Friday, March 24, 2017

Casting all Our Care Upon Him

March 23, 2017
8:00 p.m.
“Mom, what do we do? Do we keep thinking about them or do we try to forget?”
I look over at my oldest son and take a moment to gather my thoughts before responding.

I had arrived home in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 18, but although I had been travelling for 24 hours already, with only a few winks of sleep on the airplane, I couldn’t go straight to sleep. Instead, in the quiet stillness of our empty house I wandered around aimlessly. I had just come home from my first-ever short-term mission trip and suddenly I felt lost and confused.

What had particularly shaken me was when we had stopped to visit Anoud and Denise and their kids. In the seven years they had lived on our property in Haiti, they had become like family to us. Prior to us leaving Haiti, I had spent a lot of time worrying and praying about what would happen to them when we left and during that time I kept feeling like God was wanting me to give it over to Him, yet I struggled. Finally, it was time to leave and I had no other choice but to let them go.

When Jason returned to Haiti a few months later, I had the opportunity to video call with Denise and I was so thankful to see how well they were doing. Anoud had kept his job working at the house we lived in, and Denise had found new work and everyone was happy and healthy. Jason actually visited their new home and it was fun to see our old pictures hanging on their walls, and their kids playing with toys our boys had given them. Nicholas, their ten-year old son, proudly showed off a pair of roller skates he had gotten and was even whizzing around their house in them.

Now, almost 2 years later, things were a little different. Anoud, through circumstances beyond his control, had lost his job, and Denise was only working a few days a month. When Jason and I stopped in for a visit, we found them both home, including their youngest daughter, who was laying limply on a bed because she didn’t have the strength to go to school because she hadn’t eaten. 

Everything they once had, other than a few bare necessities had been sold for food, and the only food left in the whole house was a limp bunch of green onion. The paintings and pictures on the walls were gone, the toys were gone, the fans they used to own, even the blankets and pillows on their bed had all been sold. It was heartbreaking to see.

We had come with a huge food basket and ended up giving them money too, but it felt like only a temporary solution, as what they really wanted was work so they could provide for their family.

I honestly didn’t know how to respond and the one overwhelming feeling that kept boiling up inside was dismay.

Suddenly I felt shaken.

The word ‘shaken’ made me think of a song I sometimes listened to where one of the lyrics was We won’t be shaken.

I always had felt a little hesitant singing that song because it made me think of the words of Peter in Mark 14:29. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.  And we know how that turned out for him. Before the night was over he had denied Jesus three times.

But then, where did those words come from? I wondered. I found my answer in the book of Psalms.

I have set the Lord always before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Psalm 16:8

He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. Psalm 62:6

Reading those verses helped my understanding to grow. If we take our eyes off of God and instead focus on the circumstances around us we can quickly become dismayed and feel shaken. Peter was literally walking on water, but the moment he took his eyes off Jesus he became afraid and began to sink.  Matthew 14:22-33 So to keep from being shaken we need to set the Lord always before us.

So we know we need to look to God and trust Him, but the Bible also tells us we need to love and care for our neighbor. Mark 12:31b says: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, and Phil 2:4 says: Look not every man on his own things (interests), but every man also on the things of others.

My struggle however, was not my unwillingness to love or help, but rather with knowing how to help in the best way. I am so quick to come up with solutions and try desperately to control the outcome that I soon find myself stepping into God’s place. God warns about this in Isaiah 45:5a I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me:

I might stand alone on this, but I think often we make things so difficult for ourselves. Did you know that God has already before ordained the good works we are to do?

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

And how are we to know what they are?

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct Thy paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

Be careful (anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7  

Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 1 Peter 5:7

For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10  

After much prayer and giving over my burden of worry about Anoud and Denise and their family over to God, I felt Him directing me to message a friend regarding employment for them.

Silly me, was still surprised when she responded in the affirmative.

And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? (Jesus) Matthew 8:26

And now, after a week of struggling and praying and learning and turning to God for direction I have the answers to my son’s questions. 

“We don’t need to try to forget them, or have that burden pressing down on our hearts. Jesus tells us to come to Him and give Him our burdens.”

