Saturday, June 19, 2010

Being Changed in Haiti

On Monday, June 7 - we started our ministry in Haiti. Our first stop was an orphanage at Delmas 19 with 43 children that live there and at least 20 more that come daily for school. When we got there, they were in the middle of school. We had called in advance to let them know when we would arrive so they were aware of our visit and were completely fine with us taking over. I think it was a nice and much needed break for the teachers. Before the earthquake, they had a lot less children in the orphanage and the local kids who came for school were paying a tuition which was then used to pay the teachers. Since the earthquake, there has been much loss and very little money and the kids who come for school are for the most part, no longer able to pay this tuition. So their teaching staff has dwindled and they are having a hard time providing for the kids. This orphanage is in great need. 
We arrived and the kids were super quiet, just staring at us. We had Sylvestre with us to translate and we asked the director's wife if we could do art projects with the kids - she said "of course". So we went to the bus to get the bag of supplies. Each person on the team took a different age group and project and Sylvestre helped get the kids to sit down in groups by age. One group decorated foam visors, another colored pictures, some made necklaces with beads and yarn. Sally, Kay and Ashley set up a little area where they had a little medical clinic and started seeing the kids there who have been sick. There was one little boy in particular that was not doing very well. Sally said he had malaria and was also anemic. He was pretty much non-responsive. Unfortunately, we hadn't brought anything that was for malaria so we were limited in how we could help him. Sally had Sylvestre translated and explained to the director's wife Claujine that this child needed to go to the hospital or clinic. Claujine's elderly mother had a pretty bad ankle injury and the team helped her with that. There were some hair/skin conditions they treated, some wounds to bandage and rashes. And several kids had been having stomach problems. 
Claujine took myself and another team member, Laura on a tour of where the living quarters were. This orphanage stood in the middle of one of the worst hit areas we visited that week and buildings on all sides of it were leveled by the earthquake and yet, this orphanage building still stands and doesn't look like it was even damaged. From what I could gather - they are still uneasy about being inside though - which is why they have school outside and almost all the beds and such are not in this building. The backyard houses 2 tents where kids sleep and what looks like a little shed that has several doors and inside each one was a very worn bed for the kids. The mattresses where in bad condition and one of the metal bunk beds didn't have a mattress, just a few wool blankets on top of the wire frame - it looked like someone even slept there. These conditions were heart breaking. My camera battery had died at this point but Laura took lots of pictures with hopes that we could get new beds for them. 
My thoughts are that this orphanage really needs a lot of ongoing assistance. It would be ideal to partner them with a church or two in the US that could provide monthly support to help them feed these children and provide better living conditions for them. We'd need to make sure there was someone on the ground in Haiti to make sure the funds were used properly and for what they were designated for. But wow - what a difference a partnership like that could make. The children there are precious and they need help. I'm praying we can help bring it. We are in the planning process of sending a team back to Haiti this fall and would love to find some potential church partners who would go with Visiting Orphans on this trip to help. So much need everywhere. I am still processing all that we saw. 

We had several hours at the Delmas 19 orphanage with those precious children. I got to hold a beautiful baby girl named Mona Lisa who absolutely stole my heart. She is the cutest thing! And all the kids love her - they call her "Mo Mo" and they would come up and make her smile and laugh and you could tell they look out for her. At one point, Barbara was holding a child that fell fast asleep so comfortable in her arms. Several other team members had the same thing happen. One of the sleeping children was carried by another child to the back yard and placed carefully in their bed. It was so precious to see the kids looking after each other. Yet, made it so apparent how fast these kids have had to grow up and much they have had to adapt to in the absence of parents. 

Many of the children we saw at orphanages that week were only recently orphaned because of losing parents in the earthquake. It's hard to even fathom what these kids have been through. And yet, they still play and smile and laugh. The Haitian people are so strong. And what we discovered daily on our visit was that instead of giving up in the midst of pain, loss and poverty like we can never fully understand - they aren't blaming God, they are praising God that they survived and for what they do have. In fact, what we heard time and time again from those we met in Haiti was that the earthquake caused many people to turn to God. I know we didn't hear about it on the news here but there is a youtube video about this - t several days after the earthquake, the president called for the people to fast and pray and cry out to God. Thousands upon thousands of people filled the rubble-covered streets and did exactly that. It just shows me that God truly can work all things together for good. And how precious that in their pain, He is drawing the people of Haiti to Him - ministering to their hearts and giving them a new hope. It blows me away. He is so good! And the Haitian people are truly resilient and strong. 

