means when someone sends an email/letter to us just for the sake of encouraging us.  Similarly, when someone says, "I want to send a care package.  What do you need/want?"  Wow - what an encouragement! Even knowing that it may take months to get here, we are encouraged and blessed in the anticipation.  So, if you do not know a missionary yet, go to your church and see who your church is supporting.  Then be the voice to tell them to get on board with encouraging that person/family - let them know you care, you miss them, and you stand behind them.  This will be a blessing they will not forget!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Choosing Friends on the Mission Field

A choice of love, not an act of obligation

I cannot tell you how many times people have talked with me about friendship in missions.  More often than not, I have been told that "you get what you get" essentially.  I can recall multiple conversations with varying people who have told me, "If you were state-side, you might not be friends with any of those you are serving with.  Still, God has placed you here together, so that's all you have."

I have wrestled with this throughout the past 18 months, and was not sure why.  Lately I have been re-thinking that, and trying to determine why that bothered me so much.  I came to the realization of two things.

1. Why does serving together mean that you have to be the closest of friends?

It seems that everyone keeps telling me that I have to be best friends with anyone I serve with.  The reality is, this was not the case state-side.  Why should it be now?  While we do not have as many Americans to be-friend here, we can still build deep and meaningful relationships.  Additionally, all friendships, regardless of where they are formed, when, or even why - are in varying degrees.  My best friends all qualify as such for different reasons.  Those that I serve with may not fit this bill.  I may find that I connect with people who have grown up in this culture even more-so than those who match my own culture.  I am not bound to having American friends out of duty or obligation.  Yet, I can connect with my fellow missionaries as friends if I desire to.

2. For varying reasons, sometimes we choose a friend; sometimes they choose us.

I honestly cannot tell you why my friends have chosen me.  Many of my closest friends have seen my faults and all the ugliness that is within me, and yet still love me.  Why?  I guess for the same reason I feel the same way about them.  We love each other in the ugliness and beauty, pain and rejoicing, suffering and peace.  We CHOOSE to love each other - that is the point!  I could give up on my friends when it gets difficult, but I don't.  Why?  Because I choose to love them - just like God chooses to love me. 

So, as I thought through these two things, I came to a conclusion.

I can choose to be a friend to anyone
I serve with.
It all starts with love!
 
This is where my view started to change.  I am not saying that all of those who spoke what they thought was encouragement, or perhaps empathy, were wrong.  In fact, they are quite right - maybe we would not have been friends state-side.  But why should that matter now?  I love that my friends vary in age, life stage, and location.  I do not want that to change.  So as people try to tell me that I am "just stuck" with those I serve with, I choose to reject that mindset.  The reality is, if we approach relationship in that way, it is doomed to fail.  Instead, I choose to remember that each of the people God places me here with is a gift.  Every person who crosses my path is the potential for me to grow and become more Christ-like.  So I choose to be friends with all I serve with - not because we just happen to be in the same place, but because I truly want to love them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween and Evangelism


