Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Living James: Caring for Orphans in Haiti

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans
and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. ~James 1:27

We just returned from an amazing 9-day trip to Haiti with eight new friends from Trinity Community Church in Fresno. Our time was so full and bubbling with blessing that I'm only now finding a few minutes to document it.

This was a very different trip.You might say it was three years in the making. Our main goal in going was to bring a team of friends to build the final furniture: bunk beds, tables and benches for the completed orphanage building in St. Raphael.

The seed for this trip was actually planted by a little girl named Cadence who wrote a letter in 2010 to our friends, Richard and Gina Wathen. Cadence had been watching the news after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. She was living in one of the beautiful Wathen-Castano homes in Fresno. She boldly asked Mr. Wathen if he could go to Haiti and build one of his homes for the orphans there. As Richard describes it, he had never received a letter written from a child before. She had set before him a building challenge like none he had ever encountered before.

A few months passed. Richard and Gina pursued a few leads in Haiti. They searched for a connection, a reputable organization they might support in building projects. The halls seemed to lead only to closed doors.

But Cadence persevered. She sold lemonade, hosted yard sales. She sent her hard-earned dollars to Richard in a follow-up letter.

How do you say no to a child with this kind of faith?

Then Richard and Gina heard about a Haiti Sharing Night at The Bridge Church hosted by the Gilmores. They already had a connection with us since their children attended Fresno Christian Schools and Fresno Pacific University where Ericlee was a teacher. They slipped in the sharing night and opened their hearts.

At the close of the sharing night, they heard about 15 children living in makeshift classroom-turned-bedrooms in St. Raphael. Ten boys slept on 4 boards-made-beds. Five girls crowded into the other room. These children needed a home.

The seed planted by Cadence began to grow.

The Wathens met with the Gilmores and Haitian Director Peter Constantin to find out more about Christian Friendship Ministries and the need for this orphanage. 

After some meetings and intense prayer, they decided to jump in. They hired an architect and traded plans back and forth between Haiti and the U.S. Building supplies were purchased. Richard even took a trip to Haiti to check out the place.

Fast forward two years. In January 2013, the roof went up and the orphanage building was complete. Plans were made for the Wathens and a group of men from their church to go to Haiti.

We even had a "packing party" and invited Cadence. Together we filled bins with donated toys, soccer uniforms and Bibles. Her mom cried joy-tears as she related that her daughter of mustard-seed faith now believed her God could build the impossible. 

This past week, as we spent time in St. Raphael with the Wathens and friends, I had a deeper understanding of the verses in James that say,

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
I don't believe these verses are metaphor. James gets real practical here. He speaks to the church and he says caring for orphans and widows is a spiritual matter.

Our group accomplished what they set out to do: they built beautiful beds. They fashioned tables and benches for the kids to eat on. They checked off their to-do list. They even enlisted help from some of the Haitian young men and built relationships across cultural lines with them as they worked.

But more than that, they "looked after" orphans. They showed the kids how to create with Legos and rock baby dolls. They got the kids involved in the building projects, drilling nails into the beds and carrying wood. They played baseball. They sang. They bestowed lots of high fives and hugs.

They learned their names. They prayed over the kids. They are already making plans to go back, to bring their extended families, to help raise up sponsors.

And again, I was reminded that God is a Father to the fatherless. He provides through His people. As our new friend Tom adjusted the sign on Kay Cadence (Cadence House) in Haiti, I believe angels sang in heaven.

Our group celebrated on Wednesday afternoon with the kids and the church congregation. We had a "Grand Opening" complete with singing of hymns, rousing thank yous, the kids sharing verses and testimonies. The guests were marched through the orphanage building for a grand tour. Our team was blessed with cold drinks and snacks.

By the end, there wasn't a dry eye in the place. Why? I would venture to say it's because a little girl named Cadence planted a seed.

Her seed of faith grew. And we pray a tree of life was built for 15 orphans in Haiti.

Gina & Richard Wathen, Curtis & Colson Cookingham, Rick & Grant Porter, Tom, Scott Drake, Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada & Zayla Gilmore

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