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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do clothes really make the man?

For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
 - 2 Corinthians 5:2-3 (NASB)

Today is confession day. In the 1980's and 90's, I was a bit of a clothes horse. Maybe I was celebrating the end of the 70's, and was overjoyed that I could do away with platform shoes and nylon shirts with Tony Manero-inspired designs.

Nylon, long, pointed collars...you know

The 80's was a dangerous time to be a fashion plate. There were several trends that, thankfully, didn't stand the test of time...I'm looking at you, leg warmers. No, I was into a more classic look for the most part, but I did integrate enough of the 'now' stuff to make it cool. One of my big limitations was funding. You just can't dress out when you have a minuscule budget. I'm sure my mom wasn't the only one who said, "You've got champagne tastes on a beer budget."

So what's a young airman to do? First, I scored a nice tweed blazer. It had neutral colors so I could wear it with a lot of different ensembles. One area that I did, sort of, splurge on? Sergio Valente jeans.

Simple logo - tight jeans

For decades, people have realized that jeans are the ultimate fashion accessory. I could wear my Sergio's with a t-shirt, with a button-down, with a shirt and tie - with or without a blazer, with sneakers, with loafers...the options were nearly endless.

So why the fascination with clothes?

Besides the relatively modern trend of showing out, there is the basic need for us to be covered in polite society. 

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

From the beginning, humans have been worried about their clothes. Some would say that Adam and Eve ruined it for all of us. If it weren't for that fruit incident, clothes would never have been an issue.

Other than clothes, a lot of people worry about their houses. I see pictures on Facebook and elsewhere that friends post up, which illustrate beautiful homes, or kitchens, or even bathrooms. We loves us some big houses, don't we?

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.

Photo courtesy of McMullen Real Estate

In fact, Christians are looking forward to having the great Century 21 agent in the sky hand us the keys to our mansion, right? The other day I posted a blog about the passing of our friend Sister Mary. I quoted Revelation 21:4, which says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

So what could be more exciting to look forward to? We escape the pain, the tears, the heartache of this world, AND we get a big house. 

Wait a second...I'm not sure that's how it's going to work. Up at the top, I noted what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 - he was relating to us how, if we think about it, our eternal dwelling might not be the McMansion we are dreaming of. Instead, once we cast off our human bodies, as Sister Mary has, we will receive an imperishable one - the eternal body that we can look forward to.

To my non-Christian friends, this probably makes no sense at all. But if you believe that we each have a soul - something that makes us more than just a blob of water, tissue and epidermis - then that soul needs a dwelling once our time on this earth, and in this body, is finished.

What? No dress code?

Fortunately, once we get to Heaven, I don't think we will have to worry about the fashion mistakes we made in this life.

What do you think?

X

Friday, July 18, 2014

Death and gladness

Tim Burton's 1989 reboot of Batman for the big screen received mixed reviews. But it had some impressive star power, notably highlighted by Jack Nicholson's maniacal portrayal of the Joker character.


From the film, Batman; Warner Brothers (1989)

In the scene above, Nicholson's character Jack Napier has begun his transformation into the Joker and is in the process of taking over Gotham City's crime syndicates. One of the bosses who stood up to him has come to a rather crispy end. In one of many memorable monologues from the film, Napier gleefully affirms, "I'm glad you're dead."

As recent readers on the Stream may recall, I returned from Haiti a couple of weeks ago. In my blog, Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 6, I mentioned that we had an opportunity to minister to an elderly lady named Sister Mary (Marie). Earlier this week we heard from our friends in Minoterie that Sister Mary had been taken to the hospital. There was concern that her illness was serious.

This morning, we received word that Sister Mary had passed away.

Sister Mary

Most people's first reaction has been to mourn the passing of this resolute woman, who lived a long life despite difficult circumstances. In recent months, she had been confined to bed and only rarely would be able to venture out of doors in her wheelchair.

Yet in the midst of our grief, should we not have some measure of gladness? Humans cling to life on Earth as if this temporal world is more desirable than anything else we could possibly experience. However, the Bible reminds us that:

...He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
 - Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

Sister Mary had friends and neighbors who cared for her, who would bathe her and feed her, fix her hair, and accompany her on those rare excursions when she could see the sky and the trees. When she could listen to the birds sing and feel the breath of God on the breeze.

So today, while we mourn Sister Mary's passing, we can't help but be at least a little glad. Glad that she is no longer suffering the effects of her illness. Glad that she is not dependent on others for even the most basic of needs. Glad that she, ahead of all of us, is standing in the presence of our Creator.

Another of my favorite films also features a tremendous line regarding the approach of eternity:

I followed you on many adventures -- but into the great Unknown Mystery, I go first, Indy...
 - David Yip (as Wu Han); Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Wu Han's demise at Club Obi Wan

In this short and potentially overlooked line of dialog from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the character Wu Han expresses some delight at beating Indy to the greatest mystery of all: What happens when we die?