This upcoming weekend is considered a very important Haitian voodoo holiday. While American Halloween is iconized by trick or treating, Haiti lives out the reality of what that represents. On November 1 and 2, voodoo practitioners go to cemeteries and gravesites to pray to spirits, offer food, light candles, and dance through the night. During these days, celebrations are conducted in the voodoo tradition, in which people honor Baron Samedi, the god of the dead, and his offspring, Gede. These celebrations are called Fête Gédé. During these ceremonies, people seek to be possessed by these voodoo gods as they honor the dead. It is not uncommon for people to leave a church service and head to the graveyard to participate in these festivities. Unfortunately, there is a lot of syncretism (mixing of religions) involved with voodoo, particularly with Catholicism. The Catholic tradition of praying for the souls of those in purgatory finds a home amidst the voodoo festivities honoring the dead. Many Haitians would say that while Catholicism and Protestantism were brought in, it is voodoo that is their own and connects them in a common identity. Pray with us and for us, as this tends to be a rather tumultuous time in Haiti.
I was invited a month ago to an evangelistic crusade that began this last Sunday, leading right up to this weekend, in the face of the upcoming holiday. I was asked to participate on the opening night by offering a prayer towards the beginning of the program. The event itself is hosted on private property – not in a church, but in someone’s walled-in yard of pretty good size. The gate to the property was open, so that people can wander in as they pass by. In the yard, they have built a stage, standing about 4 feet high. Next to the stage are huge speakers that get cranked up so that all in the neighborhood and probably in the next one over can hear what’s going on. Some benches were brought in from nearby churches for people to sit on. Others bring in personal chairs. Many others just stand during the entire service. I got there prior to the start, so that I could pray with the leadership and staff of the event for God to use the efforts to draw people to Himself and that He would have His way with the service that evening. Little did I know what that would mean for me. The band played a worship song to start off and had me pray afterwards. As I walked off the stage, I planned on leaving in the middle of the service, to try and get home before it got too dark. About fifteen minutes before that, I got a call from a friend, saying that he was trying to get to the crusade, but couldn’t find a ride. So, I left to pick him up and brought him to the service. When I returned, they were still going strong, singing worship songs. It was already about when I had planned to leave. At this point, the one who organized the event came up to me and said the speaker they had scheduled for that evening had not shown up. So, he asked me if the speaker didn’t show up in 10 minutes, if I could give the message. Talk about being put on the spot!
Fifteen minutes later, they hand me the microphone and I began giving the simple gospel message for those that were gathered there that evening. I was completely surprised that for such a large crowd, it was quiet as they sat or stood, listening to the gospel. I had no notes and no preparation, yet the words flowed as if I’d prepared all week. I was grateful for the evangelism experience a few weeks ago, going door to door in Village Casimir. I thank God for the experience of more than a year of preaching on Sundays and leading pastors’ conferences, teaching the Word. God had already prepared me for that night. At the end of the message, I prayed for the people and there were those that prayed to receive Christ that evening. It wasn’t my doing – I just happened to be in the place God wanted me to be that night; He changed my plans and used me to do as He willed all along. To Him be the glory!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Prayers for a New Village

In May of last year, President Martelly inaugurated a new development of houses, named Village Lumane Casimir. They were an answer from the president to the IDP camps all over Haiti. (That is a whole different story, so here is that, from the Haitian press.) In October of last year, they "re-launched" the idea in the form of a grand opening for the village. Earlier this year, there were still few families living in the village. However, over the summer, there have been a lot more moving here, which is only a mile and a half from our NVM campus. Casimir Village has electricity and running water, which is a huge step in housing here in Haiti. There is a school right in the middle of the village, they have their own police station, fire station, and they provide transportation to Port au Prince to get to work and back. These pictures were taken in April of last year, when I went to visit the units and see what they were like. As you can see, there's no one around. There may have been a dozen families living here at that time, but that's it.

