Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vacation Bible School provides opportunities to connect with kids in St. Raphael

Last week we had the privilege of working in St. Raphael, Haiti, along with a short-term team from The Bridge Church in Fresno. More than 200 kids participated and our team experienced some challenges and victories on the journey.


The team was led by our friends, Kim and Dave McCurry, who also serve on the Missions Team at the Bridge. They brought their 5-year-old daughter as well. Pastor Shawn Meyer, who just started as the pastor of Reach and Connect, also joined them. Three returners included Lindsey Isaak, Paula Peterson and Dana Johnson. Our team newbies were Matt Gross and his mom, Karen. This was a diverse team, enabling us to connect with a lot of Haitians of different generations.

Our team chose to teach the kids about the “Armor of God” from Ephesians 6. Each day included a theme story like Jonah or the Centurion soldier or Noah. This helped the kids understand and relate to the different pieces of armor.

After reading the book, WHEN HELPING HURTS during training, they were challenged to think through how they could partner with the indigenous church in St. Raphael and empower the leaders rather than taking over the whole program. This was hard to do at first because there were few leaders and translators to work with, but as the week progressed more leaders from the church got involved teaching the Bible story, leading the games and crafts. 

The kids seemed to enjoy all the rotations but they were very eager for Game time with Ericlee, Shawn and Matt. They had the kids doing pillow case races, tossing frisbees, balancing ping ping balls on spoons, and of course, playing the country's favorite futbol aka soccer!

We loved watching little Jemps and Lukendy from the orphanage play frisbee. The two entered their own little world tossing it back and forth with such concentration and true joy. They were in heaven!

Long-time friend Wilcion stepped up to serve as a translator this week. We have loved having him as part of our Vacation Bible School and Sports camps in Pignon.  Now he's all grown up and really soaring with his English skills.

Our team had the blessing of also developing relationships with the kids in the Kay Cadence orphanage, which is adjacent to the church. All of the orphans eagerly participated in the VBS and were quite clearly many of the leaders in the groups. Clauvintz (pictured above) was always singing with joy from the second row. 

Adeck from the orphanage was Dana's special helper each day in Crafts. He would run to the room to help her set things up and greet her with a big hug even in the overwhelming moments.

Paula and Lindsey worked closely with Pastor Emmano on the Bible lesson. Lindsey wrote all the stories and shared the first day but Pastor Emmano seized the opportunity to serve and even used the flannel board pictures after a little training from Paula.

We even recruited some of the young mothers to help with the Music time in the church and ushering groups from one place to the next.

Each day concluded with singing. The kids were full of energy as they learned new songs and sung some old familiar tunes. They especially loved the ones with hand motions and lots of clapping!

The church leaders sent the kids home each day with full tummies, and our prayer is they were full of the Word of God as well.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Living out of abundance: team learns the importance of water

We arrived in Pignon late Saturday night with our short-term team from the Bridge Church. After a full day and night of flying and a 5-hour bumpy truck ride through Port Au Prince winding up into the mountains, our team showed the signs of weary travelers. A big Haitian meal awaited us at the Mission House. We discovered there an interesting challenge: our water pump was out, 

This meant no running water in the house for washing hands, showers, flushing toilets.

As a hostess to this group, some of whom I did not know very well, I began to feel responsible. I wondered how they would handle it. My hubby pointed up at the pair of Gumby dolls perched on the frame of a large picture on our living room wall. 

"Those are up there to remind us to be flexible," he quipped.

Our Haitian friends and the team sprung into action. Ericlee went down to the school and started pumping water there (also known as the best CrossFit WOD). We put buckets with cups in the kitchen for washing and the shower for bathing. We purchased 5-gallon drums of filtered water for drinking.

Let's be real: it wasn't that bad. 

We still had more access to clean water than most of the Majority World ever does.

After half a dozen times of walking into the bathroom and not even one drop coming out of the faucet, I started to weigh the lesser of challenges in my mind.

Which is worse? No air conditioning? No electricity? No running water?

I knew I could - and have - lived in Haiti without air conditioning. It's uncomfortable but certainly not a necessity.

Over the last 12 years of spending time in Haiti I've also learned to live with intermittent electricity. We've adapted. We've learned to keep battery-powered flashlights and fans on hand. We have a kerosene lantern and candles for  desperate times. 

Of course, this is how most people in rural Haiti have lived until recently. In the last year, power has been available to the city. Most people can not pay their bill, of course, so we wonder how long it will last.

We installed solar panels last week but we are discovering the new refrigerator we bought and ancient electric oven drains even the power generated through the panels way too fast.

