Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Photo Credit: Emily Brown

Yesterday I realized that Easter was a day away and I had not painted eggs yet. I have no use for the Easter Bunny, but painting eggs is one of my favorite Easter traditions. Whether or not it has anything to do with the holiday, I like making gingerbread houses for Christmas and painting eggs for Easter.

“I wish I had some egg dye,” I thought. I wished I had had the foresight to ask someone to bring some down. But then I remembered that I had acrylic paints. Why not? I thought. So I pulled out some brushes and the acrylic paint performed brilliantly. It was way better than egg dye. Loved it! I’m going to use acrylic paints every year. There were so many more possibilities with it. And when we peeled and ate the eggs, the color had not penetrated to the egg white at all like some egg dyes do.

The eggs I decorated

We had Easter dinner at Club Indigo, so we all got a filling, delectable meal after church. How kind Jesus is to us, to give us such beautiful and unexpected treats. 

Photo Credit: Emily Brown

Photo Credit: Ryan Vandepanne

Photo Credit: Ryan Vandepanne

Photo Credit: Emily Brown

Photo Credit: Emily Brown

My roommate Emily and I also did a little photoshoot in our Easter dresses on the roof of the creche. I love the view of the banana fields and the mountains.

Photo Credit: Emily Brown

What a good day! 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Black Spiky Bits In My Foot

Today Emily and I had a day off! We had an interesting and fruitful trip to the market in the morning, and in the afternoon, we decided to go down to a neighboring mission and sit on the beach. I brought my Kindle and expected to have a short swim and a long, delicious read.

We got in the water and set off for the end point of a jetty built of large rocks that was on the right side of the swimming area. As we swam, the wind was blowing right in our faces, and the waves were crashing into us head on. It was a bit difficult to reach our destination, and before we got there, I started feeling the fact that I had had a plate of beans and rice and a Coca Cola just minutes before. Bad idea...

So when we reached the rocks, I said to Emily, "I'm just going to climb onto the rocks and sit here for a minute."

I put my hand out and touched the nearest rock. I started to put my right foot down on another rock.

"Ouch!" I yelped. I had stepped on a sea urchin, and now, nine black tips of its spines were lodged in my foot, letting out their painful poison.

My black-dotted foot, and the point at the end of the jetty where I stepped on the sea urchin

We headed back for the shore immediately, and I limped out of the water. As I got out, I saw that I also had a huge laceration from a jellyfish on my thigh, but my foot hurt so bad I couldn't even feel the jellyfish sting.

I sat on a rock and sent Emily to go ask the people at the mission if sea urchin encounters were dangerous to one's health. It hurt so bad I wanted to cry, and the hurt wasn't letting up.

Emily came back and said that the Haitians told her the best thing to do would be to soak it in pee. I gave a great burst of laughter. "I should do that, just to be able to say that I soaked my foot in pee in Haiti," I said. But as I sat there, it already started to feel better, so I said to Emily that we might as well read and relax for a little longer before we went home.

Emily found a dead sea urchin on the beach that we used as a prop

While we were sitting there, a woman named Angie came up and met us, and we had a lovely and significant conversation with her. It seemed such a God-ordained time--and it probably wouldn't have happened if I wasn't sitting there with a sea urchin problem in my foot.

About an hour later, one of the Haitians came and picked out all the spikes from my foot with the point of a safety pin. By the time I walked home, I could barely feel it, so there didn't seem to be any need to resorting to such drastic measures as soaking my foot in the yellow liquid.

So that's the story of me surviving a sea urchin sting!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Birth of a Preschool by God's Grace

My job title has expanded. I am now developing a preschool program, teaching it, and doing teacher training for others who will be involved in it.

The preschool house has always daunted me ever since I got here. Until this week, I still didn't even know all the preschoolers' names. I was aware that there was a great need for someone to invest in them, but I was completely absorbed in my work with the school-age children and didn't see how I could also do preschool. I saw many people try to take on the work of teaching them, and everyone ran into major obstacles. It just seemed so hard to do anything with them.

