Friday, July 29, 2011

Pregnant in the Developing World

We lock eyes, but really it’s our swelling bellies that bring us together. I remember her from Sunday, directing the choir at the church in Fontaine with belly protruding. The sweat trickled down her cheek from her brow but she was all smiles as her hand kept time. She led the harmonies, her sweet voice scraping heaven.

We return to the province of Fontaine on Monday morning for the start of a three-day Discipleship Conference. This little stretch of road extending through the countryside about 15 minutes from the city of Pignon is the home of one of the small church plants of our ministry. Our dear friend Gerby and his partner, Pastor Calvin, shepherd this flock of about 100 people who daily seek Christ together.

Today, we are the transportation and behind-the-scenes support for two American friends from Memphis, Tennessee, who have come to speak about “Disciple-Making” with Gerby as their translator. We pile our girls in the truck for a ride. I am anxious to spend some time building relationships with the women in Fontaine.

Many of the men and some women from the church as well as visiting churches, pile into the one-room building for the conference. I go searching for the group of women who work behind the scenes, preparing breakfast for the conference attendees. They are half a dozen grandmas and perhaps another half dozen more young mamas carrying babies on their hips.

She is shy at first barely nodding when I greet her. We speak the silent knowing of bellies. We have a kinship because we are both pregnant. It’s a quiet knowing that I believe pregnant mamas feel when they meet or perhaps adoptive moms feel when they connect. We can spot each other from far away. We are more brave to share stories or ask questions of strangers when we know we share this “bearing children” space.

I find out using my elementary Haitian Kreyol that she is 6 months pregnant. Our due dates would probably be a few weeks apart, although they don’t really talk about due dates and follow calendars as diligently as we do in the United States.

An email from Baby Center this week reminds me that I am 23 weeks into my pregnancy. I am nearing that final trimester. The home stretch. And then I will be ready for this Thanksgiving baby to make her entrance into this world.

This pregnancy has been wildly different from my first two. At first, it was a surprise. The wave of nausea and tiredness caught me quite off guard. I wasn’t ready or even filled with that soon-to-be-mama anticipation that helps one endure the ups and downs of the first trimester. After I accepted that this pregnancy was God’s gift, I started to settle into the idea.

Of course, this pregnancy is different because I’m journeying part of it in the developing world. Three months here in Haiti.

The most obvious contrast is the lack of conveniences here compared to what pregnant mamas enjoy in my home country. We have made pregnancy about pampering: bubble baths, massages, pedicures, designer maternity wardrobes, sending our spouses on midnight trips to drive-thrus for strange food cravings. (I know I would be running out for Trader Joe's chocolate bon-bons right now if I had the chance!) American women enjoy frequent prenatal visits and several ultrasounds per pregnancy. We plan elaborate baby showers and paint our nurseries and “nest” for months. There is none of that here in Haiti, although there is still much anticipation and celebration of little ones.

There are pregnant women everywhere but I am humbled when I think about how different their lifestyle. One pregnant mama with watermelon-round belly walks down the street carrying a heavy bucket of water on her head. Another woman covers her breasts and middle with a simple white sheet as she sits on the porch of her mountain home on the road to Haiti’s Citadel. I remember another mama just down the street from our Mission House who spends her mornings frying plantains over sizzling hot oil to sell to travelers and neighbors. Not exactly what I would call pampering.

These women teach me perseverance. When I am tempted to complain in my spirit about the dripping-in-all-crevices humidity or the mosquitoes buzzing in my ears, I remember them. When I am holding my belly tight to cradle it during bumpy truck rides, a sense of deep compassion rises from within. My heart reaches out to these women who walk long distances with water or ride on donkeys’ backs to sell produce at market or even hitch rides in the back of pick-up truck taxis that are jam-packed with people.

I have been reading L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert devotional. She writes, “Therefore we cannot help others who suffer without paying a price ourselves, because afflictions are the cost we pay for our ability to sympathize. Those who wish to help others must first suffer” (July 19).

My pregnancy has also taught me to set boundaries for myself, my girls. My body dictates my daily need for rest, ample water. I might be tempted to overwork myself in ministry but being pregnant reminds me that I have three girls God has gifted to me and I have to care for them first. I am a missionary mama. I have to allow myself daily naps and even time to lavish my 2-year-old Giada and 5-year-old Meilani with love.

