Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Gilmore Gazette

Dear Family & Friends,

We have had a busy month in Haiti! This is really our June newsletter I wrote more than a week ago but it took that long down to hunt down Internet fast enough to upload everything. Let's just say high-speed is not something we experience in rural Haiti. This past month we have been bumping down Haiti’s dirt roads visiting outstations and churches, snapping photos of kids for our new scholarship program, and making connections with other organizations in the northern mountains of Haiti. Our kids have been playing creative games with the orphans, learning to cook rice and beans, and riding donkeys for fun.

Meilani and her friends Bethia and Ronaldo fromt he orphanage

This is our new normal.

In early June, we had a team here, including Dorina’s parents, Maria and Doug, along with our friends, Forest and Stacie Benedict, their son, Nathanael, and Stacie’s mom, Stephanie High. This was a fun week as we welcomed family and very close friends into our Pignon mission house. Our kids were delighted to have Nana and Papa and Nathanael’s Meema to play games with them and hold them. They loved introducing Nathanael to their Haitian friends and favorite foods.

Giada & Nathanael experiencing a bath Haitian-style at the Mission house

That week Ericlee, Doug and Forest were guest speakers at the first Men’s Conference for the Haitian men who are part of our four main churches. Mostly leaders attended this conference. Our team shared on the topics of physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, sexual purity and godly leadership. The conference culminated with a time where the men washed each others’ feet, imitating what Jesus did for his disciples in the Bible. Ericlee was blessed by the response of the men in the closing session. Some were skeptical at the start because they had never attended a Men’s Conference before. One leader commented during evaluation time that he believed every man in the church should attend. He rallied for a longer conference and wanted to start planning for next year!

Stacie, Maria and Stephanie were instrumental in supporting Dorina in the Haitian Bead Project. They taught the Haitian artisans to make some new products using their recycled cardboard beads. These products included lanyards (perfect for ID badges) and key chain bracelets (ideal for people who carry their keys often). All three of the women shared a devotion and word of encouragement with the artisans.

Hiking with our Fresno family for Father's Day

We ended the week with a family hiking trip for Father’s Day to Haiti’s Citadel. This is the place where Ericlee proposed to Dorina 10 years ago. Everyone worked together to make it to the top for the incredible view of the island. We snapped an updated family photo from the one we took last year with Zayla in belly and Ericlee reenacted the proposal.

This past week we had more friends here from Fresno, including Dale Taunton, Mike Jones, Beverly and Kelly Damm. Our goal was to expose them to many different parts of our work here and have them lend their expertise in business and banking. They have met with our microfinance group, our pastors, our laypreachers, our teachers and Haitian Bead artisans.

They have been especially helpful with the Haitian Bead Project and putting together a new organizational structure for this growing business. Dale helped us design a contract for our artisans and set up a way to inspect the products for the highest quality. Mike also shared a workshop on Biblical stewardship, teaching the ladies about spending, saving, tithing and investing their money. Beverly and Kelly also helped teach the ladies how to make earrings, which they were all very excited about making and wearing! Kelly has also been a huge help watching our girls and orchestrating fun activities for the kids in the orphanage.

Suzeline, one of our new artisans, from Pignon showing off her new earrings

We are looking forward to the next few weeks. Our friends, Stacey and Tanner Munro and their kids, Gabe and Claire, just arrived on Wednesday. They will be here until Friday and then we will welcome a team from our church. They will help us lead a Vacation Bible School in one of the ministry’s smaller churches in the nearby town of Savanette. We are expecting 400-500 kids each day.

We also ask for prayers for health for our family and team. All four of the Gilmore girls have been down this week with cough/headache/aches/runny nose/fever. We are on the mend but now our friends Stacey and Gabe have it. Thank you all again for your encouraging notes, emails, texts and Facebook messages. You can’t understand how meaningful it is when we are on the field to hear tidbits from home. Even more we are blessed by your prayers. We couldn’t follow God’s call here if it were not for your partnership!

Hope you all have a blessed 4th of July!

Saying Yes to God,
Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada and Zayla

Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts from a Missionary Mama: building family around the mission

We have been in Haiti for five weeks now. Monday marks our halfway point. Somehow the time is skimming by much faster than I expected.

