Saturday, December 31, 2011

December Gilmore Gazette: Happy New Year!

Dear Family & Friends,

On this New Year's Eve we celebrate with each one of you the year of 2011. This year has included many challenges and struggles but we have also been blessed in so many surprising ways. We have much to thank God for and remember.

This past month has been brimming with activities. After our baby Zayla Arshaloos was born Thanksgiving week, we have been busy with fundraisers and family time. Ericlee hosted the 2nd Annual Haiti Decathlon at the SPEED/Crossfit gym where he works. This year there were 45 competitors who gathered to compete in 10 exercises or challenges. Through entry fees, pledges and donations, more than $3,000 was raised on December 3 for the schools that are part of our ministry in Haiti. These funds helped us keep the doors open of the schools and continue to provide education in the rural areas of Haiti. This was also a great opportunity to share our heart for Haiti with a new audience of people. Ericlee is gearing up for another fitness fundraiser in February.

December was also a big month for Dorina selling jewelry from the Haitian Bead Project. She was thankful for a small army of volunteers who were willing to sit at holiday boutiques and share the story of the jewelry. The artisans were able to receive pay just before Christmas - an awesome gift! What a blessing for them when there are so few jobs available in Haiti! We look forward to seeing where God takes this small business venture in the New Year. If you are interested in selling jewelry in your area or would like to volunteer to help, please send us a message. Many hands make the work light.

We also took some much-needed time for rest and family time in the last few weeks. Dorina's sister, Caron, spent Christmas with us and her children, Sophie and Giovanni, are joining us from Seattle to ring in the New Year. We have also had some important time of reflection on God's provision and providence on our year. Our plans are to continue to work on fundraising in early 2012 and then to return to Haiti in early May for another three-month stint of working on the front lines and living in Haiti. We would appreciate your prayers for discernment about how God will use us this spring and summer.

We know only a few hours remain for those tax-deductible gifts. We are already thankful for all of your financial and prayer support this year. How fun to see so many of your smiling face on Christmas cards and letters! We encourage you to check out our blog feature: "12 Days of Giving" for some creative projects we will be working on in Haiti in 2012. If you are considering a tax-deductible, year-end gift please donate at

Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada & Zayla

"You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb..." Psalm 139:13

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day 12: Contemplating the power of giving

All the presents beneath our Christmas tree are unwrapped. The Christmas turkey has been carved and eaten. The radio has switched off the familiar Christmas carols. A few neighbors have already taken their Christmas decorations down. Yet I find myself clinging to the season. 

Can't we have Christmas at least until New Year's Day? Can't we extend the spirit just a little longer? Can we make it last all year long?

As we conclude our "12 Days of Giving" feature, we want to reflect for a moment on what we have learned this year through giving. Our family has been faced with some hard choices this year. We have committed to serving full-time with Christian Friendship Ministries and "remembering Haiti" in everything that we do. Sometimes that has been hard. It's meant sacrificing some of our first-world comforts. It's meant foregoing some of our traditions and treasured time with family and friends.

It's meant facing some of the hard realities that life in Haiti entails. When we come face to face with a hurting world, people living in poverty, crime and brokenness, it can be overwhelming. We may have a deep desire to give but we often don't know where to begin. Sometimes we can feel paralyzed by the vast need. 

But we in the United States have been blessed with resources. We have been blessed with opportunities. We have been blessed with more than we need. And we shouldn't feel guilty about it but we should be willing to share. We should consider what we have to give more than what we want.

This Christmas our family still celebrated. We still feasted and exchanged gifts. We cherished the twinkling Christmas lights and the festive music. We gathered together with family and friends who have become family to remember the birth of our Savior.

We also spent time each night praying for our friends in Haiti. Our kids remembered their friends who don't have toys or clothes - or even food this season. We hope over these last 12 days you have remembered too.

Mostly, we want you all to remember that you can make a difference. With just a little sacrifice on your part, on our part, we can fill a hungry tummy. We can provide education. We can help offer up a job. We can empower a young leader. We can love an orphan. We can lift up a widow in distress. We can give hope and a future.

After all, isn't this why the child was born in Bethlehem? Wasn't it all about giving anyway?

