Monday, August 30, 2010

30-Day Trek: Stuck at the High End of the Scale

It's been almost two weeks since our family has returned from Haiti. It's hard to believe we have been back in our U.S. life this long already. Last night we met with our Haiti team from our church to debrief, reminisce about the trip and plan out an upcoming "sharing night" when we will have the opportunity to share our experiences in Haiti with other friends and family here in Fresno.

I enjoyed getting together with this new group of friends who share a heart for Haiti and the poor. We chatted about some of the "reverse culture shock" of returning home. Some of us experienced the shock of walking into places like Costco, Target or other grocery stores with overflowing shelves and bulk packaging. Some of us felt the "short-term mission blues" after being around so many people around the clock and then coming home to large empty houses. Others felt the frustration of trying to express the experience of serving in Haiti to family and friends who cannot really relate. I always think it's good to talk about some of these hardships as a group. We also brainstormed some ways we can be proactive and specifically help new friends in Haiti.

Since we got home, Ericlee and I have continued to read our 30-Day Trek devotional. We picked up where we left off. The devotional for Day 26 talks about this idea of being "stuck at the high end of the scale." Really, that's where those of us who live in the United States are stuck. But God impressed upon my heart that I am not to sit here in my beautiful California home in the land of abundant food and resources and feel guilty. He put me in this place for a reason. Maybe I should spend less time feeling guilty about what I have and paralyzed by the thought of it and more time brainstorming ways I can live simply and give more away. Maybe I should stop feeling sorry for myself when our "budget is tight" and start thinking of the way people around the world are forced to live in poverty as a result of our overindulgence and overuse of resources here in the U.S.

Day 14 of Trek challenged us with this question: Do my closest friends nurture my deepest commitments? Good questions for all of us to ponder. Ericlee and I have now gone to Haiti with eight teams of people from our church and friend community. Our goal is to formally or informally continue to meet with these friends and talk with them about Haiti and how we can connect resources to those in need. We also consider our Small Group our closest friends who share our values. We are looking forward to this month when we will resume meeting with those four other families to share meals and talk through some of these issues.

Do your closest friends push you toward your deepest values, or make it harder to live them out?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Haiti Update: Long Trek Home

We made it home to Fresno!

Yes, it was quite the trek to get here but we were certainly ushered by angels. We woke up and left the Mission House in Pignon at 5:30 a.m. Our team was surprised that our Haitian staff was there so early to make us breakfast and send us off. Ericlee and I have experienced this many times before but it is always touching to see the crowd of people who gather in the front yard of our mission complex to pray over our travels, say Psalm 23 in unison and send us off with hugs and tears.

This journey was different from years past because we jumped in Peter's truck and our rental car and drove back to Port Au Prince. This is the first year we were not able to take the small missionary flight to the main airport. We had a 5-hour bumpy ride ahead. We strapped down our suitcases and headed on our way.  There was a sweet sorrow in all of our hearts as we drove away from the orphans, our new and old Haitian friends and a week full of God's blessings and appointments.

Ericlee and I were admittedly a bit nervous about making the flight in Port Au Prince. Since we were burned last year and our team had to fly home standby over three days we were praying we would not have a repeat experience. Let's just say that Peter needs some new shocks in his truck. Better yet, a new truck altogether. A few more of our team were sick along the road but we made it to the city by 9:30 a.m. We thought we were in good shape to make the 12:10 flight. Then we hit traffic.

We are used to traffic. We've been in traffic in Fresno, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I grew up in Chicago so traffic has always been a part of my driving experience. You learn to embrace. This was a whole different ball game in Port Au Prince. At one point, we were stopped in traffic at a stand still for 40 minutes.  We were separated twice from Peter, who had Gerby (who is headed to school in Memphis for a year), Nancy, Stephanie and Jeremy in his truck. Understand this, the rules of the road in Haiti are a bit different. If you want to make your own lane, you do. If you want to cross traffic or drive on the sidewalk, you do. My dear husband tried very hard to stay on the tail of Peter's truck so we wouldn't be separated. At one point, a truck driver did not like this. He motioned for us to let him pass. When Ericlee did not allow him to cut in line, he backed up his truck and rammed on through, taking the front bumper off our rental car. I don't think that big AVIS sticker on the front of our truck really helped our cause. We immediately wrote down his license plate but later realized that probably would not make a difference.

We finally pulled into the airport, jumped out and tried to organize our bags, the kids, etc. Peter and Ericlee still had to return the rental. We were mobbed by skycaps trying to "help" us get through the line and make some extra money. It was stressful, especially because I was leading the crew without Peter and Ericlee. We all made it inside. They allowed us to check in even though we had missed the two-hour cutoff for international flights. Ericlee met up with us. Gasp. We were on our way to Miami.