Well, God is great, because He opened the way for me to add this role into my schedule. I will not be working as much with the school-aged children for the time being, but they also have a Haitian teacher, who is incredibly competent and helpful with them, and I myself will still have 1 1/2 hours with the older kids each day.

I look back and realize, "Wow, preschool came to life this past week!" It was last weekend that I was assigned this new role, and by Thursday we were teaching and implementing our new structure with them. I also look back and realize that last week was the same week that we were the most "pressed above measure" with extra chores, because the generator went out and we didn't have power, so we were carrying water and just generally overwhelmed with the workload of just cooking, cleaning, and laundry.

I look back and say, "HOW did that happen?" I don't even know.

Yet His grace is ALWAYS greater than our need. So He chose to maximize His glory by causing this huge, daunting project to come to life in the very hardest, busiest week that didn't seem to have a crack of time for ministry in it.

God is glorious. I serve a majestic, sovereign, mighty King! What a privilege to walk in His ways!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A rat in my room


I heard the trap spring shut. And then--

Squeak! Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

What in the world? He didn't die! I thought to myself. He must be a big one. 

It was 2:30 in the morning, and I was in the shower. I had gone to bed hours earlier, but I was still lying there, too hot and sweaty to fall asleep. I didn't want to bother to get up, strike a match, light my lantern, and go solve the problem by dousing myself with cold water.

Then I heard it.

Munch, munch, munch.

The sounds of chewing brought my senses to full alert. That rat is back again, I thought. I'm going to set the trap. I had just bought a rat trap in Port-au-Prince, because I had been having problems with my little nightly visitor, but I hadn't had a chance to set it yet.

I got up and lit the lantern. Of course the rat silently fled, so I didn't get a sight of him. I looked around, and sure enough, there was a neat little bite taken out of one of my fruits.

I grabbed the trap, opened my food tote and pulled out the peanut butter. Too lazy to get a spoon or something, I used my finger and wiped some of it over the little bait spot. Then, without thinking, I put my finger in my mouth and licked the rest of the peanut butter off. Horror struck me as it dawned on me what I had just done. Good thing this was a brand-new trap, I thought. I had better never, ever, ever do that again.

I set the trap carefully and put it near the spot where the rat usually visited. Then, since I was already awake, I figured I might as well get in the shower.

That's why I was in the shower at 2:30 in the morning when the rat trap sprang.

I was drying myself off and I heard him thrashing around the room, giving vociferous cries and squeaks.

What in the world? I thought. He's going to get away with my trap!

I also wondered how Emily was doing. She is my roommate and has just arrived in Haiti. She must be freaking out, I thought. Alone in the dark with a wild, frenzied rat. I wish I was at least there in the room with her.

A knock came on the door. I heard Emily's voice. "The rat got caught," she said. "Yes, I heard," I replied. Well, at least she wasn't afraid to get out of bed and walk across the floor, I thought. Her voice sounded pretty calm, too. A new respect sprang up for my new missionary family member.

As soon as I could, I exited the shower and came back to my room to investigate. Everything was quiet. Was he gone or dead?

Photo Credit: Emily Brown

There he was, upside down, and quite dead.


Photo Credit: Emily Brown
I put on a pair of rubber gloves and picked up the trap. Emily grabbed her camera and followed me out the front door. I posed for a couple of pictures and then gingerly opened the trap. The rat fell with a thud onto the ground. I picked him up by the tail and launched him over the wall as far as I could into the banana field.


He was gone.

We did it.

And then we went back to bed and slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Haitian Church

Finally! After being in Haiti all this time, I got to attend a Haitian church.

I piled into the van with the rest of the school-age kids from the creche. We drove into Montrouis and turned down the little side road where they sell the bread. Just past a pump where people were filling up dozens of buckets, we stopped the van and walked down a footpath to the church.

