March 29, 2010

Life Off the Mountaintop

It’s hard to believe I haven’t written here for over two weeks. This morning I woke up and thought, It’s time to get back.

Last time I shared about my trip to Haiti. In the past weeks I’ve talked about it, written about it, thought about it and put people to sleep showing them pictures from it.

Let’s just say I am still a little—okay, more than a little—affected by the trip. There is a spot in my heart that burns with love for the Haitians we met and wants more than anything to go back. People have noticed—and not always in a good way. A friend said to me, “You’re holding onto Haiti like a blanket…like life will never be that good again.”

Besides thinking to myself, Boy, that was pretty darn rude! I considered the question.

Am I?

Yes, Christine, Bob and I talk nonstop about Haiti when we’re together. We discuss the latest news from Camp Hope. We ponder plans for the future. We yearn to return.

But do I really think life will never get better again? Am I stuck living in the past? The bigger question looming is: what will I do with this mountaintop experience?

During the Transfiguration Peter, John and James experienced the glory of God in a dazzling display (Matthew 17:1-11). Their spirits danced with excitement. They wanted to stay on the mountaintop and savor the experience. But shortly after, Jesus led them off the mountain and into the valley. Back to the chaos and needs of every day life. Back to the people who needed Him. It wasn’t even until years later that the three fully understood what they’d witnessed and what it meant to their lives.

Yes, I want to stay on the mountaintop of Haiti. I want to talk about it and look at pictures. But I know that if that is all that I got out of the trip, I missed the point.

God did not take me (or any who went) there so we could hold onto and remain stuck in the experience. It was but one chapter, albeit a glorious one, of the story He’s writing on our hearts. What this chapter means to the rest of the story remains to be seen.

Haiti was a gift. Not to hold onto, but to share, use and multiply. I want it to alter my actions and attitudes. Inspire my activities. Ignite my passion. Enrich my relationships. Soften my heart. And sharpen my vision and hearing for the cry of God’s people—whether they’re across the globe or down the street.

I think that someday God will allow me to return to Camp Hope, but for now I know He’s called me to do His work here at home among my friends, family, church and community. And I will do so with passion and praise.

It’s a challenge put before each of us—What do we do with our mountaintop experiences? Will we even follow our Lord there in the first place? Once there, will we set up camp or will we follow Him back down to the valley with hearts rewritten to love and serve in His name?

For me, all I want is to hear his voice and have the courage to follow.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)

March 12, 2010

Haiti and Me - Part 2

I have so many other things I should be doing right now, but I just can’t get away from Haiti. I don’t know why I feel so sad today, but I do. My thoughts are there. My heart is there. My fingers feel compelled to tap away on the keyboard to get it out.

I mentioned in my last post that Haiti wasn’t what I expected. Keep in mind that I saw a very small part of the earthquake situation. Haiti is still very much in crisis. The rubble in Port-au-Prince will take years to clear away before they can even start to rebuild. Hundreds of thousands are homeless. Needs far exceed the help available. Haiti very much needs our support for years to come.

But in my small slice of this desperately poor country, I saw hope. On a remote, arid acreage I saw the birthing of a community guided by the loving and capable hands of the American Refugee Committee and specifically one amazing young woman named Leah Elliott. At 28 years old, Leah has seen and done far more than most of us will do in a lifetime.

She flew to Haiti from a camp she ran in Rwanda. She came on a UN flight days after the earthquake and hasn’t left since. She doesn’t go home at night to a comfy bed, running water or cable TV. She sleeps in one of the tents right alongside the refugees (technically they’re internally displaced people or IDPs). Every day Leah works tirelessly to collaborate with other aid agencies, guides the camp community to run smoothly, and looks to build a future for the residents of this camp, Camp Hope.

Today I received an email from Leah and she said they’re looking to rebuild the local school across the road from the camp. Ideally they’ll expand the school to accommodate both the town and camp children. They’re also looking to support teacher fees and materials for the students (uniforms, books, supplies, etc.). She wrote, “I think it is an exciting project that will make a lasting change in the community — both camp and Fonds-Parisien.”

Exciting indeed! How awesome this is. Please lift Leah and this project up to God’s capable hands.

As I wrote last time, there was much I expected to see in Haiti and I didn’t. But what surprised me most was what I didn’t expect. Love.