Thankfully, our flight was direct from Miami to Los Angeles and we all were able to fly together. All of the bags made it except for my carryon computer bag. With my computer and camera inside. That's when I realized that those two precious things might be gone forever. This, of course, was another exercise in faith. Over the last few months God has really been challenging our family to consider what is "enough." Do we truly value people over material things? I was certainly grateful that our team - especially my children - were safe and sound. Yes, I had lost a new camera that we had received for Christmas with photos from Haiti and a recent family reunion. (This is why you will not see anymore photos here on the blog for a little while.) Yes, I had lost my laptop with four years worth of files and photos. It was disheartening but I did feel a strange peace. God would provide.

When we arrived in Los Angeles, our church bus driver Jerry McElroy and his wife, were there waiting for us. They picked up our team and drove us back to Fresno - after an important stop to In 'n' Out Burger. We pulled in the church parking lot at 2:30 a.m. We were home.

UPDATE: My carryon bag was found by a man in a little mountain town where we stopped to get some fresh air when a few of us were sick. Apparently, I had put it down on the ground to pick up Giada. Some people ran off with it, took the camera, etc. but a man called the police and at least recovered the computer. I had to pay a "ransom" to retrieve it and it's now being shipped with Peter's wife. A sad price to pay.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Haiti Update: Team enjoys Grand Finale of VBS

Today was our final day of Vacation Bible School here in Haiti. We started our morning with singing as usual. The kids taught us a Hatian Kreyol version of "If you're Happy and you Know it." We had a lot of fun clapping our hands, stomping our feet and shouting Amen and Bravo!

I had the special privilege of teaching the Bible Story Time for this last day (with a little help from my hubby). I reviewed what we had learned from the week and finished up teaching the kids about the "sword of the spirit" and "helmet of salvation." Then I shared the story of David and Goliath and how David was equipped not with physical armor but the Armor of God. I had the kids help me act it out and then we had a surprise visit from a scary Goliath who was fully armed (and carrying Giada in a backpack on his back). The girls cowered at the growls of the giant. Our designated David got out his slingshot with foam rocks and knocked that giant down. It was pretty hilarious to see Ericlee fall (forward) with Giada strapped to his back.

Meanwhile, Jenn, Dana and Stephanie were leading the Craft group in making "swords" out of cardboard and tin foil. The kids posed for tons of pictures with their "full armor" after a week's worth of creativity in Craft class. Jeremy and Kelly completed their final day of teaching drama to the kids with  a few more skits. They had the kids acting out the parts. Our Game Time focused on soccer skills. It was so fun to see the progress in the kids. The first day was very chaotic but today they seemed to get into their teams right away. They have really become quite competitive and loved watching the teachers demonstrate the events.

Since today is Saturday we also took the opportunity in the afternoon to take our team to the market. Market Day is the center of the economy of many of the rural towns. Pignon's market is bursting with people buying and selling from sun up until sundown. Wilcion, one of the young Haitian men, served as our translator and ushered us down to the market.

Unfortunately, we had to go there at the hottest part of the day. Our team tried to stay together as we weaved our way through the throngs of people. We saw people selling avocados, mangoes, potatoes, cilantro, cloves, flour, corn meal. We saw people selling straw hats, chairs, machetes and dishes. We walked through the clothes section. Here the sellers stack clothes in a pile and buyers sort through in search of something they might like. There are no clothes racks or mannequins to show off outfits. I was surprised to see designer jeans and shoes - something that was not part of this market a few years ago.

Our team's most memorable experience in the market was walking through the raw meat section. That was a little eye-opening for some who are used to "shrink-wrapped cuts" we find in our American grocery stores. Enough said.

This afternoon Ericlee taught Games for the youth camp. He has done that all week at Peter's request. About 100 young people approximately ages 15-25 have been staying on the mission campus in Pignon. They study the Bible and sing in the mornings, play games in the afternoon and attend church services every evening.

Ericlee led them in some of the same relays he did with the younger kids. He split them up girls and guys. The girls laughed and giggled but once they got into it appeared even more competitive than the guys.

We had a full day but so rewarding. Our team is starting to anticipate some of the sadness of saying goodbye to all these wonderful children and new Haitian friends. We are savoring the little things that will remind us of our experience in Haiti: a cold coke in a bottle, our last goat meat at dinner and even a sighting of Mickey Mouse, our friendly mouse here in the Mission House.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Haiti Update: Kids put on the "Full Armor of God"

Our Vacation Bible School for the orphans in Haiti continued today. Through Bible story time, Arts & Crafts, Games and Drama, we have been teaching the kids about the Armor of God (found in Ephesians). Nancy taught the Bible story today, explaining the importance of the Shield of Faith.
The children delighted in painting their shields made of paper mache a few days earlier. Here Judelene (who is sponsored by The Bridge MOPS group in Fresno) shows off her skills with the silver paint. These children rarely have the opportunity to do art projects because of limited resources here in Haiti. Dana, Jenn and Stephanie have headed up the crafts and it's been fun to watch the kids really get excited about these projects. We even taught them to tie-dye T-shirts, which they had never seen before.