I daily give thanks to God for the little things - that He allowed me to be here in my second trimester when most of the nausea and aversions to strong smells are gone. I am grateful my belly is just beginning to swell into maternity clothes and I am not yet in the stage of swollen ankles and face. I am humbled and blessed that I have the luxury of returning to California for the last trimester to birth my baby at home with a midwife or in a sparkling-clean hospital room. I recognize I have a place of privilege.

For now, I am pregnant in Haiti, and God is using it again to refine me, remind me that He holds the cycle of life in His hands. He calls me to walk this journey with my Haitian sisters and see just a glimpse through their eyes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An Excursion Down to the River

We are an energetic bunch: 15 kids from the The Bridge Christian Children’s Home orphanage, the orphanage director’s two daughters, our two Meilani and Giada, Ericlee and myself. I’m not sure who is leading the group but I know I am the caboose as we snake through trees and small hut-homes over rocks. The sun blazes overhead and I am grateful I remembered sun hats for myself and my girls.

We are headed for the river.

The Haitian kids walk with pride. Like trained tour guides they point out this and that along the way. Rose Katia insists on carrying Meilani on her back. Guetchine hoists Giada on piggy-back. As is typical in Haitian culture the older kids always take the younger ones under their wings. It’s not uncommon to see kids with babies only a few years younger perched on their hips or drying the tears of a younger sibling. My girls have been adopted into this family as well.

When we arrive at the edge of the river, there is a tide of activity. Women washing, hanging, beating, drying clothes. Children bathe. This river is the source of life. It is at once a place to wash, a place to drink, a place to bathe, a place where animals find respite, a place to wash vehicles and motorcycles. The river cuts its own path through the land and the people follow.

Before I know it all the Haitian kids are stripping down. Gary jumps off the highest rock straight into the water. Makenson and Wilken are splashing right behind him. Even the girls are joining in the “pool party.”

My girls look at me with earnest eyes but I have to explain that they can only put their feet in. I know I could never prevent them from drinking this water and I’m sure their American tummies cannot stomach the water. I feel like a cruel mama to make them sit out on the fun but I also know how dangerous the water can be for us.

Years ago, Ericlee was baptized in this river. He would come for summer “vacations” with his mom to this river and dive right in with the kids. The river was different then – less garbage on the banks, less pollution.

Earlier this year, Haiti’s rivers may have been called a source of death as a cholera epidemic spread through the water supply. Signs hanging in small towns dotting the Haitian countryside remind residents to drink purified water or boil water before drinking it to avoid cholera. Some small numbers still suffer from cholera but the epidemic is declared officially over.

It’s been 10 years since I started coming to Haiti. I am surprised this summer by how easy it is to get purified water. A company has moved into town and we can buy 5-gallon drums for less than an American dollar. Pure relief.

This river and water in general represents a source of life in a sun-scorched land like Haiti. In the countryside even a small bucket of water is precious – used to bathe and cook. Women and children walk long distances from the wells to their homes carrying water.

It’s no accident that Jesus called himself the Living Water. He said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (John 7:38)

This was a word picture people of the day could understand. They knew water was vital to life. They were thirsty in a spiritual sense for a Savior.

Today we delight in watching the kids play. Here I am reminded that kids are kids anywhere – no matter what country or skin tone or what kind of resources they may have available to them. Water delights. And for a second I think we might be back in California with a group of our friends sitting out by the swimming pool with the kids splashing away. The same wonder and delight permeates the air.

My girls wade in to their ankles. I chat with the ladies washing clothes on the shore. Community ebbs and flows right out here in the sparkling sun. We partake of a Living Water in Haiti.

*This blog is part of an occasional series on everyday life in the rural mountains of Haiti.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Recording one thousand gifts: A Journey of Gratitude

This year has been a journey of gratitude. Some might call it my theme, my focus. At times I tried to escape but I found that no matter what I read in the Bible or sermons I heard or even conversations I had with friends, led me back to grappling with this concept.
What is thanksgiving? What does it truly mean for the Christian? For Americans? For me?

On January 30, 2011, I officially started numbering gifts. A dear friend delivered a book to me tied in pale blue ribbon. That gift, written by a woman in Canada whose life seemed such a stark contrast to my own, was actually a glimmer of light that would help me see. Ann Voskamp writes about her gratitude journey and her journey has ushered me down an unexpected path of redemption in my own thoughts and heart.