"But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?'"
- 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (NASB)

So yes, today there is mourning and grief over the passing of Sister Mary. Yet there is gladness, too, as we have the surety that her dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Rest in peace, dear sister.

X

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 8

If today (Wednesday) were a film, it would be titled something like, "Haiti 8 - the Departure."

Everyone was up late last night; we all had to pack, separate any remaining ministry items out, sort out personal gifts to leave with our new-friends, etc. Then we still had to get up early, grab a quick breakfast, load the bus and head off to Minoterie - where we would spend the morning before driving to the airport.

Jean Justin - my new brother!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

Jean Justin was given the book in the picture above by Christy, one of our team. Wonder how she knew an easy-to-read book about Jesus written in Creole would come in handy?

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
 - 1 Peter 2:1-3

Speaking of envy...

We spent our final morning in Minoterie, playing with kids, walking the dusty village paths, saying our goodbyes and just enjoying the fellowship that comes from building lasting relationships with people.

Chilling in the UNICEF tent

My new friend Schneider

We did enjoy a refreshing interlude during our morning when Israele was kind enough to invite us into his home. There was a place down the hill that sold sodas, so we pooled our cash and picked up Coca-Cola and Limonade for all.

Amy and Karen chumming with Michelete and friend

Israele (right) and 'King' David (left) are in the house!

We had a full house but everyone was loving the shade and a nice breeze was blowing through to cool things off just a tad. If you asked me about my favorite beverage in Haiti, I'd have to put a plug in for Limonade. You can see Israele with a bottle in the picture above. It's a lemonade-type soda and it is truly filled with awesome sauce!

Before we were ready, the clock was telling us it was time to go. Despite the ongoing improvements, Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port au Prince is tough to get into, crowded and downright busy. We knew we needed to be there early to make our flight. Reluctantly, we said our goodbyes, gave out innumerable hugs and with a catch in our throats, waved out of Bluebird's windows as the kids chased us one more time down the street and out of Minoterie.

This time there were no, "Hey you's!" We know the kids in Minoterie; and they know us. They called us by name as we drove away toward Route 1 - and we called them by name right back.

Our flights back to Nashville were uneventful. Although I did catch a few people staring at how I was dressed. Looking down, I had to laugh. A morning's worth of fun and fellowship in Minoterie was enough to get me dirty - it must've seemed to other passengers that I'd walked straight down the mountains and onto the plane. What the people in Miami thought as I savored a steaming, Cuban café con leche while waiting for our Nashville flight, is anyone's guess.

As we cleared customs and ran to our new gate in Miami, I somehow inherited a new home.

Bildad's new house

Sometime during the week, Bildad had found this young kid selling the house above. It's made completely from cardboard and a little paint, and the detail is amazing. Recounting the sale, Bildad told me how this kid had told him he wanted to be an architect. The interesting thing about it is, the lad isn't even in school (yet). And, there really aren't any houses quite like this - at least that I've seen - in Haiti. There is a new generation growing up in Haiti today. And if they want you to give them anything, it's just a chance; just give them a chance.

Beyond this mountain...it's a new day in Haiti

Thank you God, for letting me be a part of what you are doing in the nation of Haiti. Thank you for the privilege of meeting Bildad, Nathanael, Israele, Frantzdy, Berdy (Jean Marie), Oswald, Daniel, Caleb, Michelete, Schneider, Ashley, David, and all of our new friends in Minoterie and in White House, TN. God I don't know what you have in store for me next. I just hope it includes a return trip to Minoterie.

Amen.

As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"

And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." 

And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
 - Acts 8:36-39

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 7

In the last Haiti blog (Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 6), I wrote of our visit to the Delmas children's prison in Port au Prince. And how we followed up that soul-wrenching experience with a walk through Minoterie and a visit with Berry-Jeanne...

Good morning, Berry-Jeanne

After our Monday evening devotion, I spent time in prayer and contemplation. The intimacy of our relationships was deepening with each passing day and I fully expected the next day - Tuesday - to be no different. 

Christy and friends in Minoterie

Keith, Ashley and friends at Berdy's house

I suspect most people don't like to visit hospitals. We go because our loved ones are there. Or maybe to accompany a friend as they visit someone. I really don't like going to hospitals so, on the whole, I was anticipating a very mixed reaction to our impending journey on Tuesday morning. I was thinking that we would walk into a ward, spend a few moments here and there with people who were struggling to regain their health, and then head back to Minoterie.

Before anything, we had a long drive ahead of us. Our route to the hospital took us through the heart of Port au Prince. We had to drop Bildad off downtown for a meeting with one of his relatives.