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

**If you or your organization is considering a year-end gift, we humbly ask you to consider sharing with Christian Friendship Ministries. Your donations help us connect resources with Haiti and change lives. See for details on how to donate to our General Fund and the money will be used where it is most needed. We also invite you to leave a comment on how this "12 Days of Giving" has made an impact on you.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 11 of Giving: Love is a Verb

For Peter Constantin, love is a verb.

His love for the Haitian people, especially those in the northern mountains of Haiti where he grew up, is expressed through service.

Peter has been the Haitian director of Christian Friendship Ministries since 2005. During that time he has been working basically as a volunteer with very little - if any - compensation each month.

Peter wears many hats. He oversees the committee and workers for The Bridge Christian Children's Home orphanage. He leads the board for the Evangelical Baptist Church of Pignon. He preaches on Sundays when one of the pastors of the four main churches in Pignon, St. Raphael, Savanette or Fontaine are not available. He also helps host American teams when they come to serve in Haiti.

Peter is a true pastor. He mentors young people. He inspires the elder leaders. He is a peacemaker in the church. He encourages and helps people find work so they can provide for their own families. He shepherds the needy.

We appreciate Peter because he is a visionary. He dreams of one day starting a trade school to help train young people in practical skills so they can become mechanics, computer technicians, electricians and other jobs needed in Haiti. He is passionate about developing skills and new jobs so Haitians can provide for themselves and raise up out of hopelessness. Peter is also helping Christian Friendship Ministries in the building of a new orphanage building in St. Raphael, which will offer a new home to 15 orphans who live there now.

Peter loves to work with his hands. He is constantly fixing up things at the orphanage or adding improvements to the Mission House and school in Pignon. Over the years Peter has gained a lot of experience in building and construction. He enjoys leading in these types of projects as well.

Right now Peter drives back and forth weekly between Port Au Prince where he works and Pignon where he serves. He puts in many miles for this commute. Meanwhile, his wife and three daughters are living in the United States where his wife is working to help their family and his daughters are attending school. His eldest will be a senior in high school this year. 

**In 2012, our organization will be helping raise a salary so Peter can work full-time for Christian Friendship Ministries. We want to be able to help him and bless his family for his hard work in so many areas. Please consider a one-time gift or a monthly pledge to help Peter so he can serve full-time and spend less time commuting.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 10 of Giving: Help Haitian kids attend Vacation Bible School

One of our greatest delights this past summer was helping out with the Vacation Bible School programs in Pignon and St. Raphael. Ericlee's grandma Arshaloos started holding Vacation Bible Schools decades ago when she lived in Haiti. Her programs were so popular the numbers often soared to a couple of thousand kids who would attend. The desire of the churches in Haiti is to continue this legacy created by grandma. 

VBS in Haiti holds many similarities to VBS in the United States. The children sing, memorize scripture, hear Bible stories, play games and bond together in community. This past summer Pastor Emmaniau led the singing and scripture memory time for the VBS along with some of the other young leaders. The Haitian children love to sing. They don't have fancy overheads or worship bands to lead them but they have the joy of the Lord in their hearts when they belt out those songs in Kreyol. Sometimes they sing up to an 40 minutes as the children gather and the leaders prepare for the day.

Over the years many teams have traveled to Haiti to help with the VBS programs. Some friends, like Dana Johnson, go back year after year to show love to the children and teach the Bible. This past summer, Dana was part of the team that taught the "Drama Class." Each day the kids would act out part of the story of Joseph using costumes and props.

The Bible lesson or story time was taught by my mom, Maria Lazo, for the Pignon and St. Raphael VBS. Flannel board and illustrated characters helped bring this important story to life. The children loved to hear the adventures of Joseph and the many lessons he learned on his life journey.

Of course, the big difference between the U.S. and Haiti is the little resources available to put on the VBS program. The Craft time has to be simple because art supplies are expensive and difficult to get. 

At the end of each day, we feed the children who attend Vacation Bible School. This is the biggest cost when putting together the week but it is perhaps the most important next to sharing the Gospel message. Many children who attend may only get one or two meals a day. Simple, yet nutritious meals, like rice and beans provide sustenance for these children. In this way, the church is able to fulfill a basic need as well as reaching out to the community.