The church meets in a half-finished building. The concrete walls form a structure that promises to be beautiful, with arched windows and a high roof--only the windows aren't put in yet and there is no roof. The metal braces that form the rooflines are covered with a large tarp tha,t used to be a US billboard. The words "Emergency Services" and a huge phone number are visible. However, wind and/or exposure to the elements have ripped this tarp from some of its moorings, so it no longer goes over the whole roof but droops down in several places, allowing the sun to shine in. I kept looking up at the blue sky visible above me and marveling at the many different kinds of green leaves I could see--palm fronds, mango leaves, and many others I couldn't identify.

There were a number of wooden benches set up along the shadiest wall in the church, and as we piled in with our huge group of kids, people were very accommodating to make room for us. The church was full. People were dressed in their best, and each person carried his or her own Bible and songbook.

There was no electricity. The church had no instruments, but people sang in parts, and sang heartily and beautifully. The preacher had to compete with someone just outside the walls who was knocking stones together to break them into smaller pieces, and with a hog that was squealing loudly. I was pleased at being able to understand most of the main points of the sermon.

During the announcement time, a man got up and said a few things. A lady behind us stood up and stated her name and where she was from. Then the man made eye contact with me and gave an encouraging smile.

"I think they're asking all the first-time visitors to stand," I said to Shane (one of my fellow missionaries), who was sitting beside me.

We looked at each other, confused because we really didn't understand, and didn't want to do it wrong. What if it was something totally different? Then we would be standing up and making ourselves conspicuous. The man at the front repeated what he had said and gave another encouraging smile our way. I asked a woman sitting next to us, and she said we should stand, so up we stood.

Was that enough? Did they just want us to stand, or were we supposed to give a longer speech? Everyone seemed to be waiting expectantly.

"Bonjou," I said, a little weakly. What was I supposed to say?

"Bonjou," the entire congregation responded.

They still seemed to be waiting expectantly.

"Am I supposed to tell our names?" I asked the friendly lady next to us.

"Yes," she said, "And a little bit about you."

So in Creole, I told our names and said that we worked at the creche, and then sat down.

The church service in general was very organized and reverent and traditional. The people seemed very serious, except for one little boy in the front row who kept busting dance moves and then looking back at me to see if I was duly appreciating them. I smiled at him, and he would always give a huge smile back.

Afterward, several people greeted me, and it was good to connect with other members of the community.

Then we went home. They kept piling children, children, and more children in the van, way more than on the way to church, because they had brought them in two loads, but now they wanted to take them home in one load. I said to Memen that Shane and I could walk home if she didn't think there was room for us. "I think we have room," she said. She kept directing traffic, cramming more and more people into this 12-passenger van, and finally succeeded in getting two seats open for Shane and I to sit. Then our laps were filled with children and she continued filling the rows ahead of us. When we finally took off, I counted. The van had 35 people in it. And then they turned on the heat. One of the girls was right next to the register, and sweat was rolling down her face. They didn't know how to work the switches to turn on the AC in the back, but after a general protest, they finally just turned it off altogether, which was a welcome relief.

All in all, it was a fun day! I hope I can go back! But maybe I'll make arrangements to walk home...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

You're Not Allowed To Be Needy

Needy People (1) 

We went to the store in Saint Marc the other day, and while we were there, word went around that a vehicle with white people had just come up to the store. When we came out with our purchases, there were a ton of women with babies, all with their hands out, all demanding that we give them something.

It felt horrible to be so accosted, just because we were white and just because we were coming out of "the store." How could they understand how delicate our own financial situation was, how carefully we had to manage our own resources, and how fully each of us had to trust God for the food that we ate? To them we just looked like rich people, because we were driving a car and buying things with debit cards.

It also felt horrible to not give them anything when we knew they truly were hungry. If we had started giving anything out, we would have been mobbed, and our car would have been marked for next time as a car that gives things away, and so next time we would have been mobbed as soon as we drove up.

We drove away, and for the next few days, I was filled with a sense of the unpleasantness of it all. One side of me was preparing retorts that I wished I had had the presence of mind to say at the time, like, "Yeah, you have one baby to feed. Try providing for 180," or "Do you have any idea how many days in a row I have had to eat peanut butter and jelly?" The other side of me was grieved at the condition of the people, and I was frustrated by the knowledge that I really did not know how to deal with it in my own soul.