After we left the orphanage, we then traveled to Delmas 31 to visit Christian Light Ministries, which is a school run by a wonderful American woman named Ms. Sherrie who has been living in Haiti doing this for a very long time. She has that school run like a well oiled machine. And it was like night and day from where we had just come from in just seeing how a ministry can thrive with help from the US in the form of partnerships. In fact, Ms. Sherrie was about to venture to the US for a period of time and told our medical team to take any medical supplies they thought we might need. And the Lord is so good because she had malaria meds for that little boy we saw earlier at the orphanage. We were so happy. And we decided to head straight back there before heading home for the day and deliver those meds. While we were at Ms. Sherrie's - we took a tour about a block away where her former orphanage stood. The entire back section of it had fallen (see photo). Ms. Sherrie was in the bedroom that is now laying in a pile of rubble of several stories of what was the building. When the shaking started, she started to run out and was pushed out into the hallway by the force. Most of the kids went running out in that direction too - and that was the part of the building that survived. The child of one of her staff did not make it out but miraculously most everyone else did, including Ms. Sherrie. She said that even in the midst of it - she felt a peace and did not feel fearful. Totally the Lord. 

When we were walking there, Sally noticed a little boy with a bad infection all over the side of his face. She asked the mother to bring him to Ms. Sherrie's so she could take a look. She did and it turned out - there was some kind of a winged bug wedged way into his ear and it had caused an infection that was spreading to the outside of his face. That little boy was so tough - he did not cry but squirmed quite a bit as his mother held him and Sally tried her best to get that bug out with tweezers. Unfortunately it was not successful - it was too far in there and was just coming out in pieces. So she tried to flush it out with warm water - that didn't work either and he was really unhappy at this point. Sally gave the mom cream for the infection, an oral medicine to take for it and some drops to put in his ear every day. Sylvestre translated all the instructions and we wrote it down too so she wouldn't forget. I truly hope that bug came out and that infection cleared up. It just amazes me the things that when let go can do such awful things to our bodies. And how simple things we take for granted here are simply not available to so much of the world. The need is great. We need more workers! 

While at Ms. Sherrie's, Ashley was looking at a little girls arm that had been burned at a young age and was hardly useable. She took a lot of pictures of it and showed the girl some stretches to do. And since being home, Ashley has been hard at work finding a surgeon to operate on her arm. She found one and is currently working on setting up the logistics of making that happen. 

I love going on these trips and seeing what the Lord does in the hearts of each team member. It changes lives. And you can't return home unchanged. You just can't. And you also can't return home and ever be content to do nothing. Seeing what you see around the world changes you. It may break your heart. It may be heavy. But it's for the better - because it's that broken heart that propels you to do more, to get outside your comfort zone and reach out to those that so desperately need your help. 

We left Ms. Sherrie's on Monday and drove back to the orphanage at Delmas 19 and our medical team went in and gave medicine to that little boy who was so sick with malaria. And it was totally the Lord who orchestrated the fact that we went there first, saw that need and then happened to go to Ms. Sherrie's a few hours later who would give us the medicine needed to care for that little guy. And a few days later, we went back and that little boy was doing so much better! Praise God. It's all about his schedule for our week and He truly orchestrated all the details. We just had to be willing to go with His lead and be flexible to where He would take us. Not having a full itinerary or plan in advance was most certainly outside my comfort zone - but I think it was always supposed to be that way. Mission trips are all about getting outside that comfort zone and letting God change you. 