**If you would like to join us in helping fund a Vacation Bible School program in Haiti, please give through Christian Friendship Ministries. You could help change the life of a child by sending them to Vacation Bible School. This could be a great project for an American church to partner with the churches in Haiti so kids in the United States can help support Vacation Bible School for kids in Haiti. We also are always looking for church groups who would like to take a short-term mission team to Haiti to help the Haitians lead VBS. Our programs are generally in July after the children get out of school. If your college group or church group would like to help out, please leave us a comment.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day 9 of Giving: Provide a scholarship for summer camp or conference

Each year the leadership of the churches in Haiti put together various camps and conferences to help build community among Haitians and study the Bible. 

These include: 
Youth Camp - for ages 13-29
Music Camp - for members of the choirs/band
Women's Conference - for the ladies of the 4 churches
Men's Conference - for the men of the 4 churches
Teachers' Conference - for the teachers of the various schools to learn teaching methods
Marriage Conference - for couples to renew their marriage commitment
Pastors' Conference - for all the pastors to gather and receive encouragement

In this United States, we have similar camps and conferences, especially during the summer. American families often pay their way or churches do fundraisers for these types of special events. The difference is in Haiti the people have little resources to eat, build shelter and basically live. It is difficult for them to save up for extras like a camp or conference.

This year our goal is to find friends in the United States who might be willing to give up a few extra lattes or a movie date to provide a scholarship for a friend in Haiti to attend one of the above camps or conferences.

This past summer we had the chance to observe, help with and speak at some of these conferences. Ericlee led Fitness and Games for the Youth Camp in August. He enjoyed challenging the young people to get out of their comfort zones through physical activity. He watched them bond and encouraged them to also step out in their faith walks.

I was one of the speakers at the Esther Women's Conference in August along with some friends from Fresno. Serena Isaak was our keynote speaker and had help from her daughter, Lindsey Isaak, and friend, Kathryn Haw.  The theme of the 2011 conference was friendship. We saw how just one week together provided so much hope and reconciliation for the women.

In the afternoons we taught the ladies how to knit - a skill they could use in the future. They also participated in prayer walks and games. This was an important time of rest and bonding for the women. They do not have Bible study groups, moms fellowships or other ladies-only activities throughout the year. The conference was a huge encouragement as many of the Haitian women shared. 

**Would you be interested in providing a scholarship for a Haitian friend to attend one of these conferences? One person can attend for an average of $10. Please donate through Christian Friendship Ministries and designate which camp/conference you would like to help fund. We are also looking for individuals and teams that might be interested in helping with these camps/conferences. If you have a passion for music or enjoy sharing your journey or love hanging out with youth or encouraging women, please inquire about our short-term mission trips.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Day 8 of Giving: Help build a playground for a school in Haiti

Our daughter, Giada, loves to swing. This summer we built her a swing behind the mission house where we lived. The children from the orphanage would come over every day and swing with Giada. That meant 20 kids (including our girls) sharing one swing. They would all stand in line and take turns pushing each other. Just watching this scene made us realize what a huge impact building a full playground at the school site would have on the hundreds of kids that attend the school next door. The squeals of laughter and delight we saw on the face of those kids this summer helped push us to research what it would take to build a playground for them.

Our dream is to one day build an obstacle course/playground area where the kids could play and have physical education during the school day. This is one (above) playground we saw at a resort in Haiti but there were very few playgrounds at any schools, especially the schools in the rural areas.

We would love to have swings, monkey bars, a tunnel perhaps pull-up bars for these kids to use. Their little bodies need to play. They need a place to refresh and have fun. Through some research back in the United States, we found this organization called  the Egoscue Foundation, which has a goal to eliminate childhood obesity by creating a fitness playground (called The Patch) at every elementary school across the nation.

The best way to describe the Patch is: "Close your eyes and while they are closed, transport yourself back to when you were five, six, seven, eight, nine or ten years old. You are playing on the Jungle Gym, monkey bars, a pile of rocks, mound of dirt, on a log or some old tire. Can you see it? You have no inhibitions, or restrictions, you duck, jump, crawl, climb, leap, and roll around on whatever it is, your creativity allows you to make up each move as a challenge presents itself. You don't know you are not supposed to be able to do these things, you just do them. I'll bet this has brought a smile to your face, hasn't it? That's Patch Fitness." To get a better idea, check out this video.