Jeremy, Ericlee and Kelly headed up the Drama/Theater class for the kids. They even set up this fancy backdrop for the Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego skit. It was so cute to see the kids act out the story. One boy was an angel who was in the fiery furnace. Jeremy acted as then king (with his hilarious princess crown) JoJo was our translator extraordinaire, following up on what he learned teaching drama last year with Jeremy and Marcy Pusey.
We did have an accident happen at Vacation Bible School today. One girl, Milove, had a bench fall on her head. This turned into an opportunity for Bev, Kelly and I to love on this sweet girl. Even Giada showed her compassion, running over to her and patting her arm. She did not want to leave Milove's side.

Ericlee's creative game time included having the kids throw water balloons at a target from the second floor of the orphanage. They also did a Water Brigade game, passing the balloons down the line as quickly as they could. At the end, we had a dozen or so water balloons that were not used so I secretly had all the kids launch a sneak attack on Ericlee. Squeals of laughter ensued.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Haiti Update: Christmas in August

The overall highlight of today for our team was handing out gifts to the children after Vacation Bible School. The sponsors of each child sent packages from the United States. These packages contained art supplies and dolls and cars and clothes and shoes and stickers and even pictures of the sponsors’ families. First we sorted the packages at the house. We made sure each child had a package, including a new outfit and pair of shoes that would fit them.

At the orphanage, we passed out the packages and asked each child to wait until we gave the signal. We were all armed with our cameras to make sure to get lots of good photos to share the moment with friends back home.

Personally, I love Christmas. I get great joy in picking out gifts for family and friends. I love carefully wrapping each package and anticipating what the person will say. What we experienced today was like Christmas times one thousand. These are kids who have so few toys and clothes compared to American kids. It’s hard to really describe the looks of complete wonder and joy when they all tore into their packages.

I can still see the look of wonder of little James’ face when he opened his soccer ball. Judelene was absolutely elated about her Princess & the Frog doll. Ronaldo poured over a picture book. Serline clung to her Veggie Tales DVD. Wilken proudly showed me his new colored pencils.

I was so impressed by the way the kids were even willing to share their gifts. Probably the most exciting gift for the girls was Astrude’s black baby doll complete with a pacifier, clothes and hat. All the girls gathered around and posed with the doll. Astrude seemed not to mind sharing at all.

I had the privilege of taking pictures of each child with their gifts so we can send the sponsors a piece of that moment. I am not a photographer but I got the chance to understand what it is like to try and capture a priceless moment in time like that.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Haiti Update: Bridge team shares highlights

We have a tradition in our family that we always share highlights at the end of the day. It's a chance to catch up on the ways God has blessed us and to appreciate the little moments. We have continued this tradition with our short-term mission teams that come to Haiti. Here are some of the highlights shared by our team members tonight:
Dorina: I loved watching the kids do the game time led by Ericlee. We had them do a jump rope relay and the littlest boy (James) was the cutest. Just yesterday he couldn't do any jump rope but today his team encouraged him and he was able to do ten jumps. My heart melted watching his effort.

Jenn: I loved going paper mache with the kids this afternoon. They were messy and having fun. I loved it! I also LOVE all the random hugs. 

Dana: I loved shopping for souvenirs. Each of the ladies brought such a wonderful array of items.

Bev: I enjoyed talking with Eracin (the Bible teacher and caretaker for the orphans).

Kelly: I loved spinning and dancing with the little girls! I also loved when all the little girls helped me wash my hands after paper mache time.

Stephanie: I enjoyed teaching the kids how to make paper mache for their "shields of faith." I also had a fun experience watching Judelene pump water. She used her whole body to get that pump going.


Jeremy: I liked playing wiffle ball with the boys in the yard this afternoon. We taught them baseball last year and it was fun to see they remembered some of it.
Giada: I loved learning how to wash clothes from the ladies at the orphanage. ;)

Ericlee: I had fun sharing a box of granola bars with the neighborhood kids this afternoon.

Nancy: I was blessed by Serline who saw that my hands were dirty after making paper mache and she carefully washed my hands and face. She took her time and showed so much love in helping me.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Haiti Update: Bridge team kicks off Vacation Bible School at orphanage

This morning we woke up at 6 a.m. to prepare for our first day of Vacation Bible School for the orphans in The Bridge Christian Children’s Home. Our team rested well their first night here in the house. They buzzed with excitement as we anticipated being with the children. We scarfed some breakfast of toast, bananas, pineapple, fresh eggs and coffee. Then we headed over to the orphanage with all our supplies.