Our first few weeks here were transitioning back to our life in the developing world. As a mama I had to relearn the routines of bathing my kids in a laundry basin, dousing them hourly with bug spray and putting them to sleep under “princess” mosquito nets.

My new mama mantras: “Put on your shoes in the house.” “Don’t brush your teeth with the water from the faucet.” “Make sure you remember to use hand sanitizer before you eat.” “Give us a little warning before you have to go to the bathroom so we can pull over and find a good spot.”

My two older girls spend most of their day playing creative games with the kids from the orphanage next door to our house. They are delighted to have 18 siblings and constant entertainment. I laugh when I see them communicating across cultural lines.

Meilani is picking up lots of Kreyol. She doesn’t always know what she’s saying but she’s saying it or singing it out loud. Giada continues to speak to the kids in English and they reply in Kreyol and somehow they all understand each other.

This is the new normal for my kids.

I feel like we adapted more quickly this year. Maybe it’s because my belly is not bulging-pregnant and I have more energy for facing the challenges of this life in rural Haiti. The humidity doesn’t bother me quite as much. The bumpy truck rides are a more welcome adventure. And I’ve improved my language skills to the point where I can have a full conversation with a Haitian friend instead of always feeling like I’m standing in the dark.

God has also answered a specific prayer and provided for me some new connections with other missionary mamas right here in our city of Pignon. Through a friend of a friend I met Abby. She and her hubby have been here for a month from Colorado. They started a non-profit called Loving Haiti and work with another pastor in town, who actually grew up in the church started here by Ericlee’s grandparents.

We have been so blessed to get to know Abby and Denny and their two girls, Betsy and Bella. What a gift to have friends right down the road with girls the same ages as our girls. We can call each other up to borrow bug spray or swap stories about our experiences.

We became fast friends with the Bains. We share so many of the same values as we work toward sharing Christ, community development and even in pursuing adoption. We feel a sense of community with them – like we aren’t going at this work alone.

I’ve also had the chance to connect with another mama, Debbie or Ma Caleb, who has lived here in Haiti more than 20 years and raised two beautiful biracial daughters. She is married to a local Haitian pastor, Caleb Lucien. They invited us over for dinner a few weeks ago and I was so blessed by her wisdom and affirmation. She spoke a lot of encouragement into me – a surprising gift when I needed it most. Her words mentor me.

The other day I was thinking about a quote I heard back in February at a Ministry Forum I attended at Fresno Pacific University. The keynote speaker was author Francis Chan and he said something that really got me thinking about my life as missionary mama. He challenged us: “Are you focusing on the family or the mission – trusting the family will come together around the mission?“

I believe Chan’s point is that sometimes we focus so much on our family, our activities, our own little schedule of school and clubs and sports and birthday parties that we never make time for the greater mission. And we seldom include our kids in that mission because we think they are too young, won’t behave or might embarrass us. Heaven forbid they teach us something about the mission!

Our mission is to love people (in Haiti and everywhere we go) like Jesus did, to encourage them to grow in their faith and to be part of the story that brings Him glory.

Some might question us bringing our kids to this place. I often get people asking me if it’s safe for kids in Haiti. I’m not sure the answer to that question. I don’t think it’s even the right question. To quote Chan again, “My goal in life is not to arrive at death safely” with my children.

If I always made decisions according to whether or not my family would be “safe” we might miss our calling altogether. Instead we are following a specific mission to work in Haiti and see God grow his kingdom here. We desire for our kids to become global Christians. In other words, we want them to have a heart for the world, for people of all cultures. We are living the mission and watching the family come together around it.

I think now about all the examples of how this is happening in spite of my mama shortcomings. I think about my Meilani’s astute observations about Haitian culture. She notices everything, and she is often explaining cultural cues to our American friends when they visit. My heart lights when I hear her thoughtful prayers or when she is explaining to her younger sister how grateful they should be for their toys when the Haitian kids barely have any.

I think about my Giada and her sensitive heart. The other day I heard the flapping of her flip flops and the bang of the back door as she kept coming in and out. I went to go see what she was up to and I found an empty box of bandaids. She was bandaging up ouchies on all the orphans and neighborhood children with a big smile.

And speaking of smiles, there’s nothing that seems to melt a Haitian heart quicker than the dimpled smile of my Zayla. I have many willing arms to help me and hold her because she is always giggling and interacting with her bright, hazel eyes. She breaks down cultural barriers that might take me years to overcome.

These are the bridges of love my kids are building in this place. In a real sense, they are the answers to my prayers to connect with the Haitian people.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Father's Day Adventure: Hiking Haiti's Citadel

 This weekend we celebrated Father's Day with a family hike to Haiti's Citadel. This trip has a lot of memories for us since it's the place Ericlee proposed to me 10 years ago. We took our girls and parents last year for the first time.

As we started up the hiking path after our 3-hour drive to the base, I saw a familiar face. I was delighted to find my little buddy John. This sweet 12-year-old accompanied me last year when I was pregnant and hiking up the mountain. He was like my little angel guide, giving me a tour of all the beautiful plants and flowers and sharing some history of the place. He remembered us sharing sandwiches and praying with him last year. I would remember his smile anywhere.

 This year we took our whole team with us, including Stacie and Forest and their son, Nathanael, as well as Stacie's mom, Stephanie, and my parents. This was a fun way to celebrate the daddies and get in some quality time with each other away from the mission complex.

 Ericlee wanted to reenact the proposal from 10 years ago. We all had to laugh at the part where I said, "Are you joking?" Great response to a proposal. And my dad even got a little misty-eyed as he experienced it for the first time.

 Forest carried Nathanael up the steep path while Stacie encouraged her mom. We were so proud of Stephanie who took on this physical challenge of climbing when she didn't feel in shape. She put one foot in front of the other and made it to the top to enjoy the amazing view. We were blessed by her perseverance.

 Mom and Dad were troopers. I sure hope I'm hiking up mountains when I get to their age. Zayla enjoyed some time with her Nana and Papa. Happy Papa's Day too!

Here's our new family picture at the top. Maybe we'll make this one a tradition so we can celebrate our family as it grows. I am so blessed to share this grand adventure with Ericlee. He is such a wonderful daddy to our three girls and so many other kids here in Haiti. He is my partner, my teammate, my friend on this wild ride of following Jesus wherever He sends us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Men’s conference unites and inspires local leaders

Yesterday our men’s conference concluded here in Pignon. This was the first conference of this kind here in Pignon. Some 50 men attended and stayed on the campus.

Ericlee, Doug (Dorina’s dad) and Forest witnessed much enthusiasm from the men during their teaching times. Ericlee shared about spiritual, physical and mental wellness. Doug unpacked the stories of Moses, David and Daniel as a way to talk about leadership. Forest spoke about sexual purity and led the men in discussion and accountability on that issue.

One of Doug’s highlights was teaching Tai Chi to the older men. Ericlee loved teaching them about health and physical wellness and even got the men doing some Crossfit workouts. He was especially impressed by our dear Pastor Calvin who volunteered to do a push-up test. The old man did 20 push-ups in a minute and wowed his audience.

Forest had an especially powerful session sharing his testimony and using his counseling skills on the issue of sexual purity and addiction. He challenged the men to resist temptation and to find someone in the group to have as an accountability partner on this issue. The men were very receptive since this is a topic rarely covered in this culture.

The conference concluded with a meaningful time of foot washing - imitating what Jesus did with the disciples in the Bible. Each man came onto the stage to have their feet washed by our men and then in turned washed someone else’s feet. This was a powerful example of servant leadership.

Tuesday evening a tropical storm dumped lots of rain. The mamas and kids enjoyed a time running through the rain when we got caught on the way home from a friend’s house. Once we were safe inside we all loved watching the lightning show over the mountains. Meilani, Giada and Nathanael were sure that God was bowling up in heaven with all the loud thunder. They spent a good portion of the night trying to guess how many pins He was knocking down.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Rolling Beads, gluing together lives

When we arrived in Haiti almost three weeks ago, the first thing I was eager to do was meet with the artisans of our Haitian Bead Project. For the last 10 months I have been marketing and selling the jewelry in the United States. I was excited to see how God's provision for these ladies was changing lives.

I saw some of the artisans in the streets of Pignon as we drove in. They greeted me with shy grins and some enthusiastic waves.

I asked if we could all gather so I could connect with them and start teaching some new products we could sell. Our first meeting was not as glamorous as I expected. I discovered there were some issues of jealousy among some of the women that I had to deal with right away. It grieved my heart to see some of them fighting. I returned to our house that night in a serious slump.

I prayed. Oh I prayed.

I am thankful for many friends from California all the way to Haiti who have joined me in covering this project in prayer as well. I have seen some amazing healing in relationships in the last few weeks.

I have watched some of the women begin to work together across generations. This rebuilding is vital right now as respect for the elder seems to be deteriorating in Haitian culture.

On one afternoon I asked the women to express one word of thanksgiving. They could choose something large or small - naming a gift from God. They shared gratitude and it broke through some of the edginess.

One of the women who had been instigating a lot of the fighting and always seemed to greet me with a scowl even showed a change of heart. She quietly expressed how thankful she was for me. I was shocked.

We looked at the story of Jesus turning one small boy's lunch into a feast for 5,000. Before Jesus performed this miracle, he took time to thank God. We, too, thanked God as a group and prayed for miracles to happen through our project.

I know our issues with fighting and jealousy are not over. I also know these issues are not unique to this culture. These women have been struggling to survive and care for their children for a long time. It's naive of me to think moving from relief to development of people and attitudes will happen overnight. I do know God is in the business of redeeming and healing relationships.

We have been reading a powerful book called, When Helping Hurts. I happened upon a profound quote soon after I arrived. Corbett & Fikkert write: "Reconciling relationships is the essence of poverty alleviation."

Now I'm adjusting my perspective. It's tempting to measure something like our Haitian Bead Project in terms of material success - how much we sell, how much money is made. But I was reminded this week that if I am to be a vessel in the business of poverty alleviation it means trudging through the hard, human tendencies to a place where relationships are restored and community among these women is fostered.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Outstation Adventure: Experiencing God on the Journey

We set out on an adventure with our three girls, two Haitianfriends, two backpacks filled with snacks and as many water bottles as we couldcarry.

We jumped into our pick-up truck and bumped along the roadto St. Raphael, one of the nearby cities where our ministry supports a largechurch led by Pastor Louis. The girls squealed with delight as we hit the bigbumps and were lifted off our seats. We rolled through deep mud that splashed onthe truck’s mirrors and windshield. The girls’ voices rang out singing alongwith the CD player – “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “A Little Walk with JesusMakes it Right.” The baby dozed in the back seat, bumps and music lulling herto sleep. Call it a developing world lullaby.

Our destination: Haute Garde outstation.

Throughout the week, leaders from the church travel tolittle “outstations” in the surrounding mountainside for mid-week servicesalmost like Life groups or house churches. These small groups of believers meetto sing, memorize scripture, share prayer requests and hear a short sermon fromthe leader or “laypreacher.”

Many of these outstations are in remote areas – some two tothree hours walk from the actual church building. Some meet in schools. Othersmeet in open air with small coverings made of woven palm branches for shade. Othergroups have small outstation buildings made of cement blocks with tin roofs.

Ericlee had the chance to go to many of the outstations lastsummer but since I was pregnant and the girls were even younger we often stayedback at the mission house. This year, we all wanted to be part of theadventure. We wanted to go to some of the places and meet some of the peopleGrandma and Grandpa Bell first met when they were pioneer missionaries back inthe 1950s.

Ericlee parked the truck under the shade of some mango treesand signaled that it was time for the real adventure to begin. We downed tunasandwiches, smeared sunscreen on our exposed skin and hoisted the kids intocarriers. Ericlee carried Giada in a hiking backpack and I had Zayla in a frontbaby carrier. Our brave 6-year-old Meilani said she was willing to walk.

Our friends Walquis and Wilcion gazed up the rocky mountainpath and looked at us as if to say, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

I didn’t really know what the day had in store but it wasanother day to say YES to God.

The first part of the hike was steep. Lots of rocks andswitch backs. But this didn’t hold us back. Our spirits soared as we hunteddown God’s handiwork in nature.

Meilani spotted butterflies with fiery orange wings. Shepicked a few violet blooms for all the girls to tuck behind our ears. Wilcionpointed out breadfruit trees. Daddy discovered the most curious species ofbeetle that was actually taking donkey poop from the path, rolling it intolittle balls and moving it to their base. Oh, the wondrous circle of life!

The sun beat down on us and the humidity swirled but we werestill hopeful.

We fantasized about why God might be having us climb to thissummit. Was there a large group of people at the top just waiting for ourencouragement? Would someone have a grand story to tell about Grandma and GrandpaBell exploring these parts? Were we to meet someone along the path that was indire need of help? Maybe someone who needed to hear about Jesus?

The minutes on Ericlee’s watch ticked by. He knew theservice was supposed to be starting but we had no idea how close or far we werefrom the outstation. We had no fancy GPS to guide us. Walquis talked to peoplealong the way, asking them if we were on the right path. 

I started thanking God for all those Crossfit boot campclasses and Go Mama workouts I had endured in the past six months. I had noidea those workouts would be training for a day like today when I was carryingmy daughter and water up a mountain in Haiti – some 20 extra pounds.

Sure, our girls whined a little. They begged for moresnacks. Giada wanted out and then back in and then out again of Daddy’sbackpack carrier. She longed to run alongside her sister but the combination ofsteep rocks, humidity and sun was sometimes too much for her 3-year-old body.

One foot in front of the other, I told myself. I distractedmyself remembering the myriad of hikes Ericlee and I have conquered together. Weforged our early relationship climbing Half Dome and Yosemite Falls inCalifornia. We’ve traversed some of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. We’veexplored trails in Tennessee. We’ve canoed and then hiked to waterfalls inKauai and Maui.

I still remember my first backpacking trip with Ericlee andour friends Doug and Brenda to Sylvia Lake in the Sierras. I had neverexperienced hiking with a heavy pack, including clothes, food, tent, etc.  On that trip, we had to cross streams of coldwater and cook over a tiny camp burner. We had to bundle up our food in a bearcan.

This trip felt different.

As we got further up we began to see little houses tuckedback into the trees. They were huts made of stones and mud. Some with rusty tinroofs. Cactus fences lined the path we hiked indicating property lines,protecting gardens of beans and other crops.

Of course, it wasn’t just the terrain that made this tripdifferent. The whole trek I felt acutely aware that God was teaching ussomething.

When we finally made it to the top of the mountain, we founda woman carrying her little half-naked son who said she was willing to take usto the outstation. We walked a half mile more and met up with another man, thelocal magistrate or governor of the area. He told us we were very close to theout station. He pointed out a group of kids in uniforms walking our way. Itturned out they attended a school at the out station where we were headed.

We also discovered the outstation met on Friday, notTuesday. Our hearts dropped.

In my gut, I knew it was never really about the summitanyway.

Suddenly we were surrounded by about 50 Haitian kids inuniforms. A generous breeze welcomed us. We could see beautiful green hills andrich fields planted with beans and avocado trees. We had a view of the wholevalley. Way off in the distance, Ericlee could even see the roof of the St.Raphael church with cross pointing toward heaven.

Ericlee got out his teaching voice and decided to share alittle Bible story. He shared about Lazarus and Martha, how Jesus waited twodays to go to Lazarus. He could have healed him when he was sick but he waited.Lazarus was already dead in the grave. Martha was disappointed with her Savior.Why had he not come sooner?

But it was all about His glory story. He wanted to buildMartha’s faith and show glory in a true miracle. He wanted her to experienceGod.

The Haitian kids were quiet. Very quiet.

We had no amazing altar call. We took a few pictures and wecontinued on our way. Thunder threatened in the back drop. We knew it was timeto descend the mountain.

As we headed down the mountain, we were tired. The weight ofcarrying the kids set in. Our water and snack supply was running low. It all feltquite anti-climactic.

We did meet many more people on the downhill. Walquis and Ichatted with a few in Kreyol. Most of them were women climbing the mountainwith huge loads. They were bringing baskets of onions and tomatoes and rice tothe market. The market on top of the hill.

Some of them knew us. They had heard us speak at the St.Raphael church the previous Sunday. They knew Ericlee’s mom, Christene. Somejust had to get their hands on our cute little white Zayla. How they giggled!

We learned most of them hike this path every day. Many ofthem walk barefoot. Walquis and Wilcion, city boys compared to these ladies,were floored.

We were humbled.

At dinner that evening, after 7 hours of traveling by footand truck, we uncovered the lesson. We started listing all the highlights ofour journey: Meilani pointed out that God had left us little gifts of beautifulflowers along the path. Ericlee noted that God had held off the rain for us. I recaledthe amazing women we met carrying all their goods – such a great example ofperseverance in all things.

Giada couldn’t help but sing at the top of her lungs – a made-upsong about her day full of adventure.

One of our goals in taking our three girls to Haiti is toteach them that living the Christian life is all about adventure. Too often wesee that Christians are people choked by rules and caught up into moralismrather than deep understanding that Jesus died to cover us with His grace. Wewant our kids to experience the excitement that comes when you have sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seatfaith. We want God to be real to them in the small things and the big moments.

We may never really know why God had us climb that mountain.There may have been a greater purpose. But I know it was worth the journey –trusting Him in all circumstances, experiencing Him in the everyday,remembering that each step up is living the adventure.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Haitian Schools: Through a new lens

Click. Click. Click goes the shutter of the camera. All week I’ve been photographing kids at the school in Pignon. I’ve been seeing them through a new lens.

I have been straightening collars, tucking in shirts and trying to provoke smiles from more than 180 kids ages 3 to 16. I have a newfound respect for people who take school photos for a living. All those names!

This week Ericlee and I have been spending a lot of time at the Haitian schools. This is one of the reasons we came to Haiti in the month of May; we wanted to catch the schools while they were still in session. Ericlee has such a passion of improving the quality of the schools. My passion is to try to help some of the most impoverished kids have the opportunity for education.

On Wednesday, one of the teachers was sick. There are no substitutes so that meant a class of sixth graders was without a teacher. Ericlee decided to step in for a closer look at what the teachers here experience. He decided to put his 11 years of experience teaching high school and junior high math to good use.

I found him scratching algebra problems on what we in the U.S. would call an “old-fashioned green chalkboard.” These have all been replaced by wipe erase boards or even smart boards in many American classrooms.

The chalkboard is the center of teaching in Haiti. The kids don’t have books. A few have notebooks for copying down problems but that is about it.

Ericlee was reminded again that quality administrators and quality teachers make or break a school.  If the teachers are struggling then the students will start to struggle and the cycle will snowball.   At the same time if the school is successful, then more quality teachers will want to teach at that school and more students will want to go there.  That is our goal.

We want to provide more training for our teachers. We want to add more resources to the schools so teachers and students have books, computers and other supplies to enrich their learning experience. Ericlee wants to make these schools, which were started more than 50 years ago by his grandparents, excellent today.

On one level, that means a high percentage of students pass the exit exam raising the reputation of the school. On a deeper level, that means expanding the education experience for the children. We want to move beyond copying problems and rote memory. We would love to add practical classes that teach kids a trade like gardening or woodworking or cooking, while staying true to our standards of teaching Biblical values. 

Our next challenge is reaching out to kids and families who truly can’t afford school from this neighborhood. One idea we have been thinking through is offering a scholarship program for kids whose families can’t afford school. We can’t offer education free to everyone at this point because we don’t have the money. We also see that when it is offered free it cheapens the value of the education.

That said, there are some who can’t afford to pay, buy supplies and uniforms.  We know lots of friends in the U.S. have the resources to provide the $10-$15 a month it takes to send these kids to school. This month the school in Pignon is lacking $600 in funds just to pay its teachers.

Every time I looked at Ericlee he was staring down the school yard. I knew the wheels were turning in his head. Since his schooling and passion is fitness and physical education, he dreams about building a fitness-oriented playground for the school  -  maybe putting in a basketball court or soccer field as well.  It would include pull-up bars, rope climbs, monkey bars, tunnels and swings. 

Recess right now consists of about 50 older boys running after a flat, flopsy soccer ball while the younger kids look on. Some play in the dirt and rocks on the uneven play yard. A Bible study group from our church already started raising some funds for this project. They put together their talents and raised $1,600 to start us off. We are so grateful!  The goal is $30,000.

Can’t wait to raise the rest and click some pictures of the Haitian kids playing on that playground one day.

**Sadly, none of my photos will load tonight. This internet is far from high-speed. Pictures to come soon!