Our dream is to partner with them and build a Patch in Pignon, Haiti on our school site. We have already had many conversations with the Egoscue office in Orange County, California. We are brainstorming ways we could build a Patch together to benefit the kids in Haiti. They are excited about helping us fundraise as well as going down to build this playground/obstacle course. The price tag is $25,000. This is considerably cheaper than building other kinds of traditional playgrounds out of solid materials like metal.

We have already had a group of women in a Bible study in Fresno, California who decided to collect seed money for this project instead of giving gifts at their annual Christmas party. We are blessed by their gifts and passion for this playground.

*Would you be interested in joining Christian Friendship Ministries in helping to build a "Patch" for the kids in Pignon, Haiti? Inquiries and donations are accepted through our ministry web site.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day 7 of Giving: A Goat that keeps on Giving

Gerby and Calvin are pastors of a small church just outside the city of Pignon. The Fontaine church plant reaches out the people in the surrounding area. A one-room church building is a place for worship, conferences, Sunday School programs and more. 

One of the dreams of these two pastors who work side by side is to open a school for the children who live in this rural area. Many of them cannot afford to go to the other government or private schools. Currently, there is a piece of property for sale next to the church (pictured above) where they could build a small school.

Gerby had an idea to start some kind of income-generating project to help provide money for the school to pay the staff and offer scholarships for the students. His goal is to buy 10 goats that could be raised by the school children. This could be a learning project for them as well as a means to provide for the school.

You have probably heard about people giving goats for Christmas through other organizations like World Vision or Samaritan's Purse. After many trips to Haiti and living there for three months earlier this year, we saw how valuable goats are to Haitian culture. They can provide milk as well as meat. Haitians generally eat a diet of rice and beans. Chicken and goats are sold in the market for a good price for meat. One goat costs about $50 in U.S. dollars.

We have known Gerby since he was a young teenager. He is a passionate preacher and charismatic young leader. Pastor Calvin, who is in his 70s, has such a servant's heart and mentors Gerby while still working at his his own garden (small farm) to provide for his own large family. We are inspired by Gerby and Calvin and their hearts for the children and people in the town of Fontaine. These men travel to Fontaine at least twice a week to lead services at the church and care for the people there. We saw their dedication and vision for helping educate a new generation. 

**If you are interested in hearing more about how you could buy a goat in someone's name this Christmas or provide seed money for this income-generating project for the Fontaine School, please inquire through our ministry web site at

Monday, December 19, 2011

Day 6 of Giving: Solar Power Project lights new possibilities

After spending three months in Haiti one of the big projects we realized is important for building our non-profit organization is providing consistent electricity, clean water and communications at our mission base in Pignon. One of the most cost-effective and sustainable ways to do this is through solar energy. Currently, the church, school, orphanage, health clinic and mission house in Pignon run on a generator system that eats gas at a rate of $5/gallon/hour. We realized that one of Haiti's greatest assets is the sun. The great thing about solar energy is that once you have the equipment, the use of the sun is free. We are in the process of fundraising to put in solar panels and a satellite at the mission base. The price tag on this project is $18,000.

Solar panels would help give electricity throughout the mission base 24 hours a day instead of just a few hours that we can pay for running the generator. This would open the doors for the education in the schools to use better resources as well as in the health clinic. The children in the orphanage and any mission teams/visitors to the mission house would also be able to have clean filtered water and electricity. Our long-term vision would be to develop income-generating projects like a cybercafe or a community garden on the property to provide jobs.

The exciting part is that we have already raised $10,750 with the help of 25 of our friends who ran the Two Cities Marathon/Half Marathon on Nov. 7. This team of friends from Fresno, California, started training in mid-August and raising pledges jog-a-thon style for their run. They also helped us get corporate sponsors whose logos were featured on our team shirts.

Ericlee helped train the group, developing a daily workout schedule and organizing weekly meet-ups for workouts and long runs. This is a fun way for Ericlee to use his gifts in coaching and encouraging people as well as sharing his passion for running and fitness. We were blessed to have many friends run for the second year in a row as well as some new participants.

Our friends Troy and Allison, who have traveled with us to Haiti in the past, ran the half marathon together. Troy's company, Digital Attic, was also our main corporate sponsor for the fundraiser. 