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

“And then as we pray and give our burdens to Him, He will teach us, and direct us, and show us, how to love our neighbours as ourselves and how to not only look out for our own interests but also the interests of others."

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Understanding Heart

March 15, 2017
9:18 a.m.

The caravan’s wheels lift off the ground and just like that we’re air bound. 

Looking out the window I enjoy my familiar bird’s eye view of the changing landscape beneath me.

As I settle in for the 35 minute flight from Grand Diable, located on Haiti’s North West tip, to Port au Prince, the country’s capital, I think about what the staff at Lemuel told us about their experiences after Hurricane Matthew.

When they went out to survey the damage the hurricane had caused they found houses damaged, sheep and goats killed, and many gardens and canals washed out or covered in layers of mud and rock.

Instead of immediately getting to work addressing what they thought were the people’s greatest needs they had a community meeting and asked the people themselves what they felt the most pressing needs were.

Instead of the expected response of “Our homes are damaged and in need of repair and our livestock has died and needs replenishing,” they almost unanimously asked that their gardens be unearthed and the canals bringing water from the mountains be dug out. “We can fix our homes and slowly replenish our life stock,” they said. “But our gardens are our source of food and income, and without them we have nothing!” 

So that’s what Lemuel focused on. They set up food for work, and cash for work, programs and then got the community involved in unearthing gardens and digging out canals.

As I mulled over this lesson they had shared with us, it again struck me how important it is to really listen.

Back at home I wondered what the Bible had to say about listening and understanding and these are some of the verses I found:

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them. (Proverbs 20:12)

When God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give thee. (1 Kings 3:5b) Solomon’s response was: Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart. (1 Kings 3:9a) In the next verse it says: And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. (1 Kings 3:10)

James, inspired by God, writes: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5) And further on: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak(James 1:19a)

And the wise King Solomon, inspired by God, wrote in the book of Proverbs:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Let us take these inspired words to heart.

Whatever situation we find ourselves in, let us take the time to listen and see and understand and ask God for wisdom and direction before moving forward.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Our Creator, God

Tuesday, March 14
5:48 p.m.
The pickup truck bounces and jolts as it makes its way over Haiti’s rough terrain.  

Inside the cab, I turn to one of the local Lemuel staff and question him in Creole about our last home visit.

Earlier that afternoon we had divided into three groups to visit the sick, elderly and those with special needs in the community. I was the translator for my group and although naturally reserved, I was loving my role!

It suddenly brought back memories of when I was a teenager, working in a hot greenhouse, my arms scratched and often bleeding from the sharp thorns on the rosebushes, daydreaming about what I would do when I grew up. I had finally decided that one of the coolest jobs, was to travel and work as a translator in a foreign country. Common sense soon led me to a much more practical field of study, namely, Business Administration, but now, more than fifteen years later, bumping along a deserted road in Haiti, it struck me how I was suddenly doing it! I was traveling and translating in a foreign country! What was even better than I had ever imagined was that the words I translated and shared were those of hope and encouragement as we visited and shared food provisions from God with those in need.

Mulling this over in my mind, I was reminded of the words of Psalm 37:3-4 Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

That night as I continued to think and contemplate, I was once again struck by the beauty of the stars sparkling overhead. What an incredible God we served!

In the days following as I continued to process everything I had seen and heard, both the good and really hard things, I read these words in Isaiah:

Isaiah 41:17-20
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Monday in the Village

March 13, 2017
 6:15 a.m.
I open my small backpack to make sure I have everything I need, only to have a cricket jump out at me and latch momentarily onto my face. I let out a small cry, then watch as it dive bombs back to earth. Not having the heart to kill it, I shoo it away and it quickly scurries under a cabinet.

“It’s time to wake up Jay!” I look back at the still sleeping form of my husband and wait for a response, before pushing open the wooden screen door. We’ve decided to eat breakfast later so we can head to the market before the sun gets too hot. Not only are we going to get a real cultural experience by exploring the market we are also riding donkeys to get there!

6:30 a.m.
The donkeys and their owners are waiting and we soon embark. 

