Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stepping into the "Sweet Spot" of ministry

I had one of those moments the other day. I was sitting in our pick-up truck headed back to our mission complex in Haiti to make dinner for my family. My dear friend and right-hand man Walquis was driving, trying desperately to avoid the assortment of chickens, goats, motorcycles, kids and huge holes in the road. A group of women from our Haitian Bead Project were in the back of the truck singing a worship song in four-part harmony. Dust swirled on the rocky road before us. I looked out across the sugar cane fields with Mount Pignon in the background. 

Then it dawned on me: I’m in the sweet spot.

Something deep inside my heart was almost singing, “I love this.”

I recalled the scene in one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, when the runner and missionary Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”

That’s how I felt in that moment. I felt God’s pleasure. I felt this warmth rising up in my soul and spreading all over my body. I was unwrapping an amazing gift. 

I’m 36 years old, married to a man who is a courageous leader, a disciplined athlete and a faithful daddy. We are raising three girls who are growing and learning every day what it means to cross cultural lines, to live like Jesus and to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots. I have an amazing circle of friends who encourage and support me on this wild journey.

My “job” is spending time with women in Haiti, teaching them how to create jewelry and sharing my faith with them. The other part of my job is marketing their work and sharing their stories of transformation with friends in the United States.

Somebody pinch me. These are all realized dreams.

I just didn’t realize I was there. Somehow I forgot that these are all the things I have specifically prayed for through the years.  

How I got here

I certainly did not arrive at this place – the proverbial sweet spot – overnight.

I definitely did not follow any road map or take the path I originally planned.

Much of this journey has been hard. I’ve whined and kicked and screamed quite a bit actually. I’ve questioned the calling. I’ve devised plans to make my life more comfortable and predictable.

Our life is far from idyllic. Even as I type this I am sitting in an airplane balancing my laptop on my knees while nursing my youngest. We have been on standby living in airports from Port Au Prince to Fort Lauderdale to Dallas to Phoenix for two days. Mama’s “Mary Poppins bag” is just about empty with only a few more diapers, some stray peanuts, a plastic finger puppet and a pad of post-its (mostly scribbled on) to keep my girls busy.

I’m wearing the same pants, underwear and tank top I had on yesterday – with a different sweater to spruce it up. (My traveling fashion secret.) My kids clothes are stained with toothpaste and pizza grease. Our Haitian braids are looking frizzy, our eyes red with travel.

Most people would not call this life I live glamorous. 

What I had to leave behind

Every day that I work in Haiti, I am reminded of what I leave behind. I leave behind my air conditioner, my hybrid cars, my nicely-fenced backyard, my iced fraps and my pillow-topped king-sized mattress. I leave behind my skinny jeans and makeup and high-speed internet.

I leave behind dreams of publishing books and sending my kids to swim lessons and Vacation Bible School with their friends.

I leave behind a predictable calendar, a consistent income.

Some days what I leave behind digs deep, leaves tread marks on my heart. I leave behind my family, my closest friends.  

I leave behind my career.

I leave behind any semblance of normalcy and routine.

I leave behind safety.

I leave behind planning and retirement.

I leave behind so much but I also gain much more than I ever imagined.

I have learned a new language. 

I have befriended people I might not otherwise.

I have participated in the amazing stories of transformation of women, mothers, daughters, grandmothers.

I have climbed to the top of mountains and looked out over oceans.

I have tasted a dozen varieties of island mangoes.

I have awakened before dawn to the sound of angels singing in the church just outside my window.  

I have offered a handmade dress to an orphan girl who looked like a princess.

I have spooned a plate of rice and beans for a young man dying of hepatitis.

I have prayed with a blind woman, mother of 7. I have watched her down a glass of water, whetting 
her parched lips, before she returned to the streets.  

I have held a newborn baby with brown, round cheeks and chubby legs. All the while, her defying the odds.

I have gained the courage to stand up in the middle of conflict, to embrace miscommunication and racial tension.

There is so much to gain when we risk loving, when we risk leaving our comforts, when we risk saying Yes to God.