To see more of my photos from Haiti, go to this link:

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Haiti day 2 - it's all about flexibility

We woke up Sunday morning and got ready for church. Our ride was supposed to pick us up at 9am to take us wherever we needed to go - they were late but arrived at 9:30. I thought it'd be a big van or bus that would fit 12. To my surprise, it was a tiny SUV that really comfortably sat 4 and yet we had to do two trips with 7 people in each (including the driver). Needless to say it was hot and we were squeezed in like sardines. Our team was amazing - they were such troopers and never complained. The flexibility of the trip had begun! Turns out, the bigger vehicle was unavailable that morning and the driver we had been told was picking us up didn't - his sons came instead. Super nice guys but they were late and then by the time they took the first group to the church and came back for us in the 2nd group - we were an hour and a half late for church. We met up with some missionaries at church that Bethany (our other co-leader) knew and decided to have lunch with them. They had a big flat bed pickup truck that could fit 12 of us in the back so we asked if there was any way they could take us home so we could all ride together. Our drivers had been waiting for us while we were in church because it was far away and they didn't want to go all the way home. Then when we came out of church - they had a flat tire so they had to change that. We told them to just meet us at the restaurant. By the time they got there, the missionaries had agreed to take us back to the Guest House and we were able to let our drivers go for the day. The missionaries also recommended a driver they use often who had a big bus that seats at least 20. We met up with Bethany's friend Sylvestre who was to be our translator and he recommended the same driver the missionaries recommended and he called and negotiated a cheaper daily rate for us than what the other people charged. So we used this other transportation for the rest of the week and were glad that we did - it was a big bus with AC (sometimes it blew out cold air), a very nice driver and room for all our supplies. 
Anyway, the church we went to was packed full and the worship was amazing. We caught about 1/2 hour of it since I was in the 2nd crew of people. We stuck around and met the pastor and his wife and chatted with these other missionaries. We then went to lunch with them at a place called Hot & Ready that they recommended as safe for us to eat and delicious. Most of us had hamburgers and fries - so yummy. Some had pasta or sandwiches. It was really good. After that, a young man named David took us back to the Guest House in the flat bed truck. It was a bumpy ride, pretty hot and lots of traffic along the way but we were thankful to all be together. We also were thankful for the connection with him and his team because we decided to go on Wed to a clinic and orphanage they help run. After lunch, which took quite a while, we had an adventurous ride through the city streets on the way back to the Guest House. Got lots of pictures and had lots of laughs as we talked about our squeeze in the SUV's that morning and adventure at the airport the day before. 
We relaxed at the Guest House once we got there. Bethany and I made phone calls to try and plan for the week ahead as far as what our schedule might be. We made a plan for Monday and the team unpacked all our supplies and organized them into piles for the week. The Guest House was so accommodating and let us spread out our stuff all over the place. What a Godsend they are! 
They made us a lovely chicken and rice dinner with rolls and green beans and the best ice cold rasberry tea ever. So nice to have a home cooked meal every night and to be able to eat together at the awesome big long dining table. We had a time of prayer and planning after dinner, took cold showers and went to bed early to rest up for a full day on Monday.