The locals have a lot of fun laughing at us and after getting over our initial embarrassment we all enjoy the ride.

As we make our way the sun slowly rises, bathing the world in a golden glow.

7:15 a.m.
Although it’s still early the market is already in full swing.

We are quickly surrounded by funky odors, and a cacophony of sounds. 

Vendors vie for attention, trying to sell their wares, as livestock bellow in fear over their impending slaughter. Not wanting to be merely spectators we make purchases too. I enjoy the bartering, as there is very little opportunity for it in the first world.

Once we’re finished, one of Lemuel’s local staff shows us the devastation Hurricane Matthew caused in the area. 

It’s incredible to see how over a meter deep of earth has been washed away, and the little that is left of the numerous houses and buildings, where the waters rushed through.

8:30 a.m.
Lemuel’s one and only school bus picks us up to bring us back to the compound but we soon came to the conclusion that the donkeys are a much more reliable mode of transportation.

The first time the bus breaks down the clutch falls off, it runs out of fuel and there is no more water left in the radiator all at once. At least the road we break down on borders a deserted beach, so we take a little time to explore the area and collect shells.

It surprisingly does not take more than 15 minutes to have the bus running again, so off we go again.

We all let out a groan when not even 15 minutes later it once again rolls to a stop. 

We disembark and this time explore an area badly eroded by Hurricane Matthew. 8 minutes later we are on our way again.

After a quick breakfast the team gets to work putting up the new chain link fence. I take this time to write as many thoughts and impressions are swirling through my mind and I don’t want to forget them!

Lunch consists of a delicious meal of chicken, rice and beans and a turnip/potato salad.

After lunch the team heads over to the school to teach computer classes to the Grade 6 class. This is the first time for most of the students to ever touch a computer.

At 2:00 p.m., when school is out, we head to the school bus to catch a ride to the beach with the local teachers from the school. The bus also gives rides to some of the smaller kids who live further away so we all need to share seats as best as we can. Since Jason and I are some of the last ones to get on the bus there is only a partially empty back seat for us to share with a small boy about of about 5, the age of my middle son.

He looks tired and thin and has a small wound on his knee and bumps around his mouth. He is too shy to talk to us and keeps edging further and further away from us until his one leg is almost trapped between the seat and the side of the bus. As I discreetly study him I wonder what life is like for him. When he gets home, will his mother be waiting for him with a hug and snack, the way I wait for my son to come home from school? Will there be somewhere comfortable where he can relax for a while and play? Knowing a little of the harsh realities of the lives of many of the people here, my heart aches for him.

When the last child is dropped off we bump along until we reach a neglected beach. 

It is now a time to socialize and get to know the teachers better. We play games with them and splash in the ocean.

When the sun begins to set over the rocky cliffs dotted with cruel, yet exotic cacti, the wonder and beauty of the harsh climate strikes me.

How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, even thine altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
they will be still praising thee.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee;
in whose heart are the ways of them.
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well;
the rain also filleth the pools. 
Psalm 84:1-6

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Follow Him Closely

March 12, 2017
6:50 a.m.
Whir, whir, whir. I’m still in my deep sleep when my alarm goes off. Since we’ve lost an hour of sleep overnight due to the time change, my body protests. Slowly shifting, I turn until my toes hit the dusty floor. Outside the sun has not yet risen. The pre-dawn has its own unique beauty. I listen and watch as slowly creation around me awakens. As the sun rises, tropical birds sing in the trees and gekos rustle in the flowered bushes. 

Breakfast consists of Haitian coffee, homemade bread, locally made peanut butter, jam and honey, and hard-boiled eggs.

In church by 9:30 a.m., small children soon find spots on the benches beside us, eyeing us curiously.

The pre-service reading is from Psalm 46. The words come alive as I listen.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. 
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early. 
The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. 
Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. 
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. 
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.

The sermon is on Job 2. One of the question the pastor poses is 'how would we respond if God took everything from us?' Would our response be like Job’s? “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not received evil?” If everything was taken away from us, would the only One who couldn’t ever be taken away from us be enough for us? Would Christ be enough? 

At lunch time I ask the team to think of words to describe the church service. They come up with: lively, interactive, joyful, passionate, enthusiastic, welcoming, and accepting. It’s fun to hear their thoughts and observations even though they could not understand the language. 

That night, as we sit on the front porch of the church, I am struck by the brightness of the almost full moon. 

No light is needed outside because the moonlight is enough to light up the darkness. What particularly strikes me is the fact that the moon itself does not shine but simply reflects the sun’s light. It is a good reminder for me that in the same way we are to reflect Christ to others. 

Jesus says in John 8:12 I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. Later on in Matthew 5: 14-16 He says: Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. 

In order to reflect Jesus, we need to follow Him closely.

Saturday in the Village

March 11, 2017
6:50 a.m.
My cellphone alarm is whirring. I blindly reach for it and turn it off. It is time to get up! Still drowsy from my deep sleep I stumble out of bed and find my glasses. I push open the screened door of our bedroom and step outside. 

The sun is already rising over the horizon, bathing the compound with its golden glow. Outside roosters crow, donkeys bray, and birds chirp in the trees. It is another beautiful day! i walk to the outdoor gazebo for breakfast. 

After a tasty Haitian breakfast, Brad, a new staff member at Lemuel, gives us a tour of the compound. We visit the church, school, cafeteria, and kitchen. I am excited to see how much progress has been made since the last time I was here a few years ago! 

We then head over to Samuel’s trees, a reforestation project about a five minute walk from the compound. 

Our first job for the day is taking down a stick fence surrounding the property.

A fence is important to keep animals from eating the small trees, but goats and other animals have been getting through the stick fence so we hope to replace it with a chain link fence instead. As we start to dismantle the fence we are surprised to see it has been tied together with very narrow strips of rubber tire. Who would have thought to cut up tires and use them as rope? Our hands quickly turn completely black from the rubber.

10:15 a.m.
The sun continues to rise, burning brightly above us. Feeling faint from the heat, I take a quick break in the shade. The water in our bottles have warmed up, so it gives little relief from the heat. At 11:00 a.m. the team heads back to the compound to escape the hottest part of the day. We won’t begin working in the sun again till 2:00 p.m. since it’s not safe to work during the hottest part of the day.

Lunch consists of fried plantains, rice and beans, fish, and picklies (a Haitian coleslaw type 

At 2:00 p.m. we head back to the job site and start working on setting up the chain link fence. Discussions soon spark between our group and the Haitian crew we are working with on how to best set up the fence. The Haitian crew graciously lets us try it our way before we come to the realization that their way simply works better with the supplies we are working with and the conditions we are working in. This of course proves to be an interesting learning experience for all of us. 

At 4:30 p.m. we leave the work site and begin our home visits in the community. It is very interesting to meet the various families living in the community and hear their stories and see how they live.

Everyone we meet is very friendly and welcoming and many share their faith in God with us, and how they trust in Him to provide for them. “If God wills,” they say, “It is all in His hands.” 

There they were again. Two small words, yet their meanings are vast: faith and trust. 

“Help my faith and trust to grow more and more,” I silently pray. He gently reminds me of the words of Psalm 62:8. Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah

Saturday, March 11, 2017

In Haiti Again

March 10, 2017
3:3o a.m.
Even at this early hour, the city is alive. New York is known for this and has therefore been labelled ‘the city that never sleeps’.  The lineups for security inside the airport are enormous already, so I’m thankful we’ve given ourselves enough time before our flight to Port au Prince departs.

5:50 a.m.
On the airplane I take advantage of an empty seat beside me. Curling up, I quickly doze off. Two hours later I wake up to a stewardess offering water and hot tea. I switch with Jason and now let him have a turn to sleep.

9:25 a.m.
Jason is awake so I now move to the window seat. Our airplane is descending and I’m catching my first glimpses of Haiti. 

604 days have passed since I’ve seen her last. Looking down at the familiar landscape, feelings of home rush over me. It unsettles me. How can I feel at home in two different places? You’re not home yet, I remind myself, thinking of the familiar words of Phil 3:20 For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour our Lord Jesus Christ:

Understanding that we are pilgrims on this earth and don’t need to feel like we truly belong anywhere has been surprisingly comforting for me over the years. Yet, the familiarity of all that is Haiti draws me in as our airplane makes its final descent. It feels so good to be back!

Stepping out of the airport doors, my senses are quickly overwhelmed. The sun burns bright, a wave of humidity hits us, baggage handlers and taxi drivers vie for our attention and charcoal and diesel fumes attack my nostril. Greeting our faithful taxi bus driver DieJuste, I’m surprised how easily Creole words flow from my mouth. We quickly exit the capital city via the main road. Bombarded by the team members with a hundred questions about what they all see, I do my best to answer.

3 hours later, we make our first stop for lunch. We are driving up to Anse Rouge which will take us at least 5 hours. In a small oasis boutique hotel, we soak up the beauty of the Caribbean while munching on chicken sandwiches and fries. 

Needing to reach our destination before sunset, we do not linger long. Reaching Gonaives we switch from our minibus to an old-run down school bus.

The paved road quickly turns to dirt with deep ruts and awkward bumps. Palm trees are replaced by thorn bushes and cacti as we travel on to Haiti’s drought stricken north.

5 gallon water bottles roll at our feet as the lose bus seats jar and occasionally throw us completely off balance. Waves of dry soil and filth pour through the windows and we soon sport dust tans. Thankful that my sunglasses are keeping most of the dust out of my contact lenses, I simply enjoy the ride.

The sun begins to set as we barrel on and I marvel at its great beauty once again. 

Picking up speed we race along to reach the compound before it is completely dark. We cheer when it is finally in sight. The Lemuel staff is there to greet us and it is fun to get re-acquainted.

After a dinner of pumpkin soup and bread we gather together for a quick team meeting before stumbling our way to bed. Bedtime routines take a little longer as we learn how to work oil lamps, bucket showers and latrines.

That night, brushing a stray bug off my pillow, I fall asleep in seconds.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New York City

March 9, 2017
6:30 a.m.
The sun is rising as we begin our initial descent into New York. Feeling its warmth and bathed in its light I pop open sleepy eyes and slip on my glasses. In awe of the bright glowing orange ball of fire steadily climbing up over the horizon all thoughts of sleep quickly dissipate.  Below us, New York City slowly appears. Its giant high rises, arching so proudly against the sky, look tiny and toy-like from above. It reminds me of the words of Psalm 8: When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?

7:30 a.m.
I shiver in the cold and wrap my blanket tighter around my legs as we wait for our hotel shuttle bus to pick us up. After walking through a maze of hallways, moving walkways, and taking a subway, we are finally waiting on a metal bench outside the airport for our hotel shuttle to pick us up. Although the sun is up it’s still low on the horizon and its warmth has not yet reached the inner recesses of the airports' concrete structures. 

When we finally arrive at our modest accommodations we quickly drop off our luggage in our rooms and head back up to the lobby area for our free breakfast. My watch, still on B.C. time, says its 5:52 a.m.  but in New York it’s almost 9:00 a.m.. Since our flight to Port au Prince doesn’t leave for another 21 hours we have some time to explore the city. 

Our first stop of the day is the subway which takes us all the way across the city. 

The subway is crowded and full of interesting sights and smells. Personal spaces bubbles are quickly encroached upon as more and more people embark. 

Running late for our tour due to technical difficulties on the subway we are forced to run through the city to the docks to reach our scheduled ferry. Although we don’t quite make it on time, the ferry runs at regular intervals so we can get right on to the next one. 

Once embarked, I find a spot at the bow and enjoy the exhilarating feel of the cold wind blasting my body. Struggling to hold on to the railing, I still manage to take beautiful photos of the Statue of Liberty. 

We disembark on both Statten Island and Ellis and enjoy the various sights and smells and learning some of the immigration history the islands’ museums have to offer.

Our next stops include the Word Trade Centre memorials, Observatory, Central Park and Times Square. 

By the time we are done it’s nearing 10:00 p.m. and our bodies, especially our legs, which have put on many miles, are barely co-operating. We quickly shower and fall into bed. Tomorrow morning will come much to soon as we need to be up before 3:00 a.m..