Last week, one of the deacons at our church put together a small team to go on a door to door evangelism visit to the village. That's a misleading term, but it's probably the best way to describe it to an American so that they get the picture. However, you don't really have to knock on any doors, because people are generally sitting outside on their "porch" interacting with everybody else. In this village, the porch area is around the back, where the kitchen and bathroom are. It doesn't matter if you're talking about a mud hut or a cinder block house - this is part of the Haitian culture. So, when the team got back, I told the deacon that if he went again anytime soon, to tell me and I would go with him. Yesterday morning, he walked into my office and said they were going at 4pm. I made sure I arranged my schedule to join them.
When 4pm rolled around, there were 12 people getting ready to go. There were also 4 church leaders present - Clerice (Children's Ministry Director), Faince (deacon), Malone (Music Director), and myself. We split up into four groups, each of us leading one. I had one of the girls from the Children's Home, Mitanya (13), and another young man, Oksiben. I drove us all out to the village in the tap-tap and we split up to go our separate ways.
I told Oksiben he could lead the way and initiate conversation, since I wasn't sure what would be culturally acceptable. Once I realized it didn't matter, when he engaged in conversation with one, I would go on to talk with the next person, whether at the next house or around the corner. At one point, Clerice (who is also fluent in English) called me over because he'd found a white man living there. I think we were both surprised to see another "blan" living in the area. Later, we came across two ladies talking on their porch, so Oksiben stopped to talk with them. They had both accepted Christ previously, so we gave them some tracts to share with others and was getting ready to move on, when I suddenly felt the urge to ask if I could pray for them. When I asked, one of the ladies asked if I wanted to pray for the kids upstairs. She runs an orphanage and has 14 kids living there, upstairs. I agreed and she led us upstairs. My heart was not prepared for what I saw.
Most of the kids could not move on their own. Four of them had hydrocephalus, where their heads were so enlarged, they could not lift them. Many of the kids just lay on the floor. Another woman was there bathing some of the children. I realized this is what a Haitian orphanage probably often looks like - kids who are unwanted, just dropped off or abandoned. I wondered what Mitanya was thinking as we walked in. I smiled at the kids as my heart broke, then prayed. I prayed for the kids, for the orphanage, and for these ladies that had a hard task before them. As we were leaving, I encouraged the other two to ask if the person we talk to wants prayer - you never know what they'll ask for prayer, and most of the time, they'll say yes.
As we continued walking the streets of Casimir Village, we asked everyone we talked to if they wanted us to pray, and I prayed for a lot of people and a lot of different things yesterday. Among those prayers, I had the privilege of leading two people in a prayer of repentance and surrender to Christ. One was a girl between 8 and 10 that Mitanya had begun talking to. The girl had been in church all her life, but never made a decision for herself. After I prayed with her, we gave her a New Testament, when she said she could read some. Immediately, she grabbed my hand and asked me to come with her. She wanted me to come pray for her mother. We walked a few houses down and came upon a woman sitting in a wheelchair and an older man who was blind. I took a deep breath, as I understood what this girl was really asking me. I sat in a chair they offered me (always humbling) and visited with them for a while. Afterwards, I told them that I was there because this girl, Jasmine, had asked me to come and pray with them. I asked if I could and they agreed. I didn't pray for physical healing - not because I didn't believe that it could happen, but because from the conversation, it was clear they needed emotional healing. After praying, I invited them to join us for church and gave them a number in case they needed transportation on Sunday morning.
The house I visited after this, I led a single mother of a toddler in a prayer of surrender to Christ as well. At this point, much of the team had caught up with us, so everyone began to pray aloud for this family. I looked over and the girl that I had prayed with not 30 minutes ago to accept Christ was standing there, praying for this family, too. I had the biggest knot in my throat...
I drove everyone home after this and returned to my family. I was so exhausted on every level, I basically ate and went to bed. It wasn't until this morning during my quiet time that I really processed the events of yesterday's visit to Village Lumane Casimir. I kept thinking of a principle from a friend's book ("Go Well" by Kyle Burkholder) that we have adopted in training our teams. The principle is to remember the eternal is more important than the temporal. Poverty is rampant in Haiti - one of poorest countries in the world. But if you look at the poor's definition of poverty, it has less to do with material possessions and more to do with physiological and social factors. They would use words like humiliation, fear, depression, isolation, powerlessness, low self-esteem, and shame. To put the eternal over the temporal is to recognize that Jesus can and will transcend poverty and meet people where they are and be the answer to their spiritual poverty. In Luke 15:1-7, we read the story of the lost sheep. More than any other seemingly important thing, what that sheep needs most is to be with its shepherd. It's so easy to see in a parable and yet, it also stares us in the face every day of our lives... let's do something about it.

Laundry Day

Part of living in Haiti is just improvising to the situation. This is true of most everywhere you live. It just looks a little different here. The NVM staff shares one washing machine to do laundry. If in the States your washer stops working, you can take your clothes to the Laundromat. Here, we take out a couple of buckets and start scrubbing! This past weekend, we were in dire need of doing laundry. Unfortunately, several power surges rendered our staff washer unserviceable. So, we grabbed some buckets and wash bins and made a family activity out of it!