It's always market day in PaP

Marché de la Croix des Bossales

As we drove through the western side of Port au Prince, we passed one of the most amazing sights of our journey: the sprawling commercial complex that is the Marché de la Croix des Bossales. The Cross of Bossales Market covers roughly seventy thousand square meters. That is a little over three-quarters of a million square feet! It is a huge complex into which - if Internet articles are to be believed - over $2 million has been infused since 2010 in an effort to improve conditions and provide basic sanitation services.

Based on what I was told, the Marché de la Croix des Bossales sits in the same location as the original Haitian slave market. Today, it is the largest marketplace in Haiti, where all manner of goods and services can be obtained. Except slaves, that is. Thank the Lord.

Probably would not opt to stay here

Ben 10 has arrived in Haiti

One of the amazing things about Haiti - and indeed, about any country outside the United States - is how American culture finds its way around the world. Personally, I'm not so sure a lot of that is a great idea, but I was stumped as to the identity of the young man on the billboard above. I just thought it was a bit of an oddity, so I took the shot. Only after I returned did I discover that Ben 10 is a popular Cartoon Network hero-character.

Go figure.

I doubt it...

Just down the street from Ben 10 was the Eternal Father lotto store. I'm not going to claim to have the inside track on what God is up to these days, but I think it's a safe bet (pardon the pun) that He is not running a lotto network in Port au Prince. If you spend any time at all in Haiti, one thing you'll notice is that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit - the Trinity - feature prominently on everything from tap-taps to roadside supply depots.


It took us about two and one-half hours to wend our way through Port au Prince and complete our journey to the hospital, which lies west of the capital. As the traffic thinned to almost nothing, Bluebird slowed, then stopped, signaling our arrival at - what the sign announced as - the Sanatorium. 

After receiving the requisite permissions, Jean Justin backed Bluebird through the gate and reversed down a long, tree-covered access road. Apparently you just don't drive a bus forward into any driveway in Haiti. On our right as we backed in we saw a school complex, followed by the hospital quad.

A number of pre-fab buildings made up the hospital quad

These two men appeared to be serious friends

On the left-hand side of us, there were about twenty to twenty-five men and women sitting on chairs or standing by, waiting for our arrival. Once parked, our team leader gave us a quick briefing; we were actually visiting what Americans would refer to as a Hospice. To put it bluntly, we were advised that most, if not all, of the patients who were there had conditions that would - sooner or later - be terminal.

The folks who had come out to welcome us were those still healthy enough to get about alright. All of the other patients were in the prefab buildings we noticed when we drove in. Just as it can be a little awkward when you go to visit a friend in the hospital, it was no different here. To start off, we just spoke with them, introducing ourselves and letting them know where we were from. We also sang for them, which they seemed to enjoy (which means they didn't hear me singing).

After the singing, we wanted to offer whatever encouragement we might, so I was asked to read a short Bible passage and lead a prayer for them.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
 - Philippians 1:3-6 (ESV)

I chose the passage above because, to me, it speaks of the hope we all have in Jesus - He who began a good work in each of us. And here, as these good people faced the stark reality of their completion, we prayed that each of them would be received by Jesus on that day.

After praying, one of the Haitian women from Minoterie who traveled with us (I believe her name was Gerdy, but I am not completely sure on the spelling) stepped forward and talked to the patients gathered under the trees. Although she spoke in Creole, one of our translators softly filled us in on what she was saying.

As she spoke, Gerdy shared how she had become very ill some years before and how, when taken to the hospital, she had stopped breathing. Gerdy looked at each of the patients as she told them how the doctors were able to revive her thanks to the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

This really touched me because we spend so much time talking about our beliefs. But Gerdy shared the simple power of her faith in God. It surely didn't matter to these people whether she was a Baptist or Methodist or Catholic or whatever; all they heard - and saw in Gerdy's eyes - was an example of the healing power of God Almighty.

That's not to say that we were telling the patients that God would heal each of them. On the contrary; we all know how mysterious God's ways seem to us. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense at all.

In the book of Job, Zophar the Naamathite responds to Job's suffering with rebukes concerning the obvious state of Job's righteousness. However ultimately wrong Zophar's motivation and wisdom were, one thing he was correct about was the limitless measure of God's wisdom and power...

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.

 - Job 11:7-9 (ESV)

After Gerdy's testimony, we handed out small containers of sanitizer, shampoo and soap, along with toothbrushes and toothpaste for each patient. These seemed like small gifts that we could give, but we heard how many of the patients did not have even such simple things as this, and they let us know how much they appreciated them.

We also handed out hand-made greeting cards that the children in both Huntsville and White House had made before our trip. Each card had a picture of the child along with some encouraging words handwritten in Creole.

Children's greetings

Kelma sharing with one of the patients

Before we left for the ride back to Minoterie, we walked around the quad. We were asked not to go into the patient rooms but we could stand outside and talk with patients, as well as pray for them as we visited each small building.

A peaceful garden...

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.