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On our way to Haiti

On June 4th, Barbara Crossman and I departed Nashville to begin our journey as co-leaders of the Visiting Orphans Haiti Mission trip. We left Nashville incredibly early in the morning and flew to Atlanta and then on to Fort Lauderdale. Our flight left at 5:30 am and we were both sure that the airport would be like a ghost town that early so we only went 1 hour before. We almost missed our flight - it was the busiest I've ever seen the Nashville airport. The wonderful guy at the ticket counter let me check in for Barbara as she parked the car cause we only had 6 minutes to check in. The security line was long and then my bag had to be run through twice. Barbara said "I'm going on to tell them we're here and to wait". I got my bag a minute or so later and looked at my ticket to find the gate number. It was early and I knew it was a letter and then the gate number was 6. Well, I glanced at my ticket and saw C6 so I went walking super quick to that gate. Got there and realized there was no one at that gate. Looked at my ticket again to realize I was looking at my seat number instead of the gate number - seat number C6, gate number B6. What are the chances it was the same number? I mean, really. So at this point - I literally ran from gate C to gate B to catch the plane. As I'm running, I hear my phone ringing - knowing it's Barbara but not wanting to stop and answer. I come running down the isle toward the gate and I see her waiving at me. The lady was literally about to close the gate and Barbara told her "I see her" and kept her waiting for one more minute for me. So I barely made it and boy, what a way to wake you up at 5:30 am. I was sweating and out of breath. Whew. 
So then, the plane didn't depart on time cause we were in a long line of planes taxiing out. So we got to Atlanta late and were pretty much running to catch our next flight. And of course, it was not in the same terminal - it was a train ride and 3 terminals down. We approach the gate running and saw a line of people and started to slow down. Then we hear the gate attendee say "if you are on this flight, you better get moving - we're about to close the door." We never did figure out why the line was there but it was obviously not for our flight. We barely made it. But we did. Thank God!
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at 10:30 am. After several times running that morning and a crazy busy few weeks leading up to the trip - Barbara and I had a much needed day of rest in Florida before the rest of the team arrived that night. We stayed at a lovely hotel and after we got picked up by the shuttle, checked into our rooms and changed clothes - we took a trolley down to the beach and finally relaxed for the first time in weeks. It was such a blessing and so what we needed before heading on to Haiti with a team of 12. We had a few hours at the beach to really share our stories and get to know each other. We'd met lots of times but hadn't really gotten to know each other. This was a great way to start the trip. Right as we decided we'd had enough sun and we wanted to go grab something to drink at a restaurant near the beach, it started to rain. It was a really great thunderstorm. What a perfect day. 
One of the girls on the team, Noelle, arrived around 7:30 pm so we waited for her and then went back down near the beach to grab some dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp restaurant. Yummy! 
I had left notes in each persons room to meet us downstairs for breakfast and team meeting the next morning at 8:30 am and that we were taking a shuttle to the airport at 10 am. That worked out well because they all got in quite late. Met the whole team of amazing women Saturday morning in the Hyatt lobby and our journey to Haiti began. 
We took the shuttle filled with all of our luggage filled with supplies to the airport. And we found favor with the guys at curbside check-in who checked us all in together and made sure we had everything we needed. That day, a brand new rule about not checking boxes was implemented (how would we have known) and 3 of our bags were big boxes filled with medical supplies. We waited about 45 minutes while one of the guys worked hard to get the airline to allows those boxes to go. At one point, we were told we'd have to transfer all the contents into big bags we'd have to buy from them for $35 each. And we had already paid $120 for checking those 3 boxes and 1 suitcase from Nashville to Florida. We prayed and waited as this guy from curbside went to bat for us. He talked to many managers and explained we were going to help orphans in Haiti and we were so thankful when he came back over and said he finally got it worked out and this time, they would allow it. We will know for next time that we cannot bring boxes but thank the Lord we didn't have to pay extra or transfer contents for this trip. So much favor on this trip! What a blessing. 
We had gotten to the airport plenty early so it was no big deal that all of this took a lot of time. I was so glad we opted on going that early. We made it to our gate in plenty of time and our flight left about 2:15pm. Our other co-leader Bethany Haley flew in that morning and met us at the gate to head to Haiti with us right before departure. Our whole team was together and we were on our way. 
We arrived in Port au Prince, Haiti at 3:15 pm Central time. We got through security and were getting our bags when I looked over and saw a gentleman waiting inside by the door with a sign that said Visiting Orphans. Praise God - we had found someone to direct us to our ride. The place we were staying - The Heartline Guest House - was there to pick us up. So we found this guy and headed out the door with him and into pure chaos. We were not quite expecting the mob scene we encountered and mind you, we didn't quite know where we were going and who was with the Guest House crew. So it was a little crazy trying to squeeze 12 people with tons of luggage through a huge crowd of people, many of whom were trying to grab our bags and take them for us with hopes of getting money and trying to sell us stuff. It was crazy and I was trying to get through while also making sure our whole team made it through. Chris, who runs the guest house, walks up and starts grabbing bags. I knew what he looked like from the website but the team didn't and they were like "who is this guy taking our bags?" It is hard to describe the craziness of trying to get through that crowd. We made it to their truck in tact. Noelle got shoved by a policeman chasing a guy and that was a bit scary. Thankfully she wasn't hurt. When we all finally got in the truck - we breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! Welcome to Haiti. 
We were taken about 30 minutes away (with traffic) to the Heartline Guest House which is an amazing place to stay and such a safe haven for us to come home to at the end of each day. So thankful we found this place and they had room for us. We didn't plan anything for that night - we just hung out there, unpacked, spent some time in prayer and and prepared for the week. 

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