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Friday, June 28, 2013

I choose to be...

...a Christian? A politician? An artist? A Buddhist? A teacher? A police officer? A fire fighter? A Muslim? A writer? A soccer player? A business leader? A Deist?

Yesterday's post regarding my reaction to Nancy Pelosi's comments concerning the so-called war on women got me thinking. Actually, I've been thinking about this off and on for a while now; I just haven't felt ready to articulate those thoughts. I'm probably still not ready, but here goes.

Regular visitors who have read any amount of my musings here at the Stream of Consciousness have seen my account - my faith story - my testimony - how I came to be in a personal relationship with God. One thing I've noticed is that there are some differences between Christians who have been Christians for almost as long as they can remember and folks like me. And by that I mean people who lived a significant part of their lives separated from God. I suspect I'll have to go down that rabbit hole in a blog someday - just not today.

It's not that I didn't hear the names God or Jesus during those years; it's more that I did not pay them any attention, and when I did, it wasn't in a way that I am very proud of. So how did I move from not caring about God to caring deeply about Him? In short, there were two different things that contributed to me entering into a saving relationship with Jesus:

1. Seeking: I don't particular care for this term as it relates to looking for God. Contrary to popular opinion, God isn't hiding from us. The seeking I did was more along the lines of me looking for Him because I had lost my way and needed to find Him - but I don't believe He had ever moved. I also don't care for this term when it's coupled with the idea that God is different for everyone; like there are some infinite number of gods that we can choose from and we just have to seek and find the one that is right for us.

Is god red, shiny and really fast?

My official seeking took the form of just living my life and being around people here and there - my wife, my mother-in-law, a colleague at work - who talked about God and Jesus. Sometimes I would just listen; sometimes I would enter into discussion about a particular comment or topic that came up. Other times I would go away, later pondering what was said.

I had the good fortune to live abroad for twelve or thirteen years of my life, both during childhood and as an adult. I have lived in England and in the Middle East. I traveled extensively on the Arabian peninsula and was also able to visit several African countries, Thailand and India. During those years I spoke to many people about their faith or lack thereof. As you might imagine from that life experience, I had a very broad pallet of beliefs I could have chosen from.

2. Deciding: Both of these terms are slippery and can mean different things for different folks. When someone says, "I've decided to be a Christian," that sounds a little to me like saying, "I'll have the veal." Deciding is the end result of seeking. If I was looking for a new car and had an unlimited budget, I might very well decide to purchase that Ferrari up there once I had explored all the various automotive options available to me. I've always had a thing for Ferrari, ever since being at Formula 1 race tracks in Europe as a kid.

Don't get me wrong, there is a decision point that occurs when someone becomes a Christian. For me though, it was more of a choice than a decision. I clearly heard God calling me to accept that Jesus did what He did for me, and that I needed to make a choice - a decision - to accept Him as my Savior.

Choose wisely

Or not. At that moment, to coin a cheesy line - a moment frozen in time - I had to receive God's free gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. 

So who is God? 

Maybe the reason that people believe in so many gods is that God manifests himself differently depending upon each of our unique situations. Back in the day, the words, "Religion is a crutch," came out of my mouth on more than one occasion. But when you get right down to it, what is the purpose of anyone making a choice to believe in God?

The purpose for buying a car is to have transportation, a means of conveyance to get us from point A to point B to point C and back again. But as humans, we load up the basic need for transportation with all sorts of personal baggage: style, color, performance, roominess, comfort, cost, etc. Buying a car has progressed way beyond meeting a need and has become a matter of personal taste (and budget).

Unfortunately, I think that in our world God has also progressed way beyond meeting a need and become a matter of personal taste. Think about that for a moment. If you have any inkling that there may be an omnipotent, creator-God who loves you, do you believe that He is just going to sit back and let you decide what or who God is?