What the sweet spot in ministry is really all about

In the game of tennis, when that little neon ball hits the "sweet spot" it results in a more powerful hit - not to mention that ping noise that makes the tennis ball sing.

I'm starting to see that hitting the sweet spot in ministry is never about what I'm doing or accomplishing or how I'm impressing or leading. The sweet spot is that place where I feel wholly alive using my God-given gifts and at the same time humbly submitted to following His lead.

This summer I had a taste of it when I was given the opportunity to speak at a women's conference. I looked out over an audience of grandmas and mamas, and I shared my story. The story of my difficult, beautiful mess. And somewhere in sharing my story I was sharing the story of Hagar and Ruth. I was sharing a story of El Roi, the God who sees the invisible, the God who comforts, the God who casts out fear with love.

I loved sharing these stories. When I shared these stories I felt His pleasure.  

This may be surprising coming from the girl whose nervous knees would knock hard against the piano during recitals, who used to hurl before speech class in college. Public speaking is the last career I expected to pursue. Working with women and children who reek of poverty and disease is a place I never imagined I'd find joy. The rural mountains of Haiti is the last place this city girl expected to find home.

How sweet it is.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Walquis & Juno welcome new baby Deborah

One of my highlights this summer was holding sweet baby Deborah and snapping some photos of her loveliness. Deborah is the daughter of our dear friends, Walquis and Juno.
They live in Pignon with their oldest daughter, Amanda, who happens to be one of our Giada's best little Haitian friends. Walquis was my student 12 years ago when I lived in Haiti and taught English. I still remember those days when he was mostly teaching me Kreyol and I was teaching him all the ways we break the grammar rules in English.
Today Walquis is the Music Director at the Pignon Evangelical Baptist Church and one of the chief translators for Christian Friendship Ministries. Walquis has grown so much as a daddy and husband and also in his calling to serve as a leader in his community. His little Deborah was born on a sweltering summer morning. Juno had her in the Pignon hospital. She was a perfect gift from God!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Anatomy of a Disciple: Men's Conference unites generations

This week we hosted three men from The Well Church, including Chris Schultz, Ericlee's best friend since junior high, Sam Babcock, a former student and basketball player, and John Lynch. The team came to speak at the Youth Conference and then lead the Men's Conference. Both conferences were held in Pignon at our mission base. We quickly all became a family as these three men embraced the experience and jumped into ministry in Haiti.

The Men's conference kicked off on Monday morning. Pastor Chris was the lead teacher sharing a curriculum called "The Anatomy of a Disciple" that he originally helped develop for The Well Church in Fresno, California. The talks were a road map on how to be a disciple as Jesus modeled. Chris challenged the men to submit their hearts and read their Bibles regularly as a life guide book.

Together the men studied the Bible and unpacked the themes of: Relationships, Morality and Generosity over the course of the week. Chris, John, Sam and Ericlee all shared their own life stories during the services. The conference included time for the men to break into small groups for discussion as well as large group discussion and worship time.

One of the biggest highlights for the team was joining the Haitian men each morning at 5:30 a.m. for a time of worship and prayer. They all would rise before the sun to spend this time with God. The team noted that there was never any time constraints. Individuals could share prayers for 5, 7, even 10 minutes. What a contrast to the way the team experiences prayer meetings back home.

After each morning session, the team led the men in some fun bonding games in the courtyard of the school. These games included "Cross the River," a team-building game where the men had to work together to stay on the rocks while crossing through the courtyard/river.

The "Barnyard Game" was especially memorable as the men had to make the noises of barnyard animals in order to find the others in their group. The courtyard erupted in crazy noises and belly laughter during this game. The Haitian men all commented on how much they loved these games and wanted more.

Part of the beauty of this conference was seeing the older and younger generations come together. Fathers and sons attended together. Many laypreachers and regular attenders of the church were there. Even men from the neighborhood were included. 

On the final evening, the men participated in a foot washing. They were asked to wash each other's feet as a gesture to serve one another and model what Jesus Christ did with his disciples. This was a meaningful service: Fourteen men accepted Jesus as their personal Savior that night and 6 rededicated their lives.

The conference concluded Friday morning with a time of sharing for the men. Chris asked each of the men to write their name on a stone along with one key word or concept that deeply affected them through the teaching. These stones of remembrance were laid on the steps of the church before they departed.