 - Jesus (John 14:1-4 [ESV])

Our drive back to Minoterie was shorter than the outbound journey by an hour or so. This time, we did not pass through town, but along the outskirts of Port au Prince. We parked in front of Berdy's home and made sandwiches for lunch. Our midday meal was quiet; for my part, thinking about the all-too-fleeting moments we had shared with the hospital patients that morning.

After a short break, we moved the bus to a different spot in the village and several off us walked to a place nearby where we picked up trees that members of the team had purchased. We gathered back at the bus with our trees, then walked through Minoterie planting them in a yard here, a garden plot there. 

We chose places for the trees where there was some fence or other natural barrier, otherwise the goats will eat them before they can grow sufficiently to protect themselves. In all, we planted five mango, three lemon and two native shade trees. In each case the families who received the trees were very happy, eager to have us pray over each new addition, asking God's blessing on the fruit it would come to bear, as well as on their home.

Dye mon, gen mon; beyond the mountains, more mountains...

We returned late to the hotel, arriving after eight in the evening. We barely had time to wash up and grab dinner. After everyone had eaten, we met together for our final evening devotional. Tonight was the team's last night in Haiti and needless to say there were some emotional moments. Two things happened which surprised us all:

First, Nathanael, Berdy, Bildad, Israele and Frantzdy presented all of us with certificates of appreciation for the work that we had done this week on behalf of Prosperity of God ministries. Obviously, we did not (and do not) expect any recognition for the things we do on mission. However, we were humbled and honored to receive the thanks of these men who are on the Board of PoG yet worked and sweated right alongside us all week. If anyone should be given recognition, it is these hard working young men who live to support the community of Minoterie. They strive to educate themselves and the children, providing them an opportunity to become the future of Haiti.

True men of Haiti

Second, and eternally most important, Jean Justin, the man who had driven us all week joined us. This man is probably the best bus driver I have ever seen. He was able to carry us safely along the adventuresome roads of Haiti and maneuver big ol' Bluebird in and out of places I would hesitate to drive my little Saturn. After we gave Jean Justin a huge hand and many thanks for his awesome service throughout the week, he told us - through a translator - that he had something to say.

He spoke of sitting on the bus and quietly observing our activities. He spoke of how his heart was full of respect - and surprise - as he watched us with the children of Minoterie, the children in the prison, and the sick whom we had visited earlier that day. Although he knew the name of Jesus, he told us that this week was the first week he believed that he had seen Jesus at work - through us. We were all a little stunned. Finally, he told us that because of his experiences this week, he had felt the Holy Spirit move within his heart, and Jean Justin accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. 

God without borders...

Talk about amazing! We gathered around him and gave God thanks for Jean Justin's decision. We hugged, we laughed, we cried, and we prayed. We also urged the men from PoG to take up the responsibility - and the challenge - to teach Jean Justin and to guide him in the ways of the Lord.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

After all the incredible emotions of the day, we adjourned and headed to our rooms. Each of us had to pack and prepare so that we could leave early in the morning and spend our last hours in Minoterie. 

Sleep claimed us gently, with thoughts of angels rejoicing in heaven...


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Monday, July 14, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 6

"For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?
And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?"

 - Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:25-27)

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

 - Jesus Christ (John 14:27)

Despite knowing some of the most encouraging verses in the Bible concerning worry - and that we need not - I spent a significant amount of time Sunday evening and Monday morning fretting over our impending trip to the children's prison in Port au Prince.

I've lived in foreign lands a good portion of my life and know of some prisons that are not, to put it mildly, places you or I would want to be. Thinking back on discussions I'd had on previous trips to Haiti, I recalled being told that Haitian prisons were similar to those in biblical days. Not a pretty picture to contemplate ahead of our journey.

 There's that word 'education' again...

In case the picture is not clear, the sign reads, "Centre de Rééducation des Mineurs en Conflit avec la Loi". You probably don't have to be a native French speaker to figure out that the sign on the outside of Delmas Prison translated into English reads, "Center for Reeducation of Minors in Conflict with the Law".

We pulled up outside the imposing prison walls with a busload - a busload - of people. I've mentioned in previous blogs how encouraging it was that we were not on a give and go mission. We - the blancs - were not just parachuting in, dropping off needed and, no doubt, appreciated items, hugging a few necks and then hitting the road. Our mission with PoG in Minoterie was - and is - a partnership; a relationship. That is why there weren't just twelve of us on the bus that morning. The rest of the seats were filled with men and women from the village. As far as I could tell, none of them had sons or brothers in Delmas Prison, but like us, their hearts went out to these kids.

Without relationship, the building is empty

Allow me to digress for just a moment. We drove past the building in the picture above every day. It sits in the foothills west of Titanyen, abandoned. If you look closely, you can make out some small residences nearby and some livestock grazing. So why, you might ask, is this sturdy building abandoned?