At one point, the kids from the children's home were walking by our house and saw us doing laundry. They were all surprised we could do laundry "like a Haitian!" Then, they gladly joined in. There was probably more playing than helping involved, but it was fun. Kids started seeing how long they could hold their breath under water in the rinse bin (gross), spraying each other with water, and so forth.
Hanging up the clothes to dry was another matter. We put up a jump-rope from pole to pole in front of the house. Then we grabbed a fence post and put it horizontally at the corner of our fence to hold clothes. The underwear all went inside to be put on our table and chairs to dry (actually, that's what we typically do, even when the washer's working). Once the kids got all the laundry up, it looked like it was going to start raining. Of course it would! So, the kids went back through and grabbed everything that was dry or near enough to bring inside. The rest was taken to the dorms, since we don't have teams here right now and hung up inside there. Our backs and hands hurt, but it was quite the Sunday afternoon in the Ortiz household!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rain on Our Party

For the past year or so, our kids have been involved in Brigade.  This is an international program that originated in Chicago.  It is Christian-based, run similarly to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, with a mix of Awana in it as well.  They do service projects, small groups, Scripture memory, worship services, etc.  Our local Brigade also has a choir that competes regionally.  The choir celebrated its one-year anniversary this week.  In celebration, there was a party last night that was supposed to include multiple performances, dinner, and lots of fun.

We were invited to come to the party, although our kids are not in choir.  We all got dressed up and ready to go.  Like a typical day in Haiti - which is never quite predictable - there was no water through our purified system.  This meant that our house was the only staff housing with running water.  We quickly became the public shower house, so that everyone could get ready for the big party.  By the time our family finished showering, it looked like a storm was moving in.  We walked over to the party just as it started sprinkling.  It was quite obvious that the rain would intensify quickly.  The party, planned as an outdoor party, was quickly moving into the school building.  I wish I had brought my camera to document the evening - but I was concerned about carrying it in the rain.
Flag-bearers marching in the Brigade Parade

As we entered the school, the rain came crashing down - the noise on the metal roof was deafening.  Rain was spraying in through the windows and gates of the school, which is an open-air building.  Everyone, dressed in their finest, was getting at least a little wet.  As sound equipment was rushed into the building, the leaders began setting up again.  The rain was so loud that you literally had to talk directly into someone's ear to be heard.  This prevented anyone from being heard over the microphones even, so performances were out.

The next hurdle was how to get food for so many brought to the building without ruining it in the rain.  The leaders continued to work and accomplish whatever they could.  The youth in the choir were laughing, goofing off, and still enjoying their evening.  There was a party to be had - rain or not.

As the evening proceeded, the rooftop of the cinder-block building was filling up with water faster than the drain pipes could allow the water to run off.  The rain filled to the edges, which are raised.  Suddenly the rain started pouring over the edge into the inside of the school, but only on one side.  Everyone quickly jumped up and ran to the other side.  Once again, people scrambled to get sound equipment moved.  The floor was quickly filling with water.  Thankfully, the floor is designed with a slope so the water runs out of the building.  Still, it was a sight!  Younger children who were there to watch enjoyed it immensely!  They ran and put their heads under the "waterfall" and laughed.  A game of slip and slide began on the wet cement floors.  And as is true with any choir gathering - no matter what happens, there will be music.  Groups of people gathered and still sang fun, upbeat songs.  It was a party...nothing was stopping that!

We managed to get a drink and a plate of food to everyone, and that was the end of it.  When they finished, the rain finally let up.  Everything was too wet to use the sound system, and the rain still had to drain off the roof, so there would be no performances.

As the evening passed, I tried to imagine this scene in America.  We have our parties so well planned out, so perfectly orchestrated, that any "catastrophe" like this would be heart-breaking.  It would ruin the entire night, and leave the party-thrower humiliated and frustrated.  Yet, here in Haiti, it was still a party.  The fun continued, the joy did not depart.  There was a celebration to be had.  While leaders ran about in the pouring rain - and I mean tropical pouring rain...torrential! - there was still laughter and celebration.  It may rain our our party, but we were not letting it ruin the night!  What a comical sight we all must have been, if someone could have seen from the outside; truly, it was humorous!  Yet, the choir kids were still honored and shown appreciation for all of their work in the past year and the party was still a hit.  I think there was really only one thing that the rain changed - it made it more memorable for us.