For me Haiti was about the love between people. Between an army of international volunteers and the residents of a devastated country. Between our Foundation for Peace colleagues. Between our security guards and cooks. Between the eight of us volunteers on our team. And most of all between all of us and the Haitian residents in Camp Hope.

Haiti was about Jude. Junior. Eben. Guyenson. Jessica. Agate. Marcellus. Francoise. Patrick. Lovely. Lucsum. Jean. Ehock. Robinson. Valentin. Nadege. Manite. Paul. Beniel. Dave. It was about the newborn babies, born since the earthquake. And it was about all the others, especially the children, whose names I forget or never knew.

Their faces flash through my mind like an endless slide show. I see their smiles and hear their laughter. I feel the little ones grabbing for my hands as I walked through camp. I see the way their faces light up when I call out greetings in my broken Creole/French. (I’m pretty sure I murdered both languages, but they accepted me nonetheless.)

Haiti cracked open my hardened heart. An earthquake devastated a country but being there crumbled the concrete walls around my heart. In Ezekiel God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26) In Haiti, God did that for me.

From the Haitians I learned about faith. Even though, by our standards they have nothing, they praise God for what they do have instead of cursing Him for what they don’t. They have an enduring spirit that shines brightly and perseveres. Isn’t it strange we traveled far from the “blessings” of America only to experience blessings far more precious and long-lasting?

At night, in the house we stayed at in Jimani, we’d gather for worship—Americans, Dominicans and some of our new Haitian friends. On our last evening we enthusiastically sang the newly-learned Haitian and Dominican songs. We clapped, prayed and even danced a little. At one point Valentin, a truly remarkable man from Port-au-Prince, started to sing in Creole. Soon the Dominicans started singing in Spanish. Then us Americans joined in and sang in English.

Three languages lifted together in praise to our mighty God. Over and over we sang. While we couldn’t all speak to one another without a translator, the Holy Spirit translated our offering into the sweetest worship I’ve ever experienced. All any of us could say was, “Wow!”

Haiti is in my heart. I am a better person—a changed person—from the experience. I pray for Camp Hope and our Haitian friends daily and hope I see them again this side of heaven. For now I treasure our time together and trust that, while I didn’t accomplish heroic feats, just showing up to love and be loved in the name of Jesus is enough.

As Mother Theresa said, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Enjoy the pictures. (I have 1,283 more if you want to stop by and see them!)

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ” (Philippians 1:6)

Be blessed and be a blessing,

March 10, 2010

Haiti and Me - Part 1

Haiti was not what I expected.

I expected to witness a medical crisis.

The Good Samaritan hospital complex on the border in the Dominican Republic where Foundation for Peace relief teams stay had become a major trauma centers for quake victims. In the weeks prior to our arrival thousands of patients crowded its hallways; flowed through its operating rooms for amputations, external fixators, wound care and skin graphs; and recovered in tents on its grounds. Too many took their last breath there.

Teams of medical professionals from all over the US and the world came to volunteer. Helicopters regularly landed on the grounds of Good Samaritan to airlift patients to and from area trauma “centers.”Healthy family members pitched in and helped as they could. Some acted as translators.

Tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic are deep and long lasting. The DR had played the good neighbor long enough and they wanted all the patients back in Haiti. By the time we arrived in Jimani the last patient was being transported from the hospital. The complex was eerily vacant with little clues for the traumatic scenes that transpired only weeks before.

 (Click here to see a newly-produced video of the hospital in action during the early weeks. It's awesome.)

I expected to see physical devastation.

But we worked far enough east of Port-au-Prince that the earthquake hadn’t affected that area directly. All the buildings I saw were intact. It seemed people went about their day-to-day business. Markets at the border bustled with people selling and buying all types of wares.

I expected despair and discouragement.

The refugee camp where we worked during the day—American Refugee Committee’s (ARC) Camp Hope in Fond Parisien—holds over 500 people who live in tents (many donated by Eddie Bauer!)—some with families, some all alone. Most are post medical and have healed, or are healing, from the injuries they sustained in the earthquake. The more serious cases and the amputees are still in a medical camp—Love a Child—down the road.