Great question. Some years ago, a group of people arrived, built the building - which was originally purposed to be a church - and then left. Before leaving, they approached the local residents and proudly presented them with the building as a gift. However, the people who built the building did not involve the residents in the planning or construction of the building. They came, they built, they departed. To my knowledge the materials used in construction were not even procured locally. So the residents refused the gift, because they had no relationship with it.

This may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to us. In a country with such deep need as Haiti, how can they justify their decision? In Haiti, children will often come up to us and ask for things. To be honest, it can be a little irksome to hear a constant litany of, "Give me, give me, give me..."

But that is children. Are ours any different? The adults in Haiti want self-determination. They aren't asking for handouts. They want the opportunity to work and provide for their families. They want to contribute to Haiti - to build something they can be proud of and to show the world that no matter how many mountains there are, they can climb each one.

Visiting hours...if you speak French

On arrival at Delmas prison, Bildad left the bus and went inside the prison to speak with the staff. As you might imagine, they weren't going to just open the gates and let us drive in with the bus. Once Bildad returned, that is exactly what we did, backing Bluebird through the gates, between thick concrete walls, topped with razor wire, which looked to be at least thirty feet high or more.

After my fears of the night before, fears that stayed with me on the drive to Delmas, the reality of the prison was quite different. We had arrived with maybe forty people to visit the (mostly) young teens who had been arrested for any number of offenses. I was pleasantly surprised by the prison staff, who seemed genuinely happy that we had come to visit their charges. I was also impressed with the the cleanliness of the general areas - we did not go into the cells themselves. Kimberly, who is an attorney back in Tennessee, remarked that Delmas prison was much cleaner than just about any county lock-up she has seen in the States.

Last picture we were allowed to take

Once we filled out the visitor's log and emptied our pockets (no cameras, phones, etc. allowed inside), we walked through a labyrinth of passageways until we were ushered into what appeared to be a classroom. After asking, we were told that, yes, it was a classroom...that's where the Rééducation side of things comes in.

To our delight, we were able to organize a game of soccer against a team of older boys. We played five-a-side in a narrow courtyard surrounded by successively higher fences and walls, all topped with the ever-present razor wire. Other prisoners - boys, just like our own sons back home - were out playing with the basketballs we had brought along with us. Although you can't see me in the picture above, I'm the one holding the bag aloft filled with basketballs, American footballs and soccer balls we had brought with us for a recreation donation. Our group - sitting together with some boys who were not playing - cheered heartily as the game went on. With one of the guards acting as referee we played hard, but fair. Considering we played on concrete at a pretty high pace, we were fortunate to escape with only one injury - Bildad's brother Caleb turned his ankle; thankfully it wasn't too bad.

After the game ended, with the prison boys beating us by one goal, we went inside one of the cell blocks and Bildad spoke to a group of the boys who occupied two adjacent cells. After being outside it was hard to see just how many boys were in each cell, but they were full of bunk beds so I'd estimate perhaps twenty to thirty in each one. Bildad presented a tremendous message, emphasizing to the boys that they could change the direction in which their lives were heading, and also reminding them that they were the future of Haiti.

After speaking for a few minutes, Bildad asked if anyone would like to share their testimony with the boys. I was as surprised as anyone to look over and see my right hand in the air. Despite my misgivings of the night before, with God's help I was able to share with the boys how I came to know Jesus. I told them of my own childhood, my love for soccer, and how other things began to take precedence in my life.

I'm not going to share those things here...but I was very specific as I stood between the cells and spoke to them. Speaking through a translator I used words that they would understand and I remember thinking to myself that many of the things these Haitian boys struggle with, I struggled with as well when I was growing up. I talked them through the details of the night God extended his hand to me and how I responded. Then I prayed for them. Standing there between two large prison cells filled with young men desperately in need of a new life, God gave me the words that I dearly hope they were able to hear and understand.

Afterward, we walked to another cell block and spoke with more boys. This time with Kimberly, Bildad's American mom, sharing her testimony. We sang and prayed with the boys, thanking them for allowing us to come and visit with them. As we walked out, young boys were crowded against the windows, high up in the cell block walls - wire mesh with no glass or other covering - watching us leave. I don't know what led me to do it, but as I walked along under the windows, I raised both hands above my head and silently clapped them together.

Looking up, I could see them clapping back.

Anyone who has watched many soccer games will know that as players walk off the pitch (field), they applaud the fans, thanking them for the privilege of playing. I was thanking the boys for the privilege of letting me come to their field, for letting me play with them and letting me talk with them. And they, in the international language of soccer, were thanking me for coming.

We spent Monday afternoon in Minoterie. First, we took a break from our peanut butter and jelly to have lunch at a small, local restaurant.

The House of Toussaint

I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Eating native was not something we did a lot of and it wasn't really recommended.