**Read more reflections directly from our team here.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Crossing cultural lines: Haitian Bead Project women take a retreat to Camp de la Grace

Building relationships across cultural lines is no easy task. In fact, in the last four years of living in Haiti off and on we have discovered that building relationships is not a task at all. It's not something you do in a day and then neatly check off your to-do list. It's not something you can pour money into or even make happen with the best of intentions.

Building relationships begins by putting in time. Lots of time. 

I remember my first days working with the women of The Haitian Bead Project in Savanette. We already had a group of twenty-something women working at our mission base in Pignon. The pastor of the Savanette church, which is also part of our non-profit, begged me to start something for his ladies. So many were struggling to feed their families and send their children to school. My heart was touched and I moved forward with baby steps. I decided I would spend two days a week with the women.

In those first days the women sat in a semi-circle around me. They were cordial as I explained the values of our project and began to teach the process of making paper beads and jewelry. They were attentive but timid.

I longed to be close to them. I tried to interpret their blank faces, search for hope in their eyes. I would pray each day for wisdom, for a window.

Their beads were horrible at first. Bumpy and uneven - much like my language skills. There were many days I asked myself and God if expanding our business was a bad idea. 

But little by little their beads have grown smoother. And so has our communication.

This past week something truly extraordinary happened. After two years of planting and watering and waiting and praying  and watering some more, a full garden of flowers bloomed.

For the last several months I've been planning to take the women on a little retreat. Our friends, Debbie and Caleb Lucien of Hosean Ministries, had offered the use of their summer camp in Fontaine. The goal: to take the women on an overnight to bond, relax and celebrate the way God has prospered the Haitian Bead Project his year. I invited three friends from the U.S., who volunteer with the project, to help me put on the retreat. Kim McCurry, Paula Peterson and Dana Johnson helped me pray over the retreat and pull together all the details.

The first day we handed out name tags and played some games to get the women interacting. Dana had collected purses from home and we filled them with fun toiletries, hankies, little notebooks. We did a "Gift Exchange" game where the women each got a filled purse. Oh how we laughed! The walls between us started to come down.

The retreat far exceeded our expectations! The women jumped right into the activities. They played Frisbee, hiked, danced, painted nails, did hand massages, made art projects, sang, prayed, studied the Bible, brainstormed new products for the future, ate their fill and didn’t have to cook or do laundry or watch kids.

I found great joy in sharing Bible lessons with them on the topics: “You are Beautiful” and “God Created you an Artist.” My friends, Kim and Paula also shared their stories with the group. 

The ladies from Savanette started teaching us Haitian songs and circle games - a good sign that the cultural lines had been crossed. They were eager to share a piece of their own culture.

One afternoon during Free Tine my oldest daughter, Meilani, hung out in one of the rooms with the women. She said the women wanted her to teach them Eglish phrases. Later that night the women boldly and sweetly tried out their phrases on us. Renande said, "I love you, my friend." Ylnise added, "I will always remember you." They longed to connect and communicate much like I did those first few months.

Their pastor Mele came to join us on the last day and he, too, commented on how different the group acted. He saw them bubbling with joy. 

The retreat concluded with the Haitian women singing a farewell blessing over our team. They hugged us tight and laughed. One woman, Angeline, begged us to come back the next year. Some even had misty eyes for we were all sad to say goodbye after such a mountaintop experience.

There are plenty of days, plenty of relationships in Haiti that may never bloom in this way. I know that's a reality. Still I am grateful for each of these women who have now welcomed me in as their own.

For more details about our project or to order jewelry, see

Thursday, August 01, 2013

July Gilmore Gazette: Gilmores host teams, see God work in Haiti

Bonswa Family & Friends,

We greet you from Haiti! July has been a month full of activity. We kicked off our month with an awesome time at the Yaquinto Family Reunion (Dorina’s mom’s side) in Dallas. The reunion offered us some much-needed quality time together as a family and connecting with cousins who live across the United States.

Ericlee greets some of the elders in the recently-renovated Pignon church on our first Sunday in Haiti.