When it rains on your party, I hope this encourages you to find the good in it and still laugh...for then it may be more memorable in a good way, instead of simply ruining the night.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Home"

We are finally back in Haiti after our trip to the States for my surgery. What a whirlwind of a trip it was. Though we were gone for 6 weeks, we had so much going on - particularly me - in the way of doctor's appointments, physical therapy, and such, that the time went quickly. We spent time quite a bit of time with family, staying with sisters and parents. There were a few occasions we would update some churches, but for the most part, we were with family. Interestingly enough, before we left, we longed so much to be with family. Then, when we were in the US, we longed to be in Haiti again. We came to realize that we were redefining what "home" means for us. Though we will always feel "at home" with our family and love and appreciate all that they do for us when we're in the US, that has ceased to actually "be home."
Sure, some people would say, you'd miss your personal space, your house, your normal routine. That definitely is true to an extent. But the reality is that the concept of home isn't revolving around a particular house or belongings - or a schedule, either. What's more is that the concept of home isn't revolving around comfort or even rest. Home for us now is completely based on where God has called us to be. Through the last few weeks, I've remembered and meditated on a message I heard at a D6 conference in Dallas some years back. David Platt spoke on the cost of discipleship and the family's role in that. At the end of Luke 9, some people are asking Jesus if they can follow him. Jesus answers that "Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." The cost of discipleship means giving up our comfort-zone and resting in His comfort. To another who wanted to go and bury his father first, Jesus tells, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." We can always make up excuses as to why we can't follow him just yet. There's always something else we think we should do. The reality is that the kingdom of God is infinitely more valuable and important than anything or anyone else - including family. This is driven home with the following disciple who asks to say goodbye to his family first. Jesus says, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Parents would do well to raise children who are attentive to the voice of God and are willing to follow, no matter where He leads - even if it's away from "home."
With that said, this is home because God said it is. As utterly simple as that sounds, it rings true. We, as a family, have made a commitment to surrender ourselves to go wherever God wants to us to go and do whatever He wants from us. We have surrendered to His will. And in that light, home is simply the peace of knowing we're in the center of His will. One of my biggest prayers for my children (and for me) is that if they learn nothing else from my example, they learn this principle - that the Kingdom of God is infinitely more important than anything else. It's not always (dare I say, rarely) comfortable, it's not always restful, nor always fun. But it's always meaningful and fulfilling - and it always honors the One who has called us to it. And it's there in the center of His will that we're most effective for that Kingdom!
~Gami

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

House Dedication

This year, we started a ministry of building houses for widows, orphans, and the handicapped within our church that lived in our community. We have built three houses so far in this project. Short term missions teams raise the money for the house, then work side by side with Haitian laborers to build it. The local church leadership is responsible for choosing the families for the homes and making the connection between the teams and the community. The process of building the house takes several weeks, so teams are only here to see part of it done. We then take pictures of the finished product so that the teams can share that with their churches and supporters back home. The following video was of the first house project. The recipient of the house is a widow who is very active in our church. She started trying to build a house on her own and found that she just could not, so she asked the church for help in doing so, just in time for us to launch this new ministry. When the house was finished, she refused to sleep in it until the church body came to dedicate it to the Lord. That is what this video is. One Sunday after church, we stopped by the house, sang praises to God, dedicated and prayed over the church and Mme Carmel. The village was able to see the church at work in the community through this very tangible example, being the hands and feet of Jesus.
video

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Knee Injury

It's been a little over a week since I injured my knee. For those that know me well, this probably does not come as a surprise. It's probably less of a surprise that I was injured on the soccer field. What can I say? I love to be active and play sports and it's a great way to interact with people and bond with them. Cathi would like me to remember that I'm not as young as I used to be and that I don't heal as fast as I used to, either!
Last Monday, we had a Haiti vs. USA game on campus. A visiting American medical team played against the Haitian staff here. I joined in with the American team and got injured with only one minute to go in the game. The initial thought was that I'd torn my ACL. A doctor from that team recommended surgery due to my active lifestyle. Though I could potentially wait to get it fixed, if there was other damage, I should do it sooner rather than later to avoid compounding issues. The first step was to get some images of the knee to see what the extent of injury was.
We did some looking around for an MRI to confirm the damage to the knee and found that there is only one machine in the whole country! After draining our Haitian bank account to pay for the images, we got the results that indicate there is damage elsewhere in the knee. More than a week after the incident, I still have a lot of swelling and though I wake up virtually pain free in the mornings, by the evening, there's a lot of discomfort. Additionally, I sent the report to the VA in the US (since I have service connected disability) and found that orthopedic surgery has a wait list of 2 years.
I was open and honest when this initially happened that I was discouraged. Since then, it seems the hits haven't stopped coming. My activities and normal routine is seriously limited due to mobility. The MRI ended up being quite a financial burden on the family. Additionally, there will be the financial considerations of changing flights for surgery in the US to either return early or leave later, to account for recovery time. That presents other issues of whether I'm alone for surgery or recovery or if my family is displaced for that entire time... you get the idea.
What's interesting is that in this this dark time for me, God has still been encouraging me. The day after the injury, I had several visitors from the Haitian staff. In the following days, people from the village came to wish me well. My friends from Onaville once again walked for hours to visit me too! Then, one of my good friends here walked to Port-au-Prince yesterday to pick up the MRI results for me when I couldn't get off campus to do it myself. I've been blessed by through these relationships in what, for me, has been one of my toughest times here.
I still don't have any answers as I write this. I have no idea when I'm heading back to the US, if/when I'm having surgery, who's doing the surgery, whether my family will be with me, where I/we would stay, or when we'd be back here. That's a lot of uncertainty that I'm not comfortable with. But through the encouragement of other people around us, God's reminding me that those are small details compared to the eternal significance of the work and ministry. He's reminding me that just as he cares to send people to visit me, he'll work out all the other seemingly bigger things too.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Preaching