Our Haitian Director Peter and the nine young guys who are his apprentices worked around the clock to get the water pump working. They discovered the pump burned out, and we would need a new one. We weren't sure at first if we would have to drill for a new one or just replace the old.

A friend from another non-profit in town bailed us out with a used pump he had on hand. The giys switched it out. And it worked! True miracle.

Yesterday the music of water running in the shower and toilets flushing filled my ears. Many of the highlights our team shared that night at "team time" involved the blessing of running water. Even our 4-year-old Giada sang praises to God for her shower.

As a group, we reflected on the importance of water. We know people around the world walk miles, sometimes hours, to retrieve water that is often impure. Here in Haiti we see people lining up at neighborhood wells with huge buckets so they can carry water to their homes. Women and children line the dusty roads balancing these buckets of water on their heads.

We were humbled to think about how easy it is for us to get water back home in the U.S., how a day without running water in Haiti is only a minor inconvenience. 

And water isn't only important in the physical sense. It's a picture Jesus often used in his teaching. A familiar story in the gospels depicts Jesus asking a woman at the well for a drink and offering her living water in exchange.

Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life." (John 4:13, 14 MSG)

Dust swirls in front of our house in Haiti. The sun beats down, so bright. I feel sticky. My skin glistens with sweat. I often find myself thirsty. I am longing for ice in my glass, for a cool lake to dive into at the end of the day. 

But even more I find myself longing for His Living Water. The only running water. The only well that never runs dry. The only water that can truly quench a thirsty soul.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer School with kids from the orphanage

We just finished out a wild and wonderful week of Summer School with the kids at The Bridge Christian Children's Home in Pignon, Haiti. As most of you know, my husband directs Christian Friendship Ministries and our family lives in Haiti during the summers and travels back and forth a few times a year. This summer we will play host to several teams coming to serve in Haiti.

This was a special week because we had friends from Fresno - Bev Damm and her daughter, Kelly, and Debbi Ball - who returned to Haiti to help us put on a Summer School. Ericlee's college roommate, Doug Round and his wife, Brenda, along with their three girls also joined up this team. Doug and Brenda have been long-time friends and supporters of our mission work. It all started last year when they told us they were really interested in seeing Haiti and our ministry with their own eyes and bringing their children to experience life in Haiti. Of course, we were thrilled from the start. Their three girls are the same ages as our three girls and we are always big advocates for families experiencing this kind of ministry together.

Our week kicked off with a field trip to hike to Haiti's historical landmark, the Citadelle, and then on to Cormier Plage, one of the most beautiful beaches in Cap Haitien just a few hours north of where we live. This was a fun way to bond with the team and the orphanage kids. We had all kinds of awkward and funny moments as to be expected on a trip with 11 adults and 24 kids, many of whom do not speak the same language! Just assigning the kids to their rooms with our American chaperones and ordering meals was a huge ordeal. Some of the most memorable moments included Debbi finding a frog in her shower and, of course, seeing the kids delight in ocean play. For most of these mountain kids, this was only their second trip to the ocean. (Read about last year's first experience here.)

 Of course, all good trips do have to involve a flat tire and eventually come to an end. We arrived back at the mission house late Saturday night sun-scorched and exhausted. We prepared a late-night dinner, bathed our 6 kiddos and practically melted into bed.

Sunday morning our team got to experience worship with our Haitian friends in Pignon in the newly-renovated church. We were grateful for some time resting on Sunday afternoon.

 Monday morning we kicked off our Summer School with the kids. Ericlee tried to beat the heat and started their day with Physical Education and games. The boys were the only ones who turned up the first day but by the end of the week everyone was eager to participate in the workout and mini-competitions. 

After P.E. each day, we would gather in the lower floor of the orphanage for our "classes." I had the privilege of helping lead the singing and teaching the Bible lesson each day. I chose a different kid each day to help with the singing. The kids love to sing so it was never hard to find a helper. Serline helps me here. She has never been much into sports but what a joy to see her enthusiasm when she sings praises! Then I would read from the pages of The Jesus Storybook Bible recently-published in Haitian Kreyol.
After our singing and Bible time, our friend Doug would teach a math class. He made math interesting and fun for these kids who often learn just by copying off an old chalkboard. Doug brought wipe erase boards, calculators and other resources to share. The kids loved one lesson with tetris-style pieces that work like dominoes. They had to solve a puzzle making a 6x10 rectangle with the pieces. After math the kids moved on to English class with Bev and Geography with Debbi.