This is one huge (bankrupt) crutch

I can't choose what you believe. Personally, I think for each and every one of us there is a need for salvation. That need is foundational to my belief in God and the atoning work of Jesus Christ. If there isn't a need for salvation then what Jesus did becomes meaningless. If there isn't a need for salvation then all the religions of the world - all the faith of billions of people - become like so many Ferrari - nice, but ultimately meaningless. 

However, if there is a need for salvation, your faith decision is not something you will want to put off for too long. It's not about republican or democrat, or this church and that church; it's about a personal decision between you and God. No one can make the decision for you. You have to choose.

Choose wisely.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

We're at war with women

I must have missed it. Somewhere in the last half century, America - more specifically conservative America -  has declared war on women. I know this particular blog will likely not win me many friends but I can't help but say something.

I have friends on both sides of the fabled aisle, referring to how democrats and republicans sit on opposite sides of the house and senate. The cool thing about friends though, is that you can express an opinion to them and while they may not agree with you, most of the time they don't rush to burn you at the stake. After today I might have to resign myself to a few less Christmas cards or Facebook friends.

Speaking of which, I happened across a conservative friend's post on Facebook this morning. The source was a website that democrats would assume is run by bald, fat, white men in bib overalls, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon while driving around in their pick-up trucks shooting small animals with their over-sized collection of banned assault rifles.

Okay, so I couldn't actually find a picture of any bald, fat, white men in bib overalls, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon while driving around in their pick-up trucks shooting small animals but I'm guessing some liberals would just assume that these two guys have pick-up trucks and beer and guns in a common location somewhere...

I try to stay away from the wild-eyed Pat Buchanan-loving websites so I went in search of corroborative evidence - since the aforementioned conservative post claimed that our current House Minority Leader had responded in a public interview - and it was her comments that started me down this rabbit hole to begin with.

DISCLAIMER: No rabbits were harmed in the writing of this blog. There were no pick-up trucks, cheap beer or banned weapons used during the production of this free speech.

Where was I? So I found an article on what I assume is a more left-leaning website The article was entitled House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Warns The War On Women Isn’t Over, and sure enough, it included many of the same quotes that the darned conservative article had highlighted; only without all the crazy pictures of Nancy Pelosi. Maybe it's just me, but if you're denigrating someone for being a name-calling, ignorant knucklehead, doing it by being a name-calling, ignorant knucklehead kind of takes the shine off, if you know what I mean.

I'm sure Madam Pelosi is a fine, upstanding American, but here's where it gets ugly. This article (see above) is the second time in as many weeks where I've heard (or read) Madam Pelosi state in no uncertain terms that her Catholic faith has no bearing on her position regarding abortion. To cherry pick from the Think Progress interview - and I quote:
  1. "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) blasted the GOP’s continued assault on reproductive rights in an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress on Saturday."
  2. "So this is the fight. It’s a fight on family planning, contraception, as well as terminating a pregnancy and without having adequate protections for women in case of rape or incest, life of the mother. It’s so hypocritical."
  3. "My faith is about, Christ is my savior, the church is his church, and has nothing to do with Priests for Life…I wouldn't even dignify whatever it is they said. It was a highly emotional statement that they made. If it were more intellectual I might have paid attention to it. He was acting hysterically."
To respond as simply as I can:
  1. Using the term reproductive rights in a discussion about a person's right to choose to kill a human baby is - among other things - an oxymoron.
  2. No, the fight is about preventing the unnecessary killing of human babies.
  3. It is possible to be intellectual about God. But our relationship with Jesus - and by our I mean the collective church - is granted solely by God's grace through our individual faith. However, that individual faith does not allow for us to self-determine what constitutes morality. The only hysterical thing about this is that Madam Pelosi believes she can somehow justify killing babies before God.
At the risk of being sarcastic, good luck with that.

Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, while teaching on things that constitute loving our neighbor as ourselves, "The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

Another teaching of Jesus (perhaps more appropriate for Madam Pelosi) begins in Luke 9:46 - "An argument started among them as to which of them might be the greatest. But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great.”"