Mike and Heather Fenton also ran as a couple. They were some of the superstars on our team. Not only did they raise the most money for the Solar Power Project but they both had personal records in running the half marathon and have found a new passion for running.

My dear friend, Terry Rios, was our only team member who tackled the full marathon. 26.2 is no easy feat but Terry finished with style - and a whole fan club of kids, friends and family cheering her on. She also raised a large chunk for the project and achieved a personal goal by completing the marathon. We were so proud of her and the whole team! They are a gift to us and to Christian Friendship Ministries!

*If you or your organization would be interested in giving toward our "Remember Haiti Solar Power Project," you can donate through our web site. You might also consider joining our "Remember Haiti Cycling Team" that will be participating in the California Classic this May or signing up for our Half Marathon team for November 2012.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Day 5 of Giving: Training up leaders

One of the young leaders of the church who truly was a gift to us during our time in Haiti earlier this year was Emmaniau. Over the last few years we have watched this young man grow in his leadership abilities. He has a gentle personality but a real passion for preaching and sharing the Word of God.

We had the privilege of watching Emmaniau in action as a leader in the church during the summer months when his seminary was on summer break. He was always at the church, helping with the morning prayer meetings, leading Sunday evening services, preaching, putting together special activities for the youth in the church, sharing Bible devotions and playing with the children in the orphanage even heading up a summer youth camp and summer school camp for elementary students.

Emmaniau came to us right away when we arrived in Haiti in June and asked if we could help him with his English. He offered to work on our Kreyol language skills with us as well. Each afternoon he would show up at the mission house with a notebook in hand, ready to share in a time of learning and conversation. He proved an eager learner and patient teacher.

We are passionate about investing in young leaders and training them up through mentorship and education so they can be involved in keeping the church and our non-profit alive in the future. Emmaniau has committed himself to completing a seminary degree at Bolos in Haiti. He works hard on his studies and spends his vacations back home in Pignon serving the church.

What impressed us most about Emmaniau is that he truly has a heart to serve others. He exemplifies the servant leader.

*Emmaniau is currently attending a seminary in Haiti called Bolos. The cost is approximately $2,200 per year for tuition and room and board. If you would like to help provide a scholarship for Emmaniau or another one of the young leaders in this coming up in this ministry, donate through Christian Friendship Ministries. Indicate your designation for our "Scholarship Fund."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 4 of Giving: $5 sends a child to school

By Ericlee Gilmore

This past June I had the opportunity to visit some of the schools that are a part of Christian Friendship Ministries. We typically travel to Haiti in the later summer so this was my first glimpse at the way the schools run. Our organization includes 6 elementary schools - some with several hundred children and others with less than 50. 
I was immediately struck by how difficult it is for these teachers in Haiti. Britus was one teacher who I got to know better and greatly admire. He teaches a sixth grade class with sometimes 70 students in the classroom. The students do not have books. Britus must use chalkboard and chalk to show examples. As an educator myself, I could immediately see how hard this was to reach different types of learners. Kids who are not auditory learners were difficult to engage. I admire Britus because he teaches all week and then travels two hours to the major city of Cap Haitien to further his own education. He helped teach me Haitian Kreyol and I helped him with English while we were in Haiti.

I spent several hours talking with the principal of the school in Pignon. I asked him what the needs were for his school, students and teachers. The top need he mentioned was helping educate his teachers more. They have a desire to attend a conference or get some other training so they can become better teachers. They do care about their students but they often feel hopeless because they have so little resources. We hope that one day we can take a team of educators from the U.S. to Haiti to help encourage the Haitian teachers and share teaching ideas.

 *You can help invest in the education of a Haitian child. Just $5 per month can send a child to school. That includes their supplies, uniforms and one meal a day as well as the money to help pay teachers and staff. This will impact the child and their future but also his/her teacher and family. To donate, see If you are an educator, consider participating in a short-term trip to Haiti for teacher training.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 3 of Giving: Bicycles for Laypreachers

By Ericlee Gilmore

Thanks for joining us for our "12 Days of Giving" feature. This summer I had the chance to travel the northern mountains of Haiti and visit 11 of 30 outstations that are part of Christian Friendship Ministries. The "outstations" are made up of a small group of believers who meet weekly across the countryside for encouragement, prayer and learning scripture. In the U.S., we might call this a “life group” or “small group” but sometimes as many as 60 people gather. Some meet in a building. Others meet out in a field or in the yard of a family.