Bev taught the kids to use English vocabulary they knew to form sentences. They also worked on translating children's books from Kreyol to English. Debbi opened these young minds to the world of Geography. At the start of the week, they did not even know where Haiti was on the map. By the end of the week, she had taught them about all the continents, including animals, plants and parts of world history.

We closed out each day with Arts & Crafts class led by Brenda with help from Kelly. The kids made Bible covers, decorated Beach picture frames, sewed bags, painted canvases with their names on them. Art is something the kids do not get to experience in school. Brenda did an amazing job of choosing projects that they could use later but enjoy freedom in creating - the journey of art.

Beyond our class time, our week included lots of time playing and loving on the kids. Doug loved getting out there and playing soccer with the boys in the afternoons. The ladies did pedicures with the girls and face painting.

Debbi has a real heart for orphans. She has been to Haiti three times now. She also sponsors Makenson on a monthly basis. Debbi was able to spend quality time with him and get to know his goofy personality.

The sounds of kids yelling, "Kelly, Kelly!" could be heard all over the mission complex this week. The American girls were always fighting over who got to sit next to "Ke-wee" at meals and the Haitian kids were always pulling her in different directions to play. Kelly has been to Haiti three times now and has a heart to be a missionary in Haiti one day.

While mothering her own three kids, Brenda found time to be with the orphanage kids. She said her highlights included sifting through pictures with little James, who was fascinated by her camera, and reading a Dr. Seuss book with Estisonn. Brenda also enjoyed watching her own three girls engage in the culture. Her oldest, Liana, became fast friends with Judelene in the orphanage and Meilani. The girls swung from trees, helped in the kitchen separating rocks from the beans and created imaginary worlds all their own.

Brenda organized a project making dresses for all the girls in both orphanages through her church, Pollock Pines Community Church. They found patterns through the international organization, Dress a Girl. They made more than 70 dresses and each included a pair of underwear and hair bows for each girl. When we handed out the dresses we prayed Zephaniah 3:17 over each of the girls. The kids at Brenda and Doug's church also raised money through their Vacation Bible School to buy polo shirts for each of the boys as well as kites, art supplies and other toys.

They traveled to St. Raphael on Thursday to meet the kids in the new Kay Cadence orphanage and share the clothes with them there. In one short afternoon, the Rounds bonded with the kids in St. Raphael. Doug was also able to help Ericlee teach a math course for the teachers in the St. Raphael school. They asked Doug if he would come back next year and do a whole teachers conference.

We were sad to say goodbye to our team last night. We really became family this week: sharing highlights, helping our own kids negotiate the heat and the change of routine and building relationships with the orphanage kids. This is what community is all about! Today we welcome the team from The Bridge Church to do Vacation Bible School in St. Raphael.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Field Trip with orphanage & team proves restful

I have to be honest and say our first week in Haiti was hard for me. From the moment I stepped off the plane I felt a sense of dread rising up in my soul. Maybe it was because we were coming off a high of four days at a family reunion. Every moment there was packed with cousins and laughter and fireworks and food. It was hard to say goodbye to our family, the comforts of buffet breakfasts and air conditioning. 

We boarded the plane in Dallas, spent the night in Fort Lauderdale and arrived last Monday in Haiti. Our director Peter picked us up at the airport and soon we were weaving in and out of Port Au Prince traffic. Then it started to hit me - I looked out to see the jagged tin cans and discarded to-go containers lining the streets. Pigs dug through garbage just down the block from women selling mangoes and men hawking imitation watches and radios. I have become accustomed to the half-finished construction of buildings with rebar punching out the top. But upon arrival, even this felt overwhelming. 

We made it safely to the mountains later that afternoon. I started to breathe again. We had friends greeting us and a renovated mission house to live in. But in the first few days I felt that heavy burden again as we tried to encourage one of the elders whose wife is on the brink of death from cancer. I had to turn away two women who wanted to join our bead project because we haven't sold our current inventory. I'm worried about making our business sustainable. 

Another young boy, Bob, who we have watched grow up through our camps in the last 10 years came to ask for food. We've learned he is also dying from disease with little details about his condition except that he's quite literally skin and bones. Maybe hepatitis. Maybe diabetes.

My heart breaks for the orphans here, the women here, the oppressed, those just scraping by, even those in government.

Haiti is heavy. The burdens and hurt and need in this place can feel oppressive. 

But I was also reminded this week that joy and anguish so often dance together. We can not experience deep joy unless we are willing to embrace the hard, the painful, the ugly and trust God through the process. 