Good eating, Haitian style

My fears were laid to rest as our plates were brought, full of simple but tasty fare. Fried chicken, with thinly sliced and fried plantain chips - as well as more traditional fried plantains - accompanied by various salads and rice. The  pièce de résistance for me was the iced grenadine juice, a thick, sweet, yellow concoction that was truly wonderful!

After lunch, most of us - accompanied by the ever-present entourage of children - walked the narrow, winding dirt paths of the village, talking with people, playing with kids, and ministering to two ladies in particular.

The first was a very young girl named Berry-Jean. She was born with a couple of huge challenges. One, and I'm not sure of the exact name, caused problems with the muscles along her spinal cord. I believe she also had some problems with swelling of her brain. Add to that the fact that her mother has passed away, and she was facing a tremendous day-to-day battle.

Amy and Berry-Jeanne

Berry-Jeanne with a therapy 'toy'

An aunt takes care of Berry-Jeanne but Amy, one of the ladies from White House, provides funds each month to help with the young girl's care. Despite spending most of her life in bed, Berry-Jeanne has a phenomenal smile and clearly enjoyed the time we were able to spend with her. What she did not know is how our time together was truly a blessing for us. Even now, two weeks later, I am not a little heart broken thinking about how tough life is for Berry-Jeanne, living inside a rough stone house with no ventilation. Looking at pictures of her radiant smile provides more of a glimpse of God to me than just about anything else I can think of.

Our second stop was to look in on Sister Mary, an elderly widow who relies on neighbors to care for her. We had brought a care package for the primary caregiver, a woman from the village who bathes Sister Mary and takes care of her for the most part. We stood talking with the woman and some other folks for awhile. Afterward, we looked in on Sister Mary who was sleeping, and someone asked if I would lead a prayer for her. We stood together outside her door, unable to all fit inside the small abode. I don't know how old Sister Mary is, but we asked God to bless her with comfort and healing; most of all we prayed that God would grant her peace.

One boat on a seemingly endless ocean...

Today had been the most emotional day in Haiti so far. And I mean of any of my visits to this island nation since 2010. As we gathered for our evening devotional, it wasn't difficult for any of the group to share something that had touched our hearts that day. God had showed us so much today. Where did we start? How could we get our heads - and hearts - around young boys in prison, baby girls without mothers who desperately need a mother's loving care, elderly women who survive because of a neighbor's kindness...

I knew the next day included a hospital visit...I just didn't realize exactly what kind of hospital.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 5

Our fifth day in Haiti provide us a bit of down time; by that I mean that we were not active in ministry work in the same way we were the rest of the week. As always, I started the day with prayer and Bible reading so I could hear God in the quiet of the dawn, and see His light begin to illuminate Creation. There is something amazing about watching the sun come up over the mountains of Haiti. I was - mostly - up early enough all week to see the stars still bright in the sky. Then, ever so slowly, the starlight would begin to dim as the Earth turned our little patch toward the sun. At the same time, the waves were rolling gently to the shore, as inexorable as the sunrise.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
 - Psalm 19:1-2

You alone are the LORD. 
You have made the heavens, 
The heaven of heavens with all their host, 
The earth and all that is on it, 
The seas and all that is in them. 
You give life to all of them 
And the heavenly host bows down before You.
 - Nehemiah 9:6

Sunrise and the ever-present fishermen

After breakfast, we boarded Bluebird and rode to Minoterie for church. One thing about church in Haiti, when you're visiting, there is no sneaking in the back and sitting down unnoticed. As guests, we are invited up front, people are moving to make room for us...it's all a little disconcerting. The term back-row Baptists wasn't coined for nothing.

Another thing about church in Haiti, they don't do it halfway. Because of our schedule of activities for the rest of the day, we could not stay for the entire service. Because of our travel time, we did not make the beginning of the service. In Haiti, church starts early and lets out late...when the body comes together to worship God on Sunday morning in Haiti, they WORSHIP God!

We were able to hear some excellent singing and one of our sponsor moms - Kimberly - addressed the congregation in Creole. This seemed to cause great delight amongst the Haitians. Especially when Kimberly would reference God, which in Creole, is Bondye. It is pronounced similarly to the French bon Dieu, which literally translated means good God. Think about that. In Creole, there is no need to put another adjective before the name of God because His name already means, good God!

In any case, Kimberly speaks Creole about a million times better than me, which is to say I can't speak it at all. And here she was addressing the church in their native language. But as she spoke, she would pause after the first syllable of God's name, "Bon...," and about half the congregation would finish in a loud falsetto, "Dye!"

Apparently, Kimberly's voice box goes up a couple of registers on the end of that word - she can't help it - and the Haitians find it...interesting. But come to think of it, if I wanted to be known for some weird thing I did, having people know me for saying God's name would be pretty cool. So, kudos to Kimberly!