This last Sunday was my third Sunday in a row preaching. I typically preach on the third Sunday of each month, so that was as planned. The last Sunday in May, I had been invited to a small, young church in Onaville. However, this last Sunday was a surprise. I found out I was preaching at around 8pm on Saturday evening!
I like to take a full week to prepare for a sermon for a few reasons. First of all, Creole not being my native language, it takes a little more effort to read and study for the purpose of putting a message together. I now do this in Creole, rather than in English and then translating it over. Several times, early in my time here, I would write a sermon in English and then found there were difficulties in translating it to Creole. There are sometimes meaning that is lost because the reading in Scripture is rendered differently, for example. However, another main reason is that it gives me time throughout the week to find ways to communicate the message in a proper cultural context. Often times, that means finding an illustration from their every day life that would communicate a spiritual truth. I might be able to think of a good story or example off the top of my head that would help illustrate a certain point, but chances are that it would only help if I were preaching to an American audience.
I believe it was November of last year when I preached a sermon on sanctification, which was the theme for the month. I described it as a process through which the Holy Spirit transforms us into what God desires us to be. During my preparations, I thought of a butterfly and the fact that it starts off as a caterpillar. That ugly creature goes into a chrysalis and comes out a butterfly, completely changed - a new creature. After I shared this information, I got blank stares. Now, every 6th grader in America takes science and learns about metamorphosis. Unfortunately, I did not take into account that 50% of my audience here is illiterate and the highest level of education in our community is 6th grade. Very few, if any, people knew that a caterpillar and a butterfly are the same animal, at different stages. My illustrations and complimenting material needs to be well thought out so that it actually communicates well to this particular culture.
The other consideration due to the lack of education in this community is the complexity of the message. Studies that bounce from text to text are not practical - half of the people don't read, so they can't follow along. Likewise, sermons that are heavy in new knowledge may not be received well. Background information on the authors or original language studies, for example, while useful for me to get at the heart of a passage, would be lost on this audience. What these people are hungry for is application. How can they make their lives relevant to what Scripture says? Some things are black and white, therefore, easy to make applicable. Others are dependent on the expressions of culture and require more thought and exploration.
In light of all that, you can get a feel for my stress levels on Saturday night, as I realize I have 12 hours to write a message that will communicate God's Word in way that is culturally relevant in both delivery and in application, so that it is understood and leads people to action. I spent some time in prayer before even opening the Bible (which I had to look for, since I'd given mine away!). I know some of you reading this were also praying for me and I thank you. God knew what the congregation needed to hear. He also knew how I would default to prepare for the message in such a short time. The message was clear and simple, yet profound and moved people to action. I concluded with two responses - one for those who did not yet know Christ and one for those who did. Eight people surrendered their lives to God that morning as many others began to pray for the lost, pray that God would send workers to reap the harvest, and ask if God would send them to go!
Why do I share all that? Because I "know" what I have to do to prepare to preach here. But God knows what the people need to hear. The best preparation for ministry is done in the power of prayer.