These six months of counting I have been learning to adjust my lens. God has been training me to open the eyes of my heart. Whereas before I might have followed my human instinct to complain, put on a hat of cynism – even a robe of jealousy – now there are new grooves of habit prompting me to pray and see each moment as a gift.

To be thankful in all things seems too simple – downright trite – but what I discovered is how deeply the wound cuts when I am nailing down gifts. In fact, the more I counted the hard gifts among my blessings, the more I understood that the nail hammered into flesh meets grace on the other side.

I look back over the last six months of my life, this gift list, and I know God has challenged me to dig deep. I know He has asked me to come face to face with some of my biggest fears and insecurities. I cannot hold on to these and be truly thankful at the same time.

It’s definitely been a heart-journey.

I love the word “journey” because it implies movement, something ongoing. I know I have not arrived at a destination now that I have this list of 1,000 gifts before me. It has been more about the journey to get here. I am moving forward gift by gift, step by step.

Some days it’s easy to count gifts. They abound in every corner:

43. a stack of books to read my girls

64. an afternoon walk in the sunshine

90. the magic of chocolate-dipped strawberries

124. a community meal with a treasured circle of friends

Other days I have to work to see the gifts. I read Ann’s words and make them my mantra: “Wrestle with God, beg to see the blessings…and all the faces become the face of God” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 138). I have adjusted my lens, my attitude, to record the blessing-moments:

103. stroking my daughter’s hair as she surrenders from tantrum to grace-sleep

147. shelf full of discounted organic produce when I only have $15 for this week’s groceries

356. a roof over our heads, albeit leaky

415. a positive pregnancy test and the assurance that nothing is a surprise to my God

448. for Leo Ford, a kind MediCal case worker who finally helped me through the hoops and paper trail after 6 hours of waiting

This journey to hunt down gifts has taught me to stop clinging to my plans, my American conveniences, my security, my sense of safety and health. This journey has taught me to trust my Maker and to swallow down even the “hard eucharisteo,” the trials of life, the I’m-too-weak-to-endure moments.

This journey has also nudged me to celebrate the minute details, the sometimes-mundane routine, the quiet. Ann writes, “There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 57)

I am at once grateful for:

285. the sunset pooling color on earthy fields

504. my girls singing their hearts out in the shower

845. ice-cold water on a dripping-in-all-crevices hot day

880. new-baby-wings fluttering in my belly

And soon my list has reached one thousand.

My love takes my hand with some urgency. We must reach our destination. This morning we piled the kids and my parents and a few Haitian friends into our pick-up truck for a family day away. We drive four hours from our Haitian mission house in Pignon to this place: Haiti’s Citadel constructed in the 1800s by the bare-hands, sweat and blood of Haitian slaves. Today, the people stand free.

We hike one last steep mile up to the top of this fortress. Ericlee and I have been here before. Yet we see this place, this country, this blue sky-with-rainstorm-impending with such different eyes. God has journeyed with us from the top of a mountain in Yosemite, California where we whispered our vows eight Aprils ago back to this mountain-fortress in the heart of Haiti where it all started.

Nine years ago, Ericlee bent on one knee and asked me to marry him. He presented a ring. I was so shocked that this was the God-plan; I thought it was a joke. Too good to be true. Too amazing and scary and beautiful in one moment. I whispered yes to a life of many unknowns.

1000. Standing at the top of the Citadel with my love, 2 girls & baby in belly, marking the spot 9 years ago where my love proposed

“Counting His graces makes all moments into one holy kiss of communion and communion comes in the common. He will break bread and I will take and the world is His feast! And He is love! And nothing will keep my hand from filling His,” she writes (p. 221).

To me, this one-thousandth gift is a scene. It’s a place. It’s a kind of mountain-top glow I feel when I look back and survey a journey. It is, indeed, a gift.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A week ago today we experienced a burglary in our house here in Pignon. Ericlee and I heard the crash of glass in the middle of the night. I thought it was our cat, Mimi, who is often prowling after mice at night. Ericlee started to get up but something held him back. We later reflected that even this was God's design. When he woke up at dawn the next morning, Ericlee went to open the door for our cooks. He found the floor littered with glass and the front door by our yard ajar. My computer, our intern Ben's computer and our cell phone were gone. VBS craft supplies were scattered on the lawn and clearly the burglar had taken the duffle bag to carry the items.