I'm not a woman, and to many that disqualifies me from speaking out on women's issues. However, I am a follower of Jesus Christ - a sinful, stumbling, try-again-today believer in the death and resurrection of our Savior. And that qualifies me to speak up and chastise Madam Pelosi in this instance.

Madam, this is America; and you are free to voice your opinion and you are free to believe whatever you choose to believe. If the law of the land allows abortion and you agree with that, you certainly have every right to do so. But when you step across the line of faith and profess to stand with Christ you must align yourself with Him. You can't have it both ways.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

En français, s'il vous plaît

I should have paid more attention in school. I took French for four years: two in the UK during junior high school and two in high school back in the States. I must have shown some promise because during my last year they put me in the Advanced French class.

Ah, Paris...

Alas, I was a knucklehead as a young man and did not seize the opportunity. In fact, me and my best friend John - the one who said his father was in the CIA - conspired to cheat the system. You see, our teacher was a Canadian lady, one of only two female teachers in the entire school. Did I mention I attended military school? Anyway, she looked to be about eighty years old and resembled what you might think of today as one of those cat ladies. You know, the ones the neighbors call the police on because there are hundreds of mewling cats next door?

I can no longer recall the poor woman's name, but being Canadian, she could surely speak French.

In any case, Advanced French requires a lot of conversation, so our teacher would pair us off and each duo would engage in witty French repartee. Except for John and I. As our crazy cat lady teacher would circle the room listening to each conversation and offering praise or suggestions for improvement, John and I would engage in witty English repartee - using outrageous French accents.

"Soooo, Jean, what'ar we do-eng zis week-en?"

"Je ne sais pas, peut-être nous pouvons chasser les chats."

You see, as the teacher would get closer to us, we would have to lapse into actual French so as not to get into trouble, or worse, fail the class.

Which is, of course, the root of my embarrassment today. Obviously we knew enough French to actually converse when we had to, but we were just too darn lazy. If only...

Fast forward thirty-plus years and I'm driving to work this morning listening to conversational French CDs in my car.

"Why?" you might ask.

They speak French here, too

Anyone who has the dubious distinction of reading my blog will know that I have been to Haiti in 2010 and 2011 and am blessed to be able to return to this island nation on July 6th. While the Lingua Franca of Haiti is Creole, most everyone there speaks French thanks to - as history tells us - a parade of despotic French colonists. I still haven't quite figured out how Haitians feel about the French today. They teach French in school and the language of their former masters seems to sit quite comfortably alongside the more relaxed Creole dialect. It's a bit strange. I suppose one day I will have an opportunity to discuss these things with some of the more patient people there; those who will tolerate this curious American.

Anyway, I'm driving to work this morning and I reached the end of disc four, which had been droning on about banks and hotels and post offices and money machines - les distributeurs automatique -  none of which will likely come up in conversation while on a mission trip. But one thing I have noticed: I actually recall more French than you might think I would, given my sordid history in the classroom.

In the past I have lived in the Middle East, traveling to Lebanon and the like. I've also traveled in Europe, passing through France and Switzerland a few times. So I've had an opportunity to at least hear the language being spoken. Ninety-five percent of the time I had no clue what people were saying but I can still greet you in French and ask how your cat is doing.

But what struck me as funny this morning was when disc four flipped back to the beginning and the accordion music started.

I'm not sure what's going on with that. I suppose it's just something to put the listener/learner in the mood to learn French. Nothing says, "French!" like accordion music, right? I didn't spend a lot of money on my language course. I know I'm not going to be fluent anytime soon. But I'm also not likely to go out and buy up all the French Accordion compilations either.

The lady in the car in front of me had been checking me out in her mirror - I suppose she was trying to figure out who I was talking to. When I burst out laughing at the accordion music, she sped up and changed lanes.

C'est la vie!


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Are the stars out tonight?

One of the questionable benefits of having a dog in the family is getting to experience the low temperature of the day when you take him or her outside at oh-dark-thirty. Since moving to northern Alabama I have discovered a more positive benefit of being outside in the (often moist) early morning darkness: the vivid and panoramic view of the pre-dawn star field.