When we arrived in Haiti on July 8, we hit the ground running. Ericlee and Peter were able to connect right away and cover a lot of topics, including the needs of the ministry and casting vision for the future. It’s amazing what the last two years of prayer and investment have done for their relationship and how the two love to share ideas. Dorina went to work meeting with the two groups for The Haitian Bead Project. She met some challenges with the Pignon group as she discovered some dissension among members of the group but we are already witnessing reconciliation there. Dorina continues to meet twice a week with the Savanette group and a new small group of women working in Pignon.

Dorina poses with Odette from the Pignon group of The Haitian Bead Project. Odette just joined the group in January and is perfecting her jewelry-making skills

Our first team arrived on July 10, including Doug and Brenda Round, their three daughters, along with Debbi Ball, Bev and Kelly Damm from Fresno. The team met up in Miami and then flew on to Haiti. 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.

The Gilmores pose with the kids in the Bridge Christian Children's Home in Pignon, Haiti as they show off their "Dress a Girl" handmade dresses and snazzy new polos.

On Monday, we began our Summer School for the children.  Our team took turns teaching various classes: starting the day with Physical Education led by Ericlee, then Dorina reading from The Jesus Storybook in Kreyol and sharing a Bible lesson, followed by Doug teaching math skills, then Bev teaching an English class and Debbi engaging the kids in Geography, and finally, concluding the day with Arts & Crafts led by Brenda. Our team offered the kids enrichment and one-on-one attention they do not receive in their normal school setting. This was also a great way to connect with the kids one on one and get to know their personalities.

Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada & Zayla pose at Le Cormier Beach outside Cap Haitien on a recent trip with kids from the orphanage and a visiting team.

Last week a group from our home church, The Bridge, traveled to Haiti to put on a Vacation Bible School program in St. Raphael.  It’s been several years since we hosted VBS there.  Our team chose to teach the kids about the “Armor of God” from Ephesians 6. The team did encounter some interesting challenges along the way. 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. 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.

Gilmores pose with the Rounds, Damms and Debbi Ball from California outside the Bell Mission House in Pignon, Haiti.

Three team members from The Bridge – Kim McCurry, Dana Johnson and Paula Peterson – stayed on this week to help put on a retreat for the women of the Haitian Bead Project. We decided to take our Savanette group this year, which included 17 artisans, 6 cooks, our family of 5 and team of 3. We piled the ladies into the back of our pickup truck and headed for Camp de la Grace in Fontaine, owned by Caleb & Debbie Lucien and Hosean Ministries. We stayed at the camp Monday through Wednesday morning. The goal was to provide a place for the women to relax, build friendships and celebrate the way God has prospered The Haitian Bead Project in the last few years.

Modeline shows her competitive side during the Gift Exchange Stealing game during The Haitian Bead Project retreat.

The retreat far exceeded our expectations! The women jumped right into the activities. They played Frisbee, hiked, danced, painted nails, did hand massages, made art projects, sang, prayed, studied the Bible, brainstormed new products for the future, ate their fill and didn’t have to cook or do laundry or watch kids. Dorina found great joy in sharing Bible lessons with them on the topics: “You are Beautiful” and “God Created you an Artist.” Kim and Paula also shared their personal testimonies with the group. The retreat concluded this morning with the Haitian women singing a farewell blessing and trying out new English phrases like “I will remember you” and “I love you, my friend.” We were sad say goodbye after such a mountaintop experience.

Clauvintz, Adeck, Lukendy and Jemps from the Kay Cadence orphanage participated in the recent VBS program at their church.

As we head into August, we are welcoming three friends from The Well Church in Fresno to help speak at our Youth Conference this weekend and Men’s Conference next week. We ask for your prayers over their travels and many bags. They are transporting 100 Bibles from California along with many other supplies for the conferences. We return to Fresno on August 17. Please pray for our final weeks here and our travels home with our three girls. Thank you once again for being a vital part of our team!

If there's a baby in sight, our Meilani will be the first in line to hold her. She and Zayla pose here with a new baby friend in St. Raphael.

Saying Yes to God,

Ericlee, Dorina, Meilani, Giada and Zayla