Ericlee returned to bed to tell me. We were both in shock that someone was in the house while our Bridge team were sleeping. As the team woke we all shared the news. We felt in different stages of that shock of being violated and the fear of our own safety.

I quickly felt a peace about my computer. Sure, it's going to be hard for this writer mama to live without a computer for a few months. Even now I'm trying to blog on my iPhone and paying who knows how much for the data. Yet I know this computer is replaceable. I backed up everything before I came to Haiti.

I am deeply grateful that no one was hurt and God protected us. I was more ticked at first to realize our team might feel unsafe now. I have had to work through my own fears and some restless nights. I am reminded that God did not call our family to serve in Haiti because it would be easy or even always safe. No place really is. Burglaries happen in the U.S too. God calls us to obedience.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bridge team partners with Haitians to lead Vacation Bible School

This sweet little face showed up for Vacation Bible School in Pignon along with 240 others on Monday morning. Each day the numbers increase and our biggest challenge is figuring out how to organize them all into groups and feed them lunch.

The day starts with singing led by Walquis, Bible story time by Maria Lazo, and a short message given by Pastor Mele.  After that, we split the kids into groups and rotate them through crafts, games and drama classes. Our team from The Bridge church has partnered with a team of Haitian young people who attend the Pignon church. They work side-by-side to teach, translate and prepare for a Haitian-led VBS in one of the other villages next week.
Our team's leader Ross Jenkins helps get the kids into lines to head down to the "cafeteria" for lunch. A meal of rice and beans and pasta is prepared each day by Haitian ladies from the church. The kids are eager for this meal; some may only eat one meal a day.

* We apologize for the sparse updates. Our internet connection is horribly slow these days and just about the only thing that loads is Facebook. I wrote a whole blog about all the fun details and highlights of VBS but it's lost somewhere in Cyberspace. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Off-roading in Haiti with The Bridge short-term team

One of our roles this summer in Haiti is to host short-term mission teams. Our first team arrived Saturday morning in Port Au Prince and we were excited to welcome them at the airport. This team included my parents, Doug and Maria, along with several other friends from The Bridge Church, Lisa, Dana, Forest, Clint, Stephanie and Jennifer, who have all been to Haiti before. They were joined by two new team members, Jenn’s husband, Ross and Preston.

Saturday morning we drove to the airport. Ericlee and our French intern Ben went to pick up our rental vehicle and I continued on to the arrivals with the girls and another Haitian friend. Giada and I hopped out of the truck and waited at the end of the arrival walkway. The way it works in Haiti they don’t allow you to go into the airport at all to meet friends and family. It’s usually a bit of an adventure getting through customs and retrieving your bags so there’s nothing more comforting than seeing a familiar face at the end of that covered corridor.

I was happy to be that familiar face when Jenn and Ross first appeared with the carts piled high with bags. We shared hugs all around with the whole team, but the highlight was Giada’s delighted squeal when she spotted her Nana and “Poppy.” She leaped into Nana’s arms!

Not long afterwards Ericlee and Ben showed up with our rental vehicle and we started the “tetris game” of fitting all 20 bags plus carry-ons into our pick-up truck and stuffing 14 people into the seats and two kiddos on top of laps. We made a stop for sandwiches and then we were on our way for our real adventure: the drive from Port Au Prince to Pignon.

Let me start by saying that the drive is actually quite beautiful if you are looking out at the landscape. It’s full of green rolling hills and mountain edges, sun meeting sky. There are streams of water. Cows and goats roam over grasses.

However, it’s the road that presents the problem for us. The road starts out paved but then begins to wind back and forth. For this carsick-prone/pregnant mama (and friends) a windy paved road is not fun. Then three hours into the trip the road is no longer paved.

Bumpy is an understatement.

When you are in two vehicles packed with people and piled high with bags bumpy = fun adventure. I was praying hard not to puke. Ericlee was a hero driving our truck. Clint, who has experience off-roading, manned the rental vehicle. The ladies in our car (led by Nana Maria) kept our minds busy by singing VBS songs at the top of our lungs with the kids.

The highlight of the ride was crossing a stretch of bumpy road that was actually 4-feet deep with muddy water. We all prayed as the water poured over the hood. Our vehicle got stuck the first time around. We were able to back up and power through with our 4-wheel drive. Then the rental followed. This truly was a miracle.

In the end we did make it safely to Pignon. No one was seriously sick. And we all were able to laugh about the experience over a fat Haitian meal when we arrived home.