The people in Camp Hope are starting to reclaim a sense of normalcy. A community committee has been formed so that the Haitians are running the day-to-day of their camp. Workers from camp and from town are being paid to dig latrine trenches, dig wells, build, repair and teach. Newly-bored wells provide safe water to drink, cook with and wash with. Four tents serve as classrooms and the children go to school each day. One tent houses a a medical clinic where volunteer doctors and nurses attend to waiting patients. Nurses even travel through the camp to make sure those with more serious injuries are receiving proper follow-up care.

Plans are being made by outside agencies involved with Camp Hope to provide cooking areas and more permanent structures for the refugees to live in. I sense this camp will become a model for other tent communities scattered all over Haiti.

If Haiti wasn't what I expected, what was it to me? You’ll have to come back tomorrow for more of the story.

To be continued…

March 9, 2010

The Hard Facts About God: Understanding What We Believe

Hello my sisters and brothers! Thanks be to God for a wonderful trip to Haiti. I have more to say than words can express and have struggled to write a cohesive story. Hopefully by tomorrow clarity will come. I have a feeling you'll be hearing about Haiti and its people for a while to come. 

Thanks for your wonderful comments and prayers while I was away. And thanks for your support of Dan's takeover of the blog. He's a far better writer than I and I, for one, was thrilled to read his writings. Although he got bit by the stats monster and swears his life can't handle the stress of a blog!

As a saving grace for my lack of writing, I have a devotional running over at Exemplify Online.Here's an excerpt. I hope you click over to read it in its entirety. 

The Hard Facts About God...

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

“Mom, did ya know no one’s ever seen a black hole?”

“Really? I had no idea,” I said.

My son is learning about space at school. He comes home excitedly talking about never-ending black holes and nebulas shaped like butterflies and gases that travel 4,000 feet per second. His enthusiasm is contagious and I find myself pondering the wonders and vastness of space with him.

He is, and always has been, an asker of “why?” and “how come?” But when he asks me the hows and whys of the heavens, my non-Nova watching, Stephen Hawking-reading self weakly replies, “Go ask your father.” The quest for the understanding of space, and the search for its beginnings and endings makes my head hurt. It’s too big.

My son’s also of an age where he’s looking into the expanse of the Godly realms, measuring his Sunday School education against his sixth grade learning. In the process science and religion, faith and intellect are colliding. He’s at a crossroads. I can see in his head it’s not adding up—heaven, hell, creation, eternal life.

He’s thirsty for answers. For the hard facts about God.

Recently we drove in the car and he talked again about some amazing space thing he’d just learned about. I sensed an opening and said, “Think about how big space is. The smartest scientists in the entire world can’t know a fraction of what they want to know. Space is just too vast. Now imagine if God created all of space how big He must be. We can try to understand God, but it’s just not possible for our minds to comprehend all of Him. But, just like we know things in space are real, but can't completely explain them, God is real even though we can't completely understand Him.” I said.

We talked about heaven and hell. And dying and Jesus. And faith. I saw a small light go on in his mind.
“Wow!” he said with new-found understanding, “Talking about heaven makes me want to die.”
“I know. But I want you stick around here for a while,” I chuckled.

God created us with intelligence, personalities and passions. Some folks trust and never waver in their faith about God. They’re comfortable where they are. Others wrestle with their intellect and set out in search of big answers and hard facts. I belonged to the latter category and I see my son does as well. It’s how we were made.

The struggle and the searching can be a wonderfully restorative process. God promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) God wants us to seek Him, to find Him and to know Him. If our questions lead us to Him, I believe He wants us to ask and wrestle and contemplate. But intellectualism can batter faith. The enemy lurks ever-ready to turn our seeking into the dark realms of doubt and cynicism—into a black hole. Residing in such a place leads to a creeping bitterness that can deaden and even destroy the spirit.

We can have confidence that our faith need not be blind or based on whims of fancy. It can be explored, defended and withstand an intellectual test. However faith, as science, cannot be completely explained. No matter how many questions we ask or doubts we have satisfied, we will never fully know and understand God. He’s just too big. There comes a point where we must make a choice—believe. Or not.

When we choose to take a step (not a leap) into faith we find the most amazing thing occurs—we don’t understand to believe…we believe and then we understand.

March 4, 2010

Picture This

Hello, everyone! Guest Blogger Dan here once again, holding down the digital fort while Kelli and the Foundation for Peace team work in Haiti this week. Evidently, my first pinch-hitting attempt did not completely destroy what Kelli has toiled so carefully to build in this little corner of cyberspace over the past few years. From this, I can only conclude that I'm not trying hard enough. So, without further ado, here is Dispatch #2. Enjoy...and hear what God's people are doing this week!