One to three "laypreachers" from the main churches are assigned to go meet at these outstations and lead the people in the area. I had the privilege of spending some quality time with many of these men. My intention was to encourage them but really they encouraged and inspired me with their faith and perseverance. They truly have a desire to serve their people.

 One laypreacher I met was Paul. He had such a memorable smile and upbeat personality. He loves this opportunity to encourage other Christians and evangelize to the people of St. Raphael, Haiti. I discovered he has to travel about 5 miles to get from his house to the outstation where he shares. A large part of his journey is uphill into the mountains.  He humbly asked me for a bicycle.  If he had a bike he could cut down his walking time of over 2 hours, by more than half.  Bicycles in Haiti range in price from $40-80.

*You can join us and contribute for a bicycle for a laypreacher by giving at the web site of Christian Friendship Ministries under the Donate tab or by sending a check to P.O. Box 27584 Fresno, CA 93729. Please indicate that you would like to give toward a "Bicycle for a Laypreacher."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 2 of Giving: Sponsor an Orphan

Not a day goes by when one of my girls does not mention the orphans in Haiti. Meilani prays for the orphans each night at dinner and before bed. Giada frequently asks when we will be going back to our mission house to see her friends at the orphanage. Meilani remembers Rose Kathia, the oldest girl in the orphanage, who always included her.

This summer we had the privilege of living next door to The Bridge Christian Children's Home, an orphanage opened in Fall of 2009. Our church, The Bridge, in Fresno, California, helped provide the funding for the building. The orphanage today is home to 15 orphans and an all-Haitian staff. These beautiful children became sisters and brothers to my Meilani and Giada.

Roro is the director of the orphanage. He and his wife, Moseline, are the papa and mama to these children along with three dorm parents, Angela, Maniolitha and Eracin. These adults lead the children in Bible studies, teach them how to care for their home and even help the with their studies. The children attend the church and school also on the same property as the orphanage. They eat three Haitian meals a day and have health care.

Orphan care is often complicated in Haiti but we know these children are in a safe place. Sponsoring a child in this orphanage is one way your family can "adopt" a child and keep her off the streets. Many of these children were abandoned by family members who could no longer provide for them or left because their parents died from disease. In two years time, we have watched them grow physically as well as spiritually and emotionally.
*We invite you to consider supporting an orphan like James. It costs $100 each month to provide the food, clothes, education, health care, pay our staff and provide a loving home for these children. We still have several children who are not yet fully sponsored or have lost sponsors because of the economy. You can choose to sponsor a child for the full amount or share a sponsorship and pledge $25, $35 or $50 a month and join with other families to support them. Each sponsor will receive periodic photographs and updates on their child. See for more details on sponsorship.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 1 of Giving: The Haitian Bead Project

I remember my first day meeting the ladies. A small group of them gathered in the stifling heat of the afternoon. They made a circle with wooden chairs in the shade of one of the buildings. I was too shy to use the Haitian Kreyol I knew so I just took a seat and watched them work.

One woman cut cardboard from cereal boxes and other packaging into triangle-shaped strips. Several other women took the strips of recycled cardboard and began to roll the cardboard around skewers creating the beads. They glued the beads in place. Another woman carried the skewers full of beads to a spot in the sun where the glue could dry. Someone else used a paint brush to apply varnish to make the completed beads shine. While they worked, the ladies chattered in Kreyol. Their kids played in the school yard nearby. The babies climbed in mamas' laps as they worked. One mama even stopped to breastfeed. I could see right away that this was not just a way for the women to make money but also a way for them to create community.
Madame Moise became one of my friends this summer. She always made a point of saving me a chair and greeting me in Haitian Kreyol or her broken English when I arrived. She was always eager to show me her work and ask my opinion about colors. Despite the language barrier, we became friends through the days that stretched into months. We were bound together by beads and string, rainbows of color and combinations.

