Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Redemption story: Trading shame for dignity

After my last meeting for the summer with the women of The Haitian Bead Project, God gave me a window into the world of one of our artisans. Rain dumped like it frequently does on summer afternoons in Northern Haiti. The rain gave me an excuse to do something I wanted to do all summer: offer Moise a ride home.

I knew Moise had been saving her jewelry money and started building a little house. I longed to see it. I knew she lived on the edge of town, and it would be a good hike in the rain. She gladly accepted the offer.
Ericlee, Moise and I piled into our pickup with our three girls in tow. Moise pointed and directed us down the main street, taking a right at the end of the block near the pile of rocks, past a church on the left and making a 10-point turnabout on the narrow road in front of her place. 


Moise introduced my family to her sweet family of four. Her husband is a teacher at the elementary school in Pignon next to our church. She has a little 2-year-old girl who danced when we pulled up in the truck and she saw her mama inside. Her son's eyes were wide with wonder.

My mama heart grieved as I climbed a little makeshift ladder to get up to the one room rental. The place was not fit for kids. There was a three-story drop down to the river from their porch/kitchen area with no fence, no wall. Moise explained to me how difficult this was for her, how often she worried for her kids' safety.

Down the street from her rental is the new house Moise and her husband are building (pictured above). As is typical in Haiti, they build little by little. They make some money here and buy more cement for blocks. They make a little more money there and continue with the next wall, the next room.

Moise beamed with pride as she pointed out where her kids' bedrooms would be. She anticipated her own kitchen. I thought about how this jewelry that she makes from recycled trash was turning her life into a treasure.

Moise's life is one that is transformed as a result of The Haitian Bead Project. When I first met her I noticed her sometimes-tattered clothes and how she asked me for food after our meetings.

Fast forward to today. Now I see a different woman. After spending the last week with her, I can trace how God is redeeming her life. This woman was once pressed to the outside of the group. The other women would pick fights with her or ignore her. Today she stands with dignity as one of the leaders of our cooperative. She is designing new products and helps with quality control. She commands a kind of respect because people see her talent. They know she can help.

On Friday, she accompanied me to our other Bead Project location in Savanette to encourage the women there. She has a new energy about her. We chatted on the truck ride home and dreamed together. She pitched the idea of throwing a big party in January for our artisans to celebrate God's blessings. We talked about designs for new products. She even practiced some of her English with Ericlee and me at the lunch table.

I have read that people living in poverty struggle most with their sense of self-worth. They have a hard time identifying their gifts and dreaming about the future. This is a poverty much graver than lack of food, water or shelter.

I see in Moise a woman who is breaking this cycle of poverty. I see a redemption story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Visiting orphans: Christmas in November

One of my highlights of this trip so far has been the opportunity to visit the orphans in The Bridge Christian Children's Home and bring them Christmas packages from their sponsors.

For a moment, I thought about having them save their gifts until Christmas Day. Then I tossed that idea out the window because I selfishly wanted to be here to witness their joy.

Ericlee and I handed out the gifts on Saturday. The kids sat down nicely at the table and waited. But I wasn't fooled. I knew they were bursting with excitement just like I was. Then they started tearing into the gifts.

Wilken called to Ronaldo to check out his new shirt. Judelene showed off her hair bows. Fridnot hid his envelope under the table and opened it privately with a smile that turned up the corners of his mouth. Estisonn's eyes grew wide when he spotted the shiny soccer ball.

The biggest surprise and blessing for us to witness was that more than the clothes and dolls and art supplies these kids were enthralled by the pictures. They grinned and giggled, sharing the photos of their sponsors. They passed them around again and again, examining clothes and expressions, asking us questions. They pointed and kissed the faces in the photos.

They truly cared about the people behind those gifts. The greatest gift of all - family!

Today we visited the new orphanage building in St. Raphael (pictured below). We squeezed hugs out of the kids and shared their excitement for their new home, which should be finished early in the new year.

I tend to take the verse in James 1:27 literally that pure religion is visiting orphans, loving on the least of these. I am reminded that even in this God has a blessing for me to experience.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winds of Change in Haiti

I am experiencing a different Haiti.

I've never been to this country - my home away from home - in November before.

The air has been cool. The rain falls intermittently, not in gales or sheets like it does in the summer afternoons, but in drips and drops. The kids gather under tin roof awnings wearing jackets or huddled together.

We pulled into the mountain town of Pignon on Friday, and somehow it felt different. I realized later it was because the road was paved, the drive much smoother. I did not feel the usual carsickness I experience as my welcome to this familiar place.

We have traded dripping-in-all-crevices humidity for cool breezes that make the jacaranda tree sway.

We have traded our usual bustling old farm-mission house for empty rooms. No teams this time around. Even my older girls' bunk beds are empty since they stayed back in California with family this trip.

The nights have been quiet. Sure, our Haitian friends stop by to chat, but it's different from the craziness of summer nights with late-night preparations for morning Vacation Bible School or a long line for the shower. There are no fans blaring and less mosquitoes buzzing.

We have had time for long talks with the ministry's Haitian director, Peter. We feel more on the same page with him than ever before. We have planned and brainstormed and even laughed together.

Winds of change swirl through.

Ericlee and I have even made space for reading aloud to each other, dreaming and casting vision for our own family's future.

The winds are changing among the people we know here in Pignon too.

The congregation of the Pignon church has banded together and they are working on renovating their own house of worship. This might not seem too different. Construction projects are a constant here in Haiti. But what we have seen in the last few days marks a significant change in this ministry. We have witnessed something extra-ordinary.

While in the past it was common to have Americans round up funds and work teams blaze in to do something like church renovation, this time the Haitians are leading the way. Peter tells us they have been praying for years, and planning for six months.

In September, the church leaders urged the congregation to get involved. Instead of outright asking for money, they creatively challenged people in their church to start bringing bags of cement. (A bag cost about $8 American; they needed more than 600).

Remember these Haitians are considered to be among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

That didn't stop them.

In fact, the first woman who gave was one of the older ladies of the church, known by other church members to be among the neediest in the congregation. She brought the first bag of cement in an act reminiscent of a widow in the Bible who brought her last coin for an offering to the temple.

Each Sunday Haitian leaders and laypreachers have stood in the pulpit shoulder to shoulder and offered up the list of supplies needed. They led the giving. Each Sunday men and women of all ages have raised hands and committed to bring supplies. They have done the work themselves.

The 600th bag of cement was mixed this week, the blocks set and moved into place.

We sat up in the dusty church just this morning. The clouds broke, allowing sun to beam through the outlines of the church windows. The people's faces beamed dignity and pride.

We heard Peter report that only a few more bags of cement were needed to finish that part of renovation. Then they move on to the details - painting, tile, sound system, new doors and windows.

They invited us - the visiting missionaries - to sit on their first hand-carved wooden pew placed proudly on the stage. Thirty families have already committed to pay for or make their own pew in the days to come. (Average cost: $300).

As I sat there, my heart swelled knowing this was about a new thing God was doing with His people in Haiti.

They are on a new road to self-sufficiency.

Winds are a-changin'.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

November Gilmore Gazette: Gilmores en route to Haiti

Dear Family & Friends,

We just wanted to write you a quick hello. We are in Miami for the night and departing for Haiti in the morning. We covet your prayers as we travel with our youngest Zayla. Plans have changed slightly as the Construction group from Trinity Community Church did not come with us. They postponed until January. We decided we still needed to go to Haiti for a quick trip with three purposes: to check in on The Haitian Bead Project artisans and get more products for the Christmas season, to encourage the teachers in the schools and to deliver Christmas gifts to the children in The Bridge Christian Children's Home from their sponsors. We are excited about the trip!

We specifically ask for prayers this week for:
-our oldest girls, Meilani and Giada, who are staying home in Fresno with family & friends
-baggage and supplies to arrive safely and in a timely manner
-traveling mercies as we drive to the mountains and fly with Zayla
-Dorina's work with The Haitian Bead Project artisans in a short amount of time
-discernment as we check in on various projects and meet with Haitian leaders
-Dorina scratched her eye about a month ago and it has been very painful in the last two days.
-Ericlee has been battling a neck ache for the past few days, which is very uncomfortable for travel.
-communication across cultural lines with our Haitian Director Peter and other pastors.

This picture is from the Two Cities Half Marathon, which we ran this past Sunday with our 3rd Annual Remember Haiti team. We had 14 runners/walkers on this year's team who raised more than $6,000 for Haiti's schools. We were so blessed by a new community of friends who trained with us for 12 weeks. Sunday was a perfect morning for running. We had a cool breeze at our backs. The sun was shining. The fall colors were chasing across the sky as we ran along the Clovis trail. Dorina ran her personal best for a half marathon at 8:20 pace/mile for a time of 1:49:04!

As we ran, we were reminded of the verses in Hebrews that say, "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecer of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews: 12:1-2 NIV). We are grateful today for each one of you! Thank you for being our "cloud of witnesses," our community of constant prayer and support on this race of following God's call to Haiti.

This year's Remember Haiti Half Marathon Team included (L to R): Esther Delahay, Davebo and Yasmin Rodrigues, Julia Channel, Dorina & Ericlee Gilmore, Doug Lazo, Nicole Chavez, Nancy Willey, Dana Johnson, Cori Schmidt, Melanie Wenrick and Rachel Prout (not pictured).

In His Grip,
Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada and Zayla
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