Picture this.

Your entire world quite literally collapses in a matter of thirty-five utterly terrifying seconds. Your home; rubble. Family and friends; missing. What few possessions you had; destroyed. Heirlooms, photographs and mementos; vanished. Your body; broken. Your future; indeterminate. Picture your entire life reduced to the few necessities you and what remained of your family could scrounge from the disaster zone, now fitting within the confines of a blue 10' x 14' nylon tent that you will now live in until...well, until as long as it takes.

If you can see that in your mind's eye, you have some idea of what life looks and feels like in the hundreds of refugee camps scattered throughout the nation of Haiti, housing hundreds of thousands of people whose yesterdays are gone. Today is merely a struggle. Tomorrow is entirely uncertain.

Now, picture this.

Old lady who smiled ear-to-ear...

What's that you say...a smile? Here? In the middle of a disaster? Doesn't make sense.

Families with newborn babies. The Captain of the camp with his new baby and family. Me, holding a newborn... that a glimpse of a future I see? What else is there? What could be causing this? Show me more!

Workers digging. Families. Classes of schoolkids. Sooooooo many of us with the kids!

While Kelli was packing for her trip late last week, we had our friend Carrie from church over for lunch. Carrie is a nurse, and truly one of God's own angels, who went to the DR and Haiti the week before me to help mend patients in the de facto field hospital that the town of Jimani had become in the weeks following the "terramoto." Carrie brought with her stories. She brought much-needed encouragement and prayers for Kelli. She brought advice.

Then, later - mostly as an afterthought - she brought a digital camera. One with a small, portable printer. Today, the FFP team brought it to Fond Parisien and began snapping away, showing and giving away photographs. And, with that simple gesture, they began bringing something that has been sorely missing to the people living in that camp.

As Kelli reported to me this afternoon, the camera...and the 4"x6" color prints it produced...created a palpable excitement everywhere it/they went. "At first," she said, "People were curious. In time, they became obsessed...even insistent that we take their pictures. The best was Jude."

Jude is a young Haitian boy (I'd judge him to be maybe 13 or 14) who I worked with during my trip. He and I spent a day repairing sagging and damaged tents. Jude was smart, motivated, attentive and VERY industrious. After I'd shown him just a few things (how to properly orient a fly, carve a stake, move a tent, etc.), he quickly became my right-hand man. This week, I was thrilled to learn that (a) Kelli was matched up with him for similar work and (b) he had evidently promoted himself to "tent foreman."

"Jude does NOT like having his picture taken," Kelli told me, "I basically had to beg him to take one with me at first. But, after he saw it - and how much other people liked seeing theirs - he got interested. By the end of the day, he had declared himself the official photographer! By then, the camera had created a minor mob scene. People were DEMANDING we take their photos - following us around and even grabbing at us until we did."

At first, I was just amused at Kelli's stories. Taking digital pictures and then showing the subjects their images on the camera on past DR mission trips has always been a popular pastime....but, never an exercise in crowd control. Then, it hit home. It's one thing to lose your possessions. Still another to lose a home. But, those things are ultimately replaceable.

There are two things, however, that are irreplaceable. First, there are loved ones. Fortunately, the incredible strength of the Haitians' faith assures them that their lost families and friends are safe in the arms of a loving God, and will be seen again. The second thing you can't replace is your history. Think about it - what is the one thing people consistently say they would run back into a burning building to save? It's not the plasma screen. It's the family photo album, scrapbooks, great grandmother's heirloom necklace from the old country and other such memories.

For nearly two months, the residents of Camp Hope have been living nearly dreamlike, temporary lives defined by cardboard boxes of possessions, plastic tarp latrines, plain-brown-wrapper military MREs and the four walls of a donated tent. Their histories - and thus a part of themselves - were taken from them without warning. Today, their lives became real again. Something permanent came into focus. And, they have the photos to hang on their tent walls to prove it.

Picture hope. Picture joy. Picture smiles. Picture babies. Picture people rebuilding a brand-new past and thus, seeing the future. Picture Kelli, Christine, Doug and Bob making it all happen. Picture the image of Christ's love for us.

That's what mission work is all about folks. Well done, good and faithful servants!