Perhaps the most exciting part about this project for me is that these women are able to use their creativity to earn a fair wage. Sure, we could give them a handout. We could raise money to buy food for them or clothes for their children. Or, we can give them the gift of dignity through this grass-roots business that provides work and fosters community. The sale of just one necklace to a friend here in the United States can provide up to a month's worth of wages the ladies could earn in Haiti. Jobs are scarce in Haiti, especially for women. These women find hope through The Haitian Bead Project.

*We invite you to consider supporting the artisans of the Haitian Bead Project by purchasing a bracelet or necklace this Christmas. They make great gifts for teachers, moms, grandmas and even kids on your list. If you live in Fresno, California, our final holiday sale will be this Friday, December 16. We are hosting an Open House from 4 to 8 p.m. at our home. Call me at 559.908.0004 for details. If you live outside of Fresno, the jewelry can be shipped and you can host your own Open House.

For more regular updates on The Haitian Bead Project and ways you can volunteer or buy the jewelry throughout the year, LIKE The Haitian Bead Project on Facebook.

12 Days of Giving

The Gilmore family poses at the top of Haiti's Citadel in July 2011 at the exact spot where Ericlee proposed to Dorina nine years ago.

I love gifts! I love the fun of opening a package and finding a surprise inside. But even more, I love the joy of making something or picking out that perfect gift for someone and watching them open it.

This year I have been reading Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, and redefining gifts in my mind, my heart. I have learned that gifts are not always wrapped in paper and neat bows. They don't always come in gift bags. Gifts can be the things around us - large and miniscule - that we can savor and mark with gratitude.

I am grateful for these gifts today: sleeping in with my girls, clean counters, a big sister who lives for rocking her new baby sister, warm banana muffins delivered by a friend, cozy socks for cold feet, paint-stained hands, leftovers for lunch, time to be still.

This advent I set before my family a challenge. At the prompting of a dear friend, we started talking about what we could do as a family each day of Advent to give gifts to others in unique ways. We scrawled a list in a notebook. Some things were simple - calling cousins we haven't talked to in a while, sharing around the lunch table the things we appreciate about each other, making cards for teachers. Other gifts included blessing people around the world.

We started a tradition when Meilani was born that we pick something from the World Vision Gift Catalog each year as part of her gifts. One year we bought soccer balls for kids in the developing world. Another year, we bought a fishing kit to empower a family that needed to put food on the table. This year Meilani and Giada picked out a set of 5 ducks to go to a family so they could have extra income and protein-rich food.

If you have been keeping up with our family and this blog, you know that we have dedicated this year to "remembering Haiti" and serving there. During this Advent, we have continued to pray for our friends in Haiti and tried to keep our eyes focused on what God would have us do to bless them.

There are 12 days until Christmas. We often take advantage of this season to post pictures of our favorite Christmas traditions and holiday gatherings. This year we wanted to do something different with our blog. We will take the next dozen days to share with you about our friends in Haiti and how they have been gifts to us in 2011. We also will highlight some unique ways your family might consider giving gifts that will bless the people we have gotten to know in Haiti. We hope you will enjoy the stories of some of these special people and projects we have experienced as a family.

Merry Christmas! Please share with us some of the unique ways your family gives meaningful gifts. We love to hear about family traditions and even new organizations!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Her Birth Day: Meet Zayla Arshaloos Gilmore

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. for what I thought was a routine trip to the bathroom. I felt some pressure in my side but didn't really dwell on it because I was too excited about the day ahead. I was slated to go to the MOPS Holiday Boutique at our church to sell jewelry from our Haitian Bead Project and my own knitted items. I was so excited to see what God would do that day to bless the ladies in Haiti. My mind was racing, thinking through all the items I needed to bring to the boutique and debating whether I should try to get more sleep or just get ready now. I stopped by the kitchen for a glass of water and a handful of dried cranberries.

Ericlee popped his head in our dining room. "You, ok?" he asked with a bleary-eyed look. "Sounds like you're rushing around."

"Just getting ready for the boutique," I replied with a smile.

I decided to get in the shower. Again, I felt this strong pressure in my side. Could this be it? Labor pains? Oh no, not on the morning of the boutique! I told that baby girl to stay put until at least Saturday night. The hot water washed over me, massaging my back. Maybe I could relax it away. And then, the pressure again. I called to Ericlee from the shower. I described my contractions. It was 6:15 a.m.