I tend to look south and west, as those directions are first in view as I walk into the back yard. In the south are two star patterns that look (to me) just like a big and little dipper. Apparently my future does not lie in astronomy because after doing a little research, the stars we group together and call the Big and Little Dippers are in the northern sky, and move in a westerly direction as we enter the summer months.

The Big Dipper here is huge in the sky...

One of the the thoughts that always runs through my mind when I look at the stars is, "How did they all get where the are?"

That is usually followed by, "My brain hurts thinking about how everything moves around in the Universe - much less just our own little corner of it here in the Milky Way - and how did ancient sailors, shepherds and such figure it all out?"

"Hmm, that's unusual."

It's usually around Christmas (or Halloween if you're in retail) when everyone jumps on the Bethlehem shepherd bandwagon. But the questions above do tend to answer themselves if I think about it long enough. Before the advent of electricity, Google maps, even GPS, people traveling long distances had to figure out how to get from point A to point B. I'm guessing that if you were someone that spent their entire life in a field or on the ocean, you wiled away most nights looking at the stars. Eventually, you would begin to notice patterns and clusters that looked like certain, familiar things and that these things moved across the sky in a certain, predictable way, depending on what time of year it was.

Beginning in Luke 2:8, the Bible tells how an Angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds outside Bethlehem and announced the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew Chapter 2 explains how three wise men (magi) came to Jerusalem following a star, in search of the Messiah.

The magi would have been very familiar with the normal star constellations so one which was unusual would have certainly been noteworthy. It's tough to believe that three men renowned for their wisdom and knowledge would wander hundreds of miles to Jerusalem on a whim.

They were certainly wise enough to figure out what King Herod was up to and take a different route home.

I guess my point - despite the apt name of this blog - is that we see two groups of men who would have had vast knowledge of astronomical movements - the shepherds likely from a lifetime of observation and the magi, who would have studied the constellations more formally - and both were completely convinced of the information imparted:

A Savior had been born.

Two thousand years later, other so-called learned men have debunked these historic events as flights of fancy and myth. But where is their proof? Modern astronomers still argue over the veracity of the Star of Bethlehem. Some hold forth evidence that such an occurrence could absolutely have appeared in the 1st century sky. Others say hogwash. The fact is, we weren't there and while we can postulate all we want, we do have one text that clearly recounts the events and does not contradict itself.

Don't wait until Christmas to wonder at the coming of the Messiah. He is alive now. His earthly birth is an amazing and important event, but it's his second birth that has enormous and everlasting implications for all of us.

What do you think?


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Watch this space!

All work and no play makes Xanthorpe a dull boy.

I am within shouting distance of 30,000 lifetime page views here at The Stream. That may not seem like much to those hard core, professional bloggers out there, but it's a big deal to me.

I'll be working on posting my usual interesting fare - although more of it - as we all keep an excited eye on that blog-dometer up there. First off will likely be some thoughts on our upcoming trip to Haiti. Life is pretty busy between now and an early-July departure but I'll do my blog-best to put up something(s) of note.

Of course, where God is concerned, it's all good!

All I can say is:


Monday, June 17, 2013

I'll be back

I haven't had a lot of time to blog in the last couple of months. I won't bore you with my whiny excuses. It is what it is. When I do blog, I try to be interesting, informative and thought-provoking. I'm not above using certain key-words, catch phrases or tantalizing titles in an effort to stimulate readership. Sorry. I'm a writer. Part of being a writer is liking it when other people read your stuff.

That said, I found it ironic that after such a long layoff, my first post back is entitled, "I'm Leaving..." while the very next post (this one) is entitled, "I'll be back".

I didn't plan it that way; it just worked out.

In 1984, James Cameron directed a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger called The Terminator. Arnold played a cybernetic being from the future who had returned to the past in order to kill Sarah Connor, who would eventually be the mother of John Connor, who would eventually lead the resistance against the rise of the machines in the future…where The Terminator came from to…

Where do I take the driver's test?