They were all sitting at the large table quietly waiting for us. Ericlee and I introduced the team to the kids. We explained the schedule. Gerby and Walquis helped us lead a time of singing to start off our morning. The kids sang a song about David conquering Goliath (one of the stories we plan to study later this week.) As the kids sang their voices climbed higher and louder. Smiles spread across their faces. I couldn’t help myself: tears began to run down my cheeks as I was overwhelmed by their joy.

These children were so solemn just a year ago. They were from broken and abusive homes. Some have watched their parents die because of illness. Others were born into families where witchcraft and voodoo were practiced. Others were practically starving in the streets. I think of Serline, one of the youngest, who gobbled down three plates of food at our table last summer and barely spoke a word to us. Her parents are dead and even her sweet grandmother who begged us to take her to the orphanage because she couldn’t care for her among the seven other family members just died in September. She is a true orphan. Today Serline was grinning. She was singing with explosive joy. Her cheeks are less gaunt and more round. Her eyes dance. I’ve even seen her mischievous side a few times in the last week!

After our singing, Bev introduced our theme for the week – The Armor of God. The kids said they had not studied this before so we were eager to teach them. Then we split up into our groups: Bible story (Bev Damm, Nancy Willey, Dorina); Crafts (Jenn Jenkins, Stephanie Farrar, Dana Johnson); Drama (Ericlee, Kelly Damm, Jeremy Schmidt). Ericlee is leading the games for all the children at the end of our day. We are all helping with that part.

Today’s theme is the Belt of Truth (Ephesians 10-11). Bev shared bout why a tool belt is important when doing construction work. She shared truths about God we should remember each day. The Craft group had the kids making belts out of glitter, paint and newspaper. The Drama group shared a few skits showing how important it is to carry all our tools on our Belt of Truth.

The kids were especially thrilled about Game Time. I got to see my husband in his element teaching fitness to the kids. It was so cute to see them doing push-ups, squats, running piggy back and cheering one another on.

Haiti Update: A Bumpy Truck Ride & a Wrong Turn

Monday, August 2

We sent off our Communications/Construction Team this morning at the Port Au Prince airport. Our Bridge Orphanage team arrived a few hours later. Ericlee, the kids and I, along with Peter, met them at the airport. The airport security guards would not allow us to walk to the door so I had to walk all the way around the gate on the street. I knew the team needed to see a familiar face when they emerged from the airport. When you arrive in Haiti, it feels like there are mobs of people trying to help with your suitcases, sell you items and asking for donations. I didn’t want them to navigate this part alone.

What a blessing the team made it with all their bags and no delays. I heard Bev shout “Dorina” as I stood outside the gate and I was so relieved to see them all safely in Haiti. Then we all piled all their bags in Peter’s pickup truck and the team got into the rented car and headed out of town. We did make a pit stop for some Haitian sandwiches, an oil change and a gas fill-up before we were on our way. The team had no idea what kind of trip was ahead. We were caravanning with Peter. Four team members squeezed in the back, three in the middle and two in the front of our car.

We were not able to catch the small missionary flight we usually take inland. Instead we had to drive through the city of Port Au Prince 80 miles north through the countryside. We saw a lot along the way as we drove. We saw the bustling city of Port Au Prince with all the entrepreneurs selling food and goods in the streets. We saw tent cities teeming with earthquake survivors who had lost their homes. The paved roads of the city gave way to winding roads that climbed up the mountains and then turned into bumpy country roads. The team had fun pointing out the little goats and cows along the way. We passed a beautiful lake that we never would have seen if we had taken the airplane. That area reminded us of a national park. It was so green and blue and beautiful.

At one point, we had to stop because a few of us were getting sick and one team member (who will remain nameless) had to throw up. No fun! Unfortunately, our car stopped but Peter who was driving the suitcases and Bev driving with him did not see us stop. We pressed on – anxious to get to Pignon. We hoped Peter would be just around the bend. Unfortunately, he was many miles ahead and we did not know the way.

The saying goes, you don’t know your own strength until you are in hot water. I experienced that some hot water in that moment when I had to be the navigator and start asking for directions in Kreyol. I’ve learned never to ask one person for directions in a foreign country. We asked about five people. The first young woman sent us down the wrong road but the next four pointed us to the road to Hinch, which we knew was on our route to Pignon.

On this road, we found Peter and Beverly waiting for us. We were so relieved to see them and vowed to all stay together. Our trip was 5 ½ hours in all, although Jenn and Dana say it felt like 9 hours. Our Haitian staff welcomed the team with a Haitian feast waiting for us all. We survived!