Overarching it all, though, was an annoyance that I had to deal with it at all. "Why can't they just go away and leave us alone?" I wondered. "Why do they have to come up and bother us?"

Needy People (2)

The kids have picked our front porch as their favorite place to play. They play there until it is time to go to bed, and the air is filled with shouts and laughter and the normal sounds of play. Balls and toy cars roll back and forth, and games of tag produce shrieks of excitement. Most of all, though, the kids just want to be near us. They want to be noticed. "Look! Look!" "Do you see?" "Watch this!" They crave attention. They want love. They want us.

Usually I am right in the thick of everything, with a crowd of kids around me, but one night, at the end of a particularly intense day, I just wanted to go away and be by myself. I hid in the house. Still, the noisy chatter echoing just through the doorway started to grate on my senses. I didn't really know what I wanted, but part of me seemed to be yearning and longing for something, and part of me wanted to cry, and part of me was restless and unable to enjoy reading or any other activity I could think of. I was accosted by thoughts like, "I never want to have children as long as I live," and "I can't wait to go home." Again, that annoyance came back to me. "Why can't they just go away and leave us alone?" I thought. "Can't they pick a different place to play?"

(I hate to admit to the world that I have experienced these awful thoughts, but there they are, in all their ugliness.)

You're Not Allowed to Be Needy!

I think the puzzling aspect in common between these two stories is that (1) I am usually abundantly generous and (2) I usually love children. Yet in these two cases, I experienced great annoyance that someone would presume on my generosity or my love of children and expect me to give it.

Is it human nature, or is it just me?--to discover that I am happy to give (of myself or my money), but only as long as you don't come across as too needy or too demanding.

"I'll give to you," I seem to say, "but only if you're not needy. You're not allowed to be needy. Once you start to be needy, I will begin to withdraw from you."

I will buy you lunch if you're my friend, and I won't even expect you to buy me lunch in return, but if there's any hint that you are going to sap my resources and suck me dry, I probably won't buy you lunch even once.

I will play with children and be a "big sister" with all my heart, but when I'm expected to be mom, um, that's an investment of time and energy that I shrink away from.

I will give you attention and show you love, but when you start to act like your world revolves around me, that's not okay, and I will run the other direction.

But God doesn't say to be a cheerful giver only to the ones who are "not needy."

In fact, he cautions against giving to the rich. He specially highlights the widow and orphan (society's neediest) for our attention. He doesn't offer caveats like "minister only to the deserving poor" or "love the ones who don't have Reactive Attachment Disorder."

So What Am I Supposed to Do?

Good question. I'm still asking Him for wisdom on that one.

But some answers have come.

Timothy Keller, in his book, Ministries of Mercy, traces the source and origin of poverty to the fall, and highlights the fact that all of us are needy. We ourselves are recipients of mercy. His insights into what the Bible says about the poor smote me to the heart and caused me to repent of my supercilious attitude towards the women in outside the store in Saint Marc. No more did I wish to have a ready retort for them. How can I show them mercy instead? If I have nothing to give, I can at least mirror Peter and John's approach ("Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee...") How can I impart the love of Jesus, even in this kind of encounter? (And how do I avoid the equally egregious pitfall of saying, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," without giving them what is needful for the body?)

Unlimited Resources 

In withdrawing from those who are needy, I tend to excuse it as a survival mechanism or a self-defense technique, using language to myself like "parasite" or "sapped" or "burned out." I tell myself I "need space," I look at the benefits of "recharging," and I consider it isn't wrong to leave a person to God and not always consider myself God's answer to that person's need.

True, true.

But this kind of thinking reveals a perspective of limited resources. I only have so much money, time, energy, and reserve before I need to replenish.

What if I looked at everything from the perspective of unlimited resources?

God has unlimited resources. All of us are needy before Him. We are always crying, coming to Him, needing His aid. He never turns us away with an annoyed look and says, "No, you're too needy right now. You're not allowed to be needy." He has merciful, bountiful care for all of the needy people in the world at the same time. He never runs out of love, patience, attention, or wisdom to attend to our needs. He always has enough resources to provide the supplies we need, even when we are like little leeches on Him, sucking, sucking, sucking, and never giving back. He freely gives grace, finances, strength, and peace.