You get the idea – all these time travel movies are confusing anyway. One of the most famous lines from the film was Arnold’s iconic, “I’ll be back.” If you've watched any of the Terminator films, you know that the machine is relentless; no matter what happened to it, it kept to its mission – its program. The first scene where the line, “I’ll be back,” is used is in a police station. The Terminator has been going around killing everyone in the city named Sarah Connor. He had tracked the right Sarah Connor to a police station. He went inside, asked the desk sergeant if he could see her because he was a friend. The desk sergeant looks up, gives him a busy bureaucrat answer and says if he wants to wait, there’s a bench right over there he can sit on.

Arnold looks around, analyzes the structure of the cage the desk sergeant is sitting in, then he leans forward and says, “I’ll be back.”

The desk sergeant doesn't even look up. A minute or so later, Arnold drives a speeding car through the front doors of the police station and through the sergeant’s cage, he gets out amidst the wreckage and starts shooting everyone in sight, with the single-minded purpose of completing his mission: killing Sarah Connor.

What is your single-minded purpose each day?

I'd like to talk to more people about being a Christian. Unlike a lot of my peers at church, my salvation experience is relatively recent (2001). For me, it’s hard sometimes to start each day with the thought, “I am going to do exactly what Jesus asks me to do today.”

The Terminator had a mission. He had a program that was very simple: Kill Sarah Connor. As Christians, we sometimes find it difficult to know exactly what Jesus wants us to do each day, because we don’t always hear from Him directly. We can’t sit down at the breakfast table with Jesus or carpool to work with Jesus or sit in the cubicle next to Jesus and just lean over and say, “What do I do in this situation?”

Don’t we have a program too?

Actually, we can carpool with Jesus – our program is called The Bible, and with audio Bibles, (reputable) radio teachers and other methods, we can review our instructions every single day.

Let’s look at a few specific directives Jesus gave us (Emphasis from

  1. Matthew 4:10 - Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”
  2. Matthew 14:16 - But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!”
  3. Matthew 18:22 - Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
  5. Mark 12:17 - And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they were amazed at Him.
  6. Luke 10:37 - And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”
  7. John 14:3 - “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
  8. John 14:23 - Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.
  9. John 20:21 - So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
  10. Matthew 28:19-20 - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

These are just a small sampling of direct quotes from Jesus in the New Testament wherein He is giving us – people who are living today – specific instructions. Think of them as lines of code in our daily program.

I was filling in as our small group teacher this week and our object verses were 1 John 2:28-29.

One thing I've noticed in our study of 1 John is that the Apostle John repeats himself a lot. I kind of wondered about that until I really started unpacking what he was trying to say. John was writing to believers in the early church. I surmise that John's purpose was somewhat similar to a computer program: he was reinforcing the original teachings that the church had been given so that believers would not be led astray. John used repetition and compare/contrast among other teaching strategies.

John wasn't trying to brainwash anyone - his audience were already believers - he was working to reinforce their faith so that the church would survive and the believer's faith would endure into the future. In 1 John 2:28, John urges his audience to abide in Jesus.

What does that mean?

  1. 1 John 2:5-6 – John teaches that abiding in Christ is synonymous with knowing him; having a personal relationship with him
  2. John 15:4-7 – Jesus gave us this illustration of Him being the vine and us being the branches. Without the vine, it is impossible for branches to bear fruit
  3. Revelation 6:15-17 – Many things were revealed to John during his prophetic experience on Patmos. These verses paint the picture of those who do not abide in Jesus and what their reaction will be upon his return.

I don't quote Revelation 6:15-17 as a hammer; so many people are turned off by the idea that God would take vengeance on those who do not believe in Him. My purpose for this blog is not to stand on a virtual street corner and shout anyone into Hell. I am simply looking at the context of what John is teaching in 1 John 2 and exploring the context of that instruction.

In a sense 1 John 2:28 is a microcosm – a small yet complete example – of what the New Testament is about after the Gospel is complete. The end of 1 John 2:28 reinforces how John does not – and God does not – want us, as believers, to be ashamed at the time of Jesus’ return. We've learned about all of the false gospels that were springing up during the time that John lived. Then and now, these false gospels pull believers away from the deep and abiding relationship that we forge with Jesus at the moment we receive His gift of salvation and make Him Lord over our lives.

In 1 John 2:29, John urges us to practice righteousness; what does it mean to practice righteousness?

The verses that we went through above are a good start. Being obedient to the instructions – the program – of Jesus looks like righteousness to me. Have you ever known someone in church (or who attended church regularly) who you just knew was a born-again believer only to find out that they were there serving, being kind, loving the children, helping others, etc. without having accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior?  The thing is, without salvation, we can be as righteous as we can humanly try to be and yet, we will not be seen by God as righteous.
  1. Philippians 1:9-11 - verse 11 clearly indicates that we cannot come into righteousness by our own power; it is something that must be received through/from Jesus
  2. Matthew 5:20
  3. Romans 10:10

So what does all this have to do with The Terminator? The Apostle John is trying to remind those early believers - and us - that we can't just sleepwalk through life. We can't just have a mountaintop experience with Jesus and then coast down the other side until either we die or He returns. Just as The Terminator was relentlessly purposeful in carrying out his instructions, so should we be equally purposeful in carrying out ours.

What do you think?


Thursday, June 13, 2013

I'm leaving...

...on a jet plane. And more and more, I rue the fact that I will be back again. For the third time since 2010, I have the privilege and pleasure of traveling to Haiti on a short-term mission. Regulars at The Stream may recall these blogs I've written about previous trips to Haiti:

  1. Not about Tim Tebow
  2. Recalculating
  3. Jezi se Wa!
  4. But the greatest of these...
I'll be about where the 'U' is...

I leave in a few weeks and I'm alternating between joy and sadness. My beautiful bride was supposed to accompany our team from Wall Highway Baptist Church (Madison, AL) this year for her first trip to Haiti. Two rotator cuff surgeries and ongoing physical therapy have unfortunately scuppered that opportunity. 

And then my heart leaps with joy because I am blessed to be able to return to this small, island nation whose people are still in such dire need. If you have a few moments to read the blogs I've linked to above, you will see what I mean. But nothing reveals the reality of day-to-day struggle in Haiti like being there. 

This trip is much different than my previous two journeys because as yet, I have no real idea what we will be doing when we get there. We know that we are working with Mission of Hope and that a number of things will likely be in the picture. One thing I'm excited about is talking with MoH about their new Sports Complex project in Titanyen. People who know me know that no matter how bald and out of shape I am, I will ALWAYS be up for soccer (football to the rest of the world).

Soccer is the national sport of Haiti and it appears MoH is planning to build a sports complex as yet another great way to minister to the people of Haiti. I am All In on that if I get a chance to serve!

The picture above was taken during our 2011 mission in Aux Cayes. It is truly amazing what a few crayons will do for the smile of a child (and a grown up) in Haiti. The Haitian people are a wonderful, melodic, and creative nation. It's hard to put into words what it means to them for people like me to just show up, hang out with them, help them, provide some basics for them, love on them and whatever else we can do during the short time we are blessed to be there.

We leave in the first week of July and I will make a shameless plea for last-minute donations. Just about anything you can think of, we need. I have had great success ministering to the boys (and men) of Haiti through soccer. I would love to take a Jozy Altidore USA soccer jersey to leave with someone, along with a number of decent balls, and an air pump. Other key items are crayons (we need hundreds), coloring sheets (individual sheets like the one picture above - only not colored yet of course!), and age-and-content appropriate books (for every age group from pre-K all the way up to high school).

We can even take down care packages for the permanent staff at MoH. As someone who spent more than 10 years living in the Middle East, I can tell you how special it is to be living in a foreign country and receive a gift from home - even if it's just a jar of Nutella!

If you would like to donate, please email me and I will give you more details on how you can make a difference in the lives of the men, women and children in Haiti!

Thank you!