The rest of the service - at least the parts we were able to stay for - included the wife of one of the church leaders preaching from Ezekiel chapter thirty-nine. I was able to catch this because, although I don't speak Creole, I do manage a little French, so I recognized the chapter and verse numbers and I peeked over at my neighbor's Creole Bible and saw that she was in the book of Ezekiel.

Note: The link for Ezekiel chapter thirty-nine above will take you to the English NASB translation. The link for Creole Bible will take you to the Creole translation of Ezekiel 39.

By late morning, we were making our way out of the church, bidding our adieus. The next part of the day was about to commence: a beach party for the recent graduates and their families at Kaliko Beach Club! We boarded the bus and made our rounds in the village, picking up our guests and hitting the road west. It took awhile to get everyone checked in but once that was completed, we had an awesome day with our Haitian friends and their families.

You might be asking yourself, what does a beach resort have to do with mission work? One of the things that touched my heart during our stay in Haiti this year was how deeply involved we were with the lives of Minoterie's people. We have team members who sponsor Haitian young men going to college in the States. We have team members who sponsor young men and women still attending school in Haiti. We have team members who provide whatever they can afford for special needs kids in the village - remember Berry Jean?

In short, the folks from Minoterie who we sponsored for a Sunday afternoon at the beach/pool weren't just being rewarded for completing their schooling - this ministry thrives on love and our team wanted to show them love through an awesome day of fun, food and fellowship. And since it's all about family in Haiti, we packed the bus!

While we waited for lunch to be prepared, most everyone hit the pool...

Tropical pool time!

In fact, if it weren't for lunch, I'm not sure some of the kids wold have gotten out of the pool all day.

Buffet lunch!

Kaliko put on a great buffet lunch for everyone. And we weren't the only people there so it took awhile to get everyone sat for their meal. Bildad, one of our Haitian college students and a leader in PoG, put his own hunger aside and started helping the Kaliko staff bus tables, seat guests, serve drinks...Bildad was everywhere and his help did not go unnoticed - or unappreciated - by the Kaliko team.

Kimberly has game!

Remember soccer? There was more than one soccer game played on the beach Sunday - heck, I even played. But, as you can see from the action shot above, Bildad's American mom, appears to know her way around a game of beach football!

You can't keep American moms down!

As the afternoon wore on, it was time to party American-style, with presents for the grads, snacks with poor nutritional value...you know...the good stuff! Frankly, I still don't know how we came by chocolate brownies but I know that several of the ladies brought nuts, trail mix, M & M's, and other goodies with them on the plane. 

Let the snacking begin!

Once all the presents had been given out and the snack table decimated, I think we spent about an hour on hugs and goodbyes. It had been an awesome day of fun and relaxation for everyone and we were so happy to be able to provide our Haitian family and friends this mini-vacation.

 Exhausted but happy crew

 
The sun sets on a great day in Haiti...

God gave us an awesome day Sunday. We were able to spend time with Him and His Haitian children. Each one of us established or deepened one or more relationships with someone from Minoterie. And those relationships would do nothing but help us as we continued to minister in the village.

We closed out the day with a team devotional, sharing things from our day that shined a light on God moments we had all experienced. We needed to hang on to those because the next day (Monday), we were bound for the children's prison in Port au Prince.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Haiti Mission 2014 - Day 4

I rose before dawn and offered myself as a living sacrifice. I am not holy, but I am acceptable to God. I'm sure I am not the only one who wonders why God doesn't speak directly to us anymore. I mean, God has spoken to me through His Holy Spirit, and He can speak to us through His word, the Bible. But I occasionally wonder what it would be like if God spoke to us in an Old Testament sort of way. You know, an Adam and Eve, Noah, Jonah, Abraham, Moses sort of way.

If we came across this today, we'd call the Fire Department

And therein lies one of the big problems we have with God. We want Him to do things our way. It's inconvenient that He wants to continue to speak to us in this obscure way that requires us to have a close, personal relationship with Him. We can't sit down in Starbucks and talk things out with Him over a latte; we can't invite him over to the house for tossed salad and lasagna and pepper Him with questions about all those crazy, confusing things in the Bible that - at least to us - don't make any sense.

God isn't on Facebook and He doesn't Tweet. Romans 12:1-2 says, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."

So, on our fourth day in Haiti, I did my best to present. And, what do you know? The sun rose from behind the mountains and shone across the land and the sea. I could breath, felt healthy and had a purpose for the day.

After breakfast, we boarded Bluebird and headed off to Minoterie. See, the thing about Haiti - and in reality the entire world - is that it won't bend to our will. It doesn't matter if we're Barack Obama or Bill Gates. The world happens - and we just live here.

As President, he can have beach hotels anywhere...

Although we didn't see the scene of the accident, traffic along Route National #1 backed up and came to a standstill. As you might expect, it's not the easiest thing in the world to do a one-eighty on a two-lane road with a large school bus. But our phenomenal driver, Jean Justin, managed it perfectly. We rode back the way we came for a few minutes then turned south toward the coast. Did I mention we had a stupendous driver? We certainly needed it because the side roads were taking were not much more than skinny dirt roads.