I did push through the rough stuff last week and experienced many blessings on Friday and Saturday. Our team arrived, including Dear friends Doug & Brenda Round and their three daughters along with Bev Damm, Kelly Damm and Debbi Ball. Regulars who grace this place every summer.

Friday morning we packed 12 adults and 24 kids (including all the kids from the orphanage and our own) into three vehicles and headed for Haiti's historical landmark, the Citadelle. This has become an annual trek for our family, a landmark on our own family timeline as this is the place Ericlee proposed and holds many memories. What joy to show this to the Haitian kids, many of whom have never seen it. They learned a piece of their own history that day.

After our hike we continued on to the city of Cap Haitien and a favorite secluded beach hotel. A generous friend and donor had offered to pay for this trip so the orphans could experience some of God's beautiful creation here in Haiti. It's hard to believe these kids who live on an island so rarely see to coast.

Our highlight was waking up the next morning to the music of the ocean and the kids delighting in play. They dived in the clear waters, splashed in the waves, swung in hammocks, ordered what they wanted in a real restaurant with cloth napkins and an oversized fish tank.

We all marveled at the colors crashing around us - crimson hibiscus, turquoise water, lush-green palms, and white sand beneath our toes. 

There is so much of Haiti that makes my heart cry, but these two days were all smiles. The team, the kids, all of us. We rested. We played. We basked in the sun. We were grateful for the margin. 

Traveling mercies: Lessons on the journey

Our family spends a lot of time traveling. It’s the nature of our work with the non-profit, Christian Friendship Ministries, that Ericlee directs, and The Haitian Bead Project, which I’ve been leading these past two years. We also love to travel for fun – exploring new places, embracing new cultures, sharing the world with our three daughters.

Of course, traveling with lots of bags and 3 wiggly (and oft-whiny) kids is not easy. Sometimes my patience wears thin. These are the moments I have to train myself to remember that life is about the journey, not the destination. 

My hubby and I choose to laugh when we feel like crying about the obstacles. I try to take a deep breath instead of barking orders at my kids when I’m overtired or they are not “behaving” the way I feel they should in public. I'm know im far from perfect at this art form of parenting. I have to force myself to open my eyes to the gifts and the lessons around me.

 I have to share one story from our last week of travel that gifted me some perspective.

We departed at the crack of dawn from Fresno early last Thursday morning. We just barely made our flight with our 8 bags plus 8 carry-ons and 3 crusty-eyed, bead-head bearing kids in tow. We sprinted. The baby fussed. We realized when we had already taken off from Fresno that my oldest had left her carry-on in her bedroom back home so there were tears.

When we landed in Dallas, a wave of relief spread over us as we headed for baggage claim to meet our cousin Margaret. We were eager to get to the hotel where we would spend the next four days with extended family from across the United States for a Big Fat Italian Family Reunion. After the reunion, we would fly on for 7 weeks in Haiti.

As we were exiting the gate area and moving into baggage claim, we had to go through one of those glass turn-style revolving doors. Ericlee went first carrying most of our things, leading Meilani and Zayla. Giada was following them a few steps behind and I brought up the rear with our stroller and several carry-ons. Giada entered the revolving door but I was having trouble fitting through with the stroller, all the bags and myself in the same glass compartment with her. It’s every mom’s nightmare, I suppose.  A well-meaning gentleman ran up and pressed the button on the door for wheelchair assistance. This caused the glass revolving door to speed up. The door snatched up my stroller. I heard the whirr-crunch as the stroller wheels caught in the door. 

The door stopped. Stuck. 

When I looked up I realized the door had also trapped Giada in her compartment so she could not get out. I saw the tears start to well in her eyes. I took a deep breath and waved at her through the glass. “It’s ok,” I coaxed. “You’re going to be ok. Just wait, sweetheart.”

Ericlee was on the opposite side of the door and also assured her she would be ok. We tried to push the door forward but it wouldn’t budge. The airport worker on the other stood their frozen. I knocked on the glass door and pointed to the phone she was sitting near to urge her to call someone to help.

We waited about five minutes and surprisingly Giada calmed down. A woman standing next to me encouraged me. “She’s watching you, Mom,” she said. “She’s not scared because you’re not scared.”
Soon after, a maintenance guy showed up with some tools to try to disable the door. It wasn’t working.

A businessman who was standing by jumped in. He helped dislodge the stroller and move the door forward with Ericlee’s help on the other side. All the while I knew I had to stay calm for my Giada. She was being so brave.

When we finally made it through the revolving door with all our bags and stroller, I was able to hug Giada. “I’m so proud of you!” I heard myself say. Then the airport worker commented, “She handled that a lot better than most adults would have.”

In that moment, I learned a powerful parenting lesson and a deeper spiritual lesson. 

So often when there’s an emergency situation I want to look at the danger for my child. I focus on what could happen or the worst case scenario. This situation taught me that my kids are often relying on me in that moment of crisis to anchor them. It doesn’t mean I should pretend there isn’t danger when it’s there but I do have to calm my own heart so I can help them.

How do I do that?

I know I have to keep my eyes focused on my Heavenly Father in those moments. He’s the one whispering to me, “It’s ok. You’re going to be ok. Just wait.”

I am challenged to search for His eyes like my Giada did mine. As long as her eyes did not see panic, she did not have to internalize it. I know I can always count on my Father to anchor me, to provide strength in my human weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Later we were able to laugh as a family about that crazy situation. Could anything else go wrong in one morning of travel? We were able to commend our Giada who is the most prone to “drama.” My husband and I were able to check our own spirits as we journey down this road as parents.

 I am grateful for another lesson on the journey.

Monday, July 01, 2013

June Gilmore Gazette: Gilmores celebrate God's provision, prepare for trip

Dear Friends & Family,

The last month has been a wild ride for our family and we are eager to celebrate with you some of the blessings God has been raining down.

Ericlee and the Construction team led by Tanner Munro returned from Haiti on June 7. In those 9 days, God brought together the five men from Fresno, our Haitian Director Peter Constantin and 9 Haitian young men for an awesome time of bonding and making some huge renovations on our Mission complex in Haiti. More than 50 jobs were completed, including:

o   Painting Inside and outside of the house
o   Installing screens on all the windows
o   Building new counters and cabinets in the Kitchen
o   Installing a new full-sized refrigerator with new outlets in the kitchen
o   Installing 4 new ceiling fans
o   Putting in new toilets and sink in bathroom
o   Building new wood pallets for the floors in the showers
o   Painting and building a new toilet for outhouse

More important than the tasks that were accomplished were the relationships built. By the end of the trip, this team became a tight band of brothers who promised to come back to Haiti every year. One team member, Jason Martinez, surrendered his life to Jesus Christ for the first time. Jason’s 14-year-old son inspired him to read the Bible during Lent and then God prompted him to move out of his comfort zone and go to Haiti. Ericlee and Jason are meeting regularly for discipleship and prayer.

The guys pause from their work to play soccer in the rain with the orphans.

The trip was also a huge boost of encouragement for Ericlee as he had other men come alongside him and invest in the ministry in Haiti. The team of five Americans plans to continue meeting once a month to sharpen, encourage and pray together.

This past week Dorina and the girls have been a part of the “Truth Trek” Vacation Bible School program at Trinity
Community Church in Fresno. The children creatively raised $12,000 for a new water system for the Kay Cadence orphanage recently-built in St. Raphael. One girl decided to sacrifice the money she had been saving from her birthday and Christmas for a scooter. Another boy raised $75 at his lemonade stand. Other kids helped their moms bake cookies, granola and jam or recycle bottles. What a huge blessing to see American kids raising money for new friends in Haiti!

Giada & Meilani get down with the kids at Trinity Community Church during worship time at VBS.

The last few weeks we have been finalizing travel plans for our three short-term mission teams, collecting supplies and gearing up for our summer in Haiti. We depart on July 4 (Thursday!) for a family reunion in Dallas and then fly out from there to Haiti on July 7. We ask for your prayers over our travel with our girls, time serving and welcoming teams this summer.

Meilani poses with her group leaders for "Truth Trek" VBS

We will close with a short story of God’s amazing provision. Last weekend we watched a movie called “Faith Like Potatoes” about a farmer-turned-missionary in South Africa. We hardly ever take time to watch movies but this one was a huge encouragement to us at just the right time. We have been praying for God’s provision for our finances. Like the farmer, we were reminded that there is power in prayer and though it may feel like a dry season God can make it rain anytime he wants. He is always working underground. On Monday, it rained in Fresno. A little sprinkle in the middle of June. So rare. A reminder to us that He was working. Monday night a group of Fresno friends and family gathered to pray for the ministry in Haiti and our family’s needs. And then Tuesday afternoon, we received word that God provided the $5,000 our family needed for our travels this summer. What a huge miracle and answer to prayer!

We continue to pray for more committed monthly supporters so we can be fully funded and pay back some of the debt we have accrued this year. Please join us in praying specifically over this. We are pressing in to see what God will do in Summer 2013! We are grateful for each one of you.

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