Do I, or do I not, have the mind of Christ?

Scripture says that I do.

Then my mind ought to be equally disposed give to the needy around me.

How does God give? Does He worry that He will run out? Does He question whether the person is worthy? (The answer would always be no, wouldn't it?) Does He look at how many times that same person has been needy in the past and has applied to him for aid? Does He experience a rising feeling of panic that He will never be able to get away from this needy person if He once starts to give?


So how can I practically enter into accessing God's unlimited resources for the needy people around me?

For starters, I can recognize that I walk in obedience. For everything God has called me to do, I can expect Him to supply out of the bottomless aquifer. The women begging outside the store are perhaps outside my call to obedience, unless God specifically prompts me to give in a certain instance (which He has done before, and which I have heeded). In any case, I can expect God to provide for them with or without using me as a tool to give them something. I need not feel annoyed that they beg, but rather love them and feel compassion that circumstances have compelled them to resort to begging.

Secondly, I can confidently and fearlessly spend myself wherever God calls me to do so. I can offer myself a living sacrifice and go all the way down into death if need be, if God should so desire. I need not attempt to keep a "reserve store" of energy or love or funds, because I have discovered that as I draw from His supply, He constantly replenishes that supply as much and as often as needed. My supplies ran out long ago. Everything I have is from Him. The children who surround me every day are the calling that God has currently given me. If I look to Him for the love and kindness that I spend on them, I need not ever feel annoyed at their neediness or sense that I have run out of anything to give them.


The next time I am tempted to protest, "You're not allowed to be needy!" I can stop and reconsider, and change my story to, "I'm not allowed to be the judge of your neediness--I will obediently and cheerfully follow God into whatever He calls me to do for you."

The key is God's call. I could start looking around and seeing neediness all around me, and it would be overwhelming, even should the entire world try to invest in relieving the needs. The only variable on my end is obedience. I must look up, not around, and merely obey, not try to invent ways for myself to be heroic and save the world. God has already done everything needful to achieve that. I simply enter into His initiatives, and when that involves giving to the needy (which it frequently will), I can freely and bountifully do so because of His power working in me.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Granola Bars

It's terrible how covetous one gets for food when in Haiti. Among ourselves, we call it worshiping the belly god, and we fight it off as much as we can. So I try not to give in too much to it, and to be content with the food that God gives me, even if it means lots of beans and rice or peanut butter and jelly.

But the other day, I had an immense craving for granola bars. "Lord, could you just...somehow bring me some granola bars?" I prayed. And my unstated thought was, "I wish I could have more granola bars than I could ever eat! I wish I could have a whole mountain of granola bars!" But I quickly identified that thought as catering to the "belly god," and forthwith pushed it down.

Well.... of course, God hears our thoughts, even the ones we immediately endeavor to "unthink," and this time, in a move reminiscent of showering one of his other servants with bananas, He just decided to show off what He could do.

A group came down this past week, bearing a duffle bag loaded with granola bars. The guy who bought them said he cleaned off the shelves at Target.

A week after we all had feasted on these granola bars, I decided it would be fun to count them and divide them into ziploc bags by the different flavors. So here is the tally as of this morning (and remember, this total was initially much greater by an unidentified amount!):

 5 - Fiber, Almond & Dark Chocolate
 7 - Fiber, Oats, & Chocolate
 7 - Clif Crunch Chocolate Chip
 9 - Clif Crunch White Chocolate Macadamia Nut
12 - Strawberry
12 - Mixed Berry
13 - Apple Cinnamon
13 - Banana Fudge Filled
14 - Chocolate Fudge Filled
14 - Dipped Chocolate Chip
15 - Blueberry
21 - Fiber, Oats, & Peanut Butter
21 - Fruit & Nut
24 - Boxes of Raisins
24 - Packs of Extra Butter Microwave Popcorn

Total: 211

You have to admit--that's a mountain of granola bars.

Thank you, God!