We took up the entire dirt road in Bluebird

Was, or is going to be a house...

Once we had successfully negotiated the back way to Minoterie, Saturday morning kicked off with a walk through a suburb of the village known as Blue City, a small community made up mostly of shanty-type dwellings which still employed a lot of tarp material…thus the name.

Working with Frantzdy, one of the recent graduates, and another man from the village, Wilkins, we invited Blue City residents to bring their shoes to us in a small area nearby so that we could clean and polish them. Although we weren't able to serve as many as we would have liked, it did give us the opportunity to spend time in a different part of the community and meet some new people.

Knew that Air Force training would come in handy someday

Christy working hard on Blue City shoes

Vickie had a tough job with some delicate footwear

Another bonus to our shoeshine ministry came from the fact that all the kids were pulling on my wrist bands and asking for them. I told the boys and girls I could not give the bands away, and asked if they would like to know why. When they said yes, with Frantzdy translating, I was able to talk with them about my faith in God, and outline His plan of salvation using the colors and words on the bands. After we finished with all the shoes, we had a time of prayer and, with all the kids in tow, headed back to Berdy's house.

Noir, Rouge, Bleu, Blanc, Vert, Jaune

Awesome kids!

Berdy explained to me that in Haiti, soccer is one of the most important aspects of life. They are mad for soccer. As we gathered for lunch, a small television came on in the front room of Berdy's home and many people materialized from out of nowhere to watch the Brazil vs Chile game. Since there wasn't much else to do with the ladies cooking for the feeding program we were leading a bit later, we sat with them and watched. Everyone was cheering for Brazil except for one young man, and he was teased in a good-natured way every time Brazil made a play.

Futbol, you bet!

One other note from lunch, I spent a good portion of my time holding a little girl named Ashley. She was the sweetest thing and she shared my love for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and smiling.

Hide and seek with Ashley (violet blouse) and friend

My first thought after the game, when the host nation (Brazil) finally won on penalty kicks, was how much different our world would be if everyone would get that excited about God. As the winning goal was scored, the room literally erupted. Fans young and old celebrated as if they had a personal stake in the victory. Isn't it ironic that every man, woman and child has a personal stake in the biggest victory of all time, yet we rarely celebrate it - even a little bit.

By the time the game was over, all the food was prepared and we loaded the bus with five huge basins, most holding rice mixed with beans, and one or two with an aromatic mixture of meat, vegetables and seasonings. We also loaded up several coolers with juice and then drove the bus around to the PoG school. We unloaded all the food and beverages into one classroom where a crew got to work getting ready to serve.

As children began to stream into the building, we played a few games and I was asked to share a Bible story while we waited for the servers to complete their set up and for all the kids to arrive and get settled. Christy had brought along a quilt stitched with panels depicting everything from creation to heaven, but for some reason I thought of Joseph and his life, so we used the quilt as Joseph's coat of many colors. Caleb played Joseph, Frantzdy was one of Joseph's brothers, Keith was the Midianite trader, Israele was Potiphar, and Bildad was Pharaoh. I recounted the majority of Joseph's life as illustrated in the Bible, with a young man - whose name escapes me - translating for the children.

Joseph kneels before Pharaoh

By the time we finished recounting Joseph's adventures, we had seated a lot of kids…we estimated there were about 450, many more than the 300-350 we had planned for. We established a serving line in the bucket brigade style and began serving. As the afternoon wore on, we began to run out of things, first plates, then spoons and finally - sadly - food. This was a crushing blow because we wanted to feed every child who came, but even with all the food we had prepared - none of the five basins could be lifted by one person - we still did not have enough.


Just a few of the many good people of Minoterie

Eventually, we were able to explain the situation to everyone and people made their way back home. There were a lot of mixed emotions as we cleaned up the school, ferried all the utensils and servers back to Berdy's home, and lastly made our own way home for the evening.

After dinner, still coming to grips with what had been a day of both joy and sadness, everyone gathered together for a group devotional time. Kelma, our fearless leader asked me to share what God had been highlighting for me and I read 1 Peter 3:15. We discussed this passage - one that God has really laid on my heart this year - we sang, and each of us shared what God had showed us that day. By the end, after everyone had talked - and many tears had been shed - God had brought us together in understanding that despite the food and plates and spoons all running out, despite the fact that there were some kids we could not feed, we had fed a lot of children - children who would not have eaten that day were able to eat a hot, nutritious meal.

With hearts still heavy for the kids we could not feed, we affirmed that we would all learn from our experiences and continue to try and do our best each day. That is really what God wants from us: our best, for Him, every day. And as long as we give Him that, we can have the peace that comes from knowing that we have given our all, and that the results will be up to Him.

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