I started thinking of the scenarios - birth now? Or what if contractions began later in the car? What if I went into labor at church? I think not. Then I knew I might not be making it to the boutique this morning. I got out of the shower and grabbed for my iPhone. My fingers fumbled for that Contraction app to measure the next one.

Five minutes apart. The contractions kept coming. Regular now.

Forget the boutique. My friends could handle it without me. Time to concentrate on labor and birthing. I told Ericlee to call our midwife and the grandparents right away.

"Tell them to come now," was all I remember saying. In between the intense contractions, which seemed to be coming faster, I texted a handful of friends to have them pray.

He started blowing up our birthing pool and preparing for the birth. I kept calling him back in the bathroom to help me focus through contractions. All I wanted was to look into his eyes. My coach. My focal point through the hard pain.

The next minutes seem blurry but I remember that the contractions were 3 minutes apart when my parents and our midwife finally showed up.

Ericlee went to wake up the girls. Meilani and Giada woke up to hear mama laboring through.

I wondered how long this labor would be. I prayed for God's strength in each moment, begged my husband to recite scriptures with me.

While everyone seemed to be bustling around looking for the kids' clothes, filling up the pool, I suddenly felt like pushing. Was this for real? My midwife hadn't even checked how far I was dilated yet.

With each contraction, I felt myself baring down. She insisted I come back into the bedroom. "Don't fight it," she said. "This baby is coming now."

My dad was still filling up the birthing pool. I was on the ball, trying to balance between contractions. Ericlee wondered aloud if I should get into the pool. My midwife said there wasn't time. I didn't want to deal with back labor. My midwife suggested I get down on all fours next to the bed. This position felt natural to me. I remembered my Yoga Mama video and tried to breathe.

Suddenly, I felt this one long push radiate through my body. Her head was out.

"Wait until the next contraction," my midwife instructed calmly.

Could this be the finish line already? I found myself recounting Giada's birth when I had pushed for what seemed like an eternity. I remembered that excruciating pain. I tried not to dwell on it. My mom's voice came through. She was reading to me from my PUSH pages - a little book prepared my dear mama friends full of scriptures and encouraging words to carry me through.

On the next round I pushed and heard a distinct baby's cry. And there she was. We were all in shock. Two long pushes and she was out. What a miracle. My eucharisteo baby.

The first few months of pregnancy had been all shock - surprise that God was gifting us with a third child when we were preparing to move to Haiti. The following months were filled with moving plans and actually getting our family of four and my pregnant belly to Haiti. So often I tried to forget I was pregnant because it felt so hard as we lived there in the developing world. And then these last few months had been about moving back to the United States, watching my belly swell large and feeling my body rehearse for this final dance.

Thankful. How incredibly thankful I felt. She was here. Healthy. Complete. Full of grace. She gasped for air. I exhaled.

My midwife brought up our sweet Zayla Arshaloos into my arms. Ericlee proudly announced her name. Zayla means lovable, dark-haired princess, a Hebrew derivative of Sarah. Arshaloos means dawn in Armenian - a name chosen after his grandmother, our inspiration, a missionary in Haiti. Daddy's heritage, Daddy's girl. Born at 7:52 a.m.

Ericlee called for the girls and his mom. They had just barely left the house and had to turn around to come back. I held my sticky, crying bundle of joy in my arms. She was here. Finally. Here.

In the minutes that followed, I clutched my precious gift and birthed the placenta. Ericlee did the honors, clipping her umbilical cord, releasing her into this new world of existence. Zayla weighed in at 7 pounds, 14 ounces and measuring 20 inches long.

Meilani and Giada returned with Grandma Christene. They petted their baby sister's back with gentle fingers. Giada's voice sang her name over and over again. "Zayla Arshaloos - Zayla Arshaloos - Zayla Arshaloos." We had urged the kids to keep her name a secret for the last week. Now was the time to celebrate it out loud. They marveled over Zayla's baby toes, squealing with delight. Giada was finally a "big sister" joining our first-born Meilani in this new role.

Photos by Allison Vasquez, August Grace Photography
And now, we are a family of five.

Eucharisteo - thanksgiving - always